Friday Editor’s Pick: Miracle Mile (1989)

by on October 13, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri October 21 at 8:00 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]
*Director Steve De Jarnett and star Anthony Edwards in Q&A with Rumsey Taylor


The 3rd Annual Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium takes over 92YTribeca this weekend. Invigoratingly curated, and full of good-natured and intelligent deliberation, its worth a trip into the wormhole. Costumes are encouraged.


According to the program notes, “a selection of rare-to-infamous apocalyptic films and several talks with a wide variety of Doomday experts—neuroscientists, authors, critics, roboticists, and even a chaplain. The festival also incorporates a gallery exhibit, bomb shelter lounge and a DJ’d mix of PSAs, industrial noise, and nuclear meltdown sirens— in short, the End will be all kinds of Nigh.”


Also recommended: Edgar Wright may-or-may-not-be introducing his pick for the fest, Last Night (1998), at 10:30. Cinema Du Meep pairs it and Miracle Mile together at the ultimate End of the World double bill.


So guy meets girl. Guy oversleeps and misses date with girl. Then this happens:


Small wonder Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker awards the film his own BAFTA for “Biggest Lurch of Tone.”


Time Out (London):

A nuclear thriller with a devastating narrative hook. Having arranged to meet a new girlfriend (Mare Winningham) after her night shift at an LA diner, trombone-player and shy romantic Harry (Anthony Edwards) oversleeps and misses her. At 4.05 am, he picks up a ringing pay-phone outside the diner, and a voice screams ‘It’s happening! I can’t believe it. We’re locked into it…50 minutes and counting’. Is this some late-night freak’s joke, or has a chance crossed line given Harry warning of impending nuclear Armageddon? With one deft stroke, writer-director DeJarnatt taps into the nightmare of being the first to know about the (possible) end of the world, and the awesome responsibility of having to communicate this news to others. The patrons of the Miracle Mile diner are understandably skeptical, but with less than an hour to live, Harry’s personal priorities come sharply into focus. Cleverly written, authentically staged and sympathetically played, it’s brave, uncompromising, and above all, frighteningly believable.


Jonathan Rosenbaum even approves, for the Chicago Reader:

This taut, apocalyptic thriller shows some improvement over DeJarnatt’s previous direction of Cherry 2000 (which was released in this country only on videotape). The action all unfolds in and around the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard that constitutes LA’s “miracle mile,” nearly all of it in the middle of the night, and the strongest B-film virtues here (apart from a running time of only 87 minutes) mainly have to do with a very nice feel for the particulars of this time, milieu, and place. Among the many interesting costars (including Lou Hancock, Danny de la Paz, Robert Doqui, Kelly Minter, and Denise Crosby), there’s a particularly nice cameo by John Agar as the heroine’s grandfather.



The evening’s moderator, Rumsey Taylor, for his site Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

Miracle Mile is a modestly-budgeted film with ample imagination and exemplarily resourceful direction. It’s about a potential apocalypse (it directly recalls The Rapture, but it’s much more bombastic), and it’s pervaded by a gathering sense of dread—this sense is amplified in the film’s final two-thirds, which are told nearly in real time. Reportedly, Miracle Mile originated as an episode in The Twilight Zone movie; it does have a simplistic and fantastical narrative (a man picks up a ringing pay phone, and the voice on the other end foretells a nuclear bomb in less than one hour), but it also indulges in aspects that sustain instead of abbreviate the atmosphere of total urgency. In one scene, the characters must find a helicopter pilot; in another author’s hands, a hero pedestrian would responsibly step up to the helm, but here the escape plan is delayed by a frantic search for the pilot. Safety – of both the principle characters and that of humanity in whole – is never certain, not for an instant.


There are so many reasons why this premise should falter, but for the most part it never does. It’s crucial that Harry, receiver of the aforementioned phone call, convince us of an imminent apocalypse as well as his falling for the girl of his dreams—he meets her in the opening scenes, and his instinctive desire for survival is compromised only by his necessity to see to her safety before his own. The film creates an imaginative doomsday scenario, and commits to it with such fierceness that the familiar cinematic scenario is rendered uniquely frightening. This was a near-revelatory discovery for me.


Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times:

`Miracle Mile” has the logic of one of those nightmares in which you’re sure something is terrible, hopeless and dangerous, but you can’t get anyone to listen to you. Besides, you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be mistaken. Much of the movie’s diabolical effectiveness comes from the fact that it never reveals, until the very end, whether the nightmare is real, or only some sort of tragic misunderstanding.


There’s about an hour until the missiles arrive, if they’re indeed arriving. What can be done in that time? Harry desperately tries to find Julie, the girl with whom he wants to share his last moments of life. He and the short-order clerk organize some kind of half-baked attempt to get out of town. Then there’s a plan to use a helicopter pilot to airlift some of the characters out of the target zone. All of these disorganized plans are accompanied by confusion, bad communications, accidents and outbursts of violence – and the clock keeps ticking. “Miracle Mile” reminded me a little, at times, of Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours.” Both show a city at night, sleeping, dreaming, disoriented, while a character desperately tries to apply logic where it will not work. There is real terror in a scene where word of the possible attack begins to spread through the city and there are riots in the streets.


A recent Skype interview with DeJarnett:

Joe Baltake
for The Passionate Moviegoer:

A very special movie, drop-dead beautiful and with an intense sense of style that’s matched by its excellent, legendary script. “Miracle Mile,” with its ripe camera work (courtesy of Holland’s Theo Van de Sande), is over-the-top filmmaking, all twisty and quirky and bizarrely funny – like a fever dream. And visually, it’s like a love poem to a very special time – the hours between darkness and dawn, as neon signs blink on and off and the morning light gradually seeps through buildings and alleys.


Erik Nelson advises you “counteract the soul-deadening emptiness” of the Roland Emmerich Armageddon with this one, for Salon:

What “Miracle Mile” has that “2012″ so disastrously lacks is a focus on the perspective of its characters. It is all about a reality transformed by the unthinkable. If the budget had been any bigger, it would not have been nearly so good, or nearly so haunting. The desperate quest as Edwards tries to escape his fate is reminiscent of Griffin Dunne’s hallucinatory lower Manhattan imprisonment in another bit of ’80s marginalia, Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours.” But this time, the stakes are as high as they can possibly be.


“Miracle Mile” builds to an unexpected and absolutely wrenching climax, and stays in your head like some kind of brainpan hologram, while the well rendered pixels of “2012″ fade from memory within 10 seconds of the beginning of the end. Not the end of humanity — the end of its own credit roll. “Miracle Mile” still resonates. Watching it after its elephantine doppelganger is akin to sipping a glass of ice cold water after a bracing draught from those La Brea tar pits.



Brian Orndorf for his eponymous blog:

It’s the meet cute taken to its ultimate statement of devotion. The Tangerine Dream score and Ewok-sized cell phones aside, “Miracle Mile” remains as chilling as ever; it’s a uniquely accomplished nail-biter incredibly efficient with exposition and an absolute demon with scares. These days, with the Gaspar Noes and Lars von Triers of the world making hopelessness an art form, I’ve grown accustomed to exiting the theater emotionally thrashed and mentally shattered. Yet, “Miracle Mile” still packs a wallop, especially when everything goes to hell and our lovers are forced to confront their mortality. The gorgeous, unbearable feeling of doom that De Jarnatt (who, in a wicked turn of fate, went on to direct “Lizzie McGuire”) evokes is, well, miraculous.


“Miracle Mile” plays brilliantly fast and loose, relying on a frightening pitch of apocalyptic bedlam to hurl itself to the bitter end. It’s one of the finest thrillers/doomsday pictures of the 1980s, and if you’ve haven’t seen it, make a plan to. It’s truly a unique piece of suspense.


Stephen Holden for the New York Times:

As ”Miracle Mile” zigzags forward, its scenes of 4 A.M. panic on nearly empty streets have an antic comic energy that recalls the long night of ”American Graffiti.” One scene in which a couple of policemen are set on fire in a gas station has the giddy sense of reckless adventure that almost cancels the horror of the incineration. And as Harry decides to rescue his true love rather than flee as fast as he can, his romanticism seems as dubiously impulsive as his readiness to believe a strange voice on the telephone.


The lightness of the director’s touch allows him to drop in dark observations in the most casual way. It seems, for instance, that almost everyone in Los Angeles, even Julie’s kindly grandmother, has a gun and is ready to use it without much thought.


Depictions of nuclear threat have almost invariably come cloaked in a mood of official warning. ”Miracle Mile” is a movie that takes a deep breath and shucks off most of the usual solemnity to wonder again, what if?


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