Christopher Lloyd

Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future gives the impression of being very economical in terms of its narrative… but it really isn’t. Zemeckis just does such a great job immediately establishing the fifties setting, even though there’s less than fifty minutes before the third act, the film feels more immediate.

It takes a half hour to get to the past (until that point, of course, the title doesn’t make much sense) and Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale establish the characters. Well, not the characters, but the cast. No one in Future has much of a character, just a distinct, likable persona. Even Thomas F. Wilson’s menacing thug.

Without the establishing front matter, Michael J. Fox’s trip to the past wouldn’t work, at least not with his parents, Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson. Actually, it might work with Glover, since he’s fantastic. Thompson is not; Zemeckis has problems with female actors–both Thompson and Claudia Wells are weak. Wendie Jo Sperber is good in her cameo though.

While Fox holds the film together, his performance concentrates more on likability than actual dramatic heft. Christopher Lloyd is much stronger; he gives a physical comedy performance some of the time, but also acts as the viewer’s entry into the extraordinary situation. He does quite well.

Of particular note are Dean Cundey’s photography and Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri’s score isn’t subtle, but it’s effective. And Cundey does great work, even though Zemeckis’s composition is pedestrian.

Though sometimes painfully shallow, Future is a lot of fun.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Robert Zemeckis)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, even with the absolute mess of a final act, would have really benefited from a better director.

Oh, Zemeckis isn’t bad. With Dean Cundey shooting the film, it’d be hard for it to look bad and it doesn’t. But Zemeckis doesn’t–apparently–know how to bring all the elements together. The film opens as a Chinatown homage and sort of falls apart once it deviates from that model.

The big problem is Bob Hoskins, his performance and his character. The performance isn’t the fault of screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, but the fully contrived backstory for the character is sure their responsibility. Roger Rabbit‘s so diverting–the animation mixes beautifully with the live action and is always visually engaging–the end credits are rolling by the time it’s clear Hoskins’s character is more cartoonish than the cartoons.

Since any judgment about character development can be delayed, Hoskins’s performance is the film’s bigger problem. He’s charmless in a role more appropriate for Humphrey Bogart. He does, however, work really well (without speaking) during the cartoon effects.

The rest of the supporting cast is very strong–Christopher Lloyd and Joanna Cassidy are both excellent. Voicing the cartoon leads Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner do well… though there aren’t enough great lines from Turner. There are like four, which are all outstanding, but no more.

The derivative Alan Silvestri score gets old immediately and Arthur Schmidt’s editing is bad, but, otherwise, Roger Rabbit‘s fun stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; animation director, Richard Williams; screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, based on a novel by Gary K. Wolf; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designers, Roger Cain and Elliot Scott; produced by Frank Marshall and Robert Watts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit / Benny The Cab / Greasy / Psycho), Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom), Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit), Joanna Cassidy (Dolores), Alan Tilvern (R.K. Maroon), Stubby Kaye (Marvin Acme), Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman) and David L. Lander (Smart Ass).


Back to the Future Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future Part II, while front heavy with special effects, ends up being a small picture. The first half or so deals with the sequel setup from the first movie’s finale but then Part II tells a side story set during the first film. Time travel franchises can be, it turns out, rather economical.

Unfortunately, these economies mostly just show off how Bob Gale’s creatively bankrupt script. The film is reductive, not expansive, with most of the cast wasted. Christopher Lloyd, for example, disappears for large sections, occasionally popping up for a comical line reading. Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson are the whole show and neither do well. Neither are bad, but both have all new character quirks to incorporate. These incorporations are a tad difficult… since the original film looms over this one. And not just because whole sections of the first film’s footage is reused or because the second half involves Fox acting “alongside” himself.

Gale and Zemeckis continue to waste female talent. Elisabeth Shue actually has some decent screen time in the first half, being the viewer’s entry into the future of she and Fox, but then she literally gets knocked out for the rest of the movie. Lea Thompson shows up for a few scenes, does a lot better than Shue (who mugs constantly), before evaporating.

Gone are the first film’s likable characterizations. Part II is an ugly film; nastiness is apparently easier to write. The abject lack of story is shocking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Neil Canton and Gale; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Marty McFly Jr / Marlene McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen / Griff Tannen), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly) and Charles Fleischer (Terry).


Back to the Future Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)

Apparently, all Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale needed for a Back to the Future sequel was a story. Part III, unlike the second installment, has a lot going on and it’s not all tied into the original’s storyline. Instead, Michael J. Fox finds himself in the Old West, trying to save Christopher Lloyd.

Zemeckis and Gale finally reward Lloyd for his time with a good part in this one. Fox’s story is boring–he’s up against Thomas F. Wilson again (Wilson is utterly fantastic)–but Lloyd’s romancing Mary Steenburgen while playing cowboy. There’s also a nice bit for Lloyd set after the first movie. This entry really makes it clear Zemeckis and Gale don’t know what works in these movies.

They include some more nonsense details, with Fox playing his ancestor. Lea Thompson shows up for a scene or two as Fox’s great-great-grandmother or something… it’s unclear if the filmmakers mean to imply the family tree has crossed branches. Probably not; Part III, until the awkward ending (it’s an ending to Part II, not this one), is rather genial.

The Dean Cundey photography is great and editors Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt do excellent work, especially on the unbelievably tense finale. Unfortunately, Alan Silvestri’s score is either repetitive or weak. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise excellent production.

There are nice minor performances from Matt Clark and James Tolkan.

While it finishes the series, Part III does show what works in Future sequels–tight writing, inventive setting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; screenplay by Bob Gale, based on a story by Zemeckis and Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Harry Keramidas and Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly / Seamus McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Mary Steenburgen (Clara Clayton), Thomas F. Wilson (Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen / Biff Tannen), Lea Thompson (Maggie McFly / Lorraine McFly), Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer Parker), Matt Clark (Chester the Bartender), Richard Dysart (Barbwire Salesman), Pat Buttram (Saloon Old Timer), Harry Carey Jr. (Saloon Old Timer), Dub Taylor (Saloon Old Timer), James Tolkan (Marshal James Strickland), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly) and Jeffrey Weissman (George McFly).


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984, W.D. Richter)

Buckaroo Banzai‘s greatest contribution to cinema–well, if it didn’t get Peter Weller the Robocop role at least–is as a warning against trying to adapt authors like Thomas Pynchon to motion pictures. Banzai goes out of its way–the Pynchon references are well-known, to the point Pynchon even referenced Banzai in a novel (Vineland)–and it’s not hard to imagine the film as a novel being a lot better. If the novelist were good, anyway.

But as a film, it’s mostly an example with what’s… maybe not wrong, but what’s lacking in the medium. Richter and writer Rauch are enthusiastic to a fault and do a good job–unintentionally, I assume, but maybe it’s another joke–making Banzai feel like there’s something else going on… when in truth, there’s not.

The film’s absence of subtext or genuine human conflict doesn’t work with Richter’s otherwise fine direction. Richter painstakingly tries not to let it get absurd, when absurd is about all you can do with a New Wave Doc Savage retread.

The script doesn’t allow for much in the way of performances. Weller’s solid in the lead, but nothing spectacular. Ellen Barkin is wasted as the almost always offscreen love interest, same goes for John Lithgow’s alien Mussolini. Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd have nothing to do–the film’s only really impressive performance is from Lewis Smith.

Even Clancy Brown disappoints.

I’m curious if they acknowledged they were trying to sell America a science hero–America hates smart guys.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by W.D. Richter; written by Earl Mac Rauch; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by George Bowers and Richard Marks; music by Michael Boddicker; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Neil Canton and Richter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter Weller (Buckaroo Banzai), John Lithgow (Lord John Whorfin), Ellen Barkin (Penny Priddy), Jeff Goldblum (New Jersey), Christopher Lloyd (John Bigboote), Lewis Smith (Perfect Tommy), Rosalind Cash (John Emdall), Robert Ito (Professor Hikita), Pepe Serna (Reno Nevada), Clancy Brown (Rawhide), William Traylor (General Catburd), Carl Lumbly (John Parker), Vincent Schiavelli (John O’Connor) and Dan Hedaya (John Gomez).


Piranha (2010, Alexandre Aja)

Aja opens Piranha with a pretty deft reference to the original film and follows it immediately with a rather big Jaws reference. The original, ostensibly a parody of Jaws, is absent any kind of reference… so it’s strange to see here. But it’s hilarious. And it might be the funniest of Aja’s other homages to the original, which tend to be on the subtle side.

His approach–to remake Piranha by maintaining the tone of the original, only amplified and modernized (and streamlined quite a bit)–makes it incredibly successful. The 3D is something of a red herring, though effectively used and often rather amusing… but it’s not essential. In fact, when the film does get a little long during a few sequences, it’s because Aja relies on 3D effects (the camera ogling the spring break coeds) too much.

Piranha works for the traditional reasons–a good director, a knowing script and a great cast. I don’t think there’s a bad performance in the entire film–sure, Elisabeth Shue can do the sheriff slash mom role in her sleep and Christopher Lloyd’s a great scientist (slash bait shop owner), but Adam Brody’s fantastic as Shue’s understated heroic sidekick–but there are still some surprises.

Jerry O’Connell’s hilarious as a sleazy softcore porn producer and Kelly Brook’s unexpectedly great as his leading lady. Piranha gets how to establish characters quickly.

Steven R. McQueen, playing Shue’s son and the lead, is solid too.

It’s a really fun, really smart, dumb good time.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alexandre Aja; screenplay by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Baxter; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff, Aja and Grégory Levasseur; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Julie Forester), Steven R. McQueen (Jake Forester), Jessica Szohr (Kelly), Adam Scott (Novak), Jerry O’Connell (Derrick Jones), Kelly Brook (Danni), Christopher Lloyd (Mr. Goodman), Ving Rhames (Deputy Fallon), Riley Steele (Crystal), Brooklynn Proulx (Laura Forester), Sage Ryan (Zane Forester) and Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Boyd).


Clue (1985, Jonathan Lynn)

I didn’t see Clue in the theater, so I haven’t got a… I have no idea how it played without the multiple endings. While it’s a cute idea–a different ending depending on where you see the film, all of them together on home video release–it gets tedious, especially through the second solution (though I think the second is the shortest).

Still, even tedious, Clue‘s a rather significant success. It’s based on a board game without a backstory, meaning Lynn has to come up with a way to get the people together and tie in the board game.

While Tim Curry is the closest thing the film has to a lead (he’s got solo scenes), his character’s a little loose and Curry can’t even remotely essay the dramatic moments. Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Lesley Ann Warren give the best performances. The only bad performance is Lee Ving, who–according to the IMDb trivia page may have been cast based on his name–quite simply, cannot act. He brings down the scenes he’s in, even when tasked with sitting in a chair.

Lynn’s direction of the actors is quite good–though he could open up his establishing shots a little–and he juggles emphasizing them while not ignoring the exquisite set design. Lovely mattes too.

In some ways, Clue‘s less about the board game than the mansion murder mystery genre, using the game’s trappings as a launching point.

Confine well-acted eccentric characters and it’s hard not to succeed.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Lynn; screenplay by Lynn, based on a story by John Landis and Lynn and a board game created by Anthony E. Pratt; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by David Bretherton and Richard Haines; music by John Morris; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Debra Hill; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Peacock), Tim Curry (Wadsworth), Madeline Kahn (Mrs. White), Christopher Lloyd (Professor Plum), Michael McKean (Mr. Green), Martin Mull (Colonel Mustard), Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet), Colleen Camp (Yvette), Lee Ving (Mr. Boddy), Bill Henderson (The Cop), Jane Wiedlin (The Singing Telegram Girl), Jeffrey Kramer (The Motorist) and Kellye Nakahara (The Cook).


Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

Back to the Future has become a detached experience. It isn’t really dated, it’s just hard to interact with the film in the same way one could when its content was more contemporary (in seven years, it’ll be like watching Michael J. Fox as the parent and Crispin Glover as the grandparent). The scenes set in the 1950s, which defined–in modern cinema–the portrayal of the period, feel a lot more “real” than the scenes set in 1985. It’s an odd relationship, one possibly even worthy of some consideration (especially given the film’s–somewhat forgotten–importance in popular culture and Hollywood cinema).

On its own, the film’s still a competent, well-meaning diversion. It doesn’t bear too much examination or consideration–the ending is incredibly problematic–but it’s a fine time. The humor–from Fox’s observations to Glover’s entire performance to Christopher Lloyd’s mugging for the camera–holds up, but feels a lot more comfortable than it should. It might be because the film’s become so engrained in the filmic consciousness–it’s familiar to a point similar to television programs (its stars being primarily television actors notwithstanding). It’s a passive viewing experience… there’s little new for it to offer.

This condition has nothing to do with its age or popularity, there just isn’t much to the story. There are a lot of little details, but the characters are rather shallow. Fox is engaging because he’s Fox, not because his character has any depth. Glover is just the same–I mean, the film never explores Glover’s home life, which is quite telling (Gale and Zemeckis knew they didn’t have room). Lea Thompson, who probably gives the worst performance–she’s okay and effective in parts, but compared to her co-stars, she’s the pits–is only interesting because of what she does, not who she is. Gale and Zemeckis set the tone for future blockbusters here–the actors aren’t playing people, rather personifying caricatures who do amusing things. These aren’t people who live off-screen.

During the way too classy opening credits–they suggest a technical craft Zemeckis simply isn’t capable of applying to narrative scenes–when I saw Dean Cundey was the cinematographer, I got ready for some beautiful shots. There aren’t any. All of the shots are nice and well-lighted and so on, but nothing really grabs. Zemeckis isn’t interesting in that factor (the wonderment factor… there’s never a moment where Fox reflects on the weight of his situation). Cundey does have some beautiful outdoor shots though, even if they’re incidental.

The film’s special effects are solid–the best special effect is the 1950s setting, which feels perfect throughout. The editing is problematic, occasionally revealing the stunt or skate-boarding doubles. Alan Silvestri’s score, which is basically the same as all his other scores, is occasionally annoying, but usually all right. The make-up is first-rate–Crispin Glover practically looks more realistic as a forty-seven-year-old than he does a teenager.

Besides Glover, the best performance has to be Thomas F. Wilson. His villain is evil, but also produces a lot of laughter, mostly because of Wilson’s physical performance. It’s the film’s most difficult role. To be a somewhat lovable bully.

At the end–the much remembered teaser, the one I found so compelling as an eight-year-old–Back to the Future loses its way. It’s already on a shaky path (the narrative takes way too many short-cuts, a forerunner to blockbuster trailer moments instead of actual scenes) but the end just makes it too much. There’s too much to consider, from Lloyd’s future clothes to the quick gag about the garbage. It’s a great set-up for a sequel, but it’s a poor conclusion for a movie.

Worse, it reveals there isn’t any possible conclusion to Back to the Future. Fox doesn’t have an arc (he doesn’t learn anything, he doesn’t change) and no one else really exists….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Gale and Neil Canton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Emmett Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly), Crispin Glover (George McFly), Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen), Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines), Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines) and James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland).


The Dream Team (1989, Howard Zieff)

I’d forgotten how loud comedies could get. Maybe I haven’t seen enough eighties comedies lately, because watching The Dream Team, I kept wondering how I’d never noticed the music in the film before. I saw The Dream Team back on video, probably in 1990–Michael Keaton as Batman might not have been box office dollars, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who rented his movies thanks to the role. I probably haven’t seen it in ten plus years, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film.

It’s hard not to have one, however, since The Dream Team is so nice. Even the dirty, murderous cops are kind of nice (to a point). The Dream Team takes place in a pseudo-reality but isn’t set there, which makes for an odd experience at times. So much of the film is effortless, I don’t think–besides that tone–I ever noticed the direction once, or even the writing, past some issues with the story structure. It’s a benign experience–one with audible laughs, but it’s so mild an exercise, I almost think there should be a genre called the “Imagine Entertainment Comedy.” They could get a trademark for it and everything.

The comedic acting from Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, Stephen Furst, and even Christopher Lloyd is all great. I was most surprised at Lloyd, only because I’m used to him being so bad. Boyle’s absolutely fantastic and has most of the film’s best lines. Dennis Boutsikaris leaves an impression because he seems like he should have done more–high profile roles–but has not. Lorraine Bracco’s in it too and it was funny I had to think about her original Hollywood film career and how it disappeared so quickly. On the other hand, it reminded me how good at comedy Keaton is….

The Dream Team is actually something of a relic–not just of when comedies used to not be so bad, but when studios still somehow made uninteresting projects interesting, either through casting or production. It’s just worth seeing for the performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; written by Jon Connolly and David Loucka; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by C. Timothy O’Meara; music by David McHugh; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Christopher W. Knight; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Billy Caulfield), Christopher Lloyd (Henry Sikorsky), Peter Boyle (Jack McDermott), Stephen Furst (Albert Ianuzzi), Dennis Boutsikaris (Dr. Weitzman), Lorraine Bracco (Riley), Milo O’Shea (Dr. Newald), Philip Bosco (O’Malley) and James Remar (Gianelli).


Flushed Away (2006, David Bowers and Sam Fell)

There’s something a bit off about Flushed Away. There’s some lazy storytelling, but I can forgive it since the rats aren’t physiologically accurate anyway and it is really enjoyable to watch–no, it’s something a lot more base. It’s obvious no one really cares. Aardman productions used to have passion by default–they were stop-motion and stop-motion meant a lot of time making things work–Flushed Away is CG and there’s just something off in the storytelling’s adaptation to the technology. I’m not a fan of CG–I’ve gotten better about it, much like I got to be a DVD supporter over laserdisc (I’m forced to out of necessity)–but Flushed Away’s problems aren’t in the literal adaptation. The fiancée thought the film was the traditional Aardman style, so it’s a visual fit, but the laziness hasn’t got anything to do with the technology. It’s the damn story. There are some nice moments to the film, but it’s all really pat. Maybe it’s just because it goes platonic… Maybe I’m pissed because it’s a cheat.

Anyway, there’s something great stuff–the casting is real good, particularly Kate Winslet, which surprised me. She’s willing to have a lot of fun and her character’s good, surprising even. Hugh Jackman plays the foppish rat who ends up in the sewer and he’s fine, but almost impossible to identify with for a lot of the film. Not in a bad way, he’s just the butt of the jokes. Bill Nighy is great as a thug rat, big shock, but Jean Reno is wasted. Not because his character is “Le Frog” (get it?), but because it’s Jean Reno and that casting is supposed to mean something. It doesn’t. He’s just a French guy.

If you do see the film–and I do recommend it, I’ll probably buy it because it is a pleasant diversion–and you notice there are characters missing from the trailer (I guess Aardman found it easier to produce scenes to cut on computer instead of in reality), you’re not alone. In fact, you’re seeing the big problem with Flushed Away. It’s too short (IMDb says eighty-four minutes and I say long credits) and it’s too slight. It’s an exercise in amusement, nothing more.

CREDITS

2/4★★

Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell; written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Christopher Lloyd, Joe Keenan and William Davies, based on a story by Fell, Peter Lord, Clement and La Frenais; edited by John Venzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, David A.S. James; produced by Cecil Kramer, Lord and David Sproxton; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Roddy), Kate Winslet (Rita), Ian McKellen (the Toad), Jean Reno (le Frog), Bill Nighy (Whitey), Andy Serkis (Spike), Shane Richie (Sid), Kathy Burke (Rita’s Mum), David Suchet (Rita’s Dad) and Miriam Margolyes (Rita’s Grandma).


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