Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Utah, get me two

I saw Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure back in '89 or '90, I believe. I caught it on VHS at my friend Michael's house. He was from a very religious family, not even letting the motherfucker celebrate certain holidays. But they were OK with Bill and Ted, I suppose. It's a good thing the sequel Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (which I saw on VHS on my own in '91) did not go out under the original title, Bill and Ted Go To Hell (or something like that) or they would've probably locked him up in his room with all that hidden porno he had stashed away. To be honest, even in my young age, I thought both films were amusing but I never got into them as much as everyone else. Saw them once, I did, and never again until last night at the New Beverly. I wanted to give them another try, because so many years had gone by and I was a different person when I was a kid. Back then, my life was all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dreams about space travel (I wanted to be an astronaut, but had to settle for being a space cadet) and since then, the only thing that's remained the same is my penis size.

So yeah, let me talk about my visit to the New Beverly Cinema to see both films, back-to-back, in the 2nd of two Bill & Ted evenings hosted by Bill himself, Alex Winter -- or as I prefer to remember him, Hermosa from Death Wish 3. The night before, there was a Q&A with the man but for the 2nd night, co-screenwriter Ed Solomon joined, as well as Kimberley Kates, who played one of the princesses. I arrived and managed to find a seat; the night before was sold-out, and while it didn't sell out this time, there was still a healthy amount of people in the audience. Among them was a dude in what looked to be an Adidas jacket; "Teddy!" yelled out 2 girls, and they went over to him, gave him a good proper hug, and then took a seat on each side. Teddy is a pimp. I want to be Teddy. There was also a long-haired bearded man who I will just refer to as Greg Nicotero, because that's who he reminded me of. He had 2 children with him, who I assume were his kids -- one was a cute little blonde girl happily skipping down the aisles. Greg looked like a supercool dad, a hippie dad, and that's why his kids will probably grow up to become the straightest of the laced, Republicans even.

Julia Marchese came down, intro'd the movie with Alex, there was a brief to-do, and then the movie started. Sometimes you can just tell an '80's De Laurentiis production by looking at one; they're shot in anamorphic, and unless they take place in another time or place, the locations have a kind of generic quality to them, like they were all shot in the same neighborhood Spielberg shot Poltergeist in or something. This flick has a little of both, since it takes place in 80's San Dimas (played by Phoenix, Arizona) and a bunch of different time periods. The story of the film's release goes that this flick was made in '87, I believe, and De Laurentiis took too many chances in the business, so the payoff for that was his company going bankrupt and the movie sat on the shelf for over a year. Then Nelson picked it up for a song, and then I guess they went bankrupt, and then Orion took it, and then they went bankrupt after the sequel. Somewhere during this, the film got released. Despite the film's financial success, Winter would later say during the Q&A that any studio that handles Bill & Ted will eventually go bankrupt, based on past evidence.

I guess I have to give a synopsis here for whatever reason, but Bill & Ted are two high-school dudes who are about to flunk their history class, which in turn will change the turn of events that lead to them becoming a rock band that in turn leads to the salvation of the human race, the planet Earth, the goddamn universe, really. So the future dudes send George Carlin back to 1988 San Dimas to hook up with our heroes and give 'em a time-traveling phone booth that will allow them to kidnap famous historical figures to use for their history class presentation tomorrow afternoon. So yeah.

You know what really stood out for me this time around? The lead characters are pretty nice guys. I mean, they do have a moment where they mock each other's tender hug moment by calling out "Fag!" but that's kinda understandable, if not acceptable in today's pussied-out P.C. world. I mean, this just followed a brief bit where one thought the other was dead, and it's kinda touching how (relatively) serious it is when Bill (or Ted, I get them confused) tries to take out the guy he holds responsible. Earlier in the movie, he tries talking himself out of a fight, admitting to be "weak". But at this point, the emotions take over, it's revenge time, and he just doesn't give a fuck. Of course, he loses, but then Ted (or Bill, I get them confused) comes in and saves the day. Then they hug. After immediately realizing what they did, they gotta macho up and act like that was some bullshit, hence "Fag!".

But yeah, I don't recall anything resembling Mean or Malicious coming from them. Solomon would refer to them as "innocents" during the Q&A, and I agree. You remake this shit now, and 21st Century Bill & Ted would constantly make dickhead statements and mock the shit out of everyone. Here, even their cutdowns ("How's it going, royal ugly dudes!") seem to come from a playfulness rather than an evil better-than-you attitude that has infected our youth for a long time, probably around the time Saved by The Bell came on the air. I mean, I love that piece-of-shit show, but I don't think it's a coincidence that that's when that shit started.

Any goodwill towards Anyone Different was destroyed when that motherfucker Screech came along, allowing Zack and every other asshole to slap him on the head with their folders whenever he did something stupid. Fuckin' Screech, look what you did taking that shit. You shoulda turned around and said "STOP THAT SHIT OR I'LL FUCKIN' KILL YOU, YOU FAKE BLOND COCKSUCKER" and I bet you even Slater woulda backed off, because he doesn't wanna fuck with that kind of unknown-until-now rage. According to this program, there were no more levels to reside in, no gray areas. No, now you were either supercool Zack or nerd-ass Screech. There were even a couple Bill & Ted types -- more like surfer types, actually -- in that show, and guess what? Mocked like a motherfucker. They were lumped in with the Screeches of the world. Fuck being good-natured, only cruelty survives in this bitch. Watch that fuckin' show and tell me I'm wrong; Zack treats any outsider like a fuckin' douchebag, while Bill and Ted always try to be friendly. Zack would use you to try to score some bullshit concert tickets, he doesn't care about you. Bill and Ted would treat you to something from the Circle K, they wanna make a friend. It's only in self-defense that they would ever pull some shit and melvin you.

Another thing that stood out from this viewing is how depressing the ending is, if you think about it. I mean, we just got to see these historical figures act all wacky and goofy and have those fish-out-of-water shenanigans you expect to see when you drop motherfuckers like Beethoven in 1980's suburbia. And in the end, after Bill and Ted make their presentation, we cut to our heroes hanging out in their garage, ready to jam out. But we never saw them return the people from the past. I mean, we know they did, but I think it would've been a bummer to see that, especially when you know what's waiting for them on the other side: Death.

Lincoln would go on to take a fucking bullet in the back of the fucking head. Poor cute little Joan of Arc (as played by poor cute little Jane Wiedlin) would soon know the horrific feeling of being roasted alive, wondering if this is what God had intended for her. Socrates would get no love from The Man, then get forced to drink hemlock but at least he'd tell those motherfuckers it ain't no thang. Napoleon would face Massive Fail and end up dying on some fuckin' island, like those motherfuckers from Lost. Beethoven either drank himself to death or had a shit doctor giving shit treatment. Sigmund Freud would eventually find out the Yul Brynner way that maybe he shouldn't have smoked so many cigars. Genghis Khan would eventually get shot to shit by John McClane up at Nakatomi Plaza. Billy the Kid would have a movie made about him featuring an awesome song by Bob Dylan, only to have that shit balanced out by another movie with a song by Bon Jovi. They shoulda had one of those title card endings like American Graffiti, totally bringing you down from your movie high by telling you the fucked up shit that happened to the characters later in life.

In between flicks, there was a Q&A. Solomon and Winter had a good back-and-forth, and near the end Ms. Kates would join in with some stories about filming the castle scenes near Rome (part of the De Laurentiis package) and dealing with lunch breaks, Italian-style (2 hours long and wine was served, which lead to many cast/crew members hesitant to return to work). At one point, Kates brought up that being driven to the location by the wannabe Mario Andretti behind the wheel would cause her to throw up. Solomon cut in by saying something like "You were also bulimic" which brought a nice mix of laughs and groans from the audience.

The idea for Bill & Ted came from a bunch of performances Solomon and co-screenwriter Chris Matheson and some other dude would do in some theater, basically to amuse themselves. It used to be Bill, Ted and Bob, but the 3rd character soon fell by the wayside. It got to a point that Ed and Chris would do these characters all the time, so it was natural to create a screenplay about them. Originally, the idea was a darker one; what if Bill & Ted were responsible for all the horrible things that happened in history, like the Holocaust? For some reason, they didn't continue with this idea. In their earlier drafts, Rufus was a high-school sophomore in his late 20's and the time-travel device was a van. Solomon also had a funny story about how Dino De Laurentiis had a personal copy of the script that was translated into Italian, and somehow a line in the scene description describing our heroes returning to "the world of San Dimas" came out in the Italian script as "the war of San Dimas" and eventually Dino got all Italian mad about it and insisted there was no such war. Solomon also admitted that even he and Matheson couldn't really distinguish Bill from Ted, or Ted from Bill, and that most of the dialogue in the script wasn't designated to either character until late in the game.

Solomon also brought up that during casting, he and Matheson took a break at a McDonald's, stressed out over not being able to find the right actors to play the leads. They noticed 2 guys ahead of them in line, a few places down. Solomon said something like "Damn, THOSE guys are Bill and Ted! Why can't we use them?", referring to their unusual behavior. It turns out it was Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, doing some Method-y shit and taking their characters out into the public. Winter recalled what he felt were prank-style auditions; even after it was pretty clear he and Keanu Reeves were in, they had to read against every young actor in town. At one point, he noticed his co-star looking very down, and asked him what was wrong. "I'm playing Ted", he said, complaining that his heart was set on playing Bill. Winter did a pretty good imitation of a bummed-out Keanu.

Questions were asked, except for one. A cute girl in the front row, wearing pigtails, excitedly started to ask a question about the 2nd film when suddenly Julia cut in. She called her by her name, Shannon, and asked that she refrain from asking anything spoiler-ish for the uninitiated in the audience. I have to give props to Julia for somehow sensing where that shit was going and shutting it down like the most badass member of the Movie Police. An action like that is normally referred to in the common vernacular as Putting That Bitch In Check, but I didn't feel bad for Cute Pigtail Girl because obviously she and Julia knew each other, either that or Julia has the psychic ability to look at someone and Just Fucking Know what their name is. Come to think of it, I think this Shannon might be the same Shannon who I follow/follows me on Twitter. If that's the case, allow me to give you a pervy cyber-wink while raising my imaginary cocktail, little lady. I hope you got to ask your question.

Another guy asked Alex if there would ever be a sequel to the criminally underseen Freaked; the response was a masterpiece in sarcasm, basically going on about how Fox calls him 5 times a day begging him to make another one and that they would give him any amount needed to make it. So, I guess no. He and his Freaked co-director Tom Stern are looking into revisiting his old MTV show The Idiot Box, though.

After a ten-minute break, Winter and Solomon returned for an intro to the 2nd film, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Ms. Kates had since left, and I would guess her part being recast for this movie might have something to do with that. Anyway, the movie started shooting in January '91 and they had a locked-down release date to meet six months later (it ended coming out a month later anyway); you can detect the moviemaking types in the audience by listening for the gasps of disbelief after that was mentioned. The overuse of "Station" was brought up; for the record, Winter hates it, and it didn't sound like he was a fan of the alien scientists either. "Station" came out of a typo when Solomon had deleted an entire San Dimas Police Station scene while writing on his computer, save for one word: Station. From there on, it became a running joke between him and Matheson, constantly saying Station to each other. That spilled into the screenplay, and that's why we have some motherfucker saying "Station!" every 5 minutes or so.

So in this one, that fuckin' asshole from Lethal Weapon 2 (the bad guy who said "Diplomatic Immunity!", not Mel Gibson) decides that he's not happy with the utopia of the future, he wants to run shit, so he sends evil robot Bill and Ted to the '91 San Dimas to kill the real Bill and Ted and fuck up their televised audition which is somehow the 2nd turning point in their lives and what will ultimately lead to tranquility in the universe and all that other shit. I guess it's no spoiler that the robots do in fact kill our two heroes, but that's where all the fun begins, in the afterlife.

I liked the first film more the second time around, and I really liked the second one the second time around. It's even more whacked out in both story and style (different director, this time out). With the exception of recasting the princesses, they kept it pretty true to the first, with other cast members returning and one character who was mentioned in part one (Colonel Oats) shows up here, played by that fuckin' asshole from Major League. There's less George Carlin this time, but still nice to see him back -- Winter applauded when Carlin first appeared on-screen, much respect. I also dug the continuity of the side characters involving Missy the hot stepmom, Bill's dad, and Ted's dad. All this goodness and plus you have Pam Grier's fine ass show up.

Can't leave out muthafuckin' William Sadler, who plays Death in this one. According to Winter, Sadler's an awesome guy and they've since become friends (Sadler also appears in Freaked) but being a hardcore old-school New York theater actor meant that Sadler pretty much stayed in character as the dour, humorless Grim Reaper which didn't make him the most fun guy to be around between takes.

Winter prefers the second film, and I can see why. You get the sense that they were able to cut loose on this one, compared to the first film. Part of that, I think, was that Solomon and Matheson specifically wrote this with Winter and Reeves in mind, as opposed to the first one, when they had no idea who would play the two leads. This time they were able to cater to their strengths and weaknesses; certain lines and actions now seem funnier depending on who is saying/doing them. Plus, there's also the benefit of having done something before that worked, and probably being given more free rein by the Powers That Be as a result.

Solomon and Winter also mentioned that the 3rd act originally was written to have more of a balls-out crazy Terry Gilliam feel to it, before being pared down to something that felt a bit more like the original's climax, for whatever reason. Even then, things got taken up quite a few notches visually. It's interesting that while the 1st one was shot in Scope and the 2nd one is flat, it's the 2nd film that feels more epic as a result. In addition to some more gross-out style gags and grotesque characters and make-up (Bill's grandma, in particular), there's plenty of inventive camerawork to spare; One of the early scenes features a crane shot that starts from an elevated position outside an auditorium, moves down to meet up with Bill and Ted, then backs up into a van and ends with the leads closing the doors in our face. The sequence in Hell, where Bill and Ted are running around narrow corridors feel like some Jacob's Ladder meets Cube type of shit. I'm surprised director Peter Hewitt hasn't gone on to make a horror film, unless you count Thunderpants.

It was cool to watch the movie while trying to listen in on Winter and Solomon's mumblings to each other (they were sitting behind me) and you can tell they were digging the film (it had been a while since either one had seen it). They apparently found Chris Matheson's cameo hee-larious, which it was, but I don't know if it was for the same reason I found it funny. Anyway, I'm done here. I had a good time and dug both films more the 2nd time around, especially Bogus Journey. The idea of a 3rd was brought up, and Winter and Solomon are only down if they can come up with something that doesn't suck; the films were profitable and I'm sure they could get another made if they wanted to, but they don't want to make another one for the sake of making another one (I hope the Ghostbusters motherfuckers have their shit together on that issue).

Honestly, I'm fine with the 2 movies -- the end credits sequence pretty much work as a coda for Bill and Ted's adventures anyway -- and while part of me would like to see what's up with our guys as they approach middle-age, another part of me wants to take that other part of me, drag it outside, and beat it to death with a baseball bat for even entertaining the thought. I'm nothing if not conflicted.

Almost forgot -- during one of the intros, Julia suggested that Alex return to program a week of films at the New Beverly. Definitely looking forward to that, should he take on the offer. And that's it.