The Impossible

commentary-theimpossible

Some films labeled as Oscar bait actually go on to win Oscars, but others simply get shunned for their supposed efforts to manipulate audiences. Sadly, Juan Antonia Bayona‘s The Impossible fell into the latter category. The film follows a vacationing family caught up in the 2004 tsunami that devastated coastal areas in Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere, killing over 230,000 people in the process. The family’s experience is brought to immediate life through powerful performances and Bayona’s dedication to crafting terrifyingly realistic sequences. The film attracted criticism for casting Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as part of a “whitewashing” of the true story, but that’s just people being willfully ignorant and missing the point of the film altogether. Instead the takeaway should simply be that this is a story of love, loss, hope and the realization that there is no guarantee of a tomorrow. Keep reading to see what I learned from the commentary track for The Impossible.

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discs central park

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. The Central Park Five The term “crime of the century” is an overused one, and one of the more infamous examples of its application came in 1989 when a white, female jogger in NYC’s Central Park was sexually assaulted and left for dead. The culprits were identified as five black teens who were tried and convicted both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. The boys were sentenced and served out their time, but they were relieved and the world were surprised in 2002 when the real culprit confessed. PBS golden boy Ken Burns co-directs this sad, shocking and infuriating doc that explores the case from the perspective of both the boys and the truth. Over eager police and prosecutors combined with a racially divided public led to a terrible miscarriage of justice. The film acknowledges that the blame lay equally with the authorities, the press and at times, the boys’ parents too. The NYC of more than twenty years ago seems almost unrecognizable to the city of today, but the facts speak for themselves. If only there had been someone to listen back in 1989. [DVD extras: Featurettes]

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impossible log

I applauded composer Fernando Velázquez last year for his score for The Impossible, a film wrought with drama in which Velázquez wisely kept his music to the background rather than trying to influence the raw emotions on screen. But Velázquez’s latest project has audiences hearing a very different side of the composer – one of suspense and intrigue with his score for the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama. Velázquez switches modes here, wasting little time bringing audiences into what del Toro described as a “fairytale gone wrong” with the first track, “The Car and the Radio” quickly putting you on the edge of your seat. Unlike his score for The Impossible, which drew audiences into the film slowly, Velázquez is at full tilt here, utilizing a full orchestra (and some ominous choral elements) which become a part of this world rather than simply keeping to the background of it.

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ja bayona

The Impossible is a tough movie for many reasons. With a real-life tragedy of this magnitude, if the smallest moment comes off as what we usually label as “entertainment,” the movie can become offensive with any hint of Roland Emmerich-ness. Director J.A. Bayona seems well-aware of this fact, as he was sure the right choices were made from the start. Bayona didn’t want to make a “disaster” picture, but rather a faithful, emotional experience set through the eyes of a Western family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Not only is bringing those feelings to screen a major storytelling challenge, but it’s also a technical one. Here’s what Bayona had to say about being his own audience, why he may be romantic for film, and the many challenges of The Impossible. 

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The Best Soundtracks of 2012

Looking back over the past year in film, it is impressive to remember the different styles and forms of music that accompanied these various releases as they bring back the memories and emotions felt when first hearing a particular song or watching a piece of orchestration pair perfectly with what was happening on screen. When it comes to music, it is not simply a question of what was the best; it is a question of what resonated the most. Music created for film is unlike any other type of music because it is intended to be listened to while watching specific images. Of course there are songs that stand well on their own (see: Adele’s “Skyfall”), but hopefully even outside of the film, those songs conjure up memories of the films they came from. Sometimes a song placed in a particular scene can take on a whole new meaning, giving you a new ideas to reflect on when you hear it (see: “The Air That I Breathe” by the Hollies as used in a pivotal scene in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.) Soundtracks and scores help add to the emotion of a film and this year’s musicians delivered in spades. From turning found sounds into orchestration to adding a new layer of depth to the end of a trilogy to proving that sometimes words simply are not enough, 2012 was filled with new, inventive, and memorable music. Let’s look back and listen to the twelve selections […]

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The_Impossible_13454997278218

This weekend’s release of The Impossible has reminded me of another film involving the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a documentary titled From Dust. You’ve likely never seen it. The IMDb listing shows only 13 users have rated the film (compare that to the already 3,786 voters on The Impossible‘s page), and my review from the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival remains the only one linked there. But it is easily rented or bought through Amazon Instant Video (or seen free on CultureUnplugged.com). And I think a producer or screenwriter looking for an idea for a movie could be inspired by the David vs. Goliath tale it tells. From Dust is about a fishing village and a coastal city in Sri Lanka dealing with the aftermath of the disaster, which destroyed the area with 13-foot-high tidal waves. The people have been forbidden from rebuilding their homes through a government mandate, which is either for their safety or for the opportunistic benefit of the state, depending on what you believe. Eight years later, I’m unaware of what happened to the subjects in the documentary, or their land, but the idea and the issue of building hotels and resorts upon the ashes of a catastrophe is not exactly limited to this story. Nor is, as we’ve seen post-Sandy, the argument over who is responsible for rebuilding after devastation.

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Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 10.19.58 PM

J.A. Bayona’s film The Impossible is based on the true story of a Spanish family who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as they were taking a Christmas vacation at a Thailand resort. We know from real life and from the film’s trailer that the whole family survives, and while separated by the disaster, eventually find their way back to each other – so giving that piece of information away in this review isn’t a spoiler, per se. And the film doesn’t hinge on that piece of information, it’s more concerned with the power of each family members’ individual wills to find each other and survive until they do. The film features some great acting performances, though its direction is sometimes a mixed bag of manipulative melodrama and suspenseful moments of dread. Changed from a Spanish to an English family in the film, the Bennetts are a well-off family living in Japan. Henry (Ewan McGregor) is a businessman whose job is perhaps in jeopardy and his wife Maria (Naomi Watts) is a doctor who has taken some time off to raise their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). They try to set all family tensions aside as they take a family vacation to an exclusive resort in Thailand for Christmas. When spending some time poolside one afternoon, the tsunami suddenly strikes, leaving a severely injured Maria with Lucas, and Henry with the youngest two children. The film nearly occurs in two sections: the first […]

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Aural Fixation - Large

It is devastating whenever something tragic and unexpected happens, but when tragedy hits during the holidays, normally a time of celebration and good cheer, the impact seems even greater. As a nation, we know this feeling all too well due to the recent events in Connecticut, but this was sadly not the first time an unthinkable event occurred during a time when people are usually focusing on giving thanks and looking back over the year. In 2004, a deadly tsunami hit the coast of South East Asia, demolishing buildings, land, and people caught in its path. While this kind of natural event is much different than the harm caused by a person, the emotions related to suddenly losing, or being separated from, loved ones become the universal tenants of these awful situations. The images and stories that came out in the wake of this tsunami spoke for themselves, but The Impossible adds a personal touch by taking audiences inside the experience through the real life story of a family who was vacationing over the holidays in Thailand when the unthinkable struck and their lives were forever changed. The idea of a family being physically separated by powers beyond their control is enough to bring out one’s emotions and get your pulse racing which makes the task of a composer, in this case Fernando Velázquez, all the more daunting because music is not necessary to conjure up the emotions being felt and displayed on screen.

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Django Unchained

This last month of 2012 is packed with movies to suck up our time when we need it the most. You got Tom Cruise stretching his acting muscles as an action hero, Russell Crowe singing in the shower, Matt Damon getting all teary eyed nostalgic over old America, and more. Plenty of variety before the apocalypse ruins our chance of ever seeing what Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Batman would be like. If this is our final month of filmgoing, then so be it. With Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Judd Apatow, Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher McQuarie, and Gus Van Sant all jollying up our holiday season, we couldn’t ask for a better last hurrah for movies if those apocalypse rumors are proven correct. Before we all die horrible and painful deaths, make sure to see these films:

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The Impossible

The ocean is a beautiful and terrifying body of nature that can both entice and trap. Anyone who has been caught in a riptide or had an unexpected wave suddenly crash over their heads knows the power of the ocean, and the fear it can cause if it overtakes you. When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004, we all saw the devastation that disaster caused to the area and heard about the lives lost and families torn apart because of it. Based on a true story, The Impossible goes a step further and actually takes us into the experience through the eyes of a family on an idyllic vacation that suddenly gets turned on its head. Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) have traveled to Thailand with their three sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) to spend the Christmas holiday at a luxurious resort making their biggest question whether they want to swim in the resort’s pool or the nearby ocean. The day after Christmas the entire family is out by the pool, playing and relaxing, when the tsunami hits, proving to be as unexpected as it is relentless.

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Culture Warrior

When the trailer for Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible debuted on the web – an upcoming holiday release starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as the parents of a living-comfy British family vacationing in southeast Asia in 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit – it caused quite a stir. Nathan Adams referred to the trailer as “melodramatic,” and our comments section was abuzz with seasoned FSR writers and readers alike assessing the merits of a film about a real-life natural disaster that devastated the lives of countless people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India which focuses instead on a white, ostensibly wealthy British family on holiday. David Haglund of Slate called the trailer “deeply troubling” and “horribly misjudged,” going so far as to say that, out of the hundreds of thousands of lives adversely affected by the tragedy, …The Impossible is, so far as one can tell from this trailer, about the uplifting story of five, well-off white people. Which is not to say that the lives of well-off white people don’t matter. But movies like this one create the unmistakable and morally repugnant impression that their lives matter more. The whitewashing of the silver screen has been proven to be an issue that is neither small nor unfamiliar when it comes to the enterprise of Hollywood representation. As Cole Abaius pointed out in a recent editorial, one of the more ironic repercussions of a globalized Hollywood economy dependent upon foreign sales is that Hollywood studios are still hesitant to […]

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One of the most reliable ways we’ve devised of making sure a movie will be affecting, engaging, and able to jerk tears out of its audience members is to base its story off of a real life tragedy. And, in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, direct Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) has picked himself a doozy of a tragedy to set his latest film, The Impossible, during. The tsunami, which was generated by a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra on December 26 of that year, caused massive damage in 11 countries, killing 150,000 people and leaving millions more homeless in the blink of an eye. The Impossible takes a look at how one family (made up of Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, and three young boys) gets unexpectedly swept up into the destruction, find themselves separated, and have to try desperately to find their way back to one another.

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As Hollywood continues its recovery from the hellfire that was Comic-Con, we’re getting inundated with news that falls under the “clean up” category – news like release dates and 84 new pictures from The Dark Knight Rises. Not content to let DreamWorks and Fox Searchlight steal all of today’s incredible exciting release date-setting thunder, Lionsgate has finally given a date to J.A. Bayona‘s The Impossible. The Naomi Watts- and Ewan McGregor-starring drama about a family surviving the 2004 tsunami will hit New York and Los Angeles on December 21st. The film was made back in 2010 and, since then, fans of Bayona (The Orphanage) have been eagerly anticipating his take on the tragedy. However, this December release date will pit the film against such big openers as Jack Reacher, This Is 40, and Kathryn Bigelow’s next. It will also have to contend with openers from the week before, like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Les Miserables. What a cheery holiday! After the break, take a look at a stunning, stirring Spanish teaser for the film.

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This being my third Cannes Film Festival in a row, I feel I’m now in the privileged position to demand something of the festival in return for standing thanklessly in queues in the baking sun, and allowing my English Rose skin to wilt/burst into flames under the unforgiving French Riviera sun. So, with that in mind, below is a run-down of what I’d ideally like to see when I get to Cannes in May – along with a few reasonable predictions, based on what’s coming up.

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