The Morning After #17: October 18, 2010

I realized too late Sunday that I had not watched the Feed the Queue film for the week, Laura, so I will hopefully get to that next weekend. But, don’t worry, I have plenty to review for today including RED, Airport, Airport 1975, the middle few episodes of season 2 of True Blood, the final episodes of season 2 of Torchwood and this week’s Glee episode “Duets”.

So, here is what I watched this weekend:

RED


The story of a retired CIA agent (Bruce Willis) trying to make mundane life enjoyable has been chatting absently with a customer service agent (Mary-Louise Parker) at the Social Security administration where he claims his payments aren’t getting to him. It’s all a ruse to speak with her, but it turns into something more as he discovers shortly after that a squad of assassins has been dispatched to take him out. As he flees for his life, taking the young woman with him (by force to start), he finds there’s more to the killing spree than he knows and he must put together his old team to save his and their lives.

What really turns out to be little more than a paint-by-numbers story is bolstered by a cast of acting veterans (Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox) who look very much like they are having a hell of a time. Quite a bit of the dialogue is crisp and entertaining even if the plotting and predictability are not. Matter of fact, if you don’t see exactly where the film is going as it plays, then you aren’t paying enough attention. The effects aren’t revolutionary, but they are interesting enough and the film doesn’t seem to focus on the razzmatazz that a lot of other recent comic book adaptations have. There is only one really nifty effect scene as Willis calmly steps out of a spinning car, moves past a fender about to hit him and plows shot after shot into a pursuing SUV. From there on out, most of the scenes are simple, traditional affairs with minimal imagination.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I really thought it would be Mirren that made the film shine, but while she is a wonderful presence in the film, it’s Malkovich who really keeps the film alive with his paranoid skepticism and sharp one-liners. In another actor’s grasp, it would feel cloying, superficial or derivative, but Malkovich manages to make the character feel crisp. Cox is a fun addition as the Russian spy who joins their operation. And Freeman channels a bit of his humorous Godly abilities from Bruce Almighty even though he is one of the two weak performances in the film. The other is Willis who often looks out of sorts or perhaps botoxed heavily. He lacks the cleverness and inventiveness his character possesses and seems stuck in a long-gone Die Hard mode that makes his relationship with Parker occasionally stiff. I have always liked Parker and although this isn’t nearly the quality of her landmark role in Weeds, she is sufficiently novel and likable even though she does seem to take a little more in stride than would a woman in her position in reality.

The film should easily appeal to comic book fans who aren’t looking for the bloody excesses of films like Watchmen or, more recently, Kick-Ass. Audiences may skew a bit older and those who are aged more closely to Mirren, Malkovich and Freeman may have difficulty at time relating to everything presented, they will enjoy the throwback spy thriller with the minimal unnecessary violence and dotage jocularity.

AIRPORT


The key film setting up the onslaught of disaster films in the 1970s, Airport is a glossy, high wattage flick that sets the tone for all of the films to follow. The movie follows a snow-bound airport struggling to get its planes in the air and avoid as many disasters as possible. Yet, nearly every single hazard they become involved in only gets worse as the film progresses.

For the first half hour of the film, the most exciting moments of the film surround the relationships between pilots, stewardess and co-workers and the witty, crafty little old lady who stows-away frequently on airplanes across country and is finally caught. Then we’re introduced to the unemployed civil engineer, nearly destitute who decides the best way to provide for his loving wife is to blow himself and a plane to Rome up over the Atlantic and give her the insurance money resultant from his death without a trace. From that point forward, the tension begins to build as delayed departure times, snow-slowed traffic and an old lady giving a young man the slip provide some interesting and entertaining distractions.

There isn’t a lot going on here and although I love disaster films, this isn’t one of the best. However, the actors in the film treat the material as such and give some terrific performances. Burt Lancaster as the airport manager, Dean Martin as the co-pilot, George Kennedy as the crew chief, Helen Hayes as the grifter, Van Heflin as the destitute engineer and Maureen Stapleton as his wife are all acting as if they were contending for Oscars. And the amazing thing is that both Stapleton and Hayes received nominations and Hayes even won. I don’t think she’s quite Oscar caliber and Stapleton is a more sympathetic character, but its nice to see both of them honored. The film was nominated for Best Picture along with the previous two nominations and seven others, it resulted in Hayes as the only winner.

Yet, the fact that the film was taken so seriously by the Academy led to several sequels and other highly successful disaster flicks including The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, all Oscar nominees with only Inferno picking up a Best Picture nomination. While there were many more than just these, few of them really lived up to those pieces of ensemble cinema. What makes these films so fun is that the actors really do seem to be enjoying themselves. Thrown into hysterics at the right moments, given juicy soap-quality plots and fit into effects-laden films that manage to create a palpable tension. And Airport does all of these things extremely well. I prefer both Poseidon and Inferno to this one, but they owe a great deal of their success to this film’s influence.

AIRPORT 1975


A 747 traveling across country comes face-to-face with a private aircraft whose pilot has a heart attack, crashes into the cone of the plane and leaves the craft flyable, but without professional help. Enter Karen Black, first stewardess on the ship and paramour of a flight control manager played by Charlton Heston, who must combat her fears and get on-the-radio training in not only how to fly the plane but keep it from crashing into the Rocky Mountains.

If the premise seems a bit cheesy, it is. After the huge success of Airport in 1970, it was no surprise there would be a sequel, though a five year absence from the screen seems a bit strange in today’s culture of next-year follow-ups. Still, when you’ve already played the tense drama of high flying danger, it’s hard to make the concept soar a second time and much of what passes for originality here still feels stale in comparison to the original. It’s hard to imagine a lead less charismatic than Heston who seems to be sleep walking through the picture. His performance lacks spark or imagination and you just don’t care if he lives or dies. Black is significantly better, but much of her performance is straight-ahead terror with a few emotional outbursts at intermittent intervals.

The rest of the cast, including first-film carryover George Kennedy, fails to compare favorably to the talent onscreen in Airport. Efrem Zimbalist Jr (the pilot captain) and Dana Andrews (the private craft pilot) are barely in the film; Myrna Loy is charming, but plays a superfluous character; Sid Caesar is patently annoying, Linda Blair feels like she stuck in her own private hell; and how Helen Reddy got top billing over the likes of Loy is astoundingly idiotic. Susan Clark is an engaging presence on screen as Kennedy’s wife, but the dramatic point of her character being on the plane is a bit flimsy. Then there’s Gloria Swanson who plays herself. A sad state of affairs for such a legend, the film is almost like a death knell for her career, a last ditch effort to remain relevant in an increasingly indifferent world where old screen legends began to fade out more quickly than ever before.

It’s little wonder that the Airplane films had such an easy time poking fun at the Airport franchise. The dialogue in this film is fairly flaccid, the plotting facile and several scenes set themselves up perfectly for spoof (like the nearly-verbatim carryover scene where Helen Reddy sings a simple melody to a sick kidney patient and we get a cut-away shot of people peeking over seats and around corners to gaze on with doe-eyes at the happy music). Had this film been made today it would have quickly been labeled a flop and the franchise probably would have ended abruptly. Unfortunately, there are still two more films to go, though I doubt I’ll pick up either any time soon.

TRUE BLOOD, season #2, episodes #5-#10

What can I say about one of the guiltiest pleasures on television these days. The uber-bloody, sexually-charged vampire drama continues to get better as the season progresses. The story arcs are beginning to converge (though perhaps a bit awkwardly) and we’re finally learning more about the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes), which adds to the fun of the season. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I like the blending of the vampire/shapeshifter milieu with Greek mythology. While the overriding story is entertaining, several episodes felt a bit pushy, as if they were trying to move far more quickly than they needed to. And with only two episodes left in the season, I’m hard-pressed to really see where two hours worth of content is coming from with so much already having been resolved. But still, this is one of the most engrossing shows on television, so it should be a great deal of fun seeing where it concludes.

GLEE, episode “Duets”

After a strong third episode, the fourth of this weaker season regressed some, pitting some rather silly romantic twists against a series of duets that were far from spectacular (Mercedes and Santana the notable exception). Kurt got some decent attention, but his central storyline, quietly ogling the new guy Sam (Chord Overstreet), would have worked better strung over multiple episodes, like his crush on someday-to-be-step brother Finn in the prior season. The romantic entanglement developing between Quinn and Sam seems utterly manufactured and lacking in any real emotional connection, the lovey-dovey plotting of Finn and Rachel is a bit clumsy and the on-again off-again relationship between Artie and Tina struggles to find its footing. Yet, the one new development in the first Sue Sylvester-free episode I can remember that really struck the right chords with me is the burgeoning romance between ditsy Brittany and Artie. Yes, I realize it’s just going to set up for her heartbreak when he gets back with Tina, but it’s a storyline this season worth watching.

TORCHWOOD, season 2

Despite the middle few episodes of the season feeling entirely out of place in the story arc, the last few episodes came to a roaring conclusion with two major character deaths and a rather touching farewell. I won’t give away who died this season, but when you hit the final episode, you should easily be able to figure it out before the end. The acting is still functioning at a high level, though Burn Gorman (as Owen Harper) consistently gets on my nerves. The stories were fairly straight forward science fiction fare set in modern Cardiff and if I have one major complaint, it’s about the final episode. What could have been a two-hour episode seems somewhat truncated and a good deal of exposition is pushed through quickly and the villain isn’t given nearly enough screen time and probably should have figured in a longer arc. Matter of fact, had much of what transpired over the season led up to the magnificently plotted final episode, perhaps the season would have felt more fluid. Still, the show remains a guilty pleasure and I am looking forward to watching the truncated third season as soon as I can find the time to start it.

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