Into the Storm

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DIR: Steven Quale • WRI: John Swetnam • PRO:Todd Garner • DOP: Brian Pearson  ED: Eric A. Sears DES: David Sandefur MUS: Brian Tyler  CAST: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh

Ever wondered what Twister would be like with less of a plot, truly forgettable characters but vastly better special effects and the disaster spectacle upgraded to Man of Steel levels? Into the Storm is the film for you.

Being as nakedly a spectacle film as this is, it feels redundant to even summarise it but, there is technically a plot so; high schooler (Deacon) ends up trapped during a big storm, his dad (Armitage) has to race across town to rescue him before the storm strikes again. All the while there’s a very ‘one last job’-sounding collection of storm-chasers who are trying to film this particular storm because, wouldn’t you know, it’s the biggest storm there ever was. They all meet in the middle, a few characters get killed for motivational purposes, someone heroically sacrifices themselves etc. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll see people on fire; you get the deal.

From literally the first scene, it’s worth knowing that this film is loud. Like really, really loud. Children would cry in terror, loud. Once your hearing has sufficiently adjusted/been pummelled into submission, you can certainly appreciate that it does at least manage to create a quite immersive soundscape, though naturally it wears off and becomes irritating toward the end. (Short sequences of everything smashing and exploding? Effective. Twenty straight minutes of it? Obnoxious.) When it works though, it proves engaging enough to distract you from the across-the-board irritating characters, the pointless, monumentally idiotic-in-context found-footage aesthetic, and the weird tonal inconsistencies.

In the never-ending pantheon of found-footage movies, Into the Storm is a demonstration of how stupid Chronicle could have looked. That film had the excuse of the characters using their superpowers to justify the cameras moving and floating around and it just about got away with it. Into the Storm by comparison simply uses the excuse of: everyone has cameras and will use them all the time, no matter how many feet away from certain death they are. This means that the shots are nicely varied (which, as ever, raises the question of why it even needed to be found-footage) but it never stops looking ridiculous and occasionally, hilariously suicidal. To the film’s credit, it at least has the common sense to show a few of these nominees for the Darwin Awards being horribly killed for their hubris. (It’s also worth questioning, where does everyone get these incredibly wind and water resistant cameras?)

The entire enterprise has a strangely bemused, misanthropic apathy running through it. The storm-chaser characters aren’t held in particularly high regard by the screenplay, their only meaningful contribution to the world seemingly being the encouragement of amateur copycats. Said copycats being amongst the most insufferable of ‘comic-relief characters’ to assault one’s senses in some time; to call them paper-thin, redneck stereotypes is to do a disservice to the many and varied uses of paper. On top of this, there’s repeated lip service paid to why these super-storms are happening more frequently (though the words ‘global warming’ are never once uttered, no doubt in an attempt to adhere to America’s warped sense of ‘balance’ where issues like this are concerned), but it’s never talked about as if these disasters are a warning to be heeded. Rather, every character just shrugs it off and accepts in a disinterested tone that humans are the worst, nature is pretty powerful and we’re all going to be wiped off the face of the planet. Now, while this could have bordered dangerously close to being interesting, the film obviously loses its nerve and gives the expected ‘we have each other, live in the moment, blah, blah’ crap in its closing moments as everyone stands around, bloody, beaten, in some cases dead, and universally homeless.

All that aside… The film is fine. You’ll note how none of the posters feature a single character from the movie, this is disaster-porn, pure and simple, and in that light it’s not unentertaining. The cast is needlessly large enough that none of them get enough screen-time to become truly irritating (aside from the rednecks), the film knows that no one is here for a ‘human interest’ story and paces itself accordingly. It’s never particularly boring and the escalating stupidity of the set-pieces mean there is certainly some fun stuff to laugh at. Wind-tunnels are always funny and you’d have to be impressively dead inside not to get a kick out of seeing a guy (who in the previous scene was convinced not to quit storm-chasing) killed trying to retrieve his camera by being pulled into a twister literally made of fire.

On the whole though, there’s not really enough here to recommend it. The aforementioned fun stuff is pretty sparse when considered against the overall running time and yes, there are some effective sequences which justify seeing the film on the biggest, loudest screen you can find but that rollercoaster-ride aspect of it is nowhere near as consistent and sustained as say, a film like Gravity, which would noticeably lose something away from the big screen. Into the Storm is probably a better watch in a setting that involves a couch and some other humans that can be conversed with during the boring scenes of people crying before they’re rescued at the last second. It’s fine, it’s really fine, but it’s not much more than that.

Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)
89 mins

Into the Storm is released on 20th August 2014

Into the Storm  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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DIR: Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro • PRO: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jabez Olssen • DES: Dan Hennah • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch

The second of the three Hobbit films actually begins with a scene which takes place before the start of the previous film, possibly as some sort of joke at the expense of people who think these movies are already needlessly long. Regardless, we soon pick up where the last film ended with the Fellowship, the Company and the titular Hobbit on their adventure to the Lonely Mountain to fight a dragon. On this increasingly circuitous journey they stumble across numerous secondary characters and plotlines which latch on to them like lost children, one of which involves a shadowy, evil force growing in power…

Okay, let’s get the praise out of the way first so that we can move on to the rant because this film is going to receive near universal praise and rake in money no matter what anyone says. Part of me wishes that Jackson and his production team were only making the original trilogy now because, even though those films have aged reasonably well, these films only continue to get better and more impressive-looking with each instalment. The set designs and their believability are only matched by the simply superb CGI. Even with the best examples of CGI a slight disconnect between the real and the generated always remains. In this film (and to a lesser extent its predecessor) you really have to stare in wonder at the work that’s gone into the likes of Smaug (Cumberbatch). The only reason you really know it’s CGI is because there are (sadly) no dragons to put on film. I realise how trite this all sounds but after so many films in the last decade getting by on acceptable CGI, it’s truly a pleasure to be gobsmacked by what can be achieved with it all over again.

Speaking of Smaug, it would be remiss not to report that yes, Benedict Cumberbatch as a dragon is as wonderful in practice as it sounded on paper. He’s very reminiscent of Hopkins’ Lecter in his initial encounter with Bilbo (Freeman); dripping with menace but hiding it behind a polite yet powerful demeanour that’s almost mesmeric due to his careful, drawn-out enunciations. The rest of the cast are, as expected, almost all wonderful. Freeman continues to prove a stroke of genius casting, embodying a far more charismatic and innately humourous lead than Elijah Wood ever was. His comic timing but more importantly his use of physicality for comedic effect is a delight to watch. Ian McKellen gives it his all in a role where any other actor his age, playing a character like that would simply phone it in. The one glaring weak-link is the (pointlessly) returning of Orlando Bloom who still can’t emote to save his life and looks simply hilarious in action scenes where he’s clearly trying to come across as every bit the stoic, badass action hero that he very much is not. Bless.

Sadly, Bloom’s acting is only the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, I don’t think that I would in good conscience recommend this film to anyone but the most die-hard of Tolkien fans. The first film got a pass because it seemed (from the three titles of these movies at any rate) that Hobbit Pt. 1 would get the dull stuff out of the way leaving an entire second film for the Smaug portion of the plot (read: the only portion of the plot the more casual viewer is truly interested in) and yet here we are two films in and Smaug has had maybe fifteen minutes screen-time and an infuriating ‘to be continued’ right as the film is reaching what seems to be its action climax. To describe the film as slow and meandering is laughably inadequate but it’s forgivable (or at least tolerable) when you know it’s building toward something big and exciting. Pulling such a cheap, money-grabbing (better pay to see next year’s sequel, kids!) stunt after so very many, intolerable, unnecessary, and increasingly screen-time-cluttering scenes tips the scales right into ‘unforgivably boring’ territory. The end of this film would be akin to the first Hunger Games film being split in two and ending the first part right as Katniss entered the Games. Sure the die-hards will still enjoy all the talking and world-building but the large portion of the audience made up of less invested viewers who came to be entertained will be very angry and likely bored.

The prequel nature of these films also raises some issues. The side plot (one of the dozen or so that seems to be on-going at any given moment) involving Gandalf (McKellen) sees him investigating a mysterious enemy who goes conspicuously unnamed for most of the film but if you really can’t work out who it is, you’re just not trying. The problem is that these scenes are utterly devoid of any tension or peril because of who ‘the Enemy’ is and any danger Gandalf seems to be in by his hand is just more time-killing because we all know nothing of consequence can happen due to this being a prequel. Raising the question of why they even bothered to include (or at any rate, include so much of) these scenes. There is certainly a point in the last half an hour to forty minutes where there’s just so many simultaneous plotlines being followed that it descends into a Phantom Menace-style mess of trying to juggle all of them with equal screen-time when really there’s only one or two of any real importance or interest. Many of which are simply left hanging mid-scene to be picked up in next year’s sequel. And when the film does reach its final, infuriating shot we’re left with another thoroughly unsatisfying cinematic experience which, like the previous film, simply stops and fails to have an actual ending. It’s almost three hours of people running from things without any real beginning or ending.

For those already enamoured with Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, this is just more of the same and will likely make for perfectly pleasant viewing. For everyone else there are certainly enjoyable aspects but they don’t remotely justify the overly-indulgent, unashamedly money-grabbing, dragging-out of a story that didn’t need it. For anyone still unsure if it’s worth seeing, watch it at your peril or rather the peril of your patience and your bladder.

(A brief note on the HFR issue. It seems to have been largely fixed from the last film. The ‘fast-forward’ effect is almost entirely absent though some of the faster moving action scenes have a habit of descending into a headache-inducing blur. The only major complaint is that it does its job too well in places and everything looks too real i.e. sets look like sets rather than locations and the whole enterprise ends up looking very televisual on occasion.)

Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)

161  mins

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is released on 13th December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Official Website

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