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.

Revisiting Howard The Duck (1986)

  I have a soft spot in my geek heart for the Howard The Duck flick. I saw it a few times as a kid (not when it came out, but I was young-ish) and really liked the mix of what seemed like a kids movie (alien from another planet palling around and learning about earth, eventually fighting a space monster) with the strangely adult elements (naked lady duck, tiny duck condom and hints at interstellar bestiality). But really, I just thought Howard looked and acted cool. He handled adversity (being stranded on another planet) pretty well and even made the best of it by joining a band. That probably seemed like a pretty good life to me when I was young.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I’ve been slowly reading through the Howard The Duck Omnibus I got a few years back. I checked out the Essentials version a few years ago, knowing Steve Gerber’s issues are considered some of the best around, but just couldn’t get into that black and white format. I love reading the book in color and am really glad I got the omnibus, I just wish it was easier to read. Damn thing’s heavy! Anyway, I ordered something off of Amazon recently and was a few bucks short of the free shipping threshold, so I looked up the HTD DVD and it was only $5! Welcome first to my shopping cart and soon after my home movie Howard!

I just finished watching the movie again for the first time in probably a decade and I still liked it! Sure, there’s some super corny elements and a few things that don’t fit, but what else would you expect from a movie about a duck getting sucked away from his version of Earth to ours? Notice I said a movie, not a comic. In the issues I’ve read, Gerber tackles everything from Kung Fu flicks and gang violence to artistic integrity in a way that couldn’t really be done in a major motion picture. Maybe a series on Adult Swim, but not something that Hollywood would put money into.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, a science experiment drags Howard from his home planet to ours where he lands in Cleveland. He soon befriends Beverly (Lea Thompson), a musician who lets him stay at her place. Bev asks her scientist friend played by Tim Robbins to figure out what his deal is. After some fish-out-of-water (or duck-out-of-pond if you will) scenes, a scientist played by Jeffrey Jones explains that he and his team were trying an experiment that went wrong. They try it again and Jones winds up with a space monster growing inside him. Eventually, Howard has a showdown with Jones and then the monster itself, which looked amazing because George Lucas executive produced this flick.

The movie was and has been panned pretty intensely, but I don’t think it’s really fair. The actors did a killer job, the effects look amazing and overall it’s a solid story that has elements of Short Circuit, ET and Ghostbusters that work pretty well together as far as I’m concerned. Most importantly, no one seemed to think what they were doing was silly, they all played their parts and did what they did seemingly thinking they were making an awesome movie. My one complaint about the movie is that it’s probably 20 minutes too long. I think the filmmakers might have put too much in the movie which wound up extending the period of time audiences had to suspend their disbelief. You might buy the overall premise, but why are you watching such a long scene of Howard and Robbins flying a tiny plane? Aside from that, though, I think it holds up pretty darn well.

At the end of the day, the movie’s absurd and doesn’t really stand up to the comic book, but it’s a fun romp on its own. The DVD itself is pretty rad too because they actually put some effort into it. Robbins is the only person who didn’t come back for interviews as far as I can tell (of course). I’ve watched the first two modern retrospectives and both were pretty interesting. I haven’t gotten to the archival featurettes yet, but I can honestly say that my $5 was very well spent.

Halloween Scene: Tales From The Crypt Season 1 (1989)

I have a very deep and honest love for HBO’s Tales From The Crypt series. I wasn’t very familiar with EC Comics before discovering the show and didn’t actually have HBO, but fell in love thanks to late night, toned-down episodes in syndication (I believe they were on Fox, if memory serves). Being unfamiliar with the types of stories told in those EC books, this show was my first real dose of those amazing kinds of endings where you realize that people either got exactly what the wanted or what they deserved in the mostly cosmically complicated, but appropriate manner possible. The woman who sold her beauty can’t get it back because her younger looking self is wanted for murder! Holy crap! I can’t say exactly when I started watching, but I do remember sitting in my room with a friend named John watching episodes. We weren’t really friends after 8th grade which would have been 1996-1997, so it was probably before that, just to give you an idea. The show also informed my early horror brain and was probably the first scary thing I watched on a regular basis until I was 16 and could start renting cheap VHS tapes at my beloved Family Video.

When I saw the first two seasons of Tales From The Crypt in a bundle at Target for around $20, I had to buy them. There are episodes burned into my memory that I wanted to watch again and ones I’d never seen that I wanted to have easy access to, plus you just can’t beat that price. Well, that was a while ago, but I finally sat down to watch the first season of six episodes last night and was not disappointed.

Walter Hill of Warriors fame (a favorite of mine) directed the premiere called “The Man Who Was Death” starring Bill Sadler (the guy who played Dwight on early episodes of Roseanne). Sadler plays an out of work executioner who starts taking the law into his own hands. “And All Through The House” is a campy Christmas-themed episode that finds a woman dealing with getting rid of her husband’s corpse and a psycho slasher Santa on the loose. That one’s directed by Robert Zemeckis. “Dig That Cat…He’s Way Gone” was one I remembered from the syndication days. It was directed by Richard Donner and stars Joe Pantoliano as a guy who gets surgically implanted with a cat’s nine lives. He uses them in a sideshow, but realizes his last trick might not have been such a good idea.

Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) did another episode I remembered called “Only Sin Deep” about Lea Thompson trading in her beauty to a pawn broker and dealing with the consequences, as I mentioned above. “Love Come Hack To Me” was also remembered and one of the more influential from the first season because it made me really wary of crazy ladies. Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction) plays a young woman with a strange idea of how love and marriage work. Tom Holland of Fright Night and Child’s Play fame directed the ep. The finale was called “Collection Completed” about a crankpot retiring and dealing with his wife all day and vice versa.

The episodes aren’t exactly the pinnacle of complete horror or even horror comedy, but there are some great moments of those throughout. Plummer comes off absolutely batshit insane in her episode while Thompson really sells her vapid worry about her looks (even if the accent is a little ridiculous). It’s a pretty good gateway into the world of TFTC, the tone of the series and where they were looking to go.

The first season is only six episodes, all of which are on one disc. The second disc has a pair of behind the scenes features that I haven’t jumped into yet. One’s about the history of EC, which I’m not familiar with and the other is more about the series itself. I’m pretty excited about getting further into the series. After checking out the second season today, I don’t remember a lot of those episodes, so the third and fourth season must be the real memory gold for me. I’m sure I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.