THE IMPOSSIBLE (Spain, 2012)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

CAST: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Geraldine Chaplin
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 81% Certified Fresh

PLOT: The story of a tourist family in Thailand caught in the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The Impossible, directed by J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), is one of the best true-to-life survivor stories I’ve seen since Touching the Void.  No doubt some liberties were taken here and there at the screenplay level, as always happens with movie adaptations, but while the film played out, the story was as gripping as any book by John Krakauer.

It’s 2004, and the Bennett family is on Christmas vacation in Thailand, at a beautiful beachside resort that has only been open for a week.  (In a nice little detail, we see that the protective plastic film has not yet been removed from their light switch panels.)  Henry (McGregor) and Maria (Watts) enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas day with their three sons, Thomas, Simon, and Lucas (Tom Holland in his cinematic debut, already doing cartwheels and backflips on the beach).  On the morning of December 26th, an unthinkable catastrophe occurs when a tsunami, triggered by a massive seaquake offshore, slams into the beach.  The visual effects during this sequence are as convincing and terrifying as anything I’ve ever seen.  As the wave sweeps over everything in its path, the Bennett family is separated.  Maria and her son Lucas manage to find each other in the immediate aftermath, but there is no sign of Henry and her other two sons.

What follows is a story that gives new meaning to the words “hopeless” and “hope.”  While the outcome is somewhat predictable – SOMEONE survived to tell this story, after all – the filmmakers have managed to put together a film that generates suspense and cheers despite what we may or may not know about this family.  There are scenes of people missing each other in hospital hallways by seconds.  In a lesser film, it might have been comic.  In THIS movie, those scenes generated groans of empathetic frustration from the audience (that is, me).  By that time, we had followed various Bennett family members through many highs and lows, and I desperately wanted the right people to be found at the right time.  It was unexpectedly effective.

That sentiment applies to the movie as a whole, not just that one scene.  I have seen so many disaster movies that I was primed to expect certain cliches and tropes, even though this movie was highly rated and recommended when it came out.  To be fair, this movie does indulge in those tropes.  I mean, by nature, it HAS to.  The difference with The Impossible is that these stereotypical events and scenes all felt way more real than expected.  Credit to the screenwriter and director for molding these cliches into something more compelling than yet another reworking of The Day After Tomorrow.  When the finale of The Impossible arrives, it feels uplifting and inspirational instead of hackneyed and obvious.  It’s a neat little magic trick that I wish I could explain better.

An interesting self-reflective thought occurred to me during this movie.  There is a scene where Henry, the father, is huddled with a group of English-speaking survivors in a bus station.  Someone offers Henry his cellphone, even though he is trying to save his battery in case his own family tries to reach him.  Henry reaches someone in England, but because he still cannot find his wife, he breaks down and hands the phone back to the stranger.  The stranger looks at Henry, looks at his phone, and hands it back to Henry: “You can’t leave it like that.  Call him back.”

My entire life, my favorite sub-genre of science fiction has been anything dealing with an apocalypse or set in a post-apocalyptic future, like The Matrix or World War Z or the superlative HBO series The Last of Us.  One of the things many of the movies in that genre have in common is the inherent tendency for humans to turn on each other or behave selfishly when the chips are down.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Somebody finds water in the desert, and instead of helping mankind, they sell it to the highest bidder.  Or someone discovers that the invading aliens will give them preferential treatment if they help round up more humans themselves.  That kind of thing.

Well, here is The Impossible, based on a true story, and here is a man who desperately needs to save the battery power on his cellphone, but whose compassion will not allow him to let Henry’s short conversation go unfinished.  “You can’t leave it like that.”

I have no way of knowing if this moment really happened or if it was manufactured.  All I can report is that scene, in a movie full of hard-hitting emotional beats, is probably my favorite scene.  Here is an apocalyptic situation in the truest sense of the word.  Here is a person who could have been justifiably selfish, but his empathy won’t allow him to turn his back on someone who is suffering.  It even got me wondering: would I do the same?

If this scene was taken from real life, then maybe all those post-apocalyptic movies got it wrong.  Maybe, when the chips are down, people are inherently good.  Is it possible?  I’d like to think so.  I’d like to think I’d do the same.

Long story short: The Impossible takes you on an unforgettable ride made even more remarkable due to it being based on a true story.  It’s full of great performances and astonishing visuals, but you may never want to stay at a beach resort again…

P.S.  According to the real-life woman played by Naomi Watts, the biggest “lie” in the movie was the color of the ball her children were playing with just before the tsunami struck…it was yellow, not red.  Do with that information what you will.


By Marc S. Sanders

I think the Civil War chapter must be one of the best installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The action ranging from fight scenes to car chases to shootouts and explosions are so well executed and edited.

This film lives up to what makes each Marvel character special in their own way, and while most of the attention is naturally focused on Chris Evans’ Captain America and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier (aka Bucky), the large cast is respectively given numerous moments to shine individually with well-conceived backgrounds and traits beyond just their superpowers.

Interestingly, until the late scene where all the characters collide against one another, the film was very shy of any intentional humor and focused more on what is morally correct in this fantasy world. There was a debate to grapple with, and a threat to both sides of the moral compass. All good layered dimensions, my favorite vice of effective storytelling.

Anyone who says popcorn movies like Avengers are nothing more and simply brainless would fail at recognizing good analysis and dimension. More often than not the MCU succeeds at setting up a dilemma to keep a viewer hooked. Once they are taken…then the storytellers will do something bold like destroy the headquarters, or an airport, or a whole city or Iron Man’s armor, and on and on. Too many other franchises (Transformers, Fast/Furious or DC) bring the buildings down before the cement is dry and the windows are Windexed. That’s when story is neglected for showmanship. There’s no weight to the loss. What do I care who died? You just destroyed the village in order to save it. Disney and Marvel know this and steer clear of those habits.

The cast is so perfectly assembled in Civil War. They interact very well with line exchanges, debates and fisticuffs.

Much of this film was a blur during my first viewing. These are Marvel movies. There are so many now, the scenes all seem to blend together. Yet now I see this particular film is special. Good set pieces, costumes, makeup, visual effects and great performances lead to a great, fun presentation. I’m sold.


By Marc S. Sanders

Spider-Man: Homecoming makes some enormous strides with the most recognizable of all the Marvel Corporate Mascots. I’m just not sure I care for the approach.

The Web Slinger has always been best written when he learns from his mistakes such as grappling with his lack of responsibility that leads to the murder of his beloved Uncle Ben, or washing his red and blue suit with the whites.

In director John Watts film, episodes like these are never discussed. Instead, we witness Spidey foil an ATM robbery. It’s a fun scene straight out of the Saturday morning cartoon, but it ends with a beloved neighborhood mom and pop store going up in flames. The scene plays like a great house party until the parents arrive home early from their out-of-town trip. Now it ain’t so fun anymore. There are a few moments like this in the film that kinda suck the air out of a what’s supposed to be lighthearted script.

Tom Holland as the hero, Peter Parker, aka the high school genius with insecurity, is suitably cast in the role. He looks much more like a kid than his predecessors and he’s got great comic delivery of one liners. Tom Holland is right for the MCU fraternity. He plays well with others.

So Holland really makes sure every action scene is fun but Watts and his screenwriting team of 8 (EIGHT!?!?!?) people pull the rug out because they must insist that the Web Head screw up again and again. Problem is the screw ups are not fun, and they spoil the thrilling set pieces including a well done sequence within the elevator shaft of the Washington Monument. Same goes for a Staten Island Ferry attack. I just kept asking myself, why we can’t we celebrate Spider-Man. Must we be so hard on the guy? Even Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) disapproves. It doesn’t seem fair, I guess.

There is a moment during the 3rd act that salutes a very popular comic issue that truly conveys the hero that Spider-Man must become. As a comic nerd, I was grateful for that. The filmmakers didn’t forget its roots.

Michael Keaton is scary good as Adrian Toomes, the winged villain called The Vulture. He’s not even playing for laughs. Rather he’s playing for fear. I liked it. Keaton is just good in almost anything.

Supporting players are all good as well featuring Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon (an especially amusing sidekick pal for Peter), Zendaya and Robert Downey Jr because a little Iron Man/Tony Stark interaction can go a long way.

However, this installment is huge step up from the Andrew Garfield clunkers but not as solid as Sam Raimi’s first two films which remain the best and most loyal to the original vision of the pop culture favorite. Raimi has no difficulty displaying the super hero’s every day faults and mistakes. What he did was make us feel sad about Peter’s errors in his ways, and we cheered when he overcame his obstacles. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, I shake my head with disappointment at the carelessness of Peter, not the mistakes he’s made.

See, to be reckless is not the same as human error. Watts’ interpretation is judged with disdain. Raimi’s is simply empathetic and relatable. That’s the difference in the two interpretations.

PS: My hat off to a great gag with Captain America as a lesson reminder in safety and well-being. It’s not as well remembered that Chris Evans has been hilarious in other films before his superhero days. That’s all brought back with great material for Cap to use. Really smart thinking here.


By Marc S. Sanders

None of what is said in the film Uncharted matters.  The film opens in the middle of a death defying, albeit CGI, action scene with heartthrob Tom Holland dangling from a cargo net that’s hanging outside of a plane thirty thousand feet above the ground.  He apologizes as he kicks a couple of faceless thugs out into the great wide open, and he rolls his eyes at an oncoming sportscar driving off the plane’s ramp in his direction.   But it’s not like he’s worried that the car will mow him down and kill him before the fall would even do so.  That’s because even here he’s just charming Tom Holland who’s never afraid to die.  I guess that was my problem with this escapist film, based on a popular video game.  No one was ever afraid they’d die.  So, why should I be?  Excuse me while I refill my popcorn.  You don’t have to tell me what I miss.  I’m sure I’ll catch on.

Holland portrays treasure seeking adventurer Nathan Drake.  Early on, it is established that his brother is being held captive somewhere.  Nathan is receiving postcards from him, with statements written on them that seem more like riddles.  Hmmm!  Is his brother sending him clues, do you think?  One of their last conversations while they were living in an adoption house was something about gold hidden by Magellan.  The conversation went on longer than I cared, honestly.  I gave up on the details.  These scholars weren’t going to tell me anything intriguing.  That’s the best way to approach Uncharted.  Just watch for the CGI stunts, Holland’s agility on bannisters and bar counters, and see how all the secret doorways open. 

Soon after the exposition, Nathan is accompanied by a slightly older adventurer named Victor Sullivan, or Sully (Mark Wahlberg).  Holland and Wahlberg toss some smart alec zingers at one another.  See they’re only supposed to get along so much. 

The guys attend a black-tie auction where I knew Nathan was gonna be dangling from those hanging ceiling lamps somehow, and then they are on their way to Barcelona.  Oh yeah.  A diary helps them out as well with some clues that turn up only when they have to conveniently turn up.  A map will help them too, only when it’s conveniently there.  I’m not interested though in watching Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg trace their fingers across a map.  There’s also the beautiful adventurous girl, Chloe (Sophia Ali), who we are supposed to trust or maybe not trust.  The bad guys are Antonio Banderas, who’s really given nothing to do except have his name listed in the credits.  Look at that!  PlayStation Studios actually contracted Antonio Banderas to be in their movie!!!!!!  I did say bad guys, right?  Sorry.  The other one is an Asian woman named Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who’s only interesting trait is the blade she carries is in the shape of a scythe.  It’s only held and hardly gets used.

Are you starting to recognize that all I’m describing is surface material here?  There’s no depth to anyone.  Uncharted is so afraid to swim in the deep end, that it doesn’t even connect our hero Nathan with his long-lost brother.  Like ever!!!!  The film acts like a video game and thinks like a video game.  So why not just leave it as a video game?  If you want to make a movie, then the filmmakers should have gone a lot deeper.

It’s easy to compare this modern update on the adventure film to Romancing The Stone or any of the Indiana Jones pictures.  What continues to set those forty-year-old movies ahead of this fare, is that we actually feared for the characters.  Kathleen Turner’s apprehensive motive for going from New York City to the rain swept jungles of Cartagena was to rescue her kidnapped sister while trying to uncover a priceless treasure along the way. Her sister could be fed to the alligators at any given moment, or worse Turner could be brutalized by vicious Columbians on her tail.  When the famed archeologist, Indiana Jones, gets trapped in an underground room full of snakes or is left dangling over a bottomless pit, he looks terrified.  He has no rope to hang from and there really is no way out, and he knows it.  This could be the end. 

Nathan Drake, however, knows it’s never the end for Nathan Drake, and that’s…well…that’s boring. 

What can I say?  I’ve always gotten bored quickly with video games.  I know.  I know.  You’re gonna debate with me that this is BASED ON A VIDEO GAME.  Fine.  I agree.  Yet, I paid for a movie.  At times Uncharted moves like a video game character that walks in place when confronted with a wall.  Your joystick can’t figure out how to turn the guy around so he can trot in another direction away from the edge of your flatscreen TV.  It just doesn’t go anywhere until, how do you like that, Sully and Nathan turn to the right page in the diary or read the right post card from the long-lost brother that we never get to see.  Wait!  Let’s look at the map!

I really like Tom Holland.  He’s charming and handsome and athletic.  Spider-Man has demonstrated that he’s a good actor too, beyond the comic book action.  He’s definitely cut out for a tongue and cheek action picture.  Mark Wahlberg is ready to be the mentor.  He’s fine as well.  He’s just done it better in a film like The Italian Job.  They look like a great pair of partners.  Unfortunately, they are given nothing to demonstrate how good a pair they really could be.  Put a little fear in these guys.  Make believe they’ll actually drown or fall to their death from a helicopter.  Put them at the wrong end of a gun or a sword.  Heck, when you give them a sword, allow me to believe they aren’t so proficient with it.  I mean Holland is only 25 or 26 here.  How much could he have learned already.  Let them get shot in the arm, and still carry on.  Give them a limp.  Cut their lip or bruise their temple.  Uncharted doesn’t do any of that.  It only jumps to the next level, and as soon as you dispose of a baddie, they fade away out of the scene…like in a video game.

It’s not terribly bad.  Uncharted is like going over to your friend’s house, though.  He shows off his PlayStation by popping in the game and he promises he’ll let you have a turn to play.  Only your turn never comes, and while you sit there gazing at the posters and trophies in his room, your friend thinks he’s entertaining you for hours as his game goes on and on and on.  So, uh…when’s it my turn to use the controller??????


By Marc S. Sanders

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a good movie for all the wrong reasons.

People, it’s not much of a super hero movie. Rather, it teeters more on a teen angst comedy. The teen angst material works very well. I laughed a lot and I found all of this material very touching. Peter Parker struggles with a “like,like relationship” with MJ. His pal Ned is getting in good with another classmate, and his European vacation is getting upended because Nick Fury keeps getting in the way. Again, this is all funny and really cute material. I laughed often. Really enjoyable.

That being said, where’s Spider-Man? He’s hardly in the costume and he’s truly fighting a rather subpar villain. Then again, when I read the comics Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall, doing the best he can here) was never a favorite of mine. Mysterio’s nefarious ways are a bit implausible. I don’t want to spoil what he’s exactly up to but I wasnt exactly feeling the suspense or admiring his schemes. It’s a little too over the top ridiculous.

The other hero, Nick Fury does not really live up to his character as well. He makes dumb decisions and believes the preposterous storyline a little too easily. Fury had never been written this way before. He’s not this stupid. It irritated me.

I like Tom Holland in the Peter Parker role, and the rest of the cast is good, especially Peter’s pals, Ned, Betty Brant, Flash and MJ. Jon Favreau is likable, and Marisa Tomei makes for a good younger Aunt May.

If only the producers went with a different villain in Spidey’s rogue gallery. Where the heck is Kraven The Hunter already????

I like the whole cast, but there was much to be desired here in the script. The 2nd act is a mess which left me wondering how could this be…if that just happened, and again….where is Spider-Man???

So yeah, Spider-Man: Far From Home is not what it could’ve been but rather something else altogether. That’s maybe good…and bad.


By Marc S. Sanders

I’m thinking director Dan Scanlon could very well be the next Chris Columbus or JJ Abrams or maybe…well maybe not Spielberg. But still! His new film Onward from the genius labs of Disney/Pixar is better than I ever expected.

Think about it. The imagination of the film all goes in reverse. Magic and sorcery once ruled in a land of mythical creatures. But then the automobile was invented, along with cell phones, video games, exercise machines and every other every day to day invention known to mankind. Who needs magic anymore?

When two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, voices by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, come upon their deceased father’s magical staff, they realize that as nerdy as he was, he was in fact a wizard. Some exposition allows them one day to revive him and spend only that particular day with him. It’s an opportunity for older brother Barley to reconnect and Ian to meet him. Something goes awry though when dad is only resurrected up to his waste, legs dressed in khakis with chino shoes and black leather belt. Hilarity and adventure ensue as they must embark on a quest to find a precious gem that will complete the resurrection before time runs out and the sun sets.

As the boys hop into Barley’s van called Guinevere. Adventure inspired of the level of The Goonies fare takes place. There are caverns with booby traps, maps and Holland and Pratt give up good vocal chemistry as they sort out their brotherly issues.

Julia Louis Dreyfus is mom and basically doing the typical Pixar mom but she has a great sidekick. Octavia Spenser as Corey the monstrous Manticore who runs a restaurant. To give side story filler, Dreyfus and Spenser are brought in to be on the trail of the boys. They have some good moments.

Onward has good, often funny and sentimental writing from Scanlon along with Keith Bunin and Jason Headley. It’s ironic actually. So many films from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Marvel focus on mysticism and magic that as movie goers we’ve become inundated with the gimmicks. Onward reminds us that ordinary dependence in a more grounded reality can actually lead to adventure too.

I liked it.