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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Orphan


Orphan

Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrmann share a mother-daughter moment.

(Warner Brothers) Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrmann, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Margo Martindale, Karel Roden, Aryana Engineer. Directed by Jaume Collett-Serra

How simple the love of a child. We take it for granted that our children are innocent and loving. Those who have the courage to adopt are bringing an unknown factor into their lives. There’s a presumption of good in every child, but not all children are good. Some, in fact, are very, very bad.

Kate (Farmiga) and John (Sarsgaard) Coleman have been through the wringer. Kate, although sober now, has had bouts with the bottle and the bottle generally won. While she was drunk her son Daniel (Bennett) nearly drowned, putting a serious strain on their marriage. Their daughter Max (Engineer) is deaf and while precocious and cute can be a handful.

They tried to have a third child by way of patching up their differences, but the child died stillborn. Despite having a whole lot of baggage to unpack in their marriage, they decide to adopt because nothing solves marital problems like adding another kid to the mix.

They head down to the local orphanage and are immediately smitten with Esther (Fuhrmann), a real charmer who is also a talented painter. She speaks in heavily accented English and at times clearly is unsure of the right words to use, but she is nearly perfect in many ways.

Of course, nothing and nobody are perfect and Esther is certainly not. She has quite a temper which sometimes leads her to all sorts of mischief. She also is a possessive sort and she has locked her radar on John, who is the understanding parent of the decade. Kate, not so much – she begins to get suspicious when people start having “accidents” around Esther, nearly all of whom pissed her off in some way. She tries to get people to see what she’s seeing, but most dismiss it as the hysteria of a woman who is a few centavos shy of a peso.

However, as is invariably true in horror movies, when people fail to listen to the Cassandra-like character, things go very, very badly for them. Kate realizes that her unheeded warnings could end up in utter tragedy for her family. Will she be able to protect them from such a little angel?

Collett-Serra previously directed the very flawed House of Wax remake and while this is a little less flawed, it nonetheless doesn’t establish him as a horror movie talent quite yet. Killer kids are not a particularly new contrivance (see The Bad Seed and The Good Son) so if you’re going to do a movie about them, you need something a little bit different to set your film apart from the others.

In this case, there is a doozy of a twist in the last reel that left me thinking that this movie wasn’t so bad after all. Unfortunately, it takes a real long time to get there. Collett-Serra directs this at a snail’s pace, with an enormous amount of exposition without enough pay-off to justify it. He relies too much on a jumpy musical score to set up false scares and other clichés of the genre rather than establishing a really creepy mood. The sad thing is, he’s capable of just that – the last ten minutes of the movie prove it.

Sarsgaard and Farmiga are both capable actors who give their roles some depth. Sarsgaard’s John is a supposed to be essentially a saint and a bit bland; Sarsgaard makes him believable and elevates the role with a better performance than was written.

Fuhrmann does a first-rate job as the homicidal pre-teen. The problem with having a child actor carry too much of a movie is that there are very few capable of doing it. Over the past several years there have been several phenomenal child actresses that have emerged – Dakota Fanning and Abigail Breslin to name two – and Fuhrmann may well join that list. Hopefully she’ll get some meaty roles from her performance here.

Orphan isn’t a terrible movie; it’s just a lazy one. It tries to set its mood up by standard Scary Movie 101 means rather than trying to develop it through performance and good writing. The results are a movie that doesn’t feel terrifying so much as bland, and despite some decent performances and a pretty good ending, don’t rise above the clichés of the genre to make a much better movie than what we got.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some truly frightening moments. Sarsgaard gives a terrific performance and Fuhrmann is awesome as the malicious child. The twist at the end is interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many hoary horror film clichés (the screeching violins to signify a false scare etc.) and a little too much stretching of believability.

FAMILY VALUES: While this isn’t gore-heavy, there are some scenes of sudden and horrifying violence, some sexuality and some really disturbing content. Not suitable for the young or the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The language spoken by the receptionist at the Saarne Institute is Estonian.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Zack and Miri Make a Porno