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The Impossible

The Impossible is a film about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and a family that fought to survive in its aftermath. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother that struggles to survive and to reunite with her family.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (known for Orphanage and a host of movies made in Spain). It stars Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts who are widely known for many things. Both do an amazing job in this film portraying the mother and father of a family that goes through adventures that are often bordering macabre to attempt to survive.

The Impossible is a true story of a family separated by a natural disaster. When a middle-to-upper class family of 5 gets in the way of a Tsunami wave, they are separated and forced to find inner strength and survive. The disaster puts them in the company of hundreds of thousands of strangers with death at every turn. Still, they keep hope alive in the film and we see them fight for survival in many inspiring ways.

I didn’t think this movie would be very good after seeing the preview. It looked like another sappy “I love my kids so much I’ll kill for them” type of survival movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movies’ portrayal of this family’s struggle to survive and “find each other” is so realistic and gritty. At the same time, it has some truly touching scenes of human love both within the family as well as with strangers it comes across. This movie seeks to show us we are stronger as humans than we think and it achieves that through portraying this incredible true story. For that reason, I gave it 5/5 stars.

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The Snowtown Murders

Racists exist. We as a society learned this best through daytime talk shows all through the 90’s. I recall more than a few toothless pontificators.

mv5bmtm1mtcwote0nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjqymdewnw-_v1_-221x300-9883318Those are the entertaining kind, the scariest ones operate covertly in families. And then there are those who are neither covert nor entertaining, those whom are pure evil. John is such a man. Though many will interpret this movie as macabre horror, it doesn’t attempt to be that. Instead it strives to be an endurance test in tense human relationships and murder. In the final analysis it’s a study about bigotry in poverty left unchallenged. The real John is serving 11 consecutive life sentences for torture and murder. Young men need role models. Without them, they are susceptible to the Johns out there.

This film was directed by Justin Kurzel, it was his directorial debut. The lead role of serial killer John Bunting is played by relative newcomer Daniel Henshall. Daniel’s performance in this film has already won him multiple awards. I add my praise to that, he does an excellent job at being scary and believable. The scariest part about him is that he could be the neighbor helping you take in your groceries.

This film is based on a true story of a serial killer. A summary of the film is as follows: Jamie looks up to his mother Elizabeth’s new boyfriend John. They live in an Australian form of welfare housing in an under-decorated environment. There are sweet family moments depicting a happy family. Jamie’s 2 younger siblings run around and play like any normal kids their age. What is not normal is the judgmental, bigotry that John espouses. Early on the family clings to his stability. In a world that seems to care so little, John is their stability. Most the movie is a study of Jamie and John’s relationship. Jamie learns to trust and respect John even up to the point of killing with him. More than a macabre horror tale, which it decidedly is, the film shows the environment in which a real serial killer survived and thrived.

The acting and sets are superb. I was on the edge of my seat the whole 2 hours. While there isn’t a ton of gratuitous violence, there is some truly hideous stuff here. It will not appeal to a wide audience because of this. The killer is not glorified but clearly the director seeks to show how a serial killer can grow and thrive in a disenfranchised, impoverished social strata. I liked the character development but would have preferred more tender moments between the characters. It was as if everyone was tortured 24/7. Does respect really grow out of that? It seemed to me Jamie would have gone to the police early on if his life were that miserable. There is nothing to like in John and what we can like in Jamie is neutralized early on when they start killing. If you watch the Snowtown Murders you will find it obtusely disturbing as I did. Well, at least I hope you will.

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Argo

The film Argo is the story of how a CIA team rescued hostages from Iran. It is based on true events. In this film, the horrors of 1979 Iran contrast with the humor of making a fake movie making it both serious and comic.

images-200x300-8492078Argo is directed by Ben Affleck, known for the Town and a host of other movies. It has a star cast that includes: Bryan Cranston as Jack ODonnell, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, and John Goodman as John Chambers. At time of this review, it is the number one movie at the box office. It tells the suspenseful story of how our government saved hostages from Iran under the guise of scouting a movie location.

The basic story is as follows: The American embassy in Iran was invaded in 1979 by Iranian revolutionaries. It was a bloodbath. Six Ambassadors escaped to the home of the Canadian Ambassador. The CIA is charged with the impossible job of extracting them from the country. Tony Mendez comes up with a highly unsupported plan to smuggle them out posing as a movie team. Enlisting the help of a real Hollywood script and professional movie experts, Mendez launches the rescue operation.

One aspect that makes Argo great is its character development. So many movies I have seen recently have flat characters so Argo is a breath of fresh air. It does start out a bit slow but once it begins the suspense is like a building drumbeat that delivers in excitement and thrills. Some of the best parts are the vintage television footage and photographs interwoven throughout. With Iran in the news lately as well as the Presidential debates, this movie adds dimension to a largely forgotten part of the world. I can understand why we may want to forget. It is a gripping sketch of what was going on at that time. It reminds me of what it is to be human and what is so human about American movies. One more thing, the movie is exciting but never as real as when Jimmy Carter himself gives commentary just before the credits roll. I wonder what the current Iranians will make of this. It was classified until President Clinton’s administration declassified it.

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Straw Dogs

Article first published as Straw Dogs on Blogcritics.
Straw Dogs was directed by Rod Lurie, known for the Contender (2000). He is an ex Los Angeles film critic who took on quite a challenge directing a remake of the original Straw Dogs from 1971 which starred Dustin Hoffman. Surfing around the web I found this remake has similar controversy to the Cape Fear movies: volatile opinions exist.

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I believe any remake will have its detractors and Straw Dogs appears to have its fair share. While I enjoyed some aspects of the movie I found the script unrealistic and the characters under-developed. Had those two features been enhanced, it could have been a great remake.

The film centers on LA screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). They have just inherited a large house way out in the boonies of the deep South since Amy’s father’s passing. They decide to spend some time there in the town where Amy grew up so David can work on his most recent movie script presumably away from the noise of the city. Amy’s high school flame Charlie (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd) comes on to her right away and there is a tension there that hints at trouble. Charlie works with a group of ruffians that have long since graduated from high school but still cowtow to the coach Tom Heddon (James Woods) with regards to drinking games in the local saloon and other important facets of their small lives.

We learn very little about these washed-up football players. When they commit horrible acts we have no idea why. This is due to plain and simple shallow character development. There is something going on with the coach’s daughter and that makes for a side story that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say it is once again, shallow character development and weak screenwriting. The premise of the movie is that ex-high school football stars in a small town often become feared villains. This group, defined by David Sumner as “Straw Dogs,” are in no way cute or interesting. They are savages and their criminal behavior wreaks havoc until the final scene.

I found the plot very predictable. Something done with a bear trap piqued my interest just minutes before the credits rolled. Too bad that was the only high moment for me. Perhaps it should have happened an hour earlier and I would have liked this film more. If the writing were better along with the character development of both the straw dogs and the other characters, it could have been an awesome new concept of a classic. As it is, this remake “drops the ball” in more ways than one.

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Limitless

Limitless is a movie that takes us to a place where there are no limits for a new mind drug. Not only do we see the classic pitfalls and ills of using drugs but we see a strange new side, dare I say a positive side. A new drug that allows one to utilize 80% more of her/his brain is discovered by a burnt out writer who puts it to good use. As he keeps using the drug he realizes that there are drawbacks to that much brain usage. Somehow he learns to use it to his advantage.

The film was directed by Neil Burger who’s other work includes the Illusionist with Edward Norton. Limitless includes quite a few big names but the biggest are Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The film has amazing visuals reminiscent of Inception. It has a decent script that takes the viewer on a wild ride from beginning to end. While the visuals move fast however, there are some scenes throughout that tend to lag on. It’s as if they wanted to monopolize on special effects at the expense of keeping the story rolling at a palatable pace. This is one of the only drawbacks in the pace of the film. It is worth waiting out though because the ending delivers a smart and noteworthy conclusion.

Limitless is an excellent film that doesn’t have to be in reality so it isn’t. There are metaphors to real drug use. It opens up a lot for discussion and I recommend it.

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Inception

inception-movie-poster-5682722This is not my usual review format, I simply want to list a few things that bother me about this movie. Inception is a film I really didn’t want to write about because my opinion seems to be in the vast minority. However, after all the 5 star reviews are scrolled past, I found on IMDB and on Yahoo! Movies that there are many folks out there agreeing with me. Inception is a smokescreen of deceptive marketing and not much more.

To borrow David Spade’s SNL satire: I saw Inception last weekend. I liked it better the first time as The Matrix. (audience laughs). That’s basically my beef. This movie is harder to untangle than a wet mass of kite string. The worst part is that it follows no rational premise. It is a long film at 148 min. Unfortunately none of that time is spent developing characters or a plot of any logical substance. By placing the movie in a dream, anything can be done and anything can be said. Nothing can be challenged because it’s got neat cgi once in a long while. Believe me, they make you wait for it. The best part? They leave it open for a sequel. What will be new in it, a beach and some dreams of atv racing? Not a good movie experience for me, I recommend you go see Despicable Me instead.

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Vantage Point

This post I wrote was first published at Blogcritics.

I just saw Vantage Point at the matinee with my wife and really liked it. This is director Pete Travis’s first film. His recent television work includes Omagh (2004), a true story about a car bomb that killed many innocent people, and the 2003 television series Henry VIII. One was about a bomb, the other was criticized as being untruthful.

The bomb theme together with an unbelievable story is sort of what Travis brings us in Vantage Point. Nonetheless, the plot is original and clever, along with the editing. Plus certain humanitarian elements played out by an all-star cast make the movie enjoyable. The cast includes: Dennis Quaid as Thomas Barnes, Matthew Fox (of Lost fame) as Kent Taylor, Forest Whitaker as Howard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver as Rex Brooks, and some other fine actors who are sure to be up-and-comers.

When I say the plot is original and clever, I am being quite literal. I have never seen a movie that plays the same scene over and over again this way. It is reminiscent of 1999’s Nick of Time, starring Johnny Depp. In that film the scenes are done in “real time,” so it is a little different. Most of Vantage Point takes place in a Spanish town square where the President of the United States is shot. The 20-minute scene of the shooting is played over and over again, each time revealing new facts as seen from a different vantage point.

This would be a stellar idea for a movie, but the facts as they unravel are way too planned to have been random, and the parts of the “plan” that unravel are just too perfect to be believable. For example, the terrorists know exactly what room the President will escape to after the shooting, and what about an ambulance? We don’t see one. Another example is when thousands of Spaniards are running through the street and Howard Lewis happens to see and save a little girl whose ice cream he spilled earlier in the square. You must suspend your disbelief to enjoy this film, but it is still riveting to see the different vantage points played out. My wife said it made her a little queasy at the beginning seeing the same things over and over, but she agreed it was an original concept and in the end we both enjoyed it.

Obviously a terrorism/political movie is going to be very suspenseful. The camera running through the crowd keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are some relationship themes developed in the film, such as the one between Howard, who has left his wife and kids and ends up saving the young girl, and his family. After he saves her, he is moved by the experience to go back home to his estranged family in the US. Another one is Thomas Barnes’ dedication to protecting the President, so dedicated that he throws his own body in front of a bullet to save him.

The twist at the end is very predictable (my wife had it solved in the first scene) but as I have said, despite the unbelievability of it all, the ride is still worth the admission. There is a feeble attempt at making a statement about how terrorism will “always be with us.” That was an interesting thread running throughout and it would have been nice to see more done with that. As it is, it is only developed as a shadow of a theme.

It was also interesting to see how terrorism is enabled by blackmail and kidnapping. The primary assassin in the movie does his killing because his brother has been kidnapped and the terrorists use him as a puppet to do the sharp-shooting, promising his brother’s release once he does the killings. There is also a suicide bomber who we see checking his text message before exploding and it reads: “Make us proud.” But these are short scenes that don’t make up much of the movie. The majority of the movie is made up of playing the same scene over and over and that is obviously what the director hoped would make the movie a unique success.

My final word on Vantage Point is that it is a great suspense/action ride that lacks believability but makes up for it in creative editing and plot as well as some very humanitarian themes woven throughout. Go see this one.