Tag Archives: Wilford Brimley

The China Syndrome (1979)

china-syndrome

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

10 to Midnight (1983)

10tomidnight

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the nude.

Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) has little luck with women and kills those who have previously rejected his advances and does so while being completely in the nude. Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) is the cop on his case, but doesn’t have enough evidence to arrest him, so he decides to steal some of the blood sample from Warren’s latest victim, which is being stored at the police lab and is the very rare AB type and plant it on Warren’s clothing when he is not in his apartment. Warren is then brought in for questioning and when police find the clothing and blood evidence he is arrested, but Leo eventually admits to planting the evidence and is fired. The incensed Warren decides to get his revenge by going after Leo’s grown daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) and it is up to Leo to try and stop him before it is too late.

The film has an interesting twist to the Dirty Harry police-type dramas that too many times were solely focused on the renegade cop doing whatever it takes to bring in the bad guy no matter how many rules he broke in the process. However, this film nicely explores to an extent the reason for due process and how an overzealous cop can sometimes be more of the problem than the solution. Unfortunately it is not enough to save it as the majority of the movie is too routine and mechanical.

The action segments are unexciting and poorly directed. The scene where one of Warren’s victims just stands there whimpering while making no attempt to struggle and fight back seems artificial and dull. The final foot chase between Warren and Laurie looks staged and photographed in a way that offers no tension.

Davis is boring as the villain and has a deer-in-headlights look. His body movements are stiff and robotic and he delivers his lines in a monotone fashion. His pretty-boy male model face adds nothing and his nude scenes, which are shown only from the back does not add the spark that was intended. A good thriller needs a bad-guy actor that commands the screen, but Davis doesn’t even come close and makes Bronson who isn’t considered all that strong of an actor to begin with look brilliant by comparison. This film could have been much stronger had an established and talented character actor been given the role like John Malkovich or John Turturro.

Andrew Stevens is adequate as Leo’s young by-the-book partner, but Eilbacher is quite dull. Wilford Brimley adds some personality as an investigator, but is underused and Geoffrey Lewis scores a few points as Steven’s conniving lawyer.

There is a scene where Leo and Andrew are driving along and having a conversation inside an unmarked squad car that brought to mind one of my biggest pet peeves, which are characters in movies never wearing their seatbelts. I have always worn mine whether I am in my car or someone else’s and of course these days it is the law, but it seems almost insane that police characters wouldn’t especially since they could be careening down the street at high speeds at any second if they are suddenly dispatched to a crime scene. Having them not wear seatbelts does not make them look anymore macho and instead makes them come off as stupid and reckless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video