January 28, 2011, - 5:07 pm

Wknd Box Office: The Way Back, The Rite, The Illusionist, Company Men, The Mechanic

By Debbie Schlussel

Surprise!  There are actually a couple of VERY good new movies out this weekend:

*  “The Way Back“:  This actually came out last weekend, but it wasn’t screened for all critics, so I was left out of the mix for this and paid to see it on my own.  It was well worth the $10 and more than two hours that flew by.  This is my kind of movie.  It’s about freedom, patriotism, and the brotherhood of men.  Plus, it’s a pretty good thriller/adventure.

Based on a true story, several men imprisoned in a Soviet gulag in Siberia plan their escape.  If they remain, they know that they will surely die.  Some of them are principled, good, and admirable, such as an inspired priest with moral integrity.  Others are criminal, such as a murderous con man played by Colin Farrell. And still others are mysterious, such as an American who was captured while he was helping to build a Moscow subway.  It takes place during World War II.

The men escape and travel through harsh conditions, struggling to survive.  But, as they say, it is better to die in the cold as a free man, than to die inside the Soviet gulag.

The movie has beautiful cinematography, lots of heart-pounding suspense, and a great story about the cost and price of freedom versus Communist tyranny.  I enjoyed it immensely.

But I had one problem with it:  the casting of obnoxious uber-leftist Harris to play the American in this film.  I’d consider him something of a real-life Communist sympathizer.  As you might recall, when anti-Communist director Elia Kazan received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, Harris and his then-girlfriend, Amy Madigan, were among the many lefties in attendance who deliberately sat on their hands, declining to applaud him, as a protest against Kazan’s anti-Communist activities.  To me, it’s an outrage and a travesty that this Harris jerk should now get to play an American fleeing the Communist totalitarianism of the gulag.  And that’s why I’m subtracting ONE-HALF REAGAN from the FOUR REAGANS I’d normally have given this otherwise fantastic movie.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “The Rite“: I guess even Sir Anthony Hopkins sometimes must do movies merely to pay the mortgage. This movie was awful. Absurd. Ridiculous. I laughed repeatedly when I wasn’t supposed to. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good exorcist/exorcism movie, but this ain’t it. It’s just dumb, long, slow, and boring.

The story: a guy (Colin O’Donoghue) who helps his father (Rutger Hauer) at their mortuary business must decide whether or not to go into one of the two family businesses. Everyone in his family either becomes a mortician or a Catholic priest. He chooses the latter and goes to a Catholic divinity school to train to become a priest. But he eventually loses faith and plans to leave. A priest convinces him to enroll in a course in exorcism taught at the Vatican before he makes his final decision. Soon, the man is taking the course, taught by a Vatican priest (Ciaran Hinds), and he’s being tutored by an exorcist priest (Hopkins). The young priest questions whether the people being exorcised are actually possessed, but soon he comes to believe.

Believe me, I’m making the story sound much better than it is. It was just plain silly, and the scenes of Hopkins possessed by the devil were just ridiculous. Sorry, but this is an absolute miss. Not a hit.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “The Illusionist [L’illusionniste]“: Two words: absolutely terrific. Even though this animated movie with no dialogue (but for a word or two here and there and some onomatopoeias) is melancholy and has a very sad, depressing ending, it’s a charming movie throughout, nonetheless. And I enjoyed it immensely.

An out of work French magician performs at various locales around Scotland, after he becomes displaced by Beatles-esque rockers. Soon he sees a poor, young chambermaid at one of his appearances at a small Scottish pub. After he makes a gesture of sympathy and generosity toward her, she stows away on his trip to Edinburgh, and he shows affinity and continuing generosity toward her. The illusionist watches her quickly grow into a grown up woman, after he struggles to provide her with the sophisticated clothes and accoutrements of an Edinburgh woman, which she craves more than the caring and companionship he amply provides. It’s similar to the reaction he gets after being relegated to a dank Edinburgh theater, amidst showgirls and vaudeville acts.

I recently tried to sell two ceramic hand-made dolls I ended up with, and, upon seeking information on their value, a local dollmaker told me that it’s a dying market because few in America want them anymore, preferring junky, throw-away dolls, texting, and video games. This movie is a commentary on how an old master and skilled performer, such as the illusionist, is quickly replaced by the less valuable, such as rock. It’s also about how admiration for generosity, gesture, and skill are replaced by modern materialism. It’s sad, but true.

A must see. Written by the late Jacques Tati, directed by Sylvain Chomet.


Watch the trailer. . .

* “The Mechanic“: I like a good hitman movie. This wasn’t it. It starts off with an interesting premise (but not one that hasn’t been done before): a skilled hitman assassinates his targets in a way that is often mistaken for natural causes. He’s that skilled. There’s never a trace. But, now, he’s assigned to murder one of his closest friends, and, suddenly, the cold, mercenary hitman develops a conscience. Sort of. He kills the dude anyway, but then teaches the guy’s son how to become a hitman, too.

I’m making it sound far better than it is. The movie is a mess, and nothing more than bloody torture porn and killing porn. It’s simply gratuitous violence for gratuitous violence’s sake, without any discernible point.

This has some scant similarities to the far superior, “The Matador,” but I’m embarrassed to mention the two movies in the same sentence.  “The Matador” was somewhat charming, far more interesting, and very enjoyable. This, “The Mechanic,” was just a blood-fest, for absolutely no reason . . . other than to make another Jason Statham blood-fest. And that’s not reason enough to waste ten bucks and two hours. Not even close.

This “Mechanic” ain’t got the skills.


Watch the trailer

* “The Company Men“: We’ve seen this movie a million times before, including in its incarnation as Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” (read my review). And it doesn’t get any better with this millionth-and-one version starring Ben Affleck. Affleck plays a big-time corporate executive who loses his job, fancy house, and everything else except his family, when his company downsizes. Also out are older, successful, long-time execs who can’t find work elsewhere (Chris Cooper).

Yes, it’s sad. But, as in sooo many movies out of Hollywood, this movie is an anti-corporate, anti-business movie in which the CEO and owner of the company is just a greedy, heartless bastard (Craig T. Nelson). The only people in America who are allowed to be heartless, rich, and heartlessly rich, without enduring moral judgment, are Hollywood filmmakers. Everyone else is evil. Tommy Lee Jones, and a fat, hardly recognizable Kevin Costner (with a really bad version of a Boston accent) also co-star.

Like I said, there’s nothing in this movie that’s new.


Watch the trailer . . . .

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14 Responses

After reviewing my comment on your “Movie Coma Week” post, you reviewed the films mentioned more or less as I had anticipated- I was 7 for 7! I had heard great things about Illusionist from my fave webcomic Multiplex, so I guess I’ll have to seek it out wherever it’s playing.

Robert on January 29, 2011 at 3:01 am

Good call, Debbie, on the new Peter Weir movie, The Way Back. I loved it, too, for the reasons you listed. I also like your reasoning for subtracting half a star, although Harris did do well in the role. Kyle Smith, who analyzes conservative subtext at the New York Post as you do here, faulted the film just slightly for not spending enough time in the gulag camp, so the movie became more of an adventure tale than a serious critique of Stalin and Russian barbarism. Even if that’s true, this was a very, very fine movie.

I thought The Rite started off well. Every exorcist movie must have a slightly different angle, and the angle here was to focus on psychological horror rather than special effects gimmickry. I liked what was going on, but then the story lagged in the middle, and unfortunately when Anthony Hopkins became possessed at the end, the screenwriter wasn’t talented enough to make his character anything but silly, as you point out.

I liked The Mechanic more than you did. Fine effects, well-crafted twists, great action, and Jason Statham is, in my mind, an excellent action hero. He’s English, so his style is coolly professional and understated rather than smirky or broadly played as it would be done here in America by Willis, for example, but I liked that. Ben Foster was great, too. This is a guy film: 100%.

Company Man was infuriatingly liberal, but even worse was From Prada to Nada, released here this week in LA, a blatantly racist, anti-white film. These two movies left a bad taste in my brain.

Chomet, who did The Illusionist, earlier did Triplets of Belleville, my favorite animated feature of all time, no question.

Debbie, I don’t know how you sit through all the gratingly unpleasant movies that you do. I do the same, I admit, but I have an excuse: I’m not all that intelligent and am fairly content just sitting as a lump for long periods of time. You though, strike me as being smart, so I’m in awe.

Burke on January 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

Wow! The Illusionist sounds like my kinda movie. I love a sad, depressing ending. Not ‘cuz I love misery (I don’t!) but because I now know it to be more like life. I hate being zoomed.

How does one pronounce the galic name Saoirse? Gosh, that language is harder to pronounce than German!

I do love the great film-maker Peter Weir. Been such a fan for such a long time.

Burke, I always like reading your takes on the films.

Skunky on January 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

I’m always picky and peckish when it comes to movies. So I’ll just stick to one word that I know best:


The Reverend Jacques on January 29, 2011 at 9:32 am

I don’t know if you review television, but I’ve watched 2 episodes of David E. Kelly’s “Harry’s Law” starring Kathy Bates.
The biggest piece of liberal garbage I have ever seen.
Hope it dies a quick death.

frank bambace on January 29, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I agree with you, as I’ve seen the first episodes of Kelly’s,sorry Harry’s Law. I sat there yelling at the screen about all the Communist, sorry again, liberal garbage being spouted. My wife likes the characters, I hate them, except for the shoe saleswoman (salesperson)/legal secretary (office manager) g-d forgive me for her looks.

    Z064ever on January 30, 2011 at 7:43 am

A few comments about The Company Men.
I am an Engineer and was recently laid off for 18 months.
In a way similar to the movie I was doing landscaping work while I was laid off. There is no work that is beneath me and resented the way this movie seemed to show the Ben Affleck was above having to do carpentry work.
I survived my 18 months off because I have never owned a new car. I have no credit cards. I have never set foot on a golf course and I have never given a damn what other people think of me or overspent trying to keep up with the Joneses.
I can not feel sorry for a man that made big bucks and didn’t save and plan for the future.

They need to do a follow up movie showing Kevin Costner’s little carpentry company going broke because illegal aliens under bid all of his jobs.
Liberals are always preaching that we need to show compassion towards the illegals, but how about some compassion for the thousands of Americans that have lost their jobs because of illegals and then lost their houses.
Many of the foreclosed homes you drive by everyday are the direct result of our failed immigration policy.
I say compassion for Americans first.

Steve on January 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

Debbie –

How does the new “The Mechanic” compare to the original 1972 version – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068931/synopsis

arby on January 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm

The original The Mechanic with Charles Bronson & Jan Michael Vincent was a good but kinda slow flick. Bummer, was hopeful about it but figured they could screw it up too.

Heard good stuff about The Way Back too. Thanks for affirming that one.

P. Aaron on January 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I just wanted to say how pleased I am that Australian actress Jacki Weaver is in contention for a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar for her magnificent work in the very good Australian film “Animal Kingdom”.

Of course I think the Oscars suck, but I just want to get the word out for peeps to see “Animal Kingdom”. I really liked it, as I am a fan of Aussie films.

She played an incredible sociopath. We all know them and how viperous they are. She did a top job depicting one.

Too bad most Yanks had no clue about the flick.

S: Agreed. I reviewed “Animal Kingdom” on this site. Though I did not like the movie, I did like Jacki Weaver and, as a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, voted for her for best supporting actress. You are spot on about her. She was terrific! Terrifically creepy.

Skunky on January 29, 2011 at 7:52 pm

The Mechanic sounds a bit like the James Wood movie, “Best Seller.”

I’m still going to see it as I really like Jason Statham, especially in the Transporter movies.

To me it seems like good movies have been few and far between for a long time.

Jeff W. on January 29, 2011 at 11:10 pm

I really love Jason Statham so I liked the movie, not that much of a storyline, but he is good as usual.

CJ on January 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm

“Based” is far stretched verb for that.
“The Way Back” was not based on a true story, but merely “inspired by real events”… excactly like poster said.
The true story involves Polish prisoners that escape soviet camp in far east siberia, and they were not criminals… they were born Poles, and merely civilians. That was their crime. Polish policemen, soliders, bureaucrats were already murdered in Katyn at the time. Stalin was getting a revenge for stopping soviet invasion of Europe in 1920.
When it comes to history, then this is just another Hollywood bs about WW2 years, just like “U-571” is.

gr77 on January 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Has there ever been a movie or TV show favorable to business? If you landed here from Elbonia, my second favorite planet, you’d think business people are the scum of the Earth, killing their partners left and right and cheating everyone in sight. When nobody goes to see these crap-fest flicks, they can’t figure out why.

JeffT on January 31, 2011 at 9:44 pm

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