Friday, January 1, 2021

Disaster December Quick Picks and Pans


The Wave Poster

The Wave (aka: Bølgen) (2015) No, it’s not about the ubiquitous stadium crowd activity, but a killer tidal wave that strikes the touristy Norwegian village of Geiranger. After accepting a new job in the big city, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) can’t seem to let go of his old position as a geologist monitoring local seismic activity. He notices a shift in sensor readings around the surrounding mountainside, which indicate an impending calamity about to be unleashed on the nearby village. The worst-case scenario becomes a reality as a wall of rock collapses into the fjord, creating a massive tidal wave. One of the big reasons why The Wave is so effective is that it focuses on the little things first, namely Kristian and his family. Ane Dahl Torp is very good as his wife, Idun, who works as a hotel manager. The filmmakers remember that if we’re not invested in the characters, no amount of spectacle will make up the deficit. Although the film contains the familiar elements we’ve come to expect in this sort of genre, there’s an abundance of heart throughout. It’s well worth checking out.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Last Voyage Poster

The Last Voyage (1960) This exciting maritime disaster movie gets a shot of realism, thanks to writer/director Andrew L. Stone filming onboard the scrapped ocean liner SS Île de France (re-named the SS Claridon for the purposes of the movie). George Sanders stars as the pigheaded Captain Adams, who’s about to follow in the footsteps of the captain of another infamous doomed ship. Robert Stack plays Cliff Henderson, a passenger determined to save his wife Laurie (Dorothy Malone), who’s trapped under a bulkhead. The Last Voyage features several strong supporting performances, including Woody Strode as Hank Lawson, a selfless crewmember, who stays by Cliff’s side when things take a turn for the worse. Stone keeps the mood tense throughout, helped immeasurably by the authentic shipboard setting. The film’s only deficit is an unnecessary voiceover, telling us about stuff we already know (yes, we can see the ship is sinking). Clocking in at a brief 91 minutes, this one doesn’t waste any time plunging us into the action (unlike another well-known sinking ship movie). Why isn’t this on Blu-ray already?

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Zero Hour! Poster

Zero Hour! (1957) Anyone acquainted with the 1980 aviation disaster parody to end all aviation disaster parodies, Airplane! (1980), will find the plot of this movie oddly familiar. Former World War II fighter pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) is still reliving the war, a dozen years later. His frustrated wife Ellen (Linda Darnell) leaves him, with their young son in tow. Somehow, he finds the plane they’ve boarded, purchasing a last-minute ticket in the hope of patching things up. Their relationship woes are moved to the back burner, however, when the pilot and co-pilot, along with several passengers (including his son) succumb to food poisoning. Suddenly, Stryker (who hasn’t been in a cockpit since the war) becomes their last hope. He’s forced to confront his inner demons and contempt for his old commanding officer Capt. Martin Treleaven (Sterling Hayden), while trying to fly an unfamiliar aircraft. It’s hard not to laugh at much of the corny, deadpan dialogue (some of which was lifted word-for-word for Airplane), but it’s mostly offset by some tense scenes, which make this worth checking out.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Earthquake Poster

Earthquake (1974) This bloated all-star disaster extravaganza set in Hollywood, is headed by Charlton Heston in the sort of hero role he does best, and George Kennedy as an unconventional cop. Ava Gardner plays Heston’s estranged wife, while Lorne Greene, who was only seven years her senior, plays her father. Genevieve Bujold is his girlfriend, and Richard Roundtree plays a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider, looking for his big break.  Walter Matthau chews the scenery as an inebriated pimp, providing some unfunny comic relief. The script by George Fox and Mario Puzo attempts to weave too many stories together, but its biggest flaw is that most of the characters aren’t very interesting. Earthquake’s biggest claim to fame was being the first movie presented in Universal’s auditory gimmick, Sensurround. Without it, it’s just a bore. It might be worth seeing once, for the wholesale devastation, although you’ll probably wish you watched something else.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Around the World Under the Sea Poster

Around the World Under the Sea (1966) Dr. Doug Standish (Lloyd Bridges) leads a crack team of scientists on a one-month submarine expedition. Their goal: to plant a network of sensors on the ocean floor for an experimental global early warning system. The cast is rounded out by Keenan Wynn as a cantankerous misanthrope, David McCallum as a computer genius, and Shirley Eaton as a marine biologist (despite her credentials, she’s viewed as a “distraction” by the sexist crew). Although the movie establishes the premise that there’s a worldwide crisis of multiple calamities to international coastlines, the story chooses to focus on the crew’s repetitive mission and the soap opera-worthy love interest story. Perhaps a better title would have been 20,000 Yawns Under the Sea.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

The Core Poster

The Core (2003) This big-budget Earth-in-peril movie banks on the perceived ignorance of its audience, although you don’t have to have a PhD in Geophysics to realize there’s something amiss. When the Earth’s core stops rotating, a team of researchers, led by college professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and ex-space shuttle commander Beck Childs (Hilary Swank) look for a way to give it a jump-start, to avoid the end of all life as we know it. Delroy Lindo plays the scientist who develops their vehicle (he only has three months to build something that’s supposed to take ten years), which can burrow into the Earth’s center. None of the characters are more than cardboard cutouts, reduced to one trait apiece, and the CGI effects are downright shoddy. My recommendation: see Crack in the World (1965), which covers similar ground (on a fraction of the budget, and with better special effects), instead.  

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime



  1. Great reviews, Barry!
    I've heard of zero hour and now I totally need to see it for obvious reasons. LOL

    And I could not agree more with you about the core. It took me years to see that movie and now I wish I had skipped it.

    1. Thanks, John! I think you'd really like Zero Hour! It's fun spotting all the dialogue used in Airplane ("I picked the wrong week to stop smoking."). An alternative title for The Core could've been "The Bore." ;)

  2. A while back I was nostalgia-triggered by a reference to one of the Airport movies, so I binged the whole series via a collection from the library. Also binged: Airplane! and The High and the Mighty ('54) with John Wayne and Cliff Robertson. It sounds like Zero Hour owes a lot to the earlier Wayne film.
    I remember when Earthquake debuted in theaters. It made a small tremor with the sensurround gimmick, but word-of-mouth killed it.
    Call me crazy, but I sort of liked The Core. It was an insane mix
    of big budget sci-fi with science that would have made a b-grade '50s sci-fi producer blush. But the movie's biggest disaster was the box office. :)

    1. Libraries are terrific resources. I also borrowed the Airport movie set from my local branch. Zero Hour is worth checking out. I need to look for The High and the Mighty to compare the two.

      I think Earthquake had a greater shelf life on TV. My memory is hazy, but I seem to recall it playing with added scenes, as a two-part event.

  3. Only seen Earthquake in this bunch and must admit I do have a soft spot for it for the afroed Victoria Principal in her pre-Dallas days. Also can't resist Ava Gardner in a disaster movie, especially after seeing The Cassandra Crossing (check out the review on my blog if you want to see why) and Charlton Heston in a disaster film. Thanks for my more tips to watch too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gill! Charlton Heston was such a ubiquitious fixture in '70s disaster movies that regret I wasn't able to cover them all. And speaking of Ava Gardner, I need to check out The Cassandra Crossing.