Since I’m stuck watching Back to the Future every week of 2013 as part of the Cinema 52 experiment, I thought I’d try to retain some sanity by watching some other movies by its director, Robert Zemeckis. And because I secretly love insanity, I thought I’d try to watch his complete filmography back-to-back in one weekend. Here we go. It’s The Full Zemeckis.
I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978)
Previous viewings: None.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not a huge Beatles fan, but this movie is great regardless of how much you know about The Mop-Topped Shortstops (one of their many nicknames). Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber), Grace (Theresa Saldana), and Pam (Nancy Allen) are beyond obsessed with seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and will do anything to make that happen. And each of them is responsible for at least one truly abhorrent act over the course of the film; that’s what makes the movie so damned funny. These ruthless characters are fairly cartoony, but as cartoons go, they’re definitely anatomically correct. This is a study on fetishism, pure and simple, and the movie doesn’t sugarcoat that fact. These girls need to get off.
Do you have any idea where that’s been? Oh, right, a Beatle.
Nancy Allen steals the show when she manages to make it into the Foppish Four’s hotel room and rubs herself down on anything she assumes they’ve touched. It’s funnier and sexier than it has any right to be. Of course, just when you’re ready to mock teen crazes, a fourth character named Janis (Susan Kendall Newman) is completely anti-Beatles and is also capable of self-centered acts of horribleness. I think Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wisely made fun of both sides of Beatlemania, and the movie walks the delicate line between nostalgia and cynicism masterfully, something we’ll see again in Back to the Future, but OOPS, IT’S NOT TIME TO TALK ABOUT THAT YET–
USED CARS (1980)
Previous viewings: None.
I don’t even know where to begin. This is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Kurt Russell plays Rudy Russo, a used car salesman who has higher aspirations of a political career. He hopes to raise enough money from selling cars to start campaigning, but the owner of the lot (Jack Warden) faces insane levels of competitiveness from his brother, the dealer across the street (also Jack Warden). I don’t want to give away too many gags, but this film is much, much darker than I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and as a result, much, much funnier.
Just offscreen is some hilariously terrible shit.
Just about every comedy that focuses on a bastard these days needs to have a painfully forced reformation scene in the third act, but Used Cars wisely reminds us that Rudy has spent years building up his bastard powers, so his change of heart is still garnished with more poor decisions. And that third act is action-packed, has a great bit of surprise casting in the form of a death-crazed judge, and pays off the eighty or so setups the movie has worked tirelessly to cram in. Some might complain that the story is too complicated, but considering the encyclopedic complexities of the gags on many modern comedy shows, from Arrested Development to 30 Rock to Community, I say Used Cars was ahead of its time. It’s great as a stunt comedy, a titty comedy, a political satire… it’s just great, full stop. You should be watching it right now, and Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale should be trying to make something this brilliant again.
ROMANCING THE STONE (1984)
Previous viewings: None.
Ahhh, well, here we are. Romancing the Stone is kind of like a really crazy ex-girlfriend that you’re still glad you dated because she introduced you to your wife, and yes, I just called Back to the Future my wife. It’s the story of Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), a romance novelist who receives a map in the mail and finds out that some smugglers (Zack Norman and Danny DeVito) are holding her sister hostage and are willing to free her in exchange for said map. Joan heads off to Colombia, where she meets Not Indiana Jones (Michael Douglas) and they have sometimes exhilarating, sometimes funny, sometimes sexy adventures. I guess.
This scene is a lot less funny now that we know the horrible aftermath.
This isn’t a completely disposable movie, but without Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale at the typewriter, it just doesn’t stand up to the quality of I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Used Cars. And good thing, too, because those two excellent movies were terrible flops! To really score a hit, Zemeckis had to take on a broad action-comedy-romance that was blatantly ripped off from another big box office smash from the same decade, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And as big as it might have been when it came out, it feels terribly dated now. (I place most of the blame on Alan Silvestri’s grating synthesized score, which is especially baffling because he still kicked some computer music ass on Flight of the Navigator.) Still, I didn’t completely hate it. I enjoyed some of the car chases, Colonel Zolo (Manuel Ojeda) is kind of fun as a villain, and the comedy seems to suddenly spring awake in the climax and almost reach Used Cars levels of twisted zaniness. Yet, a Zemeckis/Gale joint this ain’t. I’ve been told Turner and Douglas have something called “chemistry,” but I don’t know what that is. Most people who like this film seem to get a lot of mileage out of their relationship; I just found them annoying. Still, I’ll take Kathleen Turner over Kate Capshaw any day.
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Since the majority of the writing I do for this site pertains to Back to the Future in some way, you know an awful lot of my feelings on the film, and if you don’t, get reading. Since today counted as a viewing, click away to read the corresponding article “Road to Hill Valley: Bob Z’s Journey.”
And stick around for The Full Zemeckis: Day Two.