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Entries in gravity (2)

Thursday
Aug072014

Into the Storm

Too often, a fundamental flaw pervades “natural disaster” movies: the focus tends to be on the destruction and chaos rather than the characters. Recent years have shown the physical and emotional devastation such events can cause to neighborhoods and families, so a movie about one of these events is ripe for hard hitting drama, but the characters that could bring that drama forth are usually relegated to supporting characters in relation to the storm, human fodder for its carnage. “Into the Storm” is no different. It tries to force some narrative angles in, but the final product is largely empty. If 2012’s “The Impossible” serves as an example of how to explore similar territory well, “Into the Storm” exemplifies its opposite.

The film follows the Titus Team, a crew of documentarians and storm chasers who have been tasked with capturing footage of a tornado. Most important among them is meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Pete (Matt Walsh), the latter of whom hopes to capture the first ever footage of the eye of the storm using new technology, including a tank-like vehicle that can stay grounded in winds up to 175 miles per hour. Lucky for them, a storm is brewing and it’s going to be a big one. Unluckily for the rest of the town, including the high schoolers attending their graduation ceremony nearby, the storm is growing far beyond what is expected and is certain to destroy their livelihood.

To its credit, “Into the Storm” at least tries to create interesting characters, even if it doesn’t know how to construct its narrative around them. An example comes from the relationship between Allison and her daughter hundreds of miles away, whom she talks and Skypes with on the phone. Similar to last year’s hit, “Gravity,” the mother/daughter angle is forced in to try to manufacture drama out of thin material (though that in no way implies Gravity is a bad movie—just to be clear, it is not), a cheap way to build characterization and trick the audience into caring about the person onscreen. It doesn’t work. One scene around the midway point shows Allison clutching to the door of that tank-like car as the winds threaten to pull her into the tornado. The unified feeling of apathy from the audience at my screening couldn’t have been more noticeable if we all simultaneously started yawning.

Only one sequence of events carries any dramatic impact. It revolves around Donnie (Max Deacon), son of the high school’s Vice Principal, Gary (Richard Armitage). He’s supposed to be filming the graduation ceremony, but passes the responsibility off to his younger brother so he can schmooze with his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), a character who is largely forgotten when this sequence ends. While at an abandoned factory, the storm hits and they find themselves trapped in a hole under rubble with no way to get out and water quickly culminating around them. With the very real possibility of death approaching, the two take the time to record their final testaments and it hits hard. The actors pull the scene off and the sense of hopelessness is crushing. Unfortunately, these moments are offset shortly after by contrived screenplay happenstances that I won’t delve into in case somebody actually wants to see this, but the primary thing to take away is that even when “Into the Storm” has something good going, it fails to realize it and effectively ruins it.

There are a handful of neat moments as the storm rages on, including a nice nod to the film all films of this ilk will be compared to, 1996’s “Twister,” but these moments are fleeting and don’t do enough to make up for the movie’s glaring deficiencies. These are stupid characters making stupid decisions while poorly delivering badly written dialogue. The storm is all there is, unless you count the bumbling redneck comic relief characters that repeatedly appear parallel to the professionals, the worst comic relief duo to pop up in a film since the paranormal investigators in “Insidious.”

Even worse, “Into the Storm” ends on a cheesy, message heavy and, more offensively, slightly happy note—sure, communities were destroyed and thousands of people just died, but hey, we recognize that person’s face from the beginning of the film! “Into the Storm” is a mess and with so many great films to see in theaters right now, why waste your time with it?

Into the Storm receives 1/5

Thursday
Oct032013

Gravity

Space is a beautiful thing. It’s quiet, serene and you simply can’t beat the view. But it’s also a dangerous place, where the slightest mistake could mean the end of a life. The smallest tear in a suit, a forgotten about harness or even the sudden appearance of unexpected space debris could be catastrophic. It’s the latter situation our characters find themselves dealing with in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” While out on an otherwise calm spacewalk, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) receive news from Houston that debris from a destroyed satellite is heading their way. They’re ordered to abandon the mission, but it’s too late. The debris crashes into their ship, destroying it and leaving them floating out in space, with virtually zero hope of survival.

That’s the grim set-up of “Gravity,” a movie so intense you’re likely to have heart palpitations. As I watched them float around helplessly, with nothing surrounding them but the dark vacuum of space and spacesuits that were quickly running out of air, I realized I had been taking my wonderful inhalations of oxygen for granted my entire life. Never before had I been so happy to have my feet planted squarely on the ground. For the first time ever while sitting in a dark theater, I realized how lucky I was to be alive, to be sitting in a safe, comfortable area surrounded by friends and not dealing with the nightmare onscreen. Forget monsters and boogeymen. Space is more terrifying than them all.

The things you’ll see in this movie, from the soundless explosions to the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet debris to the harrowing space leaps where the odds of survival are about one in a million, are a sight to behold. As things get more stressful and increasingly hopeless, your heart will be pounding so fast, you’ll question the strength of your bosom and hope it can contain it from escaping like a chestburster from “Alien.” These moments are flawless and offer up some of the most frightening beauty you’re likely to ever see.

The problem is that it doesn’t follow through on its bleak premise. While I certainly won’t give it away, it takes a single plot device, one used by countless other movies that have no clue how to give their protagonist the motivation to go on, and manages to turn itself from a wholly gripping movie into something that is, quite frankly, kind of silly. You could argue that the circumstances that are playing out add validity to what finally occurs, but such an argument is grasping at straws. It’s understandable to want to defend a movie this incredible, but that doesn’t mean it’s incapable of stumbling. If “Gravity” proves anything, it’s that even the most calculated, well thought out movies can make stupid decisions. Luckily, one stupid decision doesn’t equate to a bad movie. Quite the contrary, “Gravity” is spectacular, a thoughtful and well-rounded action-esque movie that separates itself from a sea of vapid, nonsensical explosion-fests.

Where it lacks the thematic intricacies of other science fiction films like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it makes up for with pure visual terror. And that terror, that feeling of utter despair, is brought forth beautifully by the talented duo onscreen. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar in 2010 for her portrayal of the no-nonsense protagonist in the based-on-a-true-story hit, “The Blind Side,” despite being the weakest of all contenders in the Best Actress category. It was a stupefying decision to even give her a nomination, much less a win. She may not have deserved it there, but she certainly does here. Unlike the other popular disaster-in-space movie, “Apollo 13,” this doesn’t flash back and forth from the characters in danger to the workers on the ground trying to help them out. It never leaves the black emptiness that is space, which gives the film a focus and allows Bullock to flex her acting muscle like she never has before. She is absolutely fantastic here. This time, the buzz is warranted.

“Gravity” had the potential to be the absolute best movie of the year and, just perhaps, one of the most visually stunning and intense science fiction films of all time. It truly is that good, but that lazy cinematic plot ploy reared its ugly head to bump it down a notch or two. But dropping from a “best of the year” or “best of all time” movie to one that can still be classified as jaw-dropping and emotionally draining (in a good way) is hardly a bad thing. Even if you too have similar issues with the plot turn in question, it will hardly cross your mind when you medidate on the film  later. You’ll instead think about the gorgeous visuals, the many, many sequences of utter fright and the career defining performances. “Gravity” may have failed to be the absolute best movie of the year, but it’s still one of.

Gravity receives 4.5/5