Miracle Mile (1988)

(Image yoinked from The Hollywood Reporter)

A few years ago, I happened to catch Cherry 2000 (1987) on TCM’s late-night “Underground” programming. It was my introduction to director Steve De Jarnatt and his warped vision of the world — and I rather liked it. Although Cherry 2000 was filmed in California and Nevada (I just checked IMDb), it had a distinctly “Aussie” vibe to it. (It’s extremely zany, after all… and quite violent.) So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Jarnatt is, in fact, an American (I had him pegged as European at least), and I vowed to watch his only other film — 1988’s Miracle Mile with Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham — when I got a chance.

Well, it took a while, but I finally sat down and watched it the other night — and, even though I didn’t like it very much, the movie certainly didn’t disappoint (in a strictly cinematic sense). It was a weird and wild trip — from its romantic, idiosyncratic beginning to its nerve-racking, poetic ending. Even the opening credits were very cool. Tangerine Dream composed a slick, surreal soundtrack for the flick — and the movie’s cinematography was consistently colorful and eye-popping. The dude who played the perennially traumatized psychologist in the O.G. Terminator series (1984-2003), Earl Boen, made a cameo as a rambling drunk at a diner, and Kurt Fuller (from Wayne’s World [1992]) will now forever haunt my dreams due to his brief but impassioned performance as a yuppie having a meltdown 😉 Also, halfway through the frenetic ordeal, I realized that a young Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump [1994]) was playing the somewhat stereotypical character of Wilson!

The whole thing reminded me of an Alex Cox fever dream — when Alex was at his absolute best — but with funky pastels and synthesizers. It made downtown L.A. look gorgeous in the predawn hours, although there was a disturbing lack of background characters throughout most of the film. It was full of good humor — like when Edwards’ character walks into a glass door after taking the most intense phone call of his life, or when someone asked if there were any “hardcore Christians” among the group and only the unshowered homeless guy raised his hand.

But, alas, it was also super intense — and the tone was too uneven, overall, to fully embrace. I really enjoyed the jarring, circular conclusion, but it’s not the first anti-nuke movie that I would recommend to my friends. (That would probably be Fail Safe [1964] or Planet of the Apes [1968].) Offensive tropes abound. Most of the characters are aloof or, in some cases, on drugs. It admittedly captured the height-of-the-Cold War-era panic that was peaking around 1988 — but it’s a loud, stressful movie that only a scared deer would enjoy watching twice.

I’m going to give it two pot leafs out of five and then… “go back to sleep”:
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Miracle Mile (1988)

If…. (1968)

I did not expect this movie from the late 60s about life at an all-boys prep school to be so thoroughly unsettling. But it’s been 24 hours since I watched it, and this heavy-handed satirical allegory is still rattling around inside my brain like a piece of cinematic shrapnel. It’s a particularly tough film for me to rate because, on one hand, it’s a darkly comic and surreal tale of youthful rebellion — a popcorn movie to snort and chortle through. But, on the other hand, it’s a truly scathing indictment of Western tradition, brimming with repressed sexuality, homoerotic relationships, and violent revenge fantasies.

The movie represents Malcolm McDowell’s first role in a feature length film — after several TV appearances — and his charisma is immediately palpable. He delivers some of the film’s most memorable and beguiling lines, such as, “My face is a never-fading source of wonder to me,” while shaving his mustache in the mirror or, “Violence and revolution are the only pure acts,” while musing, drunkenly, with his adolescent cohorts. He’s obviously the film’s protagonist, but he’s also obviously unstable — the rather demented product of an overly rigid, outdated, and suppressive system. (At least, that’s my interpretation 😉) And as the movie unfolds, he [d]evolves into the type of revolutionary who, upon overthrowing the tyrant, becomes an even bigger tyrant himself.

That’s really what sets If…. apart from so many other “counterculture” movies. Director Lindsay Anderson employs disorienting symbolism and over-the-top metaphors to create a work of art that simultaneously engages and repulses. The result is cerebral and introspective, but also extremely punk rock — basically, an anarchist masterpiece. His characters are all caricatures, who collide in tragic but seemingly inevitable ways, and the film’s conclusion is an explosive fever dream that cements the movie’s status as one of the most controversial of its time. (I certainly understand why it got the Criterion treatment.)

I’ve only attended coed public schools in the United States, so I can’t relate to the characters’ experiences directly — and I’m very glad about that — but I really enjoyed If…. It produced some of my favorite lines in movie history (“Scruffiness of any kind is deplorable.”) and it forced me to ponder several uncomfortable truths about our modern age. (I’m not even sure what I can compare this crazy flick to! Maybe Barry Levinson’s Sleepers [1996], except much less dramatic and much more demented?) It’s a riot and a blast — in the true sense of those words — but it’s not exactly pleasant or inspiring.

I’m definitely excited to watch the loose “sequel,” O Lucky Man! (1973), but If…. disturbed me as much as it entertained me. So, while I’m awfully tempted to award it four pot leafs out of five for its eccentric, avant-garde style, I’m only going to give it three:
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PS — I have a theory about Anderson’s use of black-and-white shots in this film, by the way: The scenes without color seem to occur when the characters are acting most naturally. They occur in bedrooms, kitchens, churches, and gymnasiums, for example, when the characters seem least conscious of society’s pressures and demands. In contrast, the bulk of the film, which is in color, largely depicts characters conforming to the strict social hierarchies they perceive all around them. But I would be thrilled to discuss this with someone in the comments section.

If…. (1968)

Night Moves (1975)

Alright, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to award this site’s highest honor: Five pot leafs out of five! As one of the three Open-Minded Critics here, I’m declaring this wonderfully funky and surprisingly cerebral neo-noir detective flick from the 1970s damn near perfect. (I also maintain the distinction of doling out this site’s only one-leaf ratings so far [for The Hateful Eight (2015) and Quintet (1979)]. But I digress…) Night Moves is one of those rare gems in which everything gels just right — the acting, the editing, the direction, the music — but it’s Alan’s Sharp’s phenomenally understated script that makes the film such a true masterpiece. (And since he’s responsible for the screenplay of another one of my favorite thrillers, The Osterman Weekend [1983], I think I’ll have to do a deep dive into this guy’s work sometime!)

I’ll admit that the 70s is my favorite decade for film — and that nihilistic noirs from that era, with private investigators who are witty cynics, living in plastic, hyper-globalized worlds, populated by surreal tropes and outlandish caricatures, is probably my favorite genre that exists 😉 But Night Moves is as good as Chinatown (1974), in my opinion; it’s equally sprawling and meditative. What starts as a case of a missing teenager quickly evolves into a tangled web of quirky, questionable characters, each with their own unique motivation and ambitions. Fast cuts and a groovy original score propel Gene Hackman’s gumshoe through the Hollywood Hills and the Florida Keys — and every line of dialogue is a clever, meticulous brush stroke. The heavy human drama between the protagonist and his wife is as important and as compelling as the mystery that he’s been hired to investigate. Every character that crosses his path is intriguing and well developed — and a brief conversation about chess in the middle of the script (about three “knight moves,” specifically) helps viewers tie the movie’s myriad themes together.

And I haven’t even said anything about Melanie Griffith or James Woods yet! (This movie represents breakout roles for both of them.) As someone who fancies themselves a “writer,” though, I simply can’t get over Mr. Sharp’s script. He’s created such an incredibly rich puzzle box that is at once light and breezy — as well as profoundly intricate and thoughtful. Night Moves can be enjoyed as a fun, fast-paced mystery or as a symbol-laden, philosophical rumination on life, love, and desire. And since it walks both of those lines so well, I’m going to give it the Open-Minded Critic’s highest possible accolade.

Five full pot leafs out of five:
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PS — Although I do love this movie, there is one thing that doesn’t sit very well with me regarding the ending. Actually, I consider it a rather major flaw! But to avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about it here. I’d love to discuss it with someone in the comments section. Any guesses as to what it might be…?

PPS — I’m still abhorring this Gutenberg Block Editor, WordPress.

Night Moves (1975)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

There’s no good reason for anyone to write a review about The Man with the Golden Gun in 2021. It’s a bad movie, in general. However, maintaining pointless traditions (and over-analyzing inconsequential films) is important to me. So why not discuss one of Eon Productions’ weaker entries in the campy James Bond canon… (ahem) again?

This is the third Bond flick I’ve reviewed on this site. (The first was Goldfinger [1964], which was pretty darn great, and the second was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969], which was a pretty hot mess.) It represents Roger Moore’s second outing as the suave super spy — and he does a fine job. He’s no Sean Connery, of course, but he seems adept at delivering painfully dry puns and cheesy double entendres. This is also the fourth Bond flick directed by Guy Hamilton, who has so far maintained a relatively nice balance of cheap humor and high adventure. Yet, despite the standard 007 setup — and the consistently wonderful Christopher Lee as the villain, “Scaramanga” — The Man with the Golden Gun manages to disappoint on almost every level.

Here are some of its worst qualities:

1) a half-assed, easily forgettable theme song
2) a meandering, paper-thin plot
3) superfluous male nipples
4) improper, perhaps even offensive, use of a slide whistle
5) a super lame car/airplane hybrid

The Man with the Golden Gun also features some of the worst “science” you can possibly imagine. It’s quite funny now, but apparently Hollywood had a very tenuous grasp on the concept of solar power back in 1974. (Mild spoiler alert: The international assassin, Scaramanga, is also an eco-terrorist, planning to subvert the fossil fuel industry and establish a new global economy based on solar energy. Slapstick ensues when a giant solar panel focuses sunlight into a deadly, white-hot laser beam!)

The film does have a few strengths, though:

1) exotic sets and locations, as usual, which include stunningly beautiful islands off the coast of Thailand. (I think they’re the same islands that Danny Boyle showcased in The Beach (2000), but I’m not 100% sure. Perhaps somebody could confirm or dispute that in the comments section?)
2) hot “Bond girls”
3) a covert MI6 base on the slanted, sunken wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth in Victoria Harbour
4) Hervé Villechaize as the memorable Nick Nack (although, seriously, what is this character’s motivation? Does he want Scaramanga to live or die?! He’s either a complete psychopath or just very poorly written 🤣)

Overall, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of the weaker Bond flicks I’ve watched (or re-watched) since starting this blog. It joins On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) as my least favorite entries so far. (My favorites have been Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice [1967], just for the record 😉)

Two skimpy pot leafs out of five for this one:
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PS — I am hating this new “Gutenberg” Block Editor that WordPress has forced upon me. Could this be the end of the Open-Minded Critic…??

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

The Chosen (1981)


I rented this movie because I’m borderline obsessed with Robby Benson. After playing Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), Benson did some truly wonderful voice work for three of my absolute favorite projects in the world: the King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow computer game (1992); The Legend of Prince Valiant TV show (1991-1994); and the light years-ahead-of-its-time Exosquad series (1993-1995). (Not to mention an episode of Batman: The Animated Series [1992-1995] and three episodes of Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa [1992-1994]!) It was like the man’s booking agent knew exactly what I liked as a teenager 🤣

Anyway, I wanted to see this truly phenomenal voice actor in another one of his early, live-action roles — and The Chosen seemed like a fine flick to take a chance on. (I knew that many people had expected Benson to skyrocket to stardom in the 1980s. But I had only ever seen him in a movie called City Limits [1984], which was so ridiculously bad that it had been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 [1988-2015]. So I was — and I still am — strangely interested in the man’s extremely unique career.) Although it wasn’t my usual cup of tea, this cute and quirky PG-rated affair was actually quite nice to sit through. Plus, it taught me a bit more about Hasidic Judaism and the bitter infighting among Jewish people that occurred after WWII, when members of the religion were debating the creation of a Jewish state.

Robby Benson and Barry Miller were both very good in their roles, playing two best friends who weather their rocky, formative, pubescent years together despite some rather significant differences in their approaches to spirituality. However, Rod Steiger more or less steals the show with his portrayal of Millers’ father — a strict, orthodox rabbi who throws tons of salt on his son’s bromance. The Chosen was definitely a nice break from my otherwise steady diet of action, sci-fi, and horror flicks — and it only deepened my interest in the enigmatic Robby Benson. But, ultimately, it’s a relatively light, heartwarming family film. And on this weird-ass Web site, such merits only get you so far.

Three pot leafs out of five:
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The Chosen (1981)

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Here’s a niche movie if ever there was one: Viewers must be fairly well versed in Shakespeare and existentialism to fully appreciate this ridiculously verbose, wholly absurd, and at-times completely surreal film. Based on a stage play written in 1966, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a satirical spin on the ubiquitous tragedy, Hamlet, presented from the perspectives of the two titular, but ultimately “minor,” friends of the unstable Danish prince. If that somewhat intellectual premise sounds charming and/or witty to you, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this. But many others, whether their aversion is to literature or to philosophy (the latter of which I can understand, but certainly not the former) will probably be indifferent to — or annoyed by — this weird little flick.

Personally, it didn’t seem like my proverbial cup of tea at first — the Shakespeare theme, that is. (I’m always scouring cinema for new, potentially [r]evolutionary philosophical ideas 😉) But, thankfully, I was able to remember enough of Hamlet from my college days (with just a quick peek at Wikipedia) and keep up with the lightning-fast, Elizabethan-style dialogue that Tom Stoppard wrote — and directed — for his own play. With it, he turns Gary Oldman’s Rosencrantz and Tim Roth’s Guildenstern (or is it the other way around?) into Abbott and Costello-like fools, who have no clear memories of their lives outside Shakespeare’s play. Spouting incessant wordplay, including a memorable, rapid-fire game of Question Tennis, the two baffled characters struggle with their dire, existential crises. Richard Dreyfuss more or less steals the show, however, as the director of the theater troupe that Hamlet pays to perform The Murder of Gonzago. His homoerotic group of actors and macabre monologues regarding blood and death help to remind the audience of mortality, in general — and that the title of the movie is a statement rather than a question.

I must admit that I wound up enjoying this playful, wordy puzzle about life and death. In fact, I reckon it could cheer me up the next time I’m feeling depressed. But it’s so damned silly; at times, it feels like a cerebral Monty Python skit. I had hoped to find cracks in its facade, errors or inconsistencies in Stoppard’s script — and I probed quite thoroughly as I watched — but I wasn’t able to identify any. Actually, I chuckled the whole time, in spite of myself, far from slain, but at least intellectually satisfied.

In the end, we all reach that undiscovered country — and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a light and funny reaffirmation of that cold, hard fact. It’s a solid production, but it doesn’t delve too deeply into the debates and concerns popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. I’ll give it three pot leafs out of five for wading into the deep end of the pool — but only three because it’s still wearing those cute, little water wings:
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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The first movie that The Open-Minded Critic ever reviewed was Goldfinger (1964) — the third entry in the perennial series featuring the foppish, fictional super-spy, James Bond. Since then, I’ve continued — very slowly but surely — to watch the 007 flicks in chronological order. And, although I do realize that it’s rather pathetic I’ve only watched three of them in the past four years, I still think it’ll be fun to revisit the colorful, cinematic universe from time-to-time on this Web site. So, let’s go ahead and take an unnecessarily critical look at the sixth film in the franchise, shall we? It’s likely the least familiar Bond flick — whether you’re an avid fan, a casual fan, or a straight-up hater — for several reasons, anyway.

Seven years (and five feature-length films) after Sean Connery introduced the suave, British misogynist to the movie-going masses, the Scottish actor took a break from the coveted role, and — for a hot second — an Aussie by the name of George Lazenby picked up the mantle. However, Connery returned for one more paycheck in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service represents Lazenby’s only outing as the oh-so-special agent. The man does a fine job, too, showcasing exotic locations and dancing past henchmens’ bullets, delivering silly quips and pistol-whips. Furthermore, Diana Rigg, who plays the “Bond girl” in this one, manages to transcend the role of love interest and outshine every other floozy who’s made the bed springs squeak with our lovable double-0 agent.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features great, choreographed action; phenomenal sets; and Telly Savalas, who’s always fun to see — and arguably the greatest on-screen cigarette smoker in Hollywood history. The movie has all the campy, but vital, hallmarks of a traditional James Bond flick, and yet — here’s where I start to get picky — it manages to feel slightly off-brand. First of all, the theme song is completely instrumental! There’s no pop star crooning the titular chorus during the opening credits; just the standard, psychedelic visuals that seem to accompany every Albert Broccoli production. There’s also a distinct absence of Q Branch and its funky, high-tech gadgets. (Although the wonderful Welsh actor, Desmond Llewelyn, does, at least, make a cameo near the end of the film.) And, my goodness, what an ending this movie has! I don’t want to print any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the last few minutes of the movie are absolutely ridiculous. It’s simultaneously the best ending of any Bond flick in the canon and the worst ending of any Bond flick in the canon.

In fact, the very last scene of the film, including the final line of dialogue delivered by 007, is worth the price of admission. So I’d recommend On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to any James Bond completist — but, unfortunately, not to many other people. Overlooking the ludicrous, meandering plot, the movie suffers from consistently choppy editing — the same thing that sunk Klute — and some of the film’s most impressive sequences (skiing, bobsledding, etc.) are rendered nearly incoherent. (If anyone ever bothers to read my reviews, they’ll know that I take a particularly hard line on this subject 🤣)

Anyway, the second — and certainly not the last — Bond flick reviewed by The Open-Minded Critic gets two harsh pot leafs out of five:
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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Fubar (2002)


This is a tough one to rate. On one hand, Fubar is a mostly unfunny, low-budget “mockumentary” about Canadian head bangers. On the other hand, it’s an oddly compelling tale of a young man’s battle with testicular cancer. So, my feelings about it are mixed, to say the least.

As far as I understand — and, be aware, there is a fair amount of confusion surrounding this production — Paul Spence and David Lawrence are dudes from Calgary with fantastic mullet haircuts and a “metalhead” shtick that involves shotgunning several beers, vandalizing the neighborhood, burping loudly, farting frequently, and waxing philosophical about absurd and/or irreverent topics. (Imagine the guys from Jackass: The Movie [2002] except significantly less mean-spirited — and way more Canadian.) Their loosely-scripted and highly profane faux documentary, Fubar, “directed” by Michael Dowse, successfully blurs the line between reality and sketch comedy — and it’s worth a few chuckles, at least.

But, halfway through this drunken odyssey, Spence’s buffoonish character goes to the hospital for a testicular biopsy — and when he eventually gets the results, the surgical removal of one of his testicles becomes a strangely poignant subplot of the film! From these moments on, I found it difficult to tell which aspects of the characters’ lives were genuine and which were fictionalized. The movie is billed as a lowbrow stoner/buddy comedy — and it certainly is that — but I also suspect that Spence’s on-screen struggle with cancer was real. (Or, to put it another way, I’d be fairly disappointed and moderately offended to find out that the cancer subplot was fabricated.)

Anyway, Fubar is a simple, immature romp through a niche, North American subculture — but I can think of worse ways to spend 76 minutes. The film doesn’t offer any true value or insight; just debauchery and gross-out humor, drawing your eye like a fiery car crash and then making you feel guilty and slightly subhuman for watching it. (To be honest, I got too drunk to review it properly the first time — and I had to re-watch it the next day with a hangover to get the full effect.)

Still, I’m afraid I can only “give’r” two pot leafs out of five, dudes:
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Fubar (2002)

The Hit (1984)


I liked this movie. I wasn’t going to run out and rave about it to my friends or anything, but I was genuinely surprised that — during my crime/caper-obsessed youth — I had never stumbled upon this obscure little gem of the genre. Yet, once I had finally watched it as an “adult,” I didn’t immediately understand why it had received the Criterion treatment on DVD.

Then, after a solid chunk of sleep, I realized that this quirky, violent and, ultimately, understated film had begun to haunt me. Now, days later, The Hit is still wriggling around in my brain like a hooked worm. (And I’ve always considered that to be a sign of a good flick!) I should probably watch it again before I review it. (Actually, this movie is making me rethink my whole system here…) But the vast majority of films reviewed by the Open-Minded Critic have been impulsive, knee-jerk reactions so far. So why should this one be any different?

I shan’t give The Hit any special treatment. Nurse! Pass the scalpel…

Honestly, this gangster flick is for folks who don’t really care for on-screen violence — or gangsters, for that matter. But that’s not to say The Hit isn’t a violent movie. It’s actually quite violent. And pretty vicious too. And rather depraved! (I’m thinking of a strangely sensual hand-chewing scene, in particular 🤣) But it’s also such a slow, poetic, and — dare I say — philosophical film that it takes on the air of a complex, Shakespearean play at times, and I suspect that even my cool grandmother would have enjoyed it on certain levels.

The Hit begins with some very cool title music by the extremely distinctive Eric Clapton, and it goes on to feature some of the most gorgeous long shots of the Spanish countryside ever committed to film. Terence Stamp is genuinely superb as a clever and likable, although technically despicable, British criminal/informant/hostage, who remains completely zen right ’til the end. A baby-faced Tim Roth is also fantastic as an overzealous, but sympathetic, henchman to a cold and quiet assassin, played expertly by the late, great John Hurt. But the script does falter occasionally — and meander frequently — and something about the production, overall, keeps me from loving it.

The Hit is a subtle and nuanced meditation on death, just a bit more palatable than Sexy Beast (2000). More than anything, though, it has inspired me to take a long, leisurely drive across Spain one day. I’ll give it three solid pot leafs out of five:
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The Hit (1984)