Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! May Santa bring you everything you are wishing for, and may the spirit of the season remind you why we celebrate this time of year. :D

P.S. With things going better finally, I'm hoping to start a more regular schedule in January again.
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Friday, December 19, 2014

FilmFriday: Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor is an excellent film and I definitely recommend seeing it. It is the best of the Iraq/Afghanistan films by far, and there is a reason for that: this film doesn’t impugn the motives of the good guys. That said, however, this is a hard film to watch because of the subject matter. It is hard to see monsters like the Taliban prevail over good men.


Directed by Peter Berg and staring Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor is the true story of a four-man SEAL team reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, as told by the mission’s sole survivor, Marcus Luttrell. The mission in question was to track down Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, who had masterminded the killing of numerous Marines in the prior weeks.
The film begins by introducing us to the soldiers, who are played by Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsh and Ben Foster, and their support team, which includes Eric Bana as their area leader. The team is then dropped into the mountains in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. The team locates the village where Shah is believed to be quartered and they begin their observation, though they are having serious communications problems with their home base.

Before the team can move in on Shah, however, a goat herder and his sons come across the SEALs. The SEALs capture them and debate what to do about them. They know that if they let them go, the Afghans will run straight to Shah and report their presence. That will ruin the mission and get them killed. But they can’t hold them prisoner either if they want to accomplish their mission. Thus, a debate begins about killing them. Ultimately, however, the team decides this would be wrong and they let the herder go.
Shortly thereafter, the SEALs find themselves hunted in the mountains by hundreds of Taliban fighters. As the title suggests, all but Luttrell are eventually killed. Luttrell somehow finds his way to another Afghan village, where the villagers protect him as required by their religious beliefs which require the protection of guests. Another battle ensues.

My Thoughts

My first thought about this film was simple: this was the Iraqi/Afghan film the public wanted to see. This film showed the hardships and hard choices these men faced. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but it doesn’t make the good guys into villains either. It also explains why they were there, both by showing how evil the bad guys are and how there are good Afghans too who need protection. Had Hollywood focused on films like this, rather than trying to slander and politicize these wars, then their track record wouldn’t be an unmitigated list of failed films. But Hollywood couldn’t help themselves and their box office results show the consequences. This film, by the way, made $143 million on a $40 million budget, and has blown away every other post 9/11 war film.

Interestingly, the film isn’t without an anti-war bent either. In fact, in the key scene, you see Navy SEALs debating the murder of a goat herder and his sons. Prior to the rest of the 9/11 films, this likely would have shocked and outraged American audiences, but here it doesn’t feel anti-American at all. To the contrary, it really ultimately shows that these guy choose ethics and morality over common sense, and that kind of makes you proud seeing how much they risk to do the right thing.

The film also shows Americans getting overwhelmed and killed. That too would have been shocking before the other 9/11 films, but here it just goes to highlight the horrible missions we are asking these guys to undertake. This isn’t a statement on American troops being unprepared or incompetent, it is a statement of the odds these men face every day.
So while the film has some things that would have shocked us in 2000, today they don’t. And even then, I think they wouldn’t have outraged us in 2000 so much as they would have just felt more “realistic.” The reason these things don’t outrage us, unlike similar things in other Iraqi films, is that the ethics, patriotism and motivations of the Americans are never at issue in this film. There is no suggestion that these guys want to torture people, that they are trying to steal oil or other resources, or that they hate all Afghans because they are racists. These are genuinely good guys caught in a crappy situation. That’s why audiences responded well to this, but rejected the rest of Hollywood’s Iraq/Afghanistan sewage.

My next thought is that I hated watching this film. Don’t get me wrong, this was a strong and compelling film. It was well shot, well acted and well written. The highs are high and the lows are low and the film is super thoughtful. It is an excellent film.

...but, I hated watching this film because of the subject matter. It sucks thinking that these guys, with so much to offer the world, died fighting such animals. It sucks knowing that these creatures will continue long after we’ve gone, killing and torturing and destroying everything and everyone their sick religion doesn’t like. It sucks knowing that there are great men of courage, like Mohammad Gulab, who saved Luttrell and protected him, who must now fear being destroyed by the animals who form the Taliban. That’s not how life should be.
Basically, this is a great film with a very depressing and outraging subject matter. It makes you proud of the good guys, but depressed that the bad guys probably will one day prevail, and it makes you sick that these people exist.

Finally, I will say that the one problem I had with the film was that I have seen so much in reality TV on the Discovery Channel (and the such) that it’s hard for films to have the same impact. It’s hard to compete with the real thing, and many of the documentaries about the men who fight these wars are very compelling. This one, however, does hit home as it is a true story, and they do end the film by showing you the real men... a very sad moment.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Movie Executives Are Despicable People

Hollywood studio exes are assh*les! Really? They say racist and obnoxious things? SHOCKING!!! They hate the smug stars with whom they work? I'm stunned! Actually, I'm not.

For those who don't know, a group of hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace ("GOP") hacked Sony's computer network and made off with a ton of information related to their studio operations. This includes employee data, phone numbers, aliases used by stars, complete scripts, budgets and emails. The suspicion is that this was done by North Korea in retaliation for Sony releasing a film called The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play film producers who attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un... who had his uncle eaten by dogs and looks like the nerd who sings "Gangam Style."

Anyway, for the past few weeks, they've been releasing these emails bit by bit, freaking out everyone in Hollywood. What the emails have shown is that much of what we suspected about Hollywood is true: it is populated by vile, hateful people. Indeed, read the following and tell me if you see a pattern:
● Sony pays its male executives a lot more than they pay their female executives.

● Sony lobbies against Google (which they call Googliath) out of spite in retaliation for Google not doing enough, in their opinion, to stop pirates.

● More movies make money than Sony admits publicly.

● Many of these emails were written by illiterate executives who don't know the difference between words like lose/loose, their/there/they're, and to/too. Foul language is the order of the day.

● Sony employees don't like Adam Sandler films, which they consider "formulaic"... though I wonder what they produce that isn't formulaic.

● Studio execs called Angelina Jolie "a spoiled brat" and complained about "the insanity and rampaging spoiled ego of this woman." When one exec was told to get Jolie's project under control, the response was: "DO NOT FUCKING THREATEN ME"

● The head of Sony pictures only knew Michael Fassbender because of the size of his penis, which he had seen on screen.

● They describe Leonardo DiCaprio as "actually despicable."

● Despite contributing heavily to Obama and supporting him, studio execs engaged in a racist discussion in which they tried to come up with a list of films Obama must like, each of which involved black actors.

● Studio co-boss Amy Pascal implied that actors adopt black orphans as accessories, and she described stars looking to work in television instead of in film as "the new black baby."

● Studio execs called Kevin Hart, who is black, "a whore."

● Studio execs described David O. Russell, who directed American Hustle, as "a loon" who "got in trouble" for feeling up his teenage transgender niece.
And so on. In response to this, these executives have claimed that these emails are not who they really are as people. Yeah right.

I find this interesting on many levels. First, the most obvious is that these studio execs are clearly odious people. They are hateful backstabbers who lie, in-fight, and think nothing of openly racist behavior. Yet when confronted with their own shameful actions, rather than being shamed, they claim "this isn't who I really am!" That's delusional. Of all things, you are the person you act like in private among people you view as confidantes.

Further, keep in mind how liberals react to suggestions of racism. When it's someone they don't like, they feel happy convicting you on the basis of their own belief about what must be in your mind. The slightest hint of verbalizing something as these people have done would bring instant groupthink howls that the person must be an unrepentant racist, followed by calls for termination of employment and social blacklisting. Yet as these are good liberals who give money to Obama, this will be excused with an apology. Is it any wonder, the public no longer buys claims of racism from leftists? Also, is it any wonder that leftists think everyone must be racists, as they clearly are?

Next, how blind do they need to be to attack a Sandler film for being formulaic, but somehow not see that every... other... film... they... produce... is formulaic these days? Not to mention, how do people who can't spell or choose their words correctly end up with power in the film industry?

None of this is surprising. Hollywood loves to be smug and liberal, but every time the curtain is pulled back we see evidence of racism, sexism, and corporate privilege. We see hypocrisy, perversion, and the worst traits of humanity offered up as evidence of superiority. This is just more of the same; it is nothing new, and it explains why Hollywood has devolved to the point that it can no longer tell a good story... because the shit floated to the top.
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Where Were You in ’85?

by ScottDS

My, my, my, where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday I was researching 1984, which is considered one of the best years for movies. As we move into 2015 (and with no hoverboards in sight), let us revisit 1985. As usual, the list mainly consists of genre pieces – nothing too prestigious!

Back to the Future – [sigh] This movie. It seems to be more popular now than it was upon its release 30 years ago. It’s an American classic, with a smart screenplay, fun characters, memorable dialogue, a soaring music score, and a wonderful “what if?” story at the center of it. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Michael J. Fox plays teenager Marty McFly who travels back in time in a DeLorean and endangers his own existence. If you ask me politely at a party where alcohol is being served, I might just quote the damn thing near-verbatim! “Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?”

Better Off Dead – I joined this particular cult rather late, having seen it for the first time 10 years ago. Check out Andrew’s review for the plot details. Needless to say, I enjoy the hell out of this movie. The whole thing just has this cool low-key vibe of a first-time writer/director (Savage Steve Holland) playing around with the ideas in his head. It's just a shame Holland is stuck in Disney TV land. The characters are likeable, Diane Franklin is adorable, some of the gags are downright bizarre, and one highlight is David Ogden Stiers as John Cusack’s dad… he plays it with the perfect amount of deadpan. “The K-12 dude. You make a gnarly run like that and girls will get sterile just looking at you.”

Brazil – Terry Gilliam’s dystopian masterpiece features Jonathan Pryce as a lovelorn office drone. As a design student, there are a handful of films I turn to when I need inspiration and this is one of them – it’s one of the most elaborate and detailed movies ever made. The screenplay has some genuine intelligence and wit (gotta love Tom Stoppard’s wordplay) and the acting is generally excellent… though I must admit things get a bit bonkers in the second half. Liberals and conservatives see each other in the film, and that suits me just fine! And the behind the scenes battles between Gilliam and the studio are the stuff of legend. “But I could be anybody.” “No you couldn't, sir.”

Explorers – Joe Dante’s sci-fi tale is fun for the whole family. Ethan Hawke (in his film debut) plays a sci-fi-obsessed teenager who’s been having dreams of a mysterious circuit board. After putting it together with his genius friend (River Phoenix, in his film debut), they realize they’re able to create a spaceship. With a third friend, they take the ship out one night and are intercepted by aliens. I loved this movie as a kid and it still holds up, but the ending just sits there. The studio didn’t let Dante finish the movie – the final version is a work in progress with characters and entire subplots missing. Having said that, the kids are likable, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is sublime, and Dante regulars Dick Miller and Robert Picardo show up, too. “If this is all a dream, what's gonna happen when we wake up?”

Clue – A genuine cult classic, back when the idea of making a film based on something as dumb as a board game was a risk and not Hollywood’s standard operating procedure!! I'm not an expert on much of Jonathan Lynn's work but of the films he's directed (including My Cousin Vinny), this has to be the best written of them all. The screenplay (by Lynn, from a concept by John Landis) is full of wonderful wordplay, the likes of which you don’t get very often today. The characters – obviously based on their game counterparts – are all given (somewhat) realistic backstories and the actors make it look effortless. And Colleen Camp has never been hotter! I first saw this film in Los Angeles, done Rocky Horror-style, with performers acting out the film on stage as it played on the screen behind them. “I was in the hall. I know because I was there.”

The Color Purple – This was Steven Spielberg’s eighth movie and to call it a change of pace would be an understatement. (It’s also the only Spielberg film not scored by John Williams). I confess I have yet to see it in its entirety – only bits on TV. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, the film tells the story of Celie Harris, a young black woman in the south during the early 20th century. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey make their film debuts as Celie and Sofia, respectively. Per usual for Spielberg, the film is well-made and well-shot (at least from what I’ve seen) and, of course, the usual suspects wondered how a white Jewish director could make a movie about the female African-American experience. Some things never change. “I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here.”

Commando – I went through an 80s kick on Netflix a few years ago and I had so much fun watching this cheesefest! Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix – JOHN MATRIX!!!! – an ex-Special Forces something or other who has to rescue his daughter after she’s kidnapped by mercenaries… but does it matter? This is Schwarzenegger in his prime, just one year after The Terminator. There’s blood and explosions and crazy stunts and every conceivable weapon. And it might sound sacrilegious but this might be Arnie’s most quotable movie. He even gets in “I’ll be back”! Rae Dawn Chong assists Arnold on his mission and Vernon Wells plays the chainmail-clad bad guy, who gets one of my favorite lines: “John, I’m not going to shoot you between the eyes. I’m going to shoot you between the balls!”

National Lampoon’s European Vacation – This merely-okay sequel seems to get lost between the original film and Christmas Vacation. The Griswolds – Chevy Chase as Clark, Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen, and two new kids – win an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe and everything that can go wrong does. Honestly, I only remember a couple of things, including the roundabout gag (“There’s Big Ben! And Parliament!”) and that there’s more nudity than you’d get in a PG-13 movie today, because f--- the MPAA. Watch for some familiar faces, including John Astin as a game show host, Eric Idle as a bicyclist who receives the brunt of Clark’s buffoonery, and the late British comedian Mel Smith as a slimy motel clerk. Not much to say… maybe it’s due for a re-watch. “Honey, we're not normal people. We're the Griswolds.”

Death Wish 3 – For some folks, the Death Wish films are totally repulsive. For others, they’re pure entertainment, albeit with diminishing returns. Enter Death Wish 3, the last one directed by Michael Winner. It’s sleazy and dumb and you wonder how Charles Bronson’s character always manages to get into trouble, not to mention everyone close to him is raped or killed. This time, Paul Kersey is back in New York visiting an old war buddy… who is promptly killed by a local gang (whose members dress up like fans at a Warriors convention). The film becomes senior citizens vs. punks and Bronson is assisted by Martin Balsam as a WW2 vet who keeps a Browning machine gun in his closet. Obviously. And despite taking place in New York, the film was shot in England and it shows. “I'm going out for some ice cream... this is America, isn't it?”

Into the Night – This obscure curiosity by John Landis has always fascinated me for some reason. It tells the story of an insomniac (Jeff Goldblum) who encounters a young model named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s on the run from the SAVAK (Iran’s secret police). What follows is a strange series of capers, close calls, wrong turns, and other misadventures, all over the course of a night and a day in Los Angeles. Landis was known for casting other filmmakers in his movies and this one is no exception: Jim Henson, Amy Heckerling, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, make-up FX guru Rick Baker, etc. Landis himself – who was dealing with the aftermath of the Twilight Zone tragedy – plays a SAVAK goon. The biggest name in the cast is actually David Bowie, who plays a sadistic British hitman. This movie is weird but watchable. “Why can't I sleep?”

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – Another childhood (and, uh, adulthood) favorite. Paul Reubens created the character of Pee-Wee Herman while at The Groundlings. This led to an acclaimed stage show, which was followed by a Saturday morning series for kids. This film – which also put Tim Burton and Danny Elfman on the map – tells a simple story of a man searching for his lost bike. Elfman’s score, inspired by Rota and Herrmann, is larger than life while the stop-motion gags and clown routines are pure Burton. Jan Hooks (who sadly passed away a month ago) is hilarious as an Alamo tour guide and the late, great Phil Hartman – who was part of the original Groundlings team – shows up at the end and also co-wrote the film with Reubens. “I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Rocky IV – More wonderful 80s cheese! This time it’s Rocky vs. Russia as we meet Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union’s top boxer. He kills Apollo Creed in the ring and Rocky decides to fight Drago to avenge his friend and defend his country. This isn’t a movie – it’s a series of montages with some filler in between. But man, it’s so much fun. Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, and Burt Young return and Dolph Lundgren makes for an imposing presence. I still can’t get over Rocky’s birthday gift to Paulie: a robot. Yes, he buys the man a robot. I always assumed the robot was a Soviet spy and if the film were made today, the robot would no doubt get its own spinoff movie. “I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

A View to a Kill – The crappiest Bond movie until Die Another Day came along. Bond (Roger Moore in his final Bond film) investigates tycoon Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) who plans to destroy Silicon Valley which would give him a monopoly on the microchip industry. Everyone just looks tired in this one. Tanya Roberts is hot but doesn’t contribute much, Walken is uncharacteristically understated, and Grace Jones is…, well, she’s Grace Jones. Tech stuff is all top-notch but the rear-projection looks awfully dated, especially considering the technical leaps made in FX in this decade. Duran Duran’s theme song is a highlight, though. “You have exactly 35 minutes to get properly dressed, 007.”

The Purple Rose of Cairo – One of Woody Allen’s most charming movies, it tells the story of a Depression-era waitress who goes to see a movie, only for the lead character to notice her in the audience and leave the black and white movie screen for the colorful real world. Mia Farrow (naturally) plays Cecilia and Jeff Daniels plays Tom Baxter, an archeologist. Everything is fine until Gil Shepherd (Daniels), the actor who plays Baxter, learns of what happens. Cecilia must choose between the real actor or the fictional character. Woody Allen has said this is one of the few films of his that actually turned out the way he wanted it when he started writing. “You make love without fading out?”

Weird Science – Gotta love that Oingo Boingo theme song! John Hughes’ sci-fi tale features Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as Gary and Wyatt, two nerds who use the power of computers to create their own perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock)… and then all hell breaks loose. Robert Downey Jr. shows up as the nerds’ nemesis and Bill Paxton steals the show as Wyatt’s older brother Chet. This film also taught a generation that the best protective gear is a bra on your head. I’m sure the inevitable remake will be twice as big and only half as good. “You know, there's going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing.”

Also: After Hours, The Black Cauldron, The Breakfast Club, Blood Simple, Cocoon, D.A.R.Y.L., Day of the Dead, Desperately Seeking Susan, Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, Fright Night, The Goonies, Jagged Edge, Lifeforce, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pale Rider, Prizzi's Honor, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Spies Like Us, and Witness.

Will 2015 prove to be as memorable? We’re getting a new Jurassic Park, a new Terminator, and a new Star Wars. What year is it again??
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Friday, December 5, 2014

Film Friday: Monuments Men (2014)

I should have loved Monuments Men. It had so many things in it that I usually love. The cast is great. The idea is solid. The production values are first rate. And it's obvious this film was made with the idea of creating something lasting rather than yet another Big Shiny. But this film just bored me. Sad.

The Plot

Loosely based on the non-fiction book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” Monuments Men is the story of a unit of Allied soldier during World War II, who were assigned the task of tracking down all the great art works the Nazis plundered from the lands they conquered and to save them from destruction as the war came to a close and the desperate Nazis were destroying or hiding these things to cover their tracks.
The unit, called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program, was created by FDR at the urging of Frank Stokes (George Clooney), who convinced FDR that letting the Nazis destroy the artistic history of Western Civilization would amount to a disaster, even if the Allies won the war. Stokes is directed to assemble a unit of museum directors, curators and art historians to find these treasures and make sure they are ultimately returned to their rightful owners. Joining him are the likes of John Goodman, Bill Murray and Matt Damon. The film follows their efforts.

On the other side of the story is Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French museum curator who has been forced to assist Nazi Viktor Stahl as he finds and steals great art for Hitler and his cronies like Goering. Her brother is a resistance fighter who seems to specialize in stealing these items back.
The film is largely disguised episodic in nature with a loose narrative tying these events together. The main theme seems to be the resistance of regular soldiers to helping Clooney's team, and the plotlines tend to involve them learning the location of some missing art and then going to find it. Toward the end of the film, the team discovers that the Nazis are hiding vast amounts of art in abandoned mines. They must get to this art before the Soviets do, or the Soviets will steal it and take it back to Russia as a “war reparations.” They also capture Stahl and there are a couple moments where they briefly walk into combat scenes.

Why This Film Didn’t Work

The film received mixed to negative reviews. The Guardian said there were too many characters and the film never felt satisfying because it sent them all off to do little tasks, which often weren’t that interesting. The consensus at Rotten Tomatoes was that the film has “noble intentions” and a great cast, but they couldn’t overcome the “stiffly nostalgic tone and the curiously slack dialog.” Some Spanish rag called it “Hollywood war propaganda.” Yeah, leave Hitler alone, Hollywood! On the other hand, Rolling Stone liked it, calling it a movie about “aspiration” and “a proudly untrendy, uncynical movie.” Talk about true irony! Rolling Stone peddles pure cynicism and always has.
In any event, many of these critics have put their fingers on part of the problem: this film relies too heavily on its premise to sell the film rather than its execution. This was the same problem in The Family, which I reviewed recently, and with most of Clooney’s other recent films. Look, I like Clooney and I want to like his films, but in film after film it feels like he thinks that the concept itself is strong enough that he doesn’t need to offer more than his character walking through the film, discovering the concept and then acting upset or outraged at what he discovered, see e.g. Syrianna, Burn Before Reading, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Solaris, Michael Clayton, etc. These are all films with great concepts, solid casts and much promise, but they underwhelm as they end up more like a series of vignettes rather than real plots, and they rely on the audience feeling shocked that such things exist rather than feeling entertained by the plot.
Shocking audiences with something they never guessed existed before is a great start to any story. In fact, if you can find such a story premise, you are a major step ahead of all the formulaic crap out there. But that is only a beginning. For Monuments Men to be entertaining, they needed to develop the characters, put them into some sort of situation of conflict, and take us on that journey to resolve it one way or another. This film never does it.

For starters, as noted by the critics, there are too many characters for us to focus on which characters to care about. They try to make up for this by giving us actors who come with a history of goodwill already in place. This includes guys like Bill Murray and John Goodman and Clooney himself and Matt Damon. But liking the actors doesn’t compensate when I can’t tell you who the characters they played are or what they did. Moreover, I have to say that my goodwill for Murray and Damon is long gone and my goodwill for Clooney is waning.
So the audience doesn’t know who to care about or why or even what they really do that the others don’t. And that’s the next problem: we know in a broad sense what these guys do, but the film never manages to make it seem challenging. To the contrary, they seem to get tips from out of the blue. They never need to fight their way into those areas. The other American soldiers don’t seem to like them, but they don’t really stand in their way. The Nazis all surrender quickly and seem harmless as villains. Even the race against the Soviets is never presented as a race so much as a theoretical challenge.

The end result of this is that characters you don’t know or care about follow tips that seem to fall from Heaven and are always right to go pick up treasures with no genuine obstacles standing in their way. That’s not exciting... it’s not interesting. I honestly suspect that a documentary would have managed to be more exciting than this film turned out to be, and that’s sad.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ultimate Airport Dubai

Fifty years ago, Dubai International Airport was nothing but desert. Today, it’s a major modern transportation hub which sits within one direct flight of 90% of the world’s population. It also still sits in a desert and faces unique problems because of that. In Ultimate Airport Dubai, you get a fascinating look behind the scenes of this amazing airport and I highly recommend it.

Ultimate Airport Dubai is a reality television series that follows a group of employees around the Dubai International Airport (DIA) as they go about their daily jobs. These jobs include managing air traffic, managing the movement of cargo and luggage, customer handling, aircraft maintenance, and the construction of a brand new terminal. See, this airport, already the largest building on earth by floor space (360 football fields in size), is too small to meet Dubai’s ambitious plans for the future, so they are expanding it.
How much are they expanding it? Right now, the airport handles 340,000 flights a year, carrying 57 million passengers and 2 million tons of cargo... making it the third busiest airport in the world. They want to add another 15 million passengers a year. To that end, they’ve hired 18,000 construction workers to build the new terminal. This new terminal will then add to the 60,000 employees who already work at the airport. Interestingly, almost every single employee you see is an ex-pat, and the reason is that over 80% of the people who live in Dubai are ex-pats.

The story is fascinating.
Let’s start with the basics. This one has everything a “reality” show should have. It has amazing imagery; this airport is meant to impress and it does, and Dubai is mysterious. Moreover, the camera work gives you fascinating perspectives you will never get any other way. The writing/editing is solid. The drama is relevant to the topic too; everything focuses on the problems the employees face on the job. This is good because it results in a real feeling that you are being let into the true challenges of running this airport and solving its unique problems, rather than chasing tangential issues like the personal problems of the employees. The pacing is excellent too and the story never slows or drags. To the contrary, the story hits you so hard and fast that it's impossible to turn your eyes away. Additionally, there is such a wealth of detail crammed into the story that you feel like you need to watch it 2-3 times just to get it all. Finally, the people they follow are interesting and likeable, which makes the show enjoyable, and it has a solid, serious narrator who knows when to stay out of the action.
In fact, the people are really interesting and quickly make you interested in them. For example, you have the construction manager who is run ragged and must navigate a series of subcontractors who are much less dedicated than he is. You wonder if he will ever pull off his Herculean task. You have the engineering crew who must tear these planes apart and reassemble them. You have the cargo manager for whom every landing is a race against the clock as he tracks missing bags, the bags of missing passengers, missing cargo and other cargo that has gone wrong in some manner. All the while, he risks costing a plane its takeoff slot.
There are more too. You have the hostess who must juggle a million passenger complaints, violent passengers, sick passengers, missing passengers, and the complexities of rebooking people who often fall between the cracks and find themselves stuck at the airport. You have the customs officer who must be on the look out for drugs and black magic. And so on.
All of that makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. But the topic is the real gem. The story of this airport is a fascinating topic. It is a hidden world you knew nothing about before you set out to watch the show and it is an amazing world... a world of high engineering, human error, rules and the bending of rules, all taking place in this hidden world wrapped in the enigma of being set in Dubai with all of its idiosyncrasies and mysteries. So much of what we think we know about the Middle East isn't true here, but so much also is. And seeing it all take place amidst such intense opulence is just fascinating. This show is enthralling and I absolutely recommend it.

The one word of caution is that it’s not easy to find. It’s on NatGeo during the days right now, but seems to come and go. If you can’t find it there, it is on Youtube: Ultimate Airport Dubai.

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