Monday, November 25, 2013

Wave of Destruction

The Impossible
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Released: December 21, 2012

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Naomi Watts (lost to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Lining's Playbook)

This is a true story about a European family vacationing in Thailand for Christmas when they were struck by the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people. I remember this tsunami and that it killed many people, but what I hadn't realize was how massive it was and how many countries it hit. I thought that Thailand, Indonesia, India, and other countries in that area were hit, but there were also countries on the east coast of Africa that were also hit like Somalia, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa!  Not only are some of those countries not that close to each other, but they are nowhere near Thailand and Indonesia! They didn't suffer as much damage or as many casualties as the Southeast Asian countries that were hit, but that still shocked me. And I had also thought that the tsunami had hit every place at once, but it hadn't. It first hit Indonesia, which had the most casualties, then it hit Thailand and India two hours later and the African countries even later.

The family the movie is centered around - a couple, Maria and Henry (portrayed by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) with three young boys (the oldest is no more than 12; the youngest around 5) is British, but the real-life family that went through this awful ordeal were actually Spanish. I don't mind that they changed the nationality of the family. True, they could have easily cast Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and three young Spanish boys as the family, but then you would have to have the movie in Spanish and I'm guessing the filmmakers thought it would be better for it to be in English to get a bigger audience. I should mention that the director, producer, and writer are all Spanish and they collaborated with Maria Belon, the woman who Naomi Watts plays, so if all of them are okay with a real-life Spanish family being portrayed by a non-Spanish family, then it shouldn't be that big of a deal. And what country they are from really shouldn't matter...their nationality and what language they speak is not important in the grand scheme of things.

The Bennett family has gone to Thailand for a family vacation over the Christmas holiday. Apparently there were a lot of Europeans who were there on holiday when this tragedy occurred. I don't know if this is a common thing for Europeans to take family vacations to other continents, but to me, that idea is just foreign. I have never been, nor do I know anybody who has taken a family vacation to an entirely different country, let alone continent. Now the family is very well off as the mother is a doctor and the father works in business, but why not just go to the many beaches that their own country has to offer? They don't have family in Thailand and it's their first time there so I'm not really sure why they chose to go there, but where they are staying is a very nice resort for people with money.

We see them having a great time, playing on the beach and swimming in the ocean and the pool (why do you need a pool when you are already on the beach?) and enjoying their Christmas together. The day after Christmas they are all out by the pool when suddenly strange things start happening. The wind picks up. Birds are rapidly flying away from the ocean. A small lizard quickly hides underground. One of Maria's pages from her book rips away and lands on a glass wall. When she walks over to pick it up, we see the reflection behind her and she looks at it in horror as she sees the disturbing sight of an 80-foot palm tree just disappear as though it's easily been toppled over, and then sees more trees disappear. That was a really scary and effective image. Before anyone has time to react (Maria quickly yells at her husband who is in the pool with the two youngest boys), this huge wave appears and engulfs the resort.

The effects are very impressive and it's horrifying to think that this actually happened and this family went through this. But as I was watching, I couldn't help thinking why nobody was warned about this and why they weren't trying to evacuate the place. I watched a documentary on the tsunami and found out why this was. There are about 80 censors in the Pacific Ocean that alert a tsunami detection center in Hawaii if there is a change in the ocean that could cause a tsunami and then they can alert other countries that could be affected by this and give people plenty of time to evacuate beaches and get to safety. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, such a system did not exist in the Indian Ocean and there was only time to alert the nations of Africa when the tsunami struck.

Maria and Lucas, the oldest son, are separated from Henry and the two younger boys, Simon and Thomas. When watching this movie, I wasn't familiar with this family's story and had no idea if they all survived or not. I figured at least one of the adults had survived to be able to tell their story, but it you watch the trailer (which I did after I watched the movie), you already know that everyone survives the initial impact of the wave. Surprisingly everyone gets out unscathed aside from a few bruises and scratches.  Maria gets the worse of the injuries. She is poked in the stomach by branches while the water is rushing all around her and when she and Lucas are walking to find a tree to climb up, there is a huge piece of skin hanging off the back of her leg and you see a huge chunk of her muscle. (The make-up artists did a great job.) Surprisingly, Maria never really cried out in pain (except when she's climbing the tree) and I figured that it had to be due to shock and the will to survive. The huge chunk of missing skin is not the most graphic part of the movie. No, that would be the scene where Maria is in the hospital and throws up. It was so graphic that I thought she was throwing up her intestines (I know, I know), but later found out it was branches and leaves she had swallowed.

The film focuses on Maria and Lucas quite a lot during the first third, but then turns its attention to the others. I thought they were going to show the tsunami through their POV, but instead we find out what happened to them through a quick narrative: Henry was scared when he couldn't find his sons, but was quickly relieved when he saw them in a tree. How these two young boys managed to get out with barely a scrape and quickly found a way out of harm's way, (with presumably no help), I'll never know, but the movie doesn't think it's important to show us how they survived, but that they just did. Henry sends his two children on a bus that is going to the mountains and asks a woman to look after them so he can continue his search for his wife and eldest son. I understand that he wanted to continue to look for them in case they needed help, but I thought he should have stayed with the children he already knew were alive so they would at least still have one live parent left. The best scenario would be that someone had already found Maria and Lucas and was helping them (which was what happened). The worst scenario would be that they are both dead and there would be nothing he could do about it anyway.

This movie made me cry several times so I'm glad I watched it alone in the privacy of my apartment. While Thomas is in the hospital he helps family members be reunited and tries to help find others' loved one. One Swedish father and son are reunited and I bawled. I bawled when Henry called family members back home to tell them he was okay but didn't know the fate of his wife and Lucas yet. And I bawled when they were all reunited, though, I have to wonder how accurate their reunion was. It seemed awfully convenient that Henry ended up at the hospital his wife and son were at, plus the two young boys were there too. I have to imagine that this did not happen in real life, but it was more cinematic and dramatic this way. It still amazes me that this actually happened to this family and they are all very lucky to be alive!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Captain on the Rocks

Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi
Released: October 11, 2013
Viewed in theaters: November 3, 2013

Much like he did with United 93, Paul Greengrass cast mostly unknowns in his latest movie based on a true event with the exception of Tom Hanks who I'm sure you have heard of! The capturing of Richard Phillips onboard a huge cargo ship happened in April 2009, but despite being old enough to remember this, I don't recall this story at all and wasn't even aware of it until I heard about the movie and how that was based on a true story.

It is an interesting story and I can see why it was made into a film. I wasn't aware that Paul Greengrass had directed it until his name came up at the end credits and I think to myself, Of course, I should have known. This is a movie that he would direct.

The movie begins with Captain Phillips (portrayed by Tom Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener) on their way to the airport so Phillips can fly to Oman where from there, he, along with a crew, will navigate a large cargo ship called the Maersk Alabama to deliver food to the nations of Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda. Their route sends them to Djibouti from Oman and then to Mombassa, Kenya, which they have to sail along the Somali coast where pirate activity is so heavy that Phillips gets an e-mail warning about it and has drills to prepare his crew in case they should ever have a run-in with pirates.

On the sonar, he notices two small blips gradually getting closer to the Maersk Alabama and with binoculars, sees that they are two skiffs each with four Somalian pirates on each one. He fibs to the pirates when he gets on his radio and tells them that the Navy (or whoever it is that patrols the oceans) will be arriving in five minutes. Only one skiff calls him on his bluff while the other changes course. The skiff that is still coming after them breaks down and Phillips and his crew are safe...for now.

Phillips has a conversation with his crew about the incident. Their boat is not armed so if they are captured by pirates, they have no fire power to scare them away. Many of his crew want to take a detour to get out of the heavy pirate activity which would mean not reaching their destination. Phillips tells them they have a job to do and that's what they're to do and if anybody wants to leave, they can. I can see the points of both sides. It does seem pretty ridiculous to risk your life in an area of the world that's known for its piracy when your ship isn't even armed (that has since changed and firing warning shots help scare pirates off), but Phillips was right saying they have an obligation to deliver the food to Mombassa and this is what they signed up for.

The next day, four of the pirates are back, led by Muse (played by Somalian-born, Minnesota-raised Barkhad Abdi). They get a lot closer to the Alabama than the previous day and water hoses spaced all around the boat are activated to keep the pirates away, but one is broken and despite one crew member desperately trying to fix it, the pirates make their way to that part of the boat and hook their ladder onto it so they can climb up. It is crazy to think that four men in one small boat can overpower a crew that outnumbers them in a boat that is 508 feet and 6 inches long (footnote, Wikipedia).

As he sees the pirates boarding the ship, Tom Hanks' expression is of pure fear and he does a brilliant job of portraying it. Expect a few acting nominations on the way for him in the near future. Phillips tells his crew to hide in the engine room and not to come out no matter what. He and a couple other crew members are in the control area where they steer that boat. The pirates find them and asks Phillips where the rest of his crew is and he replies with, "I don't know!" He tells the pirates that he will help them search the boat and suggests they start from top to bottom since the engine room is at the bottom and will give the crew members plenty of time to shut the power off so they will be hidden.

There is an intense scene where one of the pirates has a gun pointed at the head of one of Phillips' crew member when he won't tell them where the rest of the crew is, but no blood is least not for awhile.

After a standoff between the pirates and the crew members, Phillips offers them the $30,000 in their vault and the lifeboat on the Alabama if they just leave them alone, but after he is explaining how to work the lifeboat, they won't let him leave and take off with him in it and the movie continues on to show us how he is eventually rescued by the Navy Seals.

Something interesting that Greengrass does is he never cuts back to Keener at home worrying about her husband who is in peril. In fact, the only time we see her is at the very beginning.

The ending of the movie is very effective and another great scene from Hanks. He has an interesting accent as the real Captain Phillips from Massachusetts. It was a bit distracting at times because he sounds a lot like Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Weight of the World

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Released: October 4, 2013
Viewed in theaters: October 12, 2013

It's too bad the Academy were falling all over themselves to give Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar a few years back for a role that wasn't very memorable in a mediocre movie. If only they had waited, they could have given her the Best Actress Oscar for Gravity, an Oscar win that would be much more deserved and revered. But she could always pull a Hilary Swank or Christoph Waltz and win a second Oscar just a few years after winning her first.

I will be the first one to tell you that I'm not a fan of 3-D and will only see it if it's highly recommended (Avatar) or I have to (Titanic re-release (damn you, James Cameron!)) I have to say, though, that this was probably the best use of 3-D I've ever seen and I kinda forgot I was even wearing the glasses after awhile. Usually they're bugging me and I'm taking them off because I'm one of those weird people who have to take off the glasses to see what the movie looks like if you're not wearing them.

The very first shot is the looming Earth and you see a very small speck moving slowly and gradually getting bigger as it gets closer. You quickly notice there's an even smaller speck behind the already small speck and the closer it gets, you realize it's a space craft with astronaut Matt Kowalski  (George Clooney) attached to it with a long cord in his space suit. With the 3-D effect, he seems to come out of the screen and hover over the audience. It's really cool how the 3-D is used.

Kowalski and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are in space something important. To be honest, I have no idea. Even though I find the solar system fascinating, I am not a NASA nut. Whatever it was, they needed Stone's expertise as she was the one who was using tools to put something together. Keep in mind while Kowalski was a veteran astronaut, this was Stone's first time in space. They are there with another man who doesn't have much screen time. Make that as you will.

They hear a warning from the mission control headquarters (voiced by Ed Harris, do you think it is a coincidence that he was also in The Right Stuff and Apollo 13?)  that a Russian missile strike has caused a chain reaction  that has caused space debris. Do I have any idea if this is even plausible? No, of course not!  They are told to abort their mission but don't have enough time to avoid the debris. There's a lot of it  (and some pieces are quite huge) and it's coming up fast on them.

Stone's cord becomes detached and she just goes tumbling head over heels for what seems like an eternity. She was already feeling nauseous to begin with so just watching her tumble like that, you know she's gotta be feeling like she's on one of those amusement park rides that spin you around, but just multiply that by ten! I wonder what happens if astronauts have to throw up...luckily that didn't happen! This movie really makes you appreciate just how big space is and how there is (in space!). One is just an infinitesimal speck in space. Her oxygen is getting low and the more she is moving away from the base, the more it seems impossible she can be retrieved. It has to be a scary feeling when you can't control your movements and there's nothing you can do about it. This happens very early in the movie and I was thinking that she was going to get to far away, lose her oxygen and die and that this would be the shortest movie ever. Miraculously, Kowalski gets in contact with her and asks her to flash her light and tethers her to him.

As they make their way back, Kowalski keeps Stone talking to calm her down and we learn that she had a young daughter who died in a playground accident. This will come up later in the film as Stone is struggling with trying to survive and making it back to Earth or accepting death and being able to join her daughter soon.

This is a very tense movie and it moves quickly. One thing after another happens. Just when you think there's a chance for them to get back home, something happens, they fix that problem, but then another problem arises until you think there's no way they will ever make their way home. Now, what are you waiting for? Go see this movie if you haven't yet! And if you haven't seen it, stop reading this right now!

Okay, so George Clooney is not in this movie very long and this movie belongs all to Sandra Bullock. When she is in the Chinese (or was it the Russian?) shuttle, ready to give up because she's out of fuel and she's ready to accept her fate and just die and we see Kowalski come into the chamber and tell her another option she has, for just a moment, I was really happy that he was back and that she didn't have to go through this alone and would have some moral support to get home, but then I realized, duh, it was obviously just a dream or a hallucination. Several hours had passed and there's no way Kowalski would still be alive (ugh, I just realized that his dead body would be up there floating in space...creepy...) and even if he was, there would be no way he could find his way to the shuttle Stone was in because space is huge! So, yeah, for just a few seconds, they got me.

Also, Dr. Stone was very lucky when she landed that she ended up in water (which would have been the higher probability because isn't the ratio of land to water 70/30?), but she ends up in a lake that is very close to land. I was worried that she was going to have to swim a long ways and would get too tired and drown, but no, just a couple strokes and she's to the shore!

Oh, and when the third astronaut (who doesn't last very long) is shown, obviously dead with his helmet cracked, I gave an audible "Ugh!" That was not a pretty sight! If I want to see some creepy, freaky outer space movie, I can always watch Event Horizon!