An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Liveblogging BTTF2 for some goddamn reason

Sigh. I was passively flipping channels tonight when I came across a cable channel that was just about to show Back to the Future II. These are, for me, the ideal conditions to watch a Back to the Future film, and it's very difficult for me to resist the impulse to do so. And because I'm apparently a masochist (and, if anyone else reads this, a sadist as well), I was seized by the urge to liveblog that shit. So I did. My efforts follow.

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-Wait so, maybe this is explained elsewhere and I'm just forgetting, but how much time has elapsed for Doc between the end of Part 1, when he oh-so-wistfully departs for the future ("About 30 years... seems like a nice round number") to the beginning of Part 2, when he shows up back at chez McFly? Of course it's only been a matter of seconds in real time — just long enough for Marty to drool over his shiny new car (and his literally new girlfriend, Elizabeth Shue replacing the jobber from Part 1), glance back at his new parents, and declare that "everything is great." But how long has Doc been gallivanting around the space-time continuum in the interim, and what exactly has he been up to (besides bearing witness to the poor life decisions of Marty's progeny)?

-Allow me to quote myself from an email I sent to Abe in response to this video: One of my favorite little nuances of the trilogy is that when he sees the DeLorean flying, Friendly Nu-Biff *instantly* reverts to Original Asshole Biff, presaging Evil Tycoon Biff. It's all there in that little moment. Thomas F. Wilson FTW.

-Jennifer is rather implausibly credulous in her response to finding out she's in a time machine. But that does set up the cute gag of Doc knocking her out with a future-y science tool. ("She's not essential to my plan.")

-Ugh: "The justice system works swiftly in the future now that they've abolished all lawyers." Some of these it's-the-future jokes are really lame.

"Power laces! All right!" Marty, your earnest enthusiasm about "power laces" is adorable.

-Despite the flying cars, weird clothes, and holographic shark-attack (an ad for "Jaws 19" that scared the holy living fuck out of me as a kid), the vision of 2015 Hill Valley is kind of mundane. It's neither a Blade Runner hellish dystopia nor a glowing vision of progress. It's just a crappy '80s suburb projected 30 years forward, like those computer composites of missing children.

-Speaking of the '80s, this '80s nostalgia cafe remains a truly inspired touch. And yes, here I will note the new resonance of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" blaring out of the cafe's speakers and a pixellated MJ computer animation appears as a waiter.

-Old Biff, I love you. How many different Biffs does Thomas F. Wilson play in this film alone?

-Oh my god, Griff is fucking hilarious. I can't believe Wilson got away with such a recklessly over-the-top caricature.

-WAIT. WAIT. Griff is Biff's grandson, yes? So this implies that Biff was married or at least got it on with a lady, and had some kind of family and life outside of his association with the McFlys (which is all we know of him). I, for one, would like to know a lot more biographical details about Biff. (Speaking strictly of regular reality Biff at this point, not skewed-tangent Evil Tycoon Biff, about whom we actually know a fair amount thanks to that helpfully exposition-packed video that plays in the casino later on. I want a bio-vid like that for the other Biff permutations too.)

-Um, that arcade joke — "You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy" — doesn't really work by itself; it pays off in Part 3 at the shooting gallery. Sometimes the rhyming effects in the sequels are fun; sometimes, as here, they're kinda stupid.

-I'm sure this has pointed out a million billion times by nerds before, and I don't actually give a shit, but according to the interal logic of the trilogy shouldn't there be a space-time continuum-unraveling paradox when Marty comes face to face with Marty Jr in the cafe? Or at least one of them should faint, a la the two Jennifers later on? #whocares

"Your jacket is now dry." Maybe this is a utopian future after all.

-WTF: Why did they put an actor in crappy age makeup for the "save the clock tower" guy rather than just hiring an old actor? My first instinct was that it was the same guy from the first movie, but no — that was a lady.

-Much like Marty quoting Taxi Driver in Part 3, I did not understand Marty Jr's Midnight Cowboy reference for many years. Actually, in Part 3, I spent years thinking "You talkin' to me?" was a Clint Eastwood quote since Marty borrowed Clint's name as his nom du cowboy.

-"I was fraaamed!!!" This first act is maybe a little too goofy, but Griff makes it all worthwhile.

-Oh, wait, I guess the time paradox deal is only if you meet your future self, not your future son who looks exactly like you. Works for me.

-"So...Doc Brown invented a time machine." Aaaand time for the commercial break, if this were the taped-from-basic-cable VHS that I watched throughout my childhood! It really is a beautifully dramatic moment.

-Even as a kid, I appreciated the inventive wordplay of the line "Hilldale: nothing but a breeding ground for tranks, lobos, and zipheads." Although for a supposedly rough neighborhood there sure are some big, nice-looking houses. I think this was just a half-assed attempt to make some comment on (sub)urban decay, cf. Marty getting excited when he finds out he ends up in formerly richy-rich Hilldale.

-I really will never forgive this movie for putting Michael J. Fox in drag.

-On one of the channels Marty Jr is watching on that big multi-TV: an ad for a product called "The Headlight Tit," showing a busty woman with a bright light emanating from her, ah, endowment. Where's Billy Mays when we need him most?

-Where's Doc while Biff is stealing the Delorean? Is this explained later? I'm thinking it isn't.

-NEEDLES!!! Greatest 45-seconds-of-screentime character in the history of cinema. Bless you, Flea.

-"Read my fax." Ew boy. Couldn't somebody have told Zemeckis and Gale that probably no one would be using fax machines in 2015? On the other hand, I had to use a fax machine at my recent internship sometimes and felt the embarrassing sting of having to ask people how the hell to use a fax machine.

-Okay so. Biff keeling over when he returns the DeLorean never made sense, but I seem to recall a deleted scene on the DVD (I've since lost the DVD set I got when it came out, which is a fucking shame...got lost in the shuffle of going away to college) that explained it. But I do not remember what the explanation was other than that it was mind-blowing. I think it involved Biff being "erased from existence" per Marty's fam in Part 1. But I don't remember why. Shit, I need to replace that DVD set. Maybe if/when I eventually go Blu-ray.

-I love this stretch of the movie, exploring the dystopian alternate 1985. "I don't remember bars being on these windows..."

-Whoa uh, Doc is pretty cavalier saying he's about to dismantle the time machine. Did he make an announcement to that effect earlier? Guess it doesn't much matter; presumably Doc immediately noticed that something was rotten in Denmark and changed plans.

-At least two different Michael Jackson posters on the black girl's bedroom wall (formerly Marty's bedroom wall).

-Major tone shift now. The dopey humor of the 2015 segment is gone. "We ain't gonna be terrorized!" This scene is so evocatively hellish. Silvestri's score is really the fifth Beatle of these movies — it's so insistent.

-I love that Strickland addresses the gang who just tried to murder him in a drive-by shooting as "slackers."

-Aaand it's the best use if "I Can't Drive 55" ever. And here's that Biff bio video - "America's greatest living folk hero"(!)

-"I just want to say one thing...God bless America." Thomas F. Wilson you are perfect.

-Ha, I'd forgotten (or never noticed??) that this video links Biff to Marilyn Monroe.

"You're so...big." I wonder how many viewings it took before I understood this as a reference to Lorraine's boobs.

-The talk of George McFly's virtue does make me miss the presence of Crispin Glover. I'd like to know more about the supposed falling-out between him and Zemeckis that resulted in his exclusion from the sequels.

-And here's the line that delighted me for years with the impact of its coincidence: "Your father is in the same place he's been for the past 12 years...OAK PARK CEMETERY!" Seeing it now, it doesn't seem so odd - there are a few other towns called Oak Park and it's a fairly generic-sounding name for a cemetery. But, you know.

-"English, Doc." Marty really is not too bright, is he?

-Can of worms: since Biff creates an alternate reality by giving himself the Almanac, couldn't the sports results conceivably be totally different from those of the original reality, thus rendering the Almanac useless?!?!

-I was always impressed by the stairs trick Marty uses to ditch Biff's goons. I like when Marty gets to be a wily badass.

-Maybe the most rousing, triumphant, perfectly timed moment in the trilogy: Marty riding the DeLorean, Doc knocking Biff out cold with the car door, and this exchange: "You're not gonna believe this - we gotta go back to 1955!" "I don't believe it!"

-The idea that Nov 5, 1955 is some kind of fulcrum of the entire time space continuum is pretty fucking cool. "On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence." I like that they never explain which of those options it is.

-And now we get the second big shift in tone. We had the broad humor of the first act in 2015 turning to the hellishly grave drama of the alternate 1985, now back to the sweet "Mr. Sandman" world of 1955 Hill Valley and the misadventures of young bully Biff as he throws kids' soccer balls into gutters, haggles over the price for fixing his manure-messed car, and tries to woo the young Lorraine who is currently besotted with "Calvin Klein" aka her own son, our intrepid hero who's currently hiding in that selfsame car. And the wacky doubling comedy of the Old Biff hanging out with Young Biff. Although, again: why no universe-threatening paradox?

-I like how the Biffs are just out of earshot as Old Biff starts to explain that Young Biff should murder Doc or Marty if they ever come around asking about the almanac.

-Oh man. This scene between the two Docs is kinda sublime. Even if Zemeckis and Gale are really running out of ways for characters to talk about "the future" unknowingly in sentences. Christopher Llloyd consistently nails the pathos of this character.

-I wonder if audiences in 1989 remembered Part 1 well enough to really get this stretch of the film (at the dance), which is all about reconstituting scenes from the first movie from other perspectives. It had been four years, after all.

-The suppressed physical anguish on Marty's face as Strickland backs the chair into his hand might be Michael J. Fox's best acting moment in the movie. Which, frankly, isn't saying that much — MJF was kinda phoning it in for the sequels.

-Love that Marty gets the chance to see his old man deck Biff. And then we get a shot of original Marty panicking at the photo of his siblings being erased from existence. Very nice - makes up for the lame-ass "talk about deja vu!" line.

"I think he took your wallet! I think he took his wallet."

-Nice framing on this shot of Marty and a bloodied Biff on opposite ends of the frame standing outside the window showing other Marty saying goodbye to his futureparents.

-Quibble: the sequels did some retconning in how they downplayed Doc's tenuous grip on sanity. The point of Doc in Part 1 is that he's sincerely a crackpot weirdo who happens to create one successful invention. The Doc of the sequels is a reasonable, infinitely wise old man. It doesn't bother me too much, but it's worth noting.

-If you think about it, "I hate manure" is an utterly pointless declaration. Who likes manure?

-And off Doc goes to the wild wild west. A problem with this movie: anti-climax. I mean, the scene with Joe Flaherty as the Western Union man is pretty great, but it's not exactly a satisfying conclusion. The movie spends too much time setting up Part 3, when it could've been doing stuff like, oh, I dunno, EXPLAINING WHY BIFF KEELED OVER AND I GUESS DIED.

-I always loved Marty's use of the definite article in this scene: "IT'S FROM THE DOC!" and "THE DOC'S ALIVE!"

-Yeah, this ending is pure setup. Kind of lame. But jesus, I just spent two unplanned hours in the middle of the night watching this movie for the trillionth time and it was 100% pleasurable, even if it is a far cry from the geometrical perfection of Part 1. But of course it's impossible for me to objective about this. I briefly tried putting on my cinephile goggles to see if I could do any sort of high-minded auteurist analysis, but it was useless - these don't even register as movies to me so much as, I dunno...finding an old diary in the house you grew up in and reading over the entries. Or something. It's late.

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