Geostorm 2017 ***

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Gerry Butler’s name is so synonymous with so-bad-it’s good films that he’s likely to gain a cult status alongside his status as a box office draw. Dean Devlin’s Geostorm made over $220 million at the box-office worldwide, despite being identified by pretty much everyone as a turkey. But what a greased and freshly basted turkey it is; Butler plays Jake Lawson a satellite designer who has created ‘Dutch Boy’, a climate control system which protects the world from the potential ravages of climate change. A farcical exposition dump establishing this unlikely scenario ends with Jake being hauled before the U.S. Senate and getting his knuckles rapped for his fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants attitude. But Jake has no chance to sulk, because his brother Max (bad movie eminence grise Jim Sturgess) gets wind that someone is sabotaging Dutch Boy, creating abnormal weather conditions. Jake heads straight to the International Space Station to sort things out in a whodunit scenario, while Max stays on earth to wrestle with his boss (Ed Harris) and the President (Andy Garcia). Geostorm bears evidence of multiple reshoots, rewrites and a general lack of confidence in paper-thin material; an Independence Day-style spectacle is the intention, but Devlin’s film works best as a comedy, which several notably silly scenes particularly the risible limo vs rocket launcher action scene and Jake and Max creating secret school-boy conversational codes to avoid surveillance-camera attention. Geostorm feels more like a parody than a real movie; all concerned would rather you forgot it, but it finally crept out on DVD and VOD last year.

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The Cassandra Crossing 1976 ***

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George P Costmatos’s 1976 film marked the start of the slow decline of the disaster movie; it’s the kind of all star extravaganza that defies logic and credulity, but the packaging is consistently entertaining. Richard Harris play a divorced couple who end up by chance on the same trail; they’ve picked the worst possible transportation, since there’s a plague carrier on board, not to mention a seriously weakened bridge to negotiate. There’s also a motely collection of actors doing their thing, including OJ Simpson, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner and John Phillip Law. McKenzie (Burt Lancaster) is trying to cover up the outbreak, with disastrous results; Cosmatos is intent on using the tropes of a conspiracy thriller to knit the disparate elements together, and the result is chaotic but enjoyable; continually on rotation on British and American television throughout the eighties, The Cassandra Crossing is one of these daft films indelibly branded into the consciousness of several generations.

 

Pompeii 2014 ***

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The much derided Paul WS Anderson is something of a throwback in that he makes great bad movies in the 70’s vein; after his similarly anachronistic Three Musketeers, Pompeii comes on like a vintage 70’s disaster movie garnished with modern CGI. The result isn’t a good movie per se, but it’s highly enjoyable.  Kit Harington is Milo, a slave who comes to Pompeii to fight Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in the gladiatorial ring, but various bursts of steam and fire indicate that this personal battle will be put aside as survival tactic to avoid massive waves of lava take priority. Standing in the way of Milo’s romance with Cassia (Emily Browning) is Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who gives a lip-smacking lisping performance that recalls Michael Palin in Life of Brian and recalls some of the wilder antics of his father Donald. Pompeii resolves itself in a series of spectacular explosions and tidal waves, and while Anderson doesn’t have the patience of the build-up that features in Titanic, the way the storylines get engulfed in fire and water is vintage Hollywood. Pompeii is something of a glorious ruin of a film, and yet it would be hard to argue that audiences won’t be entertained, if not always for the right reasons.

Meteor 1979 ***

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‘You can’t cover this up under a blanket of shit!’ an enraged Sean Connery tells an agog United Nations at one point in Ronald Neame’s comic masterpiece of a disaster movie from 1979.  Connery plays a scientist who discovers a meteor the size of a city is heading for earth, and manages to warm up US/USSR relations to organise a missile strike to blow the rock to smithereens. Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Henry Fonda stare at screens while variable effects depict the arrival of various fragments on earth. The main effect involves the entire cast being smothered in what appears to be liquid excrement, presumably the blanket that Connery is referring to. A relic of Cold War politics, Meteor was responsible for the ruining of AIP studios, but it’s a fun time-passer for disaster movie addicts.

Airport 80: The Concorde ***

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A camp classic from the ‘so-bad-its-good’ file, David Lowell Rich’s franchise killer can now be enjoyed as a comedy classic. It’s a indication of the idiocy involved that George Kennedy’s Joe Patrioni, responsible for clearing the runway in the first film, is now promoted to flying to Concorde from Washington DC to Paris, and then to Moscow, while Robert Wagner attempts to shoot it down with guided missiles. The cast is random rather than eclectic, featuring Sylvia Kristel, Charo, David Warner, Mercedes McCambridge and Alain Delon as Patrioni’s co-pilot, and the scenes in which the pilots shoot down missiles with flare gun through open cockpit windows while flying at supersonic speeds defy logic, invention and the woeful blue-screen work of the special effect team.

Fearless 1992 ****

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Director Peter Weir has a raft of significant work on his CV, from Witness to Dead Poet’s Society and The Truman Show, but he made his name with the haunting disappearing schoolgirl drama Picnic At Hanging Rock, and he brings the same austere quality to this drama, scripted by Raphael Yglesias from his own book. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, the sole survivor of a graphically realized air-crash, who finds himself wandering the earth wondering why he made it out of the wreckage. His relationship with Carla (Rosie Perez) offers an unusual redemption, and the scene in which he demonstrates how she could never have saved her own child is gut-wrenching. Throwaway images, like Bridges standing on the edge of a building’s roof, or blithely walking onto the off-ramp from a busy motorway, play with Max’s sense of his own immortality, and his sudden passion for strawberries pays off in a thought-provoking and unfairly overlooked drama, with bridges at his best.

Rollercoaster 1977 ***

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The always worthwhile George Segal provides a strong centre to this delightfully cheesy 1977 disaster movie, in which a mad bomber (Timothy Bottoms) leads the authorities in a merry dance with a series of radio-controlled explosions in amusement parks across the US. The authorities, in the form of Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, are stumped, but Segal’s chain-smoking detective Harry Calder is quick off the mark in reading the situation and tracking the killer down. Rollercoaster peaks far too early with gruesome carnage as a packed rollercoaster smashes into an unsuspecting crowd, but there’s plenty of minor pleasures in the police procedural that follows. Helen Hunt plays Calder’s teenage daughter, and James Goldstone directs methodically.