Celebrating the Non-Death of Goldblum: Jeff’s Ten Best Roles

1 Jul

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July 1st, 2009-

Last week was a rough one for the celeberity world; three taken in the space of only a few days. After Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, Jackson’s death hit like a ton of bricks. The news was sad to be sure, but I hadn’t been keeping much track of Michael recently and had never been the kind of fan others were. Then, when my wife and I got home that night I was greeted by emails and news that Jeff Goldblum had died too. WHAT?? HOW? I was initially heartbroken–I’ve been following his career ever since The Fly and believed he was poised to do something big; afterall the last few projects had been some of his best work even if they flew under the radar of most. Of all the news, this one hit me the hardest. Crap. Jeff Goldlbum. People are only gonna remember him for Independence Day and Jurassic Park, I thought. Well, no they won’t. From here on out we can remember the time we thought Goldblum died.

It didn’t take long to cut through the muddle and rumors and realize that Goldblum was alive and well, and apparently dating the lovely Tania Ramonde, 30 years his junior. Not too shabby,Jeff. You beat the reaper and managed to snag the girl all in the same week. Jeff went on Stephen Colbert’s show recently and eulogized himself, only to begin to doubt his own survival. You can catch that HERE.

 Since Farrah and Mike have passed, everyone is talking fondly of their work again, no mention made of their more embarrasing or alienating moments. It took their deaths to bring the appreciation back. Too little, too late. Well, I’m not gonna be the guy that waits Mr. Goldblum. Let the appreciation start right this moment. I honestly think you are one of the most interesting actors out there, and I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed by one of your performances(wait, no, there was Cats and Dogs…shame on you for that!). Yep, folks, Jeff Goldblum is an underrated and underappreciated treasure to the film world. Hopefully, this rather comical series of events will bring he and his work back on the radar.

Goldblum is an unusual performer; with a gangly, gawky appearance, eyes a little too large, ears a little pointy, Jeff still manages to bring off a certain charm and charisma. The guy can play nerdy, alluring, scary and funny almost effortlessly. By his very presence, he brings something unique to the movies he’s in. In the 90s, the blockbuster filmmakers noticed this quality and started casting him in almost stock character roles where he would waltz off and steal the entire show. And then he disappeared for awhile.

Rest assured, he has still been working and doing some of the best work of his career. So, what’s next for Mr. Goldblum? Well, he has a few pictures lined up over at IMDB, but hey if the rumors are flying, let me start a new one. Christopher Nolan taps Jeff Goldblum to play The Riddler in the next Batman film.C’mon, you know it would work! He’s got the brainy element, the sardonic wit and the creepy charm and he can switch from goofy to intense with the drop of the hat. Nolan has shown himself to be very canny in his casting thus far. Give Goldblum the chance. He still has magic in him.

For my money though, Jeff, if you are going to do a comic-book/superhero style thing, go with The Shadow.Lamont Cranston is the role you were born to play.

And now, without further ado, the most interesting roles of Jeff Goldblum’s career:

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10. Independence Day

What, really? Yes, really. It’s true, Independence Day isn’t high art, and I wasn’t blown away by it even back when it was released. Still, it was a fun and good-natured B-movie, hearkening back to those black and white Alien-eats-the-world movies of the 1950s. The greatest weakness it has is the corny ending whereby Goldblum uploads the computer virus. The movie is filled with stock characters and generic plotting, but one thing I will give Roland Emmerich. He knew how to cast a picture back then. Goldblum is a just a cable guy here but he comes off like a scientist, and he’s one of the few I find believable in that role. Add in the wide-eyed staring at the emerging saucers(no one gawks at blue-screen better than Goldblum), the strange pauses, use of hand signals at bizarre moments and Jeff takes a completely generic character and gives him the breath of life. He also manages to hold his own with the swaggering younger Will Smith, which back then wasn’t easy. The two were only together for the last twenty or so minutes of the film but they had a unique comaraderie. I’d love to see both  together again in something. Bad Boys III: Rise of the Goldblum?

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9. Hideaway

 I doubt many have even seen this one. Like Independence Day, it isn’t a great movie, but it turns out to be a great showcase for Goldblum and that other-worldly sensibility that plays into alot of his performances. Based on a book by the Playdough Play Factory of the horror world, Dean Koontz, Hideaway was released in 1995, smack between Spielberg’s dino-ride and Emmerich’s alien invasion. Goldblum played Hatch Harrison, a man who drowns and is resuscitated at the hospital. He is dead for a seriously long time, and during that time he visits an ethereal, animated afterlife where his disembodied soul flies around and takes in the sights–the writhing figures of a knotted Hell and the ethereal, angelic forms of Heaven. When he is brought back, life returns to normal…almost. He is having visions of young women being murdered and he realizes he has a link to a killer who was also brought back to life by the same doctor who saved him. The plot was ridiculous, and the supporting cast wandered around as if they were lost, but Goldblum did something impressive. He made us believe in this terribly unlikely story and he was actively involved from beginning to end, and as a result so was I. It takes a gifted actor to transform crap into quality. Nice job!

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8. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

If there is one place Goldblum belongs it is in the quirky, near-storybook worlds of Wes Anderson and The Life Aquatic is the Anderson film that most resembles that fable-like sensibility. In the movie, Goldblum has a small but hilariously smug role as the new husband of Murray’s ex, Angelica Huston. Watching the three actors play off each other is marvelous fun and the last third of the movie gives Jeff one of his weirdest moments on-screen. He has been captured by modern day pirates and Zissou and crew have come to their hideout to rescue him. He gets shot in the arm and for the next twenty minutes he runs around with the rest of the gang, one arm hanging limp and dead at his side, flopping like a stranded fish.  Easily one of the funniest and oddest moments in any Anderson film.  

 

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7. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

This is a treasure. How did someone manage to make a movie with Peter Weller, Jon Lithgow, Clancy Brown and Jeff Goldblum, about a team of inter-dimensional rockers known as The Hong Kong Cavaliers fighting the evil Dr. Lizardo and his alien henchman, and the world didn’t explode as a result? Although there is an odd western theme lurking around this terrific piece of schlock, only Goldblum’s character, New Jersey, is dressed like a cowboy. This is one of the earliest movies where his knack for comedy and bemusement at the predicaments he was in on-screen, really mattered. Buckaroo Bonzai is mind-bogglingly silly but when out-of-place actors like Goldblum play the material with a certain sincerity it all works. If you haven’t seen this, and you think it sounds up your alley, then check it out. You will be baffled but not disappointed.

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6.  Into the Night

Wow, is this movie ever underrated. Directed by John Landis (Animal House, American Werewolf in London) and starring Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and a host of famous faces, including the late Jim Henson, Into the Night is very similar to the Scorsese pic After Hours. Both movies tell the story of a hapless man meeting a mysterious woman who then proceeds to embroil him in a series of nightmarish events that take place over the course of one night. Griffin Dunne has Roxanne Arquette in After Hours, and Goldblum has Pfeiffer here. But Dunne also had Scorsese behind the camera, so After Hours is the superior surreal nightmare of urban alienation. Still, Into the Night works as a basic action-comedy and Goldblum gets a chance to show how flexible and quick on his feet he can be as an actor. Pretty much everything that happens here does so at a rate that makes your head spin. Almost everyone else gets lost in it, but Jeff manages to keep reacting to his rapidly changing surroundings in a way that feels right and accurate. Like Dunne, we feel for him and want him to make it safely out of this night.

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5. The Tall Guy

Another hidden gem of the 80’s, The Tall Guy is a broad, slapstick British comedy that features Goldblum as an American actor who meets a nurse in London, played by Emma Thompson, and hi jinks ensue. Rowan Atkinson was along for the ride here, and everything is so over-the-top and yet sweetly charming. I’m not often a fan of the madcap comedies, but this one is ratcheted up so high it’s hard not to fall into a surreal fugue while watching it. Odd too, is that Thompson is playing off-the-wall, while Goldblum is more or less the straight man. They have a real chemistry in the movie and it’s a pleasure to watch them navigate the absurd jumps of the plot. I’m not sure of the availability of this one, but see it if you get the chance. It proves that Goldblum is a natural when it comes to comedic timing.  

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4. Jurassic Park

Ahh, yes. Dr. Ian Malcolm. Mathematician, rockstar and near dino-chow. Lets not forget that in the original Crichton novel Malcolm was not only far less interesting, but killed off. When Goldblum took the reigns here, he offered up something unusual; a genuinely interesting and individual character in the middle of a big popcorn movie. We liked him, he echoed the themes of the movie in a way that didn’t seem (too) heavy handed and he showed genuine awe and fear when interacting with the dinosaurs. It seems far easier for performers to get lost in this type of movie than a one or two person indie drama. Particularly more nuanced actors like Goldblum. Here he took everything he had learned from his early career and let Spielberg put it to glorious use in his monster movie. He was even good in the sequel, despite the fact the script lets him down.

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3. Raines

Never seen this one? It only ran seven episodes and was then cancelled, which of course is pretty much expected these days when you have something unique and thoughtful, which Raines definitely was. Goldblum plays a detective that starts seeing ‘ghosts’ after a personal tragedy strikes. Well, that is not exactly true. They aren’t ‘ghosts’ in the sense we think of them; they aren’t the actual souls of the dead. Instead, Raines/ unique mind takes the facts, evidence and personal info he finds while investigating murders and creates a version of the person who then proceeds to talk with him, shoot the breeze and help him find their killer. It’s an odd idea, and a hard thing to get on board with in a visual format. How do we keep watching when the main character is more or less talking to himself? Well, the answer lies in Goldblum’s natural eccentricity. He comes off as a smart cop, but also extremely odd. The show could have been just another wacko cop spectacle, but it wasn’t. It had heart and energy and it lasted about two months. Tsk. Tsk.

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2. The Fly

This is one of Goldblum’s best performances for a number of reasons. For one thing, he draws on all of his skills and quirks and odd habits to make Seth Brundle a smart, compassionate and sinister individual. That alone is a very hard thing to do; very few science fiction films ever get the mad scientist right. There has to be a spark of genuine passion, courage and curiosity at work in them. He conveyed that. He had great chemistry with Gina Davis(far more than in Earth Girls Are Easy) and then there was the real challenge. One of the other strengths of the film is Cronenberg as director, but this also means that Goldblum is faced with the challenge of evoking all of those biological fears and insecurities that the horror director likes to mine in his work. In other words, Brundle spends the last half of the movie with his youthful, toned body falling into pieces and puking on things in order to eat them. How do you make that work as an actor? Goldblum does it though; he never loses sight of the man inside the bug.

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1.Adam Resurrected

This is really commendable. You don’t often have an actor who has been working as long as Jeff has, and their most recent work is their strongest. This is the last film of his to be released, and it is no doubt a really odd one. Paul Schrader tells the story of Adam, an actor trapped within a concentration camp who is commanded by Willem Dafoe’s Nazi officer to pretend to be a dog. Goldblum’s Adam does this, while also being responsible for signing off the death sentences of Jews coming through the camp; this includes his wife and daughter. He emerges from the experience physically intact but damaged and he now resides at a mental hospital where he charms both the nurses and the patients. When a young boy who behaves like a feral dog shows up, Adam begins working with him, struggling to find the humanity that still resides in both of them. It’s way wierd, but thanks to Jeff, it is also surprisingly emotional and powerful. It’s an original creation featuring several original actors and Goldblum leads them all in one of the strangest but affecting films I’ve seen in awhile.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating the Non-Death of Goldblum: Jeff’s Ten Best Roles”

  1. DGDB July 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    Good write up. I love The Blum. Though, I would have ranked Alistair Hennessey in the Top 3, and swapped Independence Day with Silverado. I always thought he was fantastic as a scumbag in that. But this is your list….not mine. Great work.

  2. Xiphos July 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    Bartleby, you forgot Tenspeed and Brown Shoe! The Blume and Ben Vereen TV classic from 1980. II lasted like 10 episodes maybe, It’s better then the Life Aquatic in my opinion. Danny made a good point about Silverado. Blume was wonderfully slimey in it.

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