Cary Elwes

Twister

 

1996

Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures

Directed by Jan deBont

Produced by Ian Bryce, Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy

Written by Michael Crichton, Anne Marie Martin

TWISTER falls into the weird in-between category of it not being a really good movie but it isn’t an especially bad one, either.  It’s not a movie that I would recommend you go out of your way to avoid but it’s also not one I’d recommend as a Must See.  Let me put it this way: if you’re channel surfing and just happen to land on it, check it out.  If you see it in the $5 bin in Wal-Mart or Target or Best Buy, leave it there as I don’t think it’s worth a place in anybody’s home Movie Library but it is two hours’ worth of disposable entertainment that you can enjoy if you approach it in the right way.

TWISTER is in a way a throwback to the disaster movies of the 70’s and 80’s.  Although it’s nowhere near as good as say, “The Poseidon Adventure” or “The Towering Inferno” I liked it a lot more than “Armageddon” “Daylight” or some of the recent disaster movie throwbacks such as “2012” or “Deep Impact”

Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) is a meteorologist obsessed with tornadoes ever since she saw her father sucked up by one when she was a child.  She’s built a device called “Dorothy” whose purpose is to release hundreds of tennis ball sized sensors inside a tornado to provide information to improve the accuracy of tornado warning systems. Jo plans to deploy the device during an especially intense tornado season in the Midwest and the very day she intends to do so, her estranged husband Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) shows up with his prospective new wife Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz) with divorce papers for her to sign.

Also showing up is Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) Bill’s old partner who has built his own device “DOT-3” which is based on Bill’s designs for “Dorothy”.  Miller also plans to deploy his device and thereby claim sole credit for the invention of the device.  Bill holds off on the signing of the divorce papers to help Jo get “Dorothy” into a tornado before Miller does the same with “DOT-3”.

The rest of the movie has Jo and Bill, along with their wild-ass crew of storm chasers which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Jeremy Davies and Joey Slotnick pursuing tornadoes in increasingly more dangerous attempts to deploy “Dorothy” Melissa is dragged along and Jami Gertz’s reactions to the utter insanity of what they’re doing provides some of the humor in the movie.

The whole set-up with the bickering married couple is unnecessary as is the rivalry between Jo, Bill and Dr. Miller.  The real bad guys in TWISTER are of course, the tornadoes.  And they’re the real source of comedy for me in the movie.  Let me explain.  Apparently these must be a new breed of Stealth Tornadoes since there are several times in the movie where they sneak up on our intrepid band of storm chasers.  Even though they have all this high-tech gear in their caravan of trucks for monitoring storm activity, those pesky tornadoes just keep on taking them by surprise.  The one scene that had me howling with laughter was the one where Philip Seymour Hoffman insists that they’re right on top of a tornado but none of them can see it.  Why?  Because the daggone thing is following behind them.

There’s a couple of scenes where it’s bright and sunny with nary a cloud in the sky and all of a sudden things turn black in thirty seconds flat and multiple tornadoes come roaring out of nowhere like sharks who have tasted blood in the water. And the scene where a tornado apparently tip-toes quietly up to tear apart a drive-in is another howler.  The danger in chasing these things keep increasing as the intensity levels of the tornadoes rises, culminating in a tornado so powerful and deadly it’s called “The Finger of God”  But it still isn’t anywhere near as scary as that tornado in “The Wizard of Oz”.  Now that is a tornado to be terrified of.

But no matter how strong these tornadoes are, they just can’t snatch up Helen Hunt or Bill Paxton.  Boats, cars, bridges, trucks, 18-wheelers, cows are sent flying through the air by the powerful force of the tornadoes and even houses are pulled apart with ease but Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton appear to have the superhuman ability to avoid this fate simply by clutching onto each other and screaming repeatedly, “hang on!”

So should you see TWISTER?  Like I said earlier; don’t go out of your way to see it but if it happens to be on, it wouldn’t hurt you to watch.  It’s got a good cast of extremely likable actors who appear to enjoying what they’re doing and the special effects are very well done.  Sit back and enjoy the movie that I think should have been titled “Attack of the Stealth Tornadoes” and you’ll be fine.

113 minutes

PG-13

 

Saw

2004

Twisted Pictures

Produced by Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman and Oren Koules

Directed by James Wan

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell

Based on a story by James Wan and Leigh Whannell

Before we get into the review of SAW I guess I should explain my feelings on horror movies so here it is put as bluntly and as honestly as I can: I find most of ‘em absolutely and totally stupid.  Oh, I can sit and watch ‘em on a pure entertainment level and derive a great deal of satisfaction from them but I’m not scared by them and I listen to people who talk about how terrified they were by “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Amityville Horror” and I have to ask them if they’re serious.  The first time I saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” I was shushed by my friends because I was laughing out loud in the theatre as I truly thought the movie was a spoof of the genre since I couldn’t honestly believe anybody would take the material seriously.  People in horror movies act entirely too stupidly to be believable and it’s because of lazy screenwriters who simply see their characters as objects to be used to achieve their ends.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t horror movies I’ve seen and enjoyed but what I consider real horror movies are movies such as “Night Of The Hunter” “In Cold Blood” “Psycho” “The Out-Of-Towners” “Lady In A Cage” or “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” where the situations are presented in a logical and believable manner.  Real Life doesn’t have to make sense but Fiction does and when you present me with a situation that falls apart when I stop to take five minutes to think about it, you’ve lost me.  And that’s the main problem with SAW.

Two men awake in a filthy bathroom that looks as if it hasn’t been cleaned in twenty years and seems more like a slaughterhouse than anything else.  The two men are chained by their legs to secure pipes at opposite ends of the room and cannot reach each other.  Lying between them is a dead body, gun still in hand and it’s obvious the poor bastard has shot himself in the head.  One the men is Lawrence (Cary Elwes) a surgeon and the other is Adam (Leigh Whannell) a photographer and they are both the captives of a brilliant serial killer known as Jigsaw who plays games with his victims where he sets them up to bring about their own deaths.  The detectives assigned to the case (Danny Glover and Ken Leung) are relentless in their pursuit of the clues but Jigsaw has managed to evade them.  Indeed, Glover’s character believes that Lawrence is Jigsaw and after a terrifying confrontation with the criminal he basically loses his mind and his job but continues to work the case.

Lawrence and Adam have been provided with a number of items: two cassette tapes, a tape recorder, two saws, two cigarettes, a cell phone that can only receive calls and one bullet for the gun they can’t reach and it becomes apparent to them that Jigsaw intends for one of them to kill the other.  Jigsaw considerably amps up the intensity of the game because he’s holding Lawrence’s wife and daughter hostage and he’s imposed a deadline.  Lawrence and Adam have to work together to try and figure out why they’re there and hopefully escape from the trap they’re in.

And after the first thirty minutes I really didn’t care.  You ever heard a commercial on the radio for Geico where there’s this hardcore biker called Smokey who is complaining about the background music playing because as he puts it: “This doesn’t make a lick of sense”?  Well that’s the way I felt watching SAW: this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense and I’m going to give you a perfect example why:

There’s a character we’re presented with who we’re led to believe is the killer but we know that he actually can’t be the killer because we’re shown his face halfway through the movie and we all know that when we’re presented with someone as the killer half way through the movie he just can’t be the killer.  Okay.  This character has a scene where he apparently gets off from showing Lawrence’s daughter his gun (which she’s absolutely terrified of) and listening to her racing heartbeat with a stethoscope.

Now given what we find out about this guy later on why was he getting off of tormenting the daughter?  If indeed he was part of Jigsaw’s game then why didn’t he just throw down his gun when Glover’s character burst into the house and explain what was happening and why he was doing what he was doing?  Better yet, why didn’t he just go the cops when the whole sick game started and tell them what had been done to him and ask for help?

This is all after we’ve been presented with Lawrence and Adam who supposedly are strangers but find out 45 minutes into the movie that they actually do know each other in a really dumb scene where they each take turns saying: “Hey!  I do know you!” and by the time we get to the last half hour of the movie where Lawrence violently mutilates himself but doesn’t pass out from blood loss and shock and apparently is a good enough shot to wound Adam in the shoulder just long enough to knock him out but still leave him in good enough shape to have a  drag-out fight with Jigsaw I was all through with the movie.

That’s not to say that SAW doesn’t have its entertaining moments.  I liked the way the movie is photographed and the performances by Danny Glover and Cary Elwes.  And I liked how it put together the way the characters related to each other and how it was revealed to us.  And the last ten minutes of the movie are simply mindblowing with a final twist that is truly devastating.  But ultimately SAW is just an exercise by the screenwriters and director to just show off how clever they think they are and not to give us a story that makes sense or engage us with the characters.

So should you see SAW? (I just loved typing that) Most of you reading this probably already have so it’s too late.  You probably either love or hate it.  I don’t hate it but I don’t understand why people think this kind of stuff is scary.  I’ve got more of a chance of being killed by a drunk driver while crossing any street in Brooklyn and that scares me more than the thought I’ll be kidnapped by some deranged genius serial killer and forced to play some wildly improbably psychological head game.  But that’s just me.

102 minutes

Rated R