Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage), Mary Ellen Trainor (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Maia Brewton, Courtney Gains, Huey Lewis (cameo)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown

Back to the Future is a classic, which makes it kind of hard to review. It’s a film I’ve put off reviewing for awhile because I can’t really come up with anything other than paragraphs of praise. It’s perfect.

Do I need to run through all the regular tidbits about it having a great story, script, director, cast, composer, cinematographer, special effects department and everything else under the sun?

I’m reviewing this right after I reviewed RoboCop, which I also gave a 10 out of 10. But don’t take that score lightly, it is really hard for me to give out 10s but this film certainly deserves it and maybe even a score slightly beyond that. The only other movie from my childhood that can really compete for this as the best film from that era is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the Roger Eberts, Gene Siskels and Pauline Kaels have their Citizen KaneVertigo and Seven Samurai, I have Raiders of the Lost ArkEmpire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. These are my generation’s classics and even though they are much more modern, their greatness can’t be denied. Well, unless you’re completely devoid of taste.

This film was a perfect storm, even if it had some major production issues early on. But those issues led to this and it’s hard to imagine that a film with a slightly different cast would have been as good as this ended up being.

If you haven’t seen this film already, I don’t understand what you’ve been doing with all of your time on this planet. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we probably won’t be friends.

This is, hands down, one of the absolute best films of the 1980s, regardless of genre or style. There are other movies that one can refer to as “perfect” but how many are actually this fun?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: The ‘Critters’ Film Series (1986-1992)

As a kid, I used to love watching the first two Critters films over and over. And since I recently reviewed the Gremlins series, I thought I’d get reacquainted with its best knockoff.

Critters (1986):

Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Stephen Herek, Domonic Muir, Don Keith Opper
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy “Green” Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper, Billy Zane, Terrence Mann

New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

critters-1Review:

After producing a massive hit with A Nightmare On Elm Street, New Line Cinema joined several other studios in trying to make their own copycat of 1984’s Gremlins. It was a similar trend to what happened after Jaws came out in the 70s and it inspired a ton of copycats through the rest of the decade.

Critters is probably the best of the Gremlins wannabes. The main reason, is that it is still its own film with its own identity. Sure, the two pictures share similarities but Critters is darker, more ferocious and has that great low-budget 80s horror vibe to it. Plus, it establishes the creatures as vicious aliens and brings in two cool alien bounty hunters.

While, from a critical standpoint, Critters is considered the best of its franchise. I do feel that the second one edges it out a bit, which I will explain when I get to that one.

This film is still pretty fantastic though. It is comical, at times, but it does seem like the most serious of the movies. Overall, it might also be the most fun.

Dee Wallace, who was the queen of 80s horror, plays the mom. She doesn’t get as dirty as she has gotten in other films but it is always great to see her embracing the genre of horror. Scott Grimes plays the son, who would also reprise his role in the sequel. Then you have a small part by Billy Zane, before he was well-known.

Most importantly, the film introduces us to Charlie (played by Don Opper) and Ug (played by Terrence Mann). They would go on to be in all four of the films in the series, playing a pair of bounty hunters. Granted, Charlie is a drunk Earthling buffoon in the first movie but he would evolve into a sober bad ass buffoon over time.

The first movie still plays pretty well. The effects are good for the time and mostly hold up. I can see why this is considered the best of the series but let me get into the second picture and why I prefer it.

 

Critters 2: The Main Course (1988):

Release Date: April 29th, 1988
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: David Twohy, Mick Garris
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Scott Grimes, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Liane Curtis, Barry Corbin, Tom Hodges, Sam Anderson

New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

critters-2Review:

The reason I like this installment the best, is because it is a lot less confined than the others. The first film takes place primarily on a farm, the third film is mostly set in an urban apartment building while the fourth and final chapter is on a confined space station. Critters 2, on the other hand, encompasses an entire small town and the areas around it. And honestly, it just feels like it has the biggest budget. It utilized what little it had with maximum effects. Plus you get the giant Critters ball at the end of the film, which was just really cool when I was a young kid.

The film also features Charlie as an actual bounty hunter. In fact, it features the bounty hunters the most and they are the coolest characters in the series, especially Ug. We are then introduced to Lee, a third bounty hunter, who takes the form of a nude Playboy Playmate. Granted, she acquires clothes after her introduction. But it was great seeing amazing breasts in a PG-13 movie when I was nine.

The film brings back Scott Grimes from the original. It also adds in Liane Curtis, who I was crushing on, back in the day. Barry Corbin joins the cast as the sheriff and I’ve always been a fan of his work. Sam Anderson, who you may know from a slew of television appearances, has a small role as Liane Curtis’ overprotective father.

Critters 2 is the quintessential Critters movie. It has everything you would want from one of these pictures. Although, a bit more gore would have been better. While there are more creatures and more overall destruction, it seriously lacks in showing the audience anything graphic. You get a few bones and skeletons but that is the gist of it.

Critters 3 (1991):

Release Date: December 11th, 1991
Directed by: Kristine Peterson
Written by: David J. Schow, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: David C. Williams
Cast: Aimee Brooks, John Calvin, Katherine Cortez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Geoffrey Blake, Frances Bay, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann

New Line Home Video, 85 Minutes

critters-3Review:

Critters 3 is the worst of the films.

While it does feature a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, he isn’t the main character and he has little to do other than hating his dork stepfather and being a romantic interest of the teen girl lead.

Most of the characters in this one are pretty unlikable. Especially Frank. Frank is just an awful and annoying human being. I cherished his death.

Although, Frances Bay’s character was cool. She has always been a great character actor and her meat cleaving bad ass grandma was fun to watch.

This is just a pretty weak film. It doesn’t serve much purpose other than trying to make money without spending any. The creatures weren’t really funny anymore and everything felt like a rehash of things we’ve already seen in the other movies.

And nearly everyone survives, which is a big failure for a movie series that prided itself on eating people.

Critters 4 (1992):

Release Date: October 14th, 1992
Directed by: Rupert Harvey
Written by: David J. Schow, Joseph Lyle, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: Peter Manning Robinson
Cast: Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Paul Whitthorne, Angela Bassett, Andres Hove, Eric Da Re, Brad Dourif

New Line Home Video, 105 Minutes

critters-4Review:

Critters 4 is a step above Critters 3 but not by much.

It is the ugliest film in the series as it utilizes dark and dreary space station sets. Everything in this movie looks 90s and not like something that should represent the 2040s, when it takes place.

The sets look like every other generic horror movie spaceship set of the era. Everything is dark and back lit. The computer screens look outdated, even for the 90s. Nothing about it is imaginative or cool. By comparison, it makes Jason X look like a science fiction masterpiece.

On a positive note, we are back to seeing these creatures devour everyone in sight. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of characters. Most of them die horrifically though.

We also get to see a young Angela Bassett, just before she found fame playing Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It. The film also stars Brad Dourif most known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies and Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings films.

Strangely, Ug returns as the villain in this chapter. His turn to the darkside is never really explained and the opportunity to add depth to the story and the relationship between Ug and Charlie was wasted.

Critters 4 is just more of the same. Except it is all acted out on the ugliest sets in the series.