Blu-Ray Review: Miracle Mile

Director: Steve De Jarnatt
Screenplay: Steve De Jarnatt
Starring: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Mykelti Williamson, Lou Hancock
Country: USA
Running Time: 87min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve often talked about how expectations can greatly affect how you enjoy a film. With Miracle Mile I didn’t know a huge amount about it before watching, other than the fact it was about the end of the world. However, I’ve long known about it and been interested in seeing it due to its inclusion in a top 1000 movies guide that came free with Neon magazine (which went out of circulation back in 1999). That guide was split into top 10 lists for specific categories and Miracle Mile was their number one pick for ‘apocalyptic movies’. An image of Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham sharing an embrace was the image they chose (see below). That guide was a bit of a bible to me as my love of cinema was blossoming at the time, so I’d try to track down anything topping a category. However, Miracle Mile wasn’t a film that showed up in my local video store and it never made it to DVD. That is until Arrow announced they’d be giving it their spit and polish treatment and bringing it out on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD this month. So, being one of the titles from the guide that had ever evaded me, I was eager to review Miracle Mile when it was offered. The listing in Neon’s guide was all I was really going on though and the image they used always made me think the film was a quietly sad and subtle rumination on love and life at the precipice of disaster (that’s what I got from the image at least).

How wrong I was…

Miracle Mile sees museum guide and jazz trombone player Harry (Anthony Edwards) fall in love with the equally quirky Julie (Mare Winningham). They fix a time and place to go on their all-important third date (as Julie puts it beforehand, “I’m going to screw your eyes blue”), but a power cut causes Harry to sleep through his alarm to wake him for their midnight rendezvous. When he wakes in the wee small hours, he desperately tries to get in touch with Julie and ends up answering the phone at the diner where she works, hoping it’s her. It isn’t. The panicked voice at the other end thinks Harry is his father, and tells him that nuclear missiles are on their way to the USA and will flatten the nation in 70 minutes. A violent end to the call suggests this is no prank and as Harry describes what happened to the customers at the diner, a government worker there makes a call that further cements the fact that they should be worried. The people at the diner quickly make plans for escape via helicopter, but Harry won’t leave without Julie. He dashes off on a wild quest to find her and hopefully still make it to the chopper to have some tiny chance of survival.

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Blu-Ray Review: Black Widow

Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Ronald Bass
Starring: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Sami Frey, Nicol Williamson, Dennis Hopper
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: 15


The late ’80s and early ’90s saw a slew of erotic or at least sexually charged thrillers that took the idea of the film noir ‘femme fatale’ and gave her a modern, more blatantly sexualised twist. At surface value, this might seem like a forward thinking trend of giving women powerful roles instead of throwaway ‘eye-candy’ appearances, but, as film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman discuss in the commentary included on this release, the reason behind this wave of strong villainous women was likely down to the still male-dominated industry (and male-dominated business world in general) being scared of the growing power women were enjoying at the time. Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when film noir was born, women were more frequently entering the workplace due to the war, so men were afraid of them taking their traditional places as the breadwinners. In the ’80s, women were finally starting to attain positions of power in the business world (although things still aren’t balanced), so the fear came back.

Black Widow was part of this wave and sees Theresa Russell play the titular Black Widow, a chameleonic character (of too many names to pick one here, so I’ll stick with the title) who makes a living by seducing rich men, marrying them, then undetectably murdering them, so she can keep their fortunes to herself. She then changes her identity and moves onto the next victim. So it’s very much playing into those ’80s fears then, but writer Ronald Bass put a bit of a spin on things to prevent the film from being too blatantly a symbol for male fear, by making the protagonist a woman too. Debra Winger plays Alexandra, a Federal Investigator who is bored of her desk-bound research job and longs to be in the field, solving cases first hand. She comes across some strange deaths of wealthy men and looks into the cases to find the wife of each victim looks similar, even if on paper they are different women. She begs her boss to let her take on the case, which he lets her do, as he thinks she’s crazy. There’s no evidence of murder and the Black Widow’s hair and make-up changes make it hard to prove she’s the same woman.

When Alexandra gets close to catching the Black Widow in the act though, her next victim, William (Nicol Williamson), is found dead. Alexandra is devastated as she had a chance to tell William about her theory about his wife, so she quits her job and heads to Hawaii (the last known location of the Widow) to put an end to her reign of terror herself. To do this, she must learn to be like her nemesis and the closer she gets to the Widow, the more she discovers her own sexual powers, turning from a tomboy into a ‘true’ woman.

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Friday One Sheet: Fugly!

As many have said: Good riddance 2016!

We end this year with perhaps the most garish, 80s wannabe-ish and booby-ish of posters. I would specifically call foul on the ‘floating eyeball’ cliche used here (twice), if the production company’s name was not, in fact, Floating Eye Films. The trend of resurrecting 1980s horror cliches (both in the film, and the poster design) hopefully it has run its course, and here we have the bottom of the barrel by way of cheap comparisons to bargain basement movies such as Sleepaway Camp, Slumberparty Massacre, and possibly Hot Pursuit, with the visual equivalent to a dog-whistle for fans of Evil Dead II, who, based on this poster design, should be avoiding this at a 3rd rate genre-film festival nowhere near you.

We welcome originality and artfulness in the forthcoming new year.

Blu-Ray Review: Fright Night

Director: Tom Holland
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys
Country: USA
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 18


Halloween might have been and gone and Christmas is around the corner, but Eureka have gone against the grain to choose the Holiday season to re-release a cult classic horror favourite, 1985’s Fright Night on Blu-Ray (with a dual format edition to follow in April). Written and directed by Tom Holland, it was popular enough to not only spawn a sequel in 1988, but also a remake in 2011 starring Colin Farrell, Richard Tennant and the late Anton Yelchin. When the remake came out I wanted to see the original first, but never got around to it, so never saw either. So this re-release gave me the perfect chance to play catch up.

Fright Night sees typical teenager Charlie (William Ragsdale) grow suspicious of his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon). After seeing him and his lodger Billy (Jonathan Stark) carrying a coffin into their house in the middle of the night, he’s sure something isn’t right. Then he sees a fanged Jerry seducing young women who turn up dead and thinks he spots him turning from a bat into a man. So Charlie is certain his neighbour is a vampire. Unfortunately no one believes him of course, so it’s up to him to put an end to his reign of terror. His girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) don’t believe him either, but are worried about his sanity and what he might do to his ‘innocent’ neighbour. So the two team up to help prove Jerry is human and the only way they can think of to do this is to enlist the support of washed up horror star Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), of whom Charlie is a massive fan. Meanwhile, Jerry and Billy do their best to mess with Charlie and take the three youngsters and cowardly old actor out of the equation.

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DVD Review: Cohen & Tate

Director: Eric Red
Screenplay: Eric Red
Starring: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross
Country: USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 15


Cohen & Tate was a bit of a shot in the dark viewing for me. I had a vague memory of someone (Blueprint: Review’s Justin Richards I think) mentioning the film to me in the past, which is why the press release piqued my interest, but the reviews (from the few I could find) were a bit mixed. I figured I’d give it a chance though as it sounded interesting and Arrow are generally dependable for selecting titles worth watching.

I’m happy to say I’m glad I gave it a shot, but happy isn’t the right word to describe Cohen & Tate. It’s a pitch black thriller which opens with the brutal murder of the parents of 9-year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross). He’s the only witness to a mob hit and the gangsters responsible are keen to get hold of him. So, after dispatching Travis’ parents and a couple of FBI agents keeping them all ‘safe’, two hitmen, the titular Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), take the boy on a long drive to Houston to see their employer. His future looks bleak, but Travis doesn’t give up trying to escape and, in the strained relationship between the mismatched hitmen, he sees a chance to turn them against each other to gain his freedom.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid is exactly the kind of happy-go-lucky gore-kitsch that could only come out of a chance encounter at Fantasia. It is a BMX pedal-powered 1980s throwback (along the lines of Solarbabies or The Salute of the Juggar with a dollop of Brian Trenchard-Smith) set in that particular eras vision of 1997, vector graphic logo, synth score and all. The film has the curious honour of quite possibly the most film-funding logos (by my count, more than 10) up front, that it in a way comically sets a tone before film film even starts.

A Canadian – New Zealand co-production (a rare bird), it has the curious juxtaposition of French stop signs over recognizable New Zealand landscapes. Inside this bizarre (but comfortable) setting, we have a young scavenger who gets caught up in the war for water in the wasteland, and his own past on his own journey becoming the superhero in his favourite comic book. It is a journey that has some trouble smoothly connecting all its set-pieces, but within each scene there is oodles to love, particularly if you are a fan of early period Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead Alive). Saw blades fly, hot pokers singe and arterial sprays soak all corners of the screen.

There is a very self-aware ridiculousness that sees wasteland warriors huffing it on bicycles in football pads and metal masks that is inviting you not to take it seriously, and yet the film finds blessed heart in the form of Laurence Leboeuf, a superstar in Quebecois film circles that is completely unknown outside of the local industry. She plays a Cherry 2000 companion named Apple that has the most childlike enthusiasm towards hand-to-hand combat and touch-tag. Apple continues the ubiquitous 2015 trend of A.I. representations of onscreen along with Ex Machina, Tomorrowland and Chappie (amongst others). Every scene she is on screen the film is better for it.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Director: W.D. Richter
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: PG


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cult classic from the 80’s that I’d never seen, but always wanted to. I didn’t really know much about it, but I found the title strangely appealing and was aware of its status as an oddball cult classic. Luckily for me, Arrow came to the rescue once again and offered me a chance to review their new feature-packed Blu-Ray re-release. So I strapped myself in for a trip across the 8th dimension.

Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is a half-Japanese, half-American brain surgeon, daredevil scientist and rock star. He and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, his band of hard rock scientists (as described in the opening crawl), are famous around the world, with their own branding and even a comic strip and arcade machines.

After successfully removing a tumour from a patient’s brain, Banzai heads to the salt flats to test a jet powered car which houses an Oscillation Overthruster. Banzai manages to use this device to open a door to the 8th dimension in the side of a mountain. He sees some crazy stuff in there before re-appearing out the other side with a strange creature/thing attached to the car.

This test is celebrated as a great success, but it draws the attention of the Red Lectroids, an alien race (led by Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli) who have teamed up with the deranged Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow). In the past, Lizardo had worked with Banzai’s scientist partner Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) on the prototype Overthruster, which went wrong and let the Red Lectroids escape from their inter-dimensional prison. Lizardo and the Red Lectroids now want to get their hands on the Overthruster so they can regain power over the world they were originally banished from, which is currently in the hands of the Black Lectroids. The Black Lectroids meanwhile, although friendly to the humans, feel their only hope of survival is to blow up the Earth if the Reds aren’t stopped in time. Banzai, with his team of agents/band members, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop both sides before it’s too late!

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Blu-Ray Review: Midnight Run

Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: George Gallo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano
Country: USA
Running Time: 126 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 18


The majority of films I review are first time watches or at least films that I haven’t seen for a while. This is largely due to the fact that I mainly just review screeners and don’t often take discs offered that I already own. However, when a Midnight Run press release reached me recently I went against the grain, reviewing something I own and saw (for the first time) only a few months ago. I decided to go with it partly because the original DVD release was terribly presented (see the bottom of the page), but also because I really enjoyed the film and couldn’t resist an excuse to watch it again.

Midnight Run is not quite a ‘cult classic’ in the Rocky Horror sense of the phrase. It’s more of an under-appreciated gem that picked up some strong reviews on its release and made a bit of money, but wasn’t really the hit it was expected to be (it came out on the same day as Die Hard which didn’t help) and kind of disappeared from people’s radars over the years. It has picked up a bit of a following though so the fine people over at Second Sight deemed it worthy of a brand spanking new Blu-Ray release.

The film stars Robert De Niro as bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who is hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to track down and bring in former Mafia accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), who has embezzled $15 million from notorious mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). Jack finds The Duke straight away, but the journey back to prison isn’t so simple because Serrano’s goons are hot on their heels as well as the FBI and another bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) who wants in on the action. The unlikely central pair clash during the long journey across the country, but a friendship slowly develops despite their differences and the obvious elephant in the room of Jack’s job and The Duke’s crime.

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Music Video Saturday Vol. 2 [music]

TOAH3-copy

I started a weekly column where I highlight a music video that I vividly remember or just recently discovered. Last week I tackled the weirdness that is Bjork as directed by the great Spike Jonze. This time we are going way back in time to the first memory of a music video I ever had. I was 7 years old and my sister (a music freak) was staying with us briefly, staying up all night watching MTV. I was familiar with The Cars since my dad played their debut record constantly. They had just released a new album called Heartbeat City which he purchased on cassette. I can’t recall which video came out first “Magic” or the one that has stuck with me to this day featured below. “You Might Think” is one of my favorite songs of theirs, which is featured on a less than stellar outing from the band despite hit singles like “Drive.” Suffice to say, the record as a whole doesn’t hold up as strongly as their debut, but this landmark video (at least in mind) is still well worth a look. Yes it’s uber-80s in terms of content and effects, but it’s goofy and groundbreaking for its time. The reason I chose it for the simple fact that Ric Ocasek as a fly haunted my dreams just as much as Freddy Krueger did at the time. I had nightmares of being stalked by fly-Ocasek and watching it now, I can’t help but laugh at the fact that seeing that animated fly actually scared me as a kid. What memories of music videos do you recall from your childhood that made an indelible impression — good or bad? Here’s the very first for me, and I’m not ashamed to say that I still like this song despite what the video did to me as a kid. Stay tuned next week for an “I Love The 90s” edition of Music Video Saturday!

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Zombeavers

 

The best thing about Zombeavers is that it isn’t much more than its title implies. It creates a toxic spill in a remote area then plops a bunch of college kids in a cabin right next to it. Voila – zombie beavers attacking young co-eds. It also stays true to its 80s horror antecedents by making most of the gore and effects practical. CGI beavers would have ruined the film entirely, whereas these stuffed critters with partial animatronic characteristics and clunky tails do the trick nicely. When they come crashing through floor boards, they almost feel like they could chew your foot off. Of course, they are also just slightly ridiculous enough to laugh at when they suddenly show up in a bathtub or at the front door. Especially with their light blue glowing eyes…

The worst thing about Zombeavers is, well, that it isn’t much more than its title implies. Now that shouldn’t be taken necessarily as a criticism…It’s just that when the film works, it works so very well. So when it doesn’t, it’s somewhat disappointing. The film handles its action sequences very well and has moments of pretty inspired humour & gore, but then there are several scenes of bland, lengthy or even pointless chatter between the characters. Given the funny outtakes at the end of the film (some of which felt a bit like those line-o-rama special features many comedies have these days) and considering Judd Apatow, David Wain and others are thanked, I couldn’t help but want a bit more ooomph to the script. In fairness, my complaints are along the lines of wanting more than I’m really entitled to or should in any way expect. But it’s to the film’s credit that at some point – I did expect more.

Another thing about Zombeavers is that it sometimes is actually a bit more than its title implies. Think you know who’s going to get it next? Think the kills will all be based on levels of morality? Think you know how the beaver bite transforms its victim? Probably not…Not that the movie rolls out loads of surprises, but just enough so you aren’t completely sure of what the next scene may bring. One might even say that there’s just enough subversion of this type of genre to raise the eyebrows of those looking for simply a genre-throwback. On top of that, the cast does quite well with the material and only falter during some of those slower spots (though those moments could easily be “blamed” on pacing issues or editing). All three of the leading ladies (Cortney Palm, Rachel Melvin & Lexi Atkins) acquit themselves quite nicely through tears, screams, laughs and loads of prosthetics.

In the end, it’s a movie about beavers who become zombies. That alone should be enough, but you get more (including a great final “stinger”). So go enjoy Zombeavers.

Review: Cop Out

You are probably reading this review in the very brief window before this film disappears to Sunday afternoon cable superstations. This is really kinda, sorta, what this film wants to be, an 80s on cable all the time type of movie. The dodgy and blunt script makes no bones about it, as the opening ‘comedy-set-piece’ (for lack of a better phrase) involves a bad-cop, bored-cop routine where the interrogation and intimidation wordplay is pulled from (in Bruce Willis’ own words) “everything on cable.”

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