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Friday, January 18, 2019

The Car: Road to Revenge (2019) – Review

In 1977, Universal Pictures released a nice little horror film called The Car, which had James Brolin and Ronny Cox dealing with a demonic car that was terrorizing their small Midwestern town. Not, over forty years later, we get a sequel to that horror classic…well, kind of, but not really. Universal Pictures is once again the distributor, but fans of the original will be hard pressed to find any similarities between their beloved classic and this supposed sequel.


 The film takes place in the not so distant future — your basic low budget cyberpunk setting — where criminals are tried, convicted, and executed all in the same day, and even in the same place, so it's nice to see that the future is all about convenience, but as harsh as the judicial system seems to be, crime itself is still running rampant in this dystopian city. District Attorney Caddock (Jamie Bamber) wants to see the streets cleaned up, even if he has to be an asshole about it, but when he comes into possession of a certain data chip, one that belongs to the notorious crime lord Talen (Martin Hancock) who runs a human trafficking ring, while also dabbling in illegal cybernetic enhancements, a group of said cybernetic goons are sent to retrieve the chip.

 

These guys are The Devil’s Rejects' rejects.

Torture fails to make Caddock give up the data chip, so they toss him out of his high rise office window, where he crash-lands on the roof of his own luxury sedan. Homicide Detective Rainier (Grant Bowler) is put on the case, and his first step is to track down a woman named Daria (Kathleen Monroe), who was the last person known to have seen Caddock alive. Daria had a complicated history with the deceased, her being an ex-girlfriend with a past drinking problem, that wasn't helped by Caddock being a controlling dickhead. Talen’s minions also wish to have a few words with Daria, hoping that she may have some idea as to where the data chip is located, and that is when The Car rolls in. Turns out that when Caddock pancaked onto the roof of his car, his soul fused with the vehicle, and now the driverless automobile prowls the streets seeking revenge, as well as the continued stalking of his ex-girlfriend.

 

Is this director G.J. Echternkamp’s idea of an imposing killer car?

By this point, it’s obvious that for anyone who has seen the 1997 original, The Car: Road to Revenge is not running by the same playbook, as in the original, it was made fairly clear that The Car was some incarnation of The Devil himself, while in The Car: Road to Revenge we are dealing with a car possessed by a vengeful spirit. Basically, we’re talking a bargain basement Christine, but with a standard Tales From the Crypt plot, and as the film progresses, Echternkamp looks to make up for any lack of continuity, or originality for that matter, by tossing in random moments of nudity and extreme gore. This pretty much fails at every level. The only shining light amongst this used car lot of crap is the chemistry between the two leads; Bowler and Monroe really seem to be enjoying themselves, and the script even allows them some fun banter, when not being interrupted by the puerile garbage that makes up the rest of the script. But whenever we start to think the film might try something interesting, or at least to not be openly insulting, the script forces characters to do the standard dumb things people are apparently required to do in a horror movie.

 

Pull the bloody trigger, you complete idiot!

But just when you think this movie is a sequel in name only, with not one single plot element to connect this thing with the original, Ronny Cox shows up as some junkyard dude. Now this cannot be the same character that Ronny Cox played in the original, as not only was the character a cop, but going by this film’s “futuristic” timeline, he’d be long dead, so maybe this is just a cute casting nod to the original film, but no, that is not the case. At some point in the film, The Car is practically destroyed by Talen’s minions — by gunfire no less, which is something that couldn’t even scratch the original Car — and Ronny Cox's junkyard mechanic come’s across the wreckage and decides to fix it up, but the damage is too extensive, so he must use a “donor car” to rebuild the vehicle, and the donor car looks like The Car from the original film.

 

Does this make sense to anyone else?

• Is the donor car just another customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, or is it the actual Devil car from the original movie?
• If this thing was The Car, what was it doing in this dude's garage? And how and why The Car ended up here would easily have made a better movie than the one we got.
• After killing Ronny Cox, the “new” Car proceeds to drive through the city, mowing down innocent civilians, left right and center. Before it was just knocking off the gang members who murdered Caddock, so why is it now murdering people at random?
• This seems to imply that parts from the donor car have made it more evil, yet it still seems to have the hots for Caddock’s ex-girlfriend. So what the fuck is controlling The Car, is it Caddock or The Devil?

 

This is one of those sequels that seems designed to piss off fans.

The 1977 original ended with a perfect set-up for a sequel, during the end credits we saw that The Car had survived being blown up by Brolin and Cox, and was now heading into Los Angeles, but the filmmakers behind The Car: Road to Revenge decided to ignore such notions, and instead made a movie that is more a mash-up of Robocop 2 and John Carpenter’s Christine, than anything to do with the original film. This film is so bad that you won't find any of the actors listing this thing on their IMDB page. I know one must not expect too much from a direct-to-video sequel, but goddamn it, I’ve waited over forty years for a sequel to that classic horror film, and this is the crap we got?

 

This film deserves to languish in the used car lot of hell.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Bumblebee (2018) – Review

What happens when you get the man behind such animated films as Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, and give him a live-action Transformers movie? Well, the answer to that is you get a movie that is pretty much the exact opposite of the Michael Bay atrocities — which have made billions of dollars for some unimaginable reason — and Bumblebee is easily the best in the franchise. Granted, that this is a very low bar, but director Travis Knight manages to pack more heart and humanity into his little Transformers film than all five of Michael Bay's installments put together.


Bumblebee is either a prequel to the Bay-run Transformers franchise — Note: Michael Bay is listed as producer of this prequel but he did little more than cash a cheque — or if the film does well enough, it could be considered to be a soft reboot of the series, and here’s hoping this movie keeps bringing in the dough because so far it’s only managed to pull in a little over $150 million on a $135 million dollar budget. To put that into perspective, Transformers: The Last Knight took in over $600 million worldwide on a budget of $217 million, and the Last Knight was a hot pile of garbage.

Please see this movie, don’t make Bumblebee cry.

Taking place in the year 1987, the movie opens with the fall of Cybertron, with the evil Decepticons forcing Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) to scatter the remaining Autobots across the galaxy, with Bumblebee (Dylan O'Brien) being sent to Earth to secure it as a rendezvous point for the Autobots. Unfortunately Bumblebee lands right in the middle of some kind of military training exercise, being run by badass Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), who immediately considers the Autobot to be some kind of hostile invader. Things get even more complicated when a Decepticon arrives hot on Bumblebee's heels, and the ensuing fire fight not only results in the death of most of the Colonel’s men — which goes a long way towards exacerbating his hatred of space robots — but Bumblebee himself is severely damaged in the fight, losing his voice and memory.

 

Note: There are no references to Bumblebee fighting Nazis in WWII.

Enter Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager having trouble moving past the death of her father, stuck with a terrible job at a local amusement park, a stepdad who gives her a book on the importance of smiling for her 18th birthday, and an annoying little brother who thinks he’s the next Bruce Lee. But more importantly than all this, Charlie is also in desperate need of a car. Finding a beat-up old Volkswagen Beetle in her Uncle’s junkyard seems to solve one of those problems, but when it's quickly revealed to be a sentient robot, her problems move from domestic to intergalactic. Turns out fixing Bumblebee — so named because of the sounds he makes — activated a beacon of some sort, which nearby Decepticons hear and follow to Earth, in their continued hunt for Optimus Prime and the Autobot resistance.


Bumblebee is a sweet movie about a girl, her robot, and the importance of family, and sure there are explosions and chase sequences throughout this entry, but those are just the action-packed toppings on top of a well-layered cake. We not only come to care about a damaged robot, lost and alone and surrounded by enemies, but Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie is an actual human being with not only a character arc, but actual growth as a person, and she’s also incredibly likable, which isn’t something that can be said about any of the male leads in the other Transformers movies. There isn’t the frenetic chaos that is to be found in the Michael Bay film, and Travis Knight’s history in animation has allowed him to depict transforming robots in a more organic and believable way, and we become more emotionally involved with Bumblebee and his plight in more ways than any other character we’ve seen before.


It’s clear that Knight has taken heavy inspiration from Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant — there is one particular moment when Bumblebee goes apeshit that is very reminiscent of the Iron Giant becoming a "gun" and letting loose on the army — and it is the budding relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee that is the heart and soul of this movie. That is not to say that this movie doesn’t have some serious action moments: at one point, one of the Decepticons makes a horrifying observation about humans, say it likes “how they pop,” and the human military themselves are no white knights either, launching some very brutal attacks against our little Autobot. But I especially love that John Cena’s character isn’t just a moustache twirling villain, he could easily have gone all Captain Ahab with his hatred of robots, which certainly wouldn’t be all that unjustifiable, yet instead we get a more nuanced character than what you’d expect to find from an antagonist in a Transformers movie.

 

Note: At no point in this film does Bumblebee pee on anyone.

Now this is a far from perfect movie; the military’s approach to the handling of teenagers believed to be in league with alien robots seemed a little too easy-going for me to buy completely, and of course it is openly derivative — Brad Bird could seriously sue Paramount here — and there are certain elements that don't quite get proper payoffs, but overall, Bumblebee is a joyous adventure film that is fun for the whole family, and is proof that you can actually make a good movie based on a decades-old cartoon that was basically a toy commercial. Will Charlie Watson someday re-team up with Bumblebee? Only time will tell, but until then, we can at least enjoy the one good Transformers film we’ve got under our belt, and we can dream of more to come.

 

This is my kind of love story.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Concorde... Airport '79 – Review

With three successful entries in their Airport franchise, Universal Studios finally crashed and burned with the fourth installment, The Concorde: Airport '79. It’s a fact that the Airport movies were never critically darlings, often called relentlessly ridiculous, if not out-and-out silly at times, but they were all successful at the box office to varying degrees. This was not the case with Airport ’79.  With this last installment the franchise met its ignoble end, as the filmmakers gave viewers a movie, whose seemingly endless implausibility’s made the previous entries look downright sensible by comparison, and basically broke the audience into gales of laughter.


 The main plot of The Concorde: Airport '79 deals with arms manufacturer Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), who has been dealing illegally with foreign governments during the Cold War, and his efforts to cover-up these crimes by killing television reporter Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has come into possession of documents proving his company’s involvement. Now, this at first looks to be an interesting storyline for a movie, and certainly a plausible scenario, but then we spend two minutes with Maggie, the dumbest most gullible reporter on the face of the Earth, and our ability to suspend disbelief is broken. Not only is a man claiming he has proof that Harrison has been dealing arms to communist countries, but he is murdered right in front of her — she only escapes with her own life because of the sheer incompetence of the assassin — and yet, after numerous attempts to destroy the plane she is on, Maggie is still talked down from going to her network bosses with the story, by Harrison himself. And why would she listen to the man accused of selling weapons to North Korea, and who may have ordered the murder of a whistleblower?

 

Turns out she is in love with him, because why not.

That Maggie runs to cry on the shoulder of the man who most likely ordered her murder completely divorces our ability to feel any sympathy for her; I don’t care how deeply in love you are, there is a thing called “survival instinct” that should be kicking in right about now. He gives her some bullshit excuse that these accusations are nonsense, that it’s probably some blackmail scheme to take down his company, and she agrees to hold off reporting on the story. This of course allows him to have a henchman reprogram his company’s new Buzzard surface-to-air missile to blow up the Concorde that she is taking to Paris.

Now, I may not be a genius businessman but having your own test drone fly off course and blow up a plane full of international passengers — the Concorde is on a goodwill flight to the Moscow Olympics — doesn’t seem like a wise business decision. Even if you manage to escape criminal prosecution for the “accidental” death of over a hundred people, your company would most likely be sued into oblivion, so why not just have another hitman meet her in Paris?  As murder plots go, blowing up a Concorde to kill just one person, is just one step up from Snakes on a Plane.

Note: The Buzzard drone is designed to take down fighter jets, but the Concorde is able to outmaneuver it with aerobatic stunts that would most likely have torn the plane’s wings off.

And what noble flight crew manages to pull off such incredible aerial feats? Well returning for the fourth and final time is Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), who along with Capt. Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) and flight engineer Peter O'Neill (David Warner) manage to keep the Concorde flying in the face of insurmountable odds. And aside from the dangers of killer drones, we also must suffer the blatant sexism of this franchise, as it hits new lows with this installment; for example, we get Chief Stewardess Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel) commenting, “You pilots are such... men” when the flight crew are all chatting during their coffee break, and Patroni responds, “They don't call it the cockpit for nothing, honey.” Practically every moment with George Kennedy in this movie is cringe-inducing, especially the sex scene that follows Metrand setting Patroni up on a blind date with a prostitute, and it’s all downhill from there.

 

In the list of things “never to see,” George Kennedy post-coitus is near the top.

The Concorde: Airport '79 is a disaster in every aspect of the word: there is not one aspect of the screenplay that makes a lick of sense, and characters behave and respond in ways that are inexplicable to anyone with even a small degree of sanity. Ludicrous moments after ludicrous moments are piled on as if the producers believed that inundating the audience with so much stupidity could beat them into submission. Not only does the Concorde survive a killer drone attack, but it also survives an attack by an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet, and then later suffers a sabotage that results in the plane’s cargo hatch opening, causing explosive decompression and a forced crash landing. This may seem absurd at first, but let’s break down this film’s plot into basic points, to see just how insane this movie actually is, because as you will come to understand, “absurd” barely covers what we get in this film.

Disaster Break Down:

• Harrison hires a killer to murder a whistleblower who could expose his illegal arms deal, and the killer for some reason waits until the man has entered Maggie’s house before shooting the poor bastard.
• Harrison orders his flunky to reprogram his company’s killer drone to take down the Concorde, despite the repercussion this would have on his company if this plan succeeded.
• Patroni is able to outmaneuver a drone by doing stunts that the Concorde is simply not capable of performing, but luckily the drone is taken out by a pair of F-15 fighter jets, who manage to reach the threatened Concorde in record time.
• With the failure of the drone attack, Harrison orders hired mercenaries in an F-4 Phantom to shoot down the Concorde. This is certainly a rational next step.
• Patroni sticks his arm out of the cockpit window to shoot off flares, to divert the F-4 Phantom’s heat seeking missiles away from the Concorde’s engines, despite the fact that the heat of the Concorde’s engines greatly exceeds that of a flare, and this somehow works.

 

Hollywood magic at its best.

• With its engines damaged, the Concorde plummets to the ocean below, yet it manages to ignite one of the engines at the last second so that they can pull up in the nick of time.
• The more maneuverable enemy fighter for some reason cannot pull up in time and it crashes into the sea.
• The Concorde performs an emergency landing that requires experimental nets to slow the plane down. This is because during the attack, its reverse thrusters and hydraulic brakes had been damaged.
• The head of the airline, Eli Sands (Eddie Albert), who was aboard the plane with his latest trophy wife (Sybil Danning), vows the plane will be fixed and ready to continue to Moscow the very next day. This is beyond preposterous, as after taking that kind of damage it’d be lucky to be flight-worthy in month, if ever. All those crazy maneuvers would have seriously compromised the structural integrity of the Concorde.
• Maggie has dinner with Harrison because she still hasn’t clued in to the fact that her boyfriend has been trying to kill her. Dumbest reporter ever.
• One of the repair crew members is a paid saboteur, and he rigs one of the cargo hatches to open mid-flight, and this tactic is chosen because a bomb isn’t a sure thing.
• Turns out explosive decompression is also not a sure thing, as the Concorde manages to safely crash land in Austria.
• Maggie survives to finally report on her story, and we get a quick shot of Harrison exiting the picture.

 

This has to be about the most awkward way to shoot yourself.

And of course it wouldn’t be a proper Airport movie if it wasn’t exploding at the seams with gratuitous characters, ones that serve no purpose other than to pad the film's run-time, and Airport ’79 is certainly no exception; as the film’s “subplot” is about the Concorde’s goodwill trip to the Moscow Olympics, we are introduced to reporter Robert Palmer (John Davidson), who is having a secret love affair with Russian gymnast Alicia Rogov (Andrea Marcovicci), then there is the big bear of a Russian coach named Markov (Avery Schreiber) and his deaf daughter (Stacy Heather Tolkin), next is a beleaguered mother (Cicely Tyson), whose son desperately needs a heart transplant — sadly there are no singing nuns to comfort her — and then for comic relief we have Charo as a woman trying to smuggle her dog aboard, and how could we forget Martha Raye as the passenger with serious bladder problems, and finally Jimmie Walker as a stoned jazz saxophonist, who won’t let anything harsh his mellow.

 

He brings new meaning to flying high.

To say that Concorde: Airport ’79 is a bad movie goes without saying, but it does fall into the category of being “so bad it’s good” as the level of absurdities that roll out every couple of minutes are truly staggering, with special visual effects that give new meaning to the word special. Then there is George Kennedy, who after being nothing but a glorified cameo in Airport ’77 is finally given center stage here, and he dives into this role with a sexist abandon that will leave you gobsmacked. This is a movie that has to be seen to be believed — my review could never truly do this film justice — and though it did bomb at the box office, it did pave the way for Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers to release their disaster spoof Airplane! the very next year, so that’s kind of nice.
Note: The film received such derisive laughter upon release that Universal Pictures decided to market it as a comedy, with the tagline: "Fasten your seatbelts, the thrills are terrific. . .and so are the laughs!"  Nice try guys, but no one's buying.

Disaster Safety Tip #1: If you see George Kennedy on, or even near a plane that you are about to board, do not take that flight, take the next one, or just bloody well walk.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Airport ’77 – Review

With their third installment in their Airport franchise, Universal Studios had the dilemma of coming up with another airline disaster, having already done a mad bomber and a midair collision, so combining hijacking with a heist film must have seemed like the next logical projection, then throw in the added disaster element of the plane ending up submerged in the Bermuda Triangle, and you’ve got yourself a helluva picture.


Billionaire philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart) is having his massive art collection transported to his new museum in Palm Beach, and the valuable cargo is aboard a prototype Boeing 747 captained by Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon). However, also aboard is something even more valuable to Stevens: his estranged daughter Lisa (Pamela Bellwood) and grandson Benjy (Anthony Battaglia). This touching reunion is put in jeopardy when three men pull off a daring hijacking, one that entails putting the passengers to sleep with knock-out gas, and piloting the plane below the radar into the Bermuda Triangle where they would then land on a small island to have its cargo unloaded — or so they had planned. Things go fine right up until the point when the co-pilot (Robert Foxworth), who was one of the hijacking co-conspirators, clips the derrick of a large offshore drilling platform with the plane’s wing. Note: This was due to them flying at such a low altitude so as to avoid radar, but this part of the plan makes very little sense because the co-pilot could have simply turned off the transponder, making it impossible for the ATC (Air Traffic Control) to track the plane, and thus have been in no danger of running into anything.

Science Note: We see the Boeing 747 bounce off the surface of the ocean a couple of times during its water landing, traveling at great speeds. This would most definitely have broken up the plane on impact.In fact the impact of the plane into the drilling platform would have practically tore the wing off, yet we see absolutely no damage post-impact at all, but of course if any of those things had occurred we wouldn’t have a movie.

There is always a certain amount of “suspension of belief” that one is expected to undertake when watching this type of film — though this ability will be greatly put to the test with the fourth film in the series, The Concorde ... Airport '79 — but if the action is thrilling enough, and the characters are engaging, we as an audience can forgive a lot. With Airport ’77, we get an exciting, if implausible, hijacking that leads to some truly thrilling moments — the plane sinking to an underwater ocean shelf, the slow flooding of the doomed aircraft, a daring underwater rescue, all while the onboard air supply diminishes — and for most of the film’s running time, director Jerry Jameson manages to keep the suspense at fever pitch.

 

Note: Of the four Airport movies, this easily has the highest death count among passengers.

Now it’s not a proper disaster movie if the story isn’t laden down with extraneous characters, whose sole purpose is to be put in peril and scream, and Airport ’77 is simply loaded with them. We have Captain Gallagher trying to get his girlfriend (Brenda Vaccaro) to agree to marry him, there's the plane's head designer (Darren McGavin), who even with a broken arm can lend a hand in saving the day, we also have a blind piano bar player (Tom Sullivan) who is in love with a girl named Julie (Kathleen Quinlan) — he dies early so that romance is a no-go as is any real character development between this pair — and on board to help with the injured is Dr. Williams (M. Emmet Walsh), who has to keep the fact that he’s actually a veterinarian on the down low. Then there is Emily Livingston (Olivia de Havilland), philanthropist and poker player who runs into an old flame (Joseph Cotten), and to top it all off, we have Karen Wallace (Lee Grant), an alcoholic shrew who is cheating on her husband Martin (Christopher Lee) with his associate Frank Powers (Gil Gerard). I found Lee Grant’s performance particularly entertaining, at times it looked like she was auditioning for Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and seeing Christopher Lee playing the kind and suffering cuckold across from her was certainly a departure from many of the kinds of characters we are used to seeing him play.

 

He does escape his bad marriage by having a heroic death.

Airport ’77 was certainly no critical darling — it was just too overpopulated with extraneous characters attached to a rather thin plot — but it still managed to be one of Universal’s most successful pictures that year, and as overburdened as the film was, the cast as a whole put in excellent performances. The cinematography and special effects were also nothing to sneeze at — the Navy rescue sequence was simply quite thrilling and will keep you on the edge of your seat — and though parts may seem ridiculous at times, it still never fails to entertain. There are certainly worse ways to spend two hours, and you really can’t knock any film that has Jack Lemmon and Christopher Lee teaming up to save the day.

Note: Once again George Kennedy reprises his role as Joe Patroni, but this time out he’s relegated to about four minutes of screen time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Airport 1975 – Review

With the box office success of 1970's Airport, it was no surprise that Universal Studios would attempt to strike gold a second time with another air disaster film, but with Airport 1975, the studio decided to focus more on the disaster element, while toning down the multiple storylines that had bogged down the previous film. This did not stop Universal from overpopulating the cast with numerous big names — with Gloria Swanson appearing as herself in her last screen role — yet the film does manage to keep its eye on the ball for most of its running time (not to say that there isn’t some groan-inducing character bits to “break up” the tension).
 

The main plot of Airport 1975 deals with a small private plane whose pilot (Dana Andrews) has a heart attack mid-flight and ends up descending into the path of an oncoming Boeing 747. The two planes collide and the navigator (Erik Estrada) is killed, the co-pilot (Roy Thinnes) is sucked out of a gaping hole in the cockpit, and the captain (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is blinded and incapacitated, which leads to the film’s big tagline, “The stewardess is flying the plane!” as Chief-Stewardess Nancy Pryor (Karen Black) is stuck with the unenviable job of piloting the crippled plane through Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Sadly, this being a 1970s' disaster movie, we can't expect to get much in the way of “woman empowerment” as poor Karen Black is relegated to mostly quivering in terror, with eyes welling up with tears at every given opportunity as she panics and succumbs to several indecisive key moments, which, of course, has the men on the ground deciding that they have to get a real pilot on board.

 

“There's no one left to fly the plane! Help us! Oh my God, help us!”

There are four movies in the Airport series, but as a franchise it could almost be considered an anthology, as there is no real plot threads that connect the films — each movie deals with a different airport and a different type of air disaster — but there is one element that does tie them all together, and that would be Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), who was the airport’s chief mechanic in the first film but has since moved up in the world and is now Vice President of Operations for Columbia Airlines. He’s also traded up families. In Airport, he was married to Marie Patroni (Jodean Lawrence), with five kids we didn't even get the chance to see, but in Airport 1975, he’s married to Helen Patroni (Susan Clark) with only one child. So one must ask, "Did he divorce his Marie and ditch his family to marry the much younger Helen, or is it just bad continuity?"

 

George Kennedy, the side of beef that walks like a man.

The film is simply brimming with taut moments and high tension as Captain Al Murdock (Charlton Heston), Columbia's chief flight instructor, tries to talk Nancy through the plane’s operation — eventually he will be the man to survive the midair transfer and safely land the plane — but unfortunately, to pad the film’s run-time, we have the obligatory mid- to big-range named actors wandering in and out of the movie. There is the aforementioned Gloria Swanson, heading to Los Angeles on a book deal, a group of drunken conventioneers (Norman Fell, Jerry Stiller and Conrad Janis), an alcoholic (Myrna Loy), who is in a neverending search for her next drink, a sad sack two-bit actor (Sid Caesar), a couple of nuns played by Martha Scott and Helen Reddy, and a sick girl (Linda Blair) desperately in need of a kidney transplant.


Trivia Note: Though the plot of 1980 Abrahams and Zucker disaster spoof Airplane! was heavily based on the 1957 film Zero Hour, much of the elements lampooned were from Airport 1975, right down to the singing nuns and sick girl.

Bonus Trivia Note: The hero of Zero Hour, Lieutenant Ted Stryker, was played by Dana Andrews, who of course is the pilot that crashes into the 747 in this film.

And what would an Airport movie be without overt sexism? Though the Heston character isn’t having an extramarital affair — as Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin both were in the previous film — he has been stringing along poor Nancy for six years, so he’s no saint. But the real painful moments are with the co-pilot and the navigator, as they bring workplace harassment to a whole new level.

Flight Navigator Julio, upon coming up behind the two stewardesses: “There. You see why I love my job so much?”
First Officer Gary Urias: “They sure have all the right equipment.”
Flight Navigator Julio: “But it would be wrong, that’s for sure.”
Chief-Stewardess Nancy Pryor: “How are your kids and wife, Julio?”
Flight Navigator Julio: “Watch out for that one, Gary. She’s got seniority.”
First Officer Gary Urias: “What about the teenager?”
Stewardess Bette: “It’s Ms. Teenager, please. I’m emancipated and highly skilled in Kung Fu.”
First Officer Gary Urias: “Whatever happened to womanhood?”

 

Airport 1975 Drinking Game: Take a shot every time someone calls Karen Black “Honey.”

As disaster films go, Airport 1975 fits the bill quite nicely — the aerial footage during the midair rescue is particularly well-done — and when not hysterically crying, Karen Black gives a rather strong performance, and even Charlton Heston manages to elevate the stock hero part just a tad. This may not be the best example of the genre, but director Jack Smight does keep the viewer on the edge of their seats as mountains close in, the radio goes dead, and fuel leaks from the wing. What more could you want out of an air disaster movie?

Note: The cruising speed of a Boeing 747 is about 570 mph, yet with a gaping hole in the cockpit, at most all we see is a light breeze wafting in.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Airport (1970) – Review

In 1970, Universal Studios kicked off a franchise that would set the tone for the disaster movies of the 70s and the decades to come; based on Arthur Hailey’s popular novel of the same name, Airport would become one of the studio's top earners that year, and its formula of personal stories intertwined with horrific events would become the blueprint for films like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno. Aside from setting the formula for the disaster genre, Airport is also a nice snapshot of the 70s with its rampant sexism practically oozing off the screen — but then again, with a film starring Dean Martin, what else could you expect?


The film Airport deals with the airport and airline operations during a particularly nasty snowstorm, with general manager Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) trying to keep the place open while those on the Board of Directors for the airport want to shut things down so that they can deal with angry neighbors, ones who are threatening a million-dollar noise complaint lawsuit. The real threat here, however, isn’t number-crunching bureaucrats — this particular plot thread is brought up and quickly forgotten — but the true danger to our heroes is marital infidelity. I bet you thought I was going to say a mad bomber was the film’s chief threat, but you’d be wrong.

 

There is a mad bomber, he’s just not as important as this stuff.

Of the numerous characters that populate this movie — from stowaways to customs officers — it’s the people's complicated love affairs that takes up the bulk of the running time. Chief among them is Captain Demerest (Dean Martin), a serial adulterer who fully believes in the motto, “Fly my friendly skies,” and that a stewardess’ job is to be joystick happy, and he’s currently bumping uglies with chief stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset). That he is married to Mel Bakersfeld’s sister (Barbara Hale) doesn’t even seem to complicate things — she is completely aware of his infidelity and only hopes that someday he’ll be too old to cheat and finally stay home — as his main grip with Mel is in keeping the runways clear of snow. Of course, Mel can’t criticize Demerest’s faithlessness too much, as he himself has been cheating on his shrewish wife (Dana Wynter), and mother of his two children, with Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg), the airport's customer relations agent.

 

Love is the true disaster in this film.

When not dealing with such startling revelations as the stewardess being pregnant — which upon hearing this news Demerest quickly offers to pay for the abortion — or Mel’s wife informing him that not only does she want a divorce, but she has been having an affair of her own (Note: She is completely unaware of Mel’s dalliance with Tanya, but is leaving him because she can’t handle playing second fiddle to the airport), the film also deals with Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), the cigar-chomping chief mechanic for Trans World Airlines, trying to dig out a disabled plane that is blocking the airport’s key runway. there's also the shrewd customs agent Harry Standish (Lloyd Nolan) who finds a nervous and sweaty man clutching a briefcase to his chest to be a little suspicious, and then we have sweet old Mrs. Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes), a serial stowaway artist who is trying to get to New York so she can visit her daughter. She's caught, but due to some more hijinks and shenanigans, she ends up on the flight that is also carrying the mad bomber (Van Heflin).

 

“I’m sure I asked for the Non-Doomed flight.”

To say Arthur Hailey’s Airport is a little soap operatic would be a vast understatement — the bomb going off seems more like a brief interruption than a key plot element — and if it wasn’t for the caliber of actors on display, this film would most likely have fallen into obscurity by now. Helen Hayes won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the little old stowaway, and Van Heflin as the despondent bomber — yeah, he’s not really a mad bomber, more of a depressed bomber — seems too completely aware of what kind of film he’s in, and dives into the role with relish and a side of poutine.

The poor airport security on display in this film will most likely leave modern viewers utterly gobsmacked, as not only does Helen Hayes’ character have no problem sneaking onto a plane, to the point of absurdity, but Van Heflin’s bomber stumbles through the airport sweating, shaking, peering around nervously, while clutching his briefcase to his chest, with barely anyone taking notice. It is truly staggering, and makes one wonder why planes back then weren’t just constantly falling out of the sky.

 

“Back off, I’ve got the script to Concorde: Airport 79 in here.”

Director George Seaton not only populated the film with seasoned actors, who could pull off such absurd roles with aplomb, but he also filled the script with very realistic dialogue between the men on the ground and the beleaguered crew aboard the fateful flight, all desperately fighting to bring the plane down safely. With the use of split screens and cool radio chatter, Seaton manages to build a credible amount of suspense — more than what you’d expect with someone like Dean Martin in the cockpit — and the resolutions of the various romantic entanglements land with a decent dose of pathos and realism, as not everyone gets a happy ending.


Airport is very much a product of the times (with some moments being quite laughable), but it's still worth checking out simply for its impact on cinematic history, certainly in the way that it sparked a shift in the disaster genre.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Zero Hour! (1957) – Review

Before author Arthur Hailey wrote his bestseller novel Airport, which was later turned into the movie of the same name, he had penned a teleplay for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Flight into Danger — starring James “Scotty” Doohan — that Hailey then adapted into the screenplay for Paramount Pictures under the title Zero Hour! and this film can easily be considered the granddaddy of the airline disaster genre.


 The movie opens with Canadian pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) leading a squadron of Spitfires during the closing days of WWII, and it’s during this raid that tragedy strikes when Stryker makes a command decision that results in six of his squadron perishing due to bad visibility causing them to fly into the ground. A guilt-stricken Stryker cannot forget the lives lost that day, even though most everyone else has moved on, and due to this, he hasn’t been able to hold down a job, which has caused his wife, Ellen Stryker (Linda Darnell), to lose respect for her husband. Unable to find work, a marriage on the brink of ruin, and constantly plagued with visions brought on by his Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), things are not looking good for our pal Ted.

When Stryker arrives home one night to find his wife has left him, and taken their little boy, he rushes to the airport where he is able to board their plane just before take-off, which as events unfold, will turn out to be a very lucky thing indeed, for the lives of all aboard the fateful flight 714 are soon to be in Stryker's hands. Turns out that when stewardess Janet Turner (Peggy King) begins the meal service, she is unknowingly jeopardizing the lives off all thirty-eight passengers, because those who chose the fish option become seriously ill. Doctor Baird (Geoffrey Toone) quickly comes to the conclusion that there must have been something wrong with the fish, and that if they don’t get to a hospital quickly, people are going to die, and just to make matters worse, it turns out that both the pilot and co-pilot, Captain Bill Wilson (Elroy 'Crazylegs' Hirsch) and the First Officer Walt Stewart (Steve London), had the fish. A quick and quiet check of the passengers reveals that there is only one other person onboard this flight with any flying experience: Ted Stryker.

“Mister Stryker, I know nothing about flying but I know this, you are the only person on this plane that can possibly fly it. You are the only chance we’ve got.”

Helen is brought up to the cockpit to handle the radio, to basically work as his co-pilot, and the film gives us some bullshit excuse about the stewardess being needed to handle passengers, but this of course is so that when things get bad, Stryker managing to hold things together will regain her respect and save their marriage — the survival of the other passengers is just a bonus. With every airport east of Calgary socked in by fog, poor flight 714 must cross the Rocky Mountains, all while fighting heavy winds and rain (not to mention dealing with hysterical passengers that need a good slapping), and hoping to land in time to save the sick and dying passengers. It’s here where the film really takes off, and both Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell give fantastic performances, as with this material it would be so easy to drift into melodrama and over-acting.

 

Disaster Fact: A near death experience will almost always save a marriage.

Now a stalwart wife is not the only aid Stryker gets to help bring these people to safety, aside from her and the ever-helpful doctor, we have on the ground — at a Vancouver airport — Stryker's old Airforce commander Captain Treleaven (Sterling Hayden). The problem here is the fact that he doesn’t think Stryker will be able to pull off landing a four engine plane; having only piloted single engine fighters, and the whole issue of his last disastrous command decision during the war ending in disaster, has Treleavan believing that the stress of this situation will cause Stryker to once again fall to pieces.

 

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”

If the plot of Zero Hour! seems a little familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen the Jim Abraham and Zucker Brothers air disaster spoof Airplane! which starred Robert Hays as Ted Stryker and Lloyd Bridges as the harried old boss trying to talk him down. Being that Paramount owned Zero Hour! this allowed the writers of Airplane! to use some of the dialogue word-for-word, so if you are a fan of Airplane! some of the dramatic tension of Zero Hour! will be broken when these moments pop up, such as Dr. Baird stoically saying, “Our survival hinges on one thing — finding someone who not only can fly this plane, but didn't have fish for dinner,” as we instantly think of Leslie Nielsen saying that exact same line.

 

  “I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you.”

Zero Hour! is a fantastic little drama, with director Hall Bartlett never letting up on the tension as the film rockets towards its nail biting conclusion, and the entire cast provide solid performances that now only look a little silly  if you’ve seen the later parody, and Sterling Hayden is especially fun to watch as he slowly loses his cool throughout the film. So if you are a fan of Airplane! you seriously need to see this movie, as it brings a whole extra level of entertainment to the viewing of Zucker and Abraham's comedy, “I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.”

“Ted, that was probably the lousiest landing in the history of this airport. But there are some of us here, particularly me, who would like to buy you a drink and shake your hand. We're coming over.”