PSH Blogathon: This is the fun part, sweetheart

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I would like to first give a shout-out to my friend Jordan of the one and only Epileptic Moondancer for providing me the perfect platform from which I can profess my infatuation with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and his role in Jan de Bont’s exhilarating, special effects-driven Twister. I have been looking for another avenue to venture down when it comes to talking about his simply charming performance in that film, one of the very first few I got to see in theaters. I have Jordan to thank for that.

Born: July 23, 1967

[Character actor]

Role: Supporting

Character:  Dustin ‘Dusty’ Davis

Twister operates under the assumption the viewers are, if not nearly as, then equally infatuated with extreme weather as its central protagonists. It bounces around from one corn belt locale to another in the height of one of the most active tornadic seasons in American history in the summer of 1996. Conveniently frequent encounters with this uniquely violent weather phenomenon ensure Twister rarely has down time. But if there were ever a person, a character who could compete for our attention, by virtue of their own charisma, with the ethereal beauty of cylindrical clouds connecting sky to earth, it would be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dusty.

Garbed in loose-fitting clothes, tattered and torn by his own enthusiasm for storm chasing, Dusty is Jo’s team’s identifiable loose cannon. He sports a long and ragged crop of dirty blonde hair kept mostly under control by his hat-hood combination, road-weary eyes hiding behind a pair of aviators (presumably this is the best kind of eye protection when driving down roads presided over by ominous castles built out of accumulating wall clouds). If Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding successfully sucked a lot of the fun out of the chase — and you can bet he did with that temper of his — Dusty was the anti-vaccuum, essentially vomiting gusto for the next opportunity to seek out what Tornado Alley has to offer.

Twister isn’t known for its character development and yet the film is rich with characterization. Bill’s a hothead who has been branded as ‘the craziest son of a bitch in the game,’ while Helen Hunt’s Jo is a stubborn woman whose toughness has been forged out of the tragic weather-related loss of her father at an early age; there’s Beltzer and Rabbit — unremarkable in their own rights but highly energetic contributors to a young team who are gung-ho on making a technical break-through when it comes to predicting and rescuing people from this extreme weather. Similar to his on-screen colleagues Dusty doesn’t undergo change so much as he endures one of the craziest seasons of storm chasing of his career. It’s his pairing with Bill’s new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz) that tends to bring out his wilder side, where we get to zero in on this peculiar extension of this team.

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Dusty’s all too eager to introduce the sex therapist to the world of meteorology and storm chasing, providing a handful of scenes in which his enthusiasm far exceeds any slight burgeoning interest Melissa musters for her would-be husband’s former career. “This is the fun part, sweetheart,” Dusty tells her as Bill and Jo go gallivanting off in the red truck towards a purported F-3 tornado, the third iteration of the Dorothy weather tracking instrument in tow. An eye roll from Jami Gertz is the actress’ way of defending against a smile from breaking out on her face. She knows as well as anyone Hoffman is intensely infectious in this movie.

Combined with his pseudo-hippie converted school bus — affectionately nicknamed the Barn Burner, complete with loudspeakers and an atrocious paint job — Dusty is arguably Twister‘s soul and spirit. (He’s the guy I most closely associate with the adrenaline of Van Halen’s ‘Humans Being,’ anyway.) The visual effects are clearly the centerpiece of de Bont’s film, with each tornado ramping up the action spectacle and becoming a character unto itself based upon the ease with which it converts towns into splinters, bridges into dust, corn fields into particles of lovely yellow shit. Not to mention the psychological impacts it has upon the chase team(s): “I’m sorry Jo, I don’t even know if you want to hear this but the NSSL is predicting an F-5.”

But we ought to move beyond the obviousness of Twister‘s visuals. There’s no denying that without Hoffman’s eccentric work here, Twister would be all the worse off for it. It’s one character in a multitude that proves the actor’s dedication to the work assigned to him. It’s something lovers of film and lovers of this film specifically shouldn’t take for granted. The energy is so very specific, yet unfortunately comes at quite an expensive price.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Repo Man spends his life getting into intense situations, Beltzer!”

“Meg’s gravy is famous. It’s practically a food group.”

“He strolls up to the twister, and he says, ‘Have a drink.’ And he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it never hits the ground.”

“He’s gonna rue the day he came up against The Extreme, baby. Bill, I’m talkin’ imminent rueage.”

“Fashionably late again, eh Jonas? Fashionably late. Gimme a kiss baby!”


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Photo credits: http://www.emgn.com 

TBT: Twister (1996)

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So today the stars have aligned, and it being the tenth of the month both TBT and The Franco Files have merged on the same day! Given the performance I decided to highlight with July’s installment of TFF, and the fact it involves a pretty ridiculous tornado, I started thinking about movies featuring similarly whacky weather. Pretty hard to find the film that’s more consistently entertaining and taxing on the old bag of popcorn than this particularly thrilling rollicking through the midwestern plains in Jan DeBont’s adaptation of a screenplay penned by best-selling author Michael Crichton. 

Today’s food for thought: Twister

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Rockin’ Wakita since: May 10, 1996

[Theater]

I can’t really justify my great love for this special-effects driven spectacular, or why I cherish it over other similar disaster action films. Actually, yes I can. I can back-up my love for Twister: it’s supremely fun, at times even scary. . .even to this day. You can’t tell me you don’t go at least a little white-knuckle during the destruction of the drive-in theater. So, really, it’s the whole having to explain why this particular, generic story does it for me more than others. There’s a legion of other similar films that have tried to mimic the scale of Jan de Bont’s adventure, and there are about ten times as many films that fall under the umbrella of cheesy disaster films — most of which are relegated to the Sci-Fy channel.

So, what was it?

Was it the air-born cow. . .or cows, plural? (How many of those fuckers were there flying around?) Or was it the rescuing of Aunt Meg (Lois Smith) after the same brute force that tore down the drive-in theater absolutely hammered the small town of Wakita? Might it have been a delightful turn from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the free-spirited Dusty that piqued my curiosity so? The general (albeit slightly stereotyped) enthusiasm shared amongst the entire storm chase team — the likes of which featured a couple on the cusp of divorce? Or could it have been the idea that this pair of unlikelies — Bill (Bill Paxton) and Jo (Helen Hunt) — managed to fend off their emotional storm enough to weather a summer of historically high tornadic activity in the midwest?

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Wait. . .aren’t people supposed to be the ones doing the chasing?

Umm. . . how about all of the above? Toss some spices into the pot in the form of a killer rock-and-roll soundtrack, and what you have simmering on the cooker is a highly memorable action-packed summer film that simultaneously satiates the meteorology dork in me and satisfies my sweet tooth for visual spectacle (these renderings were pretty impressive for the time, you have to admit). Never mind the respect for science, as Crichton’s screenplay turns the wind phenomenon commonly known as a tornado (or ‘nader, depending on where you hail from. . .and yes, that was also a terrible pun) into a character in itself, presenting it as an increasingly intimidating force of nature the longer the movie endures.

Sure, Twister can’t help playing out on occasion like an amusement park ride, its narrative ultimately boiling down to a series of stops at various locations, all of which become sites of near-catastrophic failure as the team have multiple close encounters with some seriously high-speed winds. In the end, I’m not sure what other choices de Bont had in steering the audience through this chaotic summer period, one in which a fearless group of scientists competed with others to help provide safer precautions for people living directly in harm’s way. While the presence of so many tornados in such a short time span tended to strain credulity, the damage they subsequently caused hardly did. Neither did the harsh reality that served as the team’s motivation. Aunt Meg had a close call, but so many others, like Jo’s family, hadn’t been so lucky.

In the end, there’s very little to defend about this film as it pertains to memorable cinematic achievement. You know, excluding those eye-popping visuals. Apart from Hoffman’s ingratiating Dusty, characters don’t really leave lasting impressions; they weren’t designed to. But the film as a whole succeeded immensely, designed as a simple popcorn package meant to entertain and enthrall.

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Jack Nicholson about to be. . .blown away. . .by this film’s special effects.

3-5Recommendation: Suckers for early films coated in special effects and well-versed in action set-pieces have this film in their collection, no doubt. It’s a must-have for anyone who’s fan enough to take the tour at Universal Studios of the reconstructed set of the drive-in. (Hint-hint, I took the tour at Universal Studios. . . 🙂 ) It’s also a classic for anyone seeking a nature-related, thrilling adventure from the ’90s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: As anyone knows, the tornadoes in this film generate quite the racket. To help create the cacophonous noise associated with these brutal winds, the filmmakers chose to incorporate a slowed-down audio recording of a camel moaning. Yes, that’s right. A camel moaning.

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Photo credits: http://www.drafthouse.com; http://www.imdb.com

A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

11026936_oriToday is a strange day. On the one hand, there’s the world’s biggest stage being set for football, as Superbowl XLVIII kick-off is only a few hours away, a colossal event taking place in the New York Area. However, in that very same nook of this nation we have experienced an unthinkable loss.

Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away at his home at the age of 46 from what is appearing to be a heroin overdose. Given the actor’s stature in Hollywood and his genuine likability in almost any role he’s ever undertaken, the news hits hard. Undoubtedly, there are many a heavy heart today.

In an effort to steer the tone in a different direction, I’d like to take a few minutes to pay a light-hearted tribute to one of my personal favorite silver screen appearances that P.S.H. gave, a role that for me, in my young moviegoing career, began molding what would later become one of my many favorite actors out there. I don’t want to make people think that this isn’t a serious issue, especially considering the tragic nature of the way he died (if indeed is proven to be a simple drug overdose), but I find that sometimes the truth is difficult to stare right between the eyes. So I figured now would be a decent time to turn some frowns upside down, and take a look back at one particular performance that is incapable of leaving a frown on anyone’s face.

Hoffman obviously has been a man of many faces, taking on roles as committing as Truman Capote in well, Capote; as farcical as Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love; as plain enjoyable as Gust Avrakatos in Charlie Wilson’s War; and a whole host of others, a good many of which yours truly is yet to experience. Today I’d like to just highlight one of the roles that many might dismiss as not his greatest work, although it was the catalyst for me truly enjoying what he brought to film. His Dusty is a riot and makes Jan de Bont’s 1996 action-thriller Twister a great deal more entertaining to watch in light of its many flaws. This was also one of the very first movies I ever saw in theaters, so there is special attachment to this role for that reason alone.

There is no downplaying the present-day reality, but simply there’s nothing that can be done at this point. We might as well not deny ourselves the fact that despite his physical absence now, his spirit will absolutely never diminish. Especially when he is as addicting a personality as he is in this flick. So without further ado, let’s allow ourselves to have a few chuckles in celebration of this wonderful man:


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com