Two movie classics celebrate big birthdays this week. “Back to the Future” turns 25 and “Airplane!” turns 30. Both helped to define their eras and stood the test of time as enduring favorites.
One of my favorite critics, Ali Arikan, has a superb tribute to “Back to the Future.”
Marty McFly has more in common with George Bailey [of “It’s a Wonderful Life”] than the film’s slightly cynical conclusion suggests. His adventure in the ’50s is literally based on self-preservation, but this is only derivative of his true goal. Recall the aforementioned scene at the dinner table, as Marty looks longingly, sadly, but lovingly at his parents, wondering where it all went wrong. The same look adorns his face just before he says goodbye to Doc, and the frequent times he runs into the younger selves of the townsfolk. Ostensibly selfish, his quest is, nonetheless, for the good of the community: personal success is just a welcome by-product. Back to the Future has a joyously optimistic view of the human race: it believes that, given the means, we would stand up to the physical laws that govern the universe (which Carl Sagan famously called “god”) just to make our loved ones happy. No wonder the film’s signature tune is called The Power of Love.
Hard to believe, but we’re only five years away from the time Marty McFly visits in part 2, the one with the flying skateboards.
“Airplane!” was in some ways a throwback to some of the wilder comedy of the vaudeville era like “Hellzapoppin'” and its joke-a-minute structure was in part influenced by the television show “Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In.” Coming just ten years after the Oscar-winning “Airport,” it seemed a brash, subversive, iconoclastic upending of just about everything ever taken seriously. It was a surprise success. Made for just $3.5 million, it earned 83 million in North America alone and is 10th on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest movies of all time.
This bloated, pretentious mess is the slowest action movie I can remember, weighted down with over-used characters, situations, and dialog. The dialog is over-used within the movie itself. It isn’t enough for a character to say, “I want my life back!” He has to repeat for emphasis, “I want my life back!” only to evoke the response, “You want your life back!” “Brooklyn’s Finest” is movie-dom’s mediocre.
Make a list of every police movie cliche and you will find them all here. The disillusioned uniformed officer a week from retirement. The dedicated cop who has been undercover for so long his loyalties are getting blurred. The detective whose money pressures overwhelm his integrity. The cop who falls for a hooker. The rookie who find that real life is more complicated — and dangerous — than the academy. The kid who gets shot and turns out to be an honor student. The charismatic drug dealer. The higher-ups who engage in cover-ups. The ambitious and ruthless politician. The even-more ambitious and ruthless crime boss. And not one single moment with any freshness or sincerity or interest.
Director Antoine Fuqua returns to the genre of his greatest success, “Training Day,” after a series of disappointing follow-ups like “King Arthur” and “Shooter.” But without Denzel Washington’s galvanizing performance in a larger-than-life role, the material feels at the same time thin and heavy-handed. It isn’t enough that the cop’s wife is pregnant. She has to be pregnant with twins and getting sick from the mold in their old, over-crowded house. Another cop has to literally wash literal blood off his hands. The cops and the bad guys both communicate primarily by grunts, insults, profanity, and meaningful stares. “There’s no such thing as right or wrong,” says a character at the beginning of the film, “Only righter and wronger.” Well, if there’s such a thing as gooder and badder, this movie falls into the second category.
If you have not read any of the Millennium trilogy of novels by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson, someone near you has. A worldwide sensation published after the death of the author, the books follow the title character, Lisbeth Salandar, a slight but tough and determined young woman who is a genius with computers but possibly Aspergian in her inability to connect to other people.
This film, based on the first of the books, comes out on DVD just as the second film with the same cast is released in theaters and the third book has been published in the US. It won the Swedish equivalent of the Oscar for best film and best actress for Noomi Rapace as Salander.
They are already working on an American version, but it is hard to imagine that it could match this superb adaptation, utterly true to the book and yet completely cinematic. As the story begins, a character much like Larsson takes center stage. He is Mikael Blomkvist (superbly played by Michael Nyqvist), a journalist in disgrace and about to go to jail for publishing false information about a powerful businessman. As he waits to begin to serve his term, he is offered an intriguing opportunity — a wealthy man hires him to investigate the disappearance of his favorite niece, forty years ago. Salander finds out what he is doing and begins to help him, at first anonymously, and then more directly. Together, they get tangled up in a world where every rule is violated, every promise broken, every loyalty betrayed.