Review: Back to the Future (1985)

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Back to the Future zooms at us as a lovely mishmash of sci-fi thrills and 50s nostalgia that feels like pure happenstance. The one purported flaw, the fact that Marty McFly has no right to be in his family, is partially understandable. As Michael J. Fox wasn’t even slated to appear in the film. He was a last-minute replacement that just happened to pan out. But what a bit of serendipity it was all the same.

Without question Back to the Future clocks in as one of the most enjoyable adventures of the 1980s for delivering unadulterated audience satisfaction. It has all the great hallmarks we yearn for starting with rewarding characters, inventiveness that makes up for any corny interludes, and a pulse on what’s fundamentally entertaining.

Our introduction to the story tells us as much about Doc Brown as it does the teen rolling in on his skateboard, if not more so. Marty, the plucky kid with a penchant for rock n roll, finds Doc’s workspace in complete disarray thanks to an extended period of neglect. More on that later.

For now, the iconically cool vibe of “The Power of Love” underscores Alan Silvestri’s own cinematic orchestration on the project providing a fitting anthem for everything that is Back to the Future. McFly coasts around town on his skateboard using each passing car as his own personal lift. Rock is his main passion while his girlfriend Jennifer remains his main distraction. Meanwhile, Mayor Goldie Wilson looks to get reelected a la Nashville (1975) and Marty is accosted by locals championing the “Save the Clock Tower” campaign.

In fact, Hill Valley is a bit of a mythical city. It’s part Middle America, part fantasy, where the local principal is out to get our hero, his closest friend is a mad scientist, and he must battle against the ultimate affront of all time that he might not amount to anything just like his old man. Those are the stakes and this is the world. The perfect place for time travel. Doc in all his scatterbrained kookiness makes an appearance to introduce a DeLorean time machine into the storyline as well as the main conflict. The rest is in Marty’s hands as he whizzes away into the past.

The fact that it paints this world as a caricature as well instead of reality, far from being a weakness, becomes one of its bolstering charms. Refrains of “Mister Sandman” play throughout town. The local marques boast the star power of Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan (wink wink) in Cattle Queen of Montana (1954). Further still, the local five and dime features the tunes of Nat King Cole, Pattie Page, and of course, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Everyone gets a plug to set the scene.

A few good-natured jabs at incumbent President Reagan are also in order. After all, who could ever believe that an actor could become a president? Of course, nothing is all too surprising in this day and age. Still, the 50s via the 1980s were in many ways both simpler times. Star Wars and Van Halen. Chuck Berry and Jackie Gleason. That was the life.

It devolves into a glorious unfolding of circumstances as worlds collide and Marty’s cause begins to unravel at two ends. First, he needs to get back to the future, hence the all-encompassing title but in his haste, he accidentally tampered with the natural order of things – namely the initial meet-cute of his mother and father. It subsequently instigates one of the most awkward cinematic mother-son relationships known to mankind.

Having done irreconcilable damage to their relationship, Marty must do all he can to get his parents back on track. The problems are innumerable. Namely his mother’s infatuation with him, the dreamy out-of-towner Calvin Klein, his father’s undeniable dorkiness, and of course the bullies to end all bullies Biff. In fact, he’s been a thorn in George’s side for 30 years.

Still, with Doc’s aid (the quintessential secondary helper), Marty looks to right all that is wrong. It proves difficult as he attempts to set his parents up to attend the Enchanted Under the Sea Dance together – the fateful dance where young love kindled. Yet Marty watches his life slowly disappearing moment by moment as his parent’s union seems a slight chance at best.

With a few riffs of “Johnny B. Goode” and an imminent date with Doc at the old clock tower in town, a happy conclusion seems possible if not for the Libyan Terrorists still waiting for Doc in the future. After all, Plutonium doesn’t grow on trees and there are consequences for swiping it. Thankfully he doesn’t necessarily listen to his own advice about altering the future and Marty returns to a world that is strikingly different to the one he used to know. It’s strangely rewarding even if it does feel all too perfect in this third world.

While it becomes one of the most obvious films to shamelessly set up and plug its sequels (ultimately two other offerings), there’s no doubt that Back to the Future makes each a rewarding prospect. Not only is it boosted by a winsome performance by Family Ties favorite Michael J. Fox in a now defining role but Christopher Lloyd’s turn is equally laudable even if it easily typecast him in future tech nerd projects. There are certainly worst places to be.

Furthermore, under the tutelage of executive producer Steven Spielberg, director Robert Zemeckis became one of the great successes of the 80s and 90s with Back to the Future being yet another reason why Spielberg remained at the forefront of popular entertainment throughout the decade.

For their part, whether they like it or not Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd will remain pop culture gods in the hearts of nearly everyone. Bless them for that. Doc and Marty are as memorable now as they were back then and no doubt even years into the future. That’s right, a movie about a time-traveling DeLorean has staying power. There’s a bit of the magic of the movies for you.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Forrest Gump (1994)

950b6-forrestgump1If you want to start out on the broadest level possible, the film is a lesson in 20th century American History. It charts the turbulent course of mankind including assassinations, counter-culture, Vietnam, Anti-War Rallies, The Cold War, Watergate and much much more. The substantial soundtrack dials back the clock to fully immerse the audience in that time and place.

It is the dream movie for pop culture fanatics and history aficionados. That’s why I enjoy it. However, much like the feather that flutters in the breeze drifting this way and that, Forrest Gump is a character who floats through history as it is made. It begins with his leg braces which give inspiration to the Elvis phenomenon. Ultimately, he plays football for Alabama, sees the school desegregated, and becomes an All-American who meets JFK.

Soon it’s off to Vietnam, followed by a Medal of Honor, and a trip back home thanks to a million dollar wound. Forrest gets a taste of the nation’s capital and soon becomes an accomplished ping pong player, makes it big in the shrimping business, and heads home back to Alabama once more after buying Apple stock. All these moments are absorbing to be sure, but that alone would make the film just okay as a historical drama.

Tom Hanks‘ Forrest Gump is the important piece in the entire equation because of the people that gravitate towards him. Forrest himself only has an IQ of 75, but he is so unlike many of the characters we are used to. Not because he is “simple” so to speak, because he is far from it. Perhaps it’s the fact that he is wholly genuine, loyal, and innocent. That’s almost unheard of these days. He seems to stand at complete odds with the history that is happening all around. Sometimes it looks very different from his eyes or he is completely oblivious to what is happening.

However, in some ways, he seems to have things figured out better than most. He loves those close to him, does what he loves, and never loses his positive spirit. His observations on life might be plain, but they are nonetheless powerful to those around him. To Hank’s credit, he infuses the character with a slow-witted charm and gives him a deep southern drawl. He’s Forrest, Forrest Gump. That’s all he needs to be.

Sally Field has a relatively short screen appearance, which is still extremely important because Forrest’s mother is the one who helps guide his whole outlook on life. She encourages him to make the best of what God has given him and to realize he is no different than other “normal” people. Her love, cultivation, and homespun knowledge is what seemingly allows Forrest to lead a full life, though pithy sayings only go so far, at some point you just have to live.

Jenny (Robin Wright) is another character who is perhaps a greater drifter than Forrest himself. She is constantly trying to find her way through the turbulent times while Forrest’s feet always seem firmly planted on the ground (Rather ironic since he is always running). She is a prodigal and always prone to return to Forrest who always welcomes her back with open arms no matter the circumstances. It might be a stint in a nightclub, living the hippie life, joining the Black Panther Party, or being with other men. Forrest is forever loyal and protective of her. She cannot always handle having him in her life, and she wishes to find her own way. He is always there for her, though, even up to the point of taking care of a son.

Bubba and Lieutenant Dan are Forrest’s best good friends and both men are greatly impacted by Vietnam. Bubba dies and Lt. Dan loses his legs (not to mention his self-respect). Forrest is fiercely loyal to both comrades, starting up Bubba Gumps Shrimping in honor of his late friend and giving work to Lt. Dan when he needs it most. He is a friend for the ages and he takes the title seriously.

Calling Forrest Gump just a historical drama or even sentimental tripe might be partially accurate and yet it cohesively adds up to more than its parts. 20 years have gone by, true, and some of the luster may have gone away, but certainly not all of it.  Though it might be far from perfect, it is a story that is worth any shortcomings, because it has heart and a fantastical telling of American history that is still worth watching.

4.5/5 Stars

 

Forrest Gump (1994)

f0e31-forrest_gump_posterIn the classic starring Tom Hanks as the slow-witted but kindhearted Forrest, we see him as he takes part in history. From the day we see him teach Elvis how to dance, up to the point he runs across country, he is constantly part of or making history. However despite everything he has accomplished whether it be in Vietnam, playing ping-pong, or in the shrimping business, Forrest still is humble and seemingly oblivious to it all. His innocence is heartwarming amidst all the turmoil around him in the 60s,  70s, and 80s. Hanks is supported wonderfully by Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Gary Sinise, and Sally Fields. This film is funny as well as touching, making it wonderful to watch. The soundtrack also helps to transport you back to the different eras.

4.5/5 Stars