Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“2012” (2009) Review

“2012” (2009) REVIEW

Last year, I found myself desperate to see any movie during that dismal Fall/Winter movie season. The opportunity to see a possibly entertaining movie finally arose when two of them – ”PIRATE RADIO” and ”2012” – were released in theaters. I had intended to see ”PIRATE RADIO” first. But it was not playing at the theater that we found ourselves attending. And we ended up watching ”2012”

”2012” turned out to be another one of those science-fiction oriented disaster films directed and co-written by Roland Emerich. This is the same man who had directed such films as (1996) “INDEPENDENCE DAY”(1998) “GODZILLA”(1999) “THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR” and (2004) “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”. Now ”2012” centered around a myth about the Mayan calendar, in which certain Western scholars claimed that the world will face a cataclysmic disaster in the year 2012. Mind you, I suspect that the whole world will end in 2012” scenario may have been misinterpreted. There are other beliefs regarding the Mayan calendar. Some believe that the Mayan calendar is supposed to interpret a positive physical or spiritual transformation for the planet, marking the beginning of a new era. And there are modern Mayan scholars who believe that 2012 is largely irrelevant, claiming that classic Maya sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean. Apparently Emmerich and fellow screenwriter, Harald Klaser, decided to explore the disaster scenario.

The story began in 2009 with a visit to India by American scientist Adrian Hemlsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who learns from his friend and colleague Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) that neutrinos from a solar flare were causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rapidly increase. This discovery set off a chain of events in which the world’s leaders – including U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) – to collaborate upon a secret project that will ensure the continuity of humanity by choosing 400,000 people for admission aboard a series of large ships or hydraulic arks being constructed in the Himalayas. To help fund the venture, additional individuals were allowed to purchase passage aboard these arks for one billion euros apiece.

By the time the secret project near completion in 2012, a Los Angeles writer and part-time driver for a Russian billionaire named Jackson Curtis (John Cusak) learned about the Mayan myth and the possibility of the world’s future, along with the secret project from a hermit and conspiracy theorist named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), while vacationing with his kids at Yellowstone National Park. After Jackson returned his kids to his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her live-in boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson realized that Frost might be right about an upcoming apocalypse when he drove his employer’s twin sons to the airport. Jackson purchased a small plane and convinced Kate and Gordon to get the kids and escape from Los Angeles with him. Fortunately, Gordon turned out to be an amateur pilot and they escaped from a California sliding into the Pacific following a series of devastating earthquakes. The group returned to the Yellowstone Park in order to learn about the location of the secret project from Frost. After learning that particular information, Jackson and the others barely escape the destruction of Yellowstone and made tracks for Las Vegas and later, China and the Himalayans. Meanwhile, Adrian learned that the Earth’s destruction may come a lot sooner than he and Satnam had surmised. The world leaders and certain members of the population also head for China.

What can I say about ”2010”? Come on. It is a Roland Emmerich disaster film. Which meant that it had disasters of epic proportions, slightly cheesy dialogue and science that was probably more fiction than fact. A Roland Emmerich disaster film also insured a cast of . . . well, many roles in various subplots, including one that featured a fractured American family. And considering that I have seen these very same aspects in other Emmerich films, I should have been bored with ”2012”. Hell, I have read some posts and reviews on the Web that the movie lacked originality. And yet . . . I enjoyed ”2012” very much.

Both Emmerich and Klaser had created a solid script that provided detailed accounts of the three-year countdown to 2012, the disasters that unfolded and the major characters’ experiences in dealing with those same disasters. They also did an exceptional job in detailing the journey that took Jackson, his family and Gordon from Los Angeles to the Himalayas. I also enjoyed the clashes between Adrian and President Wilson’s ruthless and self-serving Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt). Their quarrels focused upon one of the movie’s main themes that centered on humanity’s willingness for compassion toward others. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the scenes that featured intimate moments between some of the characters. These scenes provided some excellent acting from the likes of John Cusak, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Thomas McCarthy, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Woody Harrelson, Osric Chau, Oliver Platt and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor. They included:

*Ejiofor and Mankuma gave wonderfully poignant performances as Adrian Helmsley and his father Harry, when the pair have their last conversation via telephone.

*Both Cusak and Harrelson were hilarious in a funny scene that featured Jackson’s attempt to acquire the location of the special project from an excited Charlie Frost.

*Another poignant scene featured performances from Osric Chau and Henry O as Tibetan monk Nima and his mentor Lama Rinpoche, as the former failed to convince the latter about the upcoming apocalypse.

*Danny Glover gave an excellent performance as President Wilson giving his last televised speech. Wilson’s last conversation with his daughter Laura provided as scene that allowed not only Glover to shine, but Thandie Newton as well.

*George Segal was solid as Tony Delgatto, Harry Helmsley’s singing partner, agonizing over the fate of his estranged son and family in Japan.

*Amanda Peet shone in an emotional scene in which her character, Kate Curtis, revealed the angst she had to endure during the Curtis’ marriage.

*And once more, Cusak had another wonderful scene . . . this time with Thomas McCarthy, as former rivals Jackson and Gordon finally make their peace with one another.

*And Ejiofor was superb in a scene in which Adrian attempted to convince the other G8 world leaders to allow those people left behind at the Himalayan dock to board the ship.

Emmerich and Klaser’s script also provided plenty of opportunity for cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Barry Chusid and the special effects team supervised by Mike Vézina to provide some astounding visuals of world locations being destroyed by natural disasters brought about by the apocalypse. I found the scenes that featured the destruction of Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas, Rome, a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean and Washington D.C. astounding. But there were two sequences that nearly blew my mind. One featured the Curtis family and Gordon’s spectacular escape from the Yellowstone National Park after Jackson had acquired the information he needed from Frost. The other, which I believe proved to be the piece de resistance, featured Jackson, his family and Gordon’s initial escape from Southern California. Not only did I find it breathtaking, but also a little creepy. I happened to be from that particular area.

Did I have any complaints about ”2012”? Well, I have already mentioned a few. I agree with those critics who had complained about the movie’s lack of originality. There were many traits in the plot that I have seen in other Roland Emmerich films – traits that included cheesy dialogue, the role of the selfish and uncompassionate Presidential aide (this time being portrayed by Oliver Platt), the noble scientist (Ejiofor), a fractured American family pulled together by a natural disaster (the Curtises), the friendly non-American colleague/ally of noble scientist. Yes, I have seen them all in previous Emmerich movies. One day, perhaps the director/writer might be a little more original in any future disaster movie. Who knows? I was also annoyed by the movie’s big finale. It featured the series of incidents (including being struck by a wave from a tsunami) that left the hydraulic ark with the Curtises, Adrian Helmsley and Laura Wilson on board drifting helplessly toward a fatal collision with a half-sunk Mount Everest. Frankly, I found the entire sequence somewhat contrived and annoying. It was just a bit too much.

I suspect that many movie critics will continue to complain that ”2012” lacked originality. And they would be right to do so. And they are also right to complaint about the questionable science featured in the movie. But you know what? I do not care. I thought that despite its flaws, ”2012” was a pretty damn good movie with an entertaining and nail-biting plot. The movie can also boast some solid acting by its cast – especially a first-rate performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – exciting action sequences and superb visual effects. In other words, I enjoyed ”2012” so much that I hope to see it again. Oh . . . and I do plan to finally see “PIRATE RADIO” as soon as I can.

“THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008) Review

 

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“THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008) Review

In 2005, director/writer Christopher Nolan had rebooted the Batman franchise with the highly successful movie, ”BATMAN BEGINS” that starred Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader. Both men reunited three years later for a new story centered around Batman’s conflict with his greatest nemesis, Joker in this sequel called ”THE DARK KNIGHT”

There had been a great deal of attention surrounding this movie. Many have not only praised it, claiming that it is better than the 2005 movie. But most of the word-of-mouth centered around Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, especially after his tragic death two years ago. When ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was finally released, many critics and fans expressed the belief that the positive word-of-mouth had been justified. Not only have many judged Ledger’s performance as the best in his career, others have claimed that the movie is probably the best Comic Book Hero movie ever made. I do not know if the Joker featured Heath Ledger’s best performance ever. As for the claim about ”THE DARK KNIGHT” being the best comic book hero movie . . . I do not agree.

I am not saying that ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was a terrible or mediocre film. Frankly, I believe that it was one of the best movies I have seen this summer. Most of the movie featured an excellent story scripted by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, in which Gotham’s organized criminal element has found itself threatened by the law ever since the end of the Falsone family in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, thanks to Batman (Bale). A former inmate of Arkham Asylum named the Joker (Ledger) approaches the crime bosses, which include Salvatore “Sal” Maroni (Eric Roberts), with an offer to kill Batman for pay. At the same time, Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) contemplate including the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in their plan to eradicate the mob, as he could be the public hero Batman cannot be. Harvey Dent is found to be dating Wayne’s childhood friend and object of romantic desire, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This conflict between Batman, the Joker and their allies escalates to a tragic and well-directed dénouement that leads to Rachel’s death. And it is here where I believe that the movie faltered.

”THE DARK KNIGHT” could have ended with Rachel’s death, followed by the Joker’s manipulation of a grieving Harvey Dent into madness and his eventual capture or death. Instead, the Nolan brothers and Goyer allowed the Joker to escape and continued the story with Dent’s vengeful hunt for those he considered responsible for Rachel’s death and the Joker resorting to a Green Goblin situation involving two ferryboats packed with explosives. The situation involved him telling the passengers on each that the only way to save themselves is to trigger the explosives on the other ferry; otherwise, at midnight he will destroy them both remotely. All of this occurred during the movie’s last half hour and quite frankly, it was a half hour I could have done without. I found the entire ferryboats sequence so unbelievable and contrived. It seemed as if Nolan teased us with the possibility of seeing the darker side of the average citizen . . . and wimped out, because he would rather stroke the ego of his moviegoers with some “nobility of man” bullshit by allowing the passengers refuse to blow or try to blow each other to kingdom come, instead of telling the truth about human nature. Very disappointing. It would have been more interesting or darker if Batman had prevented the passengers from blowing up the boats at the last minute. Batman would have saved the people, but the Joker would have proven a point.

A fan had pointed out that the ending of the sequence was Nolan’s message about leaving a sliver of hope for the audience that human beings do have the capacity to do good things. I realize that this was Nolan’s aim, but this is a message that has been done to death by moviegoers for eons. The problem is that screenwriters and moviemakers are always giving moviegoers this “sliver of hope”. They call themselves pointing out the dark side of humanity and then they pervert these messages by allowing them to come out of the mouths from villains like the Joker, before the latter is eventually proven wrong. It just seems like a cop out to me. Which was why I found the whole ferryboat sequence something of a joke. Sure, human beings are capable of doing some good. But in that particular situation? I rather doubt it. If there is one trait that humanity possess, it is a talent for self-preservation. It would have been more realistic to me if the boats had detonated or Batman had prevented this before anyone on one or both of those boats and activated the bombs. Granted, Batman/Bruce Wayne would have been disappointed in Gotham’s citizens, but he would have learned a valuable lesson about the very people he calls himself protecting. Even better, I would have preferred if Nolan had never added that sequence in the first place.

As for Harvey Dent’s hunt for those he deemed responsible for Rachel’s death . . . I would have been more satisfied if Nolan and his co-writers had ended the movie with Dent’s eventual slide into darkness in that hospital room and saved his transformation into a twisted vigilante and arch villain in a third Batman film. This would have prevented the movie from being unnecessarily a half hour long. And it would have saved the talented Aaron Eckhart for the third film as “Two-Faced” Harvey. It would have also spared moviegoers of that ludicrous ending in which Batman and Gordon decided to allow the former assume blame of Dent’s crimes in order to save the reputation of the D.A. I am still stunned by this little plot development. What were the Nolan brothers thinking? Why was it so necessary to save Dent’s reputation in the first place? Did Batman and Gordon harbored such a low opinion of Gotham’s citizens that they had to treat the latter like children?

The performances in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” were basically superb. Christian Bale beautifully captured the growing dilemma of Bruce Wayne’s desire for a normal life with Rachel Dawes, juxtaposed with his role as Gotham’s costumed vigilante and his growing power over the city’s criminal element, thanks to his alliance with police lieutenant James Gordon and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. There is one aspect of Bale’s performance I did not like – namely the growling tone he used, while in the Batman persona. I did not care for it in ”BATMAN BEGINS”. I cared for it even less in this film.

I have noticed how many have expressed the view that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Rachel Dawes was better than Katie Holmes in the 2005 film. Personally, I did not see much of a difference in the quality of their performances. Both actresses gave good, solid performances. But . . . the screenwriters’ portrayal of Rachel in this film disappointed me. They had turned her characters into an object. She was Bruce Wayne’s prize for giving up the Batman persona, as soon as he could get Dent to assume the role of Gotham’s “hero”. She was Dent’s love interest, Girl Friday and a reason to go on a rampage for Dent. And for the Joker, she was a means to get at Batman, once he realized how the latter felt about her. There were times when Rachel’s character almost seemed irrelevant and a sad decline from the legal and moral dynamo that Holmes had portrayed in ”BATMAN BEGINS”.

Heath Ledger as the Joker. What can I say? The man was brilliant. He made Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like chump change. Honestly. One of the reasons why I have never care for the Joker character in the past was due to his over-the-top persona. Cesar Romero’s Joker has never impressed me, regardless of the numerous insane clown laughs he had utilized. Nicholson’s Joker was too over-the-top for my tastes. As one can see, I do not have a love for overly theatrical characters, unless they are done right. Granted, Ledger portrayed the Joker as over-the-top. But somehow . . . I really do not know how to describe it. Somehow, he managed to infuse some kind of control in the character’s insanity – not only with his behavior, but also with a talent for emotional manipulation and the views he had spouted to Batman and other characters. Do I believe that the Joker was Ledger’s best performance? No. I believe that the character was one of his two best performances, the other being Ennis DelMar from 2005’s ”BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. Do I believe that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance, despite his death? Hmmmm . . . yes. He was that good.

The other truly superb performance came from Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. One of Eckhart’s virtues was that he formed an excellent screen chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Frankly, I found their romance more believable than her relationship with Bruce Wayne. Eckhart projected a great deal of magnetism, charm and intensity into his portrayal of Dent. But I was more impressed by the way he expressed Dent’s descent into vengeful madness, following Rachel’s death. Granted, this turn of his character occurred in the movie’s last half hour. Although I disliked the movie’s last half hour, Eckhart’s performance in it almost made it bearable.

Gary Oldman, Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow) all reprised their roles from the first film. All four gave solid performances, but only Oldman’s role as James Gordon seemed bigger. I found Gordon’s fake death somewhat contrived and manipulative. Aside from the creation of the Rachel Dawes character, everything about the two Batman movies directed by Nolan have adhered to the Batman canon. Which is why I found it difficult to believe that Gordon was dead. Alfred’s role seemed to have diminished from the first film. Freeman’s Lucius Fox is now quite aware that Bruce is Batman and seemed to be acting as the latter’s armourer, as well as Wayne Enterprises’ CEO. The only problem I had with the Fox character was his opposition against Wayne/Batman’s development an advanced surveillance system that can listen in and track the movement of any of the thousands of cell phones in the city. I found the whole scenario contrived. As much as I had enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Dr. Crane/the Scarecrow in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, I found his less than ten minutes appearance in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” a waste of the actor’s time . . . and mine.

Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard returned to score the sequel. I must admit that I had been impressed by their work in ”BATMAN BEGINS” and had expected another exceptional score by them. Unfortunately, I barely remembered the score. I understand that they had rehashed the original score for this movie and added a new theme or two. But it all came off as unmemorable for me.

”THE DARK KNIGHT” had the potential to be this summer’s best film. But there were some aspects – the portrayal of Rachel Dawes’ character, Zimmer and Newton Howard’s score, the portrayal of some of the minor characters and the contrived writing that dominated the movie’s last half hour – that I believe had ruined the movie’s chances of achieving this potential. Fortunately, the virtues outweighed the flaws and in the end, ”THE DARK KNIGHT” managed to remain first-rate and become – in my view – one of the better films from the summer of 2008.