The Impossible (J.A. Bayona, 2012)
I went to see this film today because it was the last of the narrative (fiction) films with some kind of Oscar nomination that I had yet to see. Naomi Watts is the nominee, and she gave her usual high-caliber performance. Unfortunately, said performance was overwhelmed, as the film wore on, by excessive maudlin melodrama accentuated with overwrought music. I don’t think she’ll win.
The best part of The Impossible, directed by the man (Juan Antonio Bayona) who previously brought us The Orphanage (a not-quite-successful-but-interesting-nevertheless horror film) in 2007, is the opening. We are given enough time with the central family to understand their dynamic and to care (somewhat) about them, and then the tsunami hits. Wow! What an amazing technical accomplishment that was, blending footage shot in a water tank with traditional models and CGI. I was horrified and riveted, and deeply engrossed in the fight to survive amidst the turgid waters. When the second wave hit, I almost lost it. A man sitting next to me had screamed out loud just a moment earlier when a car, on top of which two main characters were desperately clinging, slammed into a tree. This is visceral filmmaking at its best, and I was very impressed (if squirming).
I remained involved as Maria (Naomi Watts) and her son Lucas (the brilliant – and so young! – Tom Holland) dragged themselves through reeds and mud, Maria bleeding profusely all the way. In fact, it was only when the film leaves them in a hospital to cut back to the story of Henry (Ewan McGregor) and his two younger sons that my attention began to waver. Perhaps it was because Henry sends the boys off unattended into the mountains (where they meet Geraldine Chaplin, appearing in a strange little cameo, as she did in The Orphanage) so he can look for his missing wife and elder son; perhaps it was the excessive use of music to punctuate the scenes of flood survivors seeking relatives. All I know is that by the time we reached the frantic reunion of all 5 family members (I know, spoiler alert, but since this is based on a true story, there’s not much to spoil), and Bayona set up a series of very obviously staged almost misses in the hospital, I had long since checked out. And this in a film about a tragedy that killed almost 300,000 people!
Poor Naomi Watts – for the first half of the film she is a force of nature, but in the second half she lies on a gurney, on life support. It’s hard to act when your face is covered with an oxygen mask. Perhaps the Oscar nomination is a reward for having spent 95% of the film covered in mud.
There have been more positive reviews than negative ones about the film. Here is an example of one from Entertainment Weekly. Based on what I have written, above, it should come as no surprise that I agree more with many of the negative reviews, such as this one from The Newark Star-Ledger or this one from The New York Times. The more thoughtful critics point out how much the film ignores the plight of the vast majority of victims, who were Asian, in favor of a focus on a family of Anglos (who were actually Spanish in real life, which is why I chose a Spanish version of the poster, above).
It’s not a terrible movie, and it’s almost worth watching for the tsunami recreation, alone. But if your gag reflex is provoked by too much overt manipulation of sentiment by a director, then you might find the latter half of the film as annoying as I did. Let me know.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Peter Lord/Jeff Newitt, 2012)
This will be short.
I did not life this film, at all. It was the one remaining Oscar-nominated animated film for me to see, and I expected to love it. It is from Aardman Animations, which has given us Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, Chicken Run and lots of other great things, including this little gem of a short riff on Nina Simone’s version of “My Baby Just Cares for Me.”
In The Pirates! Band of Misfits, we are treated to characters both dumb and unsympathetic. None of the jokes are funny, and the Pirate Captain, voiced by a miscast Hugh Grant, is a bore from start to finish. The film livens up a bit at the end, when we get actual action on Queen Victoria’s warship, but by that time our attention has been lost to the insipid plot, made worse by the constant and even more insipid music by film composer Theodore Shapiro, whose contributions similarly ruined Hope Springs (I gave him a bit of a pass in that previous review, but now I am beginning to think he may just be a musical monstrosity). I won’t even bother recounting that plot, as it won’t make sense, anyway.
One thing that annoyed me even further is the choice to make Queen Victoria the villain. Leaving aside the fact that in 1837, when the film is set, she would have been only 18, and not the matronly dominatrix they portray here, it seems odd to pit her as someone evil opposite pirates, who actually were evil. The film takes for granted that we’ll like the pirates just because the director expects us to, yet makes no effort to ensure that we find something likable in them. Also, speaking of dates – yes, I know it’s just a silly animated film – but did they really have flush toilets and electrical light switches in 1837? I don’t think so. I’m not used to movies – even ones marketed to children (or especially ones marketed to children) – so completely ignoring historical realities in the name of story as this one does. Why bother with dates, then? Don’t even get me started on the airship . . . If the film were at least funny, perhaps I would care less.