Into the Storm (Spoilers)

(First of all, sorry for the spelling error in the title of last night’s post.)

I did not get to go with anyone from work, but I understand the physics of the tornado themselves were realistic.

Though one wonders why an airport did not clear out its traffic in advance of a major system like that.

As for the film itself?

Well…erm.

Even taking into account that it was just a popcorn, special-effects showcase, disaster flick…erm.

Seriously, I was re-writing that film as I was watching it. “Set the entire thing in real time. Because of the briefness of the event, you can do that. Ditch offensive stereotype rednecks. If they contribute nothing to the plot, get rid of them. Ditch whiny camera guy who had no redeeming qualities for the audience to get attached to. (And why would someone hire a cameraman who had no experience in dealing with dangerous events?) Because the audience did not get attached, they did not care when he unnecessarily-horrifically died. Having someone in the main cast suddenly killed by just flying debris (notice no one was? Even though that is what kills most people in a tornado) would have not only been more realistic, the suddenness of it would have had more impact. Like a Saving Private Ryan moment where you are following this guy and then *bang* it’s over. That fast.

Honestly, for drama’s sake, I would have killed Richard Armitage’s character right after he saved his son, when the audience assumed that family was safe. That would have been a shock moment that would resonate through the audience and rest of the characters.

If not him, then either develop and then kill the assistant-dude who only had two lines or kill the African American cameraman who was developed and fun to watch. Anyone the audience would care about. Do not simply leave African-American guy, probably the most interesting one on the entire tornado-chasing team, behind for no reason. The whole argument in the church? Cut it, unnecessary time waster. And badly written, so badly written. A somber mood and accusing and guilty looks would have probably been even more powerful. It’s show, not tell people!”

The whole film, I was doing that.

Also, noticing continuity errors.

I will give it credit for having an exciting and somewhat more realistic end than Twister. Also I did not expect the main tornado chasing guy to come back to save everyone. That was well-played. But The Matrix: Revolutions moment of the tank flying all the way up past the cloud layer was stupid.

Also the “Chekov’s pocket knife” and the father-son interaction over it was nicely done.

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Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror

Sunday I spent most of Sunday doing chores, putting items up for sale online, napping and reading. In short, being very, very boring. But I finished Barbara Tuchman‘s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century which is very, very interesting.

Distant mirror

This is the second of her works I have read, the first being The March of Folly. Tuchman has a gift for writing readable history that is packed with facts, but never as dry as academic tomes of equal research and weight. Her histories are focused on the people, the characters of the time and their influence on events. Thus she makes her extremely well-researched past come alive. She does not try to extrapolate or make suppositions about them, but let them and their contemporaries speak for them and what we can know about their characters. Even with this (which the extensive research helps), they still come alive, showing that very often, real history is just as or even more entertaining than anything a fictional writer or Hollywood can dream up.

The 1300’s was the century of the Black Death, the Great Famine of 1315 to 1317, the beginning and majority of the Hundred Years War, the Papal Schism, the last push by the Islamic Turks into Europe which laid the groundwork for the Ottoman Empire, and peasant revolts in England, France and Italy. Combined with often arrogant leadership who were focused on their political and personal egos and intrigues, hung up on their antiquated and hypocritical notions of chivalry, they were unable or unwilling to cope with the changing political and social realities, the 14th century was the epitome of the apocryphal “Chinese Curse,” “May you live in interesting times.”

Tuchman explores the history / tells the story through the life of a French noble who, while not royalty, became a major player in the various international conflicts. Enguerrand (VII) de Coucy lived from 1340 to 1397 and seems to have navigated the dangerous waters of the French Court, the English and French conflict, and the Papal and Italian City states without pissing anyone off (except the peasantry). Nor does the book fixate on the nobility, but tracks social movements of the time. Apologies to Europeans who probably already know this, but she points out that the Black Death had created a labor shortage which started to give the peasantry the upper-hand, but the nobility shoved them back into their serf and serf-like roles. They shoved them hard. Between this, the unsupportable burdens of taxation, lack of protection from the sacking of towns and cities in war and roving band of mercenaries/bandits, and the Papal Schism and the avarice and corruption of the church, the people just lost faith with the institutions of society they had lived with for hundreds of years. The voices of both the downtrodden people and the disillusioned clergy began to speak out. They were put down viciously, but the seeds of the Reformation and the humanistic Renaissance were first planted in this century.

It is a fascinating story written in an engaging fashion. Much more so that most books of equal academic standing. If one is interested in this period of history, it really is a “must read.”