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Spring 2024 – Week 10 in Review

Hello folks, and welcome the heck back to Wrong Every Time. This week my housemate at last finished his rampage through Critical Role’s second campaign, featuring The Mighty Nein as reluctant would-be saviors of the realm. The campaign left me with increasingly mixed feelings throughout; while the actual cast of player characters was engaging, it felt like most of their arcs were left unresolved, and the party was so conflict-averse that they largely avoided the big dramatic setpieces their DM had planned. By the end, the campaign felt almost like a cautionary tale regarding the necessity of DM supervision, and I’m curious to see if the announced animated adaptation significantly improves the story, by actually including the conflicts (continent at war, emergence of elder gods) that the players chose to ignore. Regardless, having that campaign behind us has left plenty of time for film screenings, so let’s dive into the Week in Review!

First up this week was the intriguing ‘80s thriller Miracle Mile. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham star as Harry Washello and Julie Peters, two strangers who meet by chance at the La Brea Tar Pits, share one perfect date, and promise to meet that night to go dancing. However, when a power outage delays Harry’s return, he ends up accidentally discovering that the call has been made, and nuclear war will commence within the hour. With a flight waiting at the airport, Harry will have to race to reach Julie, and save the love of his life from the end of the world.

Quite a premise, right? There was apparently a great deal of interest in Steve De Jarnatt’s original script, before he opted to direct the film himself. Sadly, the devil is somewhat in the details with this one; while Miracle Mile’s beat-by-beat narrative momentum is excellent, its individual moments of dialogue can’t quite sell its intended poignancy. I’m told Edwards’ part was at one point intended for Nicholas Cage, and that frankly might have fixed it; regardless, whether it’s the archetypal dialogue or the somewhat leaden lead performances, Miracle Mile’s central romance is not compelling enough to carry the audience to the characters’ own conclusions.

There’s a lot else to enjoy here, though! Miracle Mile engineers a powerful pressure cooker out of its titular venue, making just a few streets of LA really feel like the road to hell itself. The escalation of the external drama gracefully matches the increasing desperation of the characters, and even with a seemingly limited budget, the film eventually spirals into a convincing state of total panic. I was impressed with how well it respected its persistent internal timer, and though the last act was a little heavy on circular chase scenes, I could appreciate how those scenes added to its growing sense of fatalistic inevitability. Really, all this film needed was stronger leads and someone to touch up the dialogue – given those changes, this could be an apocalyptic all-timer. As is, it’s still a novel and largely engaging watch.

Next up was The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a film written, directed by, and starring Jim Cummings. In the sleepy Utah town of Snow Hollow, a series of murders threaten the fragile standing of deputy sheriff John Marshall, a man already suffering from alcoholism, anger issues, and an increasingly fraying family. As Marshall unravels, the alleged werewolf stalking the countryside continues its reign of terror, calling into question the precise nature of the monster haunting Snow Hollow.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an admirably nasty piece of work, a horror-comedy that’s willing to push its protagonist from snarky into deeply unlikable territory. Though it provides a fair share of laughs and some satisfying werewolf attacks, the film is most fundamentally a character study, a portrait of a broken, furious man burning everything around him. Cummings is not afraid to embrace the ugly face of alcoholism, and the whole film seems to resonate with his rage, presenting an often uncomfortable ride much like the Jason segment of The Sound and the Fury.

Cummings radiates contempt and anger, the world is made harsher for his presence, and things that are broken can’t always be mended. It’s an unexpected and welcome shade of richness in a familiar genre shell, made all the more poignant through the appearance of the brilliant Robert Forster (Jackie Brown’s lovestruck bail bondsman) as Cummings’ father. If you’re looking for a horror feature with some actual emotional teeth to it, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an easy recommendation.

We then checked out Mobile Suit Gundam F91, a ‘91 film feature intended to jumpstart a fresh vision of Gundam for a new generation. Set thirty years after Char’s Counterattack, the film sees a new separatist group known as the Crossbone Vanguard attacking the Federation colony known as Frontier IV, intent on punishing Federation leadership for their self-absorbed earth repopulation plans. Caught in the midst of this conflict are a group of young students including Seabrook Arno, a potential Newtype, and Cecily Fairchild, the secret heir of the family leading the Crossbone group. Amidst uncertain loyalties and self-absorbed adults, Seabrook and Cecily will have to first choose what they believe in, and then fight with everything in them to defend it.

F91 was actually intended to be a new full-length television series celebrating Gundam’s tenth anniversary. However, production complications forced them to scrap the idea after writing screenplays for the first thirteen episodes, which were then condensed into a feature film with the hope of eventually continuing the story. This apparently did not discourage Tomino’s ambitions, for in terms of size of cast, circuity of drama, and general density of plot events, F91 is just as complex as any fifty-episode Gundam series.

The result is, as you might guess, practically incoherent. Gundam F91 charges through plot upheavals with such speed that there is no time to even consider what is currently happening, much less catch your breath and prepare for the next disruption. Characters jump from piloting mechs in battle to sneaking through the shrubbery on rescue missions with literally no connective tissue, as if the story has been cut to film length only by removing two out of every three consecutive scenes. The film is quite beautiful in terms of its animation, but with no time at all to actually get to know its cast or see them evolve through circumstance, the drama amounts to a great deal of sound and fury with no personal investment to moor us.

And then there was Skyscraper, a recent Dwayne Johnson feature in which he plays a former FBI agent who, after losing a leg to a suicide bomber, finds a new lease on life as a family man and safety specialist. Brought in to inspect the safety standards of a towering Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl,” he soon finds himself embroiled in a scheme involving setting the tower on fire, with Johnson’s wife (Neve Campbell) and kids trapped among the flames.

Skyscraper is basically The Towering Inferno plus Diehard plus Dwayne Johnson, and your response to that sentence should offer a clear indication of whether this feature is one for you. The film’s total reliance on CG for its visual setpieces means the spectacle is never all that spectacular, but the film does a fine job of offering variable and mechanically coherent challenges for our leading man, from “climb the crane and leap to the flaming building” to “navigate the spinning turbine at the heart of the Pearl.” I also quite liked how the tower itself serves as a persistent visual indicator of the threat, with the rising flames acting as something like a reverse hourglass marking Johnson’s progress. An entirely skippable feature, but also an easy afternoon or second-screen watch.

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