Adventures in Streaming: The 33

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The 33 tells the true story of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground for sixty-nine days.

The story, especially knowing it’s based on true events, is very compelling: we want to know that they get out okay, we want to understand what they went through, we look with a suspicious eye on the higher-ups who all too often in our world don’t seem to show up as diligently as we would like in such situations.

The politics attached to the Chilean President’s response are presented in a straightforward manner – it’s clear that politics are a consideration, but the President isn’t depicted as any kind of heartless or thoughtless person, only as a person who has to balance varying demands on his actions. The families of the miners express their doubt in the government’s intentions and abilities, but other than this nod to the frustrations of bureaucracy, all the players are on the same side.

The rescue effort focuses more on the waiting families and on the engineers’ search for solutions than on the problems they face. The value of the miners is never in question, except perhaps in the mine’s owner being lackadaisical about safety maintenance … but even this corner-cutting reality takes second place in the narrative to the global efforts to get the men out of the ground.

Halfway through the film, the miners have run out of food and water, yet it’s only day 17; my heart sank, since the blurb for the film said “69 days” – how on earth are they supposed to survive another 52 days when they’re already dying? I was instantly struck by the impossibility of it all, by the apparent inevitability of their deaths hundreds of feet below the surface, their families never knowing if they survived the initial cave-in, their goodbyes never heard. I was uncomfortably aware, in the comfort of my living room, of the certainty of death.

As the film moves toward the ultimate rescue, we see the trapped men work through their conflicts, deciding actively to pull together as brothers and never to give up hope. Surrounded by gadgets and electronics, expensive shoes and potential book deals, the men hunger for the one thing we all take for granted: to see the sky again, to breathe the air, to hold their families.

Without ever stating it explicitly, The 33 shows us exactly what is really important. It showed the logistical and financial problems that plague such rescues without painting anyone as a bad guy. It showed the generosity and concern of the world who watched events unfold on the news, and it showed the determination and compassion of the Chilean authorities, their willingness to do anything to save the men, and their commitment of resources to an endeavour that seemed more than once to be a hopeless matter.

If you want to feel good about humanity, this is an excellent movie to watch. If you want to remind yourself about what’s important in your own life, this movie will do that very nicely. If you want to be vaguely afraid of going into caves, tunnels, or elevators, then this movie will help you out. And if you want to find yourself questioning the real value of gold, this movie – without saying a word – will deliver.

 10 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Veronica

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Veronica is a horror film revolving around the possession of a young woman by a malevolent spirit or demon. It’s based loosely on the first case in Spain wherein the detective involved stated that he had witnessed paranormal activity.

It’s visually well-constructed, and the acting is fine, even from the younger kids. The story is solid, and, although nothing is particularly surprising (especially for those of us who have seen a bazillion movies in this genre), the ending wraps things up nicely. The kids who are the most vulnerable are also ultimately rescued, so the movie feels pretty good in the end on that level, but like a lot of horror, the “bad guy” does win on another level, demanding the ultimate sacrifice from the character who’s responsible for those children.

Some elements seem a little strange, like unusual teachers whose unusualness seems to be more for visual entertainment than for any plot point, and the cobbling together of different religious cosmologies for no meaningful purpose. But overall the visuals and tone are balanced, and the rapid buildup to the possession that Veronica experiences is presented with believable pacing.

The only problem with Veronica is that it presents itself – and is from more than one voice presented by others – as the scariest film … but it isn’t scary. It’s disturbing on the level of Veronica dealing with a possession while caring for her younger siblings; it’s not, I suppose, for the squeamish. But it has neither a strong tension (the jump-scare type of scary) or a lot of gore or even a creepiness about the possession. It’s almost as straightforward as a Forensic Files re-enactment, where the topic might be alarming but the audience doesn’t necessarily feel like they’re in it or that the horror might somehow leak out and get them too.

Looking at it as a story based somewhat on real events, this straightforward presentation is actually pretty effective. But it’s also not presented as a docu-style horror drama, so the audience isn’t given the extra “horror” of real investigators weighing in on a real situation. The movie gets stuck in the middle, where it’s good but it’s not that scary, and it’s based on real but it’s not that real.

Overall, it was pleasant to watch and an acceptable entry into the genre, but the people saying it’s the scariest thing ever? – I’m not sure if we watched the same film.

popcorn icon  6 out of 10.

Weird Stuff – The Porch-Ghost

My mother always felt that there was a ghost in our house, some invisible personage who seemed to come and go at its whim.  She describes feeling its presence, sometimes a soothing hand on her arm or an embrace.  She was never frightened by it; in fact, she grew quite used to it, and was grateful for its comfort.

On a St. Patrick’s Day many years ago, my mother threw a party for the people she knew from the church – including some older nuns who were the last to leave.  When they decided to go, my mother walked them through our enclosed porch and onto the front steps, where she waved goodbye to them and went back into the house.  She shut the outer door, crossed the porch, and, upon entering the living room, gave the inner door (which liked to get stuck on the thick carpet) a pretty good push closed.

The door – not one of those new-fangled hollow-core doors, but an actual, solid-wood door – did not close.  Instead, it impacted with a loud crack against something on the other side of it, and bounced back into my mother’s hands.

The first thought my mother had, of course, was that one of the women had perhaps forgotten something and come back inside to fetch it – only to be hit in the head with our giant, wooden door.  “Oh my God,” she thought, panicking.  “I’ve killed a nun!”  She grabbed the door and pulled it open, her words of apology and worry spilling over one another.

“Are you okay, Sister?!  I didn’t know you were – “

But no one was there.

My mother tested the door to see if something had intruded itself into the door jamb – someone’s shoe or a child’s toy – but there was nothing blocking the doorway and nothing on the floor that might have fallen there from the door. The door itself opened and closed just fine.

My mother instantly thought of the ghost.  “I’m sorry!” she said very sincerely into the empty porch.  “I didn’t expect you to be there.”

But, although our house-ghost still seems very much to be in our porch – ringing the little bell in the outer door, opening the inner door, making footsteps – as far as any of us is aware,   it has never taken the chance again to cross such a dangerous threshold.