International Tragedy through the Lens of Intimate Family Drama in The Impossible

Director J. A. Bayona brings the tsunami to horrifying life on the big screen in THE IMPOSSIBLE.

In December of 2004, Maria Belon and her family were among the many who experienced first-hand one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the world when a tsunami overwhelmed large swaths of Southeast Asia including the coastal resort area of Thailand where Belon and her family were spending the holidays. Director Juan Antonio Bayona (who previously put viewers through tear-soaked thrills in the Catholic ghost story, The Orphanage) has adapted Belon’s harrowing tale for the silver screen. Here Maria Belon becomes Maria Bennet (the incomparable Naomi Watts) and her husband is played by Ewan McGregor and three boys by newcomers Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. They’re a picture perfect beautiful British family living abroad, and Bayona, in ways both Spielbergian and Hitchcockian, puts them through the wringer in this tsunami horror-show tear-jerk thriller that pulls all the right strings.

The Impossible is worth the price of a ticket just for the ten minute tsunami sequence, frighteningly realized without CGI and done all with scale models and a giant water tank. Bayona in the sequences building up to the disaster uses sound effects for foreshadowing, and by replaying the tsunami through the eyes of Maria and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland in a riveting star-making performance), he totally immerses the viewer in the chaos of the event tossing the two actors around like rag dolls in the deluge of water and menacing debris that tears and rips at human flesh relentlessly.
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Having your Cake and Eating it too in Django Unchained

Why I do declare!  Leo is a VILLAIN!

Why I do declare! Leo is a VILLAIN!

In 1858, somewhere in the Texas wilderness, a German immigrant dentist (Christoph Waltz) comes across some fellas transporting slaves and begins to curiously inquire about a certain one named Django (Jamie Foxx).  Turns out that dentist is a bounty hunter, and he needs Django to identify some targets.  Turns out that Django, once unshackled, is more than happy to oblige.  Thus begins the start of a beautiful friendship in Quentin Tarantino’s latest bit of exploitative hipster shock-schlock historical revisionist revenge fantasy.  In his own signature absurdist self-referencing way, Tarantino combines many of the good elements that made Inglourious Basterds his masterpiece with many of the bad elements of every other overrated film he’s ever made.

See that dentist ain’t such a bad guy, wielding his own brand of justice, and Django has his own personal mission to track down his wife (Kerry Washington, allowed only to cry and get pushed around) who was sold down river in Mississippi to a one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) of the infamous plantation called…you guessed it…Candie Land.  Thus an episodic journey begins culminating in an overly elaborate scheme to free Django’ wife, and for the first well-paced two hours it’s a pretty damn entertaining ride. Continue reading

Evolutionary Melodrama and Triumph of the Human Spirit in Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

Like Melville’s great white whale or the dogs in Amores Perros, the orcas and puppies in Rust and Bone (De Rouille et D’os) are meant to be symbolic. Here in Jacques Audiard’s audacious new film they represent the unpredictable id of nature and the strained relationships of the ego-driven humans who interact with them. Brilliantly, all is foreshadowed in the opening credits shot like a dream…or is it a nightmare? But there’s a constant movement and a focus on legs with somewhere to go. Life is fluid and on the move. We are all travelers in this drama.

Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts, in another physically demanding performance following last year’s Bullhead) is a Belgian man living on the fringe with his five-year old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), and who eventually hitchhikes his way to Antibes where his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) takes them in. There Alain finds random security gigs while plotting a return to underground fighting. One of his gigs is at a nightclub where he first meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard, a revelation), an orca trainer at a local resort starving for real human connection.

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Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?

Traversing the Treacherous Geography of Childhood in Lady in White

Do you see what I see?

Do you see what I see?

Frank LaLoggia’s forgotten classic from 1988, Lady in White, opens with a Stephen King-style novelist returning to his hometown of Willowpoint to visit a gravesite.  From there we’re whisked back to 1962 when our protagonist Frankie Scarlatti was 10 years-old living with his widowed father and smart-aleck older brother.  One fateful Halloween, a couple of childhood chums play a prank and lock poor Frankie in the coat closet at school where he must brave the night cold and alone.  There he witnesses the mysterious ghost of a little girl act out her murder – and from there young Frankie becomes determined to help the ghost find peace, uncover the identity of the town’s serial child killer and solve the mystery of the town legend of The Lady of White (which is somehow connected to the killings).

The ghost hums the eerily nostalgic Bing Crosby tune, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” – the killer’s favorite – and the song is used as a powerful motif throughout the film. Continue reading

Philly, Football and Rooting for Silver Linings Playbook

Misfortune and a fake happy family bring Lawrence and Cooper together in Silver Linings Playbook

Misfortune and a fake happy family bring Lawrence and Cooper together in Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell’s Philly based adaptation of Matthew Quick’s witty and dramatic rom-com novel, Silver Linings Playbook, is exactly the type of misfit-misfortune-filled movie you want to root for.  It’s a film where, refreshingly, everyone is playing against type.

Bradley Cooper (a smug comedic performer I typically loathe) is in the lead role of Pat, a rage-fueled bipolar man who is freshly released from the loony bin after a violent incident with his wife’s lover.  Pat speaks in self-help platitudes, but there’s a sincerity in his desire to change as he dedicates himself to losing weight, keeping his anger in check, getting back his wife (delusionally so) and finding life’s silver lining.  Cooper, surprisingly, pulls it off, and one has to wonder if the Philly native saw this as his first opportunity to dig deep.  Cooper saw a moment in his career to make a change, and he took it.  It makes his character and performance extremely likable.

Jennifer Lawrence – who has made quite the name for herself playing tough teenage girls forced to grow up too fast to save their families in films like Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games – is for the first time given the chance to play an adult as Tiffany, the damaged young widow of a cop who fumbles through her conflicted feelings and need for affection and friendship and forms an instant bond with Pat when they share unfiltered and awkward barbs about their predicaments and commiserate on their litany of medication diets that have thus far been unsuccessful in curing them of their brand of “crazy.”  Lawrence shines in the role and shows us a side previously unknown…playful, vulnerable, sassy, witty and darkly comedic.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Margate Sands

Boardwalk Empire 3.12

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide 

Boardwalk Empire – Margate Sands

Season Three: Episode Twelve (Season Finale)

Directed by:  Tim Van Patten

Written by:  Terence Winter & Howard Korder

The Spin:  Well, the third season went off in grand style with a suspense and violence-riddled hour mixed with quiet manly heartbreak as the brains of the show –  Nucky (Steve Buscemi) –  and the heart of the show –  Harrow (Jack Huston) – closed off their story arcs in classic style.  Van Patten opened with another signature montage detailing the war on the streets of Atlantic City between Rosetti’s gang and Nucky’s thugs-for-hire that the whole season has been building to.  Meanwhile the mechanization of the plot became more twisted than a flapper’s dress in a cyclone, and to try to recap who double-crossed who would leave me with mental whiplash.  Suffice it to say, Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) appeared to be holding all the cards, until at the very last-minute… Continue reading