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.

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.

Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies since I started getting into the genre around the age of 16. Like a lot of horror fans, I feel like I’ve become somewhat jaded over the years. Once you see enough of these things, you can see the Matrix a little bit and know when a scare is coming — if you can tell the difference between an impending jump scare and a legit one, you’ve got the super scardar. And yet, there are still the scenes that scared us when we started out and even though they’re fewer and farther between these days, the new films that still give us the willies or come out of nowhere to spook us. I figured with Halloween still in the air — and inspired by awesome horror blogger Stacie Ponder doing something similar over on her excellent Final Girl blog — I’d run down the ten movies that scared me over the years. I’m sure there’s more out there in the world, but these are the ones that came to mind, either because they entered my life at just the right time, scared me for a moment or created an atmosphere that still ooks me out to this day. So, in no particular order, here’s the ten movies the still spook me in no particular order. Consider yourself warned, spoilers abound after the jump!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

The Chronological Spielberg: 1941 (1979)

Is it possible to have too much talent involved in a film? If there was ever an argument for that theory presented in theaters, I think it might be 1941. This flick was directed by Steven Spielberg directly after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who would write a little film called Back to the Future six years after this was released. It stars an A-list crop of comedic and dramatic actors from Slim Pickens and John Belushi to Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. Even with all that going for it, 1941 is simply not a good movie. I wish I could explain simply why that is, but the closest thing I can come up with is that the script is too unfocused, the film is too long and maybe Spielberg was trying to fit his square peg into a more John Landis-shaped hole.

I didn’t know all of the above when I went into this film, so I was definitely surprised by the huge amount of silly, slapsticky humor that kicks this film off, including a nude woman swimming in the ocean to the Jaws theme music who happens to be swimming under a Japanese sub. The idea here is that it’s right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and everyone’s freaked out. The film takes place in California where they’re specifically freaked out about another attack like the one in Hawaii. This acts as the backdrop for a huge number of gags, storylines and sources of conflict.

The problem is that I don’t care. When the film’s supposed hero is presented as a goober bus boy who just wants to dance with a girl in a contest and then we’re shown a military group that’s made up of mostly boring or jerky people. Worse yet? That group is made up of Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Treat Williams and they’re somewhat wasted.

Or are they? Honestly, it was hard for me to focus on this movie because its subject matter was treated in such a goofy manner that I just didn’t care. Apparently a huge anti-sub gun really was placed in a person’s yard in real life, but the way its handled in this movie with its cartoony nature, it’s just another piece of an overly complex movie.

The funny thing is that I think someone like Landis could have done a lot better with this film. Maybe Spielberg didn’t know who or what to cut. Maybe Landis would have utilized his talent a little better (from what I remember, Candy does little to nothing but mug in the movie). I definitely think he would have kept the film significantly shorter. Many people believe comedy should be kept around the 90 minute mark, especially zany ones because its easier for an audience to suspend their disbelief over a shorter period of time. I tend to agree with that and if this film had been less cartoony and had more of an actual emotional center, as well as had been roughly 60-90 minutes shorter, it could have been a much better film.

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.