Christopher Lloyd

Frasier (1993) s02e04 – Flour Child

I missed the Christopher Lloyd credit during the opening titles—James Burrows directing is no surprise—so I got to watch the episode without any writerly expectations. It feels somewhat like a first season episode, back when the show was establishing its take on structure. Here, we get a big setup to the episode from Peri Gilpin (I was right, her being mad at him calling her a slut is forgotten) giving Kelsey Grammer his itinerary because he’s helpless. He’s got a card to sign for a sick guy, then out to dinner with dad John Mahoney and brother David Hyde Pierce.

It certainly seems like an awkward dinner out with Mahoney setup, but it turns out to be this hilarious scene with Grammer, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce having to deliver cabbie Charlayne Woodard’s baby. Lots of great lines—and perfect performances from Woodard, Mahoney, and Hyde Pierce (Grammer staying out of the way because the actors on “Frasier” never try to upstage).

But the episode isn’t about the delivery, which apparently involves Hyde Pierce bravely running up the block to get hot water from a restaurant; it’s about Hyde Pierce wanting a baby of his own and carrying around a sack of flour to get the feel for it.

The episode does a beautiful job letting Hyde Pierce be bumblingly terrible with the “baby,” while also being entirely sympathetic. Mahoney thinks the whole thing’s stupid, which has some validity, but Hyde Pierce manages to so earnest. It’s still comedy though, with the teleplay the thing and Hyde Pierce’s almost touching performance just in service of the episode overall. There’s really good acting on “Frasier,” with a mix of styles, all working out.

Jane Leeves and Gilpin are support—Gilpin for a Grammer subplot involving the get well card and Leeves as additional laughs around the apartment. And Leeves gets them. She’s got a scene bantering with herself (voicing character Daphne arguing with her mother) and it’s absolutely fantastic.

It’s a rather good episode. Burrows keeps just the right pace.

Frasier (1993) s01e12 – Miracle on Third or Fourth Street

It’s a Christmas episode and a good one. Just the right amount of humor and heartwarming, with Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) ending up alone on Christmas and in need of some good fellowship as it turns out.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly for Grammer’s first Christmas with Mahoney in Seattle, with his son coming in to visit him. They’re going to the Crane family Christmas at the cabin, where Maris will shoot at bears with her shotgun, which gets David Hyde Pierce a good laugh. Only the son cancels—no cameo from Bebe Neuwirth when she calls, unfortunately—leading Grammer to lash out at Mahoney, which dampens the holiday spirit.

So instead of family time, Grammer works the radio, unknowingly dragging Peri Gilpin in, away from her visiting mother. Grammer’s already gotten Gilpin a crappy Christmas gift, so when she gets too upset listening to the miserable Christmas callers, he sends her home. The image of Grammer alone in the sound booth, the voice of lonely Christmas, is rather affecting. James Burrows does an excellent job directing Grammer this episode.

Because it’s basically an all-Grammer “Frasier.” Once the family stuff is out of the way—including a great Hyde Pierce’s Daphne moment (sadly, Hyde Pierce’s adorable perving is usually separate from Leeves’s performance) and a major cringe transphobic joke—it’s just Grammer and the callers.

There are bunch of celebrity guests—Mel Brooks, Rosemary Clooney, Dominick Dunne, Ben Stiller, and Eric Stoltz—each with one story more devastating than the last. Writer Christopher Lloyd finds a great mix of humor and misery in the calls. They’re tragic but also funny in how tragic.

And then there’s the layered “Frasier” pay-off when Grammer goes out to dinner at the only place he can find open (where he doesn’t need a reservation), a greasy spoon run by Christine Estabrook. Grammer sits next to sleeping John Finn, who turns out to have been the subject of one of Grammer’s Christmas calls.

Great performance from Finn.

Then cool bit part from Hawthorne James.

See, Finn and James are experiencing homelessness but when it turns out snob on the sly Grammer might be in need of goodwill toward men… well, there’s a nice wholesome Christmas miracle.

And then a great punchline.

Exactly what a Christmas episode should be.

Minus the transphobic joke.

Frasier (1993) s01e04 – I Hate Frasier Crane

This episode has two celebrity guest callers—Judith Ivey is the patient and Joe Mantegna as part of the plot. Mantegna is a Seattle Times newspaper columnist who can’t stand lead Kelsey Grammer’s show. Grammer has a couple great monologues where he reads from the articles and rants about them. Mantenga calls up during the second one and challenges Grammer to a fist fight outside the coffee shop, which causes a whole lot of grief for Frasier and family.

See, dad John Mahoney of course wants Grammer to fight. Mahoney hasn’t lived down the first time Grammer ran away from a fight, when he was ten. Meanwhile, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) stays out of it until the actual fisticuffs are about to kick off and then he’s more interested in hiring the mariachi band—the fight has live music, children with balloons, and people on their lunch breaks.

The episode introduces Mantegna and his column in the first scene, when Hyde Pierce shows up for dinner—and is quite taken with Jane Leeves’s eau de parfum… ranch dressing. It also leads to one of those great “Frasier” layered jokes from writer Christopher Lloyd. The first shot in the scene—before Hyde Pierce even arrives—sets up the eventual punchline for the scene. It’s fantastic.

And there’s some more great stuff from Grammer as he reacts to Niles’s gawking at Leeves. Mahoney’s endless grace is great too.

It’s Grammer’s episode though, with Hyde Pierce and Peri Gilpin around just as tertiary supporting. Mahoney’s got a scant subplot about looking into an old case, which leads to Leeves doing a psychic read on it and a great punchline once Grammer comes in.

The episode also features Hyde Pierce and Gilpin’s first onscreen meeting, though they’ve met at least two times before but Hyde Pierce can’t remember those times. It’s a really funny sequence, with Lloyd getting in a couple big laughs. Hyde Pierce is so good. His quipping ability is bar none.

While the episode does lean a little Grammer-centric, it is his show and his monologues are fantastic. Especially when Mantegna’s column is spot-on. No one indignantly pontificates like Grammer.

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).


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