NON-STOP (2014, USA/UK/France, 106m, 12) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), StudioCanal (UK); pr co. StudioCanal / Silver Pictures; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Christopher Roach, John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle (based on a story by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach); pr. Alex Heineman, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Ottman; ed. Jim May; pd. Alec Hammond; ad. David Swayze.
cast: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Scoot McNairy (Tom Bowen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Nate Parker (Zack White), Corey Stoll (Austin Reilly), Lupita Nyong’o (Gwen), Omar Metwally (Dr. Fahim Nasir), Jason Butler Harner (Kyle Rice), Linus Roache (David McMillan), Shea Whigham (Agent Marenick), Anson Mount (Jack Hammond), Quinn McColgan (Becca), Corey Hawkins (Travis Mitchell), Frank Deal (Charles Wheeler), Bar Paly (Iris Marianne), Edoardo Costa (Herve Philbert), Jon Abrahams (David Norton), Amanda Quaid (Emily Norton), Beth Dixon (Older Woman).
Ludicrous but fast-paced action thriller vehicle for Neeson. Here he plays a washed-out Air Marshal who boards a transatlantic flight bound from New York City to London. During the flight, he becomes the recipient of text messages demanding the American government deposit $150 million into an offshore bank account or his fellow passengers will be killed off one-by-one every twenty minutes. What starts off as an initially intriguing idea is wasted by a script that defies logic and character actions and interactions that frequently feel unreal. Neeson lends the proceedings some gravitas through an honest performance and is supported well by Moore, as a cooky passenger who has faith in Neeson. However, the finale stretches credulity beyond breaking point and is hampered by poor visual effects leaving the viewing experience an ultimately disappointing one.
UNKNOWN (2011, UK/Germany/France/Canada/Japan/USA, 113m, 15) **½
Action, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), Optimum Releasing (UK); pr co. Dark Castle Entertainment / Panda Productions Inc. / Canal+ / Horticus UK / Studio Babelsberg / StudioCanal / TF1 Films Production; d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell (based on the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert); pr. Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona, Joel Silver; ph. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. John Ottman, Alexander Rudd; ed. Timothy Alverson; pd. Richard Bridgland; ad. Andreas Olshausen.
cast: Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole), Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler), Olivier Schneider (Smith), Stipe Erceg (Jones), Rainer Bock (Herr Strauss), Mido Hamada (Prince Shada), Clint Dyer (Biko), Karl Markovics (Dr. Farge), Eva Löbau (Nurse Gretchen), Helen Wiebensohn (Laurel Bressler), Merle Wiebensohn (Lily Bressler), Adnan Maral (Turkish Taxi Driver), Torsten Michaelis (Airport Taxi Driver), Rainer Sellien (Control Room Detective), Petra Hartung (Control Room Detective).
This mystery thriller becomes more concerned with staging its action sequences than with maximising the potential of its premise. After a serious car accident in Berlin, biochemist Neeson awakes to find his world in utter chaos. His wife (Jones) does not recognize him; another man is using his identity, and mysterious assassins are hunting him. With the authorities sceptical, Neeson must go it alone. When he teams up with an unlikely ally in illegal immigrant Kruger, the determined Neeson discovers the truth is more than he bargained for. This is a plot that would work exceptionally well in the hands of a master like Hitchcock. Here, however, Collett-Sera initially builds up the intrigue but resorts to action genre convention in the final act. Whilst the story may be hard to swallow, Neeson injects a level of energy and intensity that allows you to go along with it for a good portion of the running time. But ultimately the script, whilst occasionally clever, lacks finesse and the portrayal of the villains is a little heavy and obvious.
UNSTOPPABLE (2010, USA, 98m, 12) ***½
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Prospect Park / Scott Free Productions / Firm Films / Millbrook Farm Productions; d. Tony Scott; w. Mark Bomback; pr. Eric McLeod, Mimi Rogers, Tony Scott, Julie Yorn, Alex Young; ph. Ben Seresin (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Harry Gregson-Williams; ed. Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon; pd. Chris Seagers; ad. Julian Ashby, Drew Boughton, Denise Hudson, Dawn Swiderski.
cast: Denzel Washington (Frank), Chris Pine (Will), Rosario Dawson (Connie), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Dunn (Galvin), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Werner), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), Lew Temple (Ned), T.J. Miller (Gilleece), Jessy Schram (Darcy), David Warshofsky (Judd Stewart), Andy Umberger (Janeway), Elizabeth Mathis (Nicole), Meagan Tandy (Maya), Dylan Bruce (Michael Colson), Jeff Hochendoner (Clark), Ryan Ahern (Ryan Scott), Christopher Lee Philips (Baker), Kevin McClatchy (Hoffman), Toni Saladna (Galvin’s Assistant).
Director Tony Scott delivers one of his best films with this exciting tale of a runaway train. When a huge, unmanned locomotive laden with toxic chemicals speeds out of control, the only hope of bringing it to a safe stop is in the hands of a veteran engineer Washington and a young conductor Pine. Together, they must risk their lives to save those in the runaway’s path. Inspired by true events. Scott’s usual penchant for visual dynamics and tight editing are in evidence here but are less obtrusive than usual. Washington and Pine are excellent in the lead roles, although attempts to flesh out their characters seem superfluous. The main attraction is the train action and the near misses along the way. It is here Scott excels in maintaining a high level of tension with some well-staged action segments. The commentary on corporate politics is a little more clumsily handled but serves to create an inner tension between the workers and the management as they look for a solution. The result is an exciting action movie that may lack depth but has a lot of class and delivers its thrills with aplomb. The film was loosely based on the real-life CSX 8888 incident in the U.S. state of Ohio in 2001. Unfortunately, the film was Scott’s final one before his death in 2012.
AAN: Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Mark P. Stoeckinger)
TWISTER (1996, USA, 113m, PG) ***½
Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Constant c Productions; d. Jan de Bont; w. Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin; pr. Ian Bryce, Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy; ph. Jack N. Green (Technicolor | 2.39:1); m. Mark Mancina; ed. Michael Kahn; pd. Joseph C. Nemec III; ad. Dan Olexiewicz.
cast: Helen Hunt (Dr. Jo Harding), Bill Paxton (Bill Harding), Cary Elwes (Dr. Jonas Miller), Jami Gertz (Dr. Melissa Reeves), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Dustin Davis), Lois Smith (Meg Greene), Alan Ruck (Robert ‘Rabbit’ Nurick), Sean Whalen (Allan Sanders), Scott Thomson (Jason ‘Preacher’ Rowe), Todd Field (Tim ‘Beltzer’ Lewis), Joey Slotnick (Joey), Wendle Josepher (Haynes), Jeremy Davies (Laurence), Zach Grenier (Eddie), Gregory Sporleder (Willie), Patrick Fischler (The Communicator), Nicholas Sadler (Kubrick), Ben Weber (Stanley), Anthony Rapp (Tony), Erik LaRay Harvey (Eric (as Eric LaRay Harvey)).
A white-knuckle ride following a group of storm chasers, brilliantly filmed by de Bont and his crew with notable sound design and visual effects work. During the approach of the most powerful storm in decades, university professor Hunt and her underfunded team of students prepare a ground-breaking tornado data-gathering device, which was conceived by her estranged husband, Paxton. When Hunt tells Paxton that the device is ready for testing — and that their privately funded rival Elwes has stolen the idea and built his own — Paxton re-joins the team for one last mission. Echoes of Howard Hawks amidst the natural destruction make this worth seeing. Hunt and Paxton are likeable leads and spar well off each other. They are given a witty script and an assortment of oddball supporting characters as their “professional” group. Gertz is charming as Paxton’s delightfully naive fiancée, who gets caught up in the adventure. The story may have more than its fair share of cliches, but the set-pieces are excitingly staged if a little far-fetched in the lack of injuries Hunt and Paxton sustain amongst the flying debris.
AAN: Best Sound (Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Kevin O’Connell, Geoffrey Patterson); Best Effects, Visual Effects (Stefen Fangmeier, John Frazier, Habib Zargarpour, Henry LaBounta)
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004, USA, 124m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Centropolis Entertainment / Lions Gate Films / Mark Gordon Productions; d. Roland Emmerich; w. Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (based on a story by Roland Emmerich); pr. Roland Emmerich, Mark Gordon, Thomas M. Hammel; ph. Ueli Steiger (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. Harald Kloser; ed. David Brenner; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Claude Paré.
cast: Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J.D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Sasha Roiz (Parker), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson), Robin Wilcock (Tony), Jason Blicker (Paul), Kenneth Moskow (Bob), Tim Hamaguchi (Taka), Glenn Plummer (Luther), Adrian Lester (Simon), Richard McMillan (Dennis), Perry King (President Blake), Mimi Kuzyk (Secretary of State).
Even global warming advocates may baulk at the situations presented in this far-fetched, but surprisingly enjoyable disaster epic. After climatologist Quaid is largely ignored by U.N. officials when presenting his environmental concerns, his research proves true when an enormous “superstorm” develops, setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. Trying to get to his son, Gyllenhaal, who is trapped in New York with his friend Rossum and others, Quaid and his crew must travel by foot from Philadelphia, braving the elements, to get to Sam before it’s too late. The game and likeable cast keep their faith in the lame script, delivering awkward dialogue without a metaphorical wink to the audience. Emmerich loves destroying his iconic buildings and landmarks and here he and his effects team take their carnage to impressive set-pieces in LA and NYC. He asks an awful lot of his audience to suspend their disbelief, but for those willing to do so this is a fun ride.
THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974, USA, 165m, 15) ****
dist. Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Irwin Allen Productions; d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant (based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp (DeLuxe | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm version)); m. John Williams; ed. Carl Kress, Harold F. Kress; pd. William J. Creber; ad. Ward Preston.
cast: Steve McQueen (Chief O’Halloran), Paul Newman (Doug Roberts), William Holden (Jim Duncan), Faye Dunaway (Susan), Fred Astaire (Harlee Claiborne), Susan Blakely (Patty), Richard Chamberlain (Simmons), Jennifer Jones (Lisolette), O.J. Simpson (Jernigan), Robert Vaughn (Senator Parker), Robert Wagner (Dan Bigelow), Susan Flannery (Lorrie), Sheila Allen (Paula Ramsay (as Sheila Mathews)), Norman Burton (Giddings), Jack Collins (Mayor Ramsay), Don Gordon (Kappy), Felton Perry (Scott), Gregory Sierra (Carlos), Ernie F. Orsatti (Mark Powers), Dabney Coleman (Deputy Chief #1).
A fire breaks out in a state-of-the-art San Francisco high-rise building during the opening ceremony attended by a host of A-list guests. McQueen plays the overworked fire chief who along with the building’s architect (Newman) struggles to save lives and subdue panic while a corrupt, cost-cutting contractor (Chamberlain), son-in-law to builder Holden, tries to duck responsibility for the shortcuts he took that caused the disaster. Guillermin sustains the tension throughout this big production disaster movie, which along with producer Irwin Allen’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, is the best example of the 1970s disaster genre and needed the funding of two studios- Fox and Warner. A stellar cast – led by Newman and McQueen – adds considerably to the familiar elements. The photography and production values are first-rate and are enhanced by an excellent grandiose score from Williams. The action sequences, directed by Irwin Allen and photographed by Joseph F.Biroc, are effectively staged. It was Jennifer Jones’s final film.
AA: Best Cinematography (Fred J. Koenekamp, Joseph F. Biroc); Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress, Carl Kress); Best Music, Original Song (Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”)
AAN: Best Picture (Irwin Allen); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Fred Astaire); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William J. Creber, Ward Preston, Raphael Bretton); Best Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis); Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams)
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972, USA, 117m, PG) ****
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox / Irwin Allen Productions / Kent Productions ; d. Ronald Neame; w. Stirling Silliphant, Wendell Mayes (based on the novel by Paul Gallico); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Harold E. Stine (DeLuxe | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm prints)); m. John Williams; ed. Harold F. Kress; pd. William J. Creber.
cast: Gene Hackman (Reverend Scott), Ernest Borgnine (Mike Rogo), Red Buttons (James Martin), Carol Lynley (Nonnie Parry), Roddy McDowall (Acres), Stella Stevens (Linda Rogo), Shelley Winters (Belle Rosen), Jack Albertson (Manny Rosen), Pamela Sue Martin (Susan Shelby), Arthur O’Connell (Chaplain), Leslie Nielsen (Captain Harrison), Eric Shea (Robin), Fred Sadoff (Linarcos), Sheila Allen (Nurse (as Sheila Mathews)), Jan Arvan (Doctor Caravello), Byron Webster (Purser), John Crawford (Chief Engineer), Bob Hastings (M. C.), Erik L. Nelson (Mr. Tinkham).
Ocean bound from New York City to Greece on New Year’s Eve, the luxury passenger ship the S.S. Poseidon is capsized by a tidal wave. With the captain (Nielsen) dead, a group of surviving passengers, led by the passionate clergyman (Hackman), struggle through numerous obstacles and a labyrinth of ladders and tunnels in a desperate attempt to reach the surface through the ship’s hull. Following 1970s AIRPORT, this was the movie that set the benchmark for the disaster cycle of the 1970s and made Irwin Allen the king of the blockbuster. The impressive all-star ensemble cast ensures investment in the characters as well as the spectacle. Hackman and Borgnine (as a former cop) are particularly impressive in their antagonistic roles, Whilst Stevens has fun as Borgnine’s reformed hooker wife. Winters gained weight, which is thoughtlessly referenced on numerous occasions by other characters, specifically for her role. Excellent production design and tight direction by Neame help make this an exciting and tense affair. Followed by BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979) and remade for TV in 2005 and again for theatrical release as POSEIDON in 2006.
AA: Best Music, Original Song (Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn for the song “The Morning After”); Special Achievement Award for visual effects (L.B. Abbott, A.D. Flowers).
AAN: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Shelley Winters); Best Cinematography (Harold E. Stine); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William J. Creber, Raphael Bretton); Best Costume Design (Paul Zastupnevich); Best Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis); Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress); Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams).
EARTHQUAKE (1974, USA, 123m, PG) ***
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures / The Filmakers Group; d. Mark Robson; w. George Fox, Mario Puzo; pr. Mark Robson; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Williams; ed. Dorothy Spencer; pd. Alexander Golitzen; ad. E. Preston Ames.
cast: Charlton Heston (Graff), Ava Gardner (Remy), George Kennedy (Slade), Lorne Greene (Royce), Geneviève Bujold (Denise), Richard Roundtree (Miles), Marjoe Gortner (Jody), Barry Sullivan (Stockle), Lloyd Nolan (Dr. Vance), Victoria Principal (Rosa), Walter Matthau (Drunk (as Walter Matuschanskayasky)), Monica Lewis (Barbara), Gabriel Dell (Sal), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Chavez), Lloyd Gough (Cameron), John Randolph (Mayor), Kip Niven (Walter Russell), Scott Hylands (Asst. Caretaker), Tiger Williams (Corry), Donald Moffat (Dr. Harvey Johnson).
A major earthquake hits Los Angeles and various stock characters are thrown into the chaos and destruction. Successful architect Heston argues with his drunken and demanding wife, Gardner, who is also the daughter of his boss Greene. Bujold is Heston’s distraction from his marriage. Kennedy is a cop suspended for insubordination. Roundtree is an Evel Knievel copyist assisted by Principal. Gortner is a loner army reservist who has fascist tendencies. As the personal dramas are explored, the city is shaken by tremors leading to the inevitable titular event. This is the kind of movie Roland Emmerich has made his fortune producing in more recent times. Here, pre-CGI, the scenes of huge destruction are technically well achieved for the period with some effective matte work and wall-shaking sound (Sensurround was a much-touted new approach to sonics, which ultimately never took). The cast is solid, although Gardner’s histrionics veer toward melodrama. The movie ends abruptly with most of the personal stories left unresolved. Additional footage was shot, without the involvement of Robson, for the 152m TV version.
AA: Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.); Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock)
AAN: Best Cinematography (Philip H. Lathrop); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexander Golitzen, E. Preston Ames, Frank R. McKelvy); Best Film Editing (Dorothy Spencer)
THE CONCORDE … AIRPORT ’79 (1979, USA, 113m, PG) *½
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. David Lowell Rich; w. Eric Roth (based on a story by Jenning Lang); pr. Jennings Lang; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Lalo Schifrin; ed. Dorothy Spencer; pd. Henry Bumstead.
cast: Alain Delon (Capt. Paul Metrand), Susan Blakely (Maggie Whelan), Robert Wagner (Dr. Kevin Harrison), Sylvia Kristel (Isabelle), George Kennedy (Capt. Joe Patroni), Eddie Albert (Eli Sands), Bibi Andersson (Francine), Charo (Margarita), John Davidson (Robert Palmer), Andrea Marcovicci (Alicia Rogov), Martha Raye (Loretta), Cicely Tyson (Elaine), Jimmie Walker (Boisie), David Warner (Peter O’Neill), Mercedes McCambridge (Nelli), Avery Schreiber (Coach Markov), Sybil Danning (Amy), Monica Lewis (Gretchen), Nicolas Coster (Dr. Stone), Robin Gammell (William Halpern).
Based on a story by Jennings Lang read the titles. Lang executive produced the previous films in the series and this is his only writing credit during his long movie career. It would be interesting to know at what point screenplay writer Roth and director Lowell Rich realised they had signed on to such a turkey. Journalist Blakely discovers that her married boyfriend, Wagner, heads a company that is involved in illegal arms sales. To stop her from going public, Wagner decides to bring down the Concorde she is taking from Washington to Moscow via Paris. Pilots Delon and Kennedy, this time in a starring role returning as Joe Patroni, to keep the plane in the air. The preposterous premise plays out even more ludicrously on screen with appalling dialogue and it is hard to determine the unintended from any intended laughs. The earlier entries in the series may have been hokey at times but each had its moments of suspense and drama. This fourth film is poorly assembled and an embarrassment for many of the actors. All this said the film is never boring, as you find yourself laughing at it too much, and therefore not totally wretched. Raye’s final feature film. TV versions run to 132m and incredibly 176m.
AIRPORT ’77 (1977, USA, 114m, PG) ***
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Jerry Jameson; w. Michael Scheff, David Spector (based on a story by H.A.L. Craig and Charles Kuenstle and the novel “Airport” by Arthur Hailey); pr. William Frye; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Cacavas; ed. Robert Watts, J. Terry Williams; pd. George C. Webb.
cast: Jack Lemmon (Don Gallagher), Lee Grant (Karen Wallace), Brenda Vaccaro (Eve Clayton), Joseph Cotten (Nicholas St. Downs III), Olivia de Havilland (Emily Livingston), Darren McGavin (Stan Buchek), Christopher Lee (Martin Wallace), Robert Foxworth (Chambers), Robert Hooks (Eddie), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), James Stewart (Philip Stevens), Monte Markham (Banker), Kathleen Quinlan (Julie), Gil Gerard (Frank Powers), James Booth (Ralph Crawford), Monica Lewis (Anne), Maidie Norman (Dorothy), Pamela Bellwood (Lisa), Arlene Golonka (Mrs. Jane Stern), Tom Sullivan (Steve), M. Emmet Walsh (Dr. Williams), Michael Pataki (Wilson).
The second sequel to AIRPORT also takes its lead from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE as a botched mid-air hijack of multi-millionaire Stewart’s private 747, carrying a collection of priceless works of art, results in the plane crashing into the sea. As the stricken airliner sinks, its passengers and crew, led by pilot Lemmon, are faced with a nightmare fight for survival. Despite the far-fetched nature of its premise, the film manages to deliver a decent number of thrills. The game cast help to sell the scenario, with Lemmon and McGavin delivering convincing performances. The film does have the usual array of stock characters and their domestic baggage, but the action takes centre stage once the plane hits the water and Jameson keeps the tension high through to the finale. Network TV version added additional footage, including deleted scenes and newly shot footage, and runs 182m. Followed by THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT ’79 (1979).
AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George C. Webb, Mickey S. Michaels); Best Costume Design (Edith Head, Burton Miller).