Friday, April 9, 2010


Year 2, Day 98 - 4/8/10 - Movie #463

BEFORE: Ray Liotta as a villain? How unlikely - just kidding! Once again, the feds are transporting criminals to L.A. (what is it about L.A.?) on a commercial flight, and I'm guessing chaos will ensue.

THE PLOT: After a shootout on a flight transporting prisoners, a stewardess must outwit a smooth-talking serial killer and land the plane herself.

AFTER: Hmm...we've got a couple of dangerous criminals being transported on a nearly-empty jumbo jet on Christmas Eve - but don't a lot of people travel home for Christmas? And if the flight was almost empty, wouldn't the airline probably cancel it?

And didn't we learn from watching "Con Air" that the federal prison system has its own airline for transporting prisoners? What gives?

I also noticed a lot of inconsistencies when Lauren Holly's flight attendant was trying to land the plane. At one point she's asked to turn the auto-pilot off, and then later told to turn it on again, since the plane can pretty much land itself. Well, which is it? Is the auto-pilot good, or bad? I do remember seeing an episode of "Mythbusters" where they investigated the movie myth about someone not trained as a pilot taking instructions over the radio and landing a jet - both Adam and Jamie were able to land airliners (in simulation, of course) with the proper radio instructions from an expert pilot. So it's definitely plausible, but I also want it to be portrayed consistently.

Isn't this all just an excuse to get Ray Liotta up into the friendly skies, so we can watch him go berzerko taking over the plane? At first, the movie does a good job of implying that he might not be a serial killer - he is charming, and maybe that cop did plant phony evidence... But admit it, you want to see him go nuts and start killing people. You should be ashamed of yourselves...

And thus I've stumbled on the real reason we watch disaster movies - we want the thrill of seeing a hijacking, or an earthquake, or a shark attack, without any of the actual danger. So the films fulfill a need for excitement for those of us who aren't daredevils or extreme sports stars - it's tough to fall asleep during a film that's providing an adrenaline rush (but sometimes, I still manage to...)

My life is stressful enough, without taking a large number of plane rides. I prefer to take the Amtrak when I can, like up to Boston to see the folks. Of course, the train isn't disaster proof either - for example, a plane could crash on top of it! Once when we were coming back from Mass. on the train, someone in Rhode Island decided to end it all by stepping in front of the train, and we were stopped for hours while they scraped this guy off the tracks. I don't condone suicide, but if you're dead-set on it, please find a way to do it without inconveniencing a train-load of passengers who just want to get home!

Also starring Catherine Hicks, Hector Elizondo, Brendan Gleeson

RATING: 5 out of 10 oxygen masks

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Passenger 57

Year 2, Day 97 - 4/7/10 - Movie #462

BEFORE: On the day of my 40th birthday party in 2008, I managed to put my head right through a lightbulb in my basement (or a lightbulb into my head, depending on how you look at it), and I ended up spending the first few hours of my party getting stitched up in the emergency room. This is the movie that was airing on the TV in the hospital's waiting room - so, I've seen bits of this, but it was on a Spanish-language station, and while I was bleeding from a head wound. I swear, you can't make this stuff up.

THE PLOT: An airline security expert must take action when he finds himself trapped on a passenger jet when terrorists seize control of it.

AFTER: This is a movie that doesn't mess around - airline security expert John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) deals with a terrorist hijacking, forces the plane to land and pursues the main terrorist on foot - and brings the movie back to the gate with a total flight time of under 90 minutes. So it's a tight little thriller without a lot of complicated ethics - in fact its 1992 pre-9/11 take on hijacking is almost quaint. Cutter advises flight attendants to "do whatever the terrorist says" - if the people on United 93 had taken that advice, things could have ended up much worse...

So the film doesn't really challenge the mind, or break much new ground - but it didn't waste a lot of my time, either, it just delivered the action. Hey, I'm sure it's better than "Snakes on a Plane" (Note: I will not be watching "Snakes on a Plane".)

Snipes' big memorable taunt to the terrorists is "Always bet on black!" - wouldn't it have been a good idea to save that for a movie when he's fighting criminals in a casino? I mean, there's no roulette tables on the plane, no one is seen gambling in the film, so there's no connection to betting... Couldn't the writers have come up with something plane-related, like "Your condition is terminal!" or "Time for you to make an emergency landing!" Even Harrison Ford's "!" from "Air Force One" carried more impact.

Also starring Elizabeth Hurley, Tom Sizemore (recently seen de-toxing on "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House"), Bruce Greenwood, and Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk from "Twin Peaks"!)

RATING: 7 out of 10 beverage carts

NOTE: I caught a bit of the news after watching this film - and once again my film choice seemed to coincide with the night's events - but I guess the terrorism aboard a flight to Denver tonight turned out to just be a diplomat making a bad joke about lighting his shoes on fire, after trying to smoke in the airplane's restroom...


Year 2, Day 96 - 4/6/10 - Movie #461

BEFORE: From a film about an erupting mountain to one about a plane crash in the mountains - and I'm kicking off air-disaster week.

THE PLOT: Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash.

AFTER: In real life, disasters often strike without warning - but in a disaster film, when should it happen? Films like "Earthquake" and "The Perfect Storm" give us a good hour to get to know the characters first, but this film doesn't have that kind of time. Ten minutes in, and the plane is in trouble. But this film is more about the survival and aftermath, during which we learn what people are capable of achieving and enduring, in some terrible stressful days after the crash. (Sorry, SPOILER ALERT - the plane crashes...)

This movie actually portrays one of my worst fears - I take one round-trip plane journey each year from NYC to San Diego and back, and unless I keep my mind occupied with crosswords, sudoku and in-flight trivia, I tend to focus on a crash, or a mid-air collision with another plane that manages to tear my plane in half, right in front of my row, so I'm exposed to the elements and aware of my impending doom, all the way down to the ground.

And what if my plane crashed over the Rocky Mountains, and I were stranded on a mountaintop with a bunch of Comic-Con geeks with no survival skills? I'd better get serious and lose some weight, or I'll look like a giant pork chop with a face to them... Really, I should lose weight anyway - I just used my SkyMiles to bring my fare down to $100 - I don't need Delta Airlines telling me that I need to buy a second seat, like Southwest did to Kevin Smith. He can afford a second ticket, but I can't.

The film is inspiring for several reasons - if members of a rugby team can survive in extreme cold on rations of wine, chocolates and...well, the meat that they had handy (and foot-y, and leg-y) then I can certainly stand to eat a few salads this week without complaining. I seem to have lost my appetite for red meat anyway... (Sorry again, SPOILER ALERT - blaarrgh...)

More of my rants about airplane safety coming later this week...

Starring Ethan Hawke, John Malkovich (uncredited...), Vincent Spano, Jose Zuniga, Ileana Douglas.

RATING: 6 out of 10 (Probably due a 7 for a gripping story and effects, but 1 point off for some really horrible acting)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dante's Peak

Year 2, Day 95 - 4/5/10 - Movie #460

BEFORE: From an earthquake to a volcano - finishing up "natural" disasters, then I'll move on to man-made ones. I remember that this film and "Volcano" were released around the same time in 1997, and I chose to see "Volcano" on the big screen, so I'm finally following up and watching the other film.

THE PLOT: Dr. Harry Dalton discovers that Dante's Peak is being threatened by a volcano that hasn't been active for years.

AFTER: The special effects were fine here - in that at no time was I aware that I wasn't watching an actual volcanic eruption, complete with lava and ash and falling rocks. That's a compliment, right?

I mean, you don't watch this for the acting - Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton are acceptable as they play a geologist and the town's mayor who fall for each other while the volcano erupts in the background. Oh, sorry, didn't mean to spoil the plot - but the volcano erupts, you probably figured on that.

I have a problem with the kids' reaction to the exploding volcano - their first impulse is to rush up the mountain to rescue their grandmother. I'd like to think that no child of mine would figure that this is a good idea, to head into a disaster zone when everyone else is trying to leave. Granny's had a long life, and at some point you have to figure if she won't leave the mountain, maybe it's for the best. And if your kids run up an exploding mountain, maybe it's time to debate whether those kids are actually smart enough to be worth saving too...

I don't have much else to say, except to point out that in this week's disaster movies, sometimes the main characters survive, and sometimes they don't. One can debate the merits of a realistic vs. "Hollywood" ending with this in mind - but it seems to be something of a stylistic choice, at least on some level. There may be no specific rhyme or reason to it - and isn't that the definition of a natural disaster?

RATING: 6 out of 10 Humvees

Monday, April 5, 2010


Year 2, Day 94 - 4/4/10 - Movie #459

BEFORE: Speaking of special effects of the 1970's, I'm taking another look back there tonight with this action/disaster movie starring Charlton Heston.

THE PLOT: Various stories of various people as an earthquake of great magnitude hits Los Angeles.

AFTER: Yeah, the FX here are pretty terrible, at least by today's standards, but they were (sort of) top of the line for 1974 - which means the film features a combination of miniature sets, shaking cameras (cheaper than shaking the set...) and prop-men who are probably just out of camera range throwing debris at the actors.

The film focuses on a group of interacting L.A. residents - and the ones who aren't connected to each other are about to be thrown together by the looming disaster. For an updated and better version of this storyline, check out "Short Cuts".

Like in "Twister", there's a marital drama played out during the disaster, so one wonders if the earthquake is a metaphor for something else. Charlton Heston's character has to decide between his shrill, annoying, pill-popping wife (Ava Gardner) and his young actress wanna-be mistress (Genevieve Bujold). The decision is made more complicated by the fact that he works for his father-in-law (Lorne Greene).

Once we know all the players, from the cop to the motorcycle stuntman, the dam inspector, the navy guy and the Indian chief, the quake manages to hit while they're all in the worst possible spots - like riding a bike across a bridge, or finishing a still-life painting, or putting the final touch on a house of cards... Then it's time for the rescues, the looting, wildfires and martial law (good times, good times...)

This is the film that introduced the concept of Sensurround (shaking theater seats) and was also one of the first films to add extra footage later, since it aired over the course of 2 nights on network TV in the 1970's, and needed to be stretched out.

Also starring a pre-"Airport" George Kennedy, a pre-"Dallas" Victoria Principal, Richard Roundtree and Marjoe Gortner. Plus, a cameo by Walter Matthau as a barfly (credited under his real name, Walter Manuschanskayasky)

RATING: 5 out of 10 aftershocks

UPDATE: I learned today that Los Angeles did have a 7.2 earthquake late Sunday night, possibly while I was watching this film. I usually enjoy when my film choices coincide with the day's events, but this is not what I intended. My film selection was part of a chain I designed weeks ago.