Best Of The Best: Back To The Future (1985)

back to the future posterLast week when I wrote about Romancing The Stone, I included it in a list of movies that used to be fairly ubiquitous in my younger days thanks to cable channels like USA, TNT and TBS. Another franchise that easily made that list, though I forgot to mention for some reason, was Back To The Future. I’m a huge fan of this series, yes even the third one, so it was a little surprising even for me when I realized I’d never owned it in any form. Then, just before Father’s Day, the Blu-ray set went on sale on Amazon, I passed the link to my wife and now that oversight has been remedied!

Not long after, I popped the original film in and had a wonderful time watching it again. This Robert Zemeckis film — hey, he directed Romancing The Stone too — is a masterpiece from beginning to end. It’s a fantastic adventure film, it’s a wonderful comedy and it’s also one of the best time travel movies of all time.

But, if you’re not familiar, I’ll lay down the plot. This kid Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hangs out with a scientist named Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who built a time machine out of an old DeLorean. McFly needs to jump inside to escape some trouble and winds up back in 1955. His presence there winds up screwing the time stream up a bit because his parents — played by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover — don’t get together when they should. At the same time, Marty gets into trouble with local bully — and future jerkwad — Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). So, Marty not only needs to get his parents together, but also convince a younger Doc that he’s a time traveler so he can get back home.

I think I might actually remember the first time I watched Back To The Future, which is incredibly rare because, like I said, these movies all just seemed to exist on TV at random times and you’d occasionally catch bits and pieces on the weekends. Anyway, my aunt and uncle used to live in an apartment building. I don’t remember many details, but I have a vague memory of being over there with my parents and all of us enjoying the movie. That family togetherness centered around a movie still sticks with me, much like my memories of E.T.

I wish I could accurately put into words just how charming and lovable Fox is, specifically in this era. We’re talking Family Ties, Teen Wolf and The Secret Of My Success MJF when he was at his prime. Few people pull off the slightly exasperated, good natured hustler better than Fox. Plus, the rest of the cast is so on-point the whole time. Lloyd is the epitome of non-evil mad scientists while Thompson and Glover both pull triple duty, adding greatness to each version of their characters.

One of the best things about Back To The Future is how deep the world goes, especially in regards to the time travel elements. I watched this movie a lot of times during my childhood and only here and there after that, but one day I spent a lot of time reading through the movie’s IMDb trivia page which chronicles a lot of the film’s smaller moments, like the change from Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pines Mall. So brilliant. It’s the kind of movie that actually gets better the more you learn about it, which isn’t always the case.

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80s Odyssey: Romancing The Stone (1984)

romancing the stone I’ve mentioned this before in regards to Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies, but when I was a kid there were certain movies that just seemed to be on cable all the time. You’d be flipping around channels, land on one of them and just start watching wherever the movie happened to be. While the previously mentioned franchises might be huge deals these days, one movie and its sequel that were also on a lot happened to be the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner/Danny DeVito outings Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile. It’s been probably 20 years since I watched either of these movies, but I still got jazzed when I saw them pop up on Netflix Instant.

As it turns out, Romancing The Stone is a pretty fun movie. Some people say the Robert Zemeckis film rips off the Indy movies a bit, but I don’t think so. The plot follows romance writer Joan Wilder (Turner) as she heads to Colombia with a map to trade for her kidnapped sister’s life. She’s being trailed by a super cop called Zolo (Manuel Ojeda) as well as one of the two kidnappers (DeVito) and eventually finds herself crossing paths with Jack T. Colton (Douglas). She hires him to get her where she needs to go and the two go on a fairly epic journey in order to save her sister.

Romancing The Stone is a fun comedy-adventure that plays that great trick of making things feel safe, but also just dangerous enough to keep the plot running along. Turner and Douglas really shine in the film. Turner has the biggest metaphorical journey on screen as she goes from a clueless-to-the-real-world, sheltered person who invents adventures to one who’s able to handle herself pretty well. Meanwhile, Douglas does get to fill the role of swashbuckling, roguish hero. He had more of a Han Solo vibe to me than an Indiana Jones one if we’re talking Harrison Ford characters. Oh, and seeing DeVito in these roles he used to play that equally mix his trademark exasperated temperament with some physical comedy was a lot of fun.

I wouldn’t say that Romancing The Stone is a really solid movie, but it doesn’t topple other Zemeckis films like the Back To The Future movies or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but it is probably one that more people should give another shot.

Books Of Oa: Green Lantern Volume 2 The Revenge Of The Black Hand

Green Lantern Volume 2 The Revenge Of The Black Hand Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of the Black Hand (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Doug Mahnke with Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods, Renato Guedes & Jim Calafiore
Collects Green Lantern #7-12 & Green Lantern Annual #1

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but it’s crazy to think that Geoff Johns isn’t writing Green Lantern anymore. I’m pretty far from caught up on his Lantern comics, but few people have done so much with a fairly simple concept and expanded on it so much as he did with these books. When he did Rebirth, there was only one Lantern and no Corps. Now there’s thousands of GLs and a whole variety of colors to choose from. Heck, he even got his book to move from the old continuity to the new one relatively unscathed, which is no small feat.

It’s that last bit that takes center stage with today’s Books Of Oa trade post as I review the second volume of Johns’ New 52 Green Lantern drawn mostly by the amazing Doug Mahnke. In the first volume, Hal got ousted from the Green Lantern Corps, but Sinestro came along and gave him a ring of his own. This book starts off with Sinestro visiting his deputy and a fight breaking out that only stops because the Indigo Tribe appears and takes them away. This part of the story explains the Abin Sur helped complete this group as a way of punishing the evil. Basically, the Indigo rings make very bad people feel compassion as a form of punishment. But, they discover that, over time, it actually works.

While Hal and Sinestro fix the Indigo’s problems, Black Hand — a fairly recent inductee into the Tribe — escapes which leads into the second story collected in this volume. While disconnected, he scores a shiny new Black Lantern ring and then heads back to Earth where our heroes eventually find and attack him. Meanwhile, the Guardians, who have clearly lost their minds, are making moves to create a Third Army (the Manhunters were first, the GLs second). To do this they break into a secret jail and leave with a being called The First Lantern all of which leads into the next big Lantern event.

One of the great things about this volume is that, unlike some of the other ones I’ve read in this ongoing space-fantasy epic, it feels like its own story. Sure, it leads into the larger story and will surely be referred to in those pages, but the immediate tales are not only fun and interesting on their own, but also offer new information about what the heck is going on in the larger Lantern tapestry.

And let’s just say that the world is a better place when Mahnke is drawing aliens and zombies. I think that’s a pretty universal truth at this point. It was fun seeing the other artists jump in for the annual, but at the end of the day I think Mahnke will go down as one of the best Green Lantern artists of all time and with good reason.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: He-Man 2002

To say I was excited when He-Man got relaunched in 2002 would be an understatement. But, I wasn’t able to watch on a regular basis because I was in college. Between Cartoon Network’s ever-changing schedule and my own busy schedule, I only caught a few episodes, but liked what I saw. I was a huge fan of the property as a kid, so this rejuvenation — which also included action figures and a variety of comic books — was a big deal for me.

While I missed out on most of he cartoon, I had better luck picking up the action figures here and there and have a pretty solid collection these days. The posed, highly detailed figures might not be be my favorite modern MOTU toys — how can it not be Mattycollector’s Masters Of The Universe Classics? — but they were so rad at the time. Someday I hope to have a place to display all three generations of my He-Man toys in one place to show the evolution of the character.

Best Of The Best: Wayne’s World (1992)

wayne's world After recently rewatching The Matrix and remembering how incredibly huge it was for me at the time it came out, I decided to start going back and watching some of my all-time favorite movies. I’ll be sticking to the ones I haven’t written about here on UM already, because even I’m surprised at how many movies I love that I haven’t written about here on the site.

At this point you might be thinking, “You’re writing about your favorite movies and Wayne’s World is the first entry?” To which I reply, hell yes! This movie about a pair of goofy midwestern guys with their own cable access TV show who live pretty rad lives filled with rock clubs, friends, pretty girls, bands and weird characters came at just the right for me.

I was 9 when the movie came out. This was right around the time where my dad and I would see who could stay up later on Saturday’s to catch SNL, so I was already somewhat familiar with Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey). From there it wasn’t a hard sell to get me into the theaters. As it turned out, I actually went to see this movie with my grandma when I went to visit her. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I can imagine she was a mixture of confused and appalled. Still, I had a great time and soon enough added this movie and it’s 1993 sequel to my tape collection. And, of course, the soundtrack was in my 50-disc CD player.

Beyond that, this film was also a touchstone amongst my group of friends throughout grade school and high school. In fact, my two buddies Chad and Charlie dressed up as Wayne and Garth for Halloween our freshman year of high school. Heck, another friend would constantly pledge his undying love for the film’s female lead Tia Carrere. This movie was part of our DNA. It shaped us in ways that I can’t even properly explain.

Speaking of explanations, I should probably talk about the movie itself. Wayne and Garth host the cable access show Wayne’s World. Slimy 80s yuppie holdover Rob Lowe sees this and offers them a deal to take the show to a wider audience. Meanwhile, Wayne meet’s Carrere’s character Cassandra. She’s in a band that Lowe’s character Benjamin tries to sign in an effort to seduce her. Eventually, Wayne and Garth realize what’s up, get back to their roots and try to make things happen anyway. It’s kind of a “screw the man” film packed with all kinds of humor and gags that might not work for modern audiences, but sure as hell worked on me and my friends when we were kids.

While some of the humor is admittedly amateurish and sophomoric, this movie also gets into some fourth-wall breaking stuff that not only comments on this movie, but movie-making in general. This might not seem like a big deal, but to me, at the time, it helped me figure out some of the different working parts that went into making something like this.

At the end of the day, I understand that Wayne’s World fits into the category of “Great To Me” and not necessarily “Great,” but that’s the whole point of these Best Of The Best posts.

Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

Digital Trade Post: Marvel Masterworks Thor Vol. 1

marvel masterworks  thor 1 Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, drawn by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Al Hartley & Joe Sinnott
Collects Journey Into Mystery #83-90

I’ve had a Comixology account for a few years now, but I didn’t do much with it until this year. Part of that has to do with the fact that I started using my (now broken) Kindle Fire a lot more and partly because I discovered they do a lot of great sales. One such sale offered the very first Thor stories collected in the Marvel Masterworks format for something like $5.

Thor’s not a characters I have a ton of experience with and that’s exactly why I went with his origins. I’ve found that, just by being a longtime comic fan — 22 years now — I have seen a lot of the big superhero origins over and over again. Plus, many of the stories that followed were referenced and pulled from in later years which means that actually going back to the source material can be a little boring because you know what’s happening almost beat for beat.

That was not the case with the first Thor Masterworks, thankfully. Like I said, I’m not overly familiar with the character’s many years of comics that came after his introduction in 1962. I do have a stack of Thor comics from the 70s and 80s that I tried reading through, but got really sick of what felt like an inevitable reveal that Loki was behind whatever troubles his half brother were going through at the time. Most of my experience with the character comes from his appearances in Avengers.

Anyway, these issues are actually pretty fun because I had very little idea what was going to happen in them. Sure, they’re quintessentially Silver Age-y and Loki pops up twice, but that’s to be expected. Thor also throws down with stony aliens (one of which is Korg from Planet Hulk!), travels through time, fights mobsters and topples despotic dictators.

I was surprised by several elements of the Thor mythology found in these early days. First off, when Don Blake taps the walking stick he only seems to turn into Thor physically. Sure, in that form he has more knowledge of Asgard and whatnot, but he never seemed like a different person, which is how I understood this relationship previously. I also thought it was charming how specific the rules are for Thor’s abilities. If he’s separated from Mjolnir for more than 60 seconds, he turns back into Don. There is also a very specific correlation between how many times the hammer taps the ground and what it can do. One turns him back into Blake, two creates a storm, three  stops the storm and four makes lightning.

The complete lack of other Marvel superheroes was also surprising. One of the things you always hear about this era of Marvel comics is how connected they are, but, if memory serves, this book had none of that. Finally, I was surprised with how big of a jerk Jane Foster is. Whenever she’s on the page, she’s either pining for Thor or calling her boss, Don Blake lame. Ouch.

One thing I was specifically excited about when it came to this book was seeing Jack Kirby draw some of the weird and wild elements of this book, especially after enjoying his DC work like the Fourth World books, The Demon, The Losers and OMAC. But, this is a very different Kirby. You can see what he would grow into, but these aren’t the big, bold figures you might be expecting if you’re going in reverse chronological order like I am. Also, you can really tell when someone else is pencilling. That last issue in the collection by Al Hartley looks pretty bad.

As far as digital reading experiences, I’ve got to say that this one was pretty great. For one thing, these Masterworks volumes are recolored, so they look great on a digital screen. Also, thanks to the fairly standard rectangular pane;s of these issues, they are easy to read when going through panel mode even on a phone, which is how I read most of this book. I really started reading this book when my son was in the NICU after being born almost two months early and then next to my little girl while she fell asleep so it was basically the perfect reading experience given those circumstances: fan, light stories that helped build a shared fictional universe I’m quite fond of. My only complaint? It’s a much bigger pain trying to find a page in digital format than it is just by flipping through. Laying down those four Mjolnir rules was not the funnest thing in the world.