The Impossible Based on the true story of a Spanish family that somehow survived the horrible tsunami that ripped through Thailand in 2004, the new film from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) benefits from the fact that it has a natural arc that lends itself to the big screen. Bayona does a good job of not letting the special effects get in the way, either, as he focuses on developing character rather than detailing the scope of the disaster (though he successfully does that, too). When the mighty wave arrives on shore and wipes out the resort at which the family is staying, they're all put to the test. Lucas (Tom Holland) and his mother (Naomi Watts) are separated from the rest of the family, including Maria's husband and Lucas's father Henry (Ewan McGregor). While he capably spun a supernatural horror story with The Orphanage, Bayona mostly keeps things realistic here and lets the actors take over. Covered in mud and blood, Watts is excellent and the same goes for McGregor. Holland has plenty of screen time and he makes good use of it; he's terrific as the 12-year-old kid who's essentially the film's central character as he goes through rites of passage as a result of the disaster. . — Jeff Niesel
Django Unchained Overly long and excessively violent, Quentin Tarantino's movie isn't as great as some critics make it out to be. And yet, Christoph Waltz's performance is so terrific, it practically redeems the film. Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a crafty bounty hunter who frees the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and then proceeds to help him attempt to free his wife (Kerry Washington), who has been captured by Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a vicious plantation owner who forces male slaves to fight each other in brutal matches. Tarantino has said he intended the movie to be a genre film that deals with the brutality of slavery. But whatever critique of American history that Tarantino might be offering here is obfuscated by the gratuitous nature of the violence and by the excessive use of the "n" word. (Niesel)
Hyde Park on Hudson After Steven Spielberg's worshipful Lincoln, it should be refreshing to see a presidential biopic that doesn't evade its subject's flaws. Hyde Park on Hudson offers an unflinching view of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, showing us his withered legs, his need to be carried by attendants and his private frustration over his handicap. It also highlights his marital infidelity. Who'd have thought a film about presidential philandering would focus on the discreet affairs of the crippled FDR rather than the brazen womanizing of JFK? As refreshing as that is, it's uncomfortable watching the 32nd president, impersonated here by Bill Murray, jiggling in his convertible as he receives a hand job from his fifth cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney). Daisy is based on FDR relative Margaret Suckley, whose alleged affair with the president was revealed after her death. Daisy narrates, recounting how she came to be the president's mistress -- one of several who gave Roosevelt comfort while his wife, Eleanor, kept separate lodgings. (Pamela Zoslov)
Promised Land Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote the screenplay to this very dull Gus Van Sant film about fracking. The topic isn't one that's naturally filled with drama and suspense. In addition to writing the screenplay, Damon and Krasinski also star in the movie. Damon plays Steve Butler, the corporate guy sent into a small town to convince the residents that they need to sell him the drilling rights for their land. Krasinski plays Dustin Noble, a guy who arrives with stories about how fracking ruined his family farm and with that, the tide officially begins to shift against Steve and his colleague Sue (Fracnes McDormand). The acting is solid, but the plot just isn't compelling enough to sustain interest. (Niesel)
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