Archive for the ‘Bill Murray’ Category

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:



That cover image encapsulates THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL — and maybe even Wes Anderson’s entire career so far — so perfectly: It’s an invented monument of a building in the countryside of a nation that does not exist, soaked in color and leaping out from its drab surroundings. That bright pink hotel looks to me like a rich, fancy dessert, the kind that you can’t attack all at once, not even back when you were a candy-craving kid.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most Wes Anderson-y of all the Wes Anderson movies to date — he has with each subsequent film come up with an intricately-designed, entirely invented realm in which his casts of eccentrics and potty-mouthed poets take refuge from the world the rest of us know — Max Fischer’s school plays, Royal Tenenbaum’s mansion in the middle of Harlem, Steve Zissou’s ship (the Belafonte), the Darjeeling Limited (the finely-painted train traversing India), every minute of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Sam and Suzy’s secret cove (which they call “Moonrise Kingdom”).

This time around, the sphere of existence inhabited by the film’s characters travels beyond the titular location — Anderson has invented an entire country! Not only that, but the story is a flashback within a flashback: Tom Wilkinson plays the older version of Jude Law, who plays a writer interviewing the owner of the hotel who is played by F. Murray Abraham, who in turn recounts the escapades of his younger self (played by the winningly expressive Tony Revolori), the apprentice to a charismatic iconoclast named Gustave H. (a thrillingly unlikely comic performance by Ralph Fiennes — twice as funny here as he was in 2008’s IN BRUGES), who has a flair for theatrics and a lust for geriatrics. Credit for outstanding achievement in protrayal of the latter arena goes to Tilda Swinton, who appears in beautifully grotesque make-up and luxe costuming.

It’s even more whimsical than it sounds, and normally I can’t stand whimsy. But the effusiveness of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and nearly every performance within it, is contagious. The cast is a menagerie of wonderful actors, most of whom have at least once worked with Anderson before. The newcomers fit right in with the stock players — even Harvey Keitel, perhaps the most unlikely casting choice of them all, who nimbly plays past his characteristic gruffness, as a heavily tattooed gulag lifer. Keitel has rarely been this animated and enthusiastic.

Don’t mistake this for an unequivocal rave — THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL continues the odd trend of Anderson underusing Bill Murray, which has been going on since THE LIFE AQUATIC. (I get the feeling Bill Murray keeps showing up just because he enjoys the company, and Wes Anderson keeps finding a place for him just because he’s goddamn Bill Murray and if you’ve got his number you use it.)

But I did enjoy the time I spent with this movie, particularly any of the scenes with either Tilda Swinton or Willem Dafoe, both of whom add unforgettable new grotesques to their lengthy repertoires. I also liked that THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most violent Wes Anderson film  since THE LIFE AQUATIC; the moments of darkness are essential to counterbalance the otherwise madcap nature of the proceedings, and they disarm the common argument (one I’ve flirted with at times but invariably discounted) that Anderson as a filmmaker is merely an indulgent quirkster.

I’m really not sure where Wes Anderson can go next, since THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL goes so far up into what he does that I’m not sure he can go any further. I’d love to see him attempt a hardcore genre picture — maybe science-fiction or even horror –but I won’t count my chickens.

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My love for the original GHOSTBUSTERS is infinite, and the sequel is the only one I got to see in the theaters, so it took me a lot of distance before I could ever admit to the flaws of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. I get it now. It’s not a great movie. It isn’t the stone classic the first one inarguably is. Fine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of goodness happening around the edges of the under-cooked main plot about rivers of slime and demon paintings and weirdly-accented demon-painting familiars.




For one thing, I’m not about to overlook any movie where cinematographer Michael Chapman gets to shoot New York City. The man shot some of my favorite New York movies ever — TAXI DRIVER, THE WANDERERS, RAGING BULL, SCROOGED, and QUICK CHANGE — and here he’s taking over for the legendary László Kovács, who gave the original GHOSTBUSTERS (and the New York City of 1983/1984) such a timeless look. Chapman gives us a movie that is more recognizably 1989, but it’s still got more widescreen pop than most comedies ever get near.




For another, I will argue for the comic excellence of the opening bunch of “Whatever Happened To?” opening scenes, which establish what these guys have been up to since they saved Manhattan from paranormal ruin five years previous – Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler has gone back to academics, while Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz and Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore are playing kids’ birthday parties. Best of all, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is making a living as a TV psychic talk-show host. (Which Sigourney Weaver’s character somewhat predicted in the original, when they first met!)




This isn’t a rehash of the first movie; it’s a believable, logical, surprising, and very funny extension of what would most likely be happening five years after the first movie ended. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 doesn’t really get into trouble until the basic plot kicks in, but even then there are still great bits such as Rick Moranis as former accountant Louis Tully, now representing the Ghostbusters in court since he’s all they can afford.




Despite whatever flaws the film may or may not have, all of the character beats between the main guys, and particularly between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, feel completely right to me. This is five years after these dudes saved the world and since Venkman got the girl, but in the interim that romance petered out (no pun intended) for realistic relationship reasons. Just because two people kiss at the end of the movie doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be together forever. Is there another sequel that has addressed something this real? As goofy and corny as it is in so many places, GHOSTBUSTERS 2 is also a movie about a guy who realized he let one of the good ones get away. And now she’s got an infant son. Bill Murray plays those moments so well. “You know, I should have been your father. I mean, I could have been. ” Am I the only guy who’s ever gone on Facebook and seen a baby picture on the wall of some long-ago girl and thought something similar? Or is that just more evidence of my own weirdness?




More than anything, it’s just a pleasure to have this group assembled again. I’d rather hang with these characters in a problematic movie than most other characters anywhere else. GHOSTBUSTERS 2 gives Sigourney Weaver more of a chance to interact with Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd than she did in the first movie. Harold Ramis didn’t act too much after this movie, nor did Rick Moranis come to think of it. Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray never teamed up again, to my knowledge. And what a pleasure to get to spend more time than before with Ernie Hudson, as likable an actor as I could ever name. (Also, an actor with access to the Fountain Of Youth — he looks five years younger this time around.)





There are a few regrettable scenes to skip past (i.e. the ghost baby carriage; whatever that pink thing in the bathtub is supposed to be) and Randy Edelman’s score is nowhere near as iconic and lovely as Elmer Bernstein’s work on the original, but I’m a person who’d rather look at the assets than the demerits. I’m an assets man. Perfect movies are pretty rare. Sometimes you have to yield your critical eye a little and loosen up. There’s no way this thing is a total wash. If you’re combining Harold Ramis with Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd you can’t help but come up with a ton of hyper-specific and hyper-quotable dialogue, and if you’ve got Bill Murray on board you’ve got the best comedic leading man of the past few decades, and that’s the value of GHOSTBUSTERS 2. So there.


For more on the incredible Harold Ramis, who the world lost this year, please see this tribute.





Parts of this piece originally appeared over on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.







One thing about Bill Murray, he’s a loyal friend. That is so obviously true that just in writing about Bill Murray movies, I’ve mentioned it twice at least. Here and here. If you’re lucky enough to get Bill Murray in your movie, he will go all-out to help promote it. And if you happen to be George Clooney, this truism kicks up onto another plateau. Apparently, Bill Murray is so dedicated to THE MONUMENTS MEN that he even got onto the internet for what may easily be the first time ever to talk about it. And he’s been on TV a ton in the past ten days, not always overtly to promote the movie. Maybe it has to do with the twenty-year anniversary of the release of GROUNDHOG DAY. (Technically, Wednesday.) Or maybe he’s just getting comfortable there.


Here’s a handful of the Bill Murray appearances so far this month:


Bill Murray making a memorable entrance, as usual, for David Letterman:



Bill Murray with the cast of THE MONUMENTS MEN on Jimmy Kimmel’s show (by the way this happened Thursday night — bet you five bucks Kimmel did this for bigger ratings as an F-you  to Leno):



Bill Murray at the Super Bowl:



Bill Murray talking to Charlie Rose about CADDYSHACK:



That full interview:



Bill Murray talking to a fine-ass sports reporter:





I’m sure there are plenty more, but what am I, his press agent?






Bill Murray did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the user-created site Reddit tonight: Here’s the link. 

As with many things Bill Murray these days, the first question would be: Can that actually be Bill Murray? On Reddit, the questions and answers appear in real time, but without pictures or videos. Unless the answers were hand-written by Bill Murray (assuming we had any idea what Bill Murray’s handwriting looks like), eager skepticism is a fair response. BUT IT’S REAL! He did it to help promote THE MONUMENTS MEN, the new movie co-written, directed by, and starring George Clooney. But he answered questions about a wide range of topics. A lot of it is well-traveled ground — we Bill Murray fans as a whole need to get a little more original with our line of questioning — but again, it’s real, so it’s good.

I’m going through it now so I’ll highlight the best stuff and update this post later on, but for now I think it’s enough to direct you to the source.

Bill Murray






Not sure if National Geographic will agree, but that’s arguably the nature photograph of the year.  This came from the New York news website Gothamist, which reports that it was taken by someone named Chelsea Williams at a restaurant called Samurai Mama in Williamsburg.  That’s all we know at the moment.  Maybe that is all we can ever know.


He’s probably there to visit Peter Dinklage or some other famous local, but I like the idea that he’s come to New York to fight crime, the way he did earlier this year in Japan.  Our city needs a protector right about now, if only to stop the out-of-control cartoon characters in Times Square.


Bill Murray versus Batman.  Who would you bet on?




Quick Change


Lost In Translation


I’ve got a pitch for you:  QUICK CHANGE meets LOST IN TRANSLATION.  Only our movie is nothing like that at all, really.  You’d have to flip the premise of the first, and turn the second inside out.  In QUICK CHANGE, Bill Murray played a depressive bank robber.  In LOST IN TRANSLATION, he played a depressive movie star abroad in Japan.

In real life, Bill Murray was reportedly walking down the street when this happened:

“I saw this man running towards me with a bag in his hand. Then he suddenly stopped when he saw me and asked me if I was Bob Harris, the character I played in LOST IN TRANSLATION.

I told him, ‘Sure, why not?’ Then he started telling me how much he loved me.”

The man in question had just robbed the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, which is the largest bank in Japan.  The distraction provided by Bill Murray’s presence reportedly proved to be enough for police to apprehend the bank robber.

This may sound improbable to you, but do not underestimate the power of the presence of Bill Murray.

I have only been in the presence of Bill Murray once (that I know of), and it was on a press junket.  Given the opportunity to ask Bill Murray a question, I shut down entirely.  It wasn’t that I was nervous.  It was that the decision was an impossible task for me.  How could I narrow down all the questions that I have for Bill Murray to just one?  There is so much that we can ask Bill Murray.  God help you if you make it about GHOSTBUSTERS 3, son, because I won’t.

So while some Bill Murray stories sound like fictionalized rumors that become urban legends, I can absolutely believe that a Japanese bank robber would stop in his tracks at the sight of Bill Murray.  It is a momentous decision, to become so desperate or so bold as to break the laws of society and venture into a bank to forcefully seize money not one’s own, but it is that much more a momentous occasion to encounter Bill Murray in the wild.  One must accept each moment as it comes.

More on this story as it develops.
















Scrooged (1988)


We’re now in week four of Christmas.  Really.  Christmas Day is officially once every December 25, right?  Somewhere along the line, someone — very probably someone who owns a shopping mall chain — erased the numeral specific, and turned all of December into Christmas.


Actually, that’s too generous.  I started hearing Christmas music in stores on November 1st this year.  November 1st!  Like the otherwise relentless Headless Horseman and his aversion to bodies of water, these demons of consumerism haven’t yet found a way to cross the Halloween threshold, but since Thanksgiving doesn’t have much in the way of  identifiable tunage, they can stampede right over that one.  I know how these corporate coyotes think – people hear Christmas themes and they start buying like crazy.


You don’t have to agree, but I’m calling it like it really is.  The day after Thanksgiving is a shamefully, even despicably, early time for the major corporations to start pummeling the universe with Christmas songs and broadcasts.  The day after Halloween – that’s legitimately criminal.  Is it about the religion or the spirit anymore, or is it about selling CDs?  Gross.  It’d be all worth it if people all got with the program, but take a ride on the subway.  Most people are the same miserable, self-serving assholes in December that they are all year round.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I like the Christmas season mighty fine, but I have to admit that at just about this time every year, I’m just a little bit looking forward to December 26th.





As long as they slip Bill Murray’s SCROOGED into the programming every once in a while, I know I can make it through another day of getting knocked around by pushy commuters while being bombarded by that god-awful Paul McCartney song.  SCROOGED reminds me of what it could and should be about.


People who know what they’re talking about, when it comes to Bill Murray movies, usually point to QUICK CHANGE as the most underrated Bill Murray movie.  And they’re right (that‘s a longer talk for another time), but I would also submit this one for consideration.


SCROOGED isn’t as thoroughly hilarious as it might be, mostly because Bill Murray plays it so MEAN for much of the movie (‘course, he is basically playing Ebenezer Scrooge after all), and there are a couple genuinely creepy moments (which I won‘t spoil if you haven‘t seen it yet but of course it’s to do with Christmas Future), well evoked by director Richard Donner, composer Danny Elfman, and cinematographer Michael Chapman (TAXI DRIVER).



But mainly, Bill keeps things real damn funny.  No one plays the detached sardonic cynic with secreted reserves of sensitivity better than Bill Murray.  He also does a pretty decent Richard Burton impression, which is very random.


Also, I love the supporting cast. SCROOGED has got Karen Allen, the coolest lady in all of 1980s cinema.  She was the voice of sanity in ANIMAL HOUSE, the girl who brought Starman to Earth, and the indisputable greatest girl Indiana Jones ever met, and she’s really lovable in all her scenes with Bill Murray here.  The rest of the ensemble is filled out by weird, memorable cameos and surprising supporting turns from unexpected places.  And best of all, this movie even has room for the eternally badass Robert Mitchum as Bill’s boss.  (Which makes sense.  How many other actors could fill such a role?)


But moreover, this is a crucial showcase for the greatest working film comedian.  Murray made this movie in 1988, after four years of virtual seclusion from movies, so it obviously meant something to him for this to be his return to cinema screens.  I really think that the final segment of the movie, where Bill Murray makes the case for Christmas spirit directly to the camera in a combination of singing and pleading, is one of his all-time best performances.  I don’t know how much of it was scripted, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.  It looks just like someone genuinely pouring their heart out.  Sure, it’s more than a bit corny.  But big-time emotional moments like that always are.



I don’t know about you, but those look like real tears to me.  That’s not Hollywood actor bullshit.  That’s a guy speaking his heart.  That fucking moves me.


He was  so often misunderstood as strictly sardonic or detached or cynical in his approach, but I would maintain that there has always been at least one passing moment of authentic humanity in any Bill Murray comedy performance, no matter how out-there the surrounding film, whether it be GHOSTBUSTERS (note the way he looks at the statue of the devil dog when he thinks Sigourney Weaver is gone forever), GHOSTBUSTERS II (that brief moment when he addresses the baby with “I should have been your father”),  and yes, even in the elephant movie.  That’s why more serious-minded indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Aaron Schneider, and Jim Jarmusch were  able to snap him right up and do wonders with him.  And that’s why he’s one of the all-time great film comedians, and certainly why he’s my personal favorite.