In the fall of 2002, three independent film makers, Gordon Currie, Andrew Kenneth Martin and Andrika Lawren, embarked on a labyrinthine journey into the depths of independent film making. While all three have worked in the bellows of the independent film market before, perhaps only Gordon Currie will be even remotely recognized by any niche of film makers and film fans in this country or any other. Currie has more than 40 film and television appearances to his credit and to us die hard horror afficionodoes, he was in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten. The point being, these three are long in ambition and talent but short on a plethora of experience. And yet here they were, taking on the monumental task of financing, producing, directing, casting, editing and acting in a film that enveloped two years of their lives. With the guargantuan budget of $5000.00, this was going to be the epitome of guerilla film making on the streets of Toronto.
What we have with the finished product is nothing short of brilliance! I don't know where they came up with the idea and frankly I don't want to know nor am I inclined to care, it might ruin the experience you see on screen. And that is what this film is, an experience. You will leave the theater marvelling at the film. Magnus Opus is, if nothing else, a labour of love forged by three remarkable talents who came together and altruistically created a film that could be destined for a distribution deal as it has already been submitted for consideration in such film festivals as Sundance and a few others. Magnus Opus is a triumph of independent film making and the three of them and everyone involved should be proud. I do not know the names of all the principals here as they have not been released to the public yet, so you will have to bear with me when it comes to singing the praises of certain actors.
Magnus Opus is a mockumentary filmed in the vein of This is Spinal Tap. The story centers around a self centered, sanctimonious, struggling artist named Magnus. Like all struggling artists, he feels that there is more to life than what we are led to believe. He sees a certain pulchritude and a certain ugliness to life that many of us see yet are powerless to do anything about. Some of his fellow artists that were once great in his eyes have sold out to corporate sponsorship and now are a walking billboard for the company they endorse. This sell out now has a tattoo of the cereal brand emblazened on his muscular chest. Meanwhile, Magnus has just received a grant from some arsty fartsy school and he means to use that grant money to create something called live art. This is when he hires a documentary crew, played brilliantly by producer Andrika Lawren and Marcus. I don't know Marcus' last name but just suffice to say that Marcus, in my humble opinion, was the best part of the film as he nails his character down better than anyone else. His job is to take crap from Magnus all during the film but get paid $100.00 a day to do it. Yet, every time he asks Magnus a question, Magnus deducts $20.00 from his pay. His privacy is very important to him.
Since Magnus has hired Marcus, the techie for 33 days, it is a handsome sum of money. Marcus looks lost most of the time and it is this character that we can all live vicariously through as he correctly conveys what most of us, the audience, are feeling. What the hell is Magnus up to? What is his purpose and why is he so mysterious and why such drama? Marcus is priceless in his role as techie and he steals scenes from the great Toronto actor who plays Magnus. His name escapes me as well, but he does a fine job with his character.
Magnus' ultimate goal is to create the live art so that he may grow famous in a Toronto storefront window. But little or no audience comes to see his macabre show and little by little his spirits dampen. But what he is really up to is a beautiful twist that is on par with The Usual Suspects or Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan...eat your heart out!!
All of this sounds very linear so far but the best part of the film is what Martin and Currie constructed by having the documentary crew find and film many of the people in Magnus' life, present and past. This is the true tour de force of the film as there is not one disingenuous performance out of any of the characters who decorate the screen. While every one of them are amateur actors, many of them struggling Toronto players, each of them honestly gives the film a colourful palette of energy that is infectious from the opening frame. We meet an eclectic array of personalities from his Terri Garr look alike mother who always gave him money, sometimes to shut him up, sometimes to encourage him. She is humourous and honest when she tells us about his habits as a child. There is his drug dealer, his myopic lawyer, his jilted ex lover who wants to have an imprint of Magnus' face sewn onto her motorcycle seat so she can always be sitting on his face. We also get to meet his frail priest, a Mary Steenbergen look a like as his quiet and sweet elementary school teacher. And then we get to meet some of his older friends. In two of the funniest performances in the film, we get to meet one friend who used to work with him in a drugstore and his best friend from youth who is the complete antithesis of Magnus. Where as Magnus believes art is from within, his best friend Jimmy, thinks there is nothing better than a Saturday afternoon watching wrestling, having a barbeque and playing with his dog. This was probably the funniest character and Gordon and Andrew can take the credit for writing and improvising such brilliant scenes for the actors to embellish. While every actor adds a lot of their own interpretation to the character at hand, it is with Currie and Martin's guidance that we see what we do on screen.
Magnus Opus is a treat to behold. It is expressive and it is interesting. It is also one of the funniest films I have seen in quite a while and what makes it so humourous is the honesty that resonates from its words and actions. Also, if you thought Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi was a triumph of independent film making, Magnus Opus will give it a run for its money. El Mariachi was a fantastic film made for $7000.00 and this was made for $5000.00. I truly hope a distributor is bold enough to give this a chance. While it is a bit esoteric in its humour, there is enough in here for everyone to love and there is nothing that I would like better than to see it grace the shelves of my local Rogers Video and Blockbuster.
Congratulations Gordon, Andrew and Andrika. You are fabulous film makers and I wish you nothing but success.
One more thing. Gordon, I want to meet Kane Hodder one day. See if you can hook it up. And if you ever want to make a horror film, call me again. I'd do anything to be in one and if you were at the helm, it'd be my honour to work with all three of you again. Thanks for the experience and knock em dead at Sundance.
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