Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
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, 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)

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: Poltergeist (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella, James Karen, Michael McManus

SLM Production Group, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] [talking to the television] Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can’t hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.” – Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was a massive hit back in 1982. I was too young to see it in the theater but once it hit TV, it was on all the time. It was also one of the few horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me. While those scenes aren’t as effective to my 39 year-old brain now, throughout the ’80s, I was terrified of clown dolls, creepy trees and the possibility of my face falling off just by washing it. Hell, I was afraid to turn the television off when there was snow on the screen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that haunted infernal machine.

There was just something about the styles of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper coming together that created a special kind of magic that complimented the two men’s styles even more. Granted, there was a lot of friction during the production of this film and bad blood formed between the two men but the end result is quite exceptional and still carries that magical quality today, thirty-six years later. In fact, the sequels didn’t come close to capturing lightning in a bottle like the original did and I really feel like that is due to Hooper not directing them.

The special effects in this are damn good for the time and the movie does feel like its a big budget affair when compared to other ’80s horror. This is much closer in special effects quality to Ghostbusters or Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters than say Friday the 13th or Halloween III.

Poltergeist also has a really solid cast with Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Beatrice Straight. I also love that James Karen is in this, even if he isn’t as over the top as he was in Return of the Living Dead.

On paper, if you ignore the two capable directors behind this, Poltergeist is really just a run of the mill haunted house story. This is a tale that’s been told a million times but something about this film is just different and better. I wish I could define it with words but for fans of ghost stories, you just sort of have to experience this. I’d hate to keep using the word “magic” but there really isn’t another word to fit what this is.

I love this movie. Even if it scared the everliving crap out of me as a kid, I still watched it… a lot. As an adult, I still throw it on every couple of years and never grow tired of it.

Plus, for those ’80s horror aficionados that love those rotating room scenes in A Nightmare On Elm Street, this movie did it first. And it did it nearly three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.

Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is superior.

Film Review: Duel (1971)

Release Date: November 10th, 1971 (Canada)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Duel by Richard Matheson
Music by: Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Dennis Weaver

ABC, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes (theatrical cut), 74 Minutes (original television cut)

Review:

“The Killer’s Weapon – A 40 Ton Truck” – tagline

I have seen Duel in some form or in increments at least two dozen times. When I was a kid it was on TBS almost weekly. I always caught it in the middle, so I never really knew how the beef started in the film between the psycho in a truck and the wimpy salesman in a car, played by Dennis Weaver. However, the set up never really seemed to matter to me because this tapped into some sort of primal fear and eventually, into survival mode taking over. It wasn’t until now, in 2018, that I actually sat down and saw this thing in its entirety from start to finish.

The one thing that is the most amazing to me, is that this was originally a television movie. It has the production value of something much larger and it felt authentic to the trucker and car heavy movies of the time. This was shot incredibly well and the action was intense and real. They certainly couldn’t rely on CGI back then so the destruction you see is real destruction. The big final crash was incredible, as was the scene where the truck is doing doughnuts, bulldozing the reptile exhibit in an effort to prevent Dennis Weaver’s David Mann from calling the cops.

Spielberg showed great promise with this film, which was instrumental in him having the opportunity to make Jaws a few years later. While the film is action heavy, Spielberg showed incredible skill in story telling and employed a “less is more” strategy when building tension and suspense. This is a horror film and a thriller at its core but it is also a mystery film where the mystery actually goes unanswered. Who is this killer driver? Why is he so pissed off? But I guess it’s the not knowing why that makes this so impactful.

The part in the middle of the film where David is in the diner, analyzing all the men inside, trying to determine which one is the maniac trucker is slow, methodical and really drawn out. But it is done so to great effect and it is really the strongest and most important moment in the film. It’s the turning point where David gives in to his overwhelming paranoia and goes a bit nuts. And as intense as things were before the diner scene, that scene amplifies everything moving forward and the second half is a giant, uncomfortable ball of tension and terror.

On paper, you would think that a movie about a driver in a car being chased down by a killer truck is pretty one dimensional and stupid. While it is one dimensional, that is where the film finds its strength. It also addresses the fact that the truck is unusually fast. For whatever reason, David can’t outrun the hunter and that taps into a primal fear all living things have. The film really works well as metaphor and the ridiculous premise doesn’t really matter when things get going and you find yourself glued to this picture.

Duel is not a masterpiece or even a great film but it is a pivotal moment in the early career of Steven Spielberg and his imprint is all over the picture. Dennis Weaver had the tough task of carrying the entire film on his back but he was able to conquer that task with his superb performance and ability to feel like a genuine everyman, trapped in a mortal game of cat and mouse with a vicious and unrelenting predator.

I love this film. It’s badass, still kicks ass and was the real genesis of one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, who would go on to shape an entire era of not just filmmaking but pop culture itself.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another early Spielberg film, The Sugarland Express. Also pairs well with a myriad of car and trucker films from the ’70s and early ’80s, as well as the Stephen King film adaptations of Maximum Overdrive and Christine.