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.
Continue reading

The Blues and The Grey

Shit...just when Liam Neeson thought things couldn't get any worse...he crash lands into the den of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Man, Liam Neeson has the blues something fierce.  The poor guy has completed one of the oddest transitions of recent memory by going from Oskar Schindler to “Total Bad Ass” in films both criminally overrated (Taken) and glumly forgettable (Unknown).  Now in Joe Carnahan’s transcendent survivalist thriller, The Grey, Neeson plays a man named Ottway who is reeling from the kind of blues that lead men to self-inflicted gun shot wounds to the head.  The film opens grimly enough with Ottway working on an oil refinery as a wolf sniper in the remote Alaskan wilderness amongst men “not fit for civilization.”  He waxes mournfully in voice-over about being separated from his wife (presented to the audience in smartly lit, intimate Nolan-esque slivers of memory) and working “a job at the end of the world.” 

One night he walks out from the rowdy violence of the camp bar into the snow to blow his brains out – but then he hears the ghostly howl of those beasts he’s been paid to study and control.  He can’t help but wonder if maybe he belongs out there – like the wolves – a stalker – a survivor.  He posits himself as much against Mother Nature as he is against his own nature.  These opening moments offer the viewer the type of emotional and philosophical trappings not usually found in your typical Hollywood product – especially thrillers of this sort.  With the help of his resurrected from the doldrums director, Carnahan (who finally fulfills the promise he showed in Narc after years of wallowing in the mediocrity of La La Land), Neeson completes his evolution as an actor through Ottway.  Here we finally have a character who marries the gravity of an Oskar Schindler with the gruff bad-assery of Neeson’s more recent commercial incarnations. 

Of course the bulk the of the film concerns Ottway and his motley crew of cohorts surviving a horrific airplane crash on their way to Anchorage only to be stalked through the frozen wilderness by a pack of ravaging and unmerciful wolves.  But it returns from time to time to those small moments and to the epic human pondering on live and death.  Continue reading

Becoming a Townie

Now, Ben, I'd really like to help you revive your career. What can I do for you?

The Town is one of those rare mainstream Hollywood movies where it seems the stars have aligned for all involved, including an audience desperate for some A-list entertainment.  Writer/director Ben Affleck is back in Boston with some street cred after his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, proved he had some talent behind the camera and his Oscar win for screenwriting was no fluke.  Here he takes his gamble one step further by casting himself as the star, and he does a decent enough job with the role, not surprisingly giving himself all the best angles and never demands too much of himself while he’s clearly playing on home turf in this Charlestown crime drama.   

As a director, he’s smart enough to line up a great supporting cast.  Continue reading

A Review of David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises”

Haunting Low Wattage Glows in Dank London Night, 24 September 2007
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

An emotionally distraught London midwife (Naomi Watts) finds a mysterious diary on the body of a Russian teenage girl who died in childbirth and slowly sinks deeper into the grimy underbelly of London and uncovers a Russian mob where a lowly driver (Viggo Mortensen) is about to make a stunning play for power. Luckily for the audience, “Eastern Promises” is more in tune with screenwriter Steven Knight’s most recent film (the superb “Dirty Pretty Things”) than it is with director David Cronenberg’s previous endeavor (the criminally overrated “A History of Violence”).

Cronenberg has been honing a disturbingly minimalist directorial style in the later half of his career. It was so low-key the last time around, he actually managed to become the first person to un-direct a film with “A History of Violence.” My theory of un-direction stems from when a director films a piece of work in so minimalist a style, it actually negates any reason for the film to exist. Shockingly, this minimalist technique is put to some good use in “Eastern Promises” as it allows for the emergence of other far superior elements: the elegantly dark and gritty blue-gray cinematography of Peter Suschitzky, the evocative Russian-influenced score from Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, the crafty and tightly focused screenplay from Knight, and most importantly, the amazing performances from the entire cast.

In the lead role of Nikolai, Viggo Mortensen, in tattoos from head to toe, adds new meaning to the idea of an actor throwing himself completely into a “physical role.” He delivers a raw, tense performance that is arguably the greatest of his career.

As Anna, Naomi Watts serves as the heart and soul of the film, giving the audience someone to relate to and root for as the plot grows increasingly dark and grim. Watts has been unfairly dismissed by some as an overly emotive post-modern “scream-queen” due to her roles in films like “Mulholland Drive,” “The Ring,” and “King Kong.” As she has matured as an actress, Watts has grown more subtle and nuanced in her method, and her performance here is richly textured and deeply rewarding as it emerges on the heels of her revelatory work in “The Painted Veil.” She’s the dim glow of hope in this stinking London underworld, and her character haunts the scenes of grotesque violence and criminal power plays that occur when she is off screen.

“Eastern Promises” also deserves credit for the tension it builds as the story unfolds. Cronenberg succumbs to his sadistic natural tendencies at clearly defined intervals throughout the film where shocking spurts of gore and violence rip through the minimalist style like a knife through the heart. This rising and sinking tension culminates in a Turkish sauna knife fight that is the violently dramatic flip-side of the comedic nude wrestling hotel scene in last year’s “Borat.” Like that scene, it exists only to shock, and it will have people buzzing.

Despite the inherent flaws of Cronenberg’s style which always seems to leave a bad taste in your mouth, “Eastern Promises” has just the right amount of star-power, classy production values, and shocking plot twists to be considered one of the best thrillers of 2007.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0765443/usercomments-59