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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with THE IMPOSSIBLE and SCROOGE & MARLEY!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

Manipulative? Pulling hard on the heart strings? Check and check. Culturally insensitive by substituting a white family for the Spanish family these events actually happened to? Or because it barely acknowledges the Thai citizens who were killed or uprooted as a result of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami? I would argue this isn't their story, and I would say that the only way this movie could make any money is by front-loading it with recognizable actors such as Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, both of whom give spectacularly heart-wrenching performances. I'm not saying it was the best decision, but I'm certainly not going to dismiss an entire movie for anything other than what's on the screen. And what's on the screen during THE IMPOSSIBLE is raw, unguarded emotion in the face of unspeakable disaster and the hideous power that not knowing can have.

Maria, Henry and their three kids are on Christmas vacation at a high-end beachfront resort in Thailand. There's a small scene near the beginning of the film where Henry (McGregor) tells Maria (Watts) that he fears he might lose his job (the family lives in Japan for his work), and that they might have to move "back home" so he can keep working. The smallest of disagreements begins between the couple, but they agree to table the discussion for later. The scene is fascinating because it reveals that for a brief moment, the couple thinks that this mini-fight is the worst thing that is going to happen to them on this trip. And then, the day after Christmas, the ocean rolls in for a visit.

Writer Sergio Sanchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona (the pair made the wonderful ghost story THE ORPHANAGE five years ago) divide up the movie cleverly. For roughly the first half of the story, we follow Maria and the oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland, who played "Billy Elliot" on the London stage for several years) as they get swept away by the initial tidal wave and pushed deep inland, attempting to avoid deadly debris and drowning while still holding onto each other. Eventually the deluge ends, but their journey is just beginning as it is revealed that Maria has a deep, scary wound on the back of her leg. In a strange and sincere moment, Lucas first sees his mom's injuries and calls out to her. When she turns around, she reveals that her shirt has torn partially away, revealing one of her breasts. The embarrassment on Holland's face is so genuine that you can't help feel for the kid who can barely process what's happening.

Eventually the pair land in a barely functioning hospital with her leg wounds even worse, and suddenly I realized that although the film's trailers reveal that the entire family survives the initial tsunami, I had no idea whether they lived long enough to find each other. At about the halfway point of THE IMPOSSIBLE, we change perspectives and find out what happened to Henry and the other two, younger boys. Henry is on a never-ending struggle to find his wife and Lucas. He eventually ships the younger boys to a children's shelter while he continues his frustrating search. There's a great moment where he gets a hold of a functioning cellphone to call Maria's parents, and he simply breaks down in tears as he's finally able to speak about the horrific event he's just survived, having no idea whether the rest of his family is living or dead.

I'll leave the plot synopsis at this point, but simply say that the entire film builds beautifully to a second giant wave—this one made up of the audience's collective tears. The Impossible is not the most devastating story that could have been told; it's simply the story that the filmmakers came across about people using every ounce of courage and strength to find their loved one, because to give up the search would let in such terrible feelings into their hearts. Watts is especially impressive, battling all manner of wounds, exhaustion, and possible heartbreak at the thought that the rest of her family is gone forever. For me, the title of the film refers to the odds of me being able to take my eyes off of Watts as she builds this strong female character as said character gets physically weaker.

Lest I be accused of downplaying the impact that the initial tsunami sequence will have on you, rest assured, you will have nightmares about it for weeks to come. I can't wrap my brain around the sheer will- and lung-power it must have taken to survive something like that, and Bayona's crew has created a visual and sound landscape that puts you right there in the water with Watts as she slams into cars, trees, random pointed or sharp objects that scratch and pierce her skin. It creeps across my skin just thinking about it. But it's the quieter, more thoughtful moments of THE IMPOSSIBLE that drive this story home and give it its undeniable power. You may resent the filmmakers getting to you by using such obvious and time-tested methods, but as God as my witness, they will get to you and likely make you weep. You may curse them for this, but you'll hug your kids or other loved ones of choice a little tighter the first chance you get.

I'll be honest, I get so many amateur-hour films slipped to me in the course of the year, I hardly have the chance to watch any of them. But every so often, something about the description of one of these films intrigues me to the point where I can't resist popping it in and checking out the first 15 minutes. Well, I'm happy to report that 90 minutes after curiosity got the best of me with SCROOGE & MARLEY, the film is a silly, warm-hearted re-imagining of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL (still one of my all-time favorite stories) in which pretty much every character with lines is gay.

The product of co-directors Peter Neville and Richard Knight Jr. (also a co-writer and -star) and starring a bevy of mostly Chicago actors, the story of SCROOGE & MARLEY is left largely untouched from its source material. What's different is that Scrooge (called Ben and played by David Pevsner) is an old gay man who hasn't had much love in his life as the owner of a cabaret club (called Screws). He doesn't believe any of his employees deserve raises, nor does he care that his most loyal worker, Bob Cratchit (David Moretti) deserves health care for him, his partner, or their half-dozen adopted kids. Scrooge's niece and her girlfriend want to love him, but he thinks they're after his money. You get the idea.

Things pick up in terms of both poignancy and laughs when the ghosts enter the picture, starting with Scrooge's old business partner, Jacob Marley (the terrific Tim Kazurinsky), who has recently discovered that helping others (even as a ghost) helps him relinquish the many chains that wrap him from years of taking advantage of poor mistrusting fools like his and Scrooge's old mentor Fezziwig (Bruce Vilanch, whose Muppet-like features tend to scare me). The other ghosts—Ronnie Kroell as the flamboyant Randy, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Megan Cavanagh as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the downright freaky Jojo Baby's Ghost of Christmas Future—add such great twists to their characters that you can't help but be thoroughly amused and entertained after having seen so many straight-forward takes on the material.

As I said, the film has all the marks (and a few of the trappings) of a homemade production. But every effort is made to make the most of small budgets and limited sets, and the result is a charming, often hilarious. There are a few risque cabaret numbers to flesh out the proceedings from Knight and Becca Kaufman, but it's Dickens' story that also takes precedent and carries the film through some of its rougher spots. The film's only agenda is promoting fun, love, and holiday spirit. And if you get the chance to see it with an audience, I'd imagine that's the best way to experience this little slice of queer magic.

I believe SCROGGE & MARLEY is actually available on DVD already, but screenings are happening around the country this holiday season as well. Details on both can be found at

-- Steve Prokopy
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