INTO THE STORM. Somewhere around an hour in, I realized it was gut-check time. I'd been sitting there, half-passively, half-dismissively looking at this movie without bothering to make up my mind about it. And in that moment, I struggled to get it done. On paper, there is very little to like: Not only is this a movie about the weather, it's basically a retread of Twister (1996), but without the pedigree. To call the casting unlikely flatters it, from improv-comedy godfather Matt Walsh playing it straight as a hardened storm-chasing lifer, to Richard Armitage (yeah, Thorin Oakenshield) playing an Oklahoma high school vice principal. There's a rickety, worn-out sub-plot about a family separated and in peril. And casting a long shadow over everything, fake found-footage cinematography. Based on everything I like, I should hate this; but somehow I don't.
The action takes place in Silverton, Oklahoma on high school graduation day. Widower Gary (Armitage) has a hectic work day in front of him, to which he can add the complexity of dealing with his two teenage sons. Donnie (Max Deacon), the elder boy, ducks out of recording the graduation ceremony to help his crush record a video application for some sort of internship. (Which, of course, means they end up trapped in an abandoned factory). Meanwhile, a documentary film crew, led by prickly veteran Pete (Walsh), rolls into town, hoping to get into the eye of a tornado. Soon enough, Silverton is ravaged by an incomprehensibly huge storm system and everybody's in danger.
At bottom, this is a field day for the visual effects technicians, and their work is impressive. In particular, the images of a gas station, ablaze and drawn into a funnel cloud, and of commercial airliners floating in defiance of design, are pretty compelling stuff.
There is also something to the direction of Steven Quale, an uneasy blend of earnestness and humor that, while likely unintentional, creates satisfying tension. It works with and against the conventional aspects of the story, and for me that creates a pleasantly unpleasant dissonance. I couldn't place him until after the fact, but Quale also directed Final Destination 5 (2011), which I also inexplicably liked.
Into the Storm is decidedly not a "good" movie, but it is a good time at the movies. It's a popcorn experience, pure entertainment that sidesteps pretense and goes straight for good times. Maybe my desperation for fun at the movies informs my opinion of it; whatever the reason, I like it. PG13. 89m.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, on the other hand, is far less than the sum of its parts and I couldn't wait for it to end. I'm just the right age to carry around no small amount of TMNT nostalgia — I was also a Michelangelo guy, incidentally — which probably makes this wan, noisy reboot all the more offensive.
Cub reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), desperate to break a major story, finds herself in the middle of a showdown between unseen vigilantes and the nefarious, paramilitary Foot Clan. She tracks the defenders of the innocent, who turn out to be ... well. But there's a twist! Turns out April was raised by a pioneering geneticist who experimented on? ... YES! TURTLES! They were April's pets all along! But when her father's lab caught fire, she released them into the sewer to fend for themselves.
Yeah, it's risibly bad, and that's sparing you all the "tell, don't show" exposition and offensively prevalent product placement. The characters are indistinct, broadly drawn sketches, the plot offers no surprises and even the action sequences (save for a snowbound set piece) are dull. Not even the great William Fichtner can salvage this heaving wreck. PG13. 101m.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. After the emotional turmoil of admitting my affection for Into the Storm, then actively loathing TMNT, I arrived at Journey a bundle of nerves: confused, ill at ease, desperate for succor. And this movie provided just that. In another mood, I may not have been so receptive to vintage-style Lasse Hallström, but at this place and time, a warm-hearted, sincere story a la classic Hollywood was just the thing.
A family of Indian restaurateurs, having lost its matriarch and livelihood in a fire, makes its way to Europe to start over. A search, and a happy accident, leads to a breathtakingly gorgeous French village. They set up shop directly across the street from the Michelin-starred fine-dining establishment of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Papa (Om Puri) immediately butts heads with Madame, while his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) begins to develop his culinary gifts and a romance with impossibly cute, impossibly French Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).
The story follows a rigid three-act structure, and most of the conflicts are pretty predictable, but Hallström handles it with a light touch, and the material is infused with kindness and emotional authenticity. And, of course, there is more than a little gorgeous food photography. The acting is strong throughout, and the end result is enjoyable and effective, if vaguely familiar. PG. 122m.
THE EXPENDABLES 3. Lats, abs, 'toids, and 'ceps re-form the gang for the third installment of the old-timers' action spectacle. This time, they bring in some (relatively) young blood, and old- and new-school don't exactly see eye to eye. PG13. 126m.
THE GIVER. Jonas discovers his bland, utopian society is hiding dark truths in this adaptation of the acclaimed high-concept, dystopian YA novel. Stars heavyweights Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift. PG13. 97m.
LET'S BE COPS. Two dolts impersonate cops to get free stuff and become popular. Poor timing for the studio, as cops are decidedly unpopular in parts of the nation right now. R. 103m.
WHAT IF. Twee rom-com pokes at the tropes of twee rom-coms, as Daniel Radcliffe seeks love in a boyfriend-sodden dream girl. From the writer of MVP: Most Vertical Primate. PG13. 98m.
BOYHOOD. Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) spent 12 years filming this bildungsroman that sees the young actors age with their characters. Boyhood is garnering sterling reviews and much use of the term "masterpiece." R. 165m.
— Grant Scott-Goforth
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Stunning visual effects, intense battles and a story with an emotional authenticity generally unseen in summer blockbusters. PG13. 130m.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Unlikely heroes (including a tree, a raccoon, and Andy from Parks and Rec) guard the galaxy from boredom in this clever, edgy and dazzling sci-fi blockbuster. PG13. 121m.
HERCULES. Even Dwayne Johnson's lion-topped mug can't make this predictable ruin come alive. With John Hurt and Ian McShane. PG13. 99m.
LUCY. Director Luc Besson muddles an interesting idea with half-baked plotting, wasting Scarlett Johansson as a woman dosed with a drug that allows her to access the other 90 percent of her brain. R. 90m.
STEP UP ALL IN. Like Step Up, but all in. Dancers from the previous films (um, not Channing Tatum) throw down in Vegas. PG13. 112m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Grant Scott-Goforth