Tag Archives: Earth To Echo

Into The Storm

Into The Storm is a whole bunch of unbelievably dull sound and fury signifying nothing.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

into the storm 2Found footage requires suspension of disbelief.  It requires enormous suspension of disbelief.  It requires you to believe that cameras are nearly indestructible and have infinite battery lives, that the people holding them are both too stupid to stop filming and just run, have had no prior experiences with holding a camera before because nobody shakes a camera that damn much and are profoundly selfish people for continuing to record proceedings instead of helping other out, and that there is someone out there who felt the need to edit the traumatic experiences that a bunch of people went through and release the resulting borderline snuff-film to the general public.  Like I said, this requires an enormous suspension of disbelief and it’s why the best ones either keep the gimmick as minimalist as possible (see: The Blair Witch Project) or provide enough of an emotional connection to the characters and world being filmed that the bells and whistles don’t distract as much as they should (see: Earth To Echo).  Would some of these films be far better if they didn’t stick to their conceit?  Mostly, yeah, that’s why District 9 and End Of Watch eventually do just drop the found-footage angle.  It’s why Chronicle managed to engineer an in-story way to have its lead character be able to keep the camera steady and provide different angles and the like when filming.

I bring this up because Into The Storm has been hiding a key component of its DNA from its marketing, presumably because 2014 hasn’t been good for found-footage financially (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil’s Due, the aforementioned Earth To Echo unfortunately), and that is the fact that this is a found-footage disaster movie.  And not a simple one, either, where it’s just one guy with a camera.  This is a film with about 200 different cameras, most of them recording different things, several of them destroyed at some point, many by characters who never even cross paths, multiple times do camera-operators in the film stand around filming the leads trying to save somebody instead of helping, and yet it can’t even keep up its conceit the whole way through.  We are supposed to be watching a film, one made in-universe by somebody at some point, yet we keep getting shots and footage that make no sense in the found-footage conceit.  Lots of CG shots of destruction from far away, several from inside some of the tornadoes, some that manage to be totally still even whilst stuck in the path of a tornado.  It’s not like End Of Watch or District 9 or Chronicle where it’s obvious what’s found-footage and what isn’t or that you’re just viewing events through cameras in-universe instead of a constructed film, this is supposed to be a constructed film but it cheats frequently without being clear as to when it is doing so.

So, in the end, I spent a lot of the time sat there wondering how these shots were being constructed.  How is this fitting in the film’s universe?  All the found-footage ends up doing is being a major distraction, something that kept pulling me out of the movie constantly.  “But, Callum,” regular readers may be going, “Didn’t Earth To Echo have a similar kind of where-is-the-footage-coming-from-issue?  You gave that a pass, remember?”  That I did, because the found-footage conceit never got in the way of the tale, of the emotional centre, of the strong characters.  By contrast, Into The Storm has nothing.  Oh, sure, it has characters in the barest sense, in that they have names and characteristics and arcs, but they are all paper-thin and the film doesn’t really seem to care about their existence.  There’s our supposed lead, a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage) with two sons, one of whom is socially awkward (Max Deacon) and has a crush on a popular girl (Alycia Debnam-Carey), the other of whom is a bit of a douche (Nathan Kress) and both of whom resent him because he alternately forgets they exist or is all up in their respective grills.  There’s a team of storm chasers headed by a leader who is a dick who only cares about the footage until he doesn’t (Matt Walsh, for some reason), a storm expert who has been away from her daughter for too long (Sarah Wayne Callies), and two friends (Arlen Escarpeta and Jeremy Sumpter) one of which isn’t cut out for this line of work.  And there are also two redneck hillbilly stereotypes (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) who want to be YouTube stars and are here for exactly the reasons you’re thinking of.

That is the extent of the film’s interest in its characters.  Everybody goes through all of their arcs, all of which you’ve seen done a million times before (the race against time to rescue the vice principal’s eldest son and the son’s crush will only seem fresh if you simply have managed to block The Day After Tomorrow from your memory for the last decade) and all performed by characters spouting exposition and their current thoughts and feelings at one another in an extremely clunky fashion, but there’s no interest in them.  It’s like the film resents having to spend time with these people.  I mean, I don’t blame them, especially since none of the actors even attempt to elevate this stuff.  Richard Armitage shouts gruffly, Sarah Wayne Callies looks and talks concerned, Matt Walsh acts like a dick until he doesn’t, Kyle Davis and Jon Reep play up their redneck hillbilly stereotypes to the point of insufferability, Nathan Kress acts like a douche.  They don’t even attempt to ham the thing up to enjoyable B-movie levels in order to make up for the lack of characters; everyone’s trying too hard, trying to be all serious serious.  Speaking of, sometimes the film briefly pretends like it wants to be a stark warning about climate change and you get one guess as to how well it pulls it off.

Instead, the film just wants to destroy stuff.  Which would be fine, I guess (forgive me for wanting a bit more out of my disaster movies), if the effects were good and if the whole enterprise weren’t so mind-numbingly boring.  The tornadoes look like a CGI cutscene in a PlayStation 3 game circa 2007, green-screening is prominent and very obvious, certain effects are of a much lower resolution and quality than the rest, that bit in the trailer with the planes and the airport is still laughably dreadful looking, and the inevitable moment where we go into the big monster tornado (which itself looks like Parallax from Warner Bros’ Green Lantern movie) looks as good as the bit in The Matrix Revolutions where Neo and Trinity try to burst through the real world’s sky.  It’s all so, so, so cheap, just barely above a Syfy Original Movie (don’t even get me started on how poor fire looks), which wouldn’t be such a problem if it had stuff going on that didn’t involve destroying stuff.  If the only thing you want to do is smash stuff real purdy-like, you need to come correct with excellent effects and, unfortunately for Into The Storm, every other Summer blockbuster so far this year soundly trashes it when it comes to destruction porn.

There is one part of the film’s marketing that was completely accurate, mind.  The ads made no secret of the fact that this was going to be a loud film.  And it is.  It is very loud, it is ridiculously loud; if I were in the screen next door, I guarantee that I would have heard it shake like an earthquake was about to go off.  Once a tornado hits, every speaker is filled with ear-rupturing booms, the score is drowned out by the chaos on screen, and the “LOUD NOISES” setting is held at a sustained peak for far longer than is tolerable.  The combination of the sheer volume of the film and the handheld nature of most of its shots worked to leave me exiting the cinema once the credits rolled with a splitting headache, a sensation that hasn’t happened to me since A Good Day To Die Hard last year.  One could claim that that meant the film had succeeded in its aim, that I had been taken into the proverbial storm, as it were, and that I should applaud the filmmakers in their achievements.  Bollocks to that, I would reply.  I was instead subjected to the 90 minute equivalent of being trapped on a non-stop tilt-a-whirl at the loudest and most obnoxious speed metal concert around, and that’s not particularly an experience I want out of my movies.

Plus, Into The Storm is just so unrelentingly boring.  There are no stakes because none of the characters have any depth or the attention of the film, there are no thrills because the effects stink, there’s no tension because the film goes so loud for so long that it numbs all of the senses, there’s no fun because the only comedy comes from outdated redneck hillbilly stereotypes who exist for exactly the reason you’re thinking of…  It’s just noise.  Seemingly endless noise.  It’s just sound and fury signifying nothing.  Folks, at time of writing, I am just about 24 hours removed from seeing this film and I remember nothing.  I mean, I remember the ways in which it doesn’t work, but I remember no specifics.  I don’t remember any character’s names, I don’t remember anything that was said, I don’t remember any particular scene, I don’t remember which two of the supposedly important cast actually dies, nothing.  Hell, by the time I’d made the hour’s drive back home after seeing it, I had basically forgotten about the whole thing by then.  The only things that proved that I had actually been to see Into The Storm were a lowered fuel gage on my car’s dashboard and a headache that had partially subsided on the drive back.

This one sucks, folks.  It sucks real bad.  Don’t give it the time of day.

Callum Petch missed his chance to find out that.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Earth To Echo

Your enjoyment of Earth To Echo will depend on how much you want to see a classic Spielberg family film recreated beat-for-beat.  I personally dug the hell out of it.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

earth to echoThat headline is not a misnomer or over-simplification, just so you’re aware.  Earth To Echo is a beat-for-beat recreation of one of those “young kids band together and go off on an adventure” family movies that used to be so prominent in the 80s and early 90s.  Think of a feature or plot beat from any of them and I can practically guarantee you that it showed up here at some point or another.  A close group of young boys consisting of their leader (who thinks he’s a bit of a charmer and has a personal crusade), the cool one (who is deeply insecure about people moving away) and the slightly eccentric one (who is prone to panicking under pressure)?  Check.  The group is about to be broken up due to outside circumstances dictating that they all move away from one another?  Check.  Strange goings on are happening in the area and, on their last night together, the trio decide to investigate behind their parents’ backs?  Check.  They discover a ridiculously cute alien who crash-landed on Earth and just wants to get home?  Big check.  The group ends up being joined by a girl who happens to enjoy unusual things, has to basically force her way into the group and may end up hitting it off with one of them?  Check-ity- check check.  Everyone involved discovers that the people forcing them to move away may actually be connected to and hunting for the ridiculously cute alien?  Mr Check, of Checkingsville, Illinois, you’d better chiggidy-check yourself before you wriggidy-wreck yourself!

In blunt terms, if Amblin Entertainment was in any way responsible for it, Earth To Echo blatantly steals from it at some point or another during its run time.  I can practically guarantee that you will have seen this movie multiple times before and, inarguably, done better.  It brings one thing to the table, the found-footage framework, that, to my knowledge, has not been done by any one of these films beforehand.  Otherwise, it’s the kind of homage where the only aim was to recreate one of the films it wants to homage.  This should be a huge knock against the film and, in a way, it still is.  And yet, Earth To Echo worked for me.  It worked near-totally.

Now, again, don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that this film does nothing new and has little depth or anything to say besides “Hey!  Remember those family movies from the 80s?  Weren’t they awesome?  Gee, I wish they’d make ‘em like that nowadays.”  But the film is so good at that homage and its filmmakers are so good at what they do and they clearly have so much genuine love for the genre they wish to be, that my cynicism was overwhelmed and the film just swept me away.  A much less talented filmmaker would have coldly replicated the style of classics like E.T. and The Goonies for cheap sympathy pops, but director Dave Green and the screenplay (provided by Henry Gayden) invest their hearts into the thing.  They have real love for this style and it washes through every facet of the film’s production, especially its tone which is dead on.  This is a light, heart-filled, optimistic and just plain feel-good film; there is not one bad bone in its entire being which made it much easier for me to lose myself in proceedings.

And that heart manifests itself everywhere.  In the trio of leads (Teo Halm plays the cool kid, Brian “Astro” Bradley plays the group leader, Reese C. Hartwig plays the eccentric one) who are all excellent, striking up lightning chemistry with one another and are so believable in their respective roles that one could be forgiven for thinking that they all were close friends way before filming even began.  In the titular alien, Echo, who is utterly adorable and whose fate I cared rigidly about, even though his personality is just that he’s utterly adorable and that the adults hunting him are clearly bad news.  In the tinge of melancholy that hangs over proceedings, playing on the loss of friendships and abandonment issues theme enough to create the illusion of full-on depth but not enough to make it feel like I was being bashed over the head with it.  In the score by Joseph Trapanese, which is ripped straight from that kind of era but overlaid with minor key reverb guitars for that 2010s version of wistful forgotten youth-invoking.  It all feels sincere and that makes the entire film feel like a genuine throwback to that bygone era, and a very nice change of pace from most family films currently on the market, instead of a cynical invocation for the end purpose of nostalgia dollars.

As for the one thing that it does that isn’t rip off from the 80s, the found-footage, Earth To Echo plays very fast-and-loose with the concept.  And I mean very fast and loose.  Even though everyone knows that found-footage found its logical end point with that bit in Chronicle where Andrew uses his mind to levitate the camera and keep it steady, Earth To Echo tries its own stab at spicing up proceedings by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it.  The film is presented like it’s a film that Tuck, the group’s leader, has pieced together from footage on various cameras a year after proceedings, although that doesn’t really explain the frequent usage of footage taken from the viewpoint of Echo itself.  In any case, in addition to your standard camera holding, there are cameras mounted on bikes, spy glasses, shots from the viewpoint of Echo itself, webcam conversations, screen-recordings of computers, YouTube progress bars, Google Maps indicators of where the cast are headed, overlays on the environment provided by Echo’s analysis, and the occasional visual distortion because everyone knows that the audience won’t know that situation has gotten serious until the camera gets hurt.

Assuming one doesn’t think about it too much, it actually kinda works.  It creates a nice fast-paced editing style that keeps things moving at a good clip.  Plus, some moments are rather inspired.  The aforementioned screen-recording of a three-way webcam conversation has a bit where Tuck, in trying to rally Alex and Munch into joining him on the adventure, cues up the Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves overture and we actually see him opening it up in iTunes.  There’s also a bit where Emma, the girl who tags along, keeps hogging Echo and getting obsessive in finding out his history and Tuck, bored of the section, takes the clip and actually trashes it before we cut back to the film.  Again, assuming that one doesn’t think about how it all actually pieces together into this coherent film made by one of its protagonists that we are supposedly watching, it all actually works and they offer up quick little gags at the medium’s expense.  I will admit that there were many times where my brain was questioning how it all fit together, though, so how much it bugs you will depend on your tolerance for this stuff.

Although I’m not docking the film points for its relentless “homaging” to E.T. and The Goonies, I do still have one problem with it that prevents it from being one of my favourite films of the year so far and that problem is Emma, the lone girl.  She joins in on proceedings about halfway through but, in notable contrast to the three boys, she doesn’t really have a character.  There’s a brief scene that goes on in the background at one point of her complaining how she’s not going to be some “prom princess” or something, and during the rest of the film she gets very occasional scenes where it seems like her and Alex are hitting it off, but that’s about it.  Her character trait is just The Girl and, again in contrast to our three boy leads, I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything about her or what makes her tick.  There’s also that aforementioned clip trashing scene and some occasional bits where some of the boys rag on her seemingly just for being a girl which creates a Boy’s Club feel to proceedings that’s a little jarring, considering how nice the rest of the film is to everyone.  Her actress, Ella Wahlestedt (who I mistook for Molly Quinn for at least a good 10 minutes), tries forcing in some raw blunt charisma to try and make up for it, but it can only go so far when you’re up against the challenge of having no character to play.  It’s a shame because the other three leads are so strongly written and it makes her come off like an afterthought.

So, once again, your enjoyment of Earth To Echo is going to be dictated primarily by how much you fancy watching “Not Goonies”.  As you may be able to gather, I wasn’t much bothered by the fact that it has nothing new to bring to that table.  Sure, it’s not as good as E.T. or The Goonies or the like, but it has something that is strangely lacking from a lot of movies nowadays, not just family ones: heart.  This is a film with love pouring out of every seam, with a trio of well-drawn lead characters excellently performed, with a melancholy yet kind-hearted mood dictating the show, and with an adorable little alien.  It’s a throwback of the best kind, the one that makes you walk out of the cinema and wistfully sigh “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  And maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for that kind of emotion-filled cinema, or maybe it’s because this Summer season has been near-relentlessly miserable and I’ll take anything that is in the slightest bit different from the current norm of film releases, but that is exactly what I did upon exiting the screen.  I dug the hell out of it and, depending on if you can get past your possible hang-ups, you may too.

Callum Petch won’t hear you from the stratosphere.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!