The Impossible – Review

the-impossible06

The Impossible (2012) rating 6.0/10

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi WattsEwan McGregorTom Holland.

The Impossible tells the true story of an American family (mother, father and three kids) caught up in the terrible Tsunami that in 2004 claimed the lives of an estimated 250000 people, residents and tourists alike, across 14 countries in South-East Asia: is was one of the largest natural disaster ever witnessed in human memory.

Of course the idea of using (or exploiting ssomebody may say) real-life horrors, natural (and non-natural) disasters and human tragedies to tell a story is at least as old as cinema itself. I could quote hundreds of movies that did it, some more successful than others… And if Titanic and its $1.8 billion at the box office on its release, is to be taken as proof, there is clearly an appetite for this kind of stuff. Whether it’s the holocaust, slavery, wars, shootings in schools, terrorist attacks: nothing seems to be sacred these days in Hollywood. No tragedy is off-limits anymore, not even a recent one like this. “United 93”  did it for the terrorist attack to America only 5 years after the event. Raise your hand if you thought it was a good idea at the time…. And yet, surprisingly, it ended up being a fairly balanced film, incredibly powerful and on the whole quite an accomplished success. I’m not sure whether anyone actually needed it, but hey… that’s the subject for another discussion.

To cut to the chase, I don’t necessarily argue against the actual idea of telling such stories. After all, isn’t that what every single war movie does? Sometimes it can work. It can raise awareness for a certain tragedy or even serve as a tribute or a simple educational tool, it can give us a different prospective to a known event or it can help us to remember such a tragedy, never forget what our ancestors had to go through. Even seemingly simplistic films like Titanic, once again, beyond the silly love story, can be seen as a look into social classes at the beginning of 1900s.

Sadly “The Impossible” not only does none of that, but also has absolutely nothing to say. It exploits the tragedy to tell us an unbalanced and slightly distorted view of what actually happened in Thailand in 2004 following an American family who just happen to survive against all the odds: you may ask yourself “what’s the point?”. Well, there isn’t one… or if there is it’s probably “life is about luck… and whether you have a medical insurance or not”. Never mind the  insane amount of people who died, most of which locals anyway (which in this film are largely ignored), never mind the ecological and economic impact of such tragedy: as long as the loving American family can reunite itself once again we are all happy. An absolute travesty, if you ask me. Simplistic, cheap, superficial, with an underlying uneasy complacency, and some troubling sentimentality throughout(including an over-played soundtrack, with twinkling piano and soaring strings).

And apparently the horrors of the real events were not enough for the film-makers so they even decided to add a series of manipulative clichés to enhance the drama (slow-motion – sound drops, and an incredibly misjudged sequence, which should really belong to a Black Edwards comedy, where father and son keep on missing each other among the multitude of people in a hospital).

It doesn’t matter whether the story is true of not, this is just not the way it should have been told.

It is a great shame because aside from that, the film technically is really impressive: the actual scene where the Tsunami hits the cost is truly terrifying and what I assume must be CGI is seamless (beating the one in Clint Eastwood’s dog of a film Hereafter) If you can somehow switch your brain off (a next-to-impossible task) and take this as just another  silly disaster movie, a sort of Towering Inferno, or Dante’s peak, there is no denying that the film is quite gripping and emotionally draining. I just wish it could have been a lot more than that.

I long for the day Naomi Watts will finally choose a film which will give her a well deserved Oscar… Sadly this is not such film. Ewan McGregor once again confirms himself as a great charismatic leading actor and his absorbing performance is nothing short of perfect. And finally the little Tom Holland, whose name is deservedly bantered about these days within several industry magazines and papers next to those 3 words “For Your Consideration”. He’s really very good, bringing to the role the fragility of a kid of that age, the strength of a teenager but also depth and emotions reminiscent of some of the best child actors in movies. I can’t wait to see him in something not just half decent.

Their impressive performances ultimately lift the film and give it enough depth and gravitas to avoid being a complete failure and just an insult to so many of the real victims.

6.0/10 

Men In Black 3 – Review

Men In Black III (AKA: MIB3) (2012) 

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Will SmithTommy Lee JonesJosh BrolinJemaine ClementEmma Thompson.

10 years after the disappointing Man in Black 2, and 15 years after the first original one (which, needless to say,was the best by a very long stretch), raise your hands if you really felt the need for yet another sequel… Anyone? … Please, anyone? ANYONE?!

These days Hollywood’s willingness for getting new ideas out there, or at least ones which are not based on comics, or at least are not sequels or remakes, is becoming increasingly rare! But then again, this a whole other subject which I’ve tackled again and again (you can check my post about it here) and I bore even myself talking about it. So granted that nobody really wanted this film, I am happy to be on record saying that MIB3 is actually rather watchable (yet fairly forgettable).

The film starts off looking pretty tired as if trying to resuscitate from that previously dead sequel. It is permeated by a sense of Déjà vu and only relies on that already-proven chemistry between the two original leads and especially Will Smith whose charm and likeability doesn’t seem to have faded in the last 13 years (in fact he looks exactly the same: God, what’s his secret?!). Even his co-star Tommy Lee Jones once said in an interview “All I need to do to be funny is stand as close as possible to Will”. So true.

The film finally gets into the right gear and stops limping once we travel back in the 60s. The reason for the time travel is very reminiscent of the plot from the underrated Back to the Future – part 2: Will Smith has to travel back in time to prevent the baddie from the future to meet his own self from the past and thus change erm… the future. It all sounds very complicated but, unlike the mind-screwing BTTF2, this is all pretty straight forward (and it fact with plot holes all over the places) and at the end of the day it’s just a device so that we they can probably avoid paying Tommy Lee Jones a full-fee, but also it allows Josh Brolin to have the time of his life, acting as the young K (Tommy Lee Jones‘s character).And for once the sense of fun that the makers must have felt behind the scenes manages to transpire onto our screens too. The similarity between the two is indeed uncanny and amazingly the joke sustains itself for pretty much the entire length of the film. I’m sure in years to come, Josh Brolin aping Tommy Lee Jones will be the only thing people will remember from this otherwise forgettable MIB3.

Don’t take me wrong, there’s a lot to enjoy here: some of the action set-pieces, Emma Thompson‘s (sadly too) brief appearance, the deliciously nasty, and rather gross turn by Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal, the villain of the piece, and the usual special effects extravaganza, which is now almost taken for granted in this types of movies. There is nothing really as cringe-inducing as in the previous sequel, but sadly most of that spark of fresh humour from the original seems have been replaced by an unexpected sentimentality, which is sweet enough and I suppose it’s probably befitting a Steven Spielberg production, but it’s not really what we want from a Man in Black film.

They got away with it this time, but they should really put this trilogy to bed and start something new.

6.0/10

50/50 – Review

50/50 

Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Joseph Gordon-LevittSeth RogenAnna KendrickAnjelica Huston.

When you first hear the words cancer comedy referring to this film, your heart may very well sink and your eyes will possibly roll back. First of all, spending an hour and a half in the company of a young man who has just discovered he’s got 50% chances of dying from cancer, is not exactly anybody’s idea of a Fun-Saturday-night-at-the-movies. Furthermore the concept itself of dealing with such a downbeat subject within a Hollywood comedy with Seth Rogen (known mainly for his not-too-sublte humour) sounds potentially catastrophic.

However “50/50”  not only handles the cancer subject with respect, honesty and restrains but also gets the balance between both the irreverent comedy and the actual drama absolutely spot on.

Amazingly this is a film that makes you both laugh and cry within the space of minutes: the laughs may be few but they are always carefully placed to exorcise that sense of fear, angst and sorrow that runs through the rest of the movie in a way that never feels forced or gratuitous. It is funny without being flippant and heartwarming without being cheap or cheesy.

Apparently it was Seth Rogen himself who helped writer Will Reiser to cope with the disease and later pushed him to write the screenplay for the film. And this is clearly the work of somebody who’s lived through this agonising experience: there’s a certain rawness and matter-of-factness in the way the details and minutia of what must be like to live with such burden are depicted.

It’s certainly not a masterpiece (some of the secondary characters are fairly sketchy and on the whole stylistically and visually it feels more like a TV-drama than anything) but  it’s very well handled throughout and though the ending might feel a bit too conclusive and rather too optimistic (especially the bit with Anna Kendrick), “50/50” is never exploitive or cheap, it rarely pulls back and it never looses sight of the harsh reality of cancer: chemotherapy is tough, dealing with the illness is no joke for both for the patient and the people around the patient, and people do actually die.

Everybody in the film plays to their strengths and do what they do best: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a way seems to play an extension of his character from “500 Days of Summer” (in my view one of the most refreshing comedies of the last few years): he brings with him a charming sweetness which makes him very likable and yet he does it without ever resorting to cheesy or cute winks to camera. In fact quite the opposite, as he’s willing to go that extra-mile to make it all look and feel real (he even shaved his hair in one of the most memorable scene in the film in what must have been a one-take affair). His performance is subtle and mostly underplayed and yet truthful and powerful as his character Adam moves through shock, denial, acceptance, anger, defiance. The whole movie rests on him and if the film works as it does, it has a lot to do with his performance.

Seth Rogen too, as Adam’s best friend, does his usual Seth Rogen stuff, bringing his crass humour with him and yet always rooted to some down-to-heart reality. The relationship between him and Adam is possibly the highlight of the film: never for a moment you doubt that the two of them could be real best friends.

The women in the film are slightly short-changed: the girlfriend character is under-developed and rather annoying, and the subplot with the inexperience therapist sweetly played by Anna Ken­drick feels a bit tagged on. Only Anjelica Houston manages to make the most of her slightly under-written role as Adam’s mother and shines with a couple of Oscar-worthy moments.

The music too, like the whole tone of the film, is carefully balanced, alternating a large amount with pop song (At times it almost feels like a Cameron Crowe movie) and a restrained score by Micheal Giacchino (who seems to be doing everything these days) which never falls into schmaltzy territory.

I am not sure I would want to watch this film again, nor I would be willing to suggest it to anyone who’s looking for a good day out in the cinema, but it’s a brave one and for that it’s to be commended. If only all drama-comedies were so unfussy, courageous, subtle and honest, Hollywood would be a better place.

7.5/10

04 June 2012 – in fact since writing the review above, I have watched this film again, and somehow, knowing the ending, I was able to relex more and enjoy the film even more than the first time around. (I even bumped it up by half a vote). I still feel the all-too-cute resolution with the therapist should have been cut out, but aside from that I think this is one of the strongest film that came of Hollywood last in 2011. Looking back, Joseph Gordon-Lewitt really deserved some award for this!

Monsters – Review

Monsters (2010) 

Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Whitney AbleScoot McNairy.

When reviewing a film like Monsters you can’t help dealing with 2 things: the film, of course, which is essentially a road movie with some added Alien Monsters. And then you’ve got the making of the film itself, which is the issue everyone has been talking about (and that’s somehow even more interesting).

The budget of “Monsters” is reported to be under $500.000, shot with a camera in the region of $15,000, which in Hollywood wouldn’t even be able to cover the rental of the main camera for a week. And yet Gareth Edwards has been able to come up with movie which looks like any of those blockbusters out there, if not even better.

His background is from Graphics and Visual effects and it clearly shows. Here we are dealing with somebody who really knows the tricks on his trade. There’s hardly a frame in the film which hasn’t been treated or altered in some sort of subtle way: whether it’s just in the grading and colour of the pictures themselves which really makes it look and feel like any feature films out there, or whether it’s a detail way off in the background (an helicopter flying in the distance, the wreck of a tank, smokey ruins) and finally, obviously, the title’s ‘monsters’ themselves (though this ones, are the more showy and, to a degree, less successful Visual effects).

Gareth Edwards is very aware of the limitations of his trade too. His handheld camera moves in such a way that he’s always able to diguise his effects and trick the audience. In the best tradition of great movies which have monsters in them (Alien, and to a degree, Jurassic Park and even Jaws), he wisely keeps them well hidden to the audience for most of the time (the monsters are only seen at night times or on TV newscasts), thus creating a sense of foreboding and adding a lot more tension to the story.

Unfortunately as a film, “Monsters” is a lot less groundbreaking. For some reason it has been compared to District 9, but it has neither the inventiveness, nor the humor, let alone the high concept and underlying subtext of Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi from 2009 (which I loved, by the way).

The story of Monsters is pretty simple. Right a the beginning a series of captions tells the following: Six Years ago…. Nasa discovered the possibility is alien life within our solar system. A space probe was launched to collect samples but broke up during re-entry over Mexico.  Soon after new life forms began to appear and half of the country was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today… The Mexican and US military still struggle to contain ‘the creatures’…

From there onwards the film is essentially a road movie where the two main characters have to reach the US border, crossing the so-called infected Zone in Mexico. That’s pretty much it.

Gareth Edwards is clearly in love with his pictures, since he spent a lot of time cleaning them up, but he probably forgot about pacing them. It is a fairly slow film which seems to be more interested about creating an atmosphere than actually telling a good story. However the film is short enough to just about get away with it. The acting is pretty good (with however little material they’re given) and the non

He’s clearly an interesting director: he’s good a framing his action, directing his actors and creating the right type of mood, so it will be interesting to see what he can achieve with a proper budget (and a better script) in the future: unfortunately it looks like he might be getting stuck with Monsters, as it just emerged that he will be directing a new Godzilla Movie (he’s been quoted in Variety saying “you just don’t say no to Godzilla”): not very imaginative, I’d say.

So now we’re only left to see how Hollywood will respond to a film like this which looks like any multimillion dollar flick, and yet it costs just a fraction of what Michael Bay would spend in taxis.

In the end, this will be the only legacy of this film: it cost nothing to make andyes  it’s watchable. I’ll take this over Transformers anytime.

6/10

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