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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Once Upon a Time In The 80s: Sequels (Part 4 of 17)

“Leaves the door wide open for a sequel,” is a phrase that was not part of the cinematic vernacular even in the 1950s. It really does sound like something you’d say after watching a slasher movie. These films, of course, were very popular in the 1980s, but just because you didn’t see a horror movie didn’t mean you were safe from someday hearing of a sequel.
 

In the 1970s the ‘pre-sold’ product became a big thing with studios there were many literary adaptations so logically sequels would soon follow. In 1981 there were 42 sequels produced worldwide; in 1989 there were 124. By the end of the 80s there were six Police Academys, five Halloweens, Howlings, Star Treks and Nightmare on Elm Streets; if you wanted to kill someone you could strap them to a chair and make them watch these in succession. There’s probably more but it would get redundant. As opposed to the positive legacy of special effect, the 80s left us with a trend that has only gotten worse. While there are no new series that are growing ridiculously, although Friday the 13th has reached 10 [now 11 with a 12th in development], it is much easier for a film to get a sequel now such as Legally Blond which didn’t even hit 100 million, but was made on no budget so the profitability was easier to hit. Another new trend is immediately announcing a sequel: when Spider-man opened with $115 million dollars in its first weekend the studio announced plans for a sequel. Opening weekend sequel plans have become commonplace and they can be directly blamed on the 80s who exacerbated sequel-mania in a need for guaranteed money.

While the contrived sequel can be called a spawn of the 80s on the good side there is also the series. The difference is that a series is a story that is not supposed to be in one film or book as the case may be. While there was only Indiana Jones and Star Wars these films helped develop the business concept of ‘the franchise,’ more so to me than the other films than those sequelized ad neauseum. The franchise by my estimation is a designed series of films that will also be a cash cow. To me these two series planned by Lucas and Spielberg are what set the stage for some of the better films of our times.

The studios relied on the sequel for easy money because the horror films that made them all their money were pick-ups. The Slasher Trinity of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street were all independent productions which cost their respective distributors practically nothing. Thus, when they each took off like rockets they didn’t want to see the profits stop. And like at anytime in film history, you never know what’s going to be a hit and what isn’t, no matter how much test research you do. So they figure they’d just repeat what worked. And people went, and will go, if only out of curiosity.

While I can justify all these sequels that seemingly have no point I in no way excuse them. Because what started as just a rash has become a plague and now any film which shows and inkling of profit potential is a candidate to be butchered and repackaged in a sequel. For the most part I very much enjoy these films of the 80s, but a tendency towards needless repetition is something I can live without.
 

Work Cited:  http://us.imdb.com/List?year=1989&&tv=on&&keywords=sequel&&nav=/Sections/Years/1989/include-commongenres&&heading=8;sequel;1989

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

Review- Alabama Moon

Uriah Shelton, Jimmy Bennett and Gabriel Basso in Alabama Moon (Faulkner-McLean Entertainment)

Alabama Moon is a film whose road to distribution was a long and winding one. In fact, it’s eventual home video release (which is how I ended up seeing it) was delayed because it finally got a limited regional release in the Gulf states, mainly Alabama (naturally). It’s worth noting that this model is not unusual. The straight-to-video release isn’t as profitable as it once was, and for some reason just as maligned even in this Streaming Age, so limited releases will act as a springboard for DVD sales.

Alabama Moon tells the tale of young Moon Blake, a boy who is raised in the woods by an eccentric father who is wary of both modernity and the government. Very early on, and rendered rather dramatically, Moon loses his father and much of the film will deal with how Moon tries to cope on his own, while trying to avoid authorities like a bumbling quasi-humorous cop played by Clint Howard or the clutches of a reformatory.

The standout of the film is the performance of Jimmy Bennett, who plays Moon Blake. He was most recently JJ on No Ordinary Family but is perhaps known for playing young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. While Bennett has played in much grittier, darker and dramatic vehicles before such as Trucker and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things this may just be his best performance to date. This role demands a lot of him not just in terms of highly-charged emotional scenes but also some comedic timing is required and he needs to be a grounded normal-seeming character in the film’s goofier moments. As I tweeted immediately after watching it he basically makes it worth watching on his own and is “crazy good.”

There are other performances of note as well. Those deserving first mention are Moon’s friends played by Gabriel Basso and Uriah Shelton respectively. They play very different kinds of characters but are equally good foils because it never seems unnatural that Moon would befriend either because they both seem to reflect disparate aspects of his personality both a fighter and a quiet, solitary type.

The adult casting offers more mixed results. John Goodman’s character thankfully plays a more crucial role later in the film than it seems he will early on and is very well played. Then we come to the last key figure which is the police officer played by Clint Howard. Now merely casting Clint Howard, or that you can cast him in the part, is already an indication of how you intend to play a part. Howard can play a creepy menacing type but more often than not he’s goofy and here he’s like a mean-spirited Barney Fife only less competent.

It’s in that writing and casting decision where the die is cast that the tone of the film will be a balancing act between very serious drama in a coming-of-age vein and lighthearted borderline screwball comedy that must counterbalance one another. It is to this film’s credit that it manages to keep them both in check and make the film both light viewing and emotionally engaging at the same time and also some of that credit once again goes to the cast.

The film manages to deal with quite a few themes in a subtler than expected manner despite the variegated tone. One of the main ones being individuation from parents specifically that one can accept their parents’s faults, love them for who they are and learn from them but must eventually learn to see the the world, and interact with it, in their own way.

It may be easy to read this review and see why this film has fallen through the cracks as it’s not exactly the easiest to pigeonhole, however, I hope that in reading this review you have also found it is worth your time.

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this film and I’m very glad I tracked it down.

8/10