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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Summer Reading for 2009

Wondering what to read this summer?  Well here’s a motley lot of books that have found their way from the shelves to my coffee table with the potential to satisfy your desire for trashy (and gory) beach reads as well as your need for some substance and perspective.

JUST FINISHED:

Hater by David Moody28 Days Later meets Fight Club meets The Road in this bloody mess of a debut from Brit David Moody.  The novel is of special interest for self-published writers as Moody originally published the novel on the internet before selling the movie rights to horror film producer Guillermo Del Toro and subsequently landing a major publishing contract.  I have to hand it to Moody.  He’s ambitious, and his success is the type all writers dream of.  That being said, Hater isn’t terribly well written.  The first person narration is clunky and repetitive, the characters shallow and poorly drawn and even I know better than to write entire chapters in italics.  However, the premise is interesting enough and taps into some timely discussions on the culture of fear and paranoia that permeates much of our culture.  It’s easy to see why Del Toro thought this could be good fodder for a film, and with Juan Antonio Bayona (of El Orfanato fame) on board to direct, the movie actually seems promising if they take a more psychological approach to the mayhem than the book did.  We’ll have to wait and see, meanwhile, the second part of this alleged trilogy should be hitting bookshelves soon.

CURRENTLY READING:

The Best American Short Stories – 2008 edition, edited by Salman Rushdie.  If you’re like me and don’t have the time to scour through literary magazines for your short-story fix, you can sample the best of the best with this yearly compilation.  I’m maybe half a dozen stories in, and so far my favorite is Danielle Evans’ humorous and quietly heartbreaking tale of why young girls do the foolish things they do, “Virgins”, which originally appeared in The Paris Review.  Evans’ story is the type of sharply observed “slice-of-life” piece that makes fellow scribes wonder what the hell they have been wasting their time writing about for the past year.  Seriously, what the hell have I been writing?

Loser Takes All  by Graham Greene.  No list of mine can exist without an entry from Greene.  One wonders why I didn’t take to this gambling-themed novel sooner.  Just looking at the roulette wheel on the cover makes me want to hop in the car and hit the expressway to Atlantic City.  Alas, this is one of Greene’s breeziest and slightest works, but, it’s still Greene, my friends.  With him I never lose.

IN THE QUEUE:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Yes, I know, I’m a few years behind the times on this one, and heck, I should’ve dived into this one a long time ago with my love of circuses and Depression Era stories.  Didn’t everyone read this in the summer of 2007?   Better late than never, I say.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Yes, I know, I’m waaaaaaay behind the times on this one, but no summer is complete without the tackling of at least one “big thick novel”.  I’m a huge fan of the John Ford 1940 film version, so I’m really looking forward to this Depression Era classic.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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So what’s on your reading list this summer?  Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment form! 

Happy reading!

A Review of Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”

 

Beautifully Sad Catholic Fairy Tale, 14 January 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage she spent time in as a child with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and little boy Simon (Roger Princep) in hopes of re-establishing it as seaside retreat for children with disabilities only to find there may be some former residents who never left. In Juan Antonio Bayona’s tightly wound “The Orphanage” nothing is as it seems and child’s play takes on sinister overtones.

Bayona belongs to this new wave of Spanish-language directors (most notably Del Torro and Amenabar) who excel when it comes to creating moody atmospheric tales of the supernatural with Catholic overtones. Whereas “Pan’s Labyrinth” took a dark fantasy approach to a Passion Play, “The Orphanage” is closer to the classic haunted house themes of “The Others” as it attempts to give a sentimental view of life after death. Be warned, “The Orphanage” is often more sad than scary, and those not familiar with Catholic mysticism might find things a bit hard to believe. As goes the film’s mantra…Believe, Then You Will See. Those with the patience and the heart will be greatly rewarded as the audience doesn’t necessarily have to Believe to relate to the characters who do.

Working from refined “less is more” psychological horror templates, Bayona delivers the formulaic goods. There will be a simplistic but heartfelt exploration of grief. There will be allusions to classic literature (in this case a very nicely done “Peter Pan” as Catholic allegory motif). There will be uncovering dark secrets from the past. There will be precocious children with spooky imaginary friends. There will be creaking set designs and manipulative sound effects to create “gotcha!” moments. There will be a creepy medium (an excellent Geraldine Chaplin) brought in for a séance. And there will be a twist at the end.

Thankfully, there is also a great performance from Belen Rueda as Laura. She gives a compelling portrayal of a woman devoured by her loss and achingly desperate for the truth no matter how horrific that truth might be. One must have a cold heart not to find sympathy with her, and even the most hardened audience member will find it hard not to feel that stray tear form in the corner of their trembling eye when all is revealed. “The Orphanage” offers nothing terribly new, but sometimes the same old ghost story presented in a beautiful way makes for the best type of cold-rainy-day entertainment.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0464141/usercomments-40