Miracle Mile (Jarnatt, 1988)

•March 17, 2010 • 1 Comment

“I really hope we get out of this alive.”

Steve Jarnatt’s post-apocaltic thriller Miracle Mile seems all the more relevant concerning the growing threat of nuclear weapons and the advent of global terrorism that has been and still remains at the forefront of social and political crisis. From 9/11 to the the war in Afghanistan, Korea and its harboring of nuclear weapons to the religious wars in the middle-east, many parts of the world are  in a state of chaos and rampant violence. Not to digress into the complex and polemical issues of  global politics since this film is not particular interested in them but if these conflicts continue to rise, the threat of a possible nuclear holocaust seems all the more likely.

Despite its glaring flaws and incongruities, Miracle Mile is far more effective as a taut, entertaining thriller rather than a profoundly engaging narrative with underlying social and political commentary. Unlucky in love, Harry Washello (Anothony Edwards from E.R. fame) is a nerdy museum curator  who believes he has found the the girl of the dreams in Julie, a waitress at a coffee shop. A possible relationship starts to bloom between them but unfortunately for him, any romantic developments are cut short due to strange circumstances. He has a date with her after her night-shift finishes but because of a bizarre power-outage at his hotel, he sleeps in and shows up three hours late. Discouraged, he attempts to reach her by phone to apologize but has no such luck. Suddenly, the phone booth rings and  he reluctantly answers it but is immediately startled by a frantic male voice on the other end who is tells him that a nuclear attack is imminent to strike California in 70 minutes. At first he finds the entire situation incredulous but is unable to shake the feeling that perhaps it is not a prank call when he hears gun shots through the phone and then the line goes dead. From this point on, a sense of slight disbelief is required on the part of the viewer as Harry becomes thoroughly convinced of a possible nuclear strike. His paranoia is then transferred to the patrons of the coffee shop and they begin to panic. A chain-reaction of fear soon develops and eventually becomes widespread panic as the film progresses. Harry must now race against the clock to find Julie and escape L.A. before it is turned into a nuclear wasteland. Uncompromising in its depiction of human anarchy on the brink of destruction, the film’s portrayal of human malevolence in the sake of self-preservation is terrifying. It is difficult to ignore Jarnatt’s blatant cynicism towards humanity.

There is somewhat of an inherent 80’s feel to the film in terms of the clothing, hairdos and the heavily-synthesized soundtrack by “Tangerine Dream” but these aspects are not a hindrance. Even with a moderate budget, Jarnatt manages to evoke an unrelenting tension and dreaded paranoia that gradually increases as the story frantically reaches its shocking conclusion. Expecting an engrossing story with in-depth characters and strong social commentary will only lead to disappointment. Miracle Mile does not attempt to be more than a highly entertaining thriller and is admirable in representing the growing  fear of human extinction caused by nuclear war.

7/10

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Capsule Reviews

•March 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Here are a few brief thoughts on several films I’ve seen recently:

Precious (Daniels, 2009)

The critical acclaim this film has received is baffling. “Precious” contains strong performances especially by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe (well deserving of an Oscar nomination)  but every other aspect of the film falls flat:  the direction is sloppy and contrived (why Lee Daniels received a best director nod is ludicrous), the character’s lack substantial depth to empathize with them despite their dire situations, the over-the-top melodrama becomes unintentional comedy and the story leaves much to be desired. It succeeds as a decent drama rather than a narrative but is still ultimately, forgettable. 4/10

101 Reykjavik (Kormákur, 2000)

Walking a fine line between comedy and tragedy, 101 Reykjavik is a quirky little film from Iceland. As part of the 20-something slacker generation, Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) is a pensive and melancholic young man who feels stuck in his small town but is reluctant to take any immediate action to remedy the situation. The story mainly focuses on his various sexual excursions and troubled relationship with his lesbian mother when they both fall for the same woman.

The subject matter of ennui, arrested development in young adults or characters facing the uncertainties of the future usually strike a chord with me but this film left me fairly indifferent. Much of the problem stems from the unsympathetic protagonist and the story which often succumbs to silly soap opera antics.

The director does a great job of capturing the blistering cold temperatures and vast snowy winter landscapes of rural Iceland. From an aesthetic standpoint, there are plenty of great-looking shots and interesting camera movement.  However, I wish more emphasis was placed on creating a more compelling protagonist. Nonetheless, the director shows talent and considering this was his first film, there is certainly potential for improvement.

6/10

Finally, Lillian and Dan (Gibbiser, 2008)

•March 9, 2010 • 4 Comments

Lilian and Dan catch some sleep in this snoozefest of a film.

Keeping in tradition with the mumblecore movement, Finally, Lillian and Dan embraces the incessantly understated faux-documentary film-making style but lacks even the faintest cohesion or emotional authenticity. Mistaking minimalism for profundity, Gibbiser film is an exercise in futility and showcases a young director who clearly needs to find a new profession. Painfully dull and overlong despite its relatively short running time (1 hour and 37 minutes), there is not a single redeeming aspect and to recommend this film to anyone would be heresy.

Using extensive long-takes and very little camera movement, Gibbiser is persistent to capture the banality concerning the every-day life of his characters and succeeds in spades. Unfortunately for the viewer, watching disheveled characters sitting around doing nothing or interminably performing mundane tasks is aggravating. Hand-held cameras, grainy film-stock and choppy editing are deliberately employed as aesthetic tools to create a cinema-verite style of realism but it paradoxically detaches the viewer from engaging with anything happening on screen (consequently, nothing of substantial value). Clearly the mark of an amateur director and writer who lacks story ideas and has to resort to extending vapid scenes to fill empty screen-time. The emotional detachment of Gibbiser’s film-making style further alienates the viewer with scenes containing  social interaction between the characters. The conversations are often muffled and barely audible at times. Nonetheless,  the dialogue consists of  mumbling prosaic platitudes to the point of parody so it is not a total loss.

The story (or lack thereof) revolves around the odd relationship between a possibly autistic man named Dan (Jason Kean) and Lillian (Gretchen Akers), a shy office-clerk who lives with her grandma. They are both outcasts, lonely and unable to properly integrate themselves into society. Considering the film’s ambiguity, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that they both suffer from psychological disorders or happen to be escape mental patients based on their eccentric behavior. For instance, when we first meet Dan he is carrying around a large stuffed animal and wandering the streets aimlessly until he spots a beautiful woman at a cross-walk. He desperately wants to speak to her or perhaps even  rape her in a dark alleyway judging by his perturbed  facial expression. He begins to follow the woman but eventually gives up and turns around. Another one of his favorite past-times is driving around for no apparent reason and spending a frequent amount of time shopping at a grocery store where he eventually crosses paths with Lillian while waiting in line at the checkout-counter. They both exchange awkward glances and flirtations before going their separate ways.

Never fear, Lillian and Dan do meet again but this time under bizarre circumstances that are completely nonsensical. To highlight the ridiculous absurdity of the film, I must briefly outline their second chance encounter. Considering the complete lack of narrative structure, spoilers are a non-issue. Lillian decides to throw a birthday party but since having no friends, she decides to post public invitations via flyers in the lobby of the grocery store and around her neighborhood (such a clever way to illustrate her quirky personality and sense of alienation). Did it not occur to her that inviting random strangers to a birthday party could be potentially dangerous? Of course, Dan sees the advertisement posted on the grocery store bulletin and decides to attend. In a scene of perpetual stupidity, she sits in the middle of the road on top of a portable cooler waiting for her unsuspected guests to arrive. There is a table of food and traditional birthday balloons behind her. Under the false belief that he is a maverick filmmaker, Gibbiser keeps the camera focused on Lilian for close to three minutes as she sits there bored out of her skull, biting her nails and hoping that someone will show up to the party. Finally (oh, see what I did there?), a scruffy looking Dan shows up dressed in a dirty brown overcoat. He is carrying a tupperware of chicken that he accidentally drops due to nervousness of being in the presence of such a beautiful young woman. She laughs at his bumbling nature and then the scene eventually cuts to them peacefully driving along a stretch of highway. Seated in the passenger seat, Lillian is utterly content and shows romantic feelings towards this creepy looking fellow she just happened to meet and they are now going on a road-trip together. I kept wondering if there was a missing scene that was left on the cutting room floor that would help to explain her rash decision but of course, Gibbiser has eschewed  any sort of logical story-telling.

If the previous scene description is any indication, Lillian and Dan’s relationship is utterly unconvincing. Although Kean and Akers can’t be held totally responsible for their weak performances, they seem clueless in their roles and  lack any semblance of chemistry. They struggle to gauge their character’s motivations or desires throughout the entire film; either acting bored or preposterously neurotic in their scenes resulting in unintentional comedy. For instance,when Dan shows up at Lillian’s apartment to explain why he failed to meet her for breakfast the previous day, his apology of stuttering ramblings are cringe-worthy and laugh inducing in their melodramatic farce.

Perhaps I could forgive Gibbiser’s abomination as a poorly crafted student film but that would still be far too generous. It has become even more apparent to me how ephemeral life is having suffered from sitting through this juvenile and laughably horrendous piece of trash. Time is far too precious to waste. You can thank me later for saving almost two hours of your life.

0/10

To interpose a little ease…

•March 9, 2010 • 1 Comment

let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise. Oh Milton, how art thou so brilliant? Yes, this blog will primarily contain random musings on film but it will also serve as a sanctuary for my “frail thoughts” concerning any subject matter. Due to incessant procrastination and laziness, posts may occur at irregular intervals. Thank you for your patience.