Regular readers of this blog may recall that I published a list of my top 10 films of the year (along with books and CDs) just before I took off for Christmas vacation. The list came with a caveat — those were my favorite films based on what had been released in the Tampa Bay area at that time.
Well, I saw a lot of movies in the San Francisco Bay Area during my time off, and a few since I've returned to Tampa. So with your indulgence, here are my pint-sized reviews of those films — some that have still not been released here, others that have, and some that never will be.
For those of us around in the 1970s, it truly was the Golden Age of the Disaster Film, led by producer Irwin Allen (Posidean Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno). These films actually felt somewhat realistic, and the special effects were cutting edge for the time. By the late 80s and into the 1990s, the genre had become a parody of itself (I'm talking about films like 1996's Independence Day, which upped the ante by bombing New York and D.C. a full 5 years before 9/11).
The Impossible has the feel of one of those better, 70s movies. It's premise is based (unfortunately) on the very real Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that killed over 230,000 people. The content comes from the memoir of Maria Belon, a Spanish citizen who was on holiday with her family when the disaster struck.
The fact that the screenplay changes the family from Spanish to American has been criticized, but the film itself is riveting and at times extremely intense, especially the sequence when the tsunami hits (about 20 minutes into the film) and the equally harrowing depiction of Naomi Watts' character being sucked into a whirlpool.
Like all movies, The Impossible is manipulative, and only those without a heart will avoid welling up several times. Tears are a part of this story. If you're ready for it, The Impossible is a memorable experience. [Note: CL Contributor Philip Booth will have an expanded review of The Impossible up at cltampa.com/movies tomorrow.]
Rust and Bone
This film has proven extremely divisive with audiences and critics alike, but it seems likely that its star, the French beauty Marion Cotillard, will nab another Oscar nomination for her performance as a trainer of orcas who becomes a double amputee after she is crushed by one of the mammals during a show at "Marineland" (the horrific scene echoes what happened at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010).
Although Cotillard rightly has been given high praise for her role, her co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts, is equally up to the task in the film. Rust and Bone is directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, whose 2009 film The Prophet was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
The Central Park Five
This Ken Burns documentary (co-directed by his daughter Sarah and her husband, Ken McMahon, adapted from Sarah's book) revisits the brutal 1989 New York city rape of a white woman, and the five black and Latino boys who were convicted of that heinous crime.
Observers will recall that those boys (now men) were exonerated years ago. The surprising thing to me watching the film was that it was a full decade ago when they were proven innocent. Why were they convicted in the first place is what the movie is all about, and it's gripping.
Any Day Now
Scottish actor Alan Cumming stars as one half of a gay couple in West Hollywood in 1979 who want to adopt an abandoned child with Down Syndrome. The film depicts the tribulations and outright prejudices they have to endure in trying to do the right thing. The first thing an audience member might say when leaving the theater (other than commenting on the hideous clothes that men thought looked attractive in the late 1970s) is, Thank God out society has evolved from those times.
Before you get all high and might, don't forget that gay adoption was illegal in Florida until the state's Supreme Court ruled laws banning it were unconstitutional. That was all the way back in … 2010.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Okay, let's get this out of the way: Hyde Park on Hudson ain't no Lincoln. Not even close. But it's not trying to be. Instead Hudson is sort of two movies in one. There's the story about the mousy distant cousin of FDR (played by Laura Linney) who ends up (somewhat reluctantly) becoming one of the New Deal leader's paramours. (There were several.) But in the middle of that plot line, the narrative takes a different course and becomes a sequel of sorts to 2010's Oscar-winning The King's Speech.
In Hudson, that same King is coming to spend the weekend at FDR's getaway in upstate New York, and there is great interplay between FDR (Bill Murray) and his visitor. The main takeaway from this movie is how super-positive a guy FDR was, and how different the 1940s were from today when it comes to the way that the press treats our presidents. Murray's solid, and it's not a bad two hours. But again, it ain't Lincoln.
The Promised Land
Although the subject of The Promised Land is ostensibly "fracking" — the controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth that has taken off across more than half the country in recent years — the film's real target is corporations.
This flick was supposedly going to be writer Dave Eggers directorial debut before he handed off the chores to all-pro Gus Van Sant, who gets excellent performances out Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook (in a part that is reminiscent of the great work he did in 2007's Into The Wild).
Other films I saw on my vacation that have been well-covered (and are showing throughout the Bay area) included Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, and Judd Apatow's This is 40, both of which have received massive attention in the mainstream media. Django appears to be the film of choice among CL staffers, if measured by the volume of impromptu discussions taking place around CL's water cooler and other gathering places.
And finally, next weekend sees the local release of the one of the most anticipated films of 2012, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. I can't wait.