Movie Review: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)


Title: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Release Date: July 19, 1991
Director: Pete Hewitt
Production Company: Nelson Entertainment | Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

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.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)


Title: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Release Date: February 17, 1989
Director: Stephen Herek
Production Company: Interscope Communications | Nelson Entertainment
Summary/Review:

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.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Damaged Goods by Russell T. Davies


Author: Russell T. Davies
Title: Damaged Goods
Publication Info: Virgin Book, October 1996
Summary/Review:

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.

Rating: ***1/2

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures:

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


Title: Back to the Future, Part III
Release Date: May 25, 1990
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

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.

Rating: ***

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


Title: Back to the Future, Part II
Release Date: November 22, 1989
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

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.

Rating: **

Book Review: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai


Author: Elan Mastai
Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Narrator: Elan Mastai
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

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.

Favorite Passages:

“The problem with knowing people too well is that their words stop meaning anything and their silences start meaning everything.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Back to the Future (1985) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Back to the Future
Release Date: July 3, 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company:  Amblin Entertainment | Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is the black sheep of his family.  While his parents and siblings are irredeemable losers, Marty has a cute girlfriend (Claudia Wells), rides a skateboard, and plays guitar in a band.  He also maintains an odd friendship with a mad scientist, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).

One night, Doc invites Marty to help him out on his new project, a time machine … made from a Delorean.  Through a series of misadventures, Marty is sent back from 1985 to 1955.  After interfering with his parents’ first meeting, he faces the challenges of his future mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), falling in love with him and helping his father, George (Crispin Glover), stand up to the bully, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).  Meanwhile, the younger version of Doc must figure out how to get Marty “back to the future!”

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I saw this movie with my family in the movie theaters not long after its release in July 1985.  Then I saw it again in the theaters and then several times on VHS and cable tv.  But it’s probably been 30 years since the last time I watched it.  There was a time when this was my favorite ever made and “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News my favorite song.  But by 1989 when the sequels came out, I’d lost interest, and I’ve still never seen them.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered everything pretty well, as I really did see it a lot of times at an impressionable age.

What Did I Forget?:

Surprisingly, nothing significant.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

The casting is perfect, Doc Brown and Marty McFly, most notably.  But I think Lea Thomson and Crispin Glover deserve a lot of credit for being younger than Michael J. Fox and still convincingly portraying his parents.  Thomson as the teenage Lorraine is terrific at conveying both sweetness and a persistent horniness, while Glover is the ultimate geek.

I’ve also always been impressed with how everything that’s set up early in the movie gets paid off later on.  This goes for the main plots of when Doc Brown and Marty’s parents talk about their past, but also little details like  the clock tower, Marty’s uncle (a recidivist criminal) being in the playpen as a baby, or the Twin Pines Mall becoming the Lone Pines Mall.  This also may be the only time travel story ever told where changing the past makes things better.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

The depiction of Libyans as a pack of terrorists who smuggle uranium and travel around in a van with machine guns and bazookas is a nasty stereotype.  There are also a couple of instances of casual racism where Marty influences the future in a way that takes agency away from Black men.  The first is when he inspires young Goldie Wilson to run for mayor (which he would’ve done anyway). It’s also disconcerting that young Goldie says he’s going to clean the town up but in 1985 the city is in a state of decay.  I’m sure the filmmakers intended to show that most US cities had become rundown between the 50s and 80s rather than imply that it was because of a Black mayor, but the optics are bad.  The other scene is when Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck to let him hear Marty playing “Johnny Be Good.”  Again, it’s a gag because Marty is playing a song that Chuck Berry wrote, but I have just a twinge of uneasiness about it.

Is It a Classic?:

Most definitely.  Despite that fact that more time has passed since 1985 and today than 1955 and 1985, this movie hasn’t aged poorly.  Instead, it’s picked up a patina of nostalgia for two different eras of the past.

Rating: ****1/2

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with B:

  1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  2. Best in Show (2000)
  3. The Big Short (2015)
  4. Breaking Away (1979)
  5. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

What is your all-time favorite movie starting with B?  What do you guess will by my movie for the letter C?  Let me know in the comments!

 

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King


Author: Stephen King
Cover of the book 11/22/63.Title: 11/22/63
Narrator: Craig Wasson
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2011)
Summary/Review:

Stephen King’s time travel adventure focuses on Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher in Maine, who is drawn into a plan to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His friend Al, owner and cook at a greasy spoon diner, discovered a “rabbit hole” to 1958 and has been using it to try to prevent Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, but he comes down with a fatal cancer and is unable to complete the mission.  So he returns to 2011 and recruits Jake to take over.  Al’s hope is that if Kennedy lives that it will have the knock-on effect of preventing the escalation of the War in Vietnam.

Jake decides that to test the effects of changing history, he will rescue the family of high school janitor and his G.E.D. student, Harry Dunning. On Halloween 1958, Harry’s alcoholic father murdered his mother and siblings and left him with permanent brain damage and a limp. A good portion of the early part of the book takes place in Maine in 1958 as Jake adjusts to living in the past and trying to prevent the Dunning murders.

Later, Jake moves on to Texas and settles in the fictional Dallas suburb of Jodie. With years to go before the Kennedy assassination (or even Lee Harvey Oswald’s return to the United States from the Soviet Union), Jake becomes a substitute high school teacher and director of the school’s theater productions.  He meets and falls in love with the school’s new librarian, Sadie Dunhill and becomes a beloved member of the town community.

I really enjoy the parts in Maine and Jodie as it focuses on the small details of everyday life in the past and Jake’s efforts to fit in.  King does not glamorize the past but demonstrates its strengths and weaknesses.  On Jake’s visit, for instance, he observes that the past smells terrible (because of the mills in Maine) but tastes great (real root beer at a diner).  The mundanity of everyday life becomes a fascinating world to explore for the person from the future. King also builds tension with examples of the “obdurate past” throwing up obstacles to Jake’s efforts to change it and the many coincidences which Jake refers to as “the past harmonizes.”

Unfortunately, when Jake finally focuses on the Kennedy assassination, the narrative becomes less interesting to me.  Especially dreadful are the seemingly endless passages of Jake listening to Oswald’s everyday conversations through an audio surveillance.  King runs up against the challenge that faces all writers of time travel fiction: you can change major events in history in fiction, but they remain the same in real life. And so they have to find some way to justify leaving the past unchanged.

Back to the Future seems to be the only time travel story to ever consider that changing the past would make the future better.  King rather obviously makes the future where Kennedy survives a (ridiculously) worse place.  This is an unsatisfying payoff after a lengthy book.  It’s still worth reading though, as again, at least the first two thirds of the book are very engagingly written.  And the characters of Jake, Sadies, Harry, and others are sympathetic enough that my interest in seeing how they turn out carried me through the final act.  I also highly recommend Craig Wasson’s audiobook narration because he is able to perform believable accents for both Mainers and Texans.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title: Return of the Living Dad
Publication Info: London : Virgin, 1996
Summary/Review:

In this story, Berenice returns with her newlywed husband Jason to investigate what became of her father.  It’s long been believed that Admiral Isaac Summerfield turned coward in a space battle against the Daleks and died, but new evidence suggest otherwise. Berenice asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to witness the battle and see that her father’s ship is sucked into a wormhole.  Following through, the TARDIS team arrives in a remote English village in 1983.

Isaac and his crew are not surprised to see the Doctor and Berenice, as they’ve been expecting them to arrive one day.  Isaac’s ship arrived 20 years earlier, and in the intervening years he’s opened a cafe and taken up the duty of cleaning up the messes left behind by UNIT and the Doctor himself.  With an Air Force base nearby with nuclear weapons, the village attracts a strange assortment of refugee aliens, paranormal investigators, and anti-nuclear protesters.  Of course, once the Doctor arrives, strange things begin happening as the TARDIS and several people go missing. There’s a mystery to be solved and a traitor or two in their midst.

Kate Orman is one of the best writers of Doctor Who and particularly good at getting at the humanity (or lack thereof) of her characters and their relationships.  It’s surprising that she’s never written for the television series like other New Adventures writers, but perhaps she’s just not keen on scriptwriting.  Nevertheless, aspects of the book are familiar to what would be picked up ten years later in the new tv series, such as the need to clean up after the Doctor’s adventures, and the nodding winks to fan culture.

Since this is an Orman novel, it also has approximately a gazillion characters and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  I kept forgetting the Doctor’s other companions, Roz & Chris, were even there, and their main plot is their getting romantically involved.  Berenice, who had left the Doctor in Happy Endings, is front and center and this book is very much setting up her own series of New Adventures that would start in 1997.  Indeed, in various media, Berenice Summerfield is still appearing in new stories through today.

 

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating:

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)


Title: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Release Date: August 14, 2009
Director: Robert Schwentke
Production Company: New Line Cinema | Plan B Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Based on one of my favorite books, the trailer for this adaptation never looked promising, but out of morbid curiosity I finally broke down and watched.  It’s basically a heavily-abridged version of the book.  Obviously an adaptation of a long book can’t include everything, but a good adaptation should over something for the movie viewer.  Clare in this movie comes off as far more passive than in the book, and the talents of Rachel McAdams are wasted.  Henry’s relationships with anyone else, including his father, are depicted as very superficial.  And for some reason the creepy aspect of adult Henry spending time with Clare as a child seems to be emphasized. The location shots in Chicago are pretty but other than that the best I can recommend is to read the book.

Rating: **