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Back to the Future Part III (1990) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Back to the Future Part III Review

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis (characters), Bob Gale (characters)
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson

I wasn’t fortunate to see Part II in the cinema and would have to wait along with my brother for the VHS release almost a year later. It had it’s positives though as I will explain shortly. The sheer excitement and anticipation of seeing where and what adventures Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) would take next after the successful original film saw our two main character travel to the future and then back to 1955 with a different angle on the story and then shockingly left us the audience gasping as Doc and the Delorean where struck by lightening. I waited 5 long years to see Part II, but thankfully the timing of the release of the middle part of the trilogy on VHS coincided with the cinematic release of Part III and our folks decided to treat us to the cinema, which back in the 80’s and 90’s was a rare treat for our family. To build a picture, we rented Part II on the Friday, rewatched it about 2 or 3 times on the Saturday and on the Cinema our parents announced we would be going to the ABC Cinema in Glasgow to watch the third and concluding part of the Back to the Future Trilogy on the Sunday evening.

The classic Clock Tower Lightening scene opens the movie, where part II left us with Doc collapsing in a heap after seeing Marty return to 1955 after just watching him go Back to the Future seconds before. At this point I think it’s fair to say that the opening score by Alan Silvestre is beautiful and some have said a precursor to his “Forest Gump” theme which I can see the similarities in. That wide shot of Doc’s mansion (The Proctor & Gamble Mansion) is magnificent as the Hill Valley storm eases and we see from a distance Marty taking the unconscious Doc indoors to rest. How someone of Marty’s stature managed this is a mystery but nevertheless the camera floats around the living room of the mansion which we all remember from the original details and it is here I have always been impressed with the finer details of these opening scenes. The pictures on the wall, the fireplace, the organ and of course the toy car in the fire bucket that was used in an experiment. Mostly the thing that impressed me even more was the clock hanging in the bathroom above the toilet, which Doc mentioned briefly in the original movie when he was hanging the clock he slipped and hit his head and had a vision of the Flux Capacitor and as they say with no pun intended, the rest is history.

Doc’s misbelief and reaction in these opening sequences are so funny and reminiscent of his initial reactions to “Future Boy”. Thankfully Marty has the letter from 1885 Doc that the Western Union guy handed to him at the tail end of Part II. Here both characters discover where the buried Delorean is and manage to rebuild a lot of the components using 1955 equivalents. The most shocking part of the opening scenes is Marty and Doc discovering that there is a tombstone near where the Delorean was buried in a nearby cemetery and bears the name Emmett L Brown (The Doc). That of course is the catalyst for Marty to get back in the Time Machine and go back to 1885 to save his friend.

Arriving in the scenic old west (the locations have been used countless times to recreate that period in American history and this movie does it so well) One of the things I love about Part III is it feels very stripped down and organic compared to the dark and tech minded Part II. It’s here we realise that after rupturing the fuel line, Marty is out of Gas and there isn’t going to be a Gas Station around until the early part of the twentieth century. The scenario is almost similar to the first movie on how they are going to get back to the future and figuring that out is the main storyline. Just like the original there are going to be obstacles in the way in the vain of our familiar Tannen villain. This time Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and finally a love interest in Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) for the Doc which is handled very sweetly by Zemeckis and Gale and is very believable thanks to the acting talents of Lloyd and Steenburgen. In fact, I read somewhere that this would be Christopher Lloyd’s first onscreen kiss.

If I was being honest, I would have to say that Part III although I love it, is probably the weakest of the three. I think the only reason for that is because we know the story is coming to a conclusion and to be fair the ending is satisfactory, you can’t help wonder why stop at three films when the possibilities are endless. To be fair though, if you have watched these films a lot of times you do happen to notice the common themes throughout. The Marty waking up confused scenario, a Tannen incarnation and his henchmen chasing Marty through the town, a Tannen incarnation falling into manure. The reoccurring scenes probably would become overbearing and stale I suppose.

The stellar cast again doesn’t disappoint and the introduction to Mary Steenburgen adds emotional weight to the story and also adds to the drama and urgency of that final act. I mentioned this before, if Part I was Crispin Glover’s movie, Part II was certainly Tom Wilson’s movie it is beyond doubt that the third part belongs to Christopher Lloyd. Michael J Fox’s Marty was always the “Master of Ceremonies” character, almost the audience members point of view. Going back to Wilson, his “Mad Dog” is brilliant executed in that dumb Tannen way that will have you laughing out loud at his stupidity but also like his ancestors (is that the right word? Future ancestors?) anyway this incarnation is just as devious and dangerous also.

I mentioned Alan Silvestre earlier and I have to say that his score in this film is a little underwhelming until we get a bit of drama. There are a few moments in there from the composer that are memorable but like the original film that is more remembered for Huey Lewis, the third part is remembered for the contribution from ZZ Top and their single release “Double Back” which has a nice 1880’s version in the film which they also appear in during the Dance scenes at the opening of the Clock Tower. It has to be said that for me Silvestre’s contributions are more defined in the middle part of this trilogy.

Zemeckis and Gale have always stated that never intended to make sequels to the 1985 original film, but it has to be said that I’m glad they did. I also have to take my hat off to them for stopping at three films. I know part of me would have loved more adventures with these characters but it’s admirable for the filmmakers to quit while they where ahead. The scenery in this film is breathtaking and the locations where also authentic for this period in time. The spectacular train wreck at the movies climax is something to be seen and how they blended the Delorean passing over the bridge at the end was seamless. Again the VistaGlide system is used but very briefly and one of the surprises for me was how watered down Lea Thompson’s appearance was as Maggie McFly. Thompson’s ever presence throughout the first two movies is almost sidelined perhaps to introduce the Clara character and I can understand why this decision was made.

Overall, Back to the Future Part III is a must see film, but only if you have watched the previous two movies. I do think this instalment is worthy and a satisfying conclusion to the franchise and I do hope that the talk of remakes remains just rumour and not reality. The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Franchise has witnessed the cast and crew reuniting and celebrating the occasion which is always nice to see and also to see them all get along after all this time. The actors certainly look like they are embracing the attention and the memory of these films and looking back, my brother and I came out of the Cinema aged 14 and 9 very happy with what we had just witnessed. Highly Recommend.

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A Walk in the Woods (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

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Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Michael Arndt (screenplay) (as Rick Kerb),  Bill Holderman (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Redford,  Nick Nolte,  Emma Thompson, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen.

Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is an author who decides that he wants to tackle the Appalachian Trail on a six month hike. The trail has a reputation for fatalities and with Bill in his old age takes a bit of convincing his wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) that he “needs” to accomplish this feat.

At first Catherine tries everything she can to convince Bill to cancel this hike but finally accepts his decision on the condition that he has a companion on his expedition. The problem Bill faces is everyone he contacts from his list of friends declines his offer until he receives a phonecall from Stephen Kats (Nick Nolte), a friend he hasn’t seen in years.

Nick Nolte brings a comedic tone to the movie and the character of Stephen and I felt without this, the movie may have suffered. Nolte is brilliant as a former alcoholic who lives life without stress or worries. On the flip side of that, he envies Bill’s life as an author who has travelled the world and lived in England for some time, where he met his wife Catherine. Bill is aware of his live and how it compares to Stephen’s and you sense he appreciates what he has but feels there is something missing in his life that he may find on the trail.

A Walk in the Woods is basically that. It has the feel of a road movie (a foot movie sounds weird) but at a pensioners pace. That’s not to say the pacing of the movie is far too slow, in fact Director Ken Kwapis does a magnificent job in this instance. There is a mixed tone throughout the film from comedy, nostalgia, friendship and adventure and writers Michael Arndt and Bill Holderman should be commended for the screenplay as the script is witty, clever and interesting from start to finish.

I reviewed another Robert Redford movie last week (The Discovery) which coincidentally also starred Mary Steenburgen who again has a minor role in A Walk in the Woods. I previously mentioned this latest splurge of Redford film that have been released over the past few years and again this new wave of movies he is starring in is showing that even in his 70’s he is still managing to captivate audiences and doesn’t appear to have lost his razor sharp wit (especially shown in the camping shot, when he is purchasing his equipment for the hike) Redford carries the film and although not a flat out comedic actor manages to keep up with Nick Nolte who is also in his 70’s.

As I previously mentioned Nick Nolte manages to add a loud humour to the film and his character is needed to not only serve the story but to create a chemistry with the Bill character in all ranges of emotions and situations they find themselves in. Nolte has been a respective actor for many years now and really gels with Redford in this movie.

When I discovered Emma Thompson was appearing in A Walk in the Woods, I was surprised with how little screen time she is given. Catherine is seen at the beginning of the movie to serve as emotional baggage basically to Bill in trying to stop him from taking on this hike and we don’t see her again until the last few moments of the movie to welcome Bill home. I assumed by recruiting Thompson as the wife we may have seen a few moments back and forth from her character perhaps on a mobile phone to her husband, but no, once we are out in the woods, we are out in the woods away from civilisation. Perhaps this was intentional on Kwapis’ part to isolate us with the two main characters.

Another small role but important at the right moment came from Kristen Schaal who portrays Mary Ellen, the opinionated backpacker who offers advise (when no one asks for it) on good value camping equipment and no matter what you purchased, she wouldn’t have. Schaal is perfect in the role of the annoying adventurer and to be fair to Bill and Stephen. You would abandon her in the woods too.

Director Ken Kwapis manages to engross the audience with a great script and a beautifully shot movie. He appears to be proud of the scenic wilderness between Georgia to Maine where the The Appalachian Trail runs and most of the movie was shot between North Carolina and Virginia . Every shot is stunning and you really take in the surroundings and appreciate what he is doing here. I can understand why Kwapis was recruited for this project with its tone of humour having directed episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, The Bernie Mac Show and The Office (US) I liked the humour in this film and a lot of the one liners made me laugh.

I enjoyed this movie, it was funny, emotional, and to some extent you can relate to these characters. I got what I expected from the movie, which was brilliantly written and with Arndt on board I knew this would be one of those movies where you actually look forward to the dialogue. I would recommend watching this movie if you haven’t already done so. On another note or in this case a little bit of trivia. Redford had his eye on this movie for a long time and wanted to reunite with Paul Newman with the later portraying Kats. Unfortunately Newman was battling cancer at the time and was too ill to accomplish this.

The Discovery (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

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Director: Charlie McDowell
Writers: Justin Lader,  Charlie McDowell
Stars: Robert Redford, Jason Segal, Mary Steenburgen,  Brian McCarthy, Rooney Mara

A Scientist played by Robert Redford discovers proof of the existence of an afterlife and after a subsequent increase in a worldwide rate of suicides to experience an existence on another plain. Will (Jason Segal) heading back to visit his Dad Thomas (The Scientist) Will meets Isla (Rooney Mara) on an empty ferry to the small seaside town.

Thomas has since retired and if not for his unfinished work would become a recluse. He now lives in the small seaside town to an isolated house since his discovery which is aided by people who attempted suicide. It’s here Thomas works tirelessly on attempting to record what happens in the moments after death by flat-lining.

The Discovery is an interesting although somewhat unique story about a scientific breakthrough on the meaning of life and death and how it has changed everything. It also pushes the boundaries on human belief whether it’s on a spiritual or religious level. Don’t get me wrong the movie isn’t preachy and to be fair remains on a scientific level throughout the movie.

The premise of this movie was a great one and although there hints of a love story between Will and Isla, the main focus is on “The Discovery”

Robert Redford appears to be having another rebirth in his movies over the past few years kicking off with his appearance in Captain American: The Winter Soldier in 2014 and following that up with Pete’s Dragon two years later, in much the same way Spy Game did for his career back in 2001. Here Redford plays a Scientist who is on the verge of something big but as we discover there are personal reasons for his determination in his research in relation to what happened to his wife a few years before “The Discovery”

Jason Segal as Will again shows his diversity in acting and I still feel impressed by his performance in “The End Of The Tour” as David Foster Wallace and here although subdued throughout the majority of film is the anchor of the story and keeps it moving along whilst everything around him is slowly changing. His chemistry with his onscreen Dad at times is cold and Segal conducts himself in that manor convincing as Will tried to distance himself from his fathers work. Again his chemistry with Rooney Mara is sweet, it’s not overbearing and soppy. There appears to be a mismatch though with Jesse Plemons’s character Toby who is Will’s brother. This isn’t a dig at Plemons acting, in fact he at times to me offered a little comic relief, but not in an obvious way but although it’s hard to read the chemistry between Segal and Plemons this is really because the two characters are so different to each other and there doesn’t appear to be much common ground between them.

Rooney Mara reminded me of Kate Winslet’s Clementine in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Her role is even more subdued than Segal’s and comes across as in control of the relationship between them. Mara at times offers a dark comedy value also to the same level as Plemons but you sense the character has a past and a tragic one at that.

Writers Justin Lader and Charlie McDowell (who also directed) I felt did a really good job of taking a really simple storyline and expanding on the consequence of such a discovery and how it would effect the characters central to the movie. Lader and McDowell would also drop a little two lines into the third act that although revealed a kind of backstory and tragedy to Isla’s past would end up the little twist at the end although bittersweet gave the audience a satisfying conclusion to the story and to Isla’s story.

I always feel that when the Director is part of the writing behind a film you have a solid basis to work on knowing the director has a clear vision on what they want this movie to be like. Here is no different as Charlie McDowell nails the look to the movie giving it a look and feel that reminds me of the pacing to External Sunshine or even The Lake House with a very somber atmosphere and feel but keeping the audience interested.

The Discovery perhaps may come across as a little creepy (especially in its synopsis) but in reality portrays an uplifting and emotional storyline that will keep you interested for its 1 hour and 42 minutes duration. This movie only came out in the U.K. yesterday (31st March 2017) on Netflix and I believe it will and should get a good rating from that audience I recommend this movie highly.