Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Airport (1970)

I have been living a lie for about 2o years. I had always assumed that Airplane!, one of my favorite movies of all time, was a send up of this movie, Airport. As I was doing a little background research today, I discovered that I had been wrong all this time. In fact, Airplane! is almost completely a satire of an old 1957 movie called Zero Hour!, and yes, the exclamation point is part of the title of that movie as well.

Arthur Hailey was the author of the books that both Zero Hour! and Airport were based off of. He must have really disliked flying.

Anyway, some info about Airport. Made in 1970, it was the movie that really launched the 70's disaster genre. Airport was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Only one was won, by Helen Hayes - Best Supporting Actress. It also grossed over $100 million (off a budget of $10 million) back in 1970. To put that in today's money, that's over $500 million box office, making Airport the #42 all-time highest grossing movie, adjusted for inflation (according to

Airport also ushered in many of the disaster movie cliches that I've mentioned several times. You have the litany of big stars - mostly past their primes (Burt Lancaster, Helen Hayes, and Barbara Hale), you have the random celebrity that seems out of place (Dean Martin), and you have the odd comic relief character (I don't know his name, but it's the whiny passenger'll know the one).

Enough blabbing, let's get to the movie.

Airport is a tangled web of a film. The disaster elements don't even start to form until well over an hour into the movie. It starts out in Lincoln, Nebraska with a tremendous winter storm blowing, causing a plane to get stuck in the snow. This causes them to have to close their main runway...THIS BECOMES IMPORTANT LATER. The main focus for the first 2/3 of the film are the inner political workings of a major airport, and one of the airlines located therein as well as the relationship webs woven by Mel Bakersfeld (Lancaster) and Captain Demorest (Martin). Let's put it this way, they are both married, and they both have girls on the side.

*A quick sidetrack*

I know the filmmakers wanted another major star in the movie, but Dean Martin as a Pilot? Have they never seen his variety show? I don't believe Dean Martin has sobered up YET from the Rat Pack days, and he died 15 years ago! But hey, if they want Dean Martin as a pilot, I'll accept him as a pilot, I guess.

*back to the movie*

So, we have the helter skelter of an airport going on, and all of a sudden...we meet Mrs. Ada Quonsett, played by Helen Hayes who was 70 at the time. Mrs. Quonsett is a the stereotypical sweet, kind, little old lady. That happens to know exactly how to scam free flights out of the airline. There's about a 10 minute scene where she goes into exacting detail about every step she takes in order to take cross-country flights without ever buying a ticket. She has to rank right up there as one of the most conniving characters to ever be put on screen. She may be 70, she may look sweeter than your own grandma, but you'll want to slap her in the face.

I do not want to discuss her character much more, but suffice it to say, her con skills become very important later on. If you need a single reason to watch this movie, watch it for Ada Quonsett.

*SCOTT, where's the disaster??*

We're getting to it. As all this chaos is going on, we briefly leave the airport to meet Mr. Guerrero, a down on his luck guy that is unable to support his wife...he tells her a story about going to Milwaukee for a temporary construction job, but we quickly learn that his plans are more sinister. He plans to buy flight insurance, and blow up a plane, so that his wife will get the insurance money, and be set for life.

*Where have I heard that before??*

Yep, you got it. The makers of Airplane II must have been the ones inspired by Airport, as this is almost exactly the same as the Sunny Bono storyline in that movie. In fact, now that I truly think about it...Airplane II has much more in common with Airport than Airplane! does.

*We now return you to your regularly scheduled review*

Well, as you may have guessed, Mr. Guerrero manages to detonate the bomb, and he rips a hole in the side of the plane. Fortunately (I guess) he detonates in the bathroom, so they can seal the hole off from the passengers, meaning the cabin doesn't depressurize for very long. The last act of the film concerns itself with trying to land the plane safely in a blinding blizzard, trying to keep the passengers breathing and warm, the health of one of the stewardesses that got severely injured in the blast (I guess it's at this point I should mention this stewardess was Demorest's hot young girlfriend...who is also pregnant...more on that in a minute). All this chaos leads to...

*Favorite scene*

During the final descent, there are several shots of the crew of the plane. There is no talking, no music, nothing but the facial expressions of the cast. The camera just shows you long takes of them just doing their work. You could practically see the pilot's teeth grinding. I thought that scene was particularly striking. Perhaps because I am not used to seeing that kind of restraint used in today's films. If Airport were made today (and I expect it will be eventually) there would be chaotic music, tons of yelling, overdone CGI shots of the plane flying by at high velocities, and somehow fire would be involved. But you had none of that, you had something much closer to the reality of the situation would dictate. Quiet, calm, stern concentration. These were excellent shots, in stark - almost jarring - contrast to the chaos happening inside the main part of the plane.

Airport isn't quite on as grand a scale as a Poseidon Adventure or Towering Inferno, but you can definitely see the seeds of those movies being sown here. Airport led to 3 sequels: Airport 75, Airport 77, and Airport 79. I have not seen any of these, but I hope to in the near future. Although I have heard that none of them are as good as the original. The original Airport, at least, is a very enjoyable movie.

*What the?*

There is a subplot in Airport that I found a bit startling when it first came up. At one point, Captain Demorest is having a conversation with his young mistress (dude, you're married to Della Street...why do you have to play the field? Oh wait, Dean Martin, never mind), Gwen (played by Jacqueline Bissett) where she confides in him that she's pregnant...and the very first thing they discuss is whether she should get an abortion. Looking back, this was an extremely hot-button issue in the political and social landscape at the time. However, for that topic to come to a head in a movie such as really felt forced, and a bit clunky.

*How times have changed*

A guy brings sticks of dynamite onto a plane, the case never gets checked. A woman is able to walk onto a plane to Rome without getting noticed. Another woman was able to get all the way to the gate without stepping through a metal detector.

*Something I never wanted to see*

George Kennedy playing tonsil hockey with his young lady at home. Maybe it's all those years of watching him as Ed on Police Squad and the Naked Gun movies...but I really don't need to see him licking a girl's face like it was the inside of an Oreo.

*Closing thoughts*

This movie again confirms why I never want to fly. I also really need to find Zero Hour! That movie sounds like a lot of of fun. Until next time!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not dead...yet

Hey, I know I haven't updated in a while...there's a reason for that. First of all, I got a job. Yeah, that eats up valuable movie watching time. Second, I kind of, sort of ran out of disaster movies in my collection to review. Thankfully, I've fixed that problem. Third, I started 2-3 other hobbies that are eating up my free time. That's right, much like the girl in the great movie "The Brothers Bloom", I collect hobbies.

Anyway, I'm going to try and get some new reviews going soon (not to mention a couple more blogs, and podcasts...perhaps). Thanks to anyone still with me here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Disaster Collector's Set Disc 2 (2009)

So, jumping back into this set, we look at Disc 2...containing the movies Nature Unleashed: Fire, and Crash Landing. We'll start with Fire.

Nature Unleashed: Fire

Nature Unleashed: Fire takes place in the beautiful Duluth National Forest in upper Minnesota. A forest that doesn't exist by that name, for the record. We follow two stories in this movie. The story of Jake, hunky forest ranger, and the story of Marcus, Chuck...and the two girls they are with that are only called by name once or twice during the movie.

Jake's back stoery isn't very extensive. He was on patrol one day, found some folks illegally miningfor gold in the old rickety mine, and he saved all but Tiny...the 300+ pound guy who did this kind of thing all the time. They don't go into much emotional detail, it's just something that happens.

Marcus, Chuck, and the girls are four friends out for a leisurely backwoods dirt bike ride. They come across a makeshift jump, and Marcus and the girls make the jump with ease. Chuck has never jumped, but Marcus the jerk (let's just call it now, that is his only role in this movie) prods him into jumping...and he breaks his leg in the ensuing crash.

So Jake is airlifted to the group to help Chris out, as they try to ride out of the park, Jake stops...he smells a fire. A fire set by a mysterious man of which we only see his boots. What follows basically is a litany of scenes of people riding motorcycles through fiery trees. Once one of those scenes ends, you get a scene of someone dealing with an injury, them overcoming said injury, and then getting back on the bike.

There is a little more than that. There is the whole matter of the person setting the fires, but if you've read this far, you already know who that is. And this "revelation" leads to...

THE M. Night Shamalayan "What a twist" award:

Once the identity of the firestarter is revealed, this movie turns into less of a disaster movie, and more of a light horror movie. The twist is fairly obvious, and the attempt at making this into a horror movie is a case of "one step too far." There is a whole load of disaster going on, the protagonists have dealt with more physical battery than should be able to be endured, and then they throw in another force they must fight off. It just was too much. If they would have left out the horror twist, you may not have had enough for a full 90 minute movie, but you would have had a more cohesive movie.

Overall, Nature Unleashed: Fire isn't a horrible movie, it's just uneven. The subplot with the fire starter was interesting, until they tried to reuse it in a slightly different manner and went horror. The friction between Marcus and Jake never amounts to much because Marcus' friends never have a reason to follow him. They just go "sure, go ahead, jerk" and that's it. And there's only so long that watching people riding bikes through fire stays interesting. Probably another C grade movie.

Crash Landing

This is going to be a very short review. Why? There just isn't much to tell about this movie.

Spoiled girl gets private jet trip to Australia, daddy hires a military guy to watch her, plane gets hijacked, military guy saves the day. That's it. There's a whole lot of attempts at drama, but it's all lifted from other sources...and those sources did it better. What makes this movie absolutely amazing is the first 12 minutes.

The movie starts with Antonio Sabato flying a military plane through a storm, he crash lands the plane on a country road where he comes 2 inches away from a broken down tanker truck on the road. This scene looked like it came straight out of Airplane! I half expected to head "now landing at gate 18, gate 19, gate 20..."

The next few minutes is just a series of scenes of flight attendants being murdered. They all talk to someone about this party plane they are working on, and then within seconds, they are dead. But each death is so over the top's actually laughable. Just try to not laugh when a woman gets pushed off a train, screams for 10 seconds, and then you see outside the train, and realize she was pushed about 4 feet.

The HEY WAIT award:

OK, I'm going to spoil something...the pilot gets shot, but he survives. At the end they show people getting off the plane...but they leave the pilot on the plane bleeding with a bullet near his heart. Literally, everyone walks away with him still on the plane!

Crash Landing is worth watching once. The first 12 minutes or so is pretty funny because it all seems kind of random at first, and the deaths are so overdone. After that, it falls pretty much by the book. I will give Michael Pare an over acting award, as he literally chews the scenery for the scenes he is in. I'd overall give it a low C grade.

So, for $5 was this set worth it? Well, I didn't get any movies for the pantheon of great disaster movies, but I only got one movie that was so awful I'd never want to see it again if it was on. So yeah, it's not great, but it's worth $5.

Catch you next time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Disaster Collector's Set (2009)

When you're out shopping, and you see "Disaster Collector's Set: 4 Movies - $4.99" and you are a disaster movie fan... it's nearly impossible to resist that amount of temptation. Still, I knew as I was walking to the counter that I was most likely buying four really REALLY bad movies. This set collects three movies from a common series called the "Nature Unleashed" series. Avalanche, Earthquake, and Fire to be specific. Also included is "Crash Landing" which "stars" Antonio Sabato Jr. and Michael Pare. Today I'm going to review Disc 1 of this set... which inclused Nature Unleashed: Earthquake and Nature Unleashed: Avalanche

Nature Unleashed: Earthquake

The story:

A Russian nuclear plant is behind schedule in opening. Josh (Fintan McKeown), is sent to the plant to get it up and running ASAP. When he arrives, he finds that his ex-wife Rachel (Jacinta Mulcahey) is fighting with the owner of the plant as to how safe it is to start up after a recent tremor has damaged part of the plant. Of course, soon after, the earth starts to rumble, and the greedy Russian owner Emilio (Patrick Monckton...I'll stop naming the stars now, because this is seriously the best they could get) has decided that it's perfectly safe to start the reactor up anyway... massive earthquake.

Meanwhile, Josh's estranged kids are caught at school during the quake...well, one of them is. As the daughter (Cherie or Raven, depending on who you want to listen to) skips school in order to try and see her father, and of course she gets caught in the subway by the earthquake. As the older child, Dylan, has been charged with keeping the girl safe...he sets off into the collapsed tunnels to try and find his sister.

So there you have it, the story of an overheating nuclear Russian power plant, children trapped in the subway, and a reservoir that can save everyone from getting nuked...that can only get to the nuclear power plant by flooding the subway tunnels. Oh, I left the last part out? Yeah, so there's that as well.

The movie:

It's an obvious low-budget movie. I believe there are scenes from other movies included...and a quick check of IMDB suggests that yes, scenes were directly lifted from "Dante's Peak". The subway crash set is fairly impressive (although I'll bet the actual crash was lifted from another movie as well), but at the cost of other things. Computer effects are laughable, such as the early night scene of the cooling towers... it literally looks like someone drew 2 grey shapes in MS Paint, and put a couple blinking lights on top. You also have some places where solid objects seem to pass through each other, and items (such as the one smokestack) manage to fall faster than gravity could ever pull them down.

The earthquake scenes were all very short. They showed various bits of destruction, but none of it looked very convincing. And like I said earlier, the primitive CGI effects and a seeming lack of understanding of basic physics didn't help these scenes much at all.

Almost all of the dialog seemed to be over-dubbed, as everything felt just a little too "clean" sounding in certain situations. And voices did not seem to match up with mouth movements at times. I also have to give mad props to the character Viktor. I don't even think he pretended to have a Russian accent, but was speaking in hilariously broken English. I can recommend the movie just on that point. Also, why did Cherie / Raven have a British accent...sometimes? As far as I can tell, everyone in that family is as American as they come.

Having said all that, the movie isn't all that bad. There's a fair amount of tension during the rescue scene at the end. You can see how the movie is going to play out 10 minutes in, but it's not a completely unwatchable ride.

Bad guy comeuppance (aka Best death of the movie):

The evil Russian greedy guy, Emilio, is trying to escape the plant before it goes nuclear, as he is running out... bits and pieces of the ceiling begin falling on him, and only him. At least three times things hit him, and only him in a scene. Finally, he gets to his car, takes one last look at the plant, and THWOONK! Giant power pole crushes his car. I busted out laughing at this scene. It was almost Monty Python-esque how this pole fell onto the car.

Russia must have horrible police (aka Final random thought):

No fewer than four times, Dylan and / or Dylan and his father break through police barricades to get down into the subway area. And yet, only once do they even get chased a little bit. What kind of police do they have there anyway?

Nature Unleashed: Avalanche

The story:

A glacier in the Urals (what is it with Russia and natural disasters???) filled with a tiny village, and several ski resorts is the home for this movie. You have two brothers, Jock and Thom Cussler (Jock?), broke snowmobile tour guides, who bring some Russian daredevils up to an area of the mountain with some soft snow. Of course, the Russians cause a massive avalanche that completely swallows the town.

Katya, scientist, believes that global warming is going to bring a SUPER AVALANCHE (yes, it needs to be said in such a dramatic manner) to the area unless measures are taken to stop it. What those measures are? Close the mountain during the upcoming tourist season. Unfortunately, Mr. Elkin and his partner Rogov has a massive new hotel that needs to open on time so Rogov can begin paying the money back on their venture. The money he got from the Russian mafia, of course. And if it isn't paid back in time, the mafia takes Mr. Elkin's daughter, naturally.

Move every zig (aka unusual twists):

For appearing to be a formulaic disaster movie, this movie actually throws a couple of very interesting and unusual twists in. First off, hunky snowmobile tour guide Thom, falls for nerdy scientist with only two toes on her left foot (yeah, you heard me) Katya...not the veritable cavalcade of blonde snow bunnies that frolic around the mountain. Also, Mr. Elkin, throws his support in with the science...forsaking untold amounts of money, and possibly the safety of his daughter, in order to keep the mountain from devouring everything else in sight. Sadly, our heroes are too late...

The white death:

Remember our Russian daredevils from earlier in the movie? Well, they pay off an employee of the resort town to take them to a restricted area of the mountain...and guess what? They set off THE SUPER AVALANCHE! (Or so we are led to believe) What follows is a litany of scenes of chaos, panic, disorder, scenes from other movies, scenes from other mountain ranges (I think Mount Everest even makes an appearance) and... lots of people quietly watching the avalanche coming right at them (I guess avalanches affect people in different ways).

The rest of the movie is both a fight for survival for the few, such as Jock, and Mr. Elkin's daughter, trapped in the ski lodge's bar (ironically called the Ice Cave), and a struggle by Jock's brother and Mr. Elkin to dig to them before they lose all their air.

You know that giant avalanche we just got through? It was just a wee little baby. That's right, it was not THE SUPER AVALANCHE that's still to come... in the last 9 minutes of the movie. Seriously? You spent 20 minutes on the last avalanche, but the big one gets relegated to the last 9 minutes of the movie? That's just horrible planning. So yeah, the SUPER AVALANCHE ends up being a huge letdown, and an anti-climactic finale to this film.

Bad guy comeuppance:

Rogov, the financier that got his funds from the Russian mafia, thinks it's a great idea to get in a gondola to hide from the SUPER AVALANCHE. Unfortunately for him, the gondola gets stuck halfway up the mountain. Instead of patiently waiting for say, help, he climbs out of his gondola. Climbs down the support beam. And steps right into the path of the real SUPER AVALANCHE!
Random thoughts:

This movie is just lame. From the bad overdubbing, to the global warming side story that goes nowhere, the Russian mafia side story that goes nowhere...pretty much everything in this movie goes nowhere. Actually, those story twists I went into earlier even took away most of the drama this movie could have had. I can't really recommend this movie at all.

Did I hear what I thought I heard? (aka Final thought):

Early in the movie, you go inside an avalanche, and the snow roars like a dinosaur from Jurassic Park. Just plain odd.

So that's disc one. We've got one movie I'd probably rate a C, and another that's close to an F. Next time, I'll hit up the two movies of disc 2, and see if I actually got my $5 worth.