Category Archives: Drama

Bright Lights, Big City (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s hooked on cocaine.

Jamie (Michael J. Fox) is a 24-year-old living in the big city and working as a fact checker for a national magazine. He spends his evenings hanging out at the clubs and taking cocaine while also reeling from the break-up to his wife (Phoebe Cates) and death of his mother (Dianne Weist). As his addiction worsens he loses his job and his entire life unravels in a matter of a week.

The first half-hour is excellent as it gets the vibe of city life as well as the ‘80s subculture just right. The club scenes has an authentic feel and the stresses and politics at his job all ring true and this is a far better portrait of corporate life in the 80’s for the upwardly mobile than The Secret of My Succe$s, which Fox did just previous to this one.

The film also contains a few outlandish moments including a surreal one where Jaimie dreams of speaking to a fetus that is still inside a mother’s womb that is worth checking-out just for its amazing special effects. A later scene, where Fox and his friend Kiefer Sutherland release a ferret inside his former boss’ office, gets too wildly silly and should’ve been excised.

Fox is good in a difficult role and I liked the idea of this all-American young actor taking on a more edgy part. His youthful, clean-cut looks contrasted against the jaded backdrop of the nightlife helps make the shock effect even more profound as his personality slowly disintegrates. However, the scene where he tries to ‘reconcile’ with his ex-wife while she is on the runway modeling fashion clothes and in front of hundreds of people makes his character look ridiculous and irrational.

Cates is cute, but I didn’t like her short hair and she speaks only a few words during the whole thing although the part where she gets plaster smeared over her face and is only able to breathe through straws stuck in her noise is interesting. Swoosie Kurtz though as Jaimie’s loyal co-worker behaves in much too idealized fashion to be believable. If a woman invites a man over to her apartment for dinner it’s most likely because she has a romantic interest in him and will not be so selflessly gracious to want to sit around and listen to him go on-and-on about the break-up with his wife that he is still emotionally attached to, nor want to offer him money that she knows she’ll never get back.

Wiest as Jaimie’s mother is miscast as she looks too young to be his parent and in reality was only 13 years older than Fox. Having her character want to hear about her son’s sexual conquests with other females and even seemingly getting off on it as she listens to it is just plain odd and not like any mother I’ve ever seen. Her dying sequence comes off as contrived and something that was thrown in to get the audience to be sympathetic to its main character, but it proves pointless. A person doesn’t need the loss of a parent to become hooked on drugs as being around people that do it is enough of a motivator and the film would’ve been stronger and less glossy had it taken this approach and avoided the soap opera side-trips.

The shallow ending offers no insights except to say that ‘drugs are bad’. The drama gets so protracted that by the time our protagonist does have his meltdown, which is while attending a chic party, it feels more like a relief because it signals that the thing is finally coming to an end in a story that is too unfocused to be convincing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bridges

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Permanent Record (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coping with friend’s suicide.

David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) is a popular high school student who seems well on his way to a successful and happy life, but then unexpectedly he commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. Now his friends ponder about why they didn’t notice the signs and the news hits his best friend Chris (Keanu Reeves) particularly hard.

There were many movies dealing with the teen suicide issue that came out during the ‘80s and I remember watching one, a TV-movie called ‘Silence of the Heart’ starring Chad Lowe, in a social studies class at school. This film takes a slightly different approach from those in that it doesn’t concentrate on the motives of the victim, but instead analyzes how their actions affect the people that knew him.

It’s interesting to a degree, but the film glosses over too much and takes too long to get going. Quite a bit of time is spent watching David mopping around looking despondent and stressed, which is frustrating because the film doesn’t clue you in as to why he is feeling this way, so eventually his scenes start to have a redundant feel to them. It also gets annoying because if it is obvious to the viewer that David is struggling with inner turmoil, then why can’t his friends, who supposedly know him best, not pick up on these same signs as well?

The most irritating thing about the movie though is the presence of Reeves. Most of the teen characters in the film are believable, but Reeves unfortunately comes off too much like a caricature of his more famous airhead role in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Instead of being a young adult in-the-making like the others Reeves’ character is more the stereotypically grungy, metal head, stoner still stuck in juvenile purgatory and possessing every annoying teen cliché out there. Having him go from being a vapid adolescent to an introspective one was too much of a dramatic arch and I almost wished that his character had been the one that jumped since Boyce was the better actor. The scene involving the actual jump gets badly botched too and it’s Reeves’ presence that ruins it as he follows Boyce to the cliff unaware of what he is going to do and then overacts when he does, which makes what should be the film’s saddest moment unintentionally funny instead.

The ending is quite powerful, but everything else is sterile. Some intriguing issues are certainly brought up, but then never fully addressed. This is particularly true in regards to David’s family who seem to adjust from the shock much more quickly than any of his friends when in reality I would think they would be the ones to take it the hardest and should’ve been the focal point of the film while Reeves could’ve been pushed to the very back and seen only briefly.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Foxes (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Growing up too fast.

Four teenagers living in the San Fernando Valley face life in the fast lane. Madge (Marilyn Kagan) is the nerd who’s having a fling with a 30-year-old man (Randy Quaid). Deidre (Kandice Stroh) shifts from boyfriend to boyfriend while Annie (Cherrie Currie) is tormented by an abusive father and runs away from home only to get caught up in the drug scene. Jeanie (Jodie Foster) is the mature one of the bunch who tries to keep them from getting into too much trouble as well as getting them out of a jam when needed, but she has struggles of her own particularly dealing with her mother (Sally Kellerman) who brings home men who are virtual strangers to spend the night with and seems as lost and confused as Jeanie’s teen friends.

This marked Adrian Lyne’s feature film debut and from a purely cinematic perspective it’s intriguing. I liked the cinema vertite feel and in many ways this is an early forerunner to Larry Clarke’s groundbreaking Kids that came out 15 years later as the camera follows the teens around on their excursions without having any connected storyline nor does it try to make any moral judgement on what occurs. Instead it plays more like docudrama showing how things are without overdoing the shock value, but what I liked best was the fact that it portrays the adults as being just as screwed up and in certain ways even more lost while society at large is captured as being equally jaded to the point that the teens are simply reflecting the behaviors of the environment around them.

Probably the most surprising aspect is the part dealing with Madge, who is still in high school, having an ongoing relationship with a 30-year-old man, which the film treats as being no big deal. It’s not completely clear if Madge is 17 or 18, but many of today’s viewers will find the casual way the film approaches this topic, which includes an eventual wedding between the two that is happily attended by her friends, as being  ‘creepy’ and most likely a taboo storyline for any film made today.

The irony is that Madge ends up causing the most destruction in the relationship as Quaid’s character unwisely goes away on a business trip and allows her complete use of his place where she then decides to hold a party that gets expectedly out-of-control. It even includes a graphic fight breaking out that is portrayed quite brutally including having a girl hit and knocked down by another guy. This scene also features Laura Dern, in her first credited film role and wearing braces and glasses, as an awkward teen that crashes the place.

The casting of Foster and Scott Baio as her guy friend is interesting as the two had starred in quirky gangster comedy Bugsy Malone just 4 years earlier and the scene where the two have an ongoing conversation while walking around in a large, open junkyard is one of the best parts of the movie. Baio is initially fun as this geeky teen with limited social skills, but later on becomes this mini-hero with on a skateboard that gets too cute and Hollywood-like. Foster on the other hand is solid and it’s interesting seeing her playing a more emotionally vulnerable character and even at one point breaking down and crying.

The film manages to have a few interesting scenes here and there, but it takes too long to build any momentum and it’s never as compelling as it would like to be. There are also a few too many moments where it defaults to the contrived clichés, which hurts its efforts at gritty realism.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 29, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their friendship doesn’t last.

Little Fauss (Michael J. Pollard) is a motorbike racer who is shy, has few friends and still lives at home with his parents (Noah Beery Jr., Lucille Benson). Halsy (Robert Redford) is a brash womanizer whose been kicked out of the racing league for drinking on the track. He befriends the timid Little and conspires with him to race in his place while splitting the winning proceeds 50/50. Little’s parents do not approve of Halsy and feel that he will be a bad influence, but Little sees this as an opportunity to break away from his parent’s while befriending someone whose lifestyle he idolizes. Things start out poorly and only get worse particularly when the they meet up with the free-spirited Rita (Lauren Hutton) who chooses Halsy over Little despite the fact that Little has a crush on her.

The film has a nice gritty feel to it and the harsh desert landscape helps accentuate the hardened, rough living characters. The racing footage is also well done and just like with Downhill Racer, which was a film about skiing that Redford did just before this one, the viewer feels like they are in the middle of the action driving the motorbike along with the characters with wipeouts and crashes are real and at certain spots genuinely violent. I also enjoyed Benson and Beery’s performances and wished they had been in the film more as well as the opening tune sung by Johnny Cash although it became distracting when it gets played later on and should’ve been contained over the credits only.

Redford gives a stellar performance playing a character unlike any he has ever done and he does it convincingly to the point that the actor’s son in real-life considers this to be his father’s best onscreen achievement. Pollard though is solid too in a part that he seemed almost born to play. The two, who apparently didn’t get along well behind-the-scenes, play off each other in interesting ways and the movie only works when the two share the screen and is draggy when they don’t.

The story has its share of decent dramatic moments but it is also quite predictable. Redford’s character is completely unlikable and I would’ve liked one moment where he did or said something nice, or at least given us more of a background for why he turned out at being the way he was. The way Little outgrows the friendship and eventually becomes more confident and self-reliant is rather formulaic and like with most everything else in the film one can see coming long before it happens, which eventually makes the viewing experience of this thing feel almost like a nonevent.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 21, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

my-beautiful-laundrette-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple manage laundromat.

Genghis (Richard Graham) is a young Pakistani immigrant living in London and feeling frustrated by being trapped in his humble surroundings while living with his father (Roshan Seth) who due to his left leaning politics and alcoholism is unable to bring in any meaningful income. His Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) is doing quite well even though some of his methods are unscrupulous. Nasser gets Genghis a job at his car washing facility, but Genghis has loftier goals. He wants to take over the rundown laundromat that Nasser owns and turn it into a thriving business with the help of his gay lover Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Nasser agrees and is surprised to see what a success it becomes, but is unaware that Genghis and Johnny are funding it with the help of illegal drug money and Salim (Derrick Blanche) is onto their scheme and wants a part of the take.

The film’s screenplay was written by Hanif Kureishi who liked the title character came to Britain from Pakistan and has become a much celebrated playwright despite starting his career writing pornographic novels. The story brings out many complex issues that could prove fascinating to those unfamiliar with the political landscape of Great Britain during the Margaret Thatcher era. The problems and racism that those from Pakistan had to face in the U.K. are vividly brought to the forefront, but what is even more interesting is the pressures and loyalties that they were expected to follow amongst their own culture and families and how these could end up being just as conflicting and confining as those placed on them by the outside world.

I enjoyed many of the scenarios that the film brings out, but was frustrated that the story offers no conclusion to any of them. I was interested in seeing how Nasser would react to Genghis and Johnny’s relationship, but we never get to find out even though the film teases us with a scene where he begins to suspect it. There is also no conclusion as to what ultimately happens to their laundromat business, or whether they were successfully able to expand it, which again gets touched upon. We aren’t even able to find out if Salim was able to survive a vicious beating by some street punks or whether these same punks were ever brought to justice. Why bother bringing up all these story threads if they are just going to be left open and why should the viewer be sucked into the quandaries of these characters if it is all just leads to one big ambiguous ending?

Daniel Day-Lewis shot to stardom with his role here, but I didn’t really feel he had the body type to be considered a ‘tough guy’ or even a bouncer type. Sure he’s tall, but still pretty skinny and not exactly muscular. I also thought the trendy pseudo-hip getups and hairstyles that he and his gang have look tacky and I first saw this film back when it was released and I felt the same way about the outfits then that I do now.

The direction by an up-and-coming Stephen Frears is okay, but his use of a soundtrack that resembles the noise of a washing machine takes away from the gritty drama element that this story supposedly wants to be as does the onscreen opening and closing titles that spin around like clothes in a dryer.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: Working Title Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

twice-in-a-lifetime

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has an affair.

Harry MacKenzie (Gene Hackman) is a steel mill worker living in Seattle who has just turned 50. On the night of his birthday Kate (Ellen Burstyn), his wife of 30 years, tells him that he can go by himself to the local tavern to celebrate as she is not into the drinking. When he does he meets Audrey (Ann-Margret) who has just started working there. The two immediately hit-it-off and soon are in a relationship. When Harry finally tells his wife and family about it they are devastated, but learn to cope with it in unexpected ways.

The way Harry and Audrey’s relationship begins is too rushed as he simply spots her in a crowd and then quickly becomes entranced. If eyeing an attractive woman is all that it took then he should’ve been having a string of affairs way before this one. Making Audrey more of the instigator while Harry remained hesitant only to later realize how stale his marriage had gotten once the relationship started would’ve worked better. There is also no indication at the beginning that there was anything wrong with his marriage or that he was even bored with it.

It should’ve opened with Harry simply coming home one day and admitting to the affair and then focusing on everyone’s reactions, which would’ve been less contrived. I was also annoyed that two key scenes including when Kate first gets informed of the affair by a friend as well as Kate’s later confrontation with Harry are not shown. The film just cuts away before either of these conversations gets going, which to me was frustrating.

The second half is an improvement. I liked how the film sends the message that divorce isn’t always bad, but instead can act like a rebirth for both parties. I also enjoyed the on-location scenery of the Pacific Northwest and seeing Harry and Audrey sitting amongst a crowd at an actual Seattle Seahawks football game.

It was also great having Hackman playing a character that lacked confidence and at times was even socially awkward, but it’s Burstyn’s performance that really makes it special. Watching her shy character coming out-of- her-shell and learning to become independent is the film’s highlight. Unfortunately Amy Madigan as the eldest daughter is a turn-off as her angry outbursts come off as forced and overdone while the much quieter Ally Sheedy as the other daughter is far better.

Surprisingly no studio would agree to finance the picture even though the script was written by Colin Welland who had just won the Academy Award four years earlier for the film Chariots of Fire, so director Bud Yorkin was forced to put up his own money by using the earnings he had made through producing ‘All in the Family’, which helps explain why a clip from that show gets seen briefly. It could also be the reason why the production at times has a cheap look to it and like it had originally been shot of video and then later transferred to film. Paul McCartney, whom I’m a big fan of, does the closing tune, which unfortunately has to be the worst of his career.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 8, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Bud Yorkin Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

All the President’s Men (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They take down Nixon.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972 five men are found burglarizing the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Office complex in Washington D.C. The next day a young Washington Post reporter by the name of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is assigned to cover the case. Initially it was considered only a minor story, but as he digs further into the details he finds wider connections including links that lead directly to the White House. Together with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman),who is another reporter, the two men continue to research and end up battling one roadblock after another in their quest the uncover the truth.

If there is one area where this film really scores in it’s in the way that a journalist’s job gets portrayed. In fact many colleges show this film to their student who are majoring in the field in order to given them a realistic perspective of what the profession actually involves. For me I found it quite enlightening particularly the first hour. The many people and steps that a reporter has to go through just to get one solid lead is interesting as is the protocol system determining which story gets the front page and which don’t.

The layout of the newsroom was also fascinating as it all seemed very authentic and like they were working in an actual one. To my absolute shock I found out later that it had all been constructed on a film set, but so meticulously done that you couldn’t tell the difference. Initially several scenes were filmed in the real office using actual employees in the background, but the knowledge of being on camera made some behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t and this ultimately forced the filmmakers to decide to recreate it on a soundstage and use actors as the office crew.

The performances by the two leads are good, but neither of them resembles their real-life counterparts. Both Redford and Hoffman were already pushing 40 at the time and looking it while Woodward and Bernstein were still in their 20’s when this story occurred so the line that the Jack Warden’s character makes about these two being ‘young and hungry’ and looking for a good story to build their careers on doesn’t make as much sense.

The characters aren’t well fleshed out either. No time is spent on what these guys were like when not ardently following up leads, which is absolutely all we see them doing.  The original screenplay, which was written by Woodward and Bernstein, had a subplot involving the two trying to score with women, which would’ve helped add a comical touch and parts of that should’ve been kept in.

The second half lags as there are too many leads and names that get bantered about that don’t have faces connected to them making it seem like information overload that doesn’t help the viewer get as emotionally involved as they should. Having cutaways showing Nixon and/or is aides becoming increasingly more paranoid as the reporters closed in on them could’ve added that much needed extra dimension.

There is a stunning bird’s-eye shot of the inside of the Library of Congress, which is amazing and the fact that many of the scenes get filmed at the actual sites where the real-life instances occurred is both impressive and commendable. I also enjoyed the wide-array of recognizable faces that show up in bit parts including Valerie Curtain as a frightened source and Polly Holliday as an evasive secretary. They even cast Frank Wills the real-life security guard who broke the case wide open playing himself in the film’s opening scene, which is cool even though for me the film’s second half fails to be as entertaining as the first, which prevents it from being a classic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 19Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Scarface (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Refugee becomes drug lord.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is a Cuban refugee arriving in Miami hoping to make it big in the land of opportunity. At first he is forced to do low paying jobs, but finally gets his break when he is hired to do a job for a rich drug dealer named Frank Garcia (Robert Loggia). Soon Tony becomes infatuated with Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the two begin a torrid affair. When Frank tries to assassinate Tony by ordering a hit on him at a nightclub Tony gets his revenge by killing Frank and becoming the top drug lord, which makes him quite wealthy, but the strain of constantly having to watch his back for whoever may be out to get him eventually wears on his personality.

This is a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawk’s classic that came about when Pacino watched the original film in a theater and felt compelled to make a modern day update with the drugs being the source of the criminal activity instead of alcohol. The result is only so-so, but it gets helped immensely by an incredible set design. Tony’s all-black office and a luxurious hot tub placed in the middle of his already kitschy living room are eye-popping as are the chic and lively interiors of the nightclubs, posh restaurants and exotic resorts. The graphic shootouts are equally arresting and keenly shot and edited for ultimate excitement.

Director Brian De Palma again digs into his bag of borrowed Hitchcock shots in order to tell his story, but here it works pretty well. My favorite one is when he uses the camera to track outside of a room where the action is occurring and onto a quiet street below. Hitchcock did the same thing in Frenzy where the bad guy strangles a woman inside her apartment, but instead of showing the violent act the camera moves out of the apartment and onto a busy street outside. Here the camera takes an equally fascinating journey from a man getting chopped up by a chainsaw to an idyllic afternoon day just a few feet away.

The supporting cast is strong particularly Pfeiffer as Tony’s bitchy girlfriend whose ongoing acerbic responses act as a good barometer to Tony’s ever changing social standing. I also enjoyed the transformation of Loggia’s character from intimidating kingpin to wilting coward. Harris Yulin is also memorable as a corrupt cop who ends up playing things a little too cool for his own good.

The thing I hated about the movie was Pacino’s over-the-top performance. Normally I’ve found him to be a great actor, but here the character comes off as too cartoonish and one-dimensional. He possesses no interesting character arch and is creepy and unlikable from the beginning and proceeds to only get worse as it goes along, which makes following his rise and fall quite boring and predictable.

The runtime is too long and encompasses a lot of lulls in between the action bits in a story that seems to telegraph where it’s going right from the start. The Cubans are also portrayed in a negative and stereotypical way with only a slight attempt to balance it. Had it not been for the excellent production values this thing would’ve been a real bore.

I was also confused as to why Charles Durning’s voice gets dubbed in during a scene involving Tony’s conversation with an immigration officer. If De Palma was unhappy with the original actor’s performance as the immigration officer then he should have re-filmed it with Durning present instead of just using his voice because his style of speaking is quite distinctive and I was thrown out of the scene completely due to wondering why I was hearing Durning’s voice, but not seeing him.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The China Syndrome (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He senses the vibration.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television news reporter who along with Richard (Michael Douglas) her cameraman gets a chance to go inside a nuclear power plant and film its operations. While inside they witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown when the coolant to one of the nuclear reactors becomes dangerously low. Richard secretly films the nervous reactions of the men in the control room during the incident and wants to broadcast the footage on the news, but the station managers refuse for fear they might get sued. Later Kimberly comes into contact with Jack (Jack Lemmon) who is a shift supervisor at the plant and he informs her that the welds on the pumps are compromised and could lead to a core meltdown at some point. Richard, Kimberly and Jack then conspire to somehow get this information out to the public before it is too late while also avoiding those who wish to silence them.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is the way it remains completely realistic throughout and never once compromises anything simply for the sake of cheap drama. The behind-the-scenes politics of an on air news show is quite fascinating particularly how it is decided what constitutes ‘news’ and what doesn’t as well as the staff’s pecking-order and how an individual reporter has limited say on what topics they can actually report on.

The inside of the power plant is impressive particularly the scene where Jack goes inside the massive pump room to investigate a leak. The control room looks quite authentic and the film’s final twenty-five minutes take place solely inside of it, which makes for a gripping climax.

The film also has the distinction of having no musical soundtrack. Other than a song by Stephan Bishop which is played at the beginning there is no other music to be heard and quite frankly I didn’t miss it at all. The sound of the power plant’s emergency alarm going off is all that is needed to create tension and having the closing credits scroll to a deadening silence leaves a powerful impact. Apparently a score was composed by Michael Small, but it was rejected and rightly so as I listened to some of it and it had way too much of a disco sound and didn’t fit the theme at all.

The stars are excellent, but I was surprised how Fonda’s part gets increasingly pared down as the movie progresses. Douglas steals it away from her during an angry confrontation with his superiors, but ultimately Lemmon is the real star even though it deceptively doesn’t start out that way. The supporting cast is equally good including Wilford Brimley as a loyal, but quiet employee, Scott Brady as the cantankerous plant manager and Richard Herd as the steely and conniving owner.

As for the merits of the film’s message it’s hard to say. What was once a hot/trendy topic during the ‘70s and ‘80s now seems long forgotten. However, the script still brings up many good points no matter what one’s political leanings are and it’s great to watch a film that can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time without ever going overboard on either end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube