by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
CAST: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen

PLOT: Before he wrote any of his famous novels, H.G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper to the 20th Century when the serial murderer uses the future writer’s time machine to escape his time period.

There are two scenes in Time After Time that are genuinely shocking from a story perspective.  One involves a newspaper headline.  The other involves a bloody crime scene.  The first I should have seen coming, but the second I never would have guessed in a million years, and I literally yelled at the TV when it happened.  That’s good plotting.

Those two scenes are the only things that prevent me from giving Time After Time a lower score.  That, and the fantastical, thought-provoking nature of the story itself.  Too bad both those scenes and the plot are buried under layers and layers of hackneyed dialogue and the kind of forced situational comedy that would be more at home in Three’s Company than in a sci-fi adventure.

First, the good stuff.  After a credits sequence that looks inspired by countless grade-Z movies before it, the story starts back in London, 1893, two years before H.G. Wells would write his first novel, The Time Machine.  A prostitute is murdered in a dark alley, victim of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Later that night, Wells hosts a dinner party at his house for some friends and shows them something he’s been building in his basement: a fully functional time machine.  It doesn’t quite resemble the famous machine from the 1960 classic The Time Machine – it looks more like a ride vehicle from an amusement park than a chair with attachments – but the Victorian details are all there.  There’s some talk about a vital key needed to return to their present and a VERY important device that is discussed without being precisely explained, at least not to my satisfaction.  When it makes a reappearance late in the film, I was still mystified as to its actual purpose other than a convenient deus ex machina.

Suddenly, Scotland Yard appears.  Turns out they tracked Jack the Ripper to Wells’ doorstep.  Tricky Jack awaits his chance and uses the time machine to escape…though, without that handy key mentioned earlier, the machine returns to its point of origin on its own, leaving Jack stranded in a world 86 years in the future.  Wells feels duty-bound to bring Jack to justice, so he follows Jack, setting up the meat of the next few reels: a man from 1893 London struggling to adjust to daily life in 1979 San Francisco.

(It must be noted that the bulk of this film’s budget was clearly NOT devoted to the visual effects department.  The effects on display as Wells travels through time are cheesy at best.  I’d try to describe them here, but my words cannot possibly do them justice.  I couldn’t even find a decent still shot to embed here that would accurately convey just how low-rent they are.  I recently watched 1974’s execrable Zardoz, and I’m here to tell you, from a VFX perspective, Time After Time makes Zardoz look like Interstellar.)

H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper through time?  This is a great plot from a sci-fi perspective, a thrilling “what-if” tale.  I had heard about this film for years but was never able to find a copy until recently.  The scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are decent.  Not stellar, but decent enough that I was pretty sure I would enjoy it.  The movie was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, the mind behind The Day After, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  That’s not a bad track record.

But, man oh man…for most of the film’s middle section after Wells arrives in 1979, the movie’s brain goes on sabbatical.  Example: he walks into a McDonald’s, takes careful note of how the customer in front of him orders a meal, then does his best to literally impersonate the customer.  He doesn’t just order what he orders…he gives an impersonation of the customer’s voice and accent.  Why?  He doesn’t do that at a pawn shop or a bank.  No, it’s just there because someone thought it would be a laugh to see Malcolm McDowell do a broad American accent.

I can’t deny that the potential is there for real humor.  I couldn’t find it.  I thought these scenes were completely at odds with the tone of the first third of the film.  Wells meets a bank teller, Amy, (a very young Mary Steenburgen) who inexplicably falls in love with him at first sight.  She’s so taken with him she impulsively asks him to lunch, an act that, in 1979, was directly at odds with 99.99% of all other screen romances, so kudos to that, I guess.  But why?  I’m not saying Malcolm McDowell is an affront to the concept of human beauty, but…really?  As Wells, he’s the 19th-century version of a science nerd.  Amy is not a character so much as a cardboard placeholder to be moved and manipulated according to the whims of the plot.

The dialogue is clunky, to say the least.  There is a foot-chase between Wells and Jack that is devoid of suspense.  The score by Hollywood legend Miklós Rózsa feels utterly out of place, as if someone simply lifted Rózsa’s score from some other film and plugged it in where necessary.  There is simply no romantic chemistry between McDowell and Steenburgen, as evidenced in a painfully unfunny scene when they sit on a couch and she declares: “Herbert, if you don’t take me into your arms, I’m going to scream.”

Another actual line of dialogue: “My mother was rather an atrocious woman in her own way, but her many failings did not include raising mentally deficient sons.”  That’s not a real person talking, that’s a writer trying to imitate George Bernard Shaw.

No doubt someone out there will tell me I missed the boat with this movie somehow.  Perhaps Rózsa’s score is intentionally “retro” to make the whole movie feel as temporally displaced as its characters.  Perhaps the intention was the same with the hopelessly amateurish visual effects.  Who knows.  It’s possible.  Maybe there’s a better movie here somewhere and I’m not equipped to find it.  I doubt it, but it’s a possibility.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep this movie in my collection as an example of how a great story can be derailed by poor execution.

And maybe I’ll bring it out if my fellow Cinemaniacs are in the mood for a “So-Bad-It’s-Good” movie day.

[P.S. Keep your eyes open for the screen debut of an 8-year-old Corey Feldman.]


By Marc S. Sanders

You know how there are some movies designed for that unexpected thunderous rainy, Saturday afternoon?  Maybe a Star Wars flick or an Indiana Jones.  James Bond or Marvel?  For me the best candidate is probably The Goonies, where the rascally kid in all of us comes alive, yearning for adventure like riding our bikes through the paths of the sleepy town we live in over to a hiding spot on the other side of the woods where a once long lost treasure map begins an unknown journey.  Quick on our tales though are the bad guys with the humped back, crooked nose and clicking revolver.

Richard Donner did more for The Goonies than I think a lot of people realize.  It’s no wonder to me that the film is officially inducted into the National Film Preservation Archives since 2017, the same year that pictures like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Ace In The Hole and Titanic also received their recognition.  Maybe Donner had help from producer Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Chris Columbus.  Granted, ahead of the age of cell phone addiction, these guys knew how twelve and thirteen year old kids ticked.  The Goonies bond over insulting each other, shoving one another, telling each other to shut up and freely dropping the s-word.  It’s a rite of passage.  It’s how I bonded with my buddies at that age.  Heck, I still maintain contact with my best friend at the time, Scott, and we still trade barbs like that even if we live over a dozen states away from each other.

Sean Astin plays the asthmatic leader of the gang, named Mikey.  A son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin, he made his film debut with The Goonies, and I think it holds as one of the best child performances to grace a screen.  He’s such a genuine little guy, who is passionate about making any last ditch effort to save his house and home town from being bulldozed by greedy golf course developers.  On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Mikey’s buddies ritually come over to the house and with his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin, another celebrity son making his film debut) make their way into the attic and uncover a treasure map written by the infamous pirate from the 16th century, One Eyed Willie.  Soon after, Mikey along with Mouth, Data and Chunk (Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen) embark on adventure that leads them to the underground caverns of an old restaurant off the Pacific coast.  Two high school girls, Andy and Stef (Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) join the gang.  Andy and Brand have adorable puppy love crushes on each other. 

One Eyed Willie’s map supposedly leads to a treasure of enormous wealth that Mikey and the gang believe can save their small town of Astoria from being razed.  However, there are inventive booby traps along the way, and the nasty Fratelli brothers with their cranky old mother (Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano and Anne Ramsey) are hot on their trail.  The Fratellis are straight out of those old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.  They are hilarious with their bickering, and scary at the same time. Anne Ramsey was a special kind of character actor with her ugly appearance and craggily voice. It eventually even got her an Oscar nomination (Throw Momma From The Train).  

We may know how the story will end up, but Donner, Spielberg and Columbus advance with one unpredictable scene after another.  Reader, when I feel the height of suspense in a film, I actually tear up and I get a very nervous laugh.  The shootout scenes in Heat (1995) and Lethal Weapon will do that to me every time.  The lightsaber dual in The Empire Strikes Back and the snake pit scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark!!!!  I’ve been watching The Goonies since I was the age of most of these characters.  I still get this natural reaction when Andy has to play the correct notes on a skeletal piano to open a passageway.  Each time she plays the wrong note though, a tease of impending doom appears.  It works so well in the ensemble performance of the cast bellowing “Oh no!” and “Oh shit!” and “My God!” and “Hurry up!”  Edited with the quickly advancing villains getting closer, and the pulse beat music accompanied by composer Dave Grusin, and you are so caught up in their escapades now, that it feels like you are there.

All these kids become your best friend quickly.  Data is the inventor with the tripped out gadgets, inspired by James Bond, ready to set his own booby traps.  Mouth is the Spanish interpreter who gleefully causes trouble and mischief, but Feldman the actor is allowed some tender moments as well.  Jeff Cohen is like the Curly of The Three Stooges who gets sidetracked on his own adventure with a monstrous but loving, and sadly rejected son of the Fratellis.  A chained-up ghoul named Sloth (John Matuszak).  Cohen might have the best comedic moments in the film.  When I moonlight in Community Theater, I still must remind myself that just once I’d like to audition with his hysterical crying monologue where he confesses to stealing his uncle’s toupee to use as a beard to dress up as Abraham Lincoln, while another time he used fake vomit to sicken an entire movie house.  Hilarious stuff! 

There are dropping boulders, rattling pipes, a waterfall wishing well, scary skeletons, that creepy piano, and fun water slides to circumvent around One Eyed Willie’s maze onward to his legendary treasure aboard the most spectacular pirate ship ever seen.  Rarely are kid’s adventures constructed like this anymore.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the script.  More likely, maybe it is the cast of kid actors doing one of the best ensemble performances together on screen.  Their timing could not be more perfect among the seven Goonies. 

The Goonies is a much more honest and transparent look at how kids behave with one another than you might find in a bleached-out Disney flick.  These kids get dirty and unsophisticated, yet thoughtful.  They are not age 21 playing age 14.  They don’t have fashionable haircuts and designer clothing. They are not pop singers trying to be actors.  Most importantly, the conversations among the gang are more natural in pal around rudeness.  You’re not really a friend unless you are telling the kid next to you to shut up and exclaiming “Oh shit!” when another encounter with danger lurks ahead. 

The Goonies is just a fun ride to watch over and over again. It succeeds with its own interpretation of The Little Rascals, and it’ll give you all the feels as you watch Mikey plead with One Eyed Willie for the next clue, or when he stops to remind his Goonies that there’s more at stake than just a play date on a Saturday afternoon. 

My advice is to keep the rose colored glasses off your children’s eyes.  Let them know it’s okay to get in trouble and make mischief.  Make sure your kids know they should be the best Goonies they can be.


By Marc S. Sanders

I’m not embarrassed to say it.  I’ve experienced a mid-life crisis.  Last night, I watched Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, and I absolutely broke down in tears when it finished.  As I approach age 50 later this year, the most recent viewing of this film alerted me that my childhood memories are further away than I ever realized before. 

Reiner lifts this coming-of-age story from Stephen King’s novella entitled The Body. Four boys spend the long and hot dog days of summer in Castle Rock, Oregon (it was Maine in King’s story) in their tree house smoking cigarettes and discussing important topics like Annette Funnicello’s breast size on The Mickey Mouse Club and the recent disappearance of a twelve-year-old kid.  Yackety Yak and Lollipop play on their transistor radio in the background.  The wimpiest one of the pack, Vern (Jerry O’Connell), overhears the location of the kid’s body is off the side of the railroad tracks, about twenty miles away.  Teddy (Corey Feldman), along with best friends Chris (River Phoenix) and Gordon (Wil Wheaton) decide to embark on the search for the body and get their picture in the paper, labeled as heroes.  It’ll take them the Labor Day weekend to carry out their quest.

During their long journey across the railroad tracks into the woods, the four boys will discover what concerns them, like figuring out if Goofy is a dog and who could win in a fight; Superman or Mighty Mouse.  As well, they’ll uncover what gives them anxiety ahead of their entry into adulthood.  Gordon lives with being unloved by his parents both before and following the accidental death of his older brother (John Cusack).  Chris lives with being unfairly labeled as a young hoodlum.  Teddy endures the aftermath of an abusive military father currently living in the looney bin.  Vern suffers from a hesitancy to live for adventure and risk due to ongoing fear. These boys had a future that awaited, but for some it seemed like there was no escaping the destiny the locals of their small town had already mapped out for them. 

In the last few years, I reconnected with a childhood friend by means of social media.  Visiting New York City annually over a three-year period, I got to see Scott in person and recollect on our times together.  It had been over thirty years since we had seen or spoken with one another.  We reminisced about tormenting the substitute teachers, and our first crushes.  We reflected on favorite movie scenes that we acted out in between classes.  We are different now, though.  Nowhere near the same as we were at age 12.  We have families and careers and responsibilities.  Yet, our memories of trading comic books, talking dirty, going to movies, and acting out cops and robbers shoot outs in the backyard all remain. 

When Stand By Me opens, a present day adult (Richard Dreyfuss) is shown reflecting in the distance following reading an article about a lawyer who was killed in a restaurant.  This narrator then flashes us back to the year 1959 when this adventure between him and his three friends occurred.  One of those friends was the lawyer who was killed.  A piece of his history has ceased to live and continue on.  That terrifies me personally.  Friends, and family, and people I’ve encountered over my half century will leave my presence, never to be seen or spoken to again.  I’ll never get the opportunity to reflect with them again, much less make new memories.  I’m now living in an age where Facebook comments seem to weekly consist of saying “very sorry for your loss.”  Friends are losing their parents.  Some are passing away themselves.

Stand By Me might not be altogether realistic.  The boys are getting overpowered by a sinister Kiefer Sutherland, who’s not afraid to use a switch blade and cut one of the kids’ throats.  King’s story also feels like an elevated Hardy Boys or Tom Sawyer kind of adventure.  I don’t know of anyone who went looking for a mutilated corpse during my summer days living in Wyckoff, New Jersey.  The adventure conceived by Stephen King serves as a thrill that you imagine as you read it off of the page.  My upbringing consisted of play dates and sleepovers with Scott, Star Wars toys and Saturday morning cartoons.  Yet, the connections that thread the main story together are what’s to treasure in Rob Reiner’s film.  The friends we make in grade school before becoming interested in high school, alcohol, sex, and career planning, are the most important people we know and first encounter in our lifetimes.  It’s impossible to forget them or the impact they had on our lives.  Scott certainly had an impact on my life.  I credit my sense of humor to him, and his carefree attitude to the ugliness of this world.  Sometimes that’s all we have to survive.

King and Reiner use the body that is being sought as a device to drive the characters.  What’s going to bring these boys together with no outside influence?  How can young Gordon deliver his revered sense of imagination as the writer he’s to become?  The best way is to put the boys around a camp fire.  Gordon can then entertain his pals with the story of an incredibly fat kid who got his revenge on the locals during a pie eating contest that results in a massive “Barforama.”  It’s silly and sophomoric and childish fun, but for 12-year-olds, it’s the best thing imaginable.  Teddy dreams of being an army hero storming the beaches of Normandy like his father was rumored to have done.  His sleeping bag is his machine gun mowing down an oncoming train.  Vern’s favorite food?  Watch the movie to find out.  Chris might be regarded as the outlaw, but he’s also the most mature, and perhaps the mentor to Gordon who suffers from the loss of the brother he loved, as much as he suffers from the neglect of his mother and father.  At age 12, in 1959, Chris was all that Gordon had.  I may have had more than Gordon at that age, but whenever I was with Scott, he’s all that I had.

Ultimately, Stand By Me is not an adventure or a silly comedy about boys being boys.  It’s a character study of kids just outside of their formative years.  It’s a film that captures a single moment before friendships inevitably expire.  It’s a reminder to embrace those you’ve treasured over your lifetime, because we cannot be twelve years old forever.