Monthly Archives: February 2012

Forks

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island with only one kitchen utensil, it would be a knife. But if you could have two, you might consider a fork. Maybe a spoon because it’s like a little shovel, but most likely a fork. Forks are ideal for poking and stabbing food. Once the food is speared, you can use the fork to hold it in place to cut it with a knife (they work well together), or you can lift the food to your mouth and chew it. Pretty nifty. The more I think about it, the more useless a fork is. Knives can stab, cut and spear. Spoons can stir and hold mouthfuls of food… forks are just glorified food pokers for civilized people. No one will go to your dinner party if you don’t have forks (unless you’re Asian, then they demand chopsticks).

Critically Rated at 12/17

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Weed Wars

A Discovery Channel reality show that focuses on the medical marijuana industry and the politics and controversy that surrounds it.  The show follows the staff and patients of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, CA. And it makes you wanna blaze.

The show provides a lot of insight as to how medical marijuana dispensaries function. The staff looks like regular people, they are ready for business but still have crazy dreads, facial hair and tattoos. They are professional stoners. Some are clerks, and they ask what the customer is looking for and what symptoms they have to better find a product to help them. Some work as purchasers who inspect a potential seller’s product. They check for molds, fungi, and the overall quality of the plant.

You meet a lot of patients while watching the show. Some are scamming the system, but a lot of the customers have debilitating problems and marijuana is the only thing that gives them relief from pain. You can clearly see why we need legal dispensaries where these patients can buy weed that is safe to smoke and safe to obtain. It would be a crime to close these clubs, because these people need them.

There is a lot of emphasis on states rights versus the federal law. A lot of conversation is devoted to the economics of the industry. Cannabis is worth billions; it is a huge cash crop. The plant provides a lot of jobs and tax revenue in a time of severe economic turmoil. We already lost the war on drugs; it is time to legalize it.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)

David Yates steps in to direct, and he brings back the energy and joy of Prisoner of Azkaban. The fifth book was the longest, but the fifth movie was one of the shortest. Yates keeps the movie flowing and it is more energetic and fun than Goblet of Fire. Lots of things are left out of the movie, but they are alluded to. It captures the feel and tone of the fifth book, even though so much is left out. Even if you haven’t seen the other movies or read the books, this film is solid enough to stand alone.

This movie came out in July of 2007, the same month as the final book. It was a very good month for Potter fans. Not only did it also come out in IMAX, but the final twenty minutes were converted into 3D. Keep in mind that this was way before Avatar, and the whole movie was in 2D, but then when Harry and his friends jump on the Thestrals to save Sirius it becomes 3D. There were some great 3D moments as they explore the Department of Mysteries and get attacked by the Death Eaters, but nothing compares to Voldemort and Dumbledore’s fierce dual. Seriously some of the best use of 3D in film. It really added to the film, and because it was only 3D at the end, the 3D seemed more impressive. The dual is an amazing spectacle. Computer graphics can still make jaws drop if done correctly.

As per the trend, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson continue to grow up and improve as actors. Gary Oldman has only a few scenes as Sirius, but establishes a real connection between Harry and Sirius. Keep in mind that Sirius only had one scene in Goblet of Fire, so it was vital for the audience to relate to Sirius so that when he dies you feel sorry for Harry. There is a great moment in the midst of the Ministry battle where Sirius calls Harry “James” by accident. It is a really brief but subtle allusion to Harry seeing Sirius as a father, but Sirius sees Harry as his friend. It sums up their relationship perfectly.

Two great female villains are introduced in this movie. Helena Bonham Carter portrays Bellatrix Lestrange, and makes her very deranged and psychotic. You can tell she went to the Alan Rickman School of Hamming It Up and graduated at the top of her class. Imelda Staunton steals the show with her portrayal of the loathsome and evil Dolores Umbridge. If you didn’t like Umbridge in the book, you will hate her in the movie. When she gets dragged off by the centaurs at the end, I still get giddy. It takes a lot of talent to not only have everyone hate your character, but to enjoy hating your character.

There was a lot of stuff left out of the movie. But it flows better and feels more like its paperback companion than Goblet of Fire. Yates did a great job and got the franchise back on track. A lot of people are critical of this movie, but in time I think it will be remembered as one of the best movies in the series.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Knives

Knives are the deadliest utensil. If you’re gonna be stranded on a desert island with only one kitchen utensil, it would be a knife. You can cut things, stab things, spear things, slice things; they are very versatile. I am convinced that Jews invented the knife because you can use a knife to cut open a bag of bagels, slice a bagel in half and spread your cream cheese and lox around.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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Wednesdays

So you made finally made it to Wednesday. The weekend is in sight. Just a few more days of pretending to be productive and then you can relax. Wednesday is fondly known as Hump Day. Sadly the name is a bit misleading and it refers to the fact that it’s the middle of the week. Wednesdays used to mean that Lost was on, but now they reduced to a hollow existence, merely serving as a reminder that better times lie ahead (like 4:19 means you still time to get ready). There are a few people who don’t like how it is spelled. I don’t mind the spelling, it serves as a makeshift IQ test.

Critically Rated at 10/17

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Kill Bill Volume 2

The Bride is back and she only has three more names on her list. We finally get to meet Bill and see his face for the first time. And not to spoil anything, but she kills Bill. Volume 1 was all action, but now we get to the story. We learn more about the Bride and we get more back-story and character development.  We finally find out the Bride’s real name and suddenly all those cryptic references to Trix and being affectionately called Kiddo makes sense.

The first Kill Bill was an action flick. Volume 2 is mostly exposition and story. There is a very savage fight between the Bride and Elle Driver, they beat the crap out of each other and destroy Budd’s trailer in the process. Daryl Hannah’s reaction to losing her eye is classic. She freaks out, loses all control, and starts flailing and trashing about. It is very realistic and very unsettling.

The most memorable and disturbing scene is when the Bride is caught by Budd and buried alive. If you watch the widescreen version, prior to being nailed into the coffin, the screen is cropped and full frame. Not only does it foreshadow what is to come, but it makes you feel trapped and claustrophobic. When the Bride is put in the coffin, the screen goes dark and the sounds get heightened. You hear each nail being pounded into place, you hear the coffin dragging along the ground and being tossed into the shallow grave, and as the shovelfuls of dirt fall on top of the casket and the Bride’s breathing becomes shallower and quicker, you feel like you are right there with her, being buried alive. It was a relief when she delves into her flashback and you can escape the confines of the pine box.

Her flashback to training with Pai Mei is a fun sequence. It is a good training montage. It provides a little humor and action with learning more about where the Bride is coming from. There is a lot more Tarantino dialog in this movie compared to the previous installment. The Bride has a great conversation with one of Bill’s father figures, Esteban, in Mexico. Budd has a nice moment with his brother. Everything Bill says is important and awesome and terrifying. His first conversation with the Bride right before the wedding massacre shows how loving and dangerous he is. His final great monolog is about Superman and Clark Kent, and even though it is brief, it sums up the themes of the Kill Bill saga.

In the first volume, the Bride kills dozens and dozens of people. She does it skillfully and violently, and with a lot of style. In this volume, she only kills Bill, and she does it quickly and simply, without any real fanfare or build up. Budd almost killed her, but failed. Elle Driver kills Budd with a black mamba. The Bride gets the better of Elle, and leaves her blinded and trapped with the black mamba, but she doesn’t kill her. It is almost the exact opposite of the first movie, but they fit together, they are both sides of the same coin. Volume 1 was a great action movie, but Volume 2 is a complete film and makes the first one even better.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Kettle Zesty Ranch

Kettle Krinkle Kut Zesty Ranch chips are yet another decent flavor of Kettle brand potato chips. These are crinkled, which is always a bonus. There is a good amount of ranch flavoring, but it’s not as excessive as ranch Doritos. Kettle does bold flavors and it does them well, even though you might not be in the mood for that flavor. Kettle flavors are like the Leonardo DiCaprio of the chip world… he always does good critically acclaimed movies, and he is always good in them, but you can’t watch Inception all the time, and you don’t really want to either.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book)

This is the longest book in the Harry Potter series, and my personal favorite. There is way too much to review, so I’ll just be like the movie and leave out a bunch of stuff. J.K. Rowling takes Potter to a whole new level in this novel. Voldemort is back, but Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry of Magic refuse to believe it, and instead launch a campaign questioning Harry’s integrity and Dumbledore’s mental state.

The Ministry of Magic starts taking over Hogwarts slowly. First they make Fudge’s loyal employee, Dolores Umbridge, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. They gradually start imposing more and more decrees, and get rid of Hogwarts staff that threatens them politically. Fudge is extremely paranoid of Dumbledore, thinking he’s starting an army to seize control of the Ministry. Umbridge wont let the students perform defensive spells.

Hermione is weary of not learning, and she convinces Harry to teach her and a few other willing students defensive spells. He is reluctant at first, but eventually chooses to lead the fight against Umbridge. Harry, Ron, and Hermione recruit a few other students and form Dumbledore’s Army.

Life at Hogwarts gets more and more miserable as the Ministry takes over. Umbridge gradually becomes Headmaster, and Dumbledore is forced out. The earlier books were full of hope; this book is full of despair. Harry spends a lot of time being angry. He is still haunted by Cedric’s death, he is angry that he is out of the loop, he is hurt that people don’t believe him. But he chooses to fight, he wants to fight. He becomes a leader by choice.

Voldemort tricks Harry into thinking Sirius is in danger. Harry leads a small band of Dumbledore’s Army on a rescue mission, and realizes it’s a trap. They become overwhelmed by the Death Eaters. Harry finds out Voldemort is interested in a mysterious prophecy that holds answers to Harry’s past. Harry and his friends put up a fight, and suddenly Dumbledore and members of the Order of the Phoenix show up to help. In the midst of the battle, Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius. Dumbledore and Voldemort have a fierce duel, and you see why Dumbledore is the only one Voldy ever feared.

Neville also becomes more important. You learn about his past and how his parents were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. He is an orphan of sorts, just like Harry. He learns a lot with Dumbledore’s Army and joins Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Luna at Department of Mysteries and fights bravely. The prophecy also reveals that Neville could have been the Chosen one. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …” Neville and Harry were born just one day apart, both their parents defied Voldy, but (SPOILER ALERT!) Voldemort marked Harry as his equal. That’s privileged information if you never finished the series. Sorry if I ruined your life, but it’s been out for a while.

The Order of the Phoenix is where bits and pieces from the earlier installments start to fall in place. You can start deducing where Harry and the story are going. You start to think that maybe Harry really is the Chosen One. There are many subplots and foreshadowing and Easter eggs. This book is where the series really takes off. There might be a lot of superfluous material, but when it comes to Potter, there’s no such thing as too much.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Red Stripe Jamaican Lager

“Red Stripe. It’s beer. Hooray, beer!” See that’s is effective advertising. Good job whoever came up with that one. It’s memorable, it says the product name, and it says what the product is.  It has a nice light, crisp taste, better than your average American lager like Bud or Coors. It is very drinkable and refreshing. The major downside is that the bottles are only 11.2 ounces, as opposed to 12 ounces, so you aren’t getting a full six pack. That’s pretty lame, they lose points for that.

Critically Rated at 12/17

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Kill Bill Volume 1

Quentin Tarantino’s 4th film is his first action film, and it is pure exhilaration from beginning to end. Most two-part movies are all story in the first half, and all action in the second half. Kill Bill is the opposite, the second part has all the story and exposition, and the first volume is non-stop action.

Uma Thurman is a viable action star. She is unconventional but tough. She fights ruthlessly, but also with honor. All we know is that she lost her baby and is on a quest for revenge. We don’t even know her character’s name. In this volume, the character that has the most back-story is Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii. One of the best and most surprising parts of the movie was her japanimated backstory.

Volume 1 has an amazing soundtrack. RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan produces, and both him and Tarantino have a great appreciation for Kung Fu movies, and so their soundtrack works well with the movie. Tarantino has a great ear for music, and it often seems as if the scenes are tailored to fit the soundtrack.

There are some great scenes in this flick, even though it is a bit lighter on the dialog that Tarantino is known for. The Bride vs. the Crazy 88 is one of the best fight sequences in all cinema.  It is a truly epic fight, as she faces off against dozens of ruthless Yakuza, slaughtering all who oppose her.

This was Tarantino’s first movie since Jackie Brown, and his passion for Kung Fu movies is apparent. He is a great director, he absorbs things and recreates them as his own. He combines and warps different genres together to complete one cohesive film. This is a great movie, but only half of the Kill Bill experience. You haven’t even met Bill at this point.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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American Splendor (film)

I’ve noticed that whenever critics compile their lists of best comic to film translations they always neglect American Splendor. X-Men, Superman, Batman, Spider-man… these are all well known comic icons who successfully made the transition to the big screen. Harvey Pekar’s highly personal autobiographical cult comics don’t have the mainstream built-in audience that DC and Marvel characters have.  That doesn’t change the fact that this movie is one of the best comic translations ever.

Harvey Pekar wrote about himself and his life, and you relate to him because he is real. Different artists drew his stories, and drew him because he was the main character. Different people depicted him in many different ways throughout his comics. The film captures that by having multiple actors and illustrations, as well as the real life counterparts playing themselves. The overall effect seems like it would be jarring and confusing, but it works extremely well and captures the feel of the comics. You don’t even need to have read them, because the art and stories are all interwoven through the whole film. By the end you know his type of humor and appreciate his art. You might even buy one of his books.

Paul Giamatti stars as Harvey Pekar, but Pekar also makes appearances as himself. His wife and friends also make appearances as well as have actors portraying them. Harvey deals with his mundane and often depressing life in a humorous way. His comics deal with everything from choosing which line to wait in at the grocery store to experiencing painful chemotherapy treatments.

It is a great experience. It is funny, heartfelt and real. Harvey Pekar lived an incredibly fascinating, incredibly ordinary life. And it was a privilege to experience a glimpse of it. Take the time and check out this movie if you haven’t yet.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Tuesdays

Tuesdays are lame cesspool days. You are still pretty early into the workweek, and you still have a long time until the weekend. Most people don’t plan parties or get-togethers on Tuesday nights. No one wants to hang out. There are very few good things about Tuesdays, but Mardi Gras, Taco Tuesday and Two-for-Tuesday deals are pretty amazing. For some stupid reason US citizens can only vote on a Tuesday. It might be tradition, but I hate Tuesdays and that’s why I don’t vote (plus it’s a hollow privilege).

Critically Rated at 8/17

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127 Hours

Danny Boyle directs and James Franco stars in this true story about a hiker who gets trapped and has to cut off his own arm. Franco plays Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman who thinks he is the shit, before nature teaches him a lesson he’ll never forget. Because he lost his arm. That’ll teach him.

It is a very unique movie. It starts out like an action film. It is very fast paced, lots of cool cuts and camera shots. Aron is full of life, he hustles around. He packs quickly, drives quickly, bikes quickly and hikes quickly. He meets two girls, and shows them around a bit, and leaves them just as abruptly as he met them. He hops around, he is mobile, he can’t stay still or in one spot for too long.

And suddenly he slips and a giant boulder pins his arm, and he is trapped in a narrow, isolated canyon. It happens instantly, and it slowly dawns on him that he can’t move. Franco demonstrates his acting chops, and as he struggles in vain to pull himself free, screaming out, “THIS IS INSANE!” You feel as though you are trapped too. You feel his panic, you feel his pain, his predicament.

Aron gradually calms down a bit and tries to logically handle his situation. He sees what tools and equipment he has. He rations his water. He tries a few techniques to move the boulder, but ultimately there is only one way to escape. First he breaks his arm. Then using a dull pocket knife (according to IMDB it was not a Leatherman), he has to cut through his flesh, nerves, ligaments, and arteries. It is a very graphic and detailed scene, and if you’re squeamish, this might not be a fun part for you.

The majority of the movie he is stuck in one spot. But through flashbacks and hallucinations we leave the canyon, so it’s not as confining as other movies like Phone Booth. Aron begins to discover who he is. He realizes how flawed he is, and how many regrets he has. Like not answering the phone when his sister calls, or telling his mom how much she means to him. But he really regrets not telling anyone where he was going, because he thought he was Superman and could do anything. He thought he could tame Nature, but instead he had to hack off his own arm. If I had a nickel….

The movie gets a bit surreal at times with the flashbacks, but it still is rooted in reality. You feel for Aron and experience everything that he does. Throughout the movie he speaks to his video camera and it becomes a journal of sorts. The real Aron Ralston had a video camera with him in the canyon, and he shared the footage with Danny Boyle and James Franco. I’m sure that was an extremely valuable tool, because you see Aron’s breakdown and it feels real, because it was real. Whole parts of his mental decline are just reenactments of a real person losing control. It is as close to becoming insane as I ever want to be.

This is a great film. It inspires you to go out and experience nature (just make sure you tell people where you are going). It makes you want to call your mom and have a heart to heart. It makes you glad you didn’t have to cut off your arm.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Mondays

Mondays suck. They are like the first day of school, but it happens every week. You can’t avoid them. I’ve tried going from Sunday to Tuesday a few times, and it only worked once, and it involved a shit ton of Nyquil. Monday is the start of the average workweek, and there is nothing worse than going to work Monday morning and thinking that Friday might never come.

Mondays are big in pop culture. Garfield hates Mondays. Office Space has that annoying reoccurring line, “Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays.” The Mamas & the Papas had that song “Monday, Monday.” Basically everyone hates Mondays. The only good things it has going for it are some decent network shows and Monday Night Football. And whenever you feel glum on Tuesday, you can at least be happy it isn’t Monday.

Critically Rated at 8/17

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)

Harry Potter’s fourth film translation got a new director: a very British and a very boring Mike Newell. This film has its moments but only because the book was filled with great moments. It was a step backwards for the franchise; it pales in comparison to what Alfonso Cuarón did with the third film.

Prior to filming, there was a lot of discussion into splitting the film into two parts because the book was so lengthy. Instead they decided to cut out most of the side plots and minor characters and focus primarily on Harry. By doing this, the film feels very rushed, and you get jerked around from place to place. It gives the movie an awkward flow. The Dursleys are noticeably absent from the beginning, instead we jump to Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys meeting up with Amos and Cedric “Twilight” Diggory and they all go to the Quidditch World Cup. They build up the excitement and introduce all the Quidditch players and then skip right over the game. You don’t see a second of actual Quidditch. I remember thinking that the projector must have made a mistake or they were missing a reel or something.

The whole movie goes on like that. They constantly cut over and skip significant things. And then they have the audacity to add characters like Nigel, and they even give Nigel lines! And they add whole scenes like the kids learning to dance. Why waste precious running time on stuff that isn’t even in the book? There is only one scene with Sirius Black. There is no Winky, Dobby, or Bagman.

Daniel Radcliffe is maturing more as an actor, but this film didn’t give him as much to work with as Prisoner of Azkaban. It is less character driven. Harry’s haircut is the worst out of all the films. It’s one of the worst movie haircuts of all time, up there with Tom Hanks in the DaVinci Code. Emma Watson stands out in the Yule Ball scene, and Rupert Grint’s best scenes were when he was fighting with Harry, and later making up.

The acting from everyone else was decent, Brendan Gleeson does a good job as Mad-Eye. Michael Gambon made a huge mistake as Dumbledore: he would never grab Harry violently like he did when he thought he submitted his name to the Goblet of Fire. David Tennant plays Barty Crouch, Jr. He added an annoying little tongue flick, something that Gleeson copied, and that shows that fake Moody and Crouch are the same person. It is a big “FUCK YOU” to the audience. Inserting Barty Crouch, Jr. into the opening scene with Voldemort and Pettigrew is another big “FUCK YOU.” Please Hollywood, treat us with some respect.

It is always good seeing Potter on the big screen. There are some really cool sequences in the movie. The first task with the dragon was really dynamic and action packed. It might be the best Harry vs. Magical Creature moment in all the films. It was good to see Moaning Myrtle again, creepy as she is. The second task underwater was eerie and memorable. The climax at the graveyard redeems the entire movie. First off they kill Twilight, and I love anyone who kills Twilight. And Voldemort comes back and gathers his army and him and Harry have a sweet light saber battle. I mean wizard duel. Yeah, that part was cool.

All in all the movie is entertaining and you have to see it if you’re watching the Harry Potter saga, so you can’t really avoid it. It just leaves a lot out, and maybe splitting it into two parts wasn’t such a terrible idea. They cut out a lot of important things, and some of the things they included didn’t need to be there. It was a step in the wrong direction for the movies. It might be some people’s favorite film, but some people eat glue sticks.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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Lay’s Garden Tomato and Basil

Lay’s classic potato chips get a slight flavor boost. It is reminiscent of a margherita pizza. It’s like they dehydrated a pizza sauce or Ragu or something and added that to chips. Try them, you might like them. I’ll stick to normal flavors like sea salt and salt & pepper and salt & vinegar. American flavors.

Critically Rated at 11/17

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Back to the Future Part III

Marty and Doc are back for another adventure, and this time they are cowboys. Because why the hell not? This is a period piece like the first film, only Marty and Doc are in Hill Valley in 1885. Part II and III were shot back to back, so there is a strong sense of continuity between the two sequels.

A lot of people like this movie. I think they just like seeing Little Marty dressed up like a Little Cowboy. It is the weakest installment of the trilogy. For a movie series involving a time machine, and all the ideas introduced in the second part, it is a real let down to have them be in the old west. They could have done anything or gone anywhere, and it’s pretty lame to have them be cowboys for the whole movie.

ZZ Top makes an appearance as the band at the clock tower festival. The only guy in ZZ Top with out a beard is named Frank Beard. That’s your fun fact for the day.

It is kind of weird how Doc mentions multiple times how he wished he never invented the time machine because it causes nothing but trouble. But then he goes ahead and invents a flying train time machine and takes his wife  (that he shouldn’t have ever met or married) and his two creepy kids with him as he goes back and fourth through time and space, probably causing all sorts of alternate timelines and parallel universes. I guess his character doesn’t really grow or develop.

The first film is classic. The second was a fun and interesting look at time travel, bringing up ideas of paradoxes and alternate timelines. And the third is a let down. It has its moments, but the story is a let down. The first one is more than a period film because Marty gets to interact with his parents when they are teenagers. That is a great concept. The third one is a dumb period piece. The people of 1885 have no impact on his life in 1985. Sure Marty gets to hold his great-grandfather and meets his Irish ancestors, but that doesn’t compare to the weird love triangle between his parents and him in the first film.

This film has its moments. But most memorable things are just an homage or references to the first two films, like seeing the clock tower being built, or seeing relatives to Hill Valley citizens that we’ve met in the first two movies. Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen is a great version of Biff, a dumb bully with a gun. Clara Clayton was unnecessary character. Good for Doc for getting some loving, but her character is annoying and not well thought out.

It is a decent movie, but the first two were superior. Time travelling sequels should be about time travelling and not about being cowboys.

Critically Rated at  10/17

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