The Storm with Jurassic Noises

     OK, I need to get this out of the way, why did the wife in the beginning of the movie decide to not help the husband close the door? I understand the need for urgency in the scene and that having one of the parents die creates a sense of purpose for Jo (Helen Hunt) later to track the F5, but still!
     Twister, ooh-da-lolly this was a treat to watch! The whole cast save Helen Hunt at the time, was a myriad of character actors thrusted into the position of an ensemble cast; it is a glorious site. The five people I noticed right away who fit into the “oh it’s that one guy” category include Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Alan Ruck, Zack Grenier, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. All people you have seen before that fill these roles nicely.
     Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular, ol’ Dusty himself, at this point in time garners the highest name recognition in regards to the rest of the crew. He low-key stole the show with his wacky antics and characterization of a minor character, if it were a lesser actor portraying Dusty, the movie would lack accordingly. There is a charisma, a presence that unexpectedly made this movie hilarious whenever he would show up on screen. His yearning and excitement was contagious during the hunt and during their down-time. If nothing else, this movie was a preview for the next two decades of what we could expect from Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
     Speaking of iconic names, Steven Spielberg makes an appearance as an executive producer; as well as his production company Amblin Entertainment. Then we have Michael Crichton, the man who wrote the books Jurassic Park and Congo, has a credit as a producer and writer. If I did not know any better, I would say they were making the Jurassic Park of disaster movies. During certain scenes when Bill and friends are out chasing tornadoes, the tornadoes themselves have the unmistakable sounds that resemble a vicious beast. Better not mess with them or they will eat you alive! I enjoyed that, even though tornadoes are not dinosaurs, the sounds gave them a coherent characterization. It works on a level where the tornadoes are the ‘bad guys’, a malevolent force who impose the immediate danger our protagonists are more than eager to traverse. Having Spielberg attached to this movie was essential; the look, movement, and dedication to the tornadoes is spectacular, watching Twister to this day I am awestruck at how phenomenal they look. Though the same cannot be said regarding the satellite at the beginning or the ridiculous CGI explosion when Cary Elwes and Zack Grenier drove into the F5. Those however, are not essential to the overall arc and experience to the movie, but if there was anything for me to nit-pick effects-wise, those examples stand out ostentatiously.
     On the topic of nit-picking, the development and arc of the love triangle between Bill, Jo, and Melissa left me flabbergasted. He brings Melissa along to get the divorce papers signed, but – and this is the best part – is engaged to Melissa before it has become a past tense event. I am curious of this time scale between divorce and engagement.
     Regardless, this is first and foremost a disaster movie; despite any narrative confusion or shortcomings that occur within the interludes of the tornado scenes are not what we came to see, we know what we came to see and it was immaculate.

Swordfishin’

Benjamin Himes

          A year removed from Gone in 60 Seconds, director Dominic Sena takes his kinetic-aesthetic in the world of shadow government agencies with a touch of technology a la Hackers; in the form of the 2001 film Swordfish, starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and Don Cheadle. If Gone in 60 Seconds is The Fast and the Furious with Nicolas Cage, then Swordfish is The Bourne Identity with John Travolta. These films have that certain texture and vibe where you know not to take the film seriously, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The narrative is as intriguing as one would expect from an action film of this time. Maybe it has not has as well as a fine wine, as fine as the wine Scott (Jackman) searches for as he pre-maturely stumbles upon the film’s twist out of context. The film’s narrative resonated as a mix between Hackers and The Bourne Identity. Elements of Hackers come up when Scott does his hacker thing, side note, Hugh Jackman as hacker is about as believable as Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat; the challenges presented to Scott throughout the hacking scenes had that sense of ‘me vs. The Man’ feel as he does what he does to make the uppity government look like fools when compared to his ‘top notch skills.’ The Bourne Identity side of the resonance comes from the power plays and espionage carried out by Gabriel (Travolta) and Ginger (Berry), wheeling and dealing secret alliances and sabotage in order to keep all sides guessing until the third act.

The lack of believability keeps this film from traversing into Zack Snyder territory in that it is a hokey film that does not take itself too seriously, there is something about the way John Travolta and Halle Berry play off one another and the rest of the cast that gives it a zany feel. This is the bread and butter of a narrative cooked up to stimulate the adrenal glands. The creators’ of the film knew what their audience would expect: a semi-serious plot with ludicrous delivery that creates a package when, executed correctly, would undoubtedly garner positive word of mouth despite what critics and ratings might entail. Definitively, this is not a film that needs to thrive off of all that, if an audience member likes this film, they will tell everyone they know who has a penchant for action movies that this one will meet their fix.

The tone of Swordfish, while based in something as serious as armed robbery and government collusion, is off set by the performances of Travolta, Berry, Jackman, and Cheadle; which often times come off as exaggerated, do not distract from the overall experience, but enhances it. The tone is perfect for Swordfish, not as serious as The Bourne Identity yet not as silly as Face/Off, a popcorn flick that is not meant to garner deep thoughts. It is eye-candy, a fulfillment of a desire to escape to a world that does not have to make sense at certain points, where the action pulls us in and never lets us go!

Pre-Fast, Pre-Furious

Benjamin Himes

          How did it come this? What was the catalyst that kick started the trend of hyper-kinetic action films with an emphasis on vehicles, heists, a diverse crew, explosions, and plenty of snap-cuts? Wait, was it Michael Bay? Was this not a thing that happened in the nineties when he was picking up steam? Absolutely, yet his narratives in films such as Bad Boys and The Rock focus more or less on the side of law; after a while, narratives went the opposite direction. Films such as Point Break showed that a narrative could enlighten us on empathizing with the villains/criminals, that they are not one-dimensional characters who ONLY care about the money. This is where the turning point comes in, in the form of Gone in 60 Seconds.

Released in 2000, Gone in 60 Seconds marks an interesting turning point, five years removed from Heat and four years ahead of Collateral; this point in time was ripe for directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Dominic Sena, and Andrzej Bartkowiak to express their flashy directing styles; with films that had a penchant for crime, and may hold a special place in our millennial hearts for films that fall under ‘so bad it’s good.’

The former criminal at play, Memphis Raines portrayed by Nicolas Cage, is a prime example of how the hero/villain dynamic had changed. Had this film come out at a time when action films to an extent, did not delve into the villains/criminals the way heroes/police/the man were given camera time and reinforced narrative structure. By switching the script and portraying Memphis (Cage) the reluctant criminal and protagonist of the film, the narrative focuses on the heist rather than preventing it.

Memphis’ main goal throughout the film is to steal 50 cars for Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), to finish a job his brother Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) fudged up by playing it fast and loose; getting tangled with the cops narrowly escaping with his freedom, but for how long? Memphis, at the heart of the issue, wants to keep his promise to his mother to keep his brother in check; to look out for family above all else, a motif revisited multiple times in a future series that involves cars, a crew, explosions, and game of cat and mouse between criminals and law enforcement.

Through this, Memphis goes back to doing what he does best, and while at first it seems as though he is reluctant to go back to burgling cars, we the audience know full well that he enjoys it. The thrill of the steal, the satisfaction of beating the cops, and putting together the crew. With familiar faces such as Chi McBride, Vinnie Jones, Scott Caan, Timothy Oliphant as one part of the cops hot the trail of Memphis and crew, and lastly, a blonde-haired, dreadlocked Angelina Jolie, yes, you heard me correct. The antics with these never-ending chases and stake-outs fall between silly and meh. Yet, who IS the shadowy crime boss pulling the strings? No really, who? The only times Calitri appears within the film are in the beginning and the end; I understand the main focus is on the mission Memphis and company must go on in order to make the drop and appease Calitri. However, he never lives up to the dangerous reputation Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall) mentions earlier in the film; he comes and goes as he pleases, the sense of urgency is often lost, if this were such an important drop why wouldn’t he keep tabs on Memphis with an accelerated frequency?

Other than the lack of a memorable villain, Gone in 60 Seconds will no doubt be a treat for action movie fanatics with a nostalgic gleam in their eyes for that era in the early 2000’s.