THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979, USA) ****
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-EMI-Warner (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / IPC Films; d. James Bridges; w. Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges; pr. Michael Douglas; ph. James Crabe (Metrocolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); ed. David Rawlins; pd. George Jenkins; rel. 6 March 1979 (USA), 20 July 1979 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 122m.
cast: Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich), Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler), Richard Herd (Evan McCormack), Daniel Valdez (Hector Salas), Stan Bohrman (Pete Martin), James Karen (Mac Churchill), Michael Alaimo (Greg Minor), Donald Hotton (Dr. Lowell), Khalilah ‘Belinda’ Ali (Marge (as Khalilah Ali)), Paul Larson (D.B. Royce), Ron Lombard (Barney), Tom Eure (Tommy), Nick Pellegrino (Borden), Daniel Lewk (Donny), Allan Chinn (Holt).
Fonda plays a TV reporter who, with her cameraman (Douglas), finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. Lemmon is the plant’s senior technician who looks to spill the beans, whilst the corporates try to silence him. This absorbing cautionary tale of the dangers of nuclear power plants benefits from an excellent script that balances its message with character motivation. It is aided by three excellent central performances – notably Lemmon who wrestles with his conscience as he uncovers shortcuts taken in safety checks – and a superb support cast. Whilst the drama may veer toward melodramatic thrills in its final act, the film’s message has an impact that is undeniable.
AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Lemmon); Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Fonda); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, James Bridges); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George Jenkins, Arthur Jeph Parker)
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US (USA, 2017) **½
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox / Chernin Entertainment; Release Date: 9 September 2017 (Canada), 6 October 2017 (USA/UK); Filming Dates: 5 December 2016 – 17 February 2017; Running Time: 112m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (6.5K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad; Writer: Chris Weitz, J. Mills Goodloe (based on the book by Charles Martin); Executive Producer: Fred Berger, Becki Cross Trujillo; Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, David Ready, Jenno Topping; Associate Producer: Amira Diab; Director of Photography: Mandy Walker; Music Composer: Ramin Djawadi; Film Editor: Lee Percy; Production Designer: Patrice Vermette; Art Director: James Steuart; Set Decorator: Shannon Gottlieb; Costumes: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; Make-up: Natalie Cosco, Adrien Morot; Sound: Mildred Iatrou, Susan Dawes; Special Effects: Ron Kozier, Andrew Verhoeven; Visual Effects: Korey J. Cauchon, Edward Churchward, Thomas Tannenberger, Rebecca West.
Cast: Kate Winslet (Alex Martin), Idris Elba (Ben Bass), Beau Bridges (Walter), Dermot Mulroney (Mark), Linda Sorensen (Pamela), Vincent Gale (Airline Customer Service), Marci T. House (Airline Rep), Dania Nassar (Female Patient (Mrs. Qabbani)), Lee Majdoub (Translator), Andres Joseph (Dinner Guest), Nancy Sivak (Nurse), Bethany Brown (New York Waiter), Orval Roberts (Logging Truck Driver).
Synopsis: Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness.
Comment: Story of survival in the icy mountains following a plane crash turns into a cliched romance in its coda, undermining the elements of authenticity the filmmakers strived hard to achieve. Winslet and Elba are a reporter and doctor who are left stranded in the snowy mountains following the crash of their light aircraft with just the dead pilot’s dog for company. Initially antagonistic, they grow closer as they realise they need to rely on each other to survive. The survival elements of the story initially work well, but once the romance begins Abu-Assad follows the traditional Hollywood tropes. The result is a manipulative and manufactured drama, despite the strong performances by its two leads.
High and the Mighty, The (1954; USA; WarnerColor; 141m) *** d. William A. Wellman; w. Ernest K. Gann; ph. Archie Stout; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Robert Newton, Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, Sidney Blackmer, Ann Doran, David Brian, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Doe Avedon, Karen Sharpe, John Smith. When a commercial airliner develops engine problems on a trans-Pacific flight and the pilot loses his nerve. Pioneering disaster movie set the template for much that followed, including the AIRPORT franchise. Its ensemble cast of stock characters may seem cliched today as a result. Initially slow-paced as the cast is introduced one by one, but tension builds in the second half. Tiomkin won an Oscar for his score. Gann adapted his own novel. [U]
Earthquake (1974; USA; Technicolor; 123m) **½ d. Mark Robson; w. George Fox, Mario Puzo; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. John Williams. Cast: Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Matthau, Ava Gardner, Genevieve Bujold, Lorne Greene, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Victoria Principal, Monica Lewis, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Lloyd Gough. Various stories of various people as an earthquake of un-imagineable magnitude hits Los Angeles. A triumph of special effects over characterisation and plot. Heston plays the square-jawed hero in his usual style. Performances are variable with Gardner and Gortner particularly guilty of hamming up their roles. The finale lacks any real resolution. Oscar winner for Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.) and Special Achievement Award for visual effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock). Additional footage shot for 160m TV version. [PG]
Towering Inferno, The (1974; USA; DeLuxe; 165m) **** d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp; m. John Williams. Cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Susan Blakely, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Susan Flannery, Sheila Allen, Jack Collins, Norman Burton. At the opening party of a collosal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it. Along with producer Irwin Allen’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, this is the best example of the 1970s disaster genre. A stellar cast – notably Newman and McQueen – adds considerably to the familiar elements. Top-class production values and excellent score by Williams. Won Oscars for Best Cinematography; Film Editing and Original Song (Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn for the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”). Jennifer Jones’s final film. Based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. [PG]
Concorde … Airport ’79, The (1979; USA; Technicolor; 113m) * d. David Lowell Rich; w. Eric Roth, Jennings Lang; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. Lalo Schifrin. Cast: Alain Delon, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, George Kennedy, Sylvia Kristel, Eddie Albert, Bibi Andersson, Charo, Martha Raye, Cicely Tyson, John Davidson, Andrea Marcovicci, Jimmie Walker, David Warner, Mercedes McCambridge. This film is the last of the AIRPORT genre which stars Kennedy who has to contend with nuclear missiles, the French Air Force and the threat of the plane splitting in two over the Alps! Nonsensical final entry in the series is dragged down by preposterous scenario, risible and often embarrassing dialogue and wooden performances. The series was laid to rest with this one. The film reached UK theatres a year later, and was renamed upon its release there. Raye’s final feature film. [PG]
Airport ’77 (1977; USA; Technicolor; 114m) *** d. Jerry Jameson; w. Michael Scheff, David Spector; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. John Cacavas. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, George Kennedy, James Stewart, Brenda Vaccaro, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland, Darren McGavin, Christopher Lee, Robert Foxworth, Robert Hooks, Monte Markham, Kathleen Quinlan, Gil Gerard, James Booth. Art thieves hijack a 747, hit fog and crash into the ocean, trapping them and the passengers under 100 feet of water. Strong cast adds value to this third entry in the series. Good production values and a tense final act overcome the by now obvious characters and familiar situations. Developed from a story by H.A.L. Craig and Charles Kuenstle. Network TV version added one-hour of additional footage. Followed by THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT ’79 (1979). [PG]
Airport 1975 (1974; USA; Technicolor; 107m) ** d. Jack Smight; w. Don Ingalls; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. John Cacavas. Cast: Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Susan Clark, Helen Reddy, Linda Blair, Dana Andrews, Roy Thinnes, Sid Caesar, Myrna Loy, Ed Nelson, Nancy Olson, Larry Storch, Martha Scott, Guy Stockwell, Erik Estrada, Austin Stoker, Sharon Gless, Gloria Swanson. A 747 in flight collides with a small plane, and is rendered pilotless. Somehow the control tower must get a pilot aboard so the jet can land. A bland script uses every cliché in the book and invents a few more. Heston and Kennedy struggle manfully to rise above the material whilst a star-studded supporting cast gamely deliver the lame dialogue. Some nice airborne footage and a reasonably tense rescue attempt aside, this would become the basis for numerous parodies. Swanson’s final film. Followed by AIRPORT ’77 (1977). [PG]
Sully (2016; USA; Colour; 96m) ∗∗∗½ d. Clint Eastwood; w. Todd Komarnicki; ph. Tom Stern; m. Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton Band. Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Sam Huntington, Jerry Ferrara, Jeff Kober, Chris Bauer, Holt McCallany, Carla Shinall, Lynn Marocola, Max Adler, Valerie Mahaffey, Ashley Austin Morris, Michael Rapaport. Based on the true story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely crash-landed a plane on the Hudson River in 2009. Efficiently made account of the investigation that followed. Hanks adds depth and dignity to his portrayal of the everyman hero, whilst Eastwood’s no-fuss direction ensures there is no Hollywood-isation of the story. Adapted from the book by Chelsey Sullenberg and Jeffrey Zaslow 
Deepwater Horizon (2016; USA; Colour; 108m) ∗∗∗½ d. Peter Berg; w. Matthew Sand, Matthew Carnahan; ph. Enrique Chediak; m. Steve Jablonsky. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, Brad Leland, J.D. Evermore, Joe Chrest, Chris Ashworth, Jeremy Sande, Stella Allen, Michael D. Anglin, Ilan Srulovicz, Graham McGinnis, James DuMont, Douglas M. Griffin, David Maldonado. A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster when the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Efficiently made disaster thriller. Despite occasional Hollywood-isation of events, it produces a thrilling second half. Wahlberg and Russell are excellent as are the effects and authentic production design.