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In Defense of “Back to the Future Part II”

In Defense of “Back to the Future Part II”  (photo)

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“Back to the Future Part II” is one of the best sequels ever made about sequels. The movie has a poor reputation amongst those who see it as a pale imitation of the original film. What those critics fail to realize is that the film itself acknowledges that inferiority, and the inherent inferiority of all sequels, within its rather brilliant construction. It’s a movie about overcompensating as much as it is a movie about time travel.

Though released four years after the first “Back to the Future,” “Part II” picks up exactly where the first film left off. Time travel inventor and DeLorean enthusiast Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travel to the year 2015 with Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) to prevent Marty’s son from participating in a bank robbery. While there, Marty finds an almanac that lists every sports score from the second half of the twentieth century and plans to bring it back to the past to make money gambling on the winners. Though Doc changes Marty’s mind, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) steals Doc’s time machine and gives the almanac to himself as a teenager, creating an alternate 1985 where he is the richest and most powerful man in America. To correct this nightmarish alternate reality Doc and Marty next travel to 1955, to the exact time and place of the events of the first “Back to the Future,” to steal the almanac back from Biff and ensure he can’t use it to rewrite history.

All sequels face the same creative challenge: balancing the audience’s desire to see what they liked from the original film again with their desire to see things that are novel and original. That final 1955 sequence provides both a satisfying way to do that and an ingenious metatextual commentary on that idea. In it, director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis and producer/co-writer Bob Gale, bring us back to the events of the first film from a different perspective: Marty’s, as he struggles to retrieve the almanac from Biff and happens to be present for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance a second time. It’s almost as if Marty’s watching “Back to the Future” and inviting us to watch it with him. He even gets caught up in things he sees, rooting on his dad as punches out Biff, nodding approvingly at his performance of “Johnny B. Goode.” As Marty puts it, “talk about déjà vu.”

With “Back to the Future Part II,” Zemeckis and Gale managed a rare and difficult feat: they made an extremely faithful followup while simultaneously making fun of the idea of extremely faithful followups. What’s more, many of the tasks they place before Marty in 1955 put the character into the position they as creators were in as they conceived the sequel. At a crucial moment in “Part II,” Marty needs to stop a bunch of goons who are planning to jump the Marty from the first film after he finishes “Johnny B. Goode.” “Part II” Marty must sneak into the dance, defeat the goons, and save “Part I” Marty, all without being seen or interrupting the important events that are going on around him. Marty, in other words, becomes Zemeckis and Gale: he has to show us the things we loved about “Back to the Future” without disturbing anything he finds or ruining the legacy of what he’d built the first time around.

Most of the common complaints about “Back to the Future Part II” are irrelevant. While it’s true that its future world of 2015 looks a bit silly in the year 2010 — Flying cars! Holographic movies! People reading newspapers! — the alternate 1985 sequence, where corporate interests control the government and our education system lies in ruins, was always the film’s most prescient. And it doesn’t matter that Marty is suddenly obsessed with people calling him chicken even though that was never an issue in the first film. This is “Back to the Future.” Rewriting history is what this series is about.

This particular third of that series is about the dangers of meddling with history, and again, that all works as a meta commentary on the process of sequel-making as well. Marty’s “chicken” obsession, while certainly an unmotivated addition to his character, also becomes a place for Zemeckis and Gale to put their fears of inadequacy as filmmakers. Think we’re afraid of making a sequel to one of the most beloved movies of the decade? Nobody calls us chicken! Look, we’ve got hoverboards and rehydrated pizzas and video phones and stuff!

“Back to the Future Part II” is not as good as the first film. Sequels rarely are. That’s the point: the best you can do lead people back through their memories of the first film and hope you don’t taint them with the things you add to them.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.