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Grand Canyon

Those who wonder what it's like to live in L.A. will benefit from watching two movies back-to-back: Steve Martin's L.A. Story and Lawrence Kasdan's underrated 1991 masterpiece Grand Canyon. "But wait," you say, "a masterpiece?" Yep. A masterpiece — Kasdan, in screenwriting partnership with his wife Meg, offers a dead-on depiction of life in the City of Angels. It's also an engrossing tale of good people trying to create good lives for themselves among chaos — and how an unexpected friendship can lead to the occurrence of small miracles in the lives of everyone it touches. On his way home from a Laker game one night, wealthy immigration lawyer Mack (Kevin Kline) makes a wrong turn into a less-upscale (read: black) neighborhood. When his car breaks down, he's rescued a la Bonfire of the Vanities by a tow-truck driver named Simon (Danny Glover). Simon's statement to the gang's leader as he diffuses the situation sets the film's premise: "The world ain't supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don't know that yet. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is." The ensuing friendship between Mack and Simon is both catalyst and coincidental to the changes going on in and around Mack's life — his wife Claire (Mary McDonnell), depressed over the imminent departure of their son for college, finds an abandoned baby and decides to keep it; Mack sets up a date between Simon and a colleague (Alfre Woodard), leading the two to speculate that they're the only two black people he knows; Mack's best friend Davis (Steve Martin), a Joel Silver-like producer of ultra-violent movies, has an awakening after being shot by a mugger. None of this articulates the richness, warmth, humor and insight of the script; Grand Canyon is beautifully paced and impeccably written, giving each of the six major characters ample opportunity to stretch, grow and live on the screen. The film also portrays the class differences of Los Angeles life with a realism rarely seen on film, especially the constant, underlying anxiety felt by residents whose lives are threatened daily by crime, earthquakes and — as exemplified by the ever-present helicopters keeping watch on the city — an omnipresent police state. It's also probably Lawrence Kasdan's best movie and well worth a second, third, or fourth viewing. Fox's DVD edition offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that is sharp and clean, while audio is in Dolby Digital 4.0. The only extras are a short promo featurette and trailers for other Fox release, which is too bad — an audio commentary by Kasdan would have made this an exceptional disc. Ah well. It's still a wonderful film and you do get a keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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