Friday, November 13, 2009

Twister (1996) [PG-13] ****

Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) has been obsessed with tornadoes ever since she was a child and saw her father sucked out of the family storm shelter by a deadly twister. Now she leads a rag-tag team of researchers who've developed an instrument pack that can place hundreds of tiny airborne sensors within the tornado's funnel, to report velocity, barometric pressure, etc. The team hopes that the knowledge they gain will help them build a better early warning system, to save more lives.

On the day Jo plans to deploy the pack, her husband Bill (Bill Paxton) shows up with his new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz), expecting Jo to have signed their divorce papers. Melissa is a reproductive (sex) therapist who thinks chasing tornadoes is just a metaphor, and is she in for a surprise! Bill is also in for a surprise as another team led by Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) has developed a similar instrument pack, and now the race is on to see who can gain first glory by defying danger, placing their instrument pack in the tornado's path and then getting safely out of the way.

This is a great action adventure thriller, and the special effects showing tornadoes and their destructive power are very realistic. There are several scenes inside the National Severe Storms Laboratory and of the various instruments used to track storms. There's great chemistry between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as they come to understand how similar they really are, both professionally and personally. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Jami Gertz as an intuitive, emotional therapist who realizes that she can't compete with the adrenalin rush of chasing real tornadoes; Lois Smith as Jo's Aunt Meg, who survives a direct tornado strike on her home; and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty, a slightly unhinged member of Jo's team who idolizes Bill, but whose tornado-chasing stories terrify Melissa. Twister was co-written by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), and was directed by Jan de Bont (Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control). The soundtrack is incredible, including tracks by Van HalenEric Clapton and Deep PurpleTwister will suck you in! 

Labels: action, adventure, disaster, drama, thriller, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 68/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=60, viewers=64)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Phenomenon (1996) [PG] ***

George Malley (John Travolta) has lived his whole life in a small California town, and now, at thirty-seven, he owns an auto service station. George is a little slow, intellectually, but his friends all love him... including his farmer friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) and Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall).

Every year they all gather at the local pub to celebrate George's birthday, and this year, when George steps outside for some fresh air, he's dazzled by a brilliant white light and falls unconscious. When he wakes and returns to the party, George discovers that he's smart enough to beat Doc at chess. Over the next week, George discovers that he has a new thirst for knowledge... he's reading two books a day. Also, he has renewed energy and needs very little sleep.

Something happened to George when he experienced the white light, and now he has the intellectual capacity of a genius. But he doesn't become concerned until he discovers that he's developed telekinesis - the ability to move objects with his mind. Did George have an encounter with an alien intelligence, or is there another possibility, perhaps a more tragic one? While Doc searches for the answer, George's supernormal mental capacity allows him to perceive ultra low frequency compression waves and predict a local earthquake. It also enables him to decipher a military communications code, and the FBI is now investigating him for espionage. And, at the same time, George finds himself falling in love with Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), a divorced mother of two pre-teen children, who's been burned before by love and is very cautious.

This is a wonderful film, straight out of the human potential movement, that explores what our lives might be like if we could somehow develop our full mental potential, rather than just the ten percent we typically use. The screenplay is inspired with some memorable dialogue. Casting, direction and soundtrack are excellent. If you enjoyed Starman and Michael - the latter also starring John Travolta - then you probably will really enjoy Phenomenon.

Labels: drama, fantasy, romance, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 41/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=59, viewers=60)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bed of Roses (1996) [PG] ****

Lewis was a promising young investment banker at Goldman Sachs, married and blissfully in love. Then one night his pregnant wife went into premature labor and he lost everything in one moment. Utterly despondent, he cashed out and quit. Eventually, he bought a flower shop and started delivering flowers, because he enjoyed seeing the happy smiles on people's faces. Then, late one night while out for a walk, Lewis looked up, and saw Lisa standing at her apartment window, crying. Innocently curious, he found out who she was and where she worked. Lisa, by coincidence, was also an investment banker, but unlike Lewis who had a large loving family, Lisa had been a foundling, raised by foster parents who were now gone. Lisa's only real girlfriend is Kim, a compassionate elementary school teacher; her current boyfriend, Danny, is the romantic equivalent of a nightlight. Captivated by Lisa, Lewis delivers a lovely bouquet of flowers to her, claiming they're an anonymous gift, but Lisa is skeptical; she tracks Lewis down at his florist shop and discovers the truth.

This is a warm, tender, truly memorable love story about two people who are afraid to reach out and take a chance on love because they've been scarred by personal loss in the past. Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson are wonderful in their roles as Lewis and Lisa, two people who wake up to love and realize they've been sleepwalking through life. Pamela Segall provides light humor as Kim, and Josh Brolin is romantically clueless as Danny. The soundtrack is terrific, and the DVD includes Jann Arden's music video Insensitive. If you enjoyed Sabrina (1995), When Harry Met Sally...While You Were Sleeping or Lucky Seven, I predict you will really enjoy Bed of Roses. 

Labels: christmas, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database 
Tomatometer (critics=20, viewers=67)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful Girls (1996) [R] ****

It’s the dead of winter, and NYC- based jazz pianist Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) arrives home in Knights Ridge, Massachusetts for his tenth high school reunion. The reunion is really just an excuse to see his old friends – none of whom left town after graduation – and to get away from his current life. He’s barely scraping by playing piano, and he’s not sure if he’s ready to take a job as an office equipment salesman, or to marry his girlfriend Tracy (Annabeth Gish), who’s an attractive, successful lawyer.

Most of Willie’s high school friends have blue-collar jobs, and their best days were long ago. Only Michael (Noah Emmerich) is happily married with a wife Sarah (Anne Bobby) and daughter. Paul (Michael Rapaport) rents a room in Willie’s dad’s home; his room is decorated with semi-nude supermodels and he has a very sexist attitude toward women. He wants his waitress ex-girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) back only because he knows that she’s moved on. Tommy (Matt Dillon) drives a snowplow truck. His steady, patient girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) knows he’s sleeping with his now-married, former high school sweetheart Darian (Lauren Holly), while Gina (Rosie O'Donnell) and Sarah try to convince Sharon it’s time to dump Tommy. And to complicate matters, Andera (Uma Thurman), the lovely niece of a local tavern owner arrives from Chicago, and, at the same time, Willie finds himself growing fascinated by his next-door neighbor, 13-year-old Marty (Natalie Portman), who is observant and wise far beyond her years.

This character-driven romantic comedy-drama was written by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Gone in Sixty Seconds) and directed by the late Ted Demme (Blow). While costumes, sets and production values are mediocre, the cast is incredible and some of the dialogue is quite memorable. In one of the film’s highlights, Gina (O'Donnell), who fancies herself a feminist counselor, delivers a diatribe against men’s magazines, and the way they present unrealistic images of women. In another scene, as Marty (Portman) compares herself with Tracy (Gish), she poignantly observes to Willie: Two words not in her vocabulary... lunch money.

If Beautiful Girls feels dated, it is probably because so many of the cast members have gone on to illustrious film careers and they now appear so much older. On the other hand, if you’d like to watch the luminous Natalie Portman in an early film role, and you don’t care for the violence of Léon: The Professional (1994) or Heat (1995), Beautiful Girls is the film to see.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 64/100
Tomatometer (critics=78, viewers=81)