The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

2016 #134
W.D. Richter | 103 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Buckaroo Banzai seems to have quite the cult following in the US, but, as far as I understand, it never made an impression over here; not until the internet enabled such cults to go global, anyway. It has big-name fans (one, Kevin Smith, was developing a remake for Amazon until legal wrangles got in the way), so of course it’s been noticed in more recent times. I’ve been somehow aware of it for ages, but finally got round to seeing it last year after Arrow put it out on Blu-ray.*

For those equally unfamiliar with the film, it’s an action-adventure sci-fi satirical comedy (kinda), concerning an adventure (one of many, I imagine) of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (RoboCop’s Peter Weller), the famous physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock musician. While testing a device that allows him to pass through solid matter, Banzai briefly travels to another dimension. This kickstarts a series of events that leads to the escape of evil aliens the Red Lectroids, who Banzai must defeat lest it brings about the end of the world. That’s the streamlined version, anyway.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve found it quite hard to tell what I thought of Buckaroo Banzai. On the one hand, I can definitely see where it gets its cult appeal, and I appreciate some of the ways it’s being different and boundary pushing. On the other, there’s been a definite backlash to it and I can appreciate where that comes from too — the criticism that some of that “boundary pushing” is merely sloppy storytelling and crazy overacting. There are parts where it’s hard to tell if it was deliberate and quite clever, or just incompetently done. Part of the problem (but also the appeal) is that it’s played so straight. It’s unquestionably a comedy — it’s too ludicrous to be anything else, and the sheer build-up of comedic lines becomes clear as it goes on — but it’s all played with such a straight face that I can see why you’d think everyone involved believed they were making something serious.

Dr Buckaroo Banzai

There are ways it could be ‘normal’, too: it contains so many elements that could be used to construct a traditional narrative — a new member being introduced to the gang, a love interest, an inciting incident which kicks off the events of the narrative, and so on — but it chooses to use none of these in a traditional way, instead being batshit crazy and thoroughly unique with it. Interestingly, director W.D. Richter was also one of the writers on Big Trouble in Little China, which is another action-adventure movie featuring a similar loose, crazy, fever-dream style. (Of all things, he also wrote Stealth, the forgotten-as-soon-as-it-was-released jet-pilots-vs-AI action thriller starring Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx from 2005.) I can see how, after a diet of mainstream adventure cinema, something like this could feel refreshing. It’s almost like counter-culture pulp; like a Rocky Horror for the ’80s, but without the camp. (Or, at least, not the same kind of camp — I mean, have you seen what Jeff Goldblum’s wearing?)

In the booklet accompanying Arrow’s Blu-ray, James Oliver talks about cult movies and their history. “Cult” is sometimes used nowadays as a catch-all term for anything in the broad sci-fi / fantasy / horror realm, or with a dedicated and eager fanbase. It’s almost mainstream. The term’s roots lie in the opposite direction, of course — films that critics and mass moviegoers disliked but that developed a following of people who appreciate and defended them nonetheless. This is a lot easier and quicker than it used to be since VHS came along, and even more so in the era of DVD and Blu-ray. Banzai was possibly the first cult film to benefit in this way. Oliver concludes by reasoning that the film “resists easy assimilation. It plays too many games to be embraced by everyone and is, accordingly, often patronised or even denigrated, even by some of those who usually like cult movies. But such resistance just makes those who love it love it just that little bit harder. So it is a cult movie and, no matter how much the meaning of that phrase may mutate over time, it likely always will be.” Based on the aforementioned backlash — how it’s had a chance to move in a more widely-known direction but hasn’t done so — I think he’s right.

Villains

Personally, I’m still conflicted. I sort of didn’t think it was all that great, but also loved it at the same time. “Loved” might be too strong a word. I admired some of the ways it was different from the norm. Plus there are some very quotable lines, and the music that kicks off the end credits is relentlessly hummable. On balance, I really wanted to like it more than I actually did like it. Maybe I’ll get there on repeat viewings (because we know how good I am at getting round to those…)

3 out of 5

* Said Blu-ray was actually released two years ago this month — where does time go?! ^

Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)

2017 #6
Jeremy Konner | 50 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal: The Movie

Almost a year ago, Donald Trump was still just a Republican candidate that half of the US and most of the rest of the world laughed at, waiting for something to come along and make him go away. And at that time, this was released: a feature-length(-ish) spoof from sketch comedy website Funny or Die, with a (sort-of-)starry cast, that no one knew was coming. That surprise factor — “a website that does short sketches has made a whole movie and it stars famous people and we didn’t know about it but it’s out now!” — is, frankly, the most memorable thing about it.

Introduced by Ron Howard, who supposedly discovered a VHS copy at a yard sale or something, the film poses as a lost ’80s TV movie produced by Trump himself as an adaptation of his best-selling book of the same name. Trump is played by Johnny Depp, under a pile of prosthetics and doing a passable version of that distinctive voice, who comes across a kid and relates some exploits from his life. There are cameo appearances by quite famous people like Alfred Molina, Henry Winkler, Stephen Merchant, Patton Oswalt, Robert Morse, Room’s Jacob Tremblay (looking vacantly amused), and Christopher Lloyd doing what most of his career has consisted of these past few years: playing Doc Brown in a Back to the Future joke/reference. There are some other people who get billed above some of those people, so maybe they’re also famous in America, I don’t know.

Make kung fu great again

Considering its pedigree, it should come as no surprise that The Art of the Deal: The Movie plays like a very long, out of control sketch. Just like all sketch comedy, some jokes land better than others, and just like most sketch comedy, it begins to outstay its welcome by the end. It gets a lot of passes because Trump is so ridiculous that anyone taking the piss out of him is always welcome, and as such it ticks over with a level of slight amusement rather than outright hilarity.

Bits that do land include the ever-so-’80s title song by Kenny Loggins; the ethnicity of the kid suddenly changing every time Trump notices it; a bit about him paying tramps to piss in a building that (accidentally) has added resonance now; some of the comedy end credits; and a post-credit bookend with Howard, who declares that “we should probably just pretend that this film, and in fact Donald Trump, never even existed.”

Indeed.

3 out of 5

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

2016 #100
Miloš Forman | 134 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 18 / R

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestBy many accounts this is the greatest film I’d never seen (hence it being this year’s pick for #100). How are you meant to go about approaching something like that? Probably by not thinking about it too much. I mean, something will always be “the greatest you’ve never seen”, even if you dedicate yourself to watching great movies and the “greatest you’ve never seen” is something pretty low on the list… at which point I guess it stops mattering.

Anyway, this acclaimed drama — one of only three films to win the “Big Five” Oscars — follows Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a prisoner who’s claiming to be mentally ill in order to avoid hard labour, as he’s sent to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. His ward is run by the firm hand of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who subtly controls and oppresses the other inmates (who include early appearances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif). With his antiauthoritarian nature, McMurphy sets out to usurp her control… with ultimately disastrous consequences.

Cuckoo’s Nest is very ’70s in its bleakness; also in being about someone sticking it to The Man, and The Man winning. We often conflate such qualities with realism — “it’s not all happy, it must be more like real life” — but I wonder if Cuckoo’s Nest is actually too on the nose as an indictment of the system. McMurphy is a highly disruptive influence, which in reality would surely be a problem, but he’s seen to bring the other inmates a joy they previously hadn’t known. His actions give one, Billy Bibbit, confidence and cure him of his stutter — until Ratched reasserts control, his stutter returns, and… worse happens.

Wretched RatchedHollywood is notorious for adapting novels by grafting on happier endings, but here they did the opposite, removing even the glimmers of justice that the novel offers. In the book (according to Wikipedia), when McMurphy strangles Ratched he also exposes her breasts, humiliating her in front of the inmates; when she returns to work, her voice — her main instrument of control — is gone, and many of the inmates have either chosen to leave or have been transferred away. Conversely, in the film there is no humiliation, and we explicitly see that she still has her voice and that all the men are still there. Of course, McMurphy’s ultimate end isn’t cheery in either version. It’s almost like the anti-Shawshank in its hope-less ending. While the cynical part of me thinks this is more realistic, I do like a bit of optimism, a bit of victory, a bit of justice for the real perpetrators.

Even aside from the ending, I don’t think the film is as focused as it could or should be. I’m not asking to be handheld through it all, but at times it meanders. The best qualities lie in the acting. Nicholson and Fletcher won the Oscars, and both are very good — Nicholson with his familiar crooked charm, Fletcher despicable as the everyday megalomaniac — but for me the best performance is Brad Dourif, making his screen debut as the stuttering, sweet, ultimately tragic Billy Bibbit. He was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to George Burns in Only sane one hereThe Sunshine Boys (anyone remember that? No, didn’t think so); though he did win the BAFTA, once again proving that we have all the taste.

I’m not quite on board with all the praise Cuckoo’s Nest has received — I think it might be improved by a streamlining of purpose. Either way, it is not an enjoyable movie, though it is perhaps a significant one.

4 out of 5

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2016 project, which you can read more about here.

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #7

They’ve saved the best trip for last…
But this time they may
have gone too far.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 118 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 25th May 1990 (USA)
UK Release: 11th July 1990
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The American President)
Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead)
Mary Steenburgen (Parenthood, Step Brothers)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, Born to Be Wild)
Lea Thompson (SpaceCamp, Some Kind of Wonderful)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Death Becomes Her, The Polar Express)

Screenwriter
Bob Gale (Used Cars, Back to the Future)

The Story
With Doc stuck in 1885, Marty McFly must travel back to save him before he’s killed by Biff Tannen’s ancestor, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. With the DeLorean damaged during his arrival in the past, they also have to come up with a plan to get back to their correct time…

Our Heroes
Marty McFly finally grows as a human being as he learns some stuff this time, while Michael J. Fox also gets to ham it up a little as his Irish ancestor, Seamus. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is still the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson again, this time as Biff’s trigger-happy Wild West ancestor, Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen. Who also gets covered in excrement.

Best Supporting Character
Mary Steenburgen is one of the few wholly original characters in either sequel, the love of Doc’s life, Clara Clayton. She’s also a confident, competent, and capable female character — a character type that’s only now ceasing to be a rarity in effects-y blockbusters, 25 years after this was made.

Memorable Quote
“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.” — Doc

Memorable Scene
Marty and Doc hijack a train in the hope of using it to get the DeLorean up to the required 88mph. As the looted locomotive heads towards a mighty fall off an unfinished bridge, it turns out Clara is on board too. Tension! Action! Excitement! What more do you want from a climax?

Truly Special Effect
With the DeLorean destroyed, the film ends with a reveal of Doc’s new time machine, and it’s awesome.

Making of
There are tonnes of lines, jokes, characters, locations, and even background details referenced back and forth across the whole trilogy, but only one actual scene appears in all three: the moment Marty travels from 1955 to 1985. It’s the climax to the first film, then appears at the end of Part II, and consequently is in the ‘recap’ at the start of Part III.

Previously on…
Part III indeed: this picks up exactly where the second film left off, and they were shot back-to-back. It’s fundamentally standalone other than that, mind.

Next time…
As mentioned on the first film, Back to the Future has continued in an animated series, theme park ride, video game, and a comic book that started last year. Plus Doc Brown turned up in A Million Ways to Die in the West, so… there’s that…

Awards
2 Saturn Awards (Supporting Actor (Thomas F. Wilson), Music)
4 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Director, Supporting Actress (Mary Steenburgen), Costumes)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
Back To The Future Part II teed off a lot of critics by not being a remake of the first film, and for daring to be a) complicated, b) very fast and c) heartless. Part III, which is slightly less fleet of foot, restores heart interest of the first film and has a satisfying complete storyline.” — Kim Newman, Empire

Score: 74%

What the Public Say
“One of the clearest indications of an excellent series is an ending is so satisfying you can’t even be mad the adventure is over. Part III delivers a happy ending so well-rounded […] there is no yearning for more story. I remember feeling quite content after seeing that movie for the first time; actually more like thrilled that the trilogy ended on such a great note.” — Avril Brown, Comics Waiting Room

Verdict

The consensus used to be that Part III was unquestionably the weakest part of the trilogy, a slightly bizarre Old West-set addendum to the first two. These days, I feel like an increasing number of people say it’s definitely better than Part II. Personally, I’ve always had a particular fondness for it. I’m not entirely sure why. Much like the second film, it can’t attain the perfection of the first movie, but it can be the next best thing — a fun and funny adventure with these great characters. And even as I say “they’re not as good as the first one”, I don’t wholly believe it: to me, Back to the Future never has and never will be just one film, or one film and its two sequels — it’s a trilogy; a three-parter. (So there.)

#8 will be… an alliterative origin.

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #6

Getting back was only the beginning.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 22nd November 1989 (USA)
UK Release: 24th November 1989
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Doc Hollywood, The Frighteners)
Christopher Lloyd (Clue, The Pagemaster)
Lea Thompson (Red Dawn, Casual Sex?)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, High Strung)
Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting, Leaving Las Vegas)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away)

Screenwriter
Bob Gale (1941, Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road)

The Story
Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015 to save Marty’s son from imprisonment, but this allows future-Biff to steal the DeLorean, taking it back to 1955 to allows his younger self to profit from future knowledge. Faced with a nightmare version of 1985, Marty must travel back into the events of the first movie to fix things.

Our Heroes
Michael J. Fox is not only Marty McFly, but older Marty McFly, and his son, Marty McFly Jr., and also… his daughter, Marlene McFly. Just in case you’d forgotten these were comedy movies, I guess. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff again, but this time he’s not just a bully, but someone who — thanks to his meddling in time — represents a threat to Marty’s whole lifestyle. And he’s a right nasty piece of work in the dystopian variant of 1985, too. Still gets covered in excrement, mind.

Best Supporting Character
Spare a thought for Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. The end of the first film has her getting in the DeLorean with Doc and Marty, because she was there and the ending was never intended to lead to anything (yes, kids, once upon a time movies weren’t made with the assumption there’d be sequels). Come the second film, Zemeckis and Gale were stuck having to integrate her into the story, which they did by… knocking her out early on and leaving her out of it.

Memorable Quote
“The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!” — Doc

Memorable Scene
30 years in the future, they’re still making crappy Jaws sequels. (The irony now is, in the real 2015 we were still getting often-crappy sequels to pretty much every major ’70s/’80s franchise except for Jaws.)

Technical Wizardry
You’ll believe a board can hover. Well, you probably won’t, but some people did. That’s just testament to how well made the sequence is.

Truly Special Effect
Quite apart from the hoverboard, the sequence where they first arrive in 2015 — a ‘road’ of flying cars in a rainy nighttime sky — is a triumph of model work.

Making of
For various reasons (possibly moral, possibly financial) Crispin Glover refused to return as Marty’s father, George McFly. Instead, the filmmakers used outtakes from the first film, as well as an actor wearing prosthetics made from casts of Glover taken for the first film. Glover objected to his likeness being used without permission, sued, and Universal settled out of court. More than that, it led to a change in contract rules at the Screen Actors Guild to stop the same thing happening again. (See also: The Four Musketeers.)

Previously on…
Not only does Part II pick up exactly where the first film ended, it goes back into its events and interacts with them.

Next time…
Part II ends with a huge cliffhanger, leading directly into the series’ final trilogy-forming instalment.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Special Effects)
3 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Costumes, Make-Up)

What the Critics Said
“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear. But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.” — Richard Schickel, TIME

Score: 63%

What the Public Say
“the biggest prediction the film nails is not any one piece of technology, but our reaction to it: indifference met with annoyance of its imperfections. The movie focuses not on what the technology can do, but on what it can’t. The skyway’s jammed. Marty’s hover board doesn’t work on water. The voice-activated home-entrance lights don’t turn on when Jennifer enters. […] What we get is “the future” as “the present.” None of the doom, destruction and dystopia of Blade Runner or The Time Machine. 2015 Hill Valley and 2015 Chicago are just like 1985 Hill Valley and 1985 Chicago, only with cooler stuff.” — Jack M Silverstein, ReadJack.com

Verdict

There are some who consider Back to the Future an all-time classic and think the two sequels are meritless wastes of space. There are others who see them as a complete trilogy of more-or-less equal quality. Considering that ever since I’ve seen them all three parts have existed, it isn’t much surprise I’m one of the latter. Part II may not have the elegant simplicity of the first film, but it still has plenty of original and exciting ideas, not least using the time travel conceit to go back into the first movie. It may not be as good, but it’s a fine adventure in its own right.

#7 will be… wicky wicky wild wild West.

Back to the Future (1985)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #5

He was never in time for his classes…
He wasn’t in time for his dinner…
Then one day…
He wasn’t in his time at all.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 116 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 3rd July 1985 (USA)
UK Release: 4th December 1985
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf, Stuart Little)
Christopher Lloyd (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, The Addams Family)
Lea Thompson (All the Right Moves, Howard the Duck)
Crispin Glover (Willard, Alice in Wonderland)
Thomas F. Wilson (Action Jackson, The Heat)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump)

Screenwriters
Bob Gale (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Trespass)
Robert Zemeckis (1941, A Christmas Carol)

The Story
After Marty McFly travels back to 1955 in a time machine invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, he accidentally prevents his teenaged parents from meeting. It’s up to Marty to make them fall in love and therefore ensure his own existence.

Our Hero
A star-making turn from Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, cocky teen and guitar hero.

Our Villain
Thomas F. Wilson is Biff Tannen: in the ’80s, McFly Sr’s bullying supervisor; in the ’50s, McFly Sr’s high school bully. Prone to getting covered in excrement.

Best Supporting Character
An equally iconic turn from Christopher Lloyd as Doc, mad scientist extraordinaire.

Memorable Quote
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” — Doc

Memorable Scene
The climax: Marty’s one hope to get back to 1985 is a bolt of lightning that will strike the town’s clock tower, which he can use to power the DeLorean. As the moment approaches, Doc battles to connect the wiring, and Marty must make sure the car is travelling at the right speed at the right moment… Well, of course they succeed, and Doc skips happily between the time machine’s flaming tyre tracks.

Write the Theme Tune…
In a rare case of an iconic movie theme from the ’70s and ’80s not composed by John Williams, Back to the Future’s memorable motif was composed by Alan Silvestri.

Technical Wizardry
To some, the DeLorean is a failed automobile. To a generation (and, probably, every generation since) it’s one of the most iconic movie cars of all time. “Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” Genius.

Making of
It’s now quite well known that Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty, and had even started filming before it was decided he wasn’t right and was replaced with Michael J. Fox. This wasn’t after just a day or two of production, though: Stoltz filmed for four weeks, completing a significant chunk of the film. So much, in fact, that it wasn’t all re-shot with Fox: most of the material without Marty actually on screen was retained (Fox had to film reverse angles for dialogue scenes without the other actors present), and a couple of long shots in the finished film actually feature Stoltz.

Next time…
Two direct sequels (the first of which picks up immediately from the end of this one), as well as an animated series, an iconic theme park ride, a computer game from adventure maestros Telltale, an ongoing comic book that launched last year, and a semi-disastrous Secret Cinema event.

Awards
1 Oscar (Sound Effects Editing)
3 Oscar nominations (Original Screenplay, Sound, Original Song)
5 BAFTA nominations (Film, Original Screenplay, Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects)
3 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Actor, Special Effects)
6 Saturn nominations (Director, Supporting Actor (Crispin Glover and Christopher Lloyd), Supporting Actress (Lea Thompson), Music, Costumes)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“though it is hardly one of the greater flights of cinematic imagination to be seen since science fantasy reared its head as mass appeal material again, it would be virtually impossible not to enjoy it in some way or another.” — Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“nothing short of an example of screen-writing brilliance. Tightly pack[ed] and interwoven from the opening scene to the final ‘cliffhanger’ which, let’s face it, was never meant to be a cliffhanger as much as just a cool and intriguing ending to a stand alone film.” — nEoFILM

Verdict

Who knew a movie about mother-son incest could be one of the most entertaining family comedies ever made? That’s because it’s magnificently written, faultlessly performed, packed with inventiveness… oh, and because the mother is the same age as the son, doesn’t know he’s her son, and the incest doesn’t actually happen. Ah, time travel! A notoriously difficult sci-fi nut to crack, another reason BTTF succeeds is because it isn’t really about time travel. One of those times where talent and good fortune come together to craft perfect movie entertainment.

Roads? Where #6 is going, it doesn’t need roads…

Back in Time (2015)

2015 #161
Jason Aron | 94 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA, Canada & UK / English

If you’re on social media (or even just frequent pop culture news sites), you can’t fail to have noticed that Wednesday just passed was “Back to the Future Day”, the exact date Marty McFly and Doc Brown (and Marty’s girlfriend) travel to in Back to the Future Part II. As one of the many, many (many) things that went on to mark the occasion, Netflix debuted this crowdfunded documentary worldwide. Apparently it began life as a film just about DeLorean owners, but then expanded to include Back to the Future fans in general, and ultimately features many of the trilogy’s cast and crew talking about the movies themselves, too.

So it’s a “fan documentary”, like, say, Starwoids, Ringers, Done the Impossible, or the one it most reminded me of, Legends of the Knight, This focus has not gone down well with some viewers: there’s quite a lot of criticism on Letterboxd from people who clearly expected something else entirely. Far be it from me to judge (haha! S’exactly what I’m about to do), but I didn’t read up much on the doc before viewing and I’d managed to be aware it was about the movie’s legacy and its fans, so I’m not entirely sure what they expected. If you’re not interested in a documentary about a movie’s legacy and its fans, maybe don’t watch a documentary about a movie’s legacy and its fans?

That said, it does begin with a hefty behind-the-scenes making-of type section about the film in question. Interviewees including Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, supporting cast members, production crew, and at least one studio executive, talk us through the genesis of the project, the travails of getting it greenlit, some of the making of the first film (not least the recasting of Eric Stoltz), touch on their imaginings of 2015 for Part II (not least the famous hoverboard), and only mention Part III in the context of it being the end (reiterating that there are no plans for either Part IV or any kind of remake).

Then it moves on to the fans — what the film means to them, and what that’s led them to do. Those we meet include a couple who travel around the US in a DeLorean fundraising for Michael J. Fox’s charity; the team of aficionados who restored Universal Studios’ decrepit display DeLorean; the family of collectors who own the only film-used DeLorean that will ever be in private ownership; a guy who built a mini-golf course in his yard with a Back to the Future-themed hole that he’s used for charity events with some of the films’ cast; the people who have had some success developing a real-life hoverboard; and the guy who set up a fansite that was so good it became the official site, and is now regularly employed as an official consultant about the films, not least for the rafts of merchandise that comes out these days. We also get a look at the Secret Cinema event in London from a year or two ago that made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Naturally, none of that gets mentioned here (in fairness, because it has nothing to do with Back to the Future itself).

Finally, there are some “famous” fans: Adam Goldberg, who appears to have created some US comedy show I’m not familiar with that had a Back to the Future-themed episode once; and Dan Harmon, who created Community (which this week was revealed to have helped Yahoo lose tens of millions of dollars, of course) and some animated show that the makers of the documentary clearly assume you’re familiar with (I’m not). Harmon comes across… well, he ultimately doesn’t come across very well, let’s leave it at that.

Some consumer advice, if you do intend to watch it on Netflix: someone technical has clearly messed up, because the title cards and end credits are completely black, and interviewee IDs flash up for half a second each on a subtitle track. Obviously it doesn’t ruin the overall flow (unless you really want to know people’s names and jobs), but it’s a shame.

That glaring error aside, Back in Time is not a bad film, provided you know what to expect. It’s a shade too long and the storytelling is occasionally a little jumbled, but there are some nice interviews and stories — hearing Michael J. Fox recount the Royal Premiere where he was sat next to Princess Diana pretty much makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

3 out of 5

Back in Time is available on Netflix now.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

2014 #127
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller | 102 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA & Cyprus / English | 18 / R

Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForBelated sequels can be a Terminator 2, but more often they’re a Terminator 3 — that is to say, they can be brilliant, but often it seems they’re a poor idea, a too-late money-grabbing re-hash. Mooted since before the first Sin City was even released back in 2005, this long-anticipated sequel finally appeared at the tail end of the summer, a nine-year wait, and met with poor critical reception and even poorer box office. Considering the first film isn’t just a fanboy favourite but also fairly well regarded (it still sits on the IMDb Top 250, which I know some disregard out of hand but does mean something), that’s quite a painful fall from grace. Having watched the original the night before, I rather fail to see why.

As with its predecessor, A Dame to Kill For is a collection of hyper-noir short stories, connected by location and overlapping characters, that flits between time periods with abandon — this is both a prequel and sequel to the first film, revealing both the story of how Dwight (Josh Brolin) came to change his face (to become Clive Owen in the original film), and what Nancy (Jessica Alba) did after the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis, returning in a more spiritual form). There’s also the story of a cocky gambler, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), taking on the city’s power-players, and a short pre-titles tale starring breakout character Marv (Mickey Rourke).

If the first film was noir with a comic book mentality, then the second is a comic book with a noir mentality. The plots are still hard-boiled, the extensive voiceovers overwritten to the point they wash over you meaninglessly, the characters a mix of downtrodden toughs (for the men) and whores (for the women), and there’s still no hope for anyone in a city which drags everyone down. Naturally the visual style is the same: high-contrast monochrome with dramatic splashes of colour, and the occasional artistic lapse into literal black-and-white.

Violent MarvBut the comic-book-ness of the first film — moments of almost metaphorical visual representation rather than literal reality, including physically-impossible action beats — has been ramped up. The value of the first film was never in its action, so the sequel’s lengthy punch-ups, crossbow-based guard-slaying, and all the rest, get boring fast. When it slips into this needless excess, A Dame to Kill For loses its way. When it sticks to what it does best — hard-boiled fatalistic crime tales with striking comic book-inspired cinematography — it does as well as the concept ever did.

The best story is probably the titular one, which makes up the bulk of the middle of the film. It’s the most traditionally noir-ish, with a killer performance from a perfectly-cast Eva Green as the eponymous dame. She also spends most of her screentime starkers, which — coupled with the ludicrous dialogue and increased action — does lend credence to accusations that this is a film made by 13-year-old boys. Enjoy the results or not, it’s a hard point to argue against.

As Nancy, Jessica Alba was somewhere on the spectrum from mediocre to awful in the first film, but she’s another of the best things in this sequel. It’s not just that she’s given a meatier role, but that she seems to know how to act better fullstop. For all the criticisms that the film is misogynistic, with its women all strippers or whores or manipulative bitches, it’s the actresses who get the best parts and deliver the best performances. Brolin is unremarkable, for instance, while Marv, undoubtedly the original film’s breakout character, is now shoehorned into every story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels forced.

Johnny come latelyThe intervening decade has lessened the impact of the first film’s sick ultra-violence, but there’s nothing even that extreme here, aside perhaps from one eyeball-related moment. On the other hand, nearly a decade of tech development means it looks better than the last one, both in terms of the CGI’s quality and the camerawork more generally — it’s less flatly shot; more filmic than the first one’s sometimes-webseries-y composition.

Rodriguez once said he hoped to film all of Miller’s Sin City stories, and across the two films they’ve got through six (plus two new ones), which leaves two more full-length tales and nine shorts. Based on the poor performance and reception of this instalment, a third go-round looks unlikely. But then, if there’s one filmmaker who seems to keep on producing even when no one expects more it’s… Uwe Boll. But if there’s another, it’s Robert Rodriguez. That said, the box office really was shockingly awful (just shy of $40 million worldwide; I read the budget was $60 million), so maybe even Rodriguez can’t save this project.

Many critics, even those who rate the first Sin City highly, slaughtered this sequel. I don’t really see why — on balance, I think it’s of a piece with the first one. To love the first and hate the second seems predicated on the notion that the original was innovative and groundbreaking, whereas the follow-up is the same thing again. Well, what did you expect? It promises more stories in the visual and thematic style of Ghost of movies pastits predecessor, and that’s exactly what it delivers. I suspect the first benefits from nostalgia because, watching them virtually back to back, I found I liked Sin City less than I remembered, but enjoyed A Dame to Kill For just as much. It’s flawed in several aspects, but for honest-to-themselves fans of the first movie, I think it’s a “more of what you liked”-style success.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2014. Read more here.

Clue (1985)

2010 #28
Jonathan Lynn | 93 mins | TV | PG / PG

Although Disney have recently treated (I use the word loosely) us to a glut of films based on theme park attractions, movies adapted from good old board games seem a lot rarer. This is probably for good reason — even more so than Disney rides, the majority have no kind of useable narrative. Cluedo (aka Clue in the US) is one of the few that does, and consequently is one of the few (only?) board games that has reached the silver screen. So far, anyway.

I’m going to put Clue into the same category as Flash Gordon: it’s the kind of film that’s unremittingly daft, but it knows it is, and if one gets on board with that then it’s a very enjoyable experience. The story sees an exuberantly excellent Tim Curry gather a group of disparate-but-secretly-connected individuals at a remote stately home, each under a fake name based on those infamous monikers from the game. Eventually there’s a murder, and then a few more, all of which is conveyed in a mix of hilarious farce and fast-paced screwball comedy. It’s Agatha Christie meets Fawlty Towers.

It’s not all funny, certainly — there’s a fair share of puerile gags — but the abundant good bits more than make up for them. On the other hand, you may agree with Roger Ebert that most of the gags fail to hit home. That it has a cult following (plus frequent airings on digital channels like ITV3, suggesting it might pull relatively decent viewing figures (all things considered) whenever it’s on) goes to show it’s all a matter of taste.

Other than the board game connection, Clue is best known for its three different endings, all of which were released, with each screening having just one attached. On TV the film shows with all three consecutively, and they perhaps work best this way — there’s a rising scale of ridiculousness, and the varied repetition of a couple of gags underlines rather than steals their amusement value. My personal favourite variant was the first, incidentally.

Surely the only reasonable reaction to a task as ludicrous as adapting a board game into a film is to turn it into a comedy. Clue does so with aplomb. Ridley Scott, take note.

4 out of 5

Clue placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2010, which can be read in full here.