Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Concorde … Airport ’79 (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Missile targets passenger plane.

A corrupt arms dealer, Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), has his deadly surface-to-air missile system target a Concorde airplane while it’s in the air when he finds out that one of the passengers on board, a news reporter named Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), has incriminating information on him that she plans to report on once the plane lands. Captain Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) uses his superior piloting skills to avoid the missile, but then learns Harrison has installed a device on the plane that knocks-out its cargo door causing the plane to literally rip apart and forcing a dangerous emergency landing in the Alps.

This terrible idea for a movie came from its producer Jennings Lang who greedily wanted to squeeze out a story from an already tired formula if he felt it could continue to make a profit. Sometimes it’s best to get out while you’re ahead, but Lang, who wrote the story for this one, didn’t see it that way and ended up making a clunker that’s even worse than Airport 1975, which was already notorious for being one of the worst disaster flicks ever made. The plot here has all the trappings of being written by someone more interested in turning a profit than creating an actual movie as the characters are one-dimensional and the situations contrived.

The espionage undertone makes it seems more like a James Bond flick with most of the action occurring on the ground than in the airplane. Watching the plane trying to avoid the missile isn’t exciting because the unconvincing special effects clearly look like images being matted onto the screen. The scenes showing the passengers screaming as the plane turns upset down become laughable and get shown with a boring regularity. The part where Eddie Albert’s chair goes through the floor is the film’s unintentional comic highpoint particularly when he states “I thought I had the best seat on the plane.”

Yet the craziest element in the story is the fact that the plane, after the passengers spent the whole flight being terrorized by incoming missiles, lands in Paris and the people spend the night in a hotel. Then the next day they all happily board the plane again, which simply would not happen as there is no way that anyone anywhere would get back onto a plane, especially so quickly if ever, after what they had just gone through.

George Kennedy gives a solid performance and helps to give the film some minor credibility in what would turn out to be his last major film role as he would be relegated to minor supporting roles and B-movies afterwards. The rest of the cast though either gets wasted; particularly Mercedes McCambridge who only gets a few speaking lines, or become just plain irritating.

Jimmie Walker is the most annoying playing a goofball who boards the plane while still carrying his saxophone, which would never be allowed in reality, and even starts playing it creating worse noise pollution than the singing nun did in Airport 1975 and should’ve been enough to have had him thrown off the airline…while it was still in the air. Tacky B-celebrity Charo appears briefly as a nutty lady who tries bringing her dog on board. Fortunately she gets booted off before the plane takes off because otherwise I would’ve been rooting for it to have crashed.

The only interesting aspect about the movie is the plane itself. The Concorde was the fastest commercial jet built that had maximum speeds that were twice the speed of sound. I thought it was cool the way the plane light up signs informing the passengers once they had reached Mach 1 and made me wish I could’ve flown on one, but sadly the Concorde ceased operations in 2003 even though flying in one was quite safe. Ironically the only crash that occurred during its 30 year history happened with the plane that was used in this film, Flight 4590, which crashed minutes after take-off on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 on board.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ironweed (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the streets.

It’s the 1930’s and Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) has been living on the streets for over two decades. At one time he was a promising baseball player with a bright future, but then he accidently dropped his infant son and killed him. Dealing with the guilt and shame of it turned him into an alcoholic who roams the cold streets of Albany, New York looking for odds jobs and handouts when he can. He seeks out his lover Helen (Meryl Streep) for companionship and the two share a bottle of booze and their bitterness at the world that is ambivalent to their desperate situation.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay and is directed by Hector Babenco who received wide claim for directing Pixote a film that dealt with homelessness in Brazil. This film is without question one of the best to tackle the lives of street people. Most films tend to treat the subject rather timidly and only analyze the topic from a distance (i.e. having a side character who is homeless, or maybe a main character who is temporarily on the streets), but this film engrosses the viewer completely into the homeless lifestyle while supplying absolutely no letup to their bleak existence. The result is a fascinating and revealing journey that shows how complex and multi-dimensional these people actually are while exposing every facet of the homeless experience including the indignities and dehumanization that they must face on a daily basis.

The casting is interesting particularly for the fact that both Nicholson and Streep had just starred together in Heartburn a year earlier playing a couple on the completely opposite side of the socio-economic scale. I commend Nicholson for tackling a challenging role that goes completely against his persona as normally he plays flamboyant types with over-the-top personalities, so it’s great seeing him take on a humble one who feels and acts like a complete miniscule to the world around him. However, the scenes where he interacts with the ghostly visions of people he has murdered in the past does not come off as successfully as it could’ve. The imagery is interesting, but the fact that he had played a character already that dealt with similar types of ghostly visions in The Shining causes the viewer to think back too much to that film and takes them out of this one.

Streep is outstanding and her constant ability to completely submerse herself into her characters and take on different accents with an amazing authenticity never ceases to amaze me. She really looks the part too by not only wearing no make-up, but having her teeth stained and darkened to effectively give off that decayed look. I’m genuinely floored at how many times most films neglect to do this. Actors portraying characters in destitute environments, or from the old west, may convey the down-and-out or rugged look physically, but their teeth still always look great when in reality they should’ve been in as bad of shape or worse as the rest of their bodies.

The supporting cast is good but they have little to do, which includes Fred Gwynne who appears briefly as a bartender. Carroll Baker though is excellent as Nicholson’s ex-wife. She was a blonde beauty that burst onto the scene in the ‘50s and was billed as the next Marilyn Monroe, but her acting ability quickly became suspect and by the ‘60s she was relegated to low budget B-movies and European productions, but in the ‘80s she made a Hollywood comeback in supporting roles and her appearance here was clearly her best performance and proves that she really could act. Margaret Whitton is also a standout as she takes part in one of the film’s few lighthearted moments as an eccentric woman who is prone to histrionic fainting spells and walking outside without any clothes.

The film though does suffer from a few too many dramatic peaks, which includes having two of Nicholson’s homeless friends die almost simultaneously, which only helps to lessen the effect by squeezing out more drama than it needs to, but overall this is a top notch effort where every scene and utterance rings true.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hector Babenco

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube