DE JARNATT GEMS
Veteran TV director Steve De Jarnatt wrote and directed two ‘80s cult gems, the sci-fi adventure Cherry 2000 and the apocalyptic thriller Miracle Mile, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has finally reissued them on Blu-ray loaded with bonus features, and in the case of the latter film, the widescreen release it has never had on home video.
The films deal with different quests. It’s a post-apocalyptic 2017 in Cherry 2000 (1987), and businessman Sam Treadwell (David Andrews), whose amorous robot wife Cherry (Pamela Gidley) has short circuited, needs feisty bounty hunter Edith “E.” Johnson (flame-haired Melanie Griffith) to help him secure a replacement in a treacherous desert outpost located near a crazed wasteland overlord named Lester (Tim Thomerson). Along the way, Edith challenges Sam’s views of love, women, and companionship. This future world treats casual sexual relationships as legal transactions, which certainly resonates in the age of Tinder where sex with strangers is just a text away and intimacy is a throwaway notion. Side notes: A young Laurence Fishburne cameos as a matchmaking advisor, and the movie features an amazing action stunt involving a car suspended by a crane magnet high over a canyon. (All organic, not digital.)
The stakes are significantly higher in Miracle Mile (1988). Jazz trombonist Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) falls fast and hard for waitress Julie Peters (Mare Winningham), and after missing a late night date at her diner, he unintentionally receives a call at a phone booth from an American missile silo warning of an impending nuclear attack. Is this a prank? Or the truth? And in the next 70 minutes (played out in real time), can Harry find Julie and get out of L.A.? That is, if the attack will happen? Bad things happen before then, and you won’t know until the last few minutes how it will all go down. The Cold War may be over, but that feeling of coming end times remains strong today, making this concept still relevant. Miracle Mile is the greatest love story about the end of the world, and along with The Moderns, one of my favorite love stories ever.
Neither film received a massive release, and De Jarnatt has said that Miracle Mile took a decade to get made. Both films are notable for young turns by later stars, both did a lot with limited budgets, and both proved that concept trumps dollars every time. Kino Lorber has lovingly repackaged both films and delivered new bonus features—including commentaries and, on Miracle Mile, two cast member reunions and deleted scenes—to make up for the bare bones releases that MGM gave them over a decade ago. Keep the cult alive and grab these discs now!
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
The set up: After escaping the clutches of a bellicose tribe, Max Rockatanksy (Tom Hardy) teams up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior/big rig driver gone rogue who is escaping with the five enslaved wives of Immortan Joe, a repressive warlord who controls water, gasoline, and women. As the refugees seek the “green place” where the women can live freely and not be force bred, Immortan Joe, his crazed War Boys, and other allies viciously hunt them through the hot desert and shifting terrain.
The breakdown: George Miller’s fourth entry in his famed series is like The Road Warrior on mega steroids. While nearly the first hour is high octane, adrenaline pumping, frenzied insanity, the director/co-writer then injects moments of repose that allow us to delve into the different characters, their needs, and their motivations in this post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland. By offering a humanist angle and strong female characters while disdaining romantic entanglements, Miller finds the story’s strong beating heart beneath the cacophony and bravado. Unlike most other Hollywood action spectacles, each central character matters, whether they live or die. You feel for them.
FURIOUS 7: EXTENDED EDITION (2015)
The set up: Talk about feuding families. Dom, Letty, Brian, and the rest of the gang find their lives upended yet again when the supremely deadly brother (Jason Statham) of the gangster they took out on their last mission comes seeking revenge for his now comatose sibling. They’re going to need help against this relentless psycho stalker, which comes in the form of a covert government agent (Kurt Russell) seeking the ultimate hacking device called the God’s Eye. If they can secure it and its creator—a goal which involves high speed chases, fights, and gunplay—Dom and his crew can use it to hunt down and strike back against their obsessed foe.
The breakdown: The Fast & Furious franchise is more popular than ever for a variety of reasons—the camaraderie of the cast, the multi-racial casting, the hot cars and extreme stunts, and the clever interweaving of characters from past installments into new ones. And let’s be honest, the untimely death of beloved co-star Paul Walker helped push 7‘s global box office receipts to the $1.5 billion mark. That said, each new Furious movie gets louder, dumber, and more over-the-top than its predecessor. There is some fun to be had here, especially under the solid direction of James Wan, but you have to turn your brain off or it will hurt thinking about how at least half of these characters should have died 15 minutes in from all of the crazy, life-threatening crashes they endure.
THE EDITOR (2014)
The set up: On the set of a low budget Italian giallo movie, cast members are getting bumped off one by one. While the editor, a middle-aged man with a wooden hand, is suspected of the killings, there are many potential murderers here. And many gruesome ways still left to die.
The breakdown: A parody and loving homage to the Italian suspense-horror maestros of the ’70s and ’80s, The Editor references everything from Dario Argento’s Suspiria to Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond to the similar narrative conceit of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright. Co-directors/co-writers Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy and co-writer Conor Sweeney also act in the film and collectively hit the right notes, from the overacting and full-on dubbing (a staple of Italian films until the ’90s) to the saturated color schemes, grisly deaths, and intense soundtracks. (A member of Goblin, known for their Argento scores, contributes some music.) There is also a tongue-in-cheek homoerotic subplot. While not as outlandish as it could have been, loyal fans of Italian giallo films should find this flick to be a hoot. The bonus features show how much of a struggle it was to make this picture, probably like many of its predecessors.
LOST AFTER DARK (2014)
The set up: A group of teens steal a school bus on prom night to go party at a cabin in the woods, but after breaking down along the way, they wind up at a seemingly abandoned old house in the country. Cue the mentally deficient killer with a taste for human flesh.
The breakdown: Set in the ’80s, Lost After Dark incorporates the classic elements of that decade’s teen slasher craze—a mix of popular and awkward teens, raging hormones, bad choices, and the killer’s divide and conquer methodology that ratchets up (or hatchets up) the gory slayings—although the clear reference points here are the Friday The 13th series and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The kill thrills don’t start happening until halfway in, but then the movie rampages through a demented game of cat and mouse. Director/co-writer Ian Kessner and writer Bo Ransdell certainly get the tone right, although the movie is not jump out of your seat scary. It could have used a bit more adrenaline and originality. Robert Patrick turns in a comedic minor appearance as militant educator Mr. C, who thinks of himself in deluded Rambo terms. If you want to delve into the making of the movie, you’re out of luck—as with an ’80s VHS release, you get no bonus features.
ALL IS LOST (2013)
Stranded alone at sea after a random cargo container damages his sailboat, an expert seaman (Robert Redford) must battle the elements, control the damage, and navigate his way back to civilization. What makes this survival saga click is Redford’s intense performance as well as the Perilous Sailing 101 aspect as we struggles to stay afloat. Some people have taken issue with the lack of monologues in the story—he is silent throughout most of the picture—but his face expresses his mindset and feelings more eloquently. (All Is Lost has appropriately been compared to Gravity due to their similar approaches.) It’s nice to see a master actor still ruling the screen in an intimate picture all these decades later.