'The Impossible' is harrowing, but less than epic

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.


‘The Impossible'

PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity; ★★12 (out of 4)

“The Impossible” is a gritty tale of survival set against the devastating tsunami that killed nearly 300,000 people in 2004.

Actually, it's two tales of survival, two movies, almost. Its structure is interesting, though perhaps not as successful as it might have been. But director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez, who made the brilliant horror film “The Orphanage,” do manage to take us inside what must surely be the most realistic depiction of a disaster ever made.

The Bennett family is spending Christmas in Khao Lak, Thailand. Henry (Ewan McGregor) is a businessman, and his wife, Maria (Naomi Watts), is a doctor who has left her practice to raise their three sons. There are hints of discord, but in the brief time we get to know them they seem like a genuinely happy family.

The day after Christmas, they're lounging poolside at the resort where they're staying. And, suddenly, a massive wall of water is upon them, literally washing away everything in its path. What's most effective, aside from the impressive technical aspects, is showing how quickly the water is upon everyone. There is no time to prepare, no time to think. Immediately, you are fighting for your life.

Maria and Lucas (Tom Holland), the oldest son, manage to find each other, and the film follows their efforts to stay alive and find help.

They need it. Maria's leg is badly wounded; as a physician, she's well aware of how serious her injuries are. Watts is quite good, trying to forge ahead as much for her son's sake as her own, if not more. Holland, meanwhile, is terrific as Lucas, terrified, worried about his mother but soldiering on.

Bayona chooses to concentrate on their plight to the exclusion, for a time, of the rest of the family. Yet, eventually we catch up to Henry, along with Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Henry is distraught, sure that Maria and Lucas are dead. Even if they did survive, how could he hope to find them?

But he tries, making the tough choice at one point to put his sons on a truck in the care of stranger while he continues his search.

Leaving one story for so long as the other unfolds disconnects the audience a bit. And the last act plays out in too pat a feel-good fashion, with some bits almost comical in their depiction. “The Impossible” is one of those movies that's good, but leaves you with the nagging feeling that it could have been better.

• Wide release

— The Arizona Republic

‘Not Fade Away'

R for sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes; ★★★

Cigarettes and penny loafers, long hair and skinny jeans, peacoats and pot. And the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan.

No, it's not your hipster teen's Tumblr blog. It's the 1960s in suburban New Jersey, a time and place — and state of mind — diligently re-created by David Chase in his nostalgic, but emotionally true, coming-of-age tale, “Not Fade Away.”

Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” mines his personal experiences and his love of early rock 'n' roll to winning effect. The filmmaker builds his tale around Douglas (a good John Magaro), a gawky high-schooler who gains confidence and the approving gaze of the girls when he steps behind his drum kit and starts thrashing out crisp, cool beats.

He and his pals (Jack Huston, Will Brill) have formed a band, the Twylight Zones, that plays in basements and backyards, at church dances and hippie soirees. Once Douglas asserts himself, leaving the drums to sing lead, the group actually starts to be good. This could be a career.

And this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back between Douglas and his father (James Gandolfini), who won't tolerate the antiwar dinner-table talk, or the way his son has been dressing.

Now and then, “Not Fade Away” falls back, perhaps inevitably, on narrative conventions and cliches. The last shot, though lovely in its So-Cal surrealness, seems off-point and anachronistic, if you take the song selection — the Sex Pistols' version of “Roadrunner” — literally. But that's nit-picking. Mostly, “Not Fade Away” is a hit.

• Cinemark 18 at Pittsburgh Mills

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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