Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Twister (1996)

Twister is my contribution to Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films and television over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check out the other fascinating reviews over there.

Dustin Davis (Philip Seymour Hoffman): Jo, Bill, it's coming! It's headed right for us!
Bill Harding (Bill Paxton): It’s already here!

Two of my blog friends, writers Charles Gramlich and F.T. Bradley, are taking evasive action in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac which is expected to cut through the US Gulf Coast sometime Tuesday. The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida, warned that Isaac was on the verge of becoming a full-blown hurricane and advised hundreds and thousands of residents from low-lying areas to evacuate to high ground which, the way I see it, could be anywhere.

Evacuation, either due to a natural disaster or a manmade catastrophe, is never easy. It's one thing to pack up a few prized possessions, bundle your family and your pets into a car, and drive away to safety. It’s quite another to live in your temporary accommodation with fear and uncertainty, wondering if the beautiful home you left behind is still going to be there when you go back. This is no vacation.

I hope Charles Gramlich and F.T. Bradley and their families and everyone else in the path of Storm Isaac are safe and sound and there is no recurrence of something even remotely close to Hurricane Katrina.

For Tuesday's Overlooked Films and Television, I write about films and serials I watched over the weekend. While I can recall a face I saw wedged between two boxes of Betty Crocker pancake mix in the grocery section of a packed mall two years ago, I can’t remember everything about a film I watched, say, nine months ago. I usually need a refresher. So, last Saturday, I watched parts of a film I had seen before, Twister, and decided to write about it after reading the storm-related posts by Charles and F.T. Bradley, both published authors. 

A tornado in Hardtner, Kansas, in 1929.

Before I touch upon this film, however, here’s a question: do hurricanes or typhoons (known as cyclones in the Indian subcontinent) cause tornadoes or twisters? Apparently, when they make landfall, they do. 

The computerised twisters in Dutch filmmaker Jan Le Bont’s action-adventure film don’t look as terrifying as they obviously do in real life. There is something surreal about tornadoes, especially multiple tornadoes, particularly those swaying eerily far off at sea and heading for the nearest shore. You know where Spielberg got the idea for his giant alien tripods in War of the Worlds.

Tornado chasers Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) and Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) are in the middle of a ridiculous divorce, he chasing her for her stamp of approval on the divorce papers but not really wanting to divorce her, and she chasing twisters that killed her father. Vengeance can be a stormy affair. Caught between Jo and Bill is his new girlfriend Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz) whose look throughout the film can only mean two things—“no one loves me, sniff,” or “what the hell am I doing in this place?” I’ll opt for the former.

Accompanying Jo and Bill on their reckless adventure are half-a-dozen fellow researchers and weathermen including the eccentric Dustin Davis, played by the talented Philip Seymour Hoffman who looks older than his age, currently 45, in most of his films (somebody’s got to check out his BC). 
Hoffman  has “lost it” in Twister as his loud persona and inane comments fail to evoke laughter. For instance, when a particularly nasty twister gobbles up a truck and throws it right back into the path of his own truck, Davis tells a petrified Melissa in the driver's seat, “Did you just miss that truck? That's awesome!”  Hoffman  was equally obnoxious as Ben Stiller’s sidekick in Along Came Polly which, of course, is not to take away his stellar performance in Capote and Doubt, to name a few. He's got to junk these silly roles. Leave them for Jack Black.

Twister is an average film, entertaining nonetheless. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton act well though you can’t help thinking the film owes more to Hunt than Paxton. I have never seen a real tornado in my life (they don’t occur in India) though I know that real-life twisters are scarier as hell. The romantic interlude between the couple overshadows the terrifying realities of tornadoes swirling around them. I should know better: this is a romantic drama, not a climate documentary.


  1. Everything you say about this film is the reason why (are the reasons why) I never bothered to watch it. Why is it that disaster films ALWAYS have a couple either on the verge of divorce or divorced already who fall back in love through the good auspices of a frightening disaster. Jeez. This sort of thing is in almost every film of this type I've ever seen or read about.

    Enough, already.

    I've never seen a real hurricane either, Prashant. New Jersey doesn't get very many of them if at all. Though now and then we get a n'or-easter which is a smaller version of a tornado - I think.

    I can't begin to imagine living under the threat of this sort of thing on a regular basis.

    Terrific post. Very enjoyable to read. :)

    1. Thank you, Yvette. I enjoy watching disaster flicks as well as sf blockbusters like ALIENS, THE ABYSS, PREDATOR and TERMINATOR. TWISTER was fun. With Paxton you can't help get the feeling that he stays in the background even when he is in the lead. A good actor, though.

      Cyclones and the resultant flooding and loss of life and property are common in coastal India during monsoon. Fortunately, we don't get twisters out here. The hurricanes are scary enough. They have cost hundreds of lives even in mega cities like Bombay.

  2. I had fun with this film. Loved both the leads. Wish Helen Hunt had made more films. PSH always looked older than his age. Maybe he will eventually look younger than it.

    1. Patti, I agree, Hunt and Paxton paired well in TWISTER. I haven't seen the two of them in too many films either. I probably need to see more Hoffman movies.

  3. I saw this one at the cinema when it came out and the shot with the flying cow does really sum it up - silly but fun. And what the hell happened to the lovely Jami Gertz?

    1. Sergio, I completely forgot about the flying cow, better than a flying truck. Do cows really go flying during a tornado? Jami Gertz? No idea where she is.

  4. Twister is fun--one of those evergreen movies, and it did a decent job showing the tornado. I sat through a few of them...

    Funny how it's often not the critically acclaimed movies that stand the test of time.

    So far, Isaac is mostly a violent rainstorm here in Mississippi, but we'll wait to see how it develops. Looks like we'll be flooded for a while...

    1. F.T. Bradley, I have been reading about Isaac and though it left a trail of destruction I'm glad it wasn't on the same scale as Katrina. It's good that the levees in Louisiana and elsewhere withstood the fury of the storm. I wonder what impact it will have on onshore and offshore gas production and prices, though.

  5. I will always remember this for the cow that flies by the windshield of the tornado watchers' truck. This was the kind of SFX spectacle I used to love to watch. Now these types of movies are too loud, visually busy, and edited so quickly that they are headache inducing. I avoid them like I woudl soemone with the flu. I used to like Helen Hunt back in the day. She's kind of annoying to me now. Maybe I know too much about her real life. That sometimes tends to put me off an actor. Bill Paxton was always fun to watch. Where has *he* been?


    1. John, I think I need to relive the "flying cow" scene. Ought to have mentioned it in my post. I agree, TWISTER was pretty realistic as far as disaster films go, unlike the more recent 2012 or THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. I don't know much about Hunt or what's happened to her but I recall reading somewhere that she had an eating disorder. I remember Paxton in just two films, TOMBSTONE and TWISTER, so I guess I have to look up some of his other films as well.