“Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads!”

Prepare yourselves, guys! We are less than three short years away from the date on which the Doc and Marty McFly arrived in the future – October 21st, 2015. If Back to the Future II is accurate, we should expect to have flying cars, hover-boards, and interactive holograms any day now! Not to mention self-tying shoes, self-drying clothing, dog-walking robots, etc. The list goes on and on…

The very unrealistic Jaws hologram…

In fact, this is one of the problems I had with this rather over-the-top sequel. While the futuristic inventions shown in the movie are pretty neat, I felt that the amount of time spent on showering the audience with all these new inventions (roughly the first 30 minutes of the film) was excessive. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly comforting to know that three years from now, I’ll have a robot hovering over my table waiting to feed me grapes. But I would have preferred to do without this knowledge, and to get to the plot of the film more quickly.

Once we do get into the plot, we see that it is much more convoluted than that of the first film. Baddie Biff Tannen returns in Part II to steal the DeLorean, which he uses to travel to the past (1955). In doing so, his actions disrupt the “space-time continuum,” leading to an alternate, dystopian present (1985) which Doc and Marty must fix at all costs. This requires them to return to 1955, which Marty has already traveled to in the first film, and so he has the added pressure of not running into his other self while on his quest to right Biff’s wrongs. Confusing, right? I thought it was very much so! But then, this is a sequel, and filmmakers usually go to all costs to try and outdo their first movie.

So, is this sequel superior to the original? Most definitely not. While the filmmakers’ attention to detail in the first flick was flawless – not a detail too many, and every detail had its place – in Part II, I felt like there was an overload of useless information. In addition, while the first Back to the Future is original and fresh, I felt like the sequel was not. While I had a good laugh at the sheer absurdity of some of the situations that the characters find themselves in, I don’t think I’ll be watching this film again anytime soon. Seriously, if you can only watch one, WATCH THE FIRST ONE! All you’ll get out of this film is an intense desire to own a kick-ass hover-board.

Bad Guys in Beverly Hills Have the Worst Aim

Beverly Hills Cop is essentially a tale of two cities. Director Martin Brest throws Detroit Detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) into cushy Beverly Hills, and in turn pits the culture of the two cities against each other. Right away the film opens on Detroit, a city featured in many cop films, including the one I did my previous post on: Robocop. Like Robocop, this film portrays Detroit as a dirty city covered with graffiti, with poor/blue collar citizens hanging out in the streets. But Brest makes this Detroit seem a lot friendlier than the one Paul Verhoeven shows in Robocop. The citizens, both children and adults, are socializing with their friends and appear to be having fun. This set up during the credit sequence is necessary, as Beverly Hills Cop is a comedy first and an action film second; Brest wanted to create a fun and lighthearted atmosphere.

The audience is introduced to Axel as soon as the opening credit sequence is over, though he is not revealed to be a cop until after he botches an (unauthorized) undercover job and is subsequently chewed out by his boss. This introduction shows the type of character Axel is, and his cunning, not-by-the-book way of policing holds up after he takes his “vacation” to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his best friend.

Axel’s arrival in Beverly Hills mirrors the opening credits, and shows that Axel is a fish out of water. Driving into the city he is followed by a classic car, with palm trees lining the road. The buildings are gorgeous and gated, the stores are as ritzy as can be, and all of the cars put his “crappy blue Chevy Nova” to shame. The more obvious comparison comes when he meets the Beverly Hills police. Although he is a detective, Axel dresses very blue collar; the entire film he is wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Conversely all of the upper level Beverly Hills cops are stuffy guys in suits.

We’re taught never to judge a book by its cover, but the differences in how Axel and Taggart dress tells us all about their differences in character.

In the end though it’s Axel’s way of policing that saves the day. Detectives Taggart and Rosewood follow Axel’s lead into an enemy’s house without a search warrant, and even their Lieutenant lies to the Chief about what happened. This all comes after an hour and a half of the Beverly Hills cops telling Axel that they do things by the book, and do not lie about what transpires on cases. Their proper way of policing truthfully makes them look like fools; while being shot at Rosewood actually stands up with his badge in the air and proclaims, “POLICE! YOU’RE ALL UNDER ARREST!” The result though is deeper than telling the audience that the backdoor way of doing things trumps doing things the right way. Axel shows the Beverly Hills cops friendship. He shows them that being cops makes them brothers, and that they are allowed to bend the rules because it’s how they look out for one another.

The film also provides us with a legendary theme song, that 20+ years laters kids will recognize as the song from Family Guy that Peter dances to when he goes back in time…

Why So Serious?

After viewing the 1989 Batman starring Michael Keaton last night (which was a trial by the way–Amazon Instant Video and I are seeing other people) I started to compare Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker to Heath Ledger’s.

Perhaps I am simply biased towards Nolan’s trilogy, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the best super-hero movie franchises ever created—but the character Nicholson portrays, while certainly deranged, leaves something to be desired. Take the creation of the Joker for example. I find it difficult to believe that a run-of-the-mill gangster can become ten times as psychotic—not to mention pasty— as a result of falling into a vat of mysterious green liquid. Ledger’s character, though he never gives a precise account of where exactly his scars came from, leaves viewers completely convinced of his psychological instability. Whether this Joker’s tortured psyche stems from parental abuse or a failed marriage, Ledger’s character always leaves me wanting to put my hands in the air and say, “Okay, buddy.  I got it. Just don’t kill me.”

Another reason I find myself favoring Nolan’s Joker is the rivalry that the director develops between Batman and the classic villain. There are two almost identical scenes in both the 80s Batman and The Dark Knight. In Batman, the Joker stands with his arms wide, willing the “flying bastard,” to come closer. In this scene, Batman flies directly at his enemy, fully prepared to kill him. Similarly, the only reason the Joker wants to engage the caped crusader is to pull out a ridiculously huge gun and deal a fatal blow. In The Dark Knight, a similar scene takes on an entirely different dynamic. In this scene, the Joker stumbles down the street, randomly shooting a machine gun muttering, “Come on, come on I want you to do it. Hit me. Hit me!” This scene functions so differently due to the backstory of both characters—Bale’s Batman, with his “one rule” against taking life, cannot bring himself to hit the Joker, however much he might want to. The Joker knows this, and continually challenges Batman to break his moral code. It seems, particularly in this scene, that he wants to be the first casualty of Batman’s war against organized crime in Gotham. The surface enmity of Nicholson and Keaton simply cannot compete with the ethical, “battle for Gotham’s soul,” of The Dark Knight .