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Knight at the Movies: Into the Storm; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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One would suppose that a director with the movies Aliens of the Deep, Final Destination 5 and Surefire ( a film about raging forest fires ) on his resume would be the perfect guy to helm a big-budget tornado disaster movie like Into the Storm. And on that score, Steven Quale, said director, does indeed deliver a film that is just about as memorable as those already forgotten pieces of mass entertainment.

At this late date, with audiences conditioned by decades of disaster flicks, the "wow" factor when it comes to the genre needs to be really ... wow. Certainly, after the world has been spectacularly disposed of ( or thereabouts ) in various manners in 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact and Armageddon, et al, that's a given. Into the Storm, with its amped-up special effects ( at one point we are "treated" to five realistic looking tornados swirling about our stock leading man and lady at the same time ), doesn't disappoint.

But the script—which involves two high school student brothers and their widowed father who intersect with a group of seasoned stormchasers when those tornados come a swirlin' unexpectedly on graduation day—is so bland that it makes one pine for the likes of Shelley Winters treading water in The Poseidon Adventure.

Speaking of movie stars, it doesn't help that the film has been cast with quasi-famous individuals who are capable rather than electrifying. Richard Armitage, from The Hobbit films ( unrecognizable with his beard shaved off ), Sarah Wayne Callies ( of The Walking Dead TV series ) and comedian Matt Walsh ( Veep, Upright Citizens Brigade ) are "the stars" who professionally deliver the forgettable dialogue, hit their marks and point in terror at the advancing, raging winds that were added in post but are otherwise instantly forgettable.

As usual, the foreshadowing is as subtle as, well, a tornado with no one in the small town heeding the warnings about the approaching cataclysmic weather and the head stormchaser doing just the opposite—pushing his worn-out crew to practically drive right into the storms in pursuit of footage he can sell. The two brothers, both of whom are handy with a video camera, are prepping to shoot the graduation ceremony ( thus, the found footage style of the movie ) when the little town of Silverton is subjected without warning to the nasty storm.

At one point, the pretty weather lady and the hunky widowed father ( Callies and Armitage ) "meet cute" as they both hang on to a truck, trying desperately to keep from being sucked up into the third or fourth tornado of the day. Later, one of the characters is sucked into the howling winds and literally travels all the way up to the upper stratosphere, glimpsing outer space in the process. Those moments brought howls of laughter from the audience and finally added some desperately needed cheese to the earnest but boring proceedings ( that is, whenever the whooshing special effects momentarily dissipated ).

In a movie culture that has brought us Sharknado and Sharknado 2 ( with third and fourth editions, no doubt, in the pipeline ), it's unlikely that without some real personality, some star wattage or a higher caliber or at least a healthy dose of cheese, Into the Storm could do anything more than blow out of town as quickly as it came—which is just what it does.

Of related interest: Noah, from Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, stars Russell Crowe in the lead role and is also very much a disaster epic—albeit one that, in retelling the Old Testament tale, draws on various religious and secular sources to create a hybrid of a religious epic and a sword-and-sandal swashbuckler. In addition, fallen angels come to earth as giant rock formations ( a la Transformers ). Jennifer Connolly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkinns and Logan Lerman ( Watson and Lerman having co-starred in The Perks of Being a Wallflower ) star in this rather offbeat film that mostly works.

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Film notes:

—Rain Pryor, daughter of the comic legend Richard Pryor, will attend screenings of That Daughter's Crazy, a documentary focusing on her upbringing and her, to say the least, colorful family. The film will screen as part of the Black Harvest

Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., on Friday, Aug. 15, and Saturday, Aug. 16, at 8:30 p.m.

Pryor will be in attendance along with filmmaker Elzbieta Szoka and other special guests. .

—As I noted a few weeks back, queer film audiences will be interested in another Black Harvest Film Festival offering: Bad Hair ( Per Malo ), from director Mariana Rondon. It's a Venezuelan film centered on a young Latin American boy named Junior and his social, cultural and sexual identity, vis-a-vis, his 'fro. Things get tense in his homophobic family when his crush on a handsome news vendor becomes known. The film screens Sunday, Aug. 17, at 3 p.m. and on Monday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m. .

—In honor of its 40th anniversary, 1984's Purple Rain which elevated Prince's career into the stratosphere plays as the final feature of the Summer Music Film Festival on Friday and Saturday at midnight, and Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 9:45 p.m. at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave. This is a rare opportunity to see his royal purpleness—who was never better—in all his self-indulgent, red-hot glory.

—Cory Krueckeberg wrote and directed the sexy and surprisingly thought-provoking Getting Go: The Go Doc Project, which delighted ( and heated ) audiences last year when it played at queer film fests around the country ( including Reeling ).

The film stars openly gay actor Tanner Cohen as a budding filmmaker who decides that the best way to connect with the hot go-go dancer at the local gay bar is to make a documentary about him. The less-than-shy dancer ( memorably played by uber-sexy Matthew Camp ) quickly turns the tables and a hot affair commences. But, as the summer ends, will the romance blossom into love? Cohen also starred in the enchanting queer-themed quasi-musical Were the World Mine ( also from Krueckeberg and his real-life partner Tom Gustafson, who produces here ). Getting Go: The Go Doc Project is now out on DVD from Wolfe Releasing.

—Now available: The Best of Knight at the Movies: 2004-2014—a compilation book of more than 150 of my film reviews from a queer perspective for Windy City Times—is now available.

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