The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” — L.P. Hartley


The 1985 depicted in Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future is as distant to us now as 1955 was to Marty McFly, the protagonist of this now-classic time-travel comedy. Looking back, the juxtaposed Eisenhower and Reagan eras of 1955 and 1985 seem to be suspiciously similar places, defined by a zeal for conformity and the acquisitiveness of their inhabitants. It shouldn’t be surprising that high school student Marty ends up in the 50’s, since at the time of Back To the Future’s release America had been trying desperately to get back there for three decades, and the election of Ronald Reagan was in many ways a referendum on transporting the entire nation there as quickly as possible. It is no small irony that Marty’s goal is to return to a future that itself was longing to escape into the past.

Imbued with a cheerfully innocent worldview and plotted with clockwork precision, Back To the Future posits time travel as the ultimate self-improvement program. Marty McFly’s parents are introduced as dreary and defeated losers who quibble helplessly over trivial matters. They have no control over their lives or their fates, and Marty must watch in anguish as his father is bullied and humiliated by old high-school classmate Biff Tannen. Marty himself has a spark and strength that his parents don’t — he is determined not to share their fate — but their defeatism is a contagion to which he knows he may eventually fall prey. Marty’s greatest ambition is to be a rock and roll star (albeit of the corporatist Huey Lewis and the News variety), but he’s just been rejected from performing even at his own high school dance, and has begun to question if he’s good enough — or if the assistant principal at his school is correct in his assertion that “No McFly has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley”.

Once accidentally marooned in 1955, Marty finds he has inadvertently prevented his parents from meeting and falling in love. Tasked by Doc Brown with getting them together, he coaches his own father in how to woo his mother, and discovers that George McFly has a talent buried so deep that Marty has spent his whole life unaware of it: McFly pere writes science-fiction stories, but is so terrified of failure he never shows them to anyone. Bucking up George’s confidence is necessary to achieving Marty’s immediate goal — his very survival — but it will ultimately prove key to Marty fixing the problems that he left behind in the future.

Der Teenager Marty (Michael J. Fox) wird mit der Zeitmaschine in das Jahr 1955 katapultiert, wo sich seine eigene Mutter (Lea Thompson) unsterblich in ihn verliebt.


Marty’s other obstacle to getting his parents together is the fact that his teenage mother Lorraine is infatuated with him in his guise as visiting student “Calvin Klein”. Unable to escape her attentions, Marty hatches a weirdly oedipal plan to drive her away: he takes the attractive Lorraine to the high school dance, parks the car in a secluded corner of the parking lot and makes what he presumes will be an unwanted sexual advance. Instead, his overtures excite and encourage her, and Marty’s discovery that his mom wasn’t always a “good girl”, but she is secretly a smoker, a drinker and is presumably sexually active, is only one of the false illusions Marty has been carrying around about the supposedly staid older generation.

Of course, Marty succeeds in his quest to get his parents to fall in love, but as a happy side effect he teaches George to believe in himself, and upon Marty’s return to Hill Valley of 1985 finds that his father is stylish and confident, ordering Biff Tannen around and engaging in snappy repartee with a slimmed-down and sophisticated Lorraine.  Another Reagan-era indicator of worth is signaled here as well, when Marty discovers that the McFly residence is now tastefully (and expensively) appointed, though the family still inexplicably lives in the same suburban tract housing as before. Most importantly, the new pickup truck that Marty had planned to use for a weekend getaway with girlfriend Jennifer is now miraculously intact, after having been smashed-up by the counter-1985 by an irresponsible and uncontrollable Biff.As if this weren’t enough, Marty has also regained confidence in himself through an outrageous bit of cultural appropriation. Having played “Johnny B. Goode” to a star-struck teenage audience in 1955 we discover that Chuck Berry has been tipped off to Marty’s “new sound” by his cousin, the bandleader of the Starlighters, implying that Marty has accidentally created the rock n’ roll genre single-handedly. This would imply a baffling paradox but fortunately the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously, and in any event is paced too quickly for you to wonder about it.

Zemeckis’ 1955 is a sanitized, Colonial Williamsburg-style version of the past, where even the casual racism of the time is played for laughs. And Doc Brown remains suitably ageless to the teenage Marty, looking exactly the same in 1955 as he would appear three decades later.


Doc Brown’s role in the movie is that of Marty’s offbeat mentor and time-travel enabler, cool enough in his own eccentric way to have fashioned a time machine from a gull-winged Delorean sports car. Over the years the Delorean’s reputation has been almost entirely consumed by the film franchise and the indeed the car seems to epitomize a certain unforced 80s cool, right down to its OUTATIME vanity plate. Audiences today miss that the Delorean’s presence in the film was originally a kind of joke. John Delorean had recently been convicted of dealing cocaine in a futile attempt to keep his troubled car company afloat, and the car itself, though unquestionably stylish and innovative, had an air of zany failure about it.

The success of the film led to two sequels, filmed together in order to reduce costs: Back To the Future Part II leads Marty and Doc forward in time 30 years to a haphazardly rendered 2015 in which floating skateboards and self-lacing shoes are commonplace consumer items; nostalgia for the 80s is as pronounced as 50’s nostalgia had been three decades earlier. A stolen sports almanac serves as a McGuffin that Marty and Doc pursue through time.


Back To the Future Part III allows Doc Brown to take center stage as something of a temporal refugee, living in Hill Valley in 1885 as the town blacksmith and tinkerer, and facing a showdown with town bully (and Biff’s ancestor) Buford “Mad Dog”  Tannen. Doc even discovers his soulmate in a schoolteacher named Clara, who shares Doc’s interest in science. Though Clara arrives late in the series her presence is a welcome one; she helps make up for the dearth of interesting women in the Back To the Future series.  Lorraine had too little to do in Part II and the luckless Jennifer even less; she was knocked out and left on a porch swing in a bad neighborhood by Doc and Marty. We have to assume, though, that she got home just fine, and everyone else had a grand adventure. — Michael Popham


BACK TO THE FUTURE screens Friday and Saturday, November 27 and 28, at 7:00, and Sunday, November 29 at 5:00. Tickets can be purchased here.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II screens Friday, November 27 at 9:15, and Sunday, November 29 at 7:15. Tickets for these shows are here.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III screens Saturday, November 28 at 9:15 and Sunday, November 29 at 9:30. Tickets for these shows are here.

Please note: We’re also offering tickets to a one-night triple feature at a discounted price: ALL THREE Back To the Future movies for $16! The show starts at 5:00 pm on Sunday, November 29. Tickets for the triple feature are here.


Review by Trylon lightcycle racer Aaron Vehling

The original Tron, released in 1982, and starring Jeff Bridges and David Warner, is wholly of that era and yet it feels timeless. Some of that is the perpetual 80s nostalgia we’ve been living in for a good eight years (and codified in our daily breathing exercises in 2011, thanks to Drive). But some of it is also that the film’s politics, religion, and fear of technological inventions is an ongoing concern today.

Bridges is Kevin Flynn, a cool-cat former programmer with computer company ENCOM (The dude abides, even 15 years before The Dude is The Dude). He’s been sidelined by Ed Dillinger (Warner), a top executive at the company who made his way to higher echelons of power by stealing Flynn’s video game ideas.

Flynn’s been trying to break into the company’s main computer system virtually to find the proof of Dillinger’s malfeasance, but the autonomous, HAL-like Master Control Program has made sure not to allow such things to happen. Besides, MCP is too busy trying to break into the networks of the Pentagon, the Kremlin, and other consequential computer systems in an effort to absorb all of the software he can get into himself. He doesn’t need Flynn messing about.

Meanwhile, Flynn’s pal, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), has programmed security software called Tron. At one point, Flynn convinces Bradley and their friend and colleague Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) to help him break into the ENCOM headquarters after Flynn’s own program, CLU, fails in its bid to find the secret files pointing to Dillinger’s intellectual property theft.

Flynn succeeds to a point. They break in and he finds himself in front of the computer, ready to implement some special hacking tomfoolery, when the MCP gets upset and beams Flynn into the computer world.

That point when he ends up in The Grid, ENCOM’s cyberspace, is a bit like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up and everything’s in color. In this case there are distinct reds, yellows, and blues contrasted against black, coloring strange wireframe objects, ribbons and other ephemera. But more importantly, the dour realm of Reagan’s 80s is left behind in exchange for this loco contrast that houses anthropomorphic computer programs who engage in some gladiator-style video game warfare, with some of the key programs played by the same actors who play parts in the “real world.”

Although Tron isn’t merely Oz updated for the 80s generation, that it is a product of its time is apparent. The oppressive MCP, while a mere HAL-like hacking program in the real world, in The Grid is a Stalinistic dictator and his second-in-command is a program that is a reliable party-secretary-in-waiting. Flynn and his cohort are the American liberators in the Soviet hellscape. Hell, the bad guys are even embellished with red neon if the distinction weren’t clear enough.

The contrast of America’s political system and that of Russia’s is also on display in the response to some programs’ religious devotion to their “user,” the human in the real world who — at minimum — gives the program instructions, or has even created the program. MCP and his comrades mock the “religious” and seek to undermine the credibility of the false gods. The Americans are the pious and the Russians are the heathens. Oops, I mean the good guys are the pious and the bad guys are the heathens. There. That’s better.

The other element — fear of our own creations, or our own creations’ inevitable awareness and revolution against us — is also on display. The MCP, echoing HAL, is a malevolent creation. He originally started out as a chess program and become more powerful but maintained some benevolence. When Dillinger came into the equation, he set MCP on an ignoble path.

MCP’s conquest of various important computer networks foreshadows the artificial intelligence prowess of Skynet from The Terminator, although MCP isn’t yet ready for mass homicide. It also echoes the ongoing fear of the era of the Soviets somehow getting control of the American defense network, or just a general fear of the unknown harm that could be perpetrated by the relatively new technology of personal computing and widespread networks.

All of those considerations, which make it an 80s film, don’t necessarily date Tron. Neither do the somewhat laughable special effects, a then-groundbreaking mix of back-lit animation and computer graphics. Today, the graphics are co-opted frequently by musicians and graphic artists in the 80s retrosynth/synthwave scene as part of the overall tour-de-force of nostalgia for the decade.

The political contrast, though altered somewhat, is still a concern: Although we’ve grown tired of the news about Russia invading the Ukraine, that event overall solidified a renewed breakdown in Russo-American relations — much to the pleasure of pols and pundits rendered obsolete by “The End of History.” Nowadays the religious battles are scarier than ever, what with ISIS and Al Qaeda and their lot.

The funny thing is that for an 80s film, and one of this character, the soundtrack is utterly lacking in the synthesizers sacred to the eras premiere composers, such as John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder, and Harold Faltermeyer. This is legitimately ironic, given that Tron composer Wendy Carlos was a pioneer in using synthesizers for classical compositions.

Ultimately, Tron isn’t a bad movie. The Disney touch, responsible for Carlos using predominantly symphonic instruments in the score and the reason for the film’s ending, ensures that it can’t be a great one, though. Despite that, it’s still a classic. It’s still a film to return to occasionally, especially when you have the time to watch it and its Daft Punk- and Lebowski-infused 2010 sequel. –Aaron Vehling




Much is made of the fact that Ralph Bakshi’s first two animated features —  Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic — received the “X” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. What’s really remarkable, though, is that the “X” rating existed at all. Before the early 1970s, not only would these films not have been cleared for theatrical release, they would probably have been illegal to exhibit publicly in most places; but as the last vestiges of the old studio system crumbled away the last vestiges of its censorship arm went with it.  Newly liberated filmmakers were now able to do the projects they wanted to do. You can feel that exuberance throughout Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic, his most personal film, and his best.

Heavy Traffic tells the story of Michael Corleone, an underground comic-book artist and 22-year-old virgin living in a seedy New York apartment with his bickering parents. His Jewish mother, Ida, is unhappily married to his Catholic father Angelo “Angie” Corleone, who is a low-level mob lackey, and in a series of absurdist comic bits, Ida and Angie attempt to kill each other with various kitchen implements.

While Angie works desperately to get Michael laid — hiring a local prostitute at one point, to no avail — Michael trades his sketches to brassy local bartender Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson) for drinks. This lands Carole in trouble with her boss and she quits her job. Out of work and being stalked by Shorty, the bar’s (legless) bouncer, Carole moves in with Michael; but because Carole is black, Angie hits the roof and the two of them are forced to strike out on their own.

Unlike Fritz the Cat, which was based on characters created by R. Crumb, the world of Heavy Traffic seems closer to Bakshi’s heart.  The neighborhood is filled with mobsters, drug addicts, hookers and low-lifes, but far from being something that Michael seeks to escape, his surroundings nurture him and serve as inspiration for his art.

Like most of Bakshi’s movies this one makes heavy use of rotoscoping and still photos as backdrops. In too many of his films use of these techniques seem driven by low budgets but here they serve to tie the action to the real world, as does an interesting frame device in which a live-action Michael (Joseph Kaufman) plays pinball in a seedy bar. The movie returns again and again to the pinball machine to punctuate and separate the episodic story elements; like most of Bakshi’s projects this one is rather haphazardly plotted.

Overall, this is an arresting and experimental film, one of the most audacious animated features ever made. –Michael Popham

HEAVY TRAFFIC screens Monday and Tuesday, August 24 and 25 at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.



Review by the Trylon’s grizzled war veteran Ben Schmidt

Over the course of the Trylon’s “Jeff Bridges Abides” series, the Bridges I’ve grown to know and love is not the Jeff Bridges that showed up for work on the set of Cutter’s Way. Here, playing low-rent playboy Richard Bone, Bridges displays little of the naive, charming troublemaker from The Last Picture Show. And there’s nary a wisp of the blissed out, impish drifter from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. No. If Bridges to this point has been our lovable, shaggy, golden retriever, that which begins this film by easing itself from a married woman’s hotel bed to slink off into the night is nothing short of a mongrel.

What happened, Jeff Bridges? Acting? Perhaps. The need to sink into the dark script and sometimes bizarre world of Cutter’s Way could have posed quite a challenge for the young actor. And If it was a challenge he sought, Bridges rises admirably to it. His natural charisma completely inverted, Bone presents as a mottled former golden boy, worn hollow, or worse, at the core. It’s a performance that feels oddly similar to his Jack of The Fisher King, a character that charms you despite having fallen quite far from grace.

Here, as Cutter’s Way begins, Richard Bone may not yet have fallen, but he’s certainly on the way down. Leaving the aforementioned hotel, he edges his old car out into a dark, rain-soaked evening. Taking a shortcut through a back alley, his car stalls on him. Stepping out to assess the situation, he narrowly avoids being run over as another car races past, refusing to stop.

Alive but soaked, he curses his luck (and the Lord above for good measure) and runs off towards his destination. But in his rush and confusion, he fails to notice that tucked off nearby in the darkness the legs of a dead young woman hang plainly exposed over the edge of a garbage can.

Bone arrives at a (the) bar to find his friend Cutter, drunk and perhaps also insane (most certainly angry), doing his best to pick a fight with everyone around him. Cutter, we learn, is a Vietnam vet, who came back badly damaged from the war. Though they claim friendship, Cutter makes his old friend uneasy, and in a rage drives Bone away.

Bone returns home, to Cutter’s home actually, where he’s greeted by Cutter’s girl, Mo. There is some tension here. We gather, also, there’s some history here. And the fact that, despite the late hour, Mo sips directly from a (her second?) bottle of vodka suggests the history these three share is most likely complicated.

Around dawn, Cutter makes it home with the help of family friend Richard. But before he can pass out in the morning light, two detectives arrive at the door of this happy home. They’ve found the girl in the alley, along with Bone’s car. And Bone is hauled in to tell the cops what he knows.

Like the character it’s named for, Cutter’s Way seems obsessed with grit and a certain, oddly fierce cynical worldview. But this film does capture seemingly random moments of beauty.

One occurs here at the police station, where Bone stands in dismay as a police lieutenant, skeptical of both Bone’s story and alibi, sinks back into the chair behind his desk. The air hangs heavy. It’s silent for a moment as we lose sight of the policeman, obscured by the haze of smoke in the room and the sunlight glowing through the window blinds behind him. It’s a moment that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the polished noir of Blade Runner.

Cinematic moments like this are rare in Cutter’s Way. Though it’s worth noting that this film and Blade Runner, released only a year apart, do coincidentally tie a white horse to the fates of their heroes.

In Ridley Scott’s film, the white horse is used symbolically, suggesting that a man may be realizing that he is, in fact, not one at all. This moment causes him to confront his path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Deckard, been right?

However, in Cutter’s Way, a white horse delivers what’s left of a man violently and rather directly through a large mansion window. This moment causes Bone, our poor mongrel Bone, to confront his friend’s path of violence. Has all this, we wonder alongside Bone, been right?

Both films build to an ending where the viewer is left to wonder if one last life will be taken. And in what way (if any) that taking will matter.

Sure, between these two friends it may have always been Cutter’s way, fueled as much by injustice as alcohol. But in the end it’s our poor mongrel who is left with the final decision to make.

I wonder, could the younger, more optimistic Bridges have sold how this film resolves? — Ben Schmidt


CUTTER’S WAY screens Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, August 23 at 5:00 and 7:15. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.




Cool World is Ralph Bakshi’s attempt to reverse-engineer Who Framed Roger Rabbit into something that fits the seedy urban environments that were on display in Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat. At the same time he takes the opportunity to indulge in his own pet obsessions. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with Bakshi’s work just what those obsessions are; and in fact the possibilities — and potential pitfalls — of sex between “noids” (humans) and “doodles” (cartoons) becomes a central concern of the movie.

Bump-and-grind doodle sexpot Holli Would (Kim Basinger) is determined to break free of Cool World, a cartoon universe created by a jailbird artist named Jack Deebs (though perhaps Deebs didn’t create it, but simply tapped into an alternate universe that already existed; this point isn’t entirely clear). Holli pulls Deebs into Cool World with the aim of seducing him and thereby getting him to aid her escape into the human realm.  Meanwhile, detective Frank Harris, a noid who had been pulled accidentally into Cool World and who has been living there as a human expatriate for many years, suspects that Holli is up to no good and plans to stop her from becoming a doodle in the noid world, or perhaps a noid outside the doodle world.

Bakshi attempts to raise the stakes by introducing a magical spike atop a Las Vegas casino that Holli is trying to acquire; if she succeeds it will hurl the noid and doodle worlds together, with presumably disastrous consequences. But really, the focus here is on Cool World and its flipped-out, funhouse-mirror versions of familiar cartoon tropes.  Well, the focus is also on the idea of gettin’ it on with hot and improbably-proportioned cartoon characters, but you already guessed that, right?

Like many of Bakshi’s films Cool World seems a bit ragged around the edges, as though he just didn’t have enough time and money to see his vision through; and the script itself demonstrates that plotting was never the man’s strong suit. In spite of the film’s obvious attempt to create a more salacious Roger Rabbit pitched to adults, Paramount apparently couldn’t bring itself to release it with an “R” rating and toned it down to “PG-13”, which might explain some of the plot holes and apparent gaps between scenes. Nevertheless, Bakshi is one of the most interesting animators of the 20th century, and this intriguing misfire — his last film — was perhaps his most mainstream project.

Gabriel Byrne plays Deebs, a part originally intended for a young Brad Pitt, whose star was quickly rising thanks to his turn in Thelma and Louise the previous year; but Pitt was handed the Frank Harris role instead. Kim Basinger tries to make the human version of Holli move with the same cat-like slinkiness as her cartoon counterpart, but her human skeleton and musculature don’t quite allow her to pull it off. — Michael Popham


COOL WORLD screens Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 18, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.