Tag Archives: Christopher Lloyd

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).


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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).


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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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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).


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