What a Character Blogathon: Christopher Lloyd

One of the great things about the What a Character Blogathon is that it is a blogathon whose theme literally can be repeated on an annual basis. This being the third edition of the series is a testament not only to the passion of the bloggers involved, but also to the plethora of talented so-called character actors that have graced the silver screen through the ages.

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When thinking of whom to write about, and noting that there was no restriction with regards to era of film, Christopher Lloyd came immediately to mind. Mr. Lloyd occurred to me not only because he is still currently active; though perhaps not usually in the caliber of production worthy of his veritable skills, but also because his career has spanned quite a few decades, and in true character actor form in some of them you may have forgotten or not realized that “Oh, yes, that’s him too.”

Though he does have a few appearances and characters that are well known to all movie fans Christopher Lloyd is on that list of actors that not only makes me smile when I see him show up in a film, he is also prodigious enough such that he can nearly elevate an entire movie all by his lonesome – as will be evidenced below.

Christopher Lloyd has be around for sometime such that you may not know (depending on your age or what you’ve seen) he was occasionally credited as Chris Lloyd early on, or that we was nominated for Primetime Emmys (Taxi) and was mostly known as a TV actor early on in his career.

He has since 1975 accumulated more than 180 credits on the big and small screen. Below I will discuss some of those roles that have had the longest lasting impact through the years. As this is about an actor who is active I have, where possible, pulled in video clips to help illustrate my points.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour (2012)

I have been a fan of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour from the start, I wrote about as such here. Even though the current (fourth) season has jumped the shark, or nuked the fridge if you prefer, it had a very good run. The balance of juvenile horror and humor elements in the Grampires episode that Christopher Lloyd played the titular role is being a strong indicator:

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Make no mistake that I truly hate this movie, but as I mentioned in my initial review the standout is the monologuing of Christopher Lloyd. By this day and age’s standard’s Lloyd is now a throwback so it’s more than fitting that he would play the ranting scientist with a conscious in a sci-fi film, an older archetype rarely seen anymore, much like his talent for being somewhat theatrical yet relatable and human.

You can see a clip here.

Snowmen (2010)

Snowmen is the kind of film that I liked, and functioned on a very basic level almost in spite of itself. Put it this way: it’s a film where one character’s entire involvement was confusing and detracted from proceedings. That being the case there is a lot of slack for everyone to pick up. When a story is ostensibly just about breaking a Guinness record actors with chops are needed to add any kind of gravitas to it. This film gets them in a few cases Lloyd especially is among that company.

Clubhouse (TV Series, 2004-5)

It’s a TV show but I did want to include this because it was one scene I found as opposed to a whole trailer or a whole work. One thing you find on a résumé as long and varied as his are involvements you forgot about. This was one of many short-lived series I’ve watched through the years. I’m not sure it stands out as being more deserving of extra time than other shows but it was taking a risk. Lloyd’s character of a curmudgeonly equipment manager is a great fit. This scene with Billy Dee Williams is evidence of that.

Camp Nowhere (1994)

This is the kind of role that was made for Christopher Lloyd. Sure the plot where kids create a fake summer camp to have a free summer and get parents off their back is outlandish, but he elevates it so well. Lloyd’s character being a frustrated thespian plays into the plot and gives him license to do great things and make this film work much, much better than it should:

The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993)

This is a role I recently had to remind myself of. Another thing that is easy to forget is that this film was taking a risk plot-wise. There was no such risk taken in casting the film as they assembled quite a slew of talented players here. Lloyd’s expressive face brings the perfect amount of life to Fester Addams and makes him odd and endearing in equal measure. He follows admirably in Coogan’s footsteps.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Out of all of these roles I’ve mentioned here this is the one I was chomping at the bit to write about. This is the movie from my childhood that made Lloyd stand out and made him a legend in my mind. Yes, I saw Back to the Future as a child and enjoyed it, and him in it; but here’s where time and time and time again I was enamored by his verve by the charisma he brought to a villainous character. Where I became mesmerized by what he and Hoskins were able to incarnate in an animated world.

My personal barometer for labeling a film a classic is at least 25 years in nearly all cases, which means this film was jettisoned there last year. If it is a film that will find new generations remains to be seen, but it certainly has a stronghold for those who grew up with it and Lloyd is a huge reason.

Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future III

This is the one we all know. I traveled in reverse chronological order in part because this role is the given, it’s his most well-known character. I don’t mean to diminish it, but I wanted to include it in a sea of his performances to illustrate the rather Gloria Swanson-like point that it’s not him that’s gotten small, it’s the pictures:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

With the memorable performances both large and small in this film it can be easy to forget that this was Christopher Lloyd’s debut performance. After all this is the film of Louise Fletcher’s legendary turn, of one of Jack Nicholson’s Oscar wins, of Will Sampson’s stunning nearly-silent turn and stereotype busting, Sydney Lassick’s brilliant neuroses, and also of a very young Danny DeVito. Yet, Lloyd as Taber adds a counterpoint to McMurphy’s new, vital frustrations with seasoned ingrained frustrations beyond just his mental disturbances.

Other Works

His appearances in film genres run the gamut from dramas like Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981); works of horror like the Masters of Horror episode written by Clive Barker (Valerie on the Stairs) or the TV anthology film Quicksilver highway. Myriad children’s film the Disney Angels series (…in the Outfield, …in the Endzone), Kids World, voice work in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, Dennis the Menace a slightly tonally askew criminal.

Conclusion

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Touchstone Pictures)

In watching Whoopi Goldberg on Inside the Actors Studio once I recall how she related a story about how the ‘bigger picture’ of a film’s success or failure by looking at either box office or aggregated reviews can obscure the fact that films can affect individual lives. That was the thought process I had as I assembled clips mostly from lesser-known and under-seen performances. An actor or filmmaker can make a name for oneself in a film that’s a breakway hit, but it’s the titles that not everyone really knows, that are more unique and personal to your tastes that really bind you to an actor.

These days he may not even be supporting in the caliber of works he used to, but Christopher Lloyd is persistently a bonus and a boon to a film. Often I can say “at least Christopher Lloyd is in this” so it won’t be that bad, but oftentimes it makes something good even better. He’s one who brings his all to everything he does and rewards your engaging in a film a consummate entertainer who is quite a character indeed.

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2013 BAM Award Considerations – September

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
House of Bodies
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Branca’s Pitch
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
Insidious: Chapter 2
Aliyah
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
In the Name Of
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe
Breakout
Standing Up
Don Jon
Cody the Robosapien

Best Picture

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines

Best Foreign Film

Beyond the Walls
The Gradmaster
Aliyah
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
In the Name Of
Die Farbe

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

Branca’s Pitch
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
Die Farbe

Best Director

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
Die Farbe

Best Actress

Sharni Vinson You’re Next
Lily Collins The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Ziyi Zhang The Grandmaster
Andrea Riseborough Shadow Dancer
Melonie Diaz Fruitvale Station
Clotilde Hesme Three Worlds
Olga Kurylenko To the Wonder
Marah Schneider Die Farbe
Scarlett Johansson Don Jon

Best Actor

Matila Malliarakis Beyond the Walls
Jamie Campbell Bower The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Michael Shannon The Iceman
Tony Leung Chiu Wai The Grandmaster
Clive Owen Shadow Dancer
Michael B. Jordan Fruitvale Station
Patrick Wilson Insidious: Chapter 2
Raphaël Personnaz Three Worlds
Pio Marmaï Aliyah
Andrzej Chyra In the Name Of
Ingo Heise Die Farbe
Joseph Gordon-Levitt Don Jon

Best Supporting Actress

Brid Brennan Shadow Dancer
Octavia Spencer Fruitvale Station
Lin Shaye Insidious: Chapter 2
Arta Dobroshi Three Worlds
Julianne Moore Don Jon
Glenne Headly Don Jon

Best Supporting Actor

Guillaume Gouix Beyond the Walls
Robert Sheehan The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Kevin Zegers The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Jonathan Rhys Meyers The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Chris Evans The Iceman
Ray Liotta The Iceman
Jordi Mollà Riddick
Steve Coulter Insidious: Chapter 2
Jean-Pierre Malo Three Worlds
Javier Bardem To the Wonder
Mateusz Kociukiewicz In the Name Of
Theo Barklam-Biggs Hammer of the Gods
Michael Kausch Die Farbe
Tony Danza Don Jon

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Maya Lauterbach V8- Start Your Engines
Annelise Basso Standing Up

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Georg Sulzer V8- Start Your Engines
Chandler Canterbury Standing Up
Bobby Coleman Cody the Robosapien

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Maira Laird Shadow Dancer
Ariana Neal Fruitvale Station
Klara Merkel V8- Start Your Engines
Tatiana Chiline To the Wonder
Holliston Coleman Cody the Robosapien

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Ty Simpkins Insidious: Chapter 2
Garrett Ryan Insidious: Chapter 2
Tyler Griffin Insidious: Chapter 2
Andrew Astor Insidious: Chapter 2
Samuel Jakob V8- Start Your Engines
Tom Hossbach V8- Start Your Engines
Nick Romeo Reimann V8 – Start Your Engines
Rylan Logan V/H/S 2
Phillipp Jacobs Die Farbe
Leon Schröder Die Farbe
Jonas Zumdohme Die Farbe
Christian Martyn Breakout

Best Cast

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
In the Name Of
Die Farbe
Don Jon

Best Youth Ensemble

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe
Standing Up
Cody the Robosapien

Best Original Screenplay

You’re Next
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Don Jon

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Shadow Dancer
Die Farbe

Best Score

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
Die Farbe

Best Editing

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
Die Farbe
Don Jon

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Shadow Dancer
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Cinematography

You’re Next
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe

Best Art Direction

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Costume Design

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Makeup

Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2

Best Visual Effects

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
Insidious: Chapter 2
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe
Cody the Robosapien

Best (Original) Song

Beyond the Walls
V8- Start Your Engines

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Genremeld (Part 10 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Creepshow, Weird Science, Time Bandits, Splash, Big, Back to the Future, The Witches of Eastwick and My Stepmother is an Alien all of these films crossed genres to try and make something new and unique, and this was a staple of 80s filmmaking.


It has been said that nothing really original has been said after 1800. In film much the same conundrum exists in that there really are no new stories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t crave films. More so than any other decade prior the 80s were expert at recombining genres and on occasion creating something new or at least different enough that everyone flocked towards it.

One of the great hits of the genremeld was Gremlins. Never before or since has there been such a perfect balance of the horrific and comedic. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here it wants you to laugh and gasp in the same breath.


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

In the film Gremlins we have two important things occurring: first, this is one of the first films of the Spielberg School. It was written by Chris Columbus while he was attending NYU he later went on to work with Spielberg on The Goonies. It was directed by Joe Dante a former Corman protégé who later in the decade directed Innerspace and Matinee. Plot-wise this film is very important in that it’s a great example of the ’80s habit of fusing genres. Many ’80s many horror films were unintentionally funny this one is attempting to be purposely funny and succeeding. It was also quite frightening mostly to young kids because the cute, little furry things mutate into nasty, putrid beasts.


Structurally, this film is very tight. In the opening scene where the father (Hoyt Axton) buys a mogwai we are given rules, a trait common to many fantasy films, they are ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight and they hate bright light.’ The breaking of these rules end up being our act breaks and/or plot points. The first act ends in one of the most clear-cut fashions I’ve ever seen. Gizmo, the mogwai, gets water spilled on him in the 25th minute of the film and we see his progeny pop right out of him.


What a lot of people fail to notice is that there was actually a new creature invented for this film under the guise of an old myth. Gremlins were supposedly little monsters placed in machinery during World War II by the Germans. This creature comes from China according to this tale. It also allows for slight social commentary when Mr. Futterman complains about foreign cars and also while drunk he professes to believe in Gremlins in the classic sense. In the 1980s foreign cars truly bothered people enough such that the phrase ‘Buy American,’ was coined. 


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

The Spielberg School was always very big on ‘in-jokes,’ which can be readily apparent to the audience but are often missed (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky Rialto has the same billboard lettering as, and similar artwork to, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gizmo hiding behind an E.T. doll). There is also a cameo by animation director Chuck Jones. 


The characters in this film are quickly established. We see Rand Peltzer, the father, haplessly trying to pedal his invention, Billy (Zach Galligan) signing a petition, Kate (Phoebe Cates) works at a bar for free and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) refuses to give a family more time to pay their loan. This film is funny and fun-filled and allusions to classic cinema are also play an important part in this story there is a clip from It’s a Wonderful Life and the Gremlins watch Snow White and in a hysterical turn they love it. There’s also mimicry of a popular film at the time Flashdance, and it’s great. The whole second half of this film is a wonderful mix of the hysterical and the creepy and sometimes both. Mrs. Deagle is thrown from her Stairmaster out the window to die in the snow. This shouldn’t be funny but it is. Then on the gross-out side we see a Gremlin melting in the sunlight. We also have the music of Jerry Goldsmith in this film who is wonderful composer who will turn out tunes just as hummable as Williams’s, but he specializes more in these fun types of films.

Gremlins was a big hit grossing $148 million on an $11 million dollar budget, and it’s easy to see why. It turns from a horror/comedy and there’s a lot of action thrown in. We laugh at what we shouldn’t. This is also one of the more tastefully done ‘horrors-on-Christmas’ films with a Gremlin getting chopped to bits while Burl Ives’s ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is playing. I used to be deathly afraid of this film and it took me many years to gather up the courage to see it again. I’m very glad I did see it again though because, as strange as it sounds, this film is even whimsical in the way it handles its subject matter. As an adult, I don’t know who would be truly afraid of it but it does offer its fair share of the horror currency known as the “gross-out.” It’s so well handled in that regard I think we may be in suspense for a bit waiting for something else like it.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s- Special Effects (Part 3 of 17)

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part three you can read part one here and part two here.

The 1980s were marked by the emergence of the computer into mainstream American culture. The increasing accessibility and availability of this tool made its impact on the entertainment industry in a very powerful way. In 1984 one of the most famous commercials of the year was Apple Computer’s ‘Big Brother’ a play on Orwell’s 1984. While unlike the 90s where computers would soon come to reside in well over half of America’s households, and the science fiction aspect and the improbability of the device was demolished; they were becoming a much more practical tool.

The key in revolutionizing computerized effect lay with one man. In 1977 George Lucas formed Industrial Light and Magic to create the effects for Star Wars. Working out of Marina County California his company soon started to work on effects for many films. Their first heavy volume of releases was in 1985 with Back to the Future, Cocoon, Explorers, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes which with ‘The Stained Glass Man’ had the first fully computer generated character. The rest was history in 1986 comes Aliens which took the computer generated character to the next level and it’s been an ongoing game of “Can You Top This?” ever since.

The fact that the special effects craze came about in the late 70s and grew exponentially in the 80s is like kismet. This was a decade that was jam-packed with action films but also had an abundance of fantasy films still around. This new technology opened up possibilities for narrative never before seen and they were used, for example, a journey inside a human body in Innerspace. The kind of film that was in demand with the American public was also the kind of film that was well-suited to the new special effects technology.

Before the apathetic generation-x-ridden 90s when films of social dementia disguised as poetry like American Beauty would run amuck, the 80s was a decade riddled with myth and fantasy, here’s a sample: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Neverending Story, Legend, Dark Crystal, Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator and so on. Escapism being a large part of the cinematic formula coupled with the youthful audience allowed for these advances and this type of storytelling which is only recently beginning to creep back into being.

The shift away from fantastical storytelling that occurred in the mid-90s and lasted until about 1999 in a way has impeded the progress of CGI. While in some films it blends in perfectly and is breathtaking in others it sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure, there are films and studios that will be cheap, but had there been more constant works the floor of marginally acceptable CGI would’ve risen. The man who is always breaking the glass ceiling of CGI excellence is George Lucas, and he says he tries to push other directors with every film he does, hopefully people will follow suit.

The computer generated image is one of the few things from the 80s which was expanded upon in the 90s. The technology has some very practical uses such as digital stunts and extras. With this technology the director’s vision can more easily be realized where as if something doesn’t exist the way he sees it can be created. This is one of the 80s lasting legacies. When we’re looking back upon this decade we, of course, can’t forget some of the films that came out of the decade, but we must also remember that filmmaking was forever changed in this decade because ‘Special Effects’ became a term that we could apply to almost every film. A new cinematic tool was beginning to be fully realized and is still being perfected to this very day.

 Footnote and Work Cited:

1. The Empire Strikes Back won an Academy Award for Special Achievement in Special Effects. The following year it was a category at the awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Drangonslayer were nominated.


2. Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones Dir. George Lucas. Feat. Hayden Christiansen, Ewan Macgregor, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee. 2002, 20th Century Fox. DVD extra features.