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HELEN HUNT & BILL PAXTON & PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN IN TWISTER

year: 1996 rating: ***1/2
“It’s really hard to define yourself in this big movie competing with special effects,” actor Scott Thomson, who plays one of several storm chasers, said in a Cult Film Freak interview. “The star of the show is the TWISTER.”

And we can’t forget the flying cow that really made a lasting, iconic impression although there are many other great visuals: including an assortment of tornadoes that practically become living/breathing movie monsters...

The aesthetics aside, TWISTER is a character-driven film, literally. And while there are an assortment of storm riders aboard the dilapidated mobile caravan, the two leads are Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding and his soon-to-be-ex wife Jo, played by Helen Hunt.

The story begins with Bill seeking one last signature to finalize the divorce. Here we meet the intrepid team, highlighted by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty, an energetic, classic rock blaring hippie slob, randomly goading the uptight Jami Getz as Bill's naïve, tagalong fiancé who is actually quite important: during most of the film, it's through her shocked eyes we experience what the others are completely used to....  

Especially Helen Hunt’s Jo, who, during the intense childhood prelude, loses her dad to a farmland tornado… Her story goes slightly beyond Bill’s determination to prove his contraption/invention Dorothy can, when whisked up into the sky, learn specific information so that, in the future, people will have more than a two-minute storm warning. In this story Jo has her own revenge angle... Tornado chasing is not only science, it's deeply personal! Then again Bill's idea had been ripped off by his corporate scheming rival (Cary Elwes), adding motivation and dimension to his character. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman
A defining attribute of TWISTER is it's constantly on the go... At the same time, an impending sense of doom lurks throughout… Like when the people are on land in JAWS, we never forget where the real danger exists and what's always waiting for us. Thus this roving, suspenseful yarn – even during brief pockets of downtime – relies on the quirky crew stalking a formidable menace that normal folks hide from... And the audience rides shotgun the entire trip. 

Thankfully, executive producer Steve Spielberg wasn’t finished with author Michael Crichton after his sublime, successful adaptation of JURASSIC PARK… With TWISTER, SPEED driver Jan de Bont directed something special that, although maligned as corny and far fetched despite a huge box office draw, still holds up today: like an actual storm, the adventure begins with a breezy introduction, slowly escalates into a wind-swept cadence and eventually blasts off into several thrilling crescendos.

Sure, it's a bit much when the tornado becomes a determined, lone antagonist, chasing our two main characters like the end of a cliché horror flick, and the dialogue gets silly and downright contrived, but that's all part of the escapist fun that should keep you completely entertained from start to finish... if you let it!
Character Actor SCOTT THOMSON discusses working on the hit film TWISTER
This was a real ensemble... There were a whole lot of you on board...

Yeah, we’re kind of divided into two camps… Bill and Helen played the parents of all of us storm chasers… The other, Cary Elwes’ team, is the evil team with all the technology.

We’re the affectionate, scrappy, we’ll do anything including risking your lives in the name of science group, and the adrenaline rush of throwing yourself into a tornado… And yeah, that was a very tricky situation in which all of us on Helen’s team were kind of like, I don’t know... What’s that Greek mythology creature? The one body with the… oh, it’s the Hydra… We were kind of like a Hydra… We were all joined at the shoulders.

Philip Seymour Hoffman with Scott Thomson
When I read the script, I thought, if I ever played Dusty, that’s the part to have because there’s something there to play… Philip Seymour Hoffman came in and did a bang-up job... We were kind of envying him because he had all the… You know, he had a lot of fun.

Your character is nicknamed The Preacher... What's the reason for that? 

It was never really defined, to my frustration… I tried talking to the director, Jan de Bont, a nice guy from Holland… His background is a cinematographer, basically, and he’d come out with SPEED and everyone had embraced him because that was an amazing action film, so he was recruited for TWISTER…

But he wasn’t really interested in getting into the minutia of our characters. I tried to get some time with him... I’d say: “I’m called The Preacher… So this is my take… I feel like I’m a preacher’s son who went over to the dark side of science and yet still had my roots in my Baptist Evangelist background.” But there was no time to explore that… And I tried, but, what are you gonna do?

I usually just tell people I was the guy in the cow suit.
"Philip Seymour Hoffman came in and did a bang-up job" Scott Thomson
1989 rating: ***
And here's a bonus archived review, more of a write-up, actually, of a movie with the same title that probably has its own faithful following...

Let's just say that often, in the cinematic sense, weird has gotten a bad time. When weird is too weird, or weird for the sake of being weird, it's a complete waste of time.

But in the 1989 independent film, TWISTER, which has little to do with a tornado and nothing to do with the Helen Hunt movie about people chasing them (that came out several years later), gives weird a good name.

Centering on a dysfunctional, eccentric family in Cleveland living in a mansion: the father played by Harry Dean Stanton who owns a soda pop factory and his two kids: Crispin Glover, who sits around strumming his guitar and acting strange (like he does so well), and the self-involved daughter, Suzy Amis, who hates her life more than her boyfriend, Dylan McDermott, whose tough guy blue collar character gives the movie a firm "normal" base.

The title is liken to CHINATOWN, having little to do with the plot but everything to do with the unpredictable, spontaneously existential concept. So for fans of weird, this little gem is highly recommended. The dialogue is creative, perfectly suited for the quirky ensemble. And for fans of normal, perhaps it's a good change.
Back to the main TWISTER, here are the stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton for good measure...
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