Film Review: Miracle Mile (dir by Steve De Jarnatt)


Last night, as I was watching the 1988 film, Miracle Mile, I found myself thinking about the fact that this film literally could not be made today.

No, it’s not because the film itself is about the treat of nuclear war.  Though nuclear war may no longer be as much of a cultural obsession as it apparently was back in the 80s, the fact of the matter is that the U.S., Russia, the UK, France, and China all still have nuclear weapons.  Pakistan, India, and North Korea all claim to have nuclear weapons.  It’s believed that Israel also has a few.  Iran is apparently working on developing an arsenal.  It’s estimated that there are currently 13,865 nuclear weapons in existence, 90% of which are divided between the U.S. and Russia.  That’s not even counting the threat of a terrorist group setting off a nuclear device.  In short, the threat of nuclear war is still very much a real one.

Instead, what truly makes Miracle Mile stand out as a film of its time, is the fact that almost the entire plot revolves around the character of Harry (played by Anthony Edwards) answering a Los Angeles pay phone at four in the morning.

Why is Harry answering a pay phone at 4 in the morning?  It’s because, earlier, he met Julie (Mare Winningham) at the La Brea Tar Pits and they fell instantly in love.  After spending most of the afternoon together, they made a date to meet at the local diner where Julie worked as a waitress.  Julie’s shift ended at midnight.  Harry went home to get a quick nap before picking her up.  Unfortunately, a power failure — one that was largely caused by Harry carelessly tossing away a cigarette — resulted in Harry’s alarm not going off.  At midnight, while Julie was standing outside the diner, Harry was asleep.

Harry doesn’t wake up until well-past 3 a.m.  After hastily getting dressed, Harry drives down to the diner.  When he arrives, he bumps into a tree and three rats fall off the branches and land on his car, which is a bit of an ominous omen.  (After watching the movie, I did a Google search and discovered that it’s actually not uncommon for rats to hang out in palm trees after dark.  I had no idea.  I’m glad I don’t live near any palm trees.)

By the time Harry arrives, Julie’s already gone.  From the payphone outside the diner, Harry calls Julie and leaves an apologetic message on her answering machine.  (Julie sleeps through it.)  Within minutes of Harry hanging up, the pay phone rings again.  Harry answers it, expecting to speak to Julie.  Instead, he finds himself talking to a panicked soldier who was trying to call his father but who dialed the wrong area code.  The soldier says that a war is about to break out and that everyone is going to die.  Suddenly, Harry hears what sounds like a gunshot.  Another voice gets on the phone and tells Harry to go back to sleep and forget about the call.

Of course, the reason why this story couldn’t take place in 2020 is pretty obvious to see.  No one uses pay phones anymore.  If the movie were made today. Harry would have just Julie on his own phone and then waited for her to call him back.  The soldier would never have misdialed his father’s area code.  Harry never would have gotten the message that the world was about to end and most of the subsequent events in Miracle Mile never would have happened.  Harry would have just sat in the diner and had a cup of coffee and waited for Julie to call until the inevitable happened.  In 2020, that would have been the movie.

So, let’s be happy that this film was made in 1988. during the time when pay phones were everywhere, because Miracle Mile is an excellent film.  Miracle Mile starts out as a romantic comedy, with Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham making for an incredibly adorable couple.  Then, after Harry answers that pay phone, the movie grows increasingly grim as Harry desperately tries to make his way to Julie and arrange for the two of them to board a plane that a mysterious woman (Denise Crosby) has charted for Antarctica.  The problem, of course, is that in order to reach Julie, Harry is going to need the help of the type of people who are typically up and wandering around at 4 in the morning in Los Angeles.  Several people die as Harry tries to make it to Julie and, smartly, the film doesn’t just shrug off their deaths.  For the majority of the film, Harry isn’t even sure if there’s actually going to be an attack and it’s possible that he’s not only panicking over nothing but that he’s causing others to panic as well.  People are dying because of that phone call and Harry doesn’t even know whether it was real or not.  Even when full scale rioting breaks out, Harry doesn’t know if it’s because the world’s ending or because of a bad joke that he took seriously.  Transitioning from romantic comedy to dark comedy, Miracle Mile eventually becomes a nightmare as it becomes obvious that, even if Harry does reach Julie, escaping the city is not going to be easy.  The sun is rising and the truth is about that phone call is about to revealed….

Miracle Mile is a film that will get your heart racing.  On the one hand, Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham have such a wonderful chemistry and they’re both just so damn likable that you want them to find each other and stay together.  Even if it means running the risk of being incinerated in a nuclear explosion, you want Harry and Julie to be with each other.  At the same time, you watch the movie with the knowledge that, even if they do manage to reunite, it might not matter because the world’s going to end.  Remarkably, almost everyone who Harry talks to about the phone call believes him when he says that a war is about break out.  Almost all of them have a plan to escape and, as a viewer, you get so wrapped up in the film that it’s only later that you realize that none of their plans made any sense.  Hiding out in Antarctica?  How exactly is that going to work?  Antarctica’s not exactly a place to which you impulsively move.  If there is truly no way to escape the inevitable, perhaps we should just be happy that Julie and Harry found love, even if it was right before the apocalypse.

Film Review: Streets of Fire (dir by Walter Hill)


File this one under your mileage may vary…

Okay, so here’s the deal.  I know that this 1984 film has a strong cult following.  A few months ago, I was at the Alamo Drafthouse when they played the trailer and announced a one-night showing and the people sitting in front of me got so excited that it was kind of creepy.  I mean, I understand that there are people who absolutely love Streets of Fire but I just watched it and it didn’t really do much for me.

Now, that may not sound like a big deal because, obviously, not everyone is going to love the same movies as everyone else.  I love Black Swan but I have friends who absolutely hate it.  Arleigh and I still argue about Avatar.  Leonard and I still yell at each other about Aaron Sorkin.  Erin makes fun of me for watching The Bachelorette.  Jedadiah Leland doesn’t share my appreciation for Big Brother and the Trashfilm Guru and I may agree about Twin Peaks but we don’t necessarily agree about whether or not socialism is a good idea.  And that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy and respectful disagreement!

But the thing is — Streets of Fire seems like the sort of film that I should love.

It’s a musical.  I love musicals!

It’s highly stylized!  I love stylish movies!

It’s from the 80s!  I love the 80s films!  (Well, most 80s films… if the opening credits are in pink neon, chances are I’ll end up liking the film…)

It takes place in a city where it never seems to stop raining.  Even though the neon-decorated sets give the location a futuristic feel, everyone in the city seems to have escaped from the 50s.  It’s the type of city where people drive vintage cars and you can tell that one guy is supposed to be a badass because he owns a convertible.  All of the bad guys ride motorcycles, wear leather jackets, and look like they should be appearing in a community theater production of Grease.

Singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) has been kidnapped by the Bombers, a biker gang led by Raven (Willem DaFoe).  Ellen’s manager and lover, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), hires Tom Cody (Michael Pare) to rescue Ellen.  Little does Billy know that Cody and Ellen used to be lovers.  Cody is apparently a legendary figure in the city.  As soon as he drives into town, people starting talking about how “he’s back.”  The police see Cody and automatically tell him not to start any trouble.  Raven says that he’s not scared of Cody and everyone rolls their eyes!

It’s up to Cody to track Ellen down and rescue her from Raven and … well, that’s pretty much what he does.  I think that was part of the problem.  After all of the build-up, it’s all a bit anti-climatic.  It doesn’t take much effort for Cody to find Ellen.  After Cody escapes with Ellen, it doesn’t take Raven much effort to track down Cody.  It all leads to a fist fight but who cares?  As a viewer, you spend the entire film waiting for some sort of big scene or exciting action sequence and it never arrives.  The film was so busy being stylish that it forgot to actually come up with a compelling story.

I think it also would have helped if Tom Cody had been played by an actor who had a bit more charisma than Michael Pare.  Pare is too young and too stiff for the role.  It doesn’t help to have everyone talking about what a badass Tom Cody is when the actor playing him doesn’t seem to be quite sure what the movie’s about.  Also miscast is Diane Lane, who tries to be headstrong but just comes across as being petulant.  When Cody and Ellen get together, they all the chemistry of laundry drying on a clothesline.

On the positive side, Willem DaFoe is believably dangerous as Raven and Amy Madigan gets to play an ass-kicking mercenary named McCoy.  In fact, if McCoy had been the main character, Streets of Fire probably would have been a lot more interesting.

I guess Streets of Fire is just going to have to be one of those cult films that I just don’t get.

Catching-Up With Two Courtroom Dramas: Suspect and 12 Angry Men


As a part of my continuing effort to get caught up with reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen this year, here’s two courtroom dramas that I recently caught on This TV.

  • Suspect
  • Released in 1987
  • Directed by Peter Yates
  • Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Fred Melamed, Bernie McInerney, Bill Cobbs, Richard Gant, Jim Walton, Michael Beach, Ralph Cosham, Djanet Sears 

Suspect is a hilariously dumb movie.  How dumb is it?  Let me count the ways.

First off, Cher plays a highly successful if rather stressed public defender.  And don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that Cher is a bad actress or anything.  She’s actually pretty good when she’s playing Cher.  But, in this movie, she’s playing someone who managed to graduate from law school and pass the DC bar.

Secondly, Cher is assigned to defend a homeless man when he’s accused of murdering a clerk who works for the Justice Department.  The homeless man is deaf and mute, which isn’t funny.  What is funny is when he gets a shave and a shower and he’s magically revealed to be a rather handsome and fresh-faced Liam Neeson.  Liam doesn’t give a bad performance in the role.  In fact, he probably gives the best performance in the film.  But still, it’s hard to escape the fact that he’s Liam Neeson and he basically looks like he just arrived for a weekend at Cannes.

Third, during the trial, one of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) decides to investigate the case on his own.  Cher even helps him do it, which is the type of thing that would get a real-life attorney disbarred.  However, I guess Cher thinks that it’s worth the risk.  I guess that’s the power of Dennis Quaid’s smile.

Fourth, the prosecuting attorney is played by Joe Mantegna and he gives such a good performance that you find yourself hoping that he wins the case.

Fifth, while it’s true that real-life attorneys are rarely as slick or well-dressed as they are portrayed in the movies, one would think that Cher would at least take off her leather jacket before cross-examining a witness.

Sixth, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the homeless man is innocent.  We know he’s innocent from the minute that we see he’s Liam Neeson.  Liam only kills who people deserve it.  The real murderer is revealed at the end of the film and it turns out to be the last person you would suspect, mostly because we haven’t been given any reason to suspect him.  The ending is less of a twist and more an extended middle finger to any viewer actually trying to solve the damn mystery.

I usually enjoy a good courtroom drama but bad courtroom dramas put me to sleep.  Guess which one Suspect was.

 

  • 12 Angry Men
  • Released 1997
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
  • Starring Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Mary McDonnell, Tyrees Allen, Douglas Spain

The 12 Angry Men are back!

Well, no, not actually.  This is a remake of the classic 1957 film and it was produced for Showtime.  It’s updated in that not all of the jurors are white and bigoted Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) is now a member of the Nation of Islam.  Otherwise, it’s the same script, with Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) trying to convince the other jurors not to send a young man to Death Row while Juror #3 (George C. Scott) deals with his family issues.

I really wanted to like this production, as it had a strong cast and a strong director and it was a remake of one of my favorite films.  Unfortunately, the remake just didn’t work for me.  As good an actor as Jack Lemmon was, he just didn’t project the same moral authority as Henry Fonda did the original.  If Fonda seemed to be the voice of truth and integrity, Lemmon just came across like an old man who had too much time on his hands.  Without Fonda’s moral certitude, 12 Angry Men simply becomes a story about how 12 men acquitted a boy of murder because they assumed that a woman would be too vain to wear her glasses to court.  The brilliance of the original is that it keeps you from dwelling on the fact that the accused was probably guilty.  The remake, however, feels like almost an argument for abandoning the jury system.

A Movie A Day #308: Number One With A Bullet (1987, directed by Jack Smight)


Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops.  Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.”  (Who says criminals aren’t clever?)  Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room.  Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts).  Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth.  Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.

It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon.  As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.”  Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women.  Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine.  Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.

Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are.  There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag.  There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s.  They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball.  For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.

Playing Catch-Up: Fences (dir by Denzel Washington)


Well, 2016 is officially over and soon, it will be time for me to start posting my picks for the best of the year!  I’ve still got a lot of movies that I need to review (and, in some cases, watch) before making out that last so let’s not waste any time!  It’s time to start playing catch up!

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In Fences, Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson.  When the film begins, Troy is 51 years old and lives in Philadelphia in the 1950s.  He’s a proud, charming, and often angry man.  He’s the type of man who can tell a wonderful story and who can make you laugh but, at the same time, you’re always aware that he could explode at any minute.  It’s hard not to like Troy Maxson but, at times, it’s hard not to be a little scared of him.

Troy is a garbage man, apparently destined to spend the rest of his working life hanging onto the back of a garbage truck because his union does not allow black to drive the trucks.  Troy has recently complained about the lack of black drivers and, as he tells his best friend, Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), he’s now expecting to be disciplined.  However, to his great surprise, he is instead reassigned to be a driver, making him the first black man to work as a driver for the Philadelphia Sanitation Department.

And that may not seem like much today but, as the film makes clear, that was a huge deal in the 1950s.

Troy, of course, didn’t grow up wanting to be a garbage man.  As he tells his son, Troy left home when he was just a teenager and made his living as a mugger.  During one robbery, he accidentally killed a man and spent the next decade in prison.  It was in prison that he first met and befriended Bono.  It was also in prison that Troy discovered that he was a pretty good baseball player.  Upon his release, he played for the Negro League.  Though everyone agrees that Troy was a good player (and Troy is always quick to claim that he was the best), he never played for the Major Leagues.  The film suggests that, after the league was integrated, Troy tried out but was rejected.  His wife, Rose (Viola Davis), says that Troy was rejected because, at the age of 40, he was too old.  Troy says it was because of the color of his skin.

As I said, it’s hard not to admire Troy.  He’s a man who stands up for himself and he seems to sincerely love his wife.  When his oldest son, a musician named Lyons (Russell Hornsby), comes by to ask for money, it’s hard not to laugh with and appreciate the style with which Troy shows his irritation.  Troy is so charming that, it’s only after Lyons leaves, that you realize that Lyons practically begged his father to come see him play and Troy pretty much blew him off.

And then there’s Troy’s youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo).  Cory is in high school.  He’s a football player and he’s recently been scouted by a college.  Troy tells Cory that he’s wasting his time and that no black man will ever be given a fair chance in the NFL.  He tells Cory that he needs to get a real job, like he did.  And as Troy continues to yell at Cory, you start to understand Troy’s jealousy.  Cory has an opportunity that Troy will never have, not due to any difference in talent as much as to the fact that Troy grew up at a time when segregation was the unquestioned law of the land whereas Cory is coming of age the beginning of the civil rights era.

At one point, Cory asks his father, “Why don’t you like me?”

“I don’t have to like you,” Troy replies and the words sting.

Troy is a character about whom you’ll have mixed feelings.  Beyond his anger at his son, he’s also exploiting his mentally impaired brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson).  Gabe has a metal plate in his head, the result of his service in World War II.  Gabe receives a monthly disability check and Troy has been using that money to support his family.

Through it all, Rose remains by his side, listening to him when he’s angry and, whenever she can get a word in, acting as his conscience.  But then, Bono asks Troy about his relationship with Alberta, the new girl at work and Troy confesses what the audience suspected.  Not only is Troy cheating on his wife but Alberta is pregnant….

Troy is a great character and Denzel Washington gives perhaps his best film performance in the role.  (Washington already played the role on stage.)  In many ways, Troy is a monster but, at the same time, it’s impossible not to feel for him.  His anger is real.  His selfishness is all too real.  But his pain and his (legitimate) frustrations are very real, as well.  Troy Maxson is a character who, like everyone, struggles to maintain his balance as he walks the line between right and wrong.  He makes several mistakes but he’s never less than fascinating and Washington’s volcanic performance is never less than enthralling.  Matching Washington every step of the way is Viola Davis, giving a powerful performance as the loyal but outspoken Rose.

In fact, the entire film is a master class of great acting.  (If Mykelti Williamson occasionally goes a bit overboard as Gabe, that has more to do with the character than the performer.)  Though the film is dominated by Washington and Davis, I think special mention has to be made of Stephen McKinley Henderson, who brings a lot of understated wisdom to the role of Bono.

Denzel Washington also directed Fences and, unfortunately, he’s not as good a director as he is an actor.  While he goes get brilliant performances from his cast, Fences never really breaks free from its theatrical origins.  It’s very much a filmed play as opposed to a cinematic work of art and, the few scenes that attempt to “open up” the play feel somewhat awkward.  In the end, Fences is best as a record of incredible acting.

Film Review: The Purge: Election Year (dir by James DeMonaco)


The_Purge_Election_Year

I had really high hopes for The Purge: Election Year.

While the first Purge film was definitely flawed, it still had an interesting and thought-provoking premise behind it.  What would we do, the film forced us to ask, if we could do anything we wanted to for one night out of the year?  Would you hide in your house or would you go out and randomly kill people?  Yes, The Purge had its flaws but it was an interesting film.

And then, in 2014, The Purge: Anarchy was released.  Anarchy was one of the best films of 2014 (a film that saw no shortage of great films).  It was a big, loud, and over-the-top masterpiece of the pulp imagination, one that managed to be as thought-provoking as the first film while also keeping audiences entertained.  It was a political movie, perhaps one of the most overtly political to be released over the past ten years.  And yet, it was also amazingly entertaining.  By further exploring the type of society that would come up with something like an annual Purge, Anarchy forced audiences to think even as it gave them reasons to cheer and hiss.  For many viewers, it also served as an introduction to a tough and grizzled actor named Frank Grillo.  In the role of the enigmatic but ultimately good-hearted Leo Barnes, Frank Grillo gave an outstanding performance.

Well, The Purge: Election Year continues its exploration of the culture behind the Purge.  And Frank Grillo is back as Leo.  It should be said that, just as he did in Anarchy, Grillo supplies Election Year with some of its best moments.  Much like Clint Eastwood, Grillo can communicate an entire backstory just be squinting his eyes.

But overall, Election Year is a disappointment.  As I watched it, I found myself wondering if maybe director James DeMonaco should have quit when he was ahead and ended the series with Anarchy.  Anarchy pushed the idea behind The Purge about as far as it could go and it is perhaps not surprising that Election Year often feels like a rehash that was constructed out of leftovers.

Election Year finds Leo working as head of security for U.S. Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell).  Charlie, who saw her family massacred during an earlier purge, is running for President on an anti-Purge platform and it appears that she’s about to overtake the candidate of the New Founding Fathers, the Rev. Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor).  The New Founding Fathers decide that the best way to take care of Charlie would be to assassinate her on Purge Night.  They announce that, for the first time since the Purge began, government leaders will no longer be granted immunity.

In short, anyone can be killed!

Leo’s idea is for Charlie to stay inside during Purge Night but, if that happened, there wouldn’t be a movie.  Naturally, Leo and Charlie eventually end up on the streets and they get to witness a few surreal and violent moments, none of which have quite the impact of anything we previously saw in Anarchy.  They are given some assistance by a deli owner (Mykleti Williamson) and, naturally, they meet up with rebel leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).  Just like in the previous film, Leo is eventually forced to decide between purging and showing mercy.

And it’s really never that interesting.  The whole film just falls flat.  The first two Purge film worked because they convinced you that something like The Purge could actually happen.  When, at the end of Anarchy, Leo chose not to murder someone, it felt like a great moment because you truly believed that Leo could have gotten away with murder if he wanted to.  But Election Day is never convinces you that you’re watching anything more than a standard issue sequel.  With the exception of Frank Grillo and Kyle Secor (more about him in a moment), none of the actors are particularly memorable or believable.  In fact, Mykelti Williamson gives a performance that is almost amazingly bad.

I think a huge part of the problem is that the character of Charlie is never credible.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a good actress and has appeared in some of my favorite TV shows (she was Juliet on Lost, for instance) but you never believe that she’s a dynamic senator who is destined to save America from itself.  Every character in the film has at least one moment in which he or she is required to talk about how much they love Charlie.  The film spends so much time worshipping her that it apparently forgot to make her believable.

(It’s hard not to compare Election Year to Anarchy.  Anarchy advocated revolution.  Election Year argues that the system will eventually correct itself, going so far as to present the revolutionaries as almost being villains because they’re not properly deferential to a wealthy white liberal.)

However, I do have to say that Election Year is occasionally elevated by the thoroughly over-the-top performance of an actor named Kyle Secor.  It’s almost as if Secor alone understood that Election Year needed a jolt of pure adrenaline and, at the end of the film, he goes out of his way to provide it.  He bulges his eyes.  He shrieks out his lines.  His entire body shakes and it’s damn near brilliant.  He’s a lot of fun and his performance is probably the most entertaining thing about Election Year.

Undoubtedly, there will eventually be a sequel to Election Year.  Hopefully, it’ll be an improvement.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #66: Desperate Lives (dir by Robert Michael Lewis)


DL-cov2YouTube, my old friend, you have failed me.

For the longest time, the 1982 anti-drug melodrama Desperate Lives has been available for viewing on YouTube.  I first watched it two years ago, after I read an online article about a scene in which a teenage Helen Hunt takes PCP and jumps through a window.  And, when I watched it, I was stunned.  I knew that the film was going to be over-the-top and silly, largely because it’s hard to imagine how a film featuring a teenage Helen Hunt taking PCP could be anything other than that.  But, even with my experience of watching over the top message movies, nothing could have quite prepared me for Desperate Lives.

So, I figured, for this review, that I’d say a few snarky words about Desperate Lives and then I’d just add something like, “And you can watch it below!”  And then I would embed the entire movie and all of y’all could just click on play and watch a movie on the Lens.

Unfortunately, Desperate Lives has been taken off of YouTube.  I assume the upload violated some sort of copyright thing.  And really, it’s kinda stupid because seriously, Desperate Lives is one of those films that really deserves to be seen for free on YouTube.

Oh well.  You can still watch a video of Helen Hunt jumping through that window.  The video below also features some additional elements from Desperate Lives.

For instance, you get to see Diana Scarwid playing the angriest high school guidance counselor in the world.  Scarwid knows that students like Helen Hunt are using drugs and that her fellow faculty members are turning a blind eye to everything’s that’s happening.  From the minute she first appears on screen, Scarwid is shouting at someone and she doesn’t stop screaming until the film ends.

And you also get to see Doug McKeon, playing Helen Hunt’s brother.  McKeon goes for a drive with his girlfriend, who has just taken PCP herself.  As their car goes flying off a mountain, she says, “Wheeee!”

In the video below, you also get to see that the only reason Helen Hunt used drugs was because her boyfriend begged her to.  That’s a scenario that seems to show up in a lot of high school drug films and it’s strange because it’s something that I’ve never actually seen happen or heard about happening in real life.  In fact, in real life, most users of hard drugs are actually very happy to not share their supply.

Unfortunately, the video below does not feature any scenes of Sam Bottoms as the world’s most charming drug dealer and that’s a shame because he gives the only good performance in the entire film (sorry, Helen!).

Even worse, the video doesn’t include any scenes from the film’s memorably insane conclusion, in which Scarwid searches every single locker in the school and then interrupts a pep rally so she can set everyone’s stash on fire in the middle of the gym.  Making it even better is that all the students are so moved by Scarwid’s final speech that they start tossing all of the drugs that they have on them into the fire.

Which means that the film essentially ends with the entire school getting high off of a huge marijuana bonfire.

No, that scene cannot be found in the video below.  But you can find Helen Hunt jumping through a window so enjoy.

Shattered Politics #63: Primary Colors (dir by Mike Nichols)


Primaryposter

Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is the charismatic governor of an unnamed Southern state.  After spending his entire life in politics, Jack is finally ready to run for President.  Even more ready is his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson).  Jack proves himself to be a strong candidate, a good speaker who understands the voters and who has the ability to project empathy for almost anyone’s situation. He’s managed to recruit a talented and dedicated campaign staff, including the flamboyant Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and journalist Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).  Henry is the son of a civil rights leader and, as soon as they meet, Jack talks about the first time that he ever heard Henry’s father speak.  Within minutes of first meeting him, Henry believes in Jack.

The problem, however, is that there are constant hints that Jack may not be worthy of his admiration.  There’s the fact that he’s a compulsive womanizer who is given to displays of temper and immaturity.  When one of Jack’s old friends reveals that Jack may have impregnated his daughter, Jack and Susan respond with a pragmatic ruthlessness that takes Henry by surprise.

When one of Jack’s mistresses threatens to go public, Henry is partnered up with Libby (Kathy Bates) and sent to dig up dirt on her and her sponsors.  When the former governor of Florida, Freddie Picker (Larry Hagman), emerges as a threat to derail Jack’s quest for the nomination, Henry and Libby are again assigned to research Picker’s background.  Libby is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.  Recovering from a mental breakdown, Libby has no trouble threatening to shoot one political opponent but she’s still vulnerable and idealistic enough that it truly hurts her when Jack and Susan repeatedly fail to live up to her ideals.  As an out lesbian, Libby is perhaps the only character who has no trouble revealing her true self and, because of her honesty, she is the one who suffers the most.

First released in 1998 and based on a novel by Joe Klein, Primary Colors is an entertaining and ultimately rather bittersweet dramedy about the American way of politics.  John Travolta and Emma Thompson may be playing Jack and Susan Stanton but it’s obvious from the start that they’re meant to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to Travolta’s attempt to sound Southern, this is ultimately one of his best performances.  As played by Travolta, Jack Stanton is charming, compassionate, self-centered, and ultimately, incredibly frustrating.  One reason why Primary Colors works is because we, as an audience, come to believe in Jack just as much as Henry does and then we come to be just as disillusioned as Libby.  Emma Thompson’s performance is a little less obviously based on Hillary.  Unlike Travolta, she doesn’t attempt to imitate Hillary’s voice or mannerisms.  But she perfectly captures the steely determination.

Primary Colors captures both the thrill of believing and the inevitability of disillusionment.  It’s definitely a film that I will rewatch in the days leading up to 2016.