Jeff Goldblum

The Tall Guy (1989, Mel Smith)

Mel Smith is a stunningly inept director. Especially for comedy. Though, given its awkward flashback montages, lack of supporting character resolutions, impromptu musical number, and just over ninety minute runtime, it sure seems like there might be a longer version of The Tall Guy out there. As is, The Tall Guy is way too skinny. So maybe it’s not all Smith’s fault. Or maybe it’s just editor Dan Rae’s fault. Maybe Smith directed a bunch of good comedy and Rae just screwed it all up. Maybe there’s some explanation for why it doesn’t work.

Because lead Jeff Goldblum is really cute. He’s really cute with romantic interest Emma Thompson. The movie’s not cute, but they’re cute. They carry a lot with this movie and don’t get anything in return. Richard Curtis’s script short changes them just as much as everyone else. Including third-billed Rowan Atkinson, who’s an inflated cameo. It’s weird. So maybe there’s a good reason for it.

It’s the fairly familiar tale of American actor Goldblum trying to make it in London. He can’t get any parts because he’s too tall apparently, which isn’t clear for a while because he’s employed at the start of the movie. He works for Atkinson, who’s a bastard physical comedian with a hit stage show. Goldblum’s his sidekick. And Goldblum doesn’t seem to have any ambition past being Atkinson’s sidekick. He just wishes Atkinson would be nice to him. And he wishes his roommate Geraldine James would at least have the courtesy of bringing home a dude to buff who isn’t going to drink Goldblum’s orange juice. Goldblum’s a man of few pleasures, orange juice is one of them.

Until Goldblum has to get his seasonal allergies resolved because it’s screwing up his performance—only it’s not, it’s just getting him laughs and Atkinson is a prima donna who can’t handle anyone else getting laughs. That single tidbit of character motivation for Atkinson is more than Goldblum or anyone else in the film gets. Anyway, Goldblum has to go to the doctor, there he meets nurse Thompson and falls for her immediately. The reminder of the first act is Goldblum getting shots for his allergies from Thompson, not asking her out, whining about not asking her out to roommate James, cue comic bit about what James’s lover of the moment is doing (usually hidden from view and humorously contorted), repeat.

Once Goldblum does go out with Thompson, they immediately get physical in a raucous love-making scene you know is supposed to be funny but it’s really more just dumb. It also results in Goldblum losing his job with Atkinson, which kicks off the second act proper as Thompson will soon tell Goldlbum he’s got to get another job because she’s not dating some bum actor.

Now all of a sudden it’s supposed to be believable Goldblum’s employable as a professional stage actor. This time the absurdity of his potential projects generates the charm, as the film phases out Thompson and Goldbum’s romance, then Thompson almost entirely. How’s Goldblum feel about it? Who knows. He doesn’t have the depth of a head shot.

Affable performances all around, though by the third act you’ve got to wonder how Goldblum and Thompson kept a straight-face through the disastrous third act. Professionalism, pass it on.

Atkinson always seems like he’s about to be really funny and it never pays off.

Anna Massey is fun as Goldblum’s agent.

There’s a poppy score from Peter Brewis. It’s rather energetic, which is something since the film manages to drag even at ninety-two minutes.

Adrian Biddle’s photography is solid.

Smith could be worse at composing shots. He could be as bad at it as he is directing actors.

The Tall Guy’s problematic execution give the film its charm through the first half plus a few, but then once it shatters that charm—intentionally—it’s got nothing to replace it with. Not in the acting, writing, or directing. It’s a bummer for Goldblum, Thompson, and Atkinson; they deserve something for keeping the film afloat. Against some considerable odds.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Smith; screenplay by Richard Curtis; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Dan Rae; music by Peter Brewis; production designer, Grant Hicks; produced by Paul Webster; released by Virgin Vision.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Dexter King), Emma Thompson (Kate Lemon), Rowan Atkinson (Ron Anderson), Emil Wolk (Cyprus Charlie), Geraldine James (Carmen), and Kim Thomson (Cheryl).



Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

There’s a mature way to talk about Independence Day. I should know, I’ve started writing this response about twelve times and this attempt is an entirely new draft. The mature way involves complementing David Brenner’s editing, complementing director Emmerich’s ability to integrate the special effects (regardless of their quality) and saying something nice about some of those special effects. Not all of them. The film has laughably bad explosions and lame matte shots. One could argue it was early in the CG days and it did actually have a limited budget so it did all right.

One could argue those things and, if trying to be mature, one might accept them and consider them.

I won’t be considering them further than this paragraph. Because what Independence Day does is embrace being a half measure, it tells its audience the recognizable but not exactly A-list cast is good enough, it tells its audience David Arnold’s “I’m like John Williams but bad” score is good enough. And it worked, because Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin aren’t serious filmmakers. I mean, they might take Independence Day seriously, which is a mistake because it means the jokes never quite work–Bill Pullman, the stupidest person on the face of the earth, as the President of the United States, in a terrible performance. It ought to be amazing. And it’s never even all right.

Because Emmerich and Devlin aren’t serious. They don’t care about integrity or craft and they know there’s a lot of potential audience who don’t care about it either. And they were right. Emmerich’s handling of the special effects, which very well may have done wonders in acclimating general moviegoers to science fiction action, isn’t thoughtful. His multiple homages to Spielberg are so awkward because he’s clueless. Emmerich knows how to present the visual information for consumption, but he can’t make a single artful thing. And he knows it. Independence Day is hilariously comfortable in its own mediocrity, which is a complement. It would actually be worse if it resented being so lame.

Not to say Devlin and Emmerich don’t exhibit confidence in the screenplay. They do, even down to Harry Connick Jr.’s moron sidekick to Will Smith. Or Randy Quaid’s lovably drunk Vietnam vet crop duster. They know how to do what they want to do. They just don’t want to do too much. Mary McDonnell as the First Lady, for example. She gets a similar treatment as Connick or Quaid, but McDonnell’s good enough to get through the part (she has less to do). She, Judd Hirsch and Adam Baldwin get through Independence Day the best. Baldwin probably gives the best performance (in the film), while Hirsch is downright terrible. But part of the point is admiring Hirsch’s professionalism in his terrible performance. Of course it’s awful, but look at how consistent he is with it. He’s a pro.

Not so much with Jeff Goldblum, who’s playing the really smart guy, only Emmerich and Devlin’s understanding of intelligence is apparently based on reruns of “Head of the Class.”

As for breakout star Will Smith. He’s good about twenty percent of the time. He’s got some annoying dialogue, which Smith essays with gusto, but he still manages to be somewhat likable. Maybe that sympathy comes from the film eventually treating him like a moron. The plot’s moronic, yet Smith has to be even more moronic so Goldblum can explain things to him (and the audience). Smith’s dialogue then has him spout of non sequiturs meant to maintain his independent likability while still acknowledging Goldblum’s superior intellect.

It’s heinously manipulative but also awfully rendered, so who cares? Emmerich’s direction of Smith and Goldblum’s scenes is his worst direction of actors in the film and his direction of actors is atrocious.

The first third, setting up the alien attack, isn’t godawful. It’s fine, if still poorly acted and poorly written. It does start to go downhill when Goldblum and Hirsch join Pullman’s storyline, but there’s still a pace (and some of the film’s best effects sequences).

The rest of it? So much worse. Even Arnold’s music gets worse.

Independence Day is a film with a bad James Rebhorn performance. Such a thing should not exist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by David Brenner; music by David Arnold; production designers, Patrick Tatopoulos and Oliver Scholl; produced by Devlin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Will Smith (Captain Steven Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Thomas J. Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Mary McDonnell (First Lady Marilyn Whitmore), Judd Hirsch (Julius Levinson), Robert Loggia (General William Grey), Randy Quaid (Russell Casse), Margaret Colin (Constance Spano), Vivica A. Fox (Jasmine Dubrow), James Rebhorn (Albert Nimziki), Harvey Fierstein (Marty Gilbert), Adam Baldwin (Major Mitchell) and Brent Spiner (Dr. Brakish Okun).


The Fly (1986, David Cronenberg)

The Fly starts with perfect economy. Director Cronenberg does not waste time with introductions or establishing shots–whenever there’s an exterior shot in the film, it comes as surprise, even after Cronenberg opens it up a little. There’s Jeff Goldblum, he’s a scientist, and there’s Geena Davis. She’s a reporter. The film conveys this expository information by having her interview him. It’s perfect.

And that perfect economy keeps going for quite a while, maybe even half the film. A lot happens during that first half–mad science, romance, jealousy, all sorts of things–and it’s outstanding. Goldblum and Davis are great together, John Getz is excellent as her weird, slightly creepy ex-boyfriend and boss. Cronenberg’s direction is exquisite; he’s utterly focused on these three actors. Even the science fiction visual exposition gets downplayed.

Then there’s a shift, a small one, as Goldblum’s character begins to “turn.” Cronenberg doesn’t allow many horror film sensibilities in The Fly. Instead of trying to terrify the audience visually with Goldblum, Cronenberg pulls back and Goldblum disappears. It’s a problem, because the film loses its momentum and never regains it.

Wait, I forgot–there’s one big horror movie sensibility… a dream sequence. It’s cheap. It’s gross and effective, but it’s narratively cheap.

Amazing special effects from Chris Walas, a nice score from Howard Shore, excellent cinematography from Mark Irwin. The Fly ’s a good looking (and sounding) picture.

Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s ambitions decline as the film finally has to deliver the horror.

Still, pretty good stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and Cronenberg, based on the story by George Langelaan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Seth Brundle), Geena Davis (Veronica Quaife) and John Getz (Stathis Borans).


The Big Chill (1983, Lawrence Kasdan)

With The Big Chill, Kasdan tries to be profound, heart-warming and cynical. He doesn’t succeed. For a film so much about introspection, Kasdan is surprisingly unaware at the inherent artifice. The film’s cast of characters are–if they’re male–extraordinary. There’s some lip service to the women’s successes (doctor, lawyer) but the men are rich or famous. It leads to some contrivances. If Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedeck were more conscious of the artifice, Chill would probably be great.

As it is now, it’s a good film with some great performances, outstanding technical qualities and a lot of boring stretches. A couple of characters are misfires. Kevin Kline’s Southern royalty, besides being a painfully artificial characterization, isn’t believable as a former hippie. And JoBeth Williams is so unlikable, I was confused about her having kids–I assumed, given her heartlessness when talking about them, they were stepchildren.

But there are outstanding performances too. The most surprising ones are Tom Berenger and Meg Tilly. Kasdan and Benedeck don’t give equal time to the cast and Berenger–and William Hurt–are mostly the male leads. The women get far less representation–Mary Kay Place, who’s outstanding, is the closest thing to a female lead.

Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum are kind of window dressing. Their few scenes together, however, are great.

Kasdan’s composition, aided by John Bailey’s cinematography, is often wondrous. A lot of credit for Chill belongs to Carol Littleton’s nuanced editing.

Chill‘s parts are better than its whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Carol Littleton; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Michael Shamberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Harold), Glenn Close (Sarah), JoBeth Williams (Karen), Jeff Goldblum (Michael), Mary Kay Place (Meg), Tom Berenger (Sam), Meg Tilly (Chloe), Don Galloway (Richard) and William Hurt (Nick).


The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Steven Spielberg)

Even though The Lost World: Jurassic Park is pretty bad, it features some of Steven Spielberg’s more interesting work as a director. It’s a b genre picture, with a huge budget and Spielberg directing it. It even has a cute King Kong reference. It’s a singular film in Spielberg’s filmography—even when he does a terrible sequel like Temple of Doom, it’s not as interesting. None of those statements mean one should see The Lost World. It’s tiring and boring; all of the action sequences are stale.

One problem is the CG technology. It’s gotten away from Spielberg. He can do pretty much whatever he wants, so he doesn’t have to think about it anymore and so he doesn’t. The film rushes from CG sequence to sequence, but nothing interesting. This Jurassic Park is intent on being dumb, not even giving the pretense of intelligence. Jeff Goldblum handles it pretty well, but his character is nowhere near as amusing as before.

Another problem is the script. While Spielberg may be responsible for Vince Vaughan’s casting and performance, David Koepp wrote some terrible lines for the character. But Koepp has even more problems—he doesn’t have a story. He’s got Vanessa Lee Chester pointlessly running around (as Goldblum’s daughter); she doesn’t even have a real action sequence.

There’s some good acting—Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard and Richard Schiff are all excellent. Howard’s a great worm.

Even the John Williams score is peculiar.

But being strange doesn’t make it worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by David Koepp, based on a novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), Julianne Moore (Dr. Sarah Harding), Pete Postlethwaite (Roland Tembo), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond), Vince Vaughn (Nick Van Owen), Arliss Howard (Peter Ludlow), Vanessa Lee Chester (Kelly Curtis Malcolm), Peter Stormare (Dieter Stark), Harvey Jason (Ajay Sidhu), Richard Schiff (Eddie Carr), Joseph Mazzello (Tim Murphy) and Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy).


Into the Night (1985, John Landis)

Into the Night is so strong, even Landis’s bad directorial impulses can’t hurt it. One impulse, casting a bunch of directors (including himself) in roles, only fails in the case of Paul Mazursky. Mazursky has a reasonably sized supporting role and he gives a terrible performance.

The other bad impulse is casting as well. Dan Aykroyd shows up in a small role as Jeff Goldblum’s friend. Aykroyd plays it absurdist, like an “SNL” sketch; it would work if the movie were absurdist, but it’s really not. In fact, it’s straightforward, if stylized.

The only other thing wrong with the film is Ira Newborn’s awful score. No idea if he’s a Landis regular.

Besides Ron Koslow’s deceptively brilliant script, the two lead performances are outstanding. Goldblum’s regular guy insomniac is fantastic. He’s so good, it’s hard to believe Michelle Pfeiffer is even better as the sort of mystery woman who takes over his life. Koslow never gives pay-off scenes showing how Goldblum’s life has changed because of the encounter because there’s just no time for it. A pay-off scene would break the realism of the timeline Koslow and Landis create. Into the Night’s not real time and doesn’t attempt it.

Pfeiffer has moments of startling depth and captivates. Since he’s floundering without a specific ailment, Goldblum doesn’t get those opportunities.

Bruce McGill, David Bowie, Irene Papas and Clu Gulager are outstanding in supporting roles.

Landis’s direction is so strong I can’t believe he directed it.

Into the Night’s wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Ron Koslow; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by George Fosley Jr. and Koslow; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Ed Okin), Michelle Pfeiffer (Diana), Dan Aykroyd (Herb), Bruce McGill (Charlie), David Bowie (Colin Morris), Richard Farnsworth (Jack Caper), Vera Miles (Joan Caper), Irene Papas (Shaheen Parvici), Kathryn Harrold (Christie), Stacey Pickren (Ellen Okin) and Clu Gulager (Federal Agent).


Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)

Two big things I noticed about Jurassic Park. First, it’s still a superior use of CG. It really shows how digital effects do not get better with technology or budget or whatever; being used by a good filmmaker makes all the difference.

And Spielberg does a fine job with Jurassic Park. It’s an incredibly impersonal film, which the second thing I noticed really showcases. Sam Neill’s protagonist is so shallow, even Bob Peck’s character—who gets no back story—comes off deeper. Some of the problem is with Neill’s performance. He can’t keep his American accent—in fact, at the beginning it seems like he’s supposed to be Australian, but then he starts suppressing it, only to then let it come through. Laura Dern’s character is even more shallow, but she manages to make the character work with her performance. Neill gets better towards the end, when he finally stops whining about not liking kids.

Once the film gets going, it has a fantastic pace. Spielberg’s direction is strongest here in that regard—he knows how to make the film work and does; he also knows how to get good performances out of almost all the cast. Neill isn’t really his fault.

Besides Peck, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Ferrero and Samuel L. Jackson are standouts. Richard Attenborough teeters between endearing and good. He sells his most important scene.

The John Williams score is excellent, the Dean Cundey photography is good (but not singular).

Jurassic Park’s a fine, pseudo-smart popcorn movie.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on the novel by Crichton; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sam Neill (Dr. Alan Grant), Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond), Bob Peck (Robert Muldoon), Martin Ferrero (Donald Gennaro), Joseph Mazzello (Tim Murphy), Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy), Samuel L. Jackson (Ray Arnold), B.D. Wong (Henry Wu) and Wayne Knight (Dennis Nedry).


Morning Glory (2010, Roger Michell)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good “Hollywood” New York comedy, even longer since I’ve seen a great one.

Morning Glory is a good one. Though, at times, it reminds of a great one—I’m not sure if David Arnold’s score, which is lovely on its own, is supposed to remind of Sabrina, but with Harrison Ford walking around Manhattan… it’s hard not to think of it.

Since he’s lost the luster of superstardom, Ford has actually become an exceptionally interesting actor. His performance in Morning Glory is easily his funniest (he plays an egotistical news anchor) and it’s unlikely anyone but Ford could have made the role work.

But for Ford to work, Rachel McAdams has to work too, because all of Ford’s scenes are with her. McAdams does a fine job here—it helps the film is incredibly well-cast. From John Pankow as her sidekick (the two are fantastic together… McAdams works well with other actors), Diane Keaton (it’s a shock how little she has to do here, but she’s great), Jeff Goldblum (similar to Keaton, but he’s not third-billed), and Patrick Wilson (who’s excellent as the love interest).

Reading over that paragraph, it seems like I’m not giving McAdams enough credit—she really is good. The film couldn’t work without her.

Michell shoots Morning Glory in Panavision; he and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler know how to use it. It looks fantastic.

The only problem is the soundtrack—modern pop songs are weak.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Michell; written by Aline Brosh McKenna; director of photography, Alwin H. Kuchler; edited by Daniel Farrell, Nick Moore and Steven Weisberg; music by David Arnold; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Becky Fuller), Harrison Ford (Mike Pomeroy), Diane Keaton (Colleen Peck), Patrick Wilson (Adam Bennett), John Pankow (Lenny Bergman), Jeff Goldblum (Jerry Barnes) and Ty Burrell (Paul McVee).


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).


The Switch (2010, Josh Gordon and Will Speck)

I suppose if someone wanted to think really hard about it, there’s something to be said about adapting short stories for Hollywood. Jeffrey Eugenides’s source short story was in The New Yorker. Is it ripe for mainstream Hollywood adaptation? Given the adaptation, The Switch, failed at the box office, one might say no. But then if people don’t see good movies (or read good fiction), maybe a New Yorker short story is a good starting place for a mainstream movie.

The Switch is a completely predictable family comedy. It’s not really a romantic comedy because the romance between Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is tertiary to Bateman forming a relationship with the son he never knew he had, played by Thomas Robinson.

The opening third is set seven years before (odd how Aniston and Bateman didn’t age a day) and has a different tone. It’s a lot funnier. The film opens on a hilarious urban sequence. Then the supporting cast–Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson–get introduced and they’re a lot funnier than they get to be when there’s a kid around.

Gordon and Speck earn a bunch of good will and basically spend the last hour of the film using it and it works. It doesn’t hurt the film’s got one of the single best romantic comeback lines since, I don’t know, Empire Strikes Back.

Bateman’s really good here. All of the casting is good, but Bateman’s performance suggests he’s capable of great things.

It’s totally fine.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck; screenplay by Allan Loeb, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by John Axelrad; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jason Bateman (Wally), Jennifer Aniston (Kassie), Patrick Wilson (Roland), Jeff Goldblum (Leonard), Juliette Lewis (Debbie) and Thomas Robinson (Sebastian).


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