I'd been simultaneously seeking and avoiding this movie for some time. Seeking because I'd heard it was good. Avoiding because I wasn't sure I wanted to spend two hours with a guy stuck in an iron lung.
Movies about severely disabled people can be hard to take, but what brings audiences out from their hesitation will be a character whom we not only tolerate and respect, but (if appropriate) actually admire, like, and want to spend two hours with. It's Mark O'Brien's inherent likeability, and it's affect on the people around him, that drives the story.
It is centrally about O'Brien, virtually paralyzed from the neck down but still easily aroused, and his decision to lose his virginity with the aid of a professional sex surrogate. That just forms the trunk of the movie. Extending both before, during, and after this event are his relationships with three women who discover the irresistible side of O'Brien and come to love - even fall in love with - him.
He's a charmer. He's also understandably insecure, and sometime a little difficult. In the... hands?... of the always amazing John Hawkes, he's anything but a symbol, but rather a guy we can understand and in our own ways relate to.
The movie certainly deals with sex and sexuality, and it is frank both in its language and occasional full nudity. This material is always handled in a candid natural manner that is true to the story.
So there may be some things to be squeamish about going in, but you'll come out entirely relaxed and smiling.
This movie chronicles the true experience of a family caught in the tsunami that hit southeast Asia in 2004. It delivers on the promise of catching you up in the fear, disrpution, and pain - and not much more.
I think that the direction is much better than the screenplay. The story itself is fairly prosaic and does little to generate an overriding theme. It's as though the writer Sergio Sanchez worked with the family's account and just set down the events. The events are indeed pretty incredible, so you can't go too far wrong with that approach.
The director did add a degree of poetry and vision to it. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen a bit of that awesome moment as the guests at the Thai tourist hotel look out to the ocean and see a wave which, by any sense, ought to exist only in a science fiction movie. The actual moments underwater are extremely effective. They bounce back and forth between an objective and subjective reality. To the best degree possible, you get an emotional sense as to how this is something more than just being tossed underwater, and why so many people could be killed. Early on, you experience the submersion from the perspective of the father, and wonder: why didn't they cover it from the mother's perspective? When that moment is finally captured, it's done at an especially poignant time.
Naomi Watts mostly just gets beat up, trudges through desolate miles of mud, and holds on to life by a fingernail. That's okay - I'll see any damned thing she's in. Ewan MacGregor has a little more breathing room, but is still not as interesting as his more battered wife.
In all I felt, okay, I really did get a sense as to the trials these people faced, the kindness of strangers, and a little taste for the scope of the disaster. I did not walk away thinking about the greater issues of life, death and survival under horrible circumstances.
This documentary about the Iraq War was made in 2007, when things were at their nadir. Its agenda is not so much to criticize the decision to go into Iraq as it is to criticize the execution. It opens early on - around the time of "Mission Accomplished" with shots of gleeful Iraqis lining up on streets with "Welcome America" signs or in happy group photos of Iraqis joined with U.S. soldiers. And it's down hill from there.
The thesis is that the Iraqi invasion could have been quite successful had the strategy included a meaningful plan to maintain order in Iraq, had officials tasked with creating ties with Iraqis in positions of responsibility been given authority and resources, and had not some critical blunders not been made - by some critical blunderers.
Those portrayed as wise are an unlikely alliance of State Dept. career officials and those in the military - who had the expertise to understand what it takes to maintain order in a war zone. The villains are the civilians in the Defense Dept. - notably Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz - and the inexperienced man tasked with governance, Arthur Bremmer. President Bush is not so much an active villain as he is clueless bystander who puts blind trust in his leadership and offers no thoughtful oversight, even as things accellerate out of control.
There's an obvious bias throughout the movie. At no time do we sense that this is an inquiry into what happened. Those interviewed are a phalanx of Cassandras who tell of how they warned the administration of the scope of forces needed to successfully manage the overthrown country. The villains are shown only in news clips - or with a placard reading "Donald Wolfowitz (eg) refused to be interviewed." It would have been more honest to say he declined to be interviewed.
Nonetheless, the story of how Iraq descended into anarchy after the U.S. invasion, and the political steps that got it there, certainly rings true. We know, as is highlighted, that the decision to fire the entire Iraqi military and to "deBaathify" the country of its technocrats helped to create an insurgency and to cripple our own ability to maintain the country's infrastructure. If the movie is to be believed, when the U.S. scored a military victory, there was an enormous quantity of generals who were willing to help the U.S. with the transition - who were turned out onto the streets along with their subordinates.
And so the sickening story unfolds - of the looting, of the rise of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - and of the breakdown of all civil order, which we are to believe occurred because of the power vacuum created especially by Rumsfeld's refusal to put more "boots on the ground" and to avoid "nation building."
The thing sadder than seeing a tragedy unfold is to learn that it could have been avoided. The famous words "Mission Accomplished" might not seem so ironic today had the war been administered in a different manner. This movie does give a good, painful, overview of how the handling of the war led to the country's collapse, and how that did not need to be that way.