Film Review: Twister (1996)

Also known as: Catch the Wind (original script title), Wind Devils (working title)
Release Date: May 8th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Written by: Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin
Music by: Mark Mancina
Cast: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Sean Whalen, Joey Slotnick, Scott Thomson, Lois Smith, Alexa Vega, Zach Grenier, Patrick Fischler, Anthony Rapp, Jake Busey

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I always just thought it was a metaphor.” – Melissa

I hadn’t seen this movie since the theater but I had fond memories of that experience. I just never really went back and watched it again because it was a simple story that was very effects heavy and didn’t offer up much for a repeat viewing unless you’re a real digital effects junkie.

Since I came across it while scrolling through the content on HBO Max, I felt the urge to revisit it just to see how good it actually was and whether or not it’s held up after a quarter of a century. Plus, I really like the cast and it’s stacked with talent from top-to-bottom.

So for the most part, the effects do hold up. Sure, there are a few moments that might look hokey like the famous flying cow sequence but it hardly breaks the mind’s immersion into the film itself. And to be honest, I kind of like the humorous bits like that.

Generally, the tornado effects still look good and as effects heavy as this film is, it never feels like it’s too much. You kind of just get lost in the adrenaline rush of what’s happening and everything just works in the right way. Granted, I’d never want to see this sequelized or turned into a franchise. Once you’ve seen one tornado movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all and this surprisingly didn’t try to milk the flying cow to death.

It’s the personal stories in this that make the film work and make it much more than just a CGI fest.

I loved the chemistry between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton and even with that, you still find yourself kind of sad over the way Jami Gertz, Paxton’s new fiancé, gets pushed to the side once he falls back in love with the woman he’s trying to get to sign divorce papers.

Hunt and Paxton just made a good couple and they balanced each other out, rather well. I also like that it’s the female half of the relationship that has become obsessed with her work and kind of let the romance fade away while the man steps up and reels her back in and centers her at a point in life when she needed it most. Then again, I always like seeing failed relationships finding a way to rekindle what was lost.

The supporting cast is pretty damn good too. I especially liked Lois Smith as the sort of matriarch of the storm chaser group. I also enjoyed Cary Elwes as the rival snot that gets himself killed because of ego. Philip Seymour Hoffman was enjoyable too, pretty much playing himself turned up to 11.

Twister seems like it’s been forgotten, as the years have rolled on. But honestly, it’s a really good movie in that summer blockbuster genre. I remember it being a big hit with moviegoers and everyone I knew, at the time, loved it quite a bit. When I worked at a video store, we could barely keep it in stock for the first few months.

Sadly, it was usurped by Independence Day, less than two months later and then the summer blockbusters kept getting bigger, louder and even more CGI heavy. 

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Princess Bride (1987)

Release Date: September 18th, 1987 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Music by: Mark Knopfler
Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

Act III Communications, Buttercup Films Ltd., The Princess Bride Ltd., Vestron Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” – Inigo Montoya

I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t a film that captivated me in my childhood like it did most people from my generation. However, I have still always liked it and it’s one of those things I’d leave on if I was flipping the channels in my teen years.

This was the first time I had seen this, though, since probably the ’90s. At least, in its entirety. So revisiting it was kind of a treat and I actually think I’m more fond of it now, simply because they don’t make movies like this anymore.

At its core, this is just a wholesome fairytale. But it’s also full of several characters who have become iconic over the three and a half decades since this was released.

I think that these characters became so iconic because this movie was so well cast, from top-to-bottom.

I also really underappreciated the swashbuckling bits and the camaraderie between the characters, which was so good and natural that one would have to assume that all these people genuinely clicked and enjoyed working together.

As a big wrestling fan, especially the ’80s era, I love seeing Andre the Giant in this. He’s absolutely superb and it makes me wish that he got to do more films before he died, shortly after this.

The Princess Bride is just a really entertaining and fun movie that should work for anyone, regardless of age, gender or generation. It’s kind of perfect in its wholesomeness and its adventurous spirit.

While it’s not what I personally consider a classic, I can see why so many people are immensely fond of it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s family friendly fantasy movies.

Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Documentary Review: Andre the Giant (2018)

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Directed by: Jason Hehir
Music by: Rudy Chung, Justin T. Feldman
Cast: Andre the Giant (archive footage), Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Shane McMahon, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Tim White

Bill Simmons Media Group, HBO, WWE, 85 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this since I first heard about it’s production a while ago. Then, once I saw the trailer, I was really stoked.

I have seen a lot of documentaries about professional wrestling but they have mostly been the ones put out by WWE. Sure, those have great production values and even greater stories but I’m always skeptical about WWE releases due to their history of showing a lot of bias. Go back and look at their hit piece called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior if you don’t believe me. In fact, WWE has sort of ignored that that film even exists after mending their relationship with the Ultimate Warrior and his family.

HBO put together and released this documentary on the legendary Andre Roussimoff a.k.a. Andre the Giant. So that alone puts it in higher regard than WWE’s own productions.

While it does follow his wrestling career, it was nice seeing some of the focus being put on his short acting career, as this documentary interviews those who worked on The Princess Bride with him: Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It also showcases his childhood and his family but not as much as I would’ve liked.

Strangely, the film also features Hulk Hogan a lot. I get that they needed to foreshadow the importance of their epic WrestleMania III main event match but it seemed as if the Hogan material was distracting from Andre’s story. Granted, Andre was still the primary focus. Also, Hogan is a well known bullshitter that likes to present revisionist history. I had to kind of take what he was saying about his and Andre’s relationship with a grain of salt.

Negatives aside, this was still well done and it painted a picture of a man that was really a gentle giant. Sure, he would use his size to his advantage but ultimately, Andre was sort of a sweetheart that sadly suffered from a lot of physical, as well as emotional, pain.

But more than anything else, he was a man that was beloved by many.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 documentary by ESPN.