The China Syndrome (1979, James Bridges)

Silly attempt at a Pakula-style paranoid thriller collapses under its own importance. Michael Douglas stars in the film–probably one of his first high profile roles–and produces it too. China Syndrome proves who’s responsible for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (if it wasn’t Kesey) and it isn’t Douglas. Syndrome doesn’t have a firm protagonist, it starts focused on Jane Fonda’s reporter (who exists in a situation not dissimilar to Anchorman, down to the parties) and then moves over to Jack Lemmon. Lemmon does a good job, but he’s hardly got anything to work with. He eats sandwiches a lot. At least Fonda has a pet turtle.

Since the film’s so heavy–and not even in a misdirected way, it’s all about the evils of big business–that it needs some humanity and doesn’t have any. Why bother saving Southern California from a nuclear disaster if it’s only filled with corporate heels and terrible Michael Douglas performances. I should have had some idea, of course, since I’ve seen Bridges’ most famous film, The Paper Chase. It too is full of shit, but almost nothing can describe how full of shit The China Syndrome truly gets. The end is laugh out loud funny.

However, Wilford Brimley shows up and does a great job. It’s his first movie, actually. Or one of them. Wow, poor guy. He was only fifty-one in Cocoon. Talk about getting type-cast early.

Oh, reading on IMDb. Richard Dreyfuss was originally going to be in it, then common sense intruded. The China Syndrome is really a case of too many writers being involved in a project and none of them being good. Bridges is a decent enough director, just can’t write compelling human conflicts.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bridges; written by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook and Bridges; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by David Rawlins; production design, George Jenkins; produced by Michael Douglas; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich) and Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler).


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Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004, Yukisada Isao)

Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl, girl gets sick.

Crying Out Love has a frame too: boy never gets over it and still hasn’t, twenty years later, when he’s engaged to be married. The engagement actually doesn’t set off the story, some of the silly plot contrivances do, but it doesn’t really matter. Crying Out Love succeeds where most films of its sort fail–it creates a good teenage love story. It does it small and it does it with good acting. The kid in it, whose name you can find on IMDb if you care (he hasn’t been in anything else), is fantastic, so’s the girl. Even the acting in the modern day is good, it’s just that the character never worked himself out, so it’s sort of unbelievable that anyone would want to marry him. It’s adapted from a romance novel and I’ll bet the fiancée has a limp in it too–but I bet she isn’t supposed to be so good-looking.

Of course, the film falls apart once the girl gets sick, mostly because it’s no longer from the kid’s perspective. The perspective just loafs around after that point and there’s something at the very end that’s bad, but I don’t even remember what now and I just finished watching it five or six minutes ago. It’s also incredibly predictable.

The director is a complete champ, however, and that alone would make the film worth watching. But, it’s got the good acting to top it off.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Yukisada, Sakamoto Yuji and Itou Chihiro, based on a novel by Katayama Kyouichi; director of photography, Shinoda Noboru; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Meyna Co.; produced by Haruna Kei and Ichikawa Minami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Osawa Takao (Sakutaro), Nagasawa Masami (Aki), Moriyama Mirai (Teenage Sakutaro), Shibasaki Kou (Ritsuko), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Shigezou) and Takahashi Issei (Ryunosuke).


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Scream (1996, Wes Craven), the director’s cut

Poor Matthew Lillard, he was already looking way too old to be a teenager in this one (he was twenty-six). I probably haven’t seen Scream since 2000 or so, sometime before the third one came out. Maybe even further back than that. What I’m trying to say is… I’d actually forgotten how bad Skeet Ulrich is. He’s incredible.

I haven’t been able to see Scream since laserdisc, because there’s an unrated cut that Disney refuses to release stateside. There’s some extra gore and a Freddy Krueger cameo–which is in bad taste if you think about it–nothing to really “enhance” the experience. Still, Nicheflix got the Japanese disc so I rented it (when I was a kid, I had a similar problem with Aliens–my dad had the director’s cut on laser, and I had the theatrical cut VHS, these problems only got worse once I understood letterboxing).

Scream‘s not bad. Wes Craven is a good director (though his cinematographer on Scream couldn’t stop lens distortion, which is kind of embarrassing, if you think about it). The performances run hot and cold. Lillard, for example, is good briefly, not when he’s being loud and obnoxious. He’s such a fantastic, sincere actor, but he never gets roles for anything but the loud prick. Jamie Kennedy–I’d forgotten I even knew who this guy was–is fairly obnoxious and shitty. Courteney Cox, David Arquette, even Rose McGowan, they’re all okay, nothing better. Henry Winkler cameos and is fantastic. The most troubling aspect of Scream isn’t the acting–not even Ulrich–but how indifferent its characters are to death around them. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but a comparison between Scream and O would probably be worthwhile. Scream puts no value on human life….

And no, I’m not going to make a comment about how awful Drew Barrymore was. I could, but I won’t.

Scream does have an important factor, however. One so important, I don’t think I can just dismiss the film. Neve Campbell is an unspeakably wonderful actor. I guess I’d forgotten or it hadn’t occurred to me that my memory of her ability was correct. She’s astoundingly good. I’ve just run through my Blockbuster Online queue and added all her films.

Wait… shit. I had something else. Neve Campbell’s great, Drew Barrymore sucks. Not another Skeet Ulrich joke–what was it….

Nope, I’ve lost it. Damn.

Oh. I remember. Never mind.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley), Matthew Lillard (Stuart Macher), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), Joseph Whipp (Sheriff Burke), Lawrence Hecht (Neil Prescott) and Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary).


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Dave (1993, Ivan Reitman)

I love scenes where actors eat. There’s a great scene in Dave with Sigourney Weaver eating a sandwich. Great stuff.

It occurred to me, while watching the film, that, while it’s still cute, it’s already a relic and it’s only twelve years old. The idea of a person wanting to be President in order to help other people, to help the less fortunate. It isn’t just that Bush is a nitwit, ass clown, he’s also viciously unkind to the very idea of helping people. At the end of Dave, when the pseudo-Capra moments filled me, altruism filled me and I wanted to be President. The sensation lasted a second or two, which is the longest it’s lasted… probably since the last time I saw Dave, or maybe when I saw Waking the Dead or something. I love how movies about politicians have to be set in the past. Except “The West Wing,” but that’s not a movie and I don’t watch it anymore, anyway.

Then reality caught up. While Kevin Kline is great throughout the film, Gary Ross’s screenplay wastes the first half, barely featuring the best parts of the film: Kline and Weaver’s relationship, Kline and Ving Rhames’ relationship, and Kline and Charles Grodin’s relationship. Wow, do I ever miss Charles Grodin. Watching him again almost made me want to try watching The Heartbreak Kid again, then my senses returned. The whole film is perfectly cast, but the front section is too heavy with Frank Langella’s villain. Langella’s great, but it’s not where the film’s meaty. Dave‘s at its best when Weaver’s around. Her scenes let the audience connect with the incredible situation (so do some of Rhames’, but not as many) and let the film approach real poignancy.

If you can believe a film about an American President who doesn’t like murdering brown people, which, historically speaking, isn’t likely.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by Gary Ross; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Lauren Shuler-Donner and Reitman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Kline (Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell), Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Mitchell), Frank Langella (Bob Alexander), Kevin Dunn (Alan Reed), Ving Rhames (Duane Stevensen), Ben Kingsley (Vice President Nance), Charles Grodin (Murray Blum), Faith Prince (Alice), Laura Linney (Randi) and Bonnie Hunt (White House Tour Guide).


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