Sunday, March 23, 2014



Norman's return to the silver screen in Troma Studio's trailer park version of The School for Scandal has been somewhat delayed. A tornado wiped out the Pot O' Gold Trailer Park last night and no other location could be secured quickly. The project is on hold. Fortunately, no trailer residents were seriously injured although I understand several beehive hairdos suffered severe wind damage. Norman is a bit melancholy at the delay; he was so looking forward to returning to work. He was well into his second fifth of Chivas Regal when I awoke this morning. Nurse Tameka and I reattached the restraints and he's napping soundly now.

I finally have a date for the Salina, Utah Sink For Your Supper concert; it is to be this coming Saturday. I am looking forward to working with the Polygamy Polyphonic whose motto is 'The Family That Plays Together Stays Together'. How wholesome. My lovely motorized iceberg and other special effects are en route to Salina via Greyhound as I type. Some new pyrotechnics have been added as it's against the orchestra's family friendly policies for me to lose my skirt in the finale. I'm not quite sure what they will entail, but I have received a very large bill for smudge pots and flash powder, which I have forwarded to Joseph, my manager. I am much too big a star to be worried by such petty details.

As tornadoes have been playing a role in Norman's life this week, I had to rush out and purchase the DVD of Twister , the Jan DeBont popcorn movie of several summers ago. Twister , for those of you who don't remember the saturation media coverage, is the story of intrepid storm chasers in Oklahoma who run around the countryside looking for tornadoes to study. Jan DeBont, who made the reasonable thriller Speed the year before, was enlisted to direct and Michael Crichton, everyone's favorite pseudo-scientific schlock novelist and his wife cobbled together a script, apparently in twenty minutes. We know we're in the heartland for there are endless helicopter shots of amber waves of grain and the score keeps breaking into faux Copeland. I kept expecting Robert Mitchum's stentorian tones to exclaim 'Beef. It's What's For Dinner'.

As I mentioned in a prior review, Speed was an excellent, tight action film as the bus movie was actually only about an hour long. Two other mini-movies, one about an elevator and one about a subway, brought it up to length. Unfortunately, this time DeBont decided to make a single film rather than a triple feature. As two hours of whirling tornadoes would have gotten dull after a short while, he had the writers attempt to come up with a plot. Mr. Crichton and wife must have been short on ideas, as they did not create a plot; they simply borrowed His Girl Friday (which was in turn adapted from MacArthur and Hecht's play The Front Page ) and switched the genders. His Girl Friday is a charming comedy with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy. Twister is an exercise in idiocy with Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and Jami Gertz in the equivalent roles. No one is ever going to confuse Bill Paxton with Cary Grant, or even Rosalind Russell. He’s a competent character actor but can’t carry a film. Even the overrated Helen Hunt can’t do a thing with the cardboard character and stock situations she’s handed. 

Helen Hunt is a meteorologist obsessed with tornadoes since her father was killed in a twister when she was a child. Her ex-husband and ex-partner, Bill Paxton, returns to find her in order to get some divorce papers signed (haven't these people ever heard of lawyers?) bringing his new fiancée, Jami Gertz in tow. Jami Gertz is a sex therapist so she can make completely inappropriate comments about her patients' penises and discuss business with her patients over a cell phone in public in the hopes of getting a laugh out of the audience. Of course, the day this triangle meets is the day that the biggest storm in decades happens to move through Oklahoma dropping tornadoes left and right so Helen can chase her dreams of data gathering and reclaim her man. Bill, you see, has invented a fabulous new tornado data-gathering device, quaintly known as 'Dorothy' after you know who, and she wants to show that it works before he heads off for his new life as TV weatherman. (I'm not making this up you know.) Enter Cary Elwes as the requisite villain. He has stolen Bill's idea and marketed it as his own to evil corporate types so the race is on to see which team will win the race to intercept a tornado and gather the data first.

We know that Helen and Bill are the good guys as they are surrounded by a bunch of lovable oddballs whom the screenwriters have forgotten to give any dimension or character. I particularly liked the lone female of the group, who, rather than being given a personality, was issued a Gilligan hat and a pair of granny glasses by wardrobe and told to improvise. A number of good actors such as Alan Ruck and Jeremy Davies are totally wasted in these roles. The only one that makes anything out of his nothing part at all is Philip Seymour Hoffman and his character is so obnoxious, that you wish the others would feed him into the suck zone of the first whirling vortex that appears on the horizon. They still fare better than the bad guys. We know Cary Elwes and company are bad because they all drive identical black SUVs. His crew ended up entirely on the cutting room floor despite some recognizable faces such as Jake Busey and Anthony Rapp hovering in the background. They weren't even given so much as a Gilligan hat in order to create an impression.

Ralph Bellamy, I mean Jami Gertz, has another function other than making penis jokes and inane comments on flying cows. She gets to be the audience surrogate and ask really dumb questions of the storm chasers so that we get all the pseudo-scientific exposition that will let us follow the motivations of these cardboard cut outs as they race through a lot of CGI special effects. Ms. Gertz is not untalented. I hope they paid her well for the embarrassment.

There is one other major character. Helen has an earth mother aunt, played by Lois Smith, who exists in order for an outsider to be placed in mortal danger with her dog and for someone to give the big 'don't give up' speech. Ms. Smith handles these tasks with aplomb but the dog has a more interesting character to play. (Watch for the small cameo that Norman and I both have in one of her scenes as EMTs. I don't much care for it but the residuals did allow us to remodel the downstairs bath.)

Bill and Helen spend a lot of time charging into the heart of tornadoes, dodging debris, logs, farm equipment and the occasional tanker truck. There are, of course, all the usual problems with trying to make their experiments work until the last possible moment, when we get a grand catharsis as everyone gathers around a computer terminal and cheers a whole lot of numbers we can't possibly understand. There is of course the triangle subplot and the villain subplot as well. They resolve exactly as expected according to the rules the 'Write A Screenplay in Six Weeks' correspondence course.

This brings me to the tornadoes themselves. The ILM visual effects folks and the sound departments have worked their usual magic. The twisters are frightening, real, and are the true stars of the show. They should have left out all the stupid human tricks and just let us gaze upon them, their power and their caprice. The DVD with its surround sound and wide screen transfer make the action sequences very exciting and the only reason to waste time with this film.

The DVD contains a commentary track with the director and the head of the visual effects department. They are both well spoken and it's interesting to hear how some of the tricks were done. There are also a couple of short 'Making Of' mini-documentaries and a completely extraneous Van Halen music video that makes the film look like a David Lean picture.

Flying tractors. Flying cow. Flying daddy. Flying Combine Harvester. Pepsi product placement. Drive-In movie. Drive-In house. Gratuitous country cooking. Kubrick reference. Hitchcock reference.  The Fourth Man reference. Irrigation ditch wallowing. Gratuitous Oklahoma! sing along.

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