MOVIES WORTHY OF A SECOND LOOK
Thomas Ormsby at the Movies

On December 26th, 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake under the Bay of Bengal caused a tsunami that took the lives of 118,000 thousand people, with 8,000 of those deaths reported in Thailand alone. Many tourists from the world over had come to those tropical shores for the Christmas holiday. The Impossible is the story of one such family, the Bennetts from the UK, Henry, Maria and their three sons, Lucas, Thomas and Simon. A day that began simply as a time of fun at the pool, was forever changed as the ocean roared over the oceanside resort, sweeping away everyone in its path.

Impossible

Most of us followed the news of that event as best we could, but soon were distracted by the coming new year. But for those who survived, it was a long hard slog to determine what remained of their lives and their families. From there, this movie should be seen, and not explained here. It is sufficient to say that I had not fully considered the extent of the damage that can occur in such an monumental event, until I saw this film—and that speaks to the quaity of this production.

Naomi Watts was nominated this year for Best Actress for her role as Maria, but lost the Oscar to Jennifer Lawrence. It's of little consequence, really. What Watts achieved with this role extends far beyond anything that can be labeled as acting. She literally descends out of consciousness, into the body of a battered being, severely injured by being tumbled underwater by the furious tsunami, harshly banged against submerged objects and badly punctured by swirling debris. And while we've seen many actresses swaddled in bandages, who merely have to lie down and "act" injured, Watts becomes a woman struggling to remain alive after the ocean recedes, one who is dragged to high ground by Thai villagers, then trucked off to a third-world hospital, where she is mis-identified and subjected to multiple surgeries to close her gaping wounds. I do not recall any scene in any motion picture where this level of suffering has been so convincingly portrayed — and yet, done in such a manner that we are not repelled, but rather, we are vigilant at her bedside, to be with this woman in the hours she is left alone, to offer what we can to help her pull through. It was a revelation to me to be so drawn in — so affected was I by the plight of these people.

Ewan McGregor is an actor who has been in numerous films, and has been suitable in all of them; but now, he has achieved a certain distinction, playing a parent for the first time, stumbling through the twisted wreckage of the ruined beach resort, having no idea where to go or how to locate his family. The eldest son, Lukas, is the work of Tom Holland, a young actor who astounded me every moment he is on-screen. You just have to see this for yourself. And the two younger brothers are no less wondrous.

This is an English language production by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, written by Sergio G. Sanchez. The image above is the Spanish poster, which is better than the American release version.

The Impossible is not a disaster film. It is a film about a family that is washed away by the epic force of an enormous tidal wave, and what happens to them all.



 

LaborDay

Like many of us, I first became aware of Kate Winslet twenty years ago as Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic. I thought then that she was a curious choice for the female lead, and never really saw her as a great actor.

Times have changed and with her increasing list of roles since 1995, and once there was less make up and lipstick, her performances have become less about glamor, and more real, beginning with her take on Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and later as Hanna Schmitz, the former Nazi prison guard, now working as a tram fare collector, befriends a derelict 15-year old lad, with whom she has a deep and passionate relationship  in The Reader.

Most recently, in the 2013 film, Labor Day, we see her with Josh Brolin, who, as an escaped convict, muscles his way into her life and that of her son, Henry—taking refuge from the scouring police, and befriending both mother and son.  Winslet plays this role with a steady acceptance of the facts, and need to protect her son, a serious and guarded kid played by Gattlin Griffith.

Before you lay your money down to see Prometheus, you need to know that this is the prequel to Alien, and so, be prepared for a technological and cinematic update to all the scare-tactics you may remember from that 1979 film.

Prome

The visuals are a real treat and deserve the sweep of big screen viewing for sure, and while the storyline is blatantly familiar, the plotline is fleshed-out, and many of the details from whence the original Alien came are explained. If that is a draw, you may totally enjoy this movie. And, there are no bladder-discharging moments of extreme fright, and for that I was thankful.

This time, we are not landed on the dreadful thick dark maroon planet of Alien, but a far more inviting world - - and the massive spacecraft Prometheus navigates the mountainous topography of this strange planet with relative ease -- a totally satisfying vehicle with wondrous heads-up telemetry displays floating all around, and powered by ion propulsion engines which swivel, very much like those seen on Firefly, only on a much larger scale. This ship does not employ the standard dank oil tanker decor, so there are no dripping water or broken steam lines anywhere. It is a grand ship.

I was drawn because I always am fulfilled by Director Ridley Scott's attention to detail and willingness to produce elaborate full-scale motion picture entertainment, and to that end, he has succeeded.

But when the lights came up and the credits rolled, I sat there, feeling as if I just bought an old car with a new paint job, and the interior had been liberally sprayed with a new car smell aerosol. Simply put, we've seen this movie before. But don't get me wrong. I thoroughly intend to see it again -- and in a theater. Sometimes I am a glutton for well-produced mediocrity. Yes, Hollywood is running out of storylines -- so if there is a Ridley Scott sequel to this prequel -- something like Protoman Meets Gladiator -- you'll know why.

-- Thomas Ormsby

Conceived as "a beautiful movie about the end of the world," Melancholia is exactly that, an immensely vast and believable film about the approach of a rogue planet which flys-by Earth at close proximity, filling the sky with the full beauty of its turquoise-colored grandeur, with no need to resort to cataclysmic visual overkill to convey an impending sense of doom.

Melancholia1

That impending sense of doom is clearly provided by the family in disarray at the center of this screenplay, all of whom we meet at the central event of the wedding of Justine (Kirstin Dunst) to the adoring groom, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), the corrosive mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), the long-suffering father, Dexter (John Hurt), the steady sister, Claire (Charlottle Gainsbourgh) and the most restrained and noteworthy performance we have seen from Kiefer Sutherland in some time, as the brother, John.

telescope

But it is Kirstin Dunst as Justine who embodies the spirit of Melancholia, the name of the approaching planet, most completely, for she herself is lost in deep depression and detachment, even from her own wedding and new husband, one of the few characters who actually knows how short time is, and how unimportant everything suddenly has become. She is the metaphor, both for the approaching planet, and for Earth itself, so lost, at such a critical time, and yet, she is the strength of it all. And she has entered this role so completely, that you can see it in her eyes.

Dunst

This is a most unusual film, and is completely captivating. I have no idea why this 2011 movie slipped by with so little notice. I am already looking forward to watching it again, which is more than I can say for any of the last six Tom Cruise movies.

It is available as a video-stream on i Tunes or Netflix.

-- Thomas Ormsby

Renoir

Filmed in that saturated color of shady nature that we’ve seen in Elvira Medigan and Jean de Florette . . . the lush beauty of full summer, grassy meadows and enormous trees, the setting where Pierre Auguste Renior set up his easel to capture the beauty of the female form and background nature for any number of his later paintings.

This story is told in the context of those later years, in the early twentieth century, when a young girl arrives at Renoir’s home in Gagnes-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azul the the southeastern coast of France to be his model, and is present when Renoir’s son, Jean, returns wounded from the world war to convalesce. There begins a romance and the source of Renior’s heirs. His legacy had already been established in his lifetime from his paintings, which we get to see in great profusion, and even the painting style as reproduced for this motion picture, very careful brushstrokes laid down with seeming simplistic ease, to add just the right highlight and shadow touches. Truly fascinating. Available on Netflix.

Hugo was one of the high-profile movies of 2011, and while the publicity imagery that surrounds it might lead one to believe that it was all about a kid who lives in a Paris train terminal and keeps all the clocks running—it is all that—but much more.

Hugo

It is a rather inventive way to introduce us to the earliest movie-makers in history, Georges Méliés, and the technologies and techniques he developed to produce some the truly marvelous motion pictures of early film history. Hugo is a sweet and engaging film.

- - Thomas Ormsby