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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Cinecast Episode 345 – One Persian Cat. Deceased.

We boys mourn the loss of True Detective, and anticipate the upcoming Game of Thrones, but in this small gap between prestige TV projects from HBO, it was a pretty damn good weekend at the multiplex. A spirited if brief discussion on the pros and cons of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, including Ralph Fiennes’s gift for comedy, Jeff Goldblum’s facial hair, Harvey Keitel’s pectorals, F. Murray Abraham being frozen in time, and underwritten supporting roles for Tilda Swinton and Saorise Ronan. We then discus sexual assault by cunnilingus with Matt Gamble’s wife, Angela, along with other assorted Me-Decade insensitivites in the ongoing 1984 Project feature: Revenge of the Nerds.

Kurt weighs in on the strange Canadian psycho-thriller Enemy which features Toronto as a sickly concrete hellscape and two Jakes (Gyllenhaal’s that is.) He thinks it is the best thing released theatrically in 2014 so far. Our Watch List as diverse as old-timey Miramax product, Chocolat, Teller’s documentary on art and craft and forgery, Tim’s Vermeer and an early 1990s bit of hipster TV, Fishing with John. Have at it.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!



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Cinecast Episode 169 – Stone Dildos

Today we are joined by Killerfilm’s Serena Whitney to pontificate on the the latest multiplex horror film, Sex And The City 2. Matt Gamble chimes in with the herding of the drunken and frocked chattel to sold out screenings. Mucho negativity ensues. We also revisit The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to delve into the films shortcomings and another one of those ‘book to movie adaptation’ discussions. Lots of Movies We Watched, spanning Norm MacDonald‘s post-SNL flop to an obscure French New Wave release. There is also a smack-down of Andrew on his flippant dismissal of The Iron Giant and a fairly lengthy tangent on George A. Romero‘s filmography and orbiting remakes. The whole crew gives their DVD picks, which turns into a limbo game of trying to dodge the slew of Clint Eastwood releases coinciding with his 80th Birthday. Enjoy.

As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Hidden Treasures – Week of June 29th

Now, the latest installment of Hidden Treasures. At the suggestion of some of the Row Three community (OK, it was Henrik), I’m toying with a new format. Please let me know what you think of it.

Django (1966)
Played by Franco Nero, the title character of Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film, Django, is just about as textbook-perfect a spaghetti western gunslinger as you can get; a man as quick with a gun as he is short on conversation. In fact, the only thing that sets Django apart from other heroes of this genre is his traveling companion, which just happens to be a coffin. As the opening titles of Django play out, our hero is seen dragging this coffin behind him, through the mud and up a steep hill. As character introductions go, this one’s hard to top.

Within moments of his (and his coffin’s) arrival in a Mexican border town, Django finds himself in the middle of an ongoing feud between two murderous mobs. On one side are the local Mexican bandits, led by the ruthless General Hugo Rodriguez (José Bódalo), and on the other a crew of American Confederate soldiers under the command of Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo). As is the case with most such feuds, gun battles often break out in the middle of town, where innocent civilians inadvertently serve as target practice. What neither side counted on, however, was Django, who’s blazing guns and badass attitude show no favorites when it comes to dishing out his own unique brand of justice.

As mentioned above, Django has all the makings of a great Spaghetti western hero, yet like all such films, his heroics wouldn’t amount to much if it weren’t for the lowlifes on the other side of his gun. In Django we’re given two strong adversaries, the first of which is Major Jackson, a bigoted Confederate Army officer with a hatred for all things Mexican. The second baddie, General Rodriguez, proves just as brutal as his American counterpart, and even cuts the ear off a man he accuses of spying for Jackson. At the outset, Django and Rodriguez appear to be friends, yet friendships like theirs aren’t destined to last very long.

Due to its excessive violence, Django was banned outright in many countries, with the MPAA refusing to issue it a rating upon its release in the United States. With one or two exceptions, the violence in Django is tame compared to what can be seen in movies today, yet what hasn’t dissipated with time is this film’s exhilarating style, heightened by a handful of incredible gunfights. With action and excitement aplenty, Django takes its rightful place as one of the best the Spaghetti Western genre has to offer…

…Coffin and all.

Owning Mahowney (2003)
Dan Mahowney (Philip Seymour Hoffman) works as an assistant manager for a large Toronto-based bank. With his low-key mannerisms, he is the consummate professional, a man who serves his customers while keeping a sharp eye on the bank’s bottom line. He is smart, well respected, and someone you can depend on to get the job done. Dan Mahowney is also a compulsive gambler, one who has embezzled over $10 million from his employers to feed a habit he can no longer control. Owning Mahowney, directed by Richard Kwietniowski, tells both sides of his story.

Based on an actual event that occurred in Toronto in the early 1980’s, Owning Mahowney is the detailed study of a man who lived two lives, that is until the day one of those lives finally took control of the other. At first, Mahowney successfully concealed his addictions from those closest to him, including his girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver), who never once suspected that the man she loved flew to Atlantic City every weekend, dropped tens of thousands of dollars, then returned home to her. In fact, Mahowney became such a regular at one casino that its President, Victor Foss (John Hurt), took to treating Mahowney as if he were a member of the royal family. Yet as his notoriety as a gambler grew, so did the danger that his world would come crashing down around him.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a remarkably reserved performance as Mahowney, a man who had perfected his poker face to the point he wore it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He loved the thrill of the odds, and this love became so addicting that it extended beyond the personal to his professional life as well. He started by slyly withdraws millions against the loan account of the bank’s biggest customer. Then, to get his hands on even more money, Mahowney creates a fictitious loan account, gives it his personal approval, and begins withdrawing heavily from it as well. Having made a career as a shrewd, careful administrator, Mahowney was now taking staggering risks. Dan Mahowney the professional was slowly disappearing, and Dan Mahowney the gambler was moving in full-time.

The chances that the title character takes in Owning Mahowney, both at and away from the gambling table, will have you cringing. Yet while Dan Mahowney certainly lost control of his life, we come away believing that, in the end, it was a sacrifice he was more than willing to make. For Mahowney, gambling meant living, and every moment he spent away from his obsession was a moment wasted.

In the end, he wasn’t wasting any time at all.

Northfork (2003)
Written and directed by brothers Mark and Michael Polish, Northfork is the kind of movie I adore, a film brave enough to introduce fantasy into a realistic setting as it simultaneously balances elements of both comedy and drama. Whether you want to laugh, cry, or simply be amazed, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Northfork.

It’s 1955, and the good citizens of the town of Northfork have been asked to abandon their homes to make way for a new hydroelectric dam, which will flood the town once it becomes fully operational. Yet despite repeated warnings, not everyone has left Northfork, and it falls to a small group of men in black suits to make sure those who remain leave before it’s too late. Among these men is Walter O’Brien (James Woods) and his son, Willis (Mark Polish), who, along with the others, are promised tracts of land in a brand new community as a reward for performing this most difficult of tasks. As they’re quick to learn, however, many who remain in Northfork are determined to stay at all costs. Father Harlan (Nick Nolte) is one such person, who’s remained in Northfork mostly because he’s too busy caring for a dying young boy named Irwin (Duel Farnes) to even think of moving. As father Harlan has come to realize, Irwin is a very special child. While lapsing in and out of consciousness, Irwin experiences visions that have him convinced he’s the long-lost Angel of Northfork. In fact, a small band of actual angels have themselves just arrived in Northfork, looking to investigate Irwin’s ‘divine’ claim.

Elements of several genres show their face throughout Northfork. First off, there’s the dramatic, on both a grand scale (the loss of the town) and a more personal one (the illness of young Irwin). In fact, the film’s dramatic moments, which I found to be so very powerful, are themselves enough to transform Northfork into an unforgettable cinematic experience. But then there’s comedy as well, perpetrated mostly by the men in black suits during their various run-ins with Northfork’s most stubborn citizens. One such resident, Mr. Stalling (Marshall Bell), isn’t leaving because he believes he’s properly prepared for the coming floodwaters; he’s transformed his house into an Ark. While Mr. Stalling didn’t have enough time to gather 2 giraffes, 2 tigers or even 2 chickens, he was at least able to rustle himself up two wives. Finally, and perhaps most impressive, is Northfork’s sense of fantasy, presented within the story of Irwin and his four angel friends. One of these four, an angel named Flower Hercules (Daryl Hannah), believes Irwin is, indeed, the lost angel of Northfork, while her accomplices, such as Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs) and Happy (Anthony Edwards), have their doubts (the fourth angel, Cod, played by Ben Foster, may or may not agree; we never know for sure because he never speaks). The imagery surrounding these angelic characters is inspiring, and the various scenes they appear in challenge us time and again to accept the incredible, even when presented within the context of this story’s reality.

With Northfork, the Polish brothers have successfully combined fantastical whimsy with the everyday humdrum, at times leaving us to wonder where the whimsy begins and the humdrum ends. Films like Northfork carry with them the promise of marvelous possibilities lurking around every corner, and I, for one, loved this particular journey to uncover them.