Sunday, June 14, 2015

Miracle Mile (Steve De Jarnatt, 1988)

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding why Anthony Edwards' Harry Washello jumped out of the back of that moving food truck near the beginning of Miracle Mile. Oh, I get it, he wants to rescue Julie Peters, the woman he met at The Page Museum the previous day. But the funny thing is, Julia Peters isn't played by Betsy Russell. No, she's played by Mare Winningham!?! You see what I'm getting at? Now, I'm not trying to imply that Mare Winningham isn't worth rescuing because she doesn't look like Betsy Russell, it's just that Anthony Edwards just met her... like, five hours ago. However, as Anthony, er, I mean, Harry Washello, says in the film's intro, "Love can sure spin your head around." Meaning, love can make people do crazy things. Whoa, I think better start steering this review into less obnoxious waters. The last thing I want is this to be is one of those Miracle Mile reviews that spends the majority of its time bemoaning the fact that Mare Winningham is no Betsy Russell. And that's what it's starting to become. That being said, the casting of Mare Winningham as the lead's love interest was a bold decision. Which is not that surprising, as the film, written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt (Cherry 2000), is filled with bold (and some idiotic) decisions.

If you think about it, Mare Winningham is the perfect woman for a socially awkward trombone player. (Don't you mean, "socially awkward museum employee who plays the trombone on the side"?) That's just the thing, I always thought Harry Washello worked at The Page Museum (a.k.a. La Brea Tar Pits). But get this, he's doesn't, he's simply a humble trombone player (one who's in town to play a series of concerts).

Okay, now that we've established what Harry Washello does for a living, and tiptoed around the fact that Mare Winningham is an unconventional leading lady, it needs to be said, and as often as possible, that Miracle Mile is a top-notch thriller.

Seriously, the moment Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) enters Johnie's Coffee Shop at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, I was transfixed. Which is not something I can say about a lot of films. Most movies are a real chore to sit through. Either they fail to hold my attention or are just stuffed with superfluous nonsense.

Anyway, getting back to the scene in the museum. Even though I initially thought Harry Washello was employed at the museum and that Julie Peters (Mare Winningham) was a teacher leading her students on a field trip (she's not a teacher, but a waitress at Johnie's), nothing can damper the sight of the two colossal dorks playfully flirting with one another to the synthy sounds of Tangerine Dream.

Thinking that he's blown it with Julie, Harry goes out to wallow in self-pity near La Brea Tar Pits. But wait, what's this? It's Julie (if you look closely, you'll notice that her purple tights are pressing against her aching girl-maw with the force of a thousand vice grips). It's turns out he hasn't blown it. In fact, that exact opposite is true, as the two embark on a whirlwind romantic adventure. We're talking merry-go-rounds, impromptu lobster liberation, the works, baby.

Oh, and if you thought the music of Tangerine Dream was great during the opening scene, you should hear the piece used during the scene where a bird inadvertently knocks out the power at Harry's hotel. (Wait, what?) A bird tries to use a lit cigarette (one that Harry tossed on the ground) as nesting material. And since the bird's nest lies on a bunch of wires, the fire it sparks causes the hotel's power to go out. As I was saying, the music used  here is my favourite out of all the Tangerine Dream compositions heard throughout this movie, as it perfectly sets up the events that are about to unfold.

Since the power outage causes Harry's alarm to not go off, he ends up missing his rendezvous with Julie; the plan was to pick her up at Johnie's when she got off work at midnight. Sleeping till 3:45am, a panic-stricken Harry rushes over to Johnie's. Of course, Julie isn't there (she would be insane to wait that long). What Harry does find when he gets there is an odd assortment of characters, a revolving digital clock and a ringing pay-telephone.

While Harry should technically ignore these things, especially the ringing pay-phone (no good can ever come from answering one), the person on the other end of the line, time and the early morning diner crowd are what give him a slight edge in the not being vaporized by a nuclear explosion department.

According to the person on the other end of the line, a nuclear war is about to get underway, and L.A. basin is going to be, to quote Jenette Goldstein, "a total overkill zone."

Now, some of the folks in the diner believe what Harry tells them. O-Lan Jones (who, of course, plays a waitress), Alan Rosenberg (a street-cleaner), Robert DoQui (Fred the cook), Diane Delano (a stewardess) and, most importantly, Denise Crosby (a.k.a. The Woman with the Mobile Phone), for instance, are convinced he's telling the truth. Whereas, Roger the Transvestite (Danny De La Paz, 3:15), Claude Earl Jones (the other street-cleaner) and Earl Boen's drunk L.A. BBQ expert are less convinced.

The even number between those who believed Harry and those who didn't helped add to the sense of realism. I mean, would you really believe the half-baked ramblings of some stranger in a diner at 4am?

However, it was the way Denise Crosby reacts to certain things that Harry says that convinced me that shit was about to get real. Plus, she carries a mobile phone (only important people carried them back then).

Taking notes on what transpires after Harry takes the phone call proved to be quite difficult, as the film never really gives you a chance to catch your breath. Shot in real time, Miracle Mile is a relentlessly paced thriller that only follows Harry's valiant attempt to rescue Julie, who, like the rest of the city, is sound asleep.

As that damned revolving digital clock constantly reminds us, time of the essence. In other words, will Harry be able to get Julie to the top of 5900 Wilshire Boulevard before the missiles start landing? Or, more importantly, will Harry be able to find a helicopter pilot at 5am? Obviously I'm not going to say. But I will say this, the parts of the film that depict the various reactions of the sleeping masses when they finally find out what's happening are truly terrifying.


  1. Blu-Ray release July 28 with tons of extras:

    Audio Commentary with Director Steve De Jarnatt and Film Critic Walter Chaw
    Audio Commentary with Steve De Jarnatt, DP Theo van de Sande and Production Designer Chris Horner
    Excavations From the Editing Room Tar Pits - Deleted Scenes, Outtakes and Bloopers
    Supporting Cast and Crew Reunion Featurette
    Harry and Julie: Interview with stars Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham
    Alternate Diamond Ending
    Trailers for Miracle Mile and Cherry 2000

    Also releasing on Blu - CHERRY 2000.

  2. Love this film and esp. how white-knuckle intense it gets once Harry takes that phone call.

    Also, the film gets major points for its Thomas Pynchon reference (Crosby's characters as the Cliff's Notes to Gravity's Rainbow - ha!).

    1. I must have missed the Pynchon reference. Though, I did notice that one of the corpses was clutching a copy of the latest issue of Variety during the traffic jam/riot scene.

  3. As L Ronentiomed, Miracle Mile is coming to Blu-ray this month, July 28th to be exact.

    I have it on Amazon pre-ord.

    Another one of your favs coming to Blu this month, Roller Boogie, complete with Linda Blair's gorgeous thighs ( whom I as then a young US Marine wanted to have my head squeezed in them). That and her boobs as well.
    Now if we could only get Xanadu and Skatetown USA rolling their way to Blu-ray...

    1. You wanted Linda Blair to squeeze your head with her gorgeous thighs?!? That's... perfectly understandable. :D