Into the Storm Review – A Cataclysmic Disaster!

Director: Steven Quale

Writer: John Swetnam

Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey


Release Date: August 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes



Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

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.

Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!

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.

Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.

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).

Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!

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.

Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.

End of Watch Review – LAPD Lore

Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour

Release date: September 21st, 2012

Distributor: Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes



Best part: The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena.

Worst part: The confusing mix of steady-cam and video footage.

From L.A. Confidential to hit TV series The Shield, entertainment continually presents a nasty yet somewhat realistic look at cops and criminals in one of the United State’s largest cities; filled with the most inhumane gangs and law enforcers in history. End of Watch however conveys an updated representation of the L.A. cop cliché, creating believable characters whom best describe themselves as the thin blue line between predator and prey.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Following yet another police ride-a-long in the modern Hollywood film-making era, Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) capture the seedy underbelly of South Central L.A. in more ways than one. Following the continuing trend of found footage cinematography, Taylor and Zavala place small cameras on the police car dashboard and their clothing to capture the lives of L.A’s most respectable cops. Filming for a university class in Taylor’s Law degree, the partners encounter ‘regular’ incidences such as unwilling informants, car chases and shoot outs. The decorated partnership is faced with its biggest threat upon busting multiple crimes linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Becoming the cartel’s biggest targets, they must protect themselves, their families and the innocent people of lower class L.A.

Anna Kendrick.

Capturing a unique perspective of a dangerous situation, the irritating tropes of found footage filmmaking are thankfully enlightened by the subject matter being documented. David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Harsh Times and Street Kings) has evolved as a director with each presentation of LA’s cop vs. criminal system. Leaving behind the fantastical action tropes and over-the-top characters of Street Kings, End of Watch is his most accurate and engaging account of modern police officers struggling with the day to day. The hand-held film-making style conveys a similar aesthetic as the controversial reality TV series Cops, capturing a gritty and affecting view of L.A’s finest. The cinematography however distracts from the overall appeal of this smart crime-thriller. Despite the action sequences, police searches and crime scenes being presented with affecting realism and intense performances, the constantly shaking camera affects the continuity of each important sequence.

Pena in action!

Pena in action!

End of Watch finds a unique balance between story and character. Creating a thought provoking insight into the work of the L.A. police force, the film concentrates on its main characters as much as the oncoming gangland threat. Both Taylor and Zavala provide a first hand perspective of the dangerous and uncomfortable positions they put themselves through everyday. Continually breaking the fourth wall, descriptions of investigative techniques and the police station itself create an intelligent yet engaging hands on approach. The film also provides an enjoyable balance between 80s crime thriller and kinetic action flick. The violence, similar to Ayer’s previous work, is depicted as the most important factor in a cop’s line of work. Bullet holes, severed heads and skewered eyes are presented in an affecting manner, creating a much more realistic account of police work than many conventional action-thrillers of its type. The City of God-like look at multiple gangs in one city provides a broader look at the battle L.A. police continually fight. However, the overtly brash stereotypes of Mexican and African-American gangs create little more than an obvious representation of L.A’s crime problem.

“The LAPD’s got a big F*cking cock!” (Van Hauser (David Harbour), End of Watch).

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

The film is lifted by Taylor and Zavala. They present themselves with the determination and moral core necessary for their work on the front lines. Having become used to every horrific crime scene, threat and response imaginable, they create a somewhat witty and sarcastic look at the line of duty. Somewhat silly at times, Taylor and Zavala lend an emotional centre to a story affectingly capturing the most remorseless area of L.A. Gyllenhaal and Pena are the core of the film, providing two of the most charismatic and heroic characters in recent memory. Showing a touching and heart-warming look at their loving relationships, the chemistry between everyone involved provides a brave look at an unhealthy situation. The car becomes a safe setting for both officers, willing to openly, poignantly and hilariously discuss their relationships, personalities and existential problems. Gyllenhaal continues to prove his acting prowess, adding his determined and enjoyable performance here to his similarly commendable work in Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. While Michael Pena may hopefully achieve notoriety with his turn as the funny yet cynical police partner.

End of Watch, aided by an enjoyable cast and crew, is a testament to the hard work certain A-listers willingly undertake. Thanks to Ayer, Gyllenhaal and Pena, this crime-thriller takes charge and delivers a worthwhile 2-hour distraction. Hooah!

Verdict: An intense and enjoyable crime-thriller.

Chronicle Review – Snotty Supervillains

Director: Josh Trank

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly

Release date: February 3rd, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 83 minutes



Best part: The comedic hijinks.

Worst part: The tonal shifts.

With the current popularity of ‘found footage’ with box office hits such as Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise, Chronicle should be seen as an original and natural progression for the genre. This documentation of the darker side of the super-human character cleverly identifies many connections to the inner workings of the teenage psyche.

Dane DeHaan.

Told via home video camera, we follow Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a moody and shy high schooler struggling to fit in. Beaten by his drunken dad Richard (Michael Kelly) and looking after his dying mother at home, his salvation is in his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), the most popular guy in school who is somewhat reluctant to communicate with Andrew. Their discovery of an alien specimen with their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) leads to strong changes in their evolutionary charts. Their development of telekinetic powers makes Andrew the most popular guy in school due to his incredible manipulation of objects. However, his fall from popularity back down to the bottom of the high school spectrum leads Andrew to unleash his powers on others, drawing out his disturbing darker side.

DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan & Alex Russell.

The three teenage leads are very identifiable. Their views on pranks, high school popularity, and girls relate to the world of the crass teenager in a very realistic way. Russell and Jordan are very likeable as Matt and Steve respectively. Matt’s story of becoming a better person, while trying to impress cute video blogger Casey by quoting poetry, defines his changing views of humanity while adapting to his super humanity. The major draw to Chronicle is both Andrew’s descent into the dark and Dehaan’s performance itself. His portrayal of this emotionally scarred yet sympathetic character fixated on the destruction of the dark side of humanity is shockingly disturbing. Scenes depicting Andrew explaining his method of pulling out teeth and his description of the ‘apex predator to man’ define Dehaan’s creepy and saddening performance as instantly captivating. Despite the enigmatic performances and chemistry between the three leads, Andrews family life could have been focused on to greater degree. The plot surrounding his kind, dying mother and highly abusive dad feel forced into this film compared to the delicate story of personal torment surrounding Andrew in high school and his friends trying desperately to help him. While Casey is a wasted character only used to bring another camera angle into important scenes. First time director Josh Trank depicts his view of superhuman teenage angst as an allegory for puberty. Despite their bodies changing in very different ways to normal, the training and control of their abilities make these characters identifiable.

“Yes, it was the black guy this time.” (Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), Chronicle).

Our plucky super-humans.

The rules they set down after a freak accident describe their realistic view of great power coming with greater responsibility. Despite their strict rules, the moments of comedy, based on their fascination with their unbelievable powers, hit on every level. Tricking people around them using their telekinesis, particularly when Steve starts up a leaf blower to lift up a Girl’s skirt, becomes instantly funnier than it already was due to the reactions and witty quips by the three boys. This very unique take on the superhero genre is defined by its cinematography. Chronicle‘s use of handheld camera footage, to capture every second of their developing stories, makes it an intelligent and provocative thriller. Switching camera angles from different handheld sources, manipulation with the single camera by Andrew’s powers and scenes of exhilarating tracking shots, documenting the boys’ newly discovered flying abilities, are a thrill to watch. The first person view of their flight through the clouds is completely immersive, making the viewer feel they’re travelling faster than a speeding bullet. While the special effects are used to clever effect in many scenes, at points its use becomes too obvious. This is a situation where less would have been more as the glaringly fake effects and over the top final battle, complete with an over abundance of camera angles based on the number handheld sources, feel out of place with the rest of the film’s clever almost entirely single camera style.

In this ultra-slick era of remakes, reboots, and irritating trends, Hollywood has finally delivered its first truly phenomenal found-footage flick. Fitting its enjoyable lead performers into its tiny lens, Chronicle is sky high entertainment.

Verdict: A powerful and enjoyable found-footage drama.