By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Zemekis’ Romancing The Stone is one of those perfect Saturday afternoon rainy day movies. Since it focuses on best-selling author Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), it seems apropos that the movie feels like curling up with a good book.

Upon discovering that her New York apartment has been ransacked, Joan gets a call from her terrified sister who has been kidnapped in Columbia. Joan is instructed to deliver a treasure map in exchange for her sister’s safe return. However, Joan is not as romanticized or adventurous as the characters in her novels. So, her three-piece suit and heels won’t serve well in the wet jungles in which she ends up completely lost. Fortunately, she meets a heroic, handsome guy in the form of Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas). Together, they flee from the parties interested in the map, while trying to find the titled priceless gem.

Zemekis might have been taking an Indiana Jones route with this picture, but it finds its own identity, nonetheless. The fun comes with how Joan adapts to the outdoor elements and escapes the safe and lonely concrete jungles of city life. Turner is great as the one with no clue for travel or the instinct to stay out of a bad situation. It’s amusing to see her encounter and respond to one approaching cliffhanger after another.

There are great scenes here with mud slides, vine swinging, shoot outs and car chases. The best adventures never rely on CGI. A favorite sequence involves a meet up with a Columbian drug runner who helps the pair evade the bad guys in his 4 x 4 truck. That’s one of the many unexpected and wild moments offered here.

A third star is Danny DeVito fast on the trail of Joan and Jack. He’s here as the stooge more or less but he’s added comedy.

The one sad thing about Romancing The Stone is that it’s screenwriter Diane Thomas passed away shortly after her script was sold. Imagine what she could have done based on the promise of this film. This script has focus, fun and outstanding action sequences.

Romancing The Stone is just great escapism.


By Marc S. Sanders

Steven Spielberg’s first critical and box office flop, 1941, is a splattered mess of slapstick hysteria set a week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Residents of the California coast line prepare to be the next target.  Ahem!!!!!  Well, that’s it for the story…Goodnight.  Tip your waiters.

Just a year ahead of the Zucker brothers with Abrams comedy team that’ll deliver Airplane!, Spielberg opted to direct a spoof script penned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back To The Future).  1941 is full of gags galore beginning with a reference to the director’s most successful film to date, Jaws.  For me, seeing actress Susan Backline on screen again for another ocean skinny dip only to be intruded upon by a rising Japanese submarine was the second best joke of the film.  Once that was over, I had two hours left to go.  A long two hours. 

I’ve noted before that satire or spoofs are the riskiest genres to produce.  They can succeed with a picture like Dr. Strangelove…, or Network or Airplane!  Satire can be divisive too though, and thus only one half of your audience will appreciate the poke and prod.  Even worse, satire can just be unfunny across the board no matter which side of the aisle you lean on.  That’s 1941.  It plays too much like a Three Stooges series of slapstick violence.  Reader, even Steven Spielberg cannot capture the magic of the Three Stooges.

Zemeckis and Gale opt to poke a little fun at the Puerto Rican zoot suit riots vs the Enlisted men ahead of America’s entry into World War II.  So, when army soldier Treat Williams gets jealous of one handsome zoot suit dancer flirting with his girl, a fight breaks out which eventually populates two thirds of the film as it escalates all the way over to Hollywood Boulevard. Now thousands of stooge wannabe extras are walloping each other from one side of the street to the next. 

To allow a breather from this, the writers sidetrack over to Tim Matheson and Nancy Allen getting frisky in an out of control bi-plane while being mistaken for the enemy by John Belushi doing a very poor resurrection of his Bluto character from Animal House.  As Captain Wild Bill Kelso, Belushi’s pursuit fires upon everything else in sight, especially Hollywood Boulevard, but misses the plane occupied by Matheson and Allen.

The third point of this rectangle concerns Dan Aykroyd with John Candy and a whole platoon opting to set up a military cannon along the ocean view property belonging to Ned Beatty and Lorraine Gary in anticipation of the Japanese invasion.  Ned Beatty is the best stooge of the entire cast as the nerdy resident determined to protect his home while exercising his patriotic duty.  Gary’s response to Beatty’s ineptitude cracked me up as well.  The house wreckage of The Money Pit has nothing on what occurs in 1941.

The fourth storyline focuses on the enemy with a German speaking Nazi portrayed by Christopher Lee debating with the captain of a Japanese submarine (Toshiro Mifune) plotting to bomb Hollywood.  Somehow, each foil understands the other’s language.  These guys are just here to scream at one another.  There’s nothing funny about them.

Oh yeah.  Robert Stack is the Army General who watches Dumbo in the movie theatre while Hollywood Boulevard gets demolished outside.  Ho! Ho!

Often, I compliment Spielberg for his reliance on the sets he provides.  Everything you see on the screen serves a purpose to his films.  It happened as recently as with his remake of West Side Story in 2021, and it’s effectively used in Close Encounters…  He uses the same approach with 1941.  In this film though, there’s no pulse or significance to the props and pieces that are used.  The house is demolished.  So is the storage shed.  So is the movie theatre.  So is the Ferris wheel.  Yes.  What you’ve already seen in endless Looney Toons cartoons occurs here with a miniature model.  The Ferris wheel comes off its hinge and rolls across the beach side dock into the water along with Murray Hamilton and Eddie Deezen in tow.  When it happens, you’ll tell yourself I was waiting for that to happen.  What you expect to happen, happens, but you’re not laughing at it.

None of what you see in 1941 are terrible gags.  If you watch one scene out of context on a four minute You Tube channel, you may chuckle.  The problem is that every scene is treated like throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what will stick.  Mashing all of this together is not appetizing.  I like ice cream and I like steak.  I don’t like my ice cream on my steak.  Any idea of development is completely ignored.  The film can’t even work like a collection of skits.  Even Airplane! had a romantic storyline trajectory to perform with.  Here, two jealous guys have a fist fight and it more or less stretches that fight for an entire two hours.  The Three Stooges knew when to eventually quit.  Spielberg, Zemeckis and Gale didn’t. 

As soon as I saw Belushi on screen, I laughed.  It’s Bluto again.  Yet, the appearance wears off very quickly.  He has little dialogue and is limited to chomping on a cigar while grunting and groaning as the fighter plane he occupies wobbles around shooting at everything in sight.  When he eventually crash lands, Belushi continues to chomp on the cigar and grunt and groan.  Only now, he pratfalls as well…badly.

Ned Beatty is the real star here.  The ultimate nerd is also limited in dialogue. Still, to watch his body language with his glasses and bow tie and pear-shaped physique, accompanied with Lorraine Gary’s helpless gasping wife responding to the damage he commits with the cannon is hilarious.  Absolutely hilarious.  Tape all of their scenes together and make it a short to present ahead of the main attraction in a movie house. The audience will have a great time.

Otherwise, the only other fun I got out of 1941 was spotting the stars that were relevant at the time of its release.  Candy, Aykroyd, Frank McRae, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, the cute blonde daughter from Eight Is Enough.  Even Penny Marshall has a quick blink and you miss it moment.  Oh, and look, there’s Lenny and Squiggy!

I think Zemeckis and Gale were on to a real smart idea here.  They maybe should have consulted with Harold Ramis and his National Lampoon’s crew however, because that’s the direction Spielberg’s film was aiming for.  What sets a film like Animal House apart from a 1941 though is in the set up.  Dialogue also helps.  1941 lacks set up.  1941 lacks dialogue.  It’s all visual and noise and more noise and more noise. 

1941 begins at letter A, and stops at letter A, never making it to B, and definitely never reaching Z.  An idea with potential was put down on paper.  The problem is these guys stopped writing after the first sentence.


By Marc S. Sanders

I think Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis forgot one thing about Back To The Future Part III. It was supposed to be a time travel movie. Sure, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) travels back to the Hill Valley of the Old West in the year 1885, but once he gets there, there is not a lot of material for the beloved DeLorean.

The film picks up immediately where the last film cliff hanged. Marty is left trapped in 1955, and he receives a letter sent to him 70 years earlier from his present day Doc Brown companion (Christopher Lloyd) originally from 1985. You still with me? When Marty realizes that Doc gets shot in the back by Mad Dog Tannen (character actor great, Thomas F Wilson), he arranges with the 1955 Doc to send him back to the Old West and prevent that from ever happening.

From there, the film turns into a staple Western. There’s the calvary, Indians on horseback, quick draw duels in the street, a saloon, stage coach and wagons. Most importantly, there’s a steam engine to push the DeLorean to the necessary 88 miles per hour to send our heroes back to the future. That dilemma is solved quickly and early on. They now just have to wait for the train to arrive.

So the film calms down to allow a charming Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, a schoolteacher, to capture the affection of the good ol’ Doc. When the romance seems impossible though, we get a depressed Doc. A depressed Doc Brown is never good for a movie. Consider this. It’d be so easy to just wait for the moment to travel back in time. However, obstacles get in the way, right? In the fantastic first film, Marty has to play guitar at the school dance to get the necessary first kiss between his parents thereby solidifying his existence. That’s fun…and then he kills it while performing “Johnnie B. Goode.” Here, the moment to time travel is approaching, but it can’t happen because Doc is depressed. What’s so fun about that?

Like Part II, Part III is watchable. It’s not terrible by any means. It’s just a little stale. The best gag, however, is Marty taking on the name of “Clint Eastwood” to build his status in the town. This allows a lot of inside jokes. What would’ve sent this film into the stratosphere is if they got the legend himself to make at least a cameo. Alas…. I can dream and wonder.

Back To Future Part III ends the film on a sweet message similar to what you get from other fantasies like The Wizard Of Oz or Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It reminds me that despite its shortcomings, the entire Future trilogy is great to share with the whole family. No doubt, there’s always something to look at and focus on.

Still, some movies that require focus specifically, takes work. The first film allowed me to wonder. Wonder if all of this could be true one day. Wonder how they thought all this up. Wonder how Marty is actually going to get back to the future.

If I have to choose, I’d rather not focus. I’d rather just wonder.


By Marc S. Sanders

Back To The Future Part II is a paint by numbers or recipe film more than just a film. This has to be done, so that that can be done, cook on high for just over two hours and all will be wrapped up. Because it is so focused on covering all bases it forgets the wonder and fun of the original film, and just gets down to business. Watching this film makes you feel like dad just won’t throw the football around with you in the front yard. He’s got work to do.

The sequel picks up immediately where the first film ended with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) taking Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) to a very zany looking future in the year 2015, complete with flying cars, Jaws 19, the abolition of lawyers, and opportunities to get a redesign of your body complete with a replacement of your spleen and colon just like Doc explains. When an elderly Biff Tannen gets a hold of a sports encyclopedia, he travels back in time to 1955 to tell his younger self to make bets he can’t lose. Now the future is entirely changed, riddled with crime, and Biff in absolute power. Worst of all, the brute is married to Lorraine, Marty’s mom (Lea Thompson, regrettably not given much to do this time around). So, Doc and Marty need to travel to 1955 to set things right all over again.

Look, if you were gonna make a sequel to Back To The Future, this is likely what the script was going to spit out. It’s a watchable film. However, it’s lost the soul of the original installment. It feels like an office project. The comedy is absent. A long sequence shows a middle age Marty in 2015 talking on video phone remotely with his bullying boss, and getting fired, with fax machines all over the house spitting out the message as well. This is supposed to leave me in awe? This is funny?

The second half of the film in 1955 has Marty pursuing Biff the bully while trying to get the sports book back. Biff, played by Thomas F Wilson, is more or less doing the same thing as the first film. Only he’s not the dumb buffoon we laughed at the first time. He doesn’t have George to bully around this time. You realize Biff and George made a perfect comedic pair. That’s missing here. So he bullies some little kids and with extreme harshness and tries to kill Marty on several occasions. It’s not so funny this time. It’s cruel.

A fun motif (that also carries forward in Part III) is that the actors are playing their characters at different ages 30-60 years apart from one another. Fox, Wilson and Shue also play their kids or grandkids. A nerdy Marty Jr is nerdy, but not quite funny. Fox is not doing the fantastic humor that Crispin Glover did as George in the first film. He’s just wearing an oversize jacket with his jeans inside out and squeaking his voice. Meh…not funny, just there.

Robert Zemeckis’ sequel is just okay. It’s disappointing because he and his collaborator Bob Gale worked so inventively on the first film. The construction is solid. I still love the various transformations of Hill Valley, California. If the film were made today that’d all be done with CGI. I appreciate the texture in the construction of the town’s past, present and future. Each time period allows me to look around and see what’s replaced what and so on. So, I’m truly grateful for that.

All and all though, Zemeckis and Gale had all the right ideas. They just didn’t have the best execution in mind.


By Marc S. Sanders

One of the best fantasy films of all time is Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future. No matter how many times I see it I’m astounded by the imagination and attention to detail that is invested in its script penned by Zemeckis and Bob Gale.

First, there is the set that stands in for the town of Hill Valley, California. To set up the film which took place in the film’s present shooting period of 1985, everything appears modern from Pepsi Free soda to Huey Lewis and the News and Marty McFly’s (Michael J Fox) parka vest.

Through a set of circumstances, when Marty travels back in time to November 5, 1955, suddenly the hit song is “Mr. Sandman” and his vest is mistaken as a life preserver. But look at Hill Valley!!!! Twin Pines Mall is now Twin Pines Ranch belonging to a farmer. A exercise workout locale is the corner diner where the future mayor is a waiter, and Marty’s domestic subdivision isn’t even built yet. Zemeckis and his crew are religiously faithful to observing the “science” of time travel.

His minister so to speak is Doctor Emmett Brown (a should have been Oscar nominated Christopher Lloyd; absolutely brilliant in his bug eyed, crazy hair, fun loving role). Doc’s time machine comes by means of a DeLorean automobile – perfectly sci fi like. Marty recruits the younger version of Doc to get him back to his present day, or Doc’s future.

Complications occur when Marty interferes with how his parents originally met thereby causing his mother, (Lea Thompson also superb and maybe should’ve been nominated as well) a teen at the time, into falling in love with Marty. Now Marty is at risk of being erased from existence, while his mother has the hots for him.

Complications are compounded endlessly in Back To The Future, and it’s easy to learn all that is at stake. That’s only the skeleton of the nominated screenplay. The dialogue works beautifully as well. Imagine telling someone living in 1955 that Ronald Reagan is President in 1985, and see how he’ll respond. The conservative culture of 1955 vs the free liberal lifestyle 1985 clash so well in the film’s comedy.

Outstanding performances make up one of the greatest casts of all time. It’s difficult to believe that Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty. Michael J Fox is so perfectly natural in his hysteria and cool, yet panicky, swagger. Crispin Glover is hilarious as Marty’s ultra-nerd dad, George McFly, and Thomas F Wilson is one of the top ten on- screen bullies of all times as the towering buffoon Biff Tannen.

Without question, Back To The Future is one of the most imaginative films ever made. It has wonder, comedy, suspense, song (yes…we even learn how Chuck Berry came to play “Johnny B Goode”), and brilliant characterizations. It is wholly original in its creativity. It’s fast moving, and it’s great fun.

Credit also goes to Alan Silvestri’s catchy orchestral soundtrack. It is magnificent in accompanying the adventure and misunderstandings that occur. You see the film once, and you never forget Silvestri’s music.

Back To The Future is a magnificent film that every kid should eventually see.


By Marc S. Sanders

There’s not much that I can say to further praise the merits of Robert Zemekis’ Forrest Gump. It’s a film of legend though it’s a sore spot for die-hard fans of Pulp Fiction, which competed for Best Picture in 1994. Guess which film won. Tom Hanks won the Oscar for the second year in a row, following his outstanding turn in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. Zemekis won Best Director. Eric Roth’s screenplay won as well.

What holds a lasting impression for me about Forrest Gump is the sweeping travel through time of a man with limited intelligence but unlimited willingness to explore and participate, whether it be as a Ping Pong Champion, a Medal of Honor recipient for heroism during the Vietnam War, a millionaire entrepreneur of a shrimping boat business, or a man who just felt like running from one corner to the next of the North American continent. Forrest Gump never knew to compromise a belief he had, probably because he was never aware of the capability to compromise in the first place.

An interesting theme occurs throughout Roth’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Winston Groom). The people that Forrest encounters are always shouting their ideals and agendas. Yet no one seems to listen. Not just Forrest though. No one at all listens to each other. Lieutenant Dan (Oscar nominee, Gary Sinese) shouts for an immediate evacuation of a hostile territory under attack and no one on the other end of the line, appears to be listening to him. He orders Gump to leave him there, but Forrest does not listen. Forrest only focuses on rescuing his friends, Lt. Dan and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). What exactly were Americans like the Hippie movements, the War Veterans, the Black Panther party, even the men in the burlesque nightclubs, as well as the various assassinations attempting to accomplish really? Did they accomplish anything? Did any of these parties make an impactful change, or did they just like to hear themselves talk? Did they just want the recognition for only themselves and no one else? When Forrest meets up with his love Jenny (Robin Wright), in a gorgeous caption in front of the Washington Monument (often shown during Oscar film compilations), he has just shared his thoughts over a loudspeaker, unaware that not one of the thousands of war protestors could hear him because the microphone had been unplugged. Later that day, a Black Panther participant only cares to wave his finger and shout his agenda in Forrest’s face. Is Forrest interested? Is he even listening? Is the Jenny, the hippie and her protestor boyfriend listening? Like many Americans, Forrest was only concerned with what was most important to him; Jenny. When Forrest develops a following during his cross country run, everyone is looking for his purpose and his message, and Forrest is unaware that he needed to offer one. Americans are always looking for the next best following. When Forrest passes the Grand Canyon and stops running, the parade of lost souls behind him shouts, “Now what are we supposed to do?” Forrest doesn’t listen. He just walks away and declares he’s tired. America during the mid twentieth century was lost. Forrest was not. Forrest just went in the direction in front of him.

Zemekis pulls an interesting trick of contrasting Forrest against other regulars. The nurse who sits on the bench next to Forrest is more interested in reading a mundane two dimensional issue of “People Magazine.” A man listening to Forrest’s tale of rescue in Vietnam was only concerned with the bullet that struck Forrest in the butt, not the men he saved or the loss of his dear friend Bubba. The old codgers who hang around the local barber shop in Greenbough, Alabama just watch the exploits of Forrest as the years go by. Their hair gets grayer and their skin gets more wrinkled, and life just passes them by while Forrest passes life by. It’s a subtle, yet effective, device that I appreciate on repeat viewings.

Sally Field contributes to the disregard Forrest has for menial issues. If Forrest is going to be denied going to a regular school because his intelligence level falls a few points below average, she will make certain that does not interfere even if it means pleasuring the principal. Mama Gump has the wit and intelligence. Forrest does not. However, their commonality shows in their disregard for what keeps us from living life to the fullest. Without Mama as his influence, Forrest would never have met the President again, and again, and again.

Mama reminds Forrest that “Life is like a box of chocolates…” You know the rest! It doesn’t matter what we get, as long as we get what we pursue.