Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is still fun 25 years later

alex winters keanu reeves bill and teds excellent adventure

When I was kid, we had a birthday tradition specific to a family that liked to watch movies: the birthday boy (or girl) got to pick the movie that night. My wife and I reintroduced this tradition – at least for me – after we got married. In the past years we’ve watched classics like Aliens, films I wanted to give another chance like Temple of Doom (still didn’t like it, by the way), and some that I wanted to see again as an adult like E.T. This year’s film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, is none of those. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but after watching it again I now consider it just a pleasure.

It’s always interesting to see something as an adult but remember seeing it as a kid. The jokes in Bill and Ted mostly hold up – Napoleon screaming “merde!” over and over as the subtitles repeat “SHIT!” is still funny – and there are a few grown up jokes I definitely missed the first time around. I especially love Bill and Ted’s mangling of historic names (Beeth-Oven, apparently an ad lib) as well as Beethoven’s list of favorite composers: Mozart, Handel, and Bon Jovi.  And the ending, cheesy as it is, is still totally entertaining. It’s not for nothing that I tried to persuade a friend who was valedictorian of a military strategy graduate program we were in to give his speech a la Bill and Ted (“And now, the greatest military thinker who ever lived, Carl von Clausewitz!” – cue a local actor riding in on a horse). Needless to say, he politely declined my offer to help write it.

After spending too much time on Wikipedia reading about time travel paradoxes after seeing Looper, Bill and Ted’s take on time travel was refreshing. It’s basically an infinite source of deus ex machina plot points (“Trash can, remember the trash can!”) that gets our heroes out of literally every bind, and it quickly becomes a satire of so many overwrought time travel tropes. That and some other touches, like the fact Lincoln’s “four score and seven minutes ago” speech actually comes at about the 87 minute mark, make me feel Bill and Ted is actually a lot smarter than it looks.

But aside from finding the film still generally amusing and cleverer than people assume, I was surprised how watchable it was. Bill and Ted was made for only $10 million ($20 million in today’s dollars), but it still crams in a location shoot in Rome, solid camera work throughout, and special effects considered decent by most 1980s standards. And this was a movie that was in limbo for so long its stars didn’t even realize it had been released and was a hit (apparently Alex Winters was in Texas on another project and couldn’t figure out why he was being mobbed at a diner).

I was thinking about ending this post with some stupid Bill and Ted homage (“It was a most triumphant birthday!”), but then remembered that I tried that the Monday after seeing the movie for the first time – somehow, my friend Tony Garcia and I made it all the way to third-period gym before a teacher finally sent us to the principal’s office.  So instead, I recommend you check out Winter’s AMAs on Reddit. Aside from being a total film nerd (his favorite part about being in The Lost Boys was working with the DP who shot Raging Bull for god’s sake), he’s got a lot of great advice on movies and documentaries in particular.  Plus he shares a killer story about walking into a Halloween parade recently with Keanu Reeves (they’re still close) and having someone refer to “two old fat dudes trying to look like Bill and Ted.”

By not deciding what kind of Star Wars film it wants to be, Rogue One stumbles

rogue one

When The Force Awakens came out last year, a lot of people complained about how derivative it was of A New Hope. While I didn’t think the film was perfect, that wasn’t one of my complaints. So my anticipation for Rogue One, which is not only a “stand alone” story but also one that, in the words of its own director Gareth Edwards, represents a shift from the tone of the rest of the series, was pretty high.  Finally, a Star Wars prequel/sequel that could stand on its own. Rogue One makes a good effort, and it really succeeds on the visual front. But in almost every other way, I found it inferior to The Force Awakens.

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Hell or High Water has a message and it’s not afraid to let you know

hell or high water

I’d been looking forward to Hell or High Water hitting iTunes since it came out – it got great reviews, and my in-laws actually went to the theater to see it. (These are the same in-laws who laughed their way through The Witch, though, so I’m not sure how well our tastes align these days.) Hell or High Water doesn’t disappoint in that it’s a solid crime drama. If anything, it’s a little too solid.

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Hitchcock makes a great popcorn flick with North by Northwest

cary grant roger thornhill eva marie saint eve kendall north by northwest

Due to a very long story, my family spent the last few weeks in a series of short term rentals. One of them had possibly the most eclectic collection of DVDs I’ve seen in a while. No-brainers like Finding Nemo and The Hunger Games sat next to Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (which sadly we never made it to).

So I’ll go ahead and cop to this embarrassing mistake – the original post referred to Verhoeven’s film as Little Black Book.  Thanks to Nuwan Sen for the very diplomatic correction in the comments below.

But the owners had a large Hitchcock collection and thus my wife and I finally got a chance to see one of his most celebrated films: North by Northwest. Having seen a fair amount of Hitchcock, I was a little surprised to find this one pretty light hearted, albeit still impeccably made.

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Frozen probably deserves a place among the Disney renaissance classics

frozen anna kristen bell

As mentioned before, in my teenage years I thought about being an animator. This dream, unlikely as it was, was largely a byproduct of the so-called Disney renaissance, the string of animated hits from The Little Mermaid to The Lion King that marked the studio’s return to prominence after some lean years. I stuck with it long after the renaissance had faded, finally giving up after seeing Tarzan. That long sabbatical (and the fact that my daughter was far too young for the juggernaut that is Frozen until now) allowed me to approach this with more objectivity. And what struck me the most about Frozen is how much it has in common with its more distinguished predecessors.

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Rosemary’s Baby is simultaneously incredibly modern and incredibly dated

mia farrow rosemary woodhouse john cassavetes guy woodhouse rosemarys baby

The final Shocktober film was my wife’s contribution. Neither of us had seen Rosemary’s Baby, and both were encouraged by its inclusion on so many “scariest movies ever made” lists. It certainly has the best pedigree of the month, if not the best reputation (that one probably goes to Halloween). It was the oldest one as well, and like Halloween it shows its age, albeit in a different way. Rosemary’s Baby is stuck firmly between two worlds – on the one hand it feels ahead of its time, and on the other too old fashioned.

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Halloween has to be content being the first, if not the best

michael myers jamie lee curtis laurie strode halloween

Of all the Shocktober films I’d planned on watching, I was looking forward to Halloween the most.  I feel like I’ve spent the whole summer being reminded of John Carpenter’s influence on the genre, and I was especially looking forward to the iconic score after the synth-fest that was Stranger Things.  So imagine my shock – and not in a good Shocktober way – when I was disappointed.

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