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Something to Chaw on: Walter’s contemplation of “Miracle Mile”

More often than not, when speaking to a friend or family member about how I feel about a particular film, I let them know what Walter said. They all know who Walter is, even if they don’t take the time to read his razor-sharp reviews. Sometimes they beat me to the punch and ask the question themselves, especially if I haven’t seen a release they may be wondering about. They may not agree with him(a neighbor of mine called Walter “angry”, after reading his take on the recent “Prometheus”: this guy loved it, while Walter gave it one out of four stars), but they are all aware that he is my go-to guy when I’m trying to decide what to see. And Walter almost never lets me down. I believe I “discovered” him sometime around 2001 when I was often involved in fierce debates over the masterful “Mulholland Dr.”. Walter was among the film’s many champions, but what he had to say was more akin to my feeling about it then anyone else I read at the time. That trend continued for months as I perpetuated my reading of everything he critiqued and the interviews he landed. Imagine my excitement when I soon discovered Walter’s extreme fondness for the work of David Cronenberg. Regular visitors to this blog are well aware that David C is my favorite director. Oh, we don’t always see eye-to-eye. He didn’t share my enthusiasm for 2003’s “American Splendor”, so there’s one. And I felt his initial take on 2006’s “The Descent” seriously underrated what I still feel is the best horror film of the last decade(although I felt vindicated when his appreciation appeared to have grown enough to include “The Descent” in his annual top ten by the end of that December). But overall, let’s say somewhere in the high 90’s percentile wise, I find him to be right on target. He also has the ability to provoke me to like some movies more, as well as question myself as to why I’m going so easy on certain crap. He’s a braver critic than me, but he’s taught me to have more courage. He’s a few years younger than I am, but he is the better writer and has the better eye by far. He is Walter Chaw from filmfreakcentral.net, and he has been the main critic for that website for over a decade. How good is the site? World famous critic Roger Ebert confesses to being a regular reader. I have a huge amount of respect for Roger, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that he’s a mediocre critic. But Ebert is an excellent film historian and a great ambassador of the medium, so despite his periodic penchant of softness towards junk(3 stars for “Speed 2: Cruise Control”!), and evisceration of classics(one star for “Blue Velvet”!!!), I still give him a pass. Walter Chaw, on the other hand—I believe he’s the best in the business. And he’s just published his first book.               It’s interesting to try watching a film through someone else’s eyes. Walter Chaw had written previously of his love for 1989’s “Miracle Mile”…at least a couple of times. And though I always liked the film—I wanted to know more about why he bonded with it. He’s now providing that “why” over the course of a 200 page monograph, currently available through Lulu.com. It’s an intensely personal film experience for him, and he provides the history of that connection throughout his book. Apparently, he rented the VHS tape of the movie(upon its release)so often that the female clerk eventually just gave it to him. Now, that’s a healthy(?)obsession. And I totally get it. I doubt I’ll ever write a book about it, but if I ever described my personal communion with 1989’s “Heathers”(a box office bomb that I saw in a theater that early spring), or 1981’s “Sharky’s Machine”(starring and directed by Burt Reynolds…back when he was the man), I bet Walter would understand. And as he goes through “Miracle Mile” scene-by-scene(sometimes minute-to-minute), and constantly comments that the work is “tight as a fucking drum”, he makes me want to love it more than I do. Some things still bug me after a recent re-watch(I work full-time and I raise two young boys with my wife, but I inhaled Walter Chaw’s Miracle Mile in about 24 hours, and then the next day refreshed my memory with another look at Steve De Jarnatt’s film). A scene involving a helicopter pilot in a 24-hour gym still strikes me as somewhat obtuse, and I wish the character stealing radios wasn’t African-American(which is covered in detail…along with feedback from director De Jarnett). But the La Brea Tar Pits finale always socked me in the gut, and I(for the umpteenth time)greatly admired the accomplishment of even getting a motion picture completed—especially when De Jarnett laments misspelling actor Mykelti Williamson’s name in the credits…and his inability to correct it without spending thousands of dollars. If you’ve never seen “Miracle Mile”, the plot concerns a lovestruck musician(Anthony Edwards)who blows his second date with a quirky, young girl(Mare Winningham)after a power outage disables his alarm clock. He arrives at the diner where she worked 4 hours late(she had gotten off at midnight), with the hope of tracking her down and explaining. He answers a ringing payphone(remember those?)outside the restaurant—and accidentally learns of an impending nuclear war. He’s told that we have roughly an hour by a young soldier who dialed a wrong number when trying to reach his dad. Then, over the phone, he hears the soldier being shot. Instantly, a voice comes on the line telling him to ignore the call. He wonders if it was a prank, decides it was real, and then begins a desperate journey to track down his possible soul mate. It’s 87 minutes long…and yeah, I guess it is tight as a fucking drum. Also(as usual), with this as well as with any film when I don’t see eye-to-eye with Walter—I convince myself that Chaw is probably right and that I’m missing something. He has an incredibly perceptive eye. And after learning more about him through the reading of this monograph, I’m glad he’s still with us to grace us with his musings. Obviously, I’m a big fan—and I hope my readers “discover” him too, if they haven’t already. I don’t foresee myself  reviewing a lot of books on this blog(even though I’m a pretty prolific reader), but this tome about film is one you should consider buying. It’s not available digitally yet, but spring for the old-fashioned paper version with its gorgeous cover art. For me, I plan to “Chaw” on “Miracle Mile”, in print and on my television screen, for many years to come. Marvelous work, Walter.        “Miracle Mile” the book: a must own     the movie: a strong B grade with aspirations towards an A-


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