Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Release Date: August 20th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
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.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
Release date: December 12th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: New Zealand, UK, USA
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles.
Worst part: The excessive 2hr 50min length.
Peter Jackson’s much anticipated return to Middle Earth has been through its own unexpected journey. Economic and production issues led to Jackson’s reluctant return to the director’s chair. His first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy is still likely to delight fans and conquer box office records. This return to the world Jackson built a decade ago is an uneven yet still wildly enjoyable adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journeysucceeds in certain places and falters in others, becoming a polarising continuation of a cinematic masterpiece.
Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm’s character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, sits down to write a book of his great adventures. The film then travels back 60 years and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is a contented Hobbit living a peaceful existence in the Shire. His plans are rudely disrupted by the abrupt intrusion of twelve Dwarves from the once great city of Erebor. Driven out of their lands by the evil forces of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), hatch a dangerous plan to take back their home. This group of Dwarves is the work of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who persuades Bilbo to join them on their quest. Bilbo, reluctantly agreeing to leave the Shire, must find the courage to survive the obstacles in his path. While aiding the group on the road that lies ahead.
Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.
Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has received criticism from critics and fans alike. Using 48 frames-per-second film production technology and extending the content of one novel between three films hinder what could have been a masterpiece of fantasy film-making. Despite being the first act of this expansive narrative, An Unexpected Journey is merely a visual splendour that may or may not distract from its structural flaws. Jackson’s work on the original LOTR trilogy was a staggering feat. He captured a world-wide audience of both film aficionados and eager-to-please LOTR fans. However, His work here has created an uneven and at points confusing journey. Jackson has pushed the beginning of his new trilogy into similar territory as The Fellowship of the Ring. All too familiar elements make An Unexpected Journey feel like an monotonous trip there and back again. The grouping of contrasting characters, endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery and Howard Shore’s influential score depict Jackson’s obsession with the mythology and structure of his original trilogy.
The film’s opening hour is an unending mess of slapstick gags, wacky characters and exposition. Two prologues, though helpful in bring the uninitiated viewer into this labyrinth, divert the real focus of this story. The narrative itself is bloated, illustrating the problem with stretching one novel across a multiple film franchise. Unessential comedic moments dilute the darkly sickening aura of this evolving quest. The Dwarves are defined by bodily functions, unintentional destruction and wacky facial features. Their comedic sequences distract from the story’s essential elements. While a goofy and unending troll sequence turns into extensively bumbling comedic material. Thankfully, the film’s second and third acts allow the awe-inspiring action sequences and CGI creations to crawl and crash through the screen. Middle Earth has expanded from the previous trilogy, creating a breath-taking and unique look at a world we’ve seen before. Jackson’s use of CGI however distracts from the multi-layered practical effects. The visceral quality of the LOTR trilogy has been replaced with several blatantly-green-screen sequences.
“I do believe the worst is behind us.” (Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).
Where the film manages to equal the original trilogy is through its many captivating performances. Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo is charismatic and uplifting. Freeman, able to handle both dramatic and comedic material with BBC’s Sherlock and The Office, finds a balance between baffled and courageous. Bilbo creates an uneasy alliance between him and the rest of this bumbling fellowship. His vulnerabilities are what make him ‘human’, while his innate courage makes him a much more empathetic lead character than Frodo. Another stand out here is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis brought motion capture performance into the spotlight with Gollum several years ago. His wriggling, schizophrenic creation has to be seen to be believed. Both Serkis and Freeman fight with wits instead of swords in their tension-inducing game of riddles. The light bounces off of Gollum’s enormous eyes, illuminating every splayed wrinkle and facial twitch.
Despite its inconsistencies, An Unexpected Journey is still a fitting example of cinematic fantasy. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out next year, Jackson may have to focus on the narrative before taking another step toward box office success.
Verdict: A messy yet visually splendid return to Middle Earth.