13 Minutes


A sight you never want to see in your neighborhood.

(2021) Disaster (Quiver) Thora Birch, Paz Vega, Trace Adkins, Anne Heche, Amy Smart, Sofia Vassilieva, Peter Facinelli, Laura Spencer, Will Peltz, Yancey Arias, Gabriel Jarret, Tokala Black Elk, Shaylee Mansfield, Darryl Cox, Davi Santos, Ginger Gilmartin, James Austin Kerr, April Warren, Kyle Jacob Henry, Addison Metcalf, Lena Harmon, Allyson Crisofaro, Erin Herring, Leesa Neidel. Directed by Lindsay Gossling

Tornadoes are a bitch. They strike without any sort of warning and can leave apocalyptic devastation in their wake. Often, they hit small towns that are less able to recover as easily as a big city might.

In the small fictional Oklahoma town of Minninnewah right in the heart of Tornado Alley, things start with a distant rumble and troubling weather reports that bad weather could be in the offing. Veteran farmer Rick (Adkins) scoffs, having been through enough false alarms in his time to be skeptical at the words of warning coming over the TV. His son Luke (Peltz) is late coming in the night before, managing to miss a lightning strike on their barn that left it completely gutted. Dad, needless to say, is less than thrilled. ‘I hope she was worth it,” he tells him. The fact is, though, that there was no girl. Instead, Luke was spending the night with a man – Daniel (Santos), who works for his Dad (and by extension, for him).

Ana (Vega) works as a hotel maid for an insufferable boss who doesn’t like Hispanics much and her undocumented husband Carlos (Arias) less. Ana lets it roll off her back like water off a duck; she has saved enough for a down payment on a house, even though the supercilious real estate agent (Neidel) who deigns to sign the paperwork while in the midst of her salon appointment, then sniffs “It was barely worth the commission” behind her back after she leaves. Maddy (Vassilieva), who is coloring her hair, has problems of her own; she’s pregnant and the baby daddy (Kerr) doesn’t want to get married, and isn’t so keen on an abortion either, which is what Maddy wants – although when she goes in to the clinic, Tammy (Heche) insists on showing her an ultrasound of the fetus and trying to talk her out of aborting the child. Tammy, as it turns out, is married to Rick and is Luke’s mom.

Maddy is the daughter of single mom Jessie (Birch) who works at an auto repair place, putting up with the patronizing, the sexual harassment and the unreliable customers who wait until the last minute to get their emergency vehicles serviced. When Maddy breaks the news of her delicate condition, essie turns out to be ferociously supportive which might bring a tear to the softer viewer. Maddy also babysits Peyton (Mansfield), the daughter of TV weatherman Brad (Facinelli) and his wife (Smart) is the emergency services department head for Minninnewah. They have jobs to do, so when their sitter flakes out, Maddy gets the call.

All of this small-town drama will begin to recede into inconsequentiality when the town is given a mere thirteen minutes warning that they are going to be hit head-on by a massive tornado. Lives will hang in the balance depending on what each individual citizen does next.

I was surprised that I found the individual stories pretty compelling and while the cast is solid, it performs even better than I expected them to. Not to mention that the tornado sequence is authentically terrifying, even more so than the comparable sequence in Twister that had a far bigger budget to work with than this film did. We also see the devastation from the twister; the town is absolutely leveled and it’s hard to believe anyone survived the destruction, let alone the number that eventually did. On that note, I’m not sure how to address that without giving a spoiler away here; let’s just say that the movie is robbed of an emotional catharsis that it might have had. Some might even feel a bit cheated.

Some of the plot threads feel a bit melodramatic, coming out of disaster movie tropes that are a bit dated at this point. I think the movie might have benefited by having maybe one less thread – for example, the weather man and the emergency services director had little to do except look worried and give out advice on what to do if the storm hits directly. Also, I found it a bit disconcerting that people who had acted like complete and utter jerks throughout the movie turned heroic in the aftermath with one person who professed racist views taking care of an injured Hispanic tornado victim. That just seems inconsistent to me.

Still in all, this is surprisingly entertaining and the tornado and its aftermath are absolutely wonderful. I would recommend the movie highly just for those elements alone.

REASONS TO SEE: The tornado sequence is legitimately terrifying. Better than we had any right to expect.
REASON TO AVOID: Maybe one or two stories deteriorate into melodrama.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, adult themes, sensuality and peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Several extras are former or current first responders who have actually responded to tornado disasters in the area the movie was filmed in.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews; Metacritic: 41/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Twister
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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13 Fanboy

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)


Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan nuzzle in the Dorset countryside.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan nuzzle in the Dorset countryside.

(2015) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Tilly Vosburgh, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden, Bradley Hall, Hilton McRae, Sam Phillips, Victor McGuire, Jody Haise, Pauline Whitaker, Belinda Low, Leonard Szepietowski, Harry Peacock, Mark Wingett, Dorian Lough, Jon Gunn, Richard Dixon, John Neville, Lillian Price. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

In Victorian England, women didn’t generally have very many choices and those that did usually got them because they were stronger and more aggressive than most. Perhaps that’s why most Victorian heroines remain role models for women even today.

Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is an educated, forthright young lady who loves the rural Dorset that she grew up in. She also loves horseback riding and it is during one of her rides that she encounters neighboring shepherd Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), a quiet man of good character. He falls hard for the impetuous young Bathsheba (who hates her given name by the way) and impulsively asks her to marry him, promising to buy her a piano if she does. She declines, telling him that she would want a man who could tame her and the quiet Gabriel never could. Shortly after that Gabriel loses his flock in a particularly devastating way and must sell his land in order to pay his debts. He sets out to find employment. In his travels he comes upon a barn fire and with the farm manager and owner both missing, takes charge and puts the fire out. When the owner returns and thanks him, he asks for a job. The owner turns out to be…Bathsheba.

In the meantime she had suffered a reversal of fortune of her own; no longer poor, she had inherited her uncle’s farm and was determined to make it successful. After firing her corrupt and useless manager (McGuire) she sets about managing her farm with the aid of Liddy (Barden), her assistant and Gabriel’s able stewardship it begins to turn a profit.

She also gets the notice of William Boldwood (Sheen), a neighboring farmer and the wealthiest man in the district. Lonely and socially awkward, he had been engaged once only to be jilted. Now mistakenly thinking that Ms. Everdene is interested in him romantically, he pursues her doggedly with his own offer of marriage and as a wedding gift, a piano. By this time however, she has a piano of her own and declines, valuing her independence too much.

But not for long. Into her life comes soldier Frank Troy (Sturridge), a dashing young man who dazzles her with his swordplay and ardor. Completely head over heels, she marries the military man even though Gabriel counsels her not to and loses his job because of it, only returning to work because the sheep are dying from a disease that only he knows how to cure.

It soon becomes evident that Troy has no interest in farming and less in Bathsheba. He prefers to gamble their profits away, and his ardor is reserved for Fanny Robbin (Temple) whom he had once intended to marry and had been left standing at the altar when she went to the wrong church. She is now pregnant with his child. All of these events are priming the players for tragedy and for Bathsheba Everdene, a choice – which man truly is the one for her?

This is the fourth filmed version of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel (the first released exactly 100 years ago in a silent version). In many ways, it captures the rural life that Hardy so loved (and through him, his characters) better than any of them. Certainly cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen captures the loveliness of the Dorset countryside in vista after vista; silky mist-shrouded mornings, blazing colorful sunsets, bucolic woods and fields.

Vinterberg (The Hunt) is best known as a co-founder of the influential but spare Dogme 95 movement in filmmaking and he would seem an odd choice for a lush classic of such epic sweep as Hardy but he keeps much of the movie simple. The country life that he depicts here seems almost heavenly; one could long for a lifestyle of washing sheep and harvesting grain, walking the country at dusk and singing with the farmhands at supper by candlelight. It is definitely enticing to those of us beset by the fast pace and cold technology of modern life.

Mulligan, Oscar nominated ] for An Education, has done the most brilliant work of her career thus far here. She captures the spirited nature of Bathsheba Everdene but also her vulnerabilities without making her seem too modern, although in many ways Bathsheba belongs more to the 21st century than the 19th, even back when Hardy wrote her – so much so that Suzanne Collins filched her surname for her spunky lead character in The Hunger Games. That Bathsheba chooses the dashing soldier over the security of William Boldwood and the bedrock but unspectacular love of Gabriel Oak is a lament that many guys, unable to compete with the cute and the popular in high school, can understand.

Schoenaerts is a Belgian hunk who has all kinds of upside. He reminds me a bit of Viggo Mortensen and has that charisma necessary to be the leading man in a big budget movie and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find him on the Hollywood A-list before too long. Sheen has continued his exemplary work of recent years and makes the haunted farmer Boldwood flesh and blood, as opposed to the kind of creepy pervert that Peter Finch portrayed him as in the 1967 version.

While it’s possible this could be contending for awards come Oscar time, it’s unlikely given the early summer release date. It’s quite possible that an autumn re-release might put Mulligan, Christensen and even Vinterberg up for Oscar consideration but even if not, this is a film worthy of attention even beyond the film buff and older audiences. I have to admit that it is a smart move to use this as refreshing counterprogramming to the big blockbusters that will be filling up the multiplex screens this time of year. Those who prefer their movies less loud and teen-centric should keep their radar out for this one.

REASONS TO GO: Really gives a sense of the beauty of rustic life. Mulligan is a strong lead. Classic story.
REASONS TO STAY: Adds little to previous film versions of the novel.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mulligan suffered a concussion when she was thrown from a horse. Nobody realized she was injured until she fell to her knees during the next scene to be filmed. Schoenaerts thought she was acting and continued his lines; it was only when she slumped over that anyone realized that there was something wrong.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wuthering Heights
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Child 44