Director: Brad Peyton
Writer: Carlton Cuse
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti
Release date: May 29th, 2015
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 114 minutes
Release Date: August 20th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 89 minutes
Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.
Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.
Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.
“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).
A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.
Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.
Release date: May 16th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Remember the 1998 Godzilla reboot? It featured a post-Independence Day Roland Emmerich, a bumbling Matthew Broderick, a kooky Jean Reno, and bizarre parodies of film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Obviously, thanks to these ingredients, it was a bomb of gargantuan proportions. So, after that critical and commercial flop, how could Hollywood possibly re-reboot the King of Monsters on the big screen?
Well, the re-reboot could look at and imitate other blockbusters of its type. Subtly, this is what this year’s Godzilla re-imagining does. After Cloverfield and Pacific Rim took on the mega-monster genre and came out on-top, Godzilla was tasked with salvaging the titular beast from the disgraceful depths of a cinematic tomb. Thankfully, and ambitiously, the studio executives hired an intelligent and efficient director to tackle this popular subject matter. Gareth Edwards, known for creating indie sci-fi effort Monsters on a $500,000 budget, takes on this project with wide eyes and unique ideas. Indeed, his direction saves this blockbuster from becoming a forgettable retread. However, despite the high points, the movie still comes close to being inexcusably dour and laughably bland. So what does this reboot/remake/whatever do to separate itself from everything else? Ambitiously, from the opening frame, the narrative delves head-on into the darkest aspects of conspiracy theories, military control, and natural disasters. This version kicks off with a family on the edge of obliteration. Nuclear Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) oversees one of Japan’s most important facilities. Looking out for his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), Joe must watch on in horror as she and the plant are eviscerated by a cataclysmic event. The movie jumps 15 years ahead, and Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now a US Navy bomb expert with a lovely wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and a son of their own.
With familial feuds tested by horrific events, Steven Spielberg’s overwhelming influence casts a gargantuan shadow over Edwards’ style. Here, we see Spielberg’s thematic motifs and technical tropes being checked over and re-tested for our viewing pleasure. Admittedly, I know Edwards isn’t the only action-adventure director to be influenced by Spielberg. However, Godzilla never allows Edwards to craft his own style. Is this a conscious decision or a mistake Edwards will learn from in future sequels/prequels etc? We still aren’t sure, yet. After our characters are introduced, Edwards examines their identities as major life-changing events begin to transform our world. Bailing Joe out of prison, Ford is pulled into Joe’s peculiar conspiracy theory about the events in Japan. Simultaneously, two obsessed scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discover that these 15 year-old events add up to a much larger problem for mankind. These conundrums, used to set up the second-two thirds, rely on the characters more so than the skyscraper-tall monsters. This reboot, despite delivering several jaw-dropping set-pieces, is infatuated with human drama and quiet moments. In fact, Godzilla himself is, ironically, only a minuscule part of this intricate journey. Beyond the first-third’s father-son conflict, the narrative approaches much larger ideas than previous instalments and the aforementioned genre-smashing epics did. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster and the US Military’s all-encompassing stranglehold lumber through this otherwise efficient re-imagining.
“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.” (Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Godzilla).
Sadly, though Edwards’ focus on human drama and relatable situations is appreciated, the narrative is hindered by action-drama clichés and awkward moments. With two-dimensional characters and conventional plot-threads smashing into one another, this reboot lurches lazily between set-pieces and revelations. Thanks to Max Borenstein’s by-the-numbers screenplay, plot-holes and contrivances also disrupt this otherwise entertaining thrill-ride. The characters, continually rattling off exposition and reacting to approaching beasts, distract from the premise’s most alluring conceits. Taylor-Johnson, working with a generic character, is upstaged by his more experienced co-stars. Olsen is under-utilised in a blank-faced role. Meanwhile, Watanabe, Hawkins, and David Strathairn aren’t given distinctive character traits. Thankfully, thanks to Edwards’ vision, the movie’s technical elements reign supreme. Thanks to a dynamic and intriguing opening credits sequence, the movie successfully establishes an ominous tone. Beyond this, the action sequences are wholly awe-inspiring. Defined by an epic scope, confronting cinematography, and impressive creature designs, Godzilla‘s monster battles and gunfights are more momentous than anything Emmerich or Michael Bay could ever hope to deliver. In true Spielberg fashion, the monsters are kept hidden from view throughout the first half. Building to an impressive final third, the movie’s promises pay off thanks to Godzilla and the MUTOs’ ever lasting might.
This Godzilla reboot, hiding under the 1954 original’s monstrous shadow, is a worthy effort. In fact, Edwards and the cast sufficiently overcome the underwhelming material. With the monsters and explosions pushed aside, the human characters do little but yell, look frightened, and run. Edward’s ideas are note-worthy, but would be more interesting if they were able to rise above the premise. If it’s any consolation, Godzilla’s trademark roar is still worth the price of admission.
Release date: February 21st, 2014
Distributors: TriStar Pictures, Film District
Running time: 104 minutes
Every year, Hollywood takes its worst creations and dumps them into particular months. These months, ranging from January to March depending on where you reside, sit between major film seasons. Released before or after the 12 Years a Slaves and Captain Americas have come and gone, these movies bare Hollywood’s most derided impulses. Pompeii, despite striving to escape critical and commercial bombs like Need for Speed and I, Frankenstein, is nowhere near as intelligent and entertaining as it wants to be.
Taking itself way too seriously, this historical epic raises its goblet to seminal blockbusters of its type. However, despite rising ever-so-slightly above the aforementioned turkeys, this is a dull, lifeless, and melodramatic action flick. Pompeii, from its sickly dark epilogue onward, wears its heart and intentions on its leather-and-metal-clad sleeves. Utilising the story’s factual elements, the movie strives to eek emotional reactions from its intended audience. Ignorantly, this sword-and-sandal pap is unaware of its audience’s age range and maturity level. In case the title was too vague, this actioner is based around one of ancient history’s most tragic events. The movie kicks off in 62 AD Britannia. A Celtic horse tribe is horrifically massacred by a Roman legion led by Senator Quintus Attius Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). A young Celt, Milo, plays dead whilst watching his parents’ brutal murders. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Milo (Kit Harington), swearing vengeance upon Corvus, has become a handsome adult and fearsome gladiator. Taken to the doomed city of Pompeii, Milo and his slave brethren must fight to entertain prestigious figures and cruel masters. After meeting heavenly Princess Cassia (Emily Browning), Milo is introduced to reigning champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
From there, the plot drifts off into several convoluted plot-strands and corny, dialogue-driven lulls. After reacquainting herself with her parents, city ruler Severus (Jarred Harris) and wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cassia is pulled to Corvus’ side after his battalion is invited into the seaside city. Unfortunately, it’s this sector of Pompeii that crumbles quicker than the infamous Mt. Vesuvius. Sporting more laughable lines than intriguing twists, this historical epic’s political-drama shades become underdeveloped and unconvincing distractions. The political debates, defined by the screenplay’s formulaic characterisations and sketchy turns, add little more than titbits foreshadowing the explosive climax. Shoddily outlining the Roman Empire’s purpose, its rage-fuelled squabbles and insignificant agendas overwhelm this tiresome historical epic. Elevating Pompeii‘s entertainment value, the dialogue leaves little to the imagination. “Juno’s tit! Is all this your luggage?”, Severus asks as the servants carry Cassia’s cases into the villa. Obviously, unpopular director Paul W.S. Anderson (The Resident Evil franchise, Death Race) cares little for this part of Pompeii‘s dodgy narrative. Infatuated with 1960s Italian sword-and-sandal flicks and 80s disaster epics, Anderson’s frustrating action-direction and unimaginative flourishes hamper this dour extravaganza. With a hack director and untested screenwriters at this production’s disposal, Pompeii offers nothing but a blatant retread of Gladiator. Copying Ridley Scott’s invigorating style, W.S. Anderson steals exact sequences, directorial flourishes, and music cues from the 2000 hit action-adventure flick.
“For those of us about to die, we salute you, I die a free man!” (Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Pompeii).
Blinding this already ash-choked blockbuster, the performances slaughter anything left to salvage. Harington, known as John Snow in HBO hit series Game of Thrones, leaves his abdominal muscles and scornful expressions to carry this lead role. Browning and Moss deliver flat performances in damsel-in-distress roles. However, Sutherland’s foppish turn falls painfully flat. Delivering an elaborate Jeremy Irons impersonation, Sutherland’s graceless presence provides several unintentional laughs. Unfortunately, despite the outrageously over-the-top moments, the movie’s straight-faced facade keeps it from becoming even a guilty pleasure. If Pompeii‘s action sequences had been spectacular, it could’ve been an invigorating, popcorn-chomping surprise. Sadly, Anderson, fuelled by his short attention span and derivative style, is more lava than fighter here. Anderson, despite previously delivering bloodthirsty video-game adaptations (Alien vs. Predator) and violent thrillers (Event Horizon), creates incomprehensible and underwhelming sword-fights. Delivering a recreation of a notorious battle, this Gladiator-like sequence sums up the movie’s biggest flaws. Ruined by quick cuts and shaking cameras, stabs and swings are distorted. Eclipsed even by TV efforts like Game of Thrones and Spartacus: Blood and Sand, these bloodless and ineffectual sequences feel dated. However, I will give credit where it’s due. The special effects crew, boosting this uninspired and dreary final product, excel at creating glorious disaster sequences. The volcano’s gigantic explosions, meteoric debris, and toxic ash elevate the final third’s climactic chases and sword-fights. In addition, the tsunami sequence is the only part worth re-watching.
Pompeii, as the repulsive and simplistic lovechild of Gladiator and Titanic, lacks the might of its conquering mountainous setting. With Vesuvius given more development and depth than the attractive human characters, the apocalyptic final third overshadows the plodding and inconsistent build up. Unlike Volcano and Dante’s Peak, this volcanic disaster epic’s tiresome formula and woeful dramatic moments fail to ignite the viewer’s best interests.
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