Amour

** 1/2

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Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.
  • Michael Haneke takes a subject you don't often see in movies and probably don't even want to see -- the slow, steady deterioration of an elderly woman -- and handles it with great grace. The Austrian writer-director, who's achieved a reputation for a certain mercilessness over the years through films like "Cache" and "Funny Games," displays a surprising and consistent humanity here, and draws unadorned but lovely performances from his veteran stars, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. Haneke focuses on the intimate moments of their changing lives as the longtime married couple remains holed up in their comfortable Paris apartment, coping day to day, waiting for eventual death.

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    It will surely strike a chord with anyone who's watched a loved one slip away in this manner, whether it's a parent or a spouse. But Haneke's aesthetic can feel too stripped-down, too one-note in its dignified monotony. He will hold a shot, as we know, and once again he avoids the use of a score, so all that's left to focus on is the insular, dreary stillness of quiet descent. Certainly minimalism is preferable to melodrama in telling this kind of story, but Haneke takes this approach to such an extreme that it's often hard to maintain emotional engagement. PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language. In French with English subtitles.

The Impossible

**

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Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site.
  • Based on the true story of a family swept away by the deadly tsunami that pummeled Southeast Asia in 2004, director Juan Antonio Bayona's drama is about as subtle as a wall of water. The depiction of the natural disaster itself is visceral and horrifying -- impeccable from a production standpoint. And Naomi Watts gives a vivid, deeply committed performance as the wife and mother of three young boys who finds the strength to persevere despite desolation and debilitating injuries. But man, is this thing heavy-handed. Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, a happily married British couple spending Christmas at a luxury resort in Thailand with their three adorable sons. (The real-life family whose story inspired the film was Spanish; changing their ethnicity and casting famous people to play them seems like a rather transparent attempt to appeal to a larger audience.) During a quiet morning by the pool, the first massive wave comes ashore, scattering the family and thousands of strangers across the devastated landscape. "The Impossible" tracks their efforts to survive, reconnect, find medical care and get the hell out of town. The near-misses at an overcrowded hospital are just too agonizing to be true, and the uplifting score swells repeatedly in overpowering fashion to indicate how we should feel. Surely, the inherent drama of this story could have stood on its own two feet. PG-13 for intense, realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images, and brief nudity.

Not Fade Away

***

  • "The Sopranos" boss David Chase's somewhat autobiographical drama about a Jersey boy in a 1960s rock band would be called a promising first feature from some unknown filmmaker doing the rounds at Sundance. Coming from a Hollywood heavyweight who's spent decades in the TV trenches, it's a hopeful sign, or maybe just wishful thinking, that more of the quality that has fled film for television might somehow be channeled back to the big screen. Chase's directing debut is a sweet, sad, smart and satisfying piece of nostalgia, at least partly inspired by his own youthful experiences as a drummer in a New Jersey band. Like "The Sopranos," much of the drama arises out of generational conflict, in this case rebellious son Douglas (John Magaro) and his pragmatic, my-way-or-the-highway dad ("Sopranos" star James Gandolfini). Infected by music of the British invasion, chiefly the Rolling Stones, Douglas and some pals form a band that few will ever hear about. From there we get not the overdone tale of a group on the rise and struggling with the pitfalls of fame and success. Instead, we get the genuine and more illuminating story of all those losers who didn't make it. Great '60s period detail gives the film authenticity. Aided by "Sopranos" co-star and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt, Chase assembles a killer soundtrack ranging from the Stones, the Beatles and the Kinks to Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson and Elmore James. R for pervasive language, some drug use and sexual content.

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