What a difference a week makes. Last week was possibly my favorite film week of the year so far, with three wonderful films (reviewed here). This week isn’t all bad but it’s various levels of disappointing.
Into the Storm
Directed by Steven Quale
There’s something terribly problematic about releasing a film about tornadoes in the shadow of SyFy Channel’s release of “Sharknado 2: The Second One” (one of the most brilliantly awful sequel names ever) and having it seem like the lesser of the two. “Into the Storm” desperately needed sharks or almost anything else interesting to drop out of the funnel clouds and might have been more popular if it had been called “NadoNado” as it seems to be about a storm that spawns more storms.
There’s virtually no story here, with just enough of a premise to justify why a particular group of people might be stuck in the midst of the kind of weather that will win any future “…oh you think that was bad?” conversation. A down on his luck stormhunter has run out of money without managing to capture footage from inside the eye of a storm and he’s desperate to rectify that. Meanwhile his target storm is barreling towards a high school where the Vice Principal has lost track of one of his sons, who is of course more valuable than the hundreds of other kids in danger. And thus we have just enough characters we don’t care remotely about to justify this CGI people in jeopardy monstrosity.
It’s hard to decide what the low point of a movie this bad is but I’ll nominate one ridiculous scene for that honor. Throughout the whole movie, we’re given the impression that the town we’re looking at is a fairly modestly sized place – the kind of town where people know each other and all the kids go to “the high school” rather than a distinctly named “Famous Person X High School.” It wouldn’t be unreasonable for this town to have a small airport, with small private planes – although even that might seem somewhat out of place. And yet at the peak of the storm, we’re suddenly shown not just an airport but Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jets” being tossed around like kites. It’s a scene I’m sure somebody in the effects department got a kick out of creating but it doesn’t fit. And sadly there’s nothing very worthwhile making up for the low points.
Teen age Mutant Ninja Turtles
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Relying on Meghan Fox to carry dramatic scenes is about as appealing a concept as a shark-free tornado during shark week. This latest iteration of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” story does just that and attempts to both remake and reboot, while also serving as both an origins story and attempting to have enough action to keep small eyes happy. Early box office reports show that it has probably done just that but it doesn’t have much to keep taller viewers amused.
There have been a few variations on the storyline but here Fox plays April O’Neil, the daughter of a scientist who unwittingly created a serum that turned a lab rat and four box turtles into crime-fighting superheroes. She’s now an eager young journalist trying to escape fashion and celebrity news assignments during a crime spree being perpetrated by the mysterious Foot Clan. It’s while she’s witnessing a crime that she catches a glimpse of the turtles she hasn’t seen since the lab fire that claimed her father – although naturally she doesn’t make the connection at first, given their physical transition and, even more naturally, nobody else believes her.
As you might expect, much of this film is dependent on the CGI turtles and they aren’t particularly impressive to look at, especially after the relative excellence of Rocket (the space cyborg raccoon) in last week’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” They are, however, much better to look at than Master Splinter, the lab rat turned sensei, who has raised them and taught them to be what they are. The CGI for Splinter looks awfully dated – it’s like a CGI character who has undergone a little too much plastic surgery and botox injections and can’t move his face very well. And I’ll avoid saying much about Foot Clan leader Shredder who spends most of the movie looking like Edward Iron-Throne-Hands.
Will Arnett and William Fichtner are typecast as sidekick and villain, respectively, and nobody is really able to shine through the weak material, including ridiculous action sequences that look primarily like they were created for future theme park and video game adaptations. In a summer that has seen some genuinely good comic book and superhero movies, this one is very much geared for children and will likely be successful largely because children haven’t been served very well this year.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Directed by Lasse Hallström
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is by far the best film of the week – although that’s a very low bar. But a story championed by Oprah Winfrey, who pitched it to Steven Spielberg (they’re both co-producers), on the way to securing Lasse Hallström (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules”) as director ought not to be quite this disappointing, or disappointing at all for that matter.
At some level, this is like “Ratatouille” for grown-ups, telling the story of an unlikely young upwardly mobile cook in the world of French cuisine. Hassan was born into a family of restaurateurs in India and learned the secrets of cooking and flavors from his mother. But after a tragic fire, the family moves to England, then France looking for a place to settle down and start over. Their travels bring them to a small French town and a rundown building directly across the street (100 feet) from a swanky French Restaurant run by a haughty and proud widow (Helen Mirren) who doesn’t take their Indian style of cooking very seriously.
All of which results in a beautiful film to look at and one that has some decent performances. But there’s a certain sterility in the storytelling and everything is just too staged with, for example, lighting and scenery that looks a little like it comes from some spinoff from the Thomas Kinkade school of art direction. It’s also a film that, as mentioned, has tragic moments but which never wants to be a downer for audiences and so jumps past those moments so quickly that the tragedy never quite sticks or carries any weight.
This causes one of the film’s primary problems, as the way in which these developments pass so quickly results in very little dramatic tension. In that sense it reminded me of the recent “Begin Again” which similarly seems to present us with characters on a steady upswing without any great setbacks.
On top of that, I’m a big fan of Helen Mirren but she never quite seemed right for this role. She isn’t bad in it by any means and she’s complimented nicely by Om Puri as Hassan’s father, but I couldn’t entirely buy into her as the French woman who spots Hassan’s talent. And so it becomes a film that promises to be delightful and yet breaks that promise at almost every turn. It’s not awful by any means, and I expect many people will be enchanted by it, but it seemed like it had more to offer than it managed to deliver.