' The Impossible'
4 stars = Outstanding
The setting is an idyllic getaway for Christmas -- a beachfront resort in Thailand -- where Brits Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are vacationing with their three boys.
Visiting from Japan, where they make their home, they are primed for the holiday of a lifetime, and that's just what they get but not in the way they imagined.
They are caught in the jaws of the tsunami that slams and slaps everyone and everything with torrents of water. Trees snap, debris clogs the rushing waves, and soon Maria and the eldest boy, Lucas (Tom Holland) are left bloody and battered clinging to a tree for dear life.
By the time they are transported to an overrun, chaotic hospital, there are still no signs of Henry and the younger boys or a guarantee that Maria's injuries can be treated in time.
"The Impossible" follows the story of a doctor (Maria's job by training although her practice is on hold) turned patient and of a child who must muster maturity and turn his attention to others.
The movie is based on the story of a Spanish family, but the watery terror experienced by the vacationers and subsequent kindness demonstrated by strangers was real, and is remarkably staged by director J.A. Bayona.
The re-creation of the catastrophe here is jaw-dropping in its ferocity and frightfulness. But the movie is equally adept at tapping into the family members' feelings.
The monster 2004 quake and tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people in a dozen countries. "The Impossible" draws from the lucky and miraculous side of the life-and-death ledger, making for a rare, risky story but an uplifting one, too.
The extras include commentary, deleted scenes and making-of featurettes.
' Promised Land'
3 stars = Good
Matt Damon stars in this Gus Van Sant film that lights a fire under a handful of issues, from fracking and business ethics to the caretaking of precious resources for generations to come.
Mr. Damon plays Steve Butler, who is on the verge of a promotion with a $9 billion energy company and believes in what he is doing when he offers farmers money in exchange for the use of their land. He hails from an Iowa farming community and witnessed what happened when the town's Caterpillar plant closed and the economy withered like corn in a drought, with no safety net in sight.
He and partner Sue (Frances McDormand) are charged with softening up local politicians and persuading farmers to allow shale gas drilling on their property.
An esteemed farmer (Hal Holbrook) raises salient, troubling questions at a town meeting held at the local high school, but the biggest threat comes from an environmentalist, Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), who appears in McKinley and seems to be winning the public relations war.
Mr. Damon projects earnestness and a fierce sense of competition, Mr. Krasinski turns in a sly, smart performance and Ms. McDormand seems absolutely comfortable in her role as the funny, practical, dedicated Sue.
It is set in a fictional community played on screen by scenic locations in Westmoreland, Armstrong and Allegheny counties.
Not just about fracking, the drama is about how people approach their jobs and the high costs they bring.
The extras include a making-of featurette and extended scene.
' Gangster Squad'
2 1/2 stars = Average
In this campy yarn of 1949, Los Angeles crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is just a rival or two away from taking full control of the town's drug and vice operations. With most city cops on his payroll, the LAPD has largely given up trying to referee the Mob's bloody turf wars, but they're spilling over to the citizenry.
Looks like a job for Honest John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), the sullen sergeant summoned to recruit a secret squad of urban-guerrilla warriors who can be trusted to shut down mighty Mick's enterprise.
The carnage is constant as O'Mara leads his dirty half-dozen into the no-holds-barred battle. Chief among them is calm, cool pretty-boy Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), more a lover than a fighter at heart.
Director Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland") provides excellent postwar-L.A. period detail, but neither the gunplay nor the production design can overcome the hackneyed script and cliche-drenched devices.
The rest of the squad (Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi) are likable enough, if little more. Nick Nolte rasps out a few decent moments as police chief.
Extras include "Tough Guys With Style" featurette and, on blu-ray, a commentary with the director, "The Gangland Files," "Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen" and deleted scenes.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "A Haunted House" (1 star): Spoof of found-footage horror movies co-written and starring Marlon Wayans along with Essense Atkins, David Koechner and Nick Swardson.
• "The Central Park Five": Ken Burns film on the five black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City's Central Park in 1989.
• "Jurassic Park": The film's being re-released because 3-D was added. Even without the visual gimmick, it pulls together all of the themes and big ideas that director Steven Spielberg's used in previous films to make it one of his greatest cinematic accomplishments.
• "Car's Life 3: The Royal Heist": Sparky returns for more animated adventures.
• "Assassins Run": A ballerina must use her skills to save her daughter.
• "A Haunting": Anthology of horror stories.
• "Cold Prey II": A woman realizes her nightmare ordeal isn't over.
• "Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season 2 Vol. 4": Animated series featuring Iron Man, Nick Fury and other Marvel characters.
• "Touched By An Angel: The Seventh Season": Roma Downey stars.
• "The Great Gatsby": The film version starring Robert Redford is re-released.
• "Thale": Crime scene cleaners discover a mythical female creature in a concealed cellar.
• "The Killing: The Complete Second Season": Cable murder mystery series.
• "Marvel Knights: Inhumans": Animated tale set in the city of Attilan.
• "Nova: Who Killed Lindbergh's Baby?": A look at the famous kidnapping story.
• "Any Day Now": A gay couple take in a teen with Down Syndrome.
• "Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie": Film based on the comedy team's albums.
• "Family Weekend": An overachieving teen has grown frustrated with her parents' lack of support and guidance.
• "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga": Werner Herzog's look at the tiny village of Bakhta in Siberia.
• "Maverick: The Complete Second Season": James Garner plays a card shark traveling the Old West.
• "Mr. Selfridge": Jeremy Piven plays Harry Gordon Selfridge, father of the renowned London department store that bears his name.
• "Magic Journey to Africa": A visual trek across the mysterious continent.
-- PG staff and Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
First Published April 25, 2013 4:00 AM