Almost everything in “Mid-Western Assassin,” including the scenes from the mass shooting that bookend the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult, plays a bit too much like a thesis presentation. Todd Kubrak’s screenplay carefully explains every motivation, and Bradley Buecker’s direction dutifully offers up the visual corroboration. Worse, that thesis is fraudulent, the result of cherry-picking data—that is, careful editing—so as to mislead viewers.
Mare Winningham (#1–10 of 4)
I used to think of Steve De Jarnatt’s magnificently oddball Miracle Mile as one of the most achingly romantic movies I’d ever seen. My younger self, experiencing it for the first time, saw it as a “boy meets girl” story spun out to its most rapturous extreme—a story of souls fused in the belly of nuclear fire. Many years and multiple viewings later, it feels a lot less straightforward. Roger Ebert closes his enthusiastic review of the film with an observation: “If there’s ever an hour’s warning that the nuclear missiles are on the way, thanks all the same, but I’d just as soon not know about it.” At one level, Miracle Mile is the story of a solipsistic young man’s attempt to make that decision for a woman he barely knows, using deception to selfishly separate her from family in what might be their last hour on earth. At another, it’s a perfect time capsule—its finger unerringly on the pulse of a society that had been taught not to let the threat of nuclear holocaust keep it up at night. But boy, those nightmares.
This one begins like a pleasantly hazy post-pubescent fever dream. Anthony Edwards, his star freshly ascendant off Revenge of the Nerds and Top Gun, plays musician and awkward romantic Harry Washello. In a languid opening montage at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, he meets cute with the equally dorky Julie (a terrific Mare Winningham), hitting it off with the proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl all afternoon. They resolve to meet after her late shift at an all-night diner on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, but a missed alarm causes him to arrive too late to catch her. That’s when things take a shocking U-turn into the Twilight Zone, as Harry answers a call meant for someone else at the payphone outside the diner, only to hear that America’s nukes had been launched and the retaliatory strike will hit L.A. in an hour. Naturally, Harry sets out to retrieve his girl from her grandmother’s nearby apartment and escort her to a rooftop helipad, where a chopper would presumably take them to safety.
There’s a moment late in “The Replacements” that indirectly addresses a curiosity I’d already had in regard to American Horror Story: Coven. Fiona (Jessica Lange) and Madison (Emma Roberts) are having drinks after recently discovering a commonly powerful interest in screwing around with other people’s heads, mostly out of their private contemptuous amusement. Fiona, who’d been looking at the past quite a bit throughout this episode already, admits to Madison that she was never a good mother to Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), and that, much worse, she was never much of a Supreme Witch. Madison counters with the obvious response in the face of what’s clearly vanity and self-pity cloaked under superficial regret: that it’s not too late. Fiona tosses off a sentiment that, yes, it’s indeed too late, and that she isn’t going to change, nor does she want to.
St. Elmo’s Fire, viewed before its release as a Woodstock of sorts for ’80s-film supergroup the Brat Pack, turned into the beginning of the end for said Pack the minute it hit screens—and not just because the entire Brat Pack concept was a media chimera. The film’s sole reason for existing was evidently to put Brats Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe and Ally Sheedy in the same movie together; the only bigger afterthought than Mare Winningham is the brittle, stagey script, which fails to descend to the level of campy badness and merely bores instead.
Ali Arikan, Sarah D. Bunting and Matt Zoller Seitz took a look at St. Elmo’s Fire and tried to diagnose the main cause of its dull malaise. Read on for their conclusions—or, if you’re short on time, scroll to the end for some self-portraits of their time in the trenches.