Title: La Jetée
Release Date: February 16, 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Production Company: Argos Films
Working my through lists of all-time greatest movies means watching lots of very long movies, so I was relieved that this one is only 28 minutes. The joke was on me though, because this is an intense 28 minutes of experimental film set in a post-nuclear war Paris. The movie is almost entirely made up of a montage of still images.
The plot involves scientists researching time travel and finding a man (Davos Hanich) who has a strong memory from his childhood of a young woman (Hélène Châtelain) standing on the observation platform (“la jetée”) at Orly Airport. The post-apocalyptic setting, time travel, and even the significance of an airport reminded me of the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys, so it was no surprise to find out that La Jetée was a credited inspiration for that movie.
La Jetée is a chilling but surprisingly beautiful film, with sound effects and music carrying a heavy load and Hanich and Châtelain expressing a lot of emotion and nuance in their acting (or perhaps more accurately, “posing”).
Title: Meet the Robinsons
Release Date: March 23, 2007
Director: Stephen Anderson
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Animation Studios
Lewis (Jordan Fry), a 12-year-old orphan with a talent for inventing, creates a device that scans the mind for lost memories. After the memory scanner seemingly fails at a science fair, a 13-year-old time traveler from the future named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman) tells Lewis he needs to protect the device from the Bowler Hat Guy (Steve Anderson), a literal cartoon villain with a twisted mustache. They travel to the future where Lewis meets Wilbur’s large and eccentric family while continuing to fight against the Bowler Hat Guy. Lewis finds himself with a feeling of belonging for the first time ever with the Robinsons, although naturally he cannot stay in the future.
There are a number of fairly obvious twists in the plot and some dark moments involving the sentient bowler hat. The movie tries hard to be clever but it often misses the mark, and I found myself groaning more often than laughing. The whole film seems like a failed attempt by Disney to make a Dreamworks-style animated film. The whole thing stinks of self-congratulatory mediocrity.
Author: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Title: This is How You Lose the Time War
Narrator: Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, 
This novella features letters exchanged by a pair of agents – Red and Blue – on opposite sides of a war where they each travel through time to manipulate events in a way to harm the opposing side. The initially snarky and boastful letters soften over time as Red and Blue realize they are falling in love. The novel relies on poetic language and experimental writing styles (the authors wrote their sections of the book in response to one another much like the characters). Call me a philistine, but for all that creativity, I still found the book to be rather boring.
Author: Margarita Montimore
Title: Oona Out of Order
Narrator: Brittany Pressley
Publication Info: New York : Macmillan Audio, 2020.
On the last day of 1982, Oona Lockhart is ready to celebrate at the stroke of midnight the new year and her 19th birthday. Instead she finds herself in her 51-year-old body in 2015, the first time jump in her life in which she will live each year of her life out of order. Only her mother and personal assistant/friend Kenzie know her secret.
Oona has the advantage of never having to worry about money thanks to being able to know the best investments and sports bets to make. But she’s faced with the challenge of having to maintain and create relationships with little knowledge of what happened the year before, and coming of age in a body that can be vastly different ages.
I like the conceit of the book and how Oona faces the challenges of living her life. She’s never able to figure out how this is happening to her, nor is she able to change the future even when she knows what is going to happen. There’s a twist in the story that I only thought possible just before it was revealed, but you might figure it out earlier. I believe the narrative covers only 7 years spread out over 4 decades. I think it would’ve been interesting if more of Oona’s years were included in the novel. It would make the book longer, but I found it to be a page-turner so I’d probably keep reading.
Title: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Release Date: July 19, 1991
Director: Pete Hewitt
Production Company: Nelson Entertainment | Interscope Communications
This sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure got good reviews at the time of its release but I never got around to watching it until now. Wisely, the filmmakers went for a plotline that didn’t rehash the gags of the first movie. Bizarrely, they instead made a movie that is partially a parody of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
Bill & Ted are high school graduates with their own apartment, hoping to marry their “chaste” medieval girlfriends. In the intervening years, they appear to have become more alternative than metal (Ted in particular is looking grunge and the band Primus makes an appearance). In the future utopia built on Bill & Ted’s music, a rebel gym teacher Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) sends back evil Bill & Ted robots to kill the real Bill & Ted. Thus begins the Bogus Journey where Bill & Ted must outwit Death (William Sadler) in various board games, travel to Hell and Heaven, and return to Earth to win a Battle of the Bands.
Like its predecessor, the movie is full or cornball gags that grow increasingly weird while also having a wholesome, feel-good sheen. Sadler’s Death is particularly a hilarious scene-stealer and unexpected sidekick.
Title: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Release Date: February 17, 1989
Director: Stephen Herek
Production Company: Interscope Communications | Nelson Entertainment
I watched this movie once 30 years ago, found it mildly amusing, and never thought to revisit it until now. Surprisingly, it holds up better than I remember it. The movie is basically dumb fun about a the titular high school kids, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) who love heavy metal and slack off at school. A time traveler from the future, Rufus (George Carlin), informs them that they must pass their history presentation and allows them to use his time traveling phone booth to study the past.
The basic plot involves Bill and Ted traveling to various historic eras and gathering up historic figures. Some of the gags fall flat, but most of them remain humorous. What surprises me is that the movie is rather wholesome considering it covers territory previously explored in much raunchier movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Weird Science. Bill and Ted also have a hilariously erudite vocabulary. The characters can be very dumb but also very smart when it’s needed for the plot, and somehow it works.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure remains excellent cornball comedy from the 80s.
Author: Russell T. Davies
Title: Damaged Goods
Publication Info: Virgin Book, October 1996
Many of the Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s were written by authors who either wrote for the original tv series or would go on to write for the revived series. This novel is significant in that it’s author Russell T. Davies would go on to be the showrunner who brought Doctor Who back to our tv screens in 2005. In common with the later tv series, this story is set on a council estate with a family named Tyler.
Much like in Andrew Carmel’s Warlock, a narcotic drug turns out to be an alien force. In this case, cocaine contains an ancient Gallifreyan weapon called the N-form. The weapon draws power from a pair of twins separated at birth who are connected by a vampiric waveform. The whole plot is rather complicated, but it’s setting in the depression and poverty of Thatcher’s Britain is a well-formed world for the Doctor, Chris, and Roz to unlock a mystery and a human tragedy.
Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures:
Title: Back to the Future, Part III
Release Date: May 25, 1990
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
The finale of the Back to the Future trilogy picks up with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) accidentally being sent back in time to 1885 and Marty is stranded in 1955. Doc is able to leave a message for Marty telling him where the time machine is hidden and Marty gets 1955 Doc help him restore it to working order. Learning that Doc will be shot dead in 1885, Marty decides to go back in time to save him.
In 1885, Marty gets caught up in various Western tropes and discovers that Doc is a successful blacksmith (which he uses as a cover for steampunk-style technology). Lacking fuel for the DeLorean, Marty and Doc work on a plan to have a railroad engine push the car up to 88 miles per hour. Meanwhile, Doc falls in love with the scientifically-minded school teacher, Clara (Mary Steenburgen) and they have to avoid a showdown with Biff’s great-grandfather, an outlaw named Buford (Thomas F. Wilson). Marty also meets his own great-grandparents, Irish immigrant farmers played by Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson.
Despite being set in the rowdy Old West, Part III feels gentler and less violent than Part II. With only one primary setting the story feels more focused and less gimmicky. This movie still doesn’t hold a candle to the first movie, but it has its charms and humor, and it definitely shows the growth of Marty and Doc’s friendship.
Title: Back to the Future, Part II
Release Date: November 22, 1989
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
Having recently visited one of my all-time favorite films, Back to the Future, I felt it was time after 30+ years to finally watch the two sequels for the first time. Picking up from the end of Part I, but refilmed shot for shot because Marty McFly’s (Michael J. Fox) girlfriend Jennifer had been recast with Elisabeth Shue. Not that it proved to be all that vital because Jennifer will be knocked unconcious and left abandoned in various places for most of these two films. This literal setting aside of a woman character is one of the many odious mistakes of this movie.
As I knew well from previews, Marty and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) end up in the year 2015 where they have to solve a problem with Marty and Jennifer’s children. It’s actually solved fairly easy in scenes which recreate iconic 1955 scenes in a futuristic setting but not as funny. This repetition of classic bits from the first film will be another big flaw of this movie.
What I didn’t know about this movie is that only a small portion is set in 2015. Upon returning to 1985, Marty and Doc discover that Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) used the DeLorean to travel back to 1955 and give a sports almanac to his younger self. This creates an alternate timeline where Biff is a Trump-like billionaire who has turned Hill Valley into a dystopian hellscape. This portion of the film is extremely dark and unexpectedly violent.
Marty and Doc determine that to set things right they have to return yet again to 1955 and destroy the sports almanac. They also have to avoid interfering with the other versions of themselves as scenes from the first movie play out in the background of this story. It all seems kind of lazy and the funniest parts are the scenes from the first movie.
Apart from the problems already cited, there are two other flaws to this movie. First, Marty suddenly has a character flaw that he is unable to back down when someone calls him “chicken.” This is very contrived for a “Marty learns a big fat lesson” subplot. Second, this movie has way too much Biff. Tom Wilson is very funny as a bully antagonist in the original movie, but here we have him playing middle age Biff in 1985, Old Biff and his grandson Griff in 2015, alternate universe megalomaniac Biff, and young Biff in 1955. The character is just too one-note to be elevated to a leading role in the movie.
The movie does have a good cliffhanger ending though, and it sets up what I would so learn is a much better conclusion to trilogy.
Author: Elan Mastai
Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Narrator: Elan Mastai
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
All Our Wrong Todays takes the idea of the dystopian alternate universe and it turns it on its head. In this novel, OUR universe is the dystopia where the narrator/protagonist Tom Barren ends up after a time travel experiment goes wrong. In his world, the invention of a machine that provides unlimited clean energy in 1965 has lead to five decades of remarkable technological advancement, peace, and prosperity.
The great twist in this book is that Barren (known as John Barren in our world) is actually much better off in our timeline. A loser in his world, he’s a successful architect in ours. His father is an aloof genius in his world, but a loving dad in ours. His mother is dead in his timeline but alive in ours. He even has a younger sister who he’s very close to in our timeline.
Tom is faced with the struggle of knowing that he is responsible for changing history to our timeline with pollution, inequality, and war, and inadvertently making billions of lives nonexistent, but also wanting to cling what he’s gained in our world, especially the love of a woman named Penny. Be warned that Tom is kind of a terrible person, and an unsympathetic character, but stick with it as his self-awareness is a strength.
This is an enjoyable and creative novel, and honestly I couldn’t stop listening to it once I started the audiobook.
“The problem with knowing people too well is that their words stop meaning anything and their silences start meaning everything.”