Director Robert Zemeckis returns to his time-hopping characters to make it a trilogy with an overly complex Back to the Future Part II (B-). Doubling down on the conventions of time travel itself, rather than exploring the emotional undertones which made the original film so special, this movie blasts both into the past and into a dystopian future to further complicate the life of its paradox-challenged protagonist, played again with relish by Michael J. Fox. While it’s neat to see the film’s iconic town besieged by futuristic conventions, the effects often look clunky and unrealistic. Jettisoning into events from the first film is more fun, mainly from the good will of seeing the familiar. This time around, the adventure excels without the resonance of the journey being all that personal. Christopher Lloyd is again a delight as the hero’s boon companion who misses most cross-generational references. The film gets points for ambition, but ultimately the art eclipses the heart.
Sometimes comic timing can save the day. A ragtag romp about a duo of Valley guys who embark on time travels through history to help bring order to a world gone mad, Stephen Herek’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (B+) shouldn’t be as charming as it is. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are gleefully goofy as the likable leads whose superficial encounters via a phone booth travel vessel with the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Socrates (their pronunciation of his name rhymes with “no gates”) provide funny fish out of water vignettes. George Carlin is amusing as the buddies’ temporal concierge. The effects are cheap and some of the laughs really obvious, but it’s mainly gleeful fun, like a feature-length crowd surf. There are many more triumphant films in this genre, but the movie’s distinctively dense leads help it coast into cult status.
Adding to the charm Harrison Ford brings to the heroic role, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (A) layers in a flashback sequence with River Phoenix as Young Indy and introduces an inspired casting companion: Sean Connery as Indy’s dad. The two Joneses go on a quest to find the Holy Grail (before the Nazis get it, of course!). The family dynamic helps make fresh what might otherwise feel like a retread. We get exotic locales from Italy to Jordan and a highly sentimental set of sequences as father-son bonding and bickering become a major part of the equation. Since Indiana Jones was always Spielberg’s James Bond type franchise, the pairing of Indy with the original 007 is a great casting excavation. It’s a triumphant send-off for a trilogy of outstanding action films; I’ll try to forget that a misguided follow-up happens many years later.
Structured like an underwater Broadway musical from the heroine’s bubbly “I want” song through kick-lines on conch shells, Disney’s The Little Mermaid (A), directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, is aquatic and sonic enchantment on every cell of hand-drawn animation. Viewers will be immediately taken by rebellious teen mermaid Ariel voiced by Jodi Benson, who is endlessly fascinated with visiting life on land, forbidden by threat of trident by her controlling royal father. Determined to further connect with a human prince she encounters on a secret jaunt, Ariel forges a dangerous deal with brassy sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) to become mortal for three days and must face sink or swim consequences to seal her star-crossed destiny. Catchy songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman such as “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Kiss the Girl” become instant Disney canon, and supporting characters such as Sebastian the Caribbean Crab voiced by Samuel E. Wright charm throughout. The filmmakers create a vibrant animated water environment for an enchanting tale, and the buoyant and propulsive narrative makes for great family fun.
Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (A) is a startling drama, all taking place in the confines of a swanky restaurant in which the colors of the characters’ costumes change in each room. This allegory features Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon as the central couple. She is an abused wife (the husband evidently is a symbol of Margaret Thatcher) who falls into the hands of the so-called “lover,” who represents intellectual dissidents. A secret love affair ensues right under the same roof where the brooding husband holds court each night over his feast. Greenaway films the movie in fleshy primary colors and uses Michael Nyman’s orchestral music to propel the story forward during the course of a series of days. All sorts of deceit and decadence are on the menu as the film swells to its stirring conclusion. It’s an obsessive and amazing film, not for the easily offended.