(On Cable TV, April 2015) Twister remains, even nearly twenty year later, one of my big fond memories of mid-nineties movie-going (I bought the Blu-Ray version a while ago… I really should watch it again) and tornadoes are a natural fit for big-screen disaster movies… so why has it taken eighteen years for another big-screen tornado movie to come along? No matter; Thanks to the progress of computer-generated imagery, we can now have a technically-impeccable tornado disaster movie… directed as a teenager-centric found-footage film. But don’t lose all hope yet: For all of the found-footage overexposure and exasperating concessions to the teen audience, Into the Storm does manage a handful of great action sequences. Despite the bouncy subjective camera, the film is technically polished, and the tornadoes are vividly rendered with a loving amount of detail. (Keep your eyes open for a bovine homage to Twister.) Some of the tornado sequences are eye-popping, and the mayhem will give your home theater system a run for its money. What’s not so fortunate is how the story is wrapped around a bunch of teenagers and a storm-chasing team: the story quickly becomes banal and contrived whenever humans are talking on-screen, and while director Steven Quale does cover the essential bases, he never elevates it above the basic wham-factor of seeing a bit of tornado destruction on-screen. The found-footage gimmick gets a bit shaky toward the end. The sense of anticipation of the approaching storm isn’t established as strongly as it should, and the climax does feel like an anticlimax after seeing fire tornadoes and colliding jetliners earlier in the film. Still, I’m not exactly disappointed: the film does deliver on the essentials of its intentions, doesn’t run too long at barely 90 minutes and the story isn’t annoying despite its basic features. I can’t help but be fascinated by what’s now possible with special effects: Twister was, in 1996, a major tent-pole film that redefined special effects at a time when the field was embracing the new possibilities of CGI, while Into the Storm was, at best, just another mid-summer studio release with a budget half of its predecessor. So, essentially: if you’re in the mood for a man-against-nature thrill-ride, consider Into the Storm… but not before seeing Twister beforehand.
(On Cable TV, January 2013) I’m of two minds about the Final Destination horror film series: While the first one created a nice sense of dread that carried through after the credits rolled, much of the subsequent series has been pure carnography, with ingenious Rube-Goldbergian death sequences leading to excessive gore. Final Destination 5 is neither better nor worse than the series has been on average: The opening disaster sequence is impressively staged, with Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge earning a starring role in the process. When it comes to the usual death sequences, they blend amusing fake-outs with preposterous assumptions about the fragility of a human body: In this film, the slightest blunt trauma apparently causes bodies to explode and rain internal organs. It’s this cheap Grand-Guignol approach to its deaths scenes that drag down the series’ more interesting themes. At least Final Destination 5 is slightly better than its immediate predecessors in expanding the mythology: it suggest another way out of the death cycle but, true to the series’ increasingly tedious nihilism, immediately snatches it away in a muddle of dark irony and plot holes. The finale brings back the film to the first installment but the stunt feels more perfunctory than interesting –it would have worked best as a trilogy-finale, but it’s not as if there won’t be another Final Destination 6 in a few years, after all. As for the film itself, there’s some crisp and efficient work here by director Steven Quale (shot in 3D, the film still works just fine in 2D TV-land), and some of the actors are charismatic enough to make us sympathise with them a little bit. (“Aw, c’mon, couldn’t we wait a bit before killing Olivia?”) While still a notch better than usual horror film (and quite a bit better than the usual fifth installment of ongoing horror franchises), this Final Destination 5 is also sadly notable for the opportunities it doesn’t take. It’s good at what it tries to do, but for once I’d like a less gory and more thoughtful take on the same material.