Movie Reviews

Paul’s Mini-Reviews #7

Mini Movie Reviews


“The China Syndrome” (1979)

For once, I was completely wrong about a film. Based off of the name and the basic premise I heard about this film, I expected it to be about a radiation outbreak that began at a news studio and the reporter who spread the disease. What I got was much better, with multiple stories and points of view.

Much like “Wall Street,” someone could easily get lost by all the talk of radiation containment and news studio speak. Unlike “Wall Street” however, this is not the only type of dialogue throughout the film, as the head of the nuclear plant emotions run high and we can sense the dread and horror through their expressions and tone. While the reporters and cameramen are anxious to get their story of a near reactor meltdown out to the public, but their superiors won’t let them due to legal ramifications.

The driving point behind “The China Syndrome,” aside from the constant sense of conspiracy, is where does one draw the line. The reporter, Kimberly (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman, Richard (Michael Douglas), video tape the control room during the near meltdown when they weren’t allowed to. The nuclear plant attempts to keep the incident under wraps, but Kimberly wants to take this story on air so that the public can know. Due to the journalistic code, they can’t air the footage because it was unauthorized and they have no leads willing to come forward. Yet this is something that the public needs to know about – their lives were in danger and the nuclear plant could threaten everyone in a 500-mile radius again. So, do you follow the journalistic rules and not show the story that could endanger millions of lives, or compromise your principles and run the story anyway?

“The China Syndrome” is a tense and gripping piece about making difficult decisions that could threat the public, while also offering some great performances by Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. I think the story around Lemmon’s character uncovering the truth behind the near meltdown is the stronger piece, but both certainly have a lot to offer.

Final Grade: B


“Viva Zapata!” (1952)

This tale of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s started out well enough. We follow one of the leaders of the rebellion (Marlon Brando), who wants nothing more than for his people to be free to live their lives in the land they’ve called home for centuries, only for all that to get lost in a bid for power and control over the land.

Made all the more interesting with intense performances by Brando and Anthony Quinn, the film moves at a brisk pace and does not get bogged down in the politics of the revolution. That is until Zapata climbs the ranks the new leadership and it becomes a power bid to become the leader of the new Mexico. Zapata does not want any of that, and runs away, where the film slows to a crawl and loses interest fast.

“Viva Zapata!” has a great opening, where we see the revolution first hand and watch it from humble yet passionate beginnings, to a point where the new leaders have fallen into the same trap as the old ones. But once that point is firmly established, it circles that many times and gets tedious and boring.

Final Grade: C+


“Die Hard 2” (1990)

The tagline for this film was “Die Harder.” That should tell you everything that you need to know about the film – It is attempting to outdo the first “Die Hard” in every way. But since the first film is still considered an action (and Christmas) classic, and very few people talk about “Die Hard 2,” you can see how that worked out.

The problem is that “Die Hard” did its best to make the act of terrorists taking over a large industrial building in downtown Los Angeles with only one rogue cop to stop them seem as believable and logical as possible. Now that same cop is fighting military level leaders with superior fire power and intelligence on top of the wings of jumbo jets.

Cool? Sure. Memorable and captivating? Not really.

“Die Hard 2” knows that it is a cheesy action film, while the first film played it straight from start to finish. It has some neat action sequences near the end of the film, when everything comes to a head, but it is overly long and takes itself way too seriously.

Final Grade: C+


“Run All Night” (2015)

Much like “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Liam Nesson’s new “Run All Night” (or as I like to call it, “Taken 4”) offers nothing of substance and nearly put me to sleep. It is the same action fodder that you expect from Liam Nesson these days – Playing the gruff loner whose family and friends have abandoned him, yet somehow has extensive knowledge and experience with fire arms and hand-to-hand combat, as he tracks down people who have wronged him.

This worked in “Taken” because it was a simple premise with realistic yet satisfying action sequences, which suited Nesson’s aging action star persona. But now that he has done at least five of these types of films, the formula is running thin and so is the audiences’ patience with Nesson in this gun-crazy anti-hero.

If you like the “Taken” series, then “Run All Night” is more of the same. If you’re tired of Liam Nesson playing these types of roles, like I am, then this film will not change your mind and gives the audience nothing new.

Final Grade: D+


“Chef” (2014)

Thanks to the internet and social media, the world has become much more entertaining, but also more infuriating and difficult. It use to be that hard-working people could hold down a solid job for most of their lives and not have to worry about much else. But now, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, people’s voices are now everywhere for all to see, and those voices can hurt. One bad critic can ruin someone’s job and life, without them realizing it.

This is one of the driving forces behind Jon Favreau’s “Chef” about a successful cook, though unhappy with his life outside of work, and puts everything on the line when he accidentally calls out a food critic on Twitter and he cannot handle the backlash. Carl Casper (played by Favreau) is an old-fashion man who is dedicated to providing the world with something it has never tasted before, and gets lost in every other aspect in his life. Carl doesn’t have anything social media related, and has to realize that the world is constantly changing. That the phrase “everybody is a critic” works more today than it ever has in history.

The worst part is that these critics have cameras that can send videos to everyone on the internet.

If I had one complaint with “Chef” it would be that Favreau has his hands in too many aspects for the story to be taken too seriously. Favreau is not only the main character, but he also wrote the screenplay and directs. He has complete control over how “perfect” Carl’s life is, and it really shows when he makes this pudgy cooking-obsessed individual end up having sex with both Sofia Vegara and Scarlett Johansson. That goes a bit overboard.

Overall, “Chef” is a light-hearted tale of coming to terms with your place in the world and finding out what truly matters to you. Some great performances from Favreau, Vegara, John Leguizamo and Emjay Anthony as Carl’s son, with some cameos by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr. Throw in some cinematography that will make you hungry for a good Cuban sandwich, and this is one film that will leave your mouth-watering.

Final Grade: B+


“The Secret Of Kells” (2009)

It is hard to get a solid understanding on this animated fantasy. The film is meant to take place in medieval times, yet the landscape seems to imply that the walled-off town of Kells is one of the last bastions of humanity and has many illuminators from across the globe. The film also blurs the line between reality and fantasy, as we follow Brendan and his journey to understand the book that can “turn darkness into light” while his uncle, a former illuminator, only wishes to protect the innocent lives inside the walls.

“The Secret Of Kells” wants to be many things, and excels at certain aspects while being lackluster at others. The need for hope and light is a necessity in a world where barbarians with no remorse can take life away so easily, so Brendan’s adventure to finish this book, while also overcoming his overbearing uncle, is a joy to watch. However, the fantasy elements often felt forced, though whimsical and gave the film a certain charm.

Not to mention, the animation style is one of a kind. “The Secret Of Kells” goes for a children’s story book feel to it, with lots of detail in the backgrounds and illustrations of our lead characters. By comparison, the animation on people is rather blocky yet fluid, thus making the backgrounds pop out more.

Overall, “The Secret Of Kells” is a fun ride as we watch a tragic time through the eyes of fantasy and children. It can be forced at times, but the animation and point of view of our main character balances that out.

Final Grade: B-


“Rushmore” (1998)

I think I finally understand what makes Bill Murray so appealing. Though his wit and dry humor are a big reason, there is something about Murray that sets him apart from others, and I know what it is – Bill Murray models his career after Bugs Bunny as he realizes that he is not a cartoon. A man who loves to have fun with others misfortune, while learning about his own limitations and that he is not immune to those same misfortunes.

Take for example Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore,” as it chronicles the tale of a teenage boy yearning to be treated like an adult, only for him to usually over-do everything to the point of obsession. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) tends to make friends with little kids and adults, is the president or member of nearly every club in school, creates his own plays, wants to build a school aquarium, and is failing all of his classes and has no friends his own age. When Max sets his eyes on something, he grabs onto it for dear life and will never let go.

Bill Murray plays a business owner who hates himself, yet loves the passion and conviction in Max, and they end up becoming friends. Murray sneaks around children’s playgrounds, smacking basketballs out of kids arms as they go for a lay up and will ride around his factory on a metal pipe like a witch’s broom if he feels like it. Yet Murray can’t stand being around his family and is a heavy drinker.

Together Schwartzman and Murray work off each other beautifully, as both are awkward and stubborn, and each wants something different out of their relationship. Their scenes together end up being the best parts of “Rushmore,” even though Schwartzman’s charisma carries over in to every scene.

Final Grade: A-


“The Ghost And Mrs. Muir” (1947)

Have you ever read (or more likely seen) those romantic novels about a woman moving into an old rundown house, only to find out that it is haunted by a dreamy bad boy ghost and the two end up falling in love? All of those novels come from this movie and its source material, “The Ghost And Mrs. Muir.”

It is not hard to see why this subject is enticing to some (not me though, I like my romances to be between people who are actually real and have flesh) – The ghost romance takes elements of fantasy, horror and love, throws it all into a blender and hits the highest setting. It is why stories like the “Twilight” books did so well upon their release, with massive appeal to the target demographic (in this case young women) and giving them something that they can never have but love to fantasize about.

In this regard, “The Ghost And Mrs. Muir” is a very by the numbers fantasy romance, with the traditional “will they or won’t they” storyline, while the woman attempts to make a life for herself and the ghost becomes infatuated with her. The only saving grace in the film comes from the performances of Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison, with Tierney being optimistic and positive about the changes in her life, and Harrison losing himself in his sailor lifestyle. Their scenes together, while lacking in chemistry, are fun to watch as their egos bounce off one another.

Final Grade: C+


“Crank” (2006)

Much like Jason Statham’s character in this film, if you stop to think about the plot, you’ll die..or in this case, miss out on all the insanity. Which is the main reason to watch “Crank.”

The plot of “Crank” is a forgettable revenge thriller, but what makes the film stand out is Jason Statham’s high-octane performance and the visual style that makes the film look like it has a headache along side Statham’s character. At times, it is a visual assault with the many tilted angles and unique uses of lighting, but it surprisingly works for “Crank” with the high use of adrenaline.

Throughout the majority of the film, Jason Statham is essentially playing his own personal Grand Theft Auto, as he steals cars and motorcycles, kills who ever he wants, breaks into a hospital to steal some drugs to keep him alive and even a fight while flying from a helicopter.

I would say that “Crank” reaches “Barbarella” levels of insanity, but nothing can top the machine that pleasures you to death. Still, having a police chase through a shopping mall is pretty close.

It is hard to describe the high amounts of crazy in “Crank” without giving everything away. This is just one of those films that you have to see for yourself to understand how fun and off the wall it can be.

Final Grade: B


1 reply »

  1. I have actually never seen ‘The China Syndrome’. I should add that to my list. (I keep a spreadsheet of movies I want to watch). I agree with all your other reviews. My kids really loved ‘The Secret of the Kells’ because it was so different from other animated movies. I have not seen that latest Neeson movie but I probably don’t need to since he keeps just phoning in the same performance in slightly different contexts.

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