The Final Countdown – It’s About Time week

Yesterday I covered the good time travel films, Primer and Timecrimes. Today I want to cover the guilty pleasure one. The Final Countdown is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Final Countdown

 

The Final Countdown (1980) – Rated PG

What if a 1980s American aircraft carrier (with its modern firepower) time-warped back to Pacific waters just outside Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941? That’s the intriguing premise behind this sci-fi adventure that stars Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.”

“If the United States falls under attack our job is to defend her in the past, present and future.

One Line Review: Way too much teasing – for military fetishists only.

The Final Countdown is a guilty pleasure much like Under Siege. The Final Countdown is filmed on the actual aircraft carrier Nimitz. Under Siege was filmed on an actual battleship with the USS Alabama subbing in for the USS Missouri.

For military fetishists, we get to see hook landings, a general quarters call, and a barricade landing among other things. Special effects are primitive and minimalist. The lack of special effects means that all of that wonderful aerial stuntwork is all real. Footage of the Pearl Harbor attack is taken from Tora! Tora! Tora!

The cast is decent. Modern cast members include Kirk Douglas captaining the Nimitz, James Farentino as his CAG and Martin Sheen as a civilian troubleshooter. Ron “Superfly” O’Neal appears as Commander Thurman. 1941 cast members include Katharine Ross as Laurel Scott, Charles Durning as Senator Chapman, and Soon Tek-Oh as Simura. There is nothing wrong with the cast – it’s just that they are somewhat inconsequential. Much of the rest of the cast is filled by the real life crew of The Nimitz.

Unfortunately, much of the running time is taken up with should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-change-history discussions. The music mostly consists of a grating rah-rah score that made me cringe every time it started up. If they ever reboot this property, they’ll likely deep-six the talk and add in all kinds of CGI firefights. Ultimately the Final Countdown comes across as an extended Twilight Zone episode with a large budget.

People Watch: Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman appears as Lt. Commander Kaufman. Producer Peter Douglas (Kirk’s son) appears as Quartermaster.

 

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Trains = Money week

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Rated PG

Legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) display their gifts for perfect comedic timing and charisma as they pull off heist after heist in this Academy Award-winning film from director George Roy Hill. To evade a relentless posse, the boys flee to Bolivia, thinking they’ll find easier pickings there. But trouble finds the charming desperadoes wherever they go, prompting yet another run.

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”

George Roy Hill directed his masterpiece here from a script by the prolific William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Misery). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is only peripherally a western. It begins with a wonderful credits sequence alongside “footage” of the Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall gang and then segues into a nice sepia-toned scene followed by segueing into full color. Although Godfather II used sepia better, Butch predates Coppola’s film by several years. The film then touches on a few random events for the Wild Bunch before our three leads hightail it for Bolivia.

Butch Cassidy won four Oscars: Best Writing (William Goldman), Best Cinematography (Conrad Hall), Best Music (Burt Bacharach) and Best Song (Burt Bacharach, Raindrops Keep Fallin on my Head). It was also nominated for Best Sound, Best Director and Best Picture but lost to Hello,Dolly for Sound and Midnight Cowboy for director and picture. Please keep in mind that while Raindrops is now elevator fodder, it was very popular 40 years ago.

Paul Newman was already an ‘A’ lister when this came out but Butch Cassidy is probably the role he is best remembered for. Robert Redford had a few lead roles before this but this is the movie that made him a star. Their camaraderie is infectious and would lead to them being paired again in The Sting (also by George Roy Hill). Katherine Ross fills out the requisite romantic triangle as Etta Place.

There are plenty of other people in the film but this is primarily a vehicle for Newman and Redford – even Katharine Ross seems pushed to the side at time. George Furth as Woodcock provides several laughs and Ted Cassidy makes a good foil as Harvey Logan. Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars would seem to point to this being a comedy and while Butch is quite funny in spots, it is more of a light drama than a comedy.

George Roy Hill keeps the atmosphere very light in spite of the story being that of the downfall of the Hole in the Wall gang. We never see what happens to any of the members after Butch and Sundance head for Bolivia but trust me, historically it does not go well for any of them.

Sidenote: For a marvelous postscript to this story, see the independent film Blackthorn starring Sam Shepard or put it in your Netflix DVD queue.

People Watch: Perennial westerner Sam Elliott makes his film debut as Card Player #2. He would eventually marry co-star Katherine Ross although they didn’t meet until they filmed The Legacy (1978).

The Swarm – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone Wild! week. The Swarm is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Swarm

AVOID: The Swarm – NR – Not rated. The theatrical version was rated PG and this version adds more content but as near as I could tell not more objectionable material.

“Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) and his crack team of scientists attempt to intervene when swarms of voracious killer bees begin attacking a number of cities in Texas, and an army general (Richard Widmark) threatens to use military firepower against this force of nature. This doomsday epic buzzes with an all-star cast, including Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda.”

“I never dreamed it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.”

“We have been invaded, by an enemy far more lethal than any human force.”

“Until we have destroyed the African bee. Or it has destroyed us.”

As you may have noticed I have rated this AVOID as any sane person should. However I must admit to having enjoyed the stupidity of this film immensely. This is a great big slice of 70s cheese and boy does it stink.

The plot holes practically define the film so this must be Swiss cheese. Right off the bat the military discovers Dr. Crane in the middle of the command center of a semi-secret military base. He has been following the bees and claims he just walked right in after everyone was killed off.

Later Dr. Crane needs some specimens of the swarm which is somewhat odd since he is right there in the base where the swarm killed everyone. Are you telling me the base was wiped out and then the bees carried away their dead?

Later still Jud Hawkins (Slim Pickens) arrives and threatens to shut off the water to the base if he doesn’t get to see his son. Rather than detain him, General Slater figures that they’d better do what he says. What?!? Of course I’m glad they did because one of the most hilarious scenes in the film is Slim Pickens crying over the Hefty bag his son is in.

Crane has one bee to work with. Seriously one bee and they have a room full of body-bagged soldiers. Did anyone read the script before they filmed this?

As they’re playing back the surveillance tapes, you can clearly hear the swarm. Dr. Crane asks, ‘what’s that?’ so I tell him it’s the swarm obviously – where did you get your PhD? in a box of crackerjack?

Three boys go out hunting for the bees. They find them just out of town swarming everywhere. There is no mistaking them but one of the boys needs to use his binoculars to see what is filling the whole screen.

Still later Crane figures out that the bees showed up at the base less than 30 seconds after the base tested a siren. Earlier they indicated that the swarm was traveling at 7 miles an hour. Alright I’ll let you do the math but that pretty much means the bees had to be on the base already.

Crane sees three clouds of bees – all three are headed in completely different directions and Crane says the bees are headed straight for Marysville. That’s okay though because while the bees have no problem wiping out an underground military base, they seem to have difficulty getting into buildings.

They take the survivors of Marysville and pack them all on a train. I’d tell you what happens next but I have to stop with the ridiculous plot now before I get into spoilers. I imagine you  can guess though.

The cast is absolutely first rate even if they don’t put in good performances. Michael Caine headlines the scientists and really chews up the scenery. Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain appear as scientists. The townspeople are played by Fred MacMurray (his last film), Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens. The military is represented by Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, and Bradford Dillman.

The theatrical version was 116 minutes – this is the extended version and runs a whopping 155 minutes. The extra time is not kind to this film – it makes it seem to go on forever. Netflix has also brought this in a nice widescreen ratio so you can properly appreciate this disaster.

Unless you have a taste for truly terrible movies, avoid this movie. Please note: while this film worked fine on my computer, it was glitchy on my Roku box about 37 minutes in. Inexplicably this movie was actually nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

People Watch: Jose Ferrer appears briefly as Dr. Andrews and Cameron Mitchell plays General Thompson.