Posts Tagged ‘bill murray’

groundhog day

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a weatherman from Pittsburgh who pretends to love Groundhog Day, but actually despises it. Phil actually hopes this is final year covering Groundhog Day before he moves on to bigger and better things with a network job. He grudgingly takes his crew, cameraman Larry, (Chris Elliot) and new producer Rita (Andie McDowell with him to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to get the live shot. Phil wants to leave immediately, but they get caught in a snowstorm, which he didn’t predict, and they are forced to stay in Punxsutawney for another night. When Phil wakes up the next morning, he realizes that it is still Groundhog Day. As he keeps having to repeat the day, he realizes he can do anything and pay no consequences for his actions, so Phil drives crazily, eats whatever he wants, and pretends to know women he doesn’t know, and sleeps with them. Phil then turns his attention to Rita, and cheats with the help of the recurring Groundhog Day, to know all her favorite things, Rita catches on and rebuffs Phil many times. Frustrated by Rita’s lack of interest, and having to repeat the same day time and time again, Phil tries to end it all, but that doesn’t work either. What does Phil do to end this seemingly never-ending cycle? The answer is staring him in the face, but does he do what he’s been avoiding the whole time?

Groundhog Day is a flawed movie, a gimmick to begin the festivities, with no real explanation for the gimmick, a simplistic resolution, some unconvincing acting, (more on that later) but yes, it is a classic. It’s a classic because it really does have a laudable theme, and it is also a love story, not only a love of a man and a woman, but also a love of small towns, and small-town life, told in an unconventional way. So, despite some plot holes, a lot of predictability, some redundancy, and a plot that goes a long way to prove a very simple theme, it is really a sweet movie with its heart in the right place. Groundhog Day is written by Harold Ramis, one of the more underrated writers and performers in the Canadian version of Second City, the improvisational group that began in Chicago . John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Andrea Martin got most of the laughs, but Ramis was a talented comedy writer, and he proved it by co-writing such classics as Animal House, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day.

The acting is uneven. The smug, obnoxious, egotistical attitude that Murray brings to the film both add and detract from the film. The world-weary attitude of Murray cuts through some of the more saccharine intentions of the film, and make them funny, but the same smugness and sarcasm impedes the ability of the character to make a believable transition. Adie McDowell is more of a model than an actress, and that becomes more apparent as she is given more to say. She has a bad habit of laughing when Murray is speaking and that laughing undercut the whole character. Chris Elliot was very funny as the put-upon cameraman, Larry, he is a one-joke character, the character should have had more depth, but the interplay between Elliot and Murray is very good. Brian Doyle Murray, Bill’s gravel-voiced brother is in a few scenes as Mayor Buster Green. No review of Groundhog Day would be complete without mentioning Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson, Tobolowsky manages to do the impossible, he makes an annoying character, lovable, by the end of the movie everyone loves Ned, because Ned is just a regular guy trying to make a living.

The direction, also by Ramis, is not that noteworthy, he tends to repeat scenes a lot, the audience understands he is reliving the same day over and over again, there’s no need for the constant repetition of the same scenes over and over again, especially with the suicide scenes, which take on a Road-Runner Wile E. Coyote feel. The repetition also slows down the pacing, and he definitely should have done retakes of those scenes with Andie McDowell spontaneously laughing at Bill Murray’s antics. The direction could have been better.

Groundhog Day:  Deja view it, with someone you love.


Many strange things are happening in the sleepy little town of Centerville.  Farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) says one of his chickens is missing, and stolen by Hermit Bob. (Tom Waits) The ant colonies  are agitated, polar fracking is beginning, the sun is staying up a lot longer than usual.  But then,  Fern (Esther Ballint) and Lilly (Rosal Colon) are murdered.  Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) couldn’t care less about a missing chicken, but two dead people are another story.  Cliff, and his partner Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) try to find out who killed the two townspeople.  They have questions for the undertaker, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) who plays with a sword, has a giant Buddha on the mortuary grounds, and fashions herself a samurai, even though she’s Scottish. Ronnie tries to warn visiting hipsters from Cleveland, Zoe (Selena Gomez)  Jack (Austin Butler) and Zack (Luka Sabbat)  to stay inside their motel rooms with the doors locked.   Soon, Ronnie, and hardware store worker Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) realize who killed the women.  Who was it?  Can they stop the killing?

The Dead Don’t Die is a sly, understated, low-key satire.  It’s a satire, not only about horror movies, but it’s a satire of movies in general, and also political satire.  It’s a self-aware movie, which just adds to the fun.  One of the political jokes is pretty blatant and meant to anger a certain segment of people, and it was right on target. Some of the recurring jokes weren’t funny, and writer Jim Jarmusch missed a golden opportunity to satirize smart phone and tablet users.   However, overall, this was a pretty enjoyable flick, and about half if the critics out there did not like it, which means they either didn’t like the jokes, or get the jokes.  But with all the swill out there masquerading as entertainment, this was a great cast, and a great screenwriter, making a pretty funny film.

Bill Murray is perfectly suited for this movie, he underplays his role perfectly, and his deadpan delivery is just what this role calls for. Adam Driver follows Murray’s lead and plays his character with a low key attitude, which makes the dialogue funnier when he blurts out the answer to the mysterious deaths.  Steve Buscemi is funny as a farmer who nobody likes, he seems to specialize in playing jerky characters , he plays this one with a twinkle in his eye and a pole up his butt.  Tilda Swinton steals this movie by parodying herself, by playing one of her characters from another movie.  The star studded cast definitely makes the material better.

Jim Jarmusch  is primarily a music video director, but he doesn’t  pull any music video tricks here, the pacing is good, the performances are good, there’s one big special effect, but not much else that makes this movie stand out.

The Dead Don’t Die: Dead on satire

isle of dogs

In the Japanese archipelago, 20 years from now, a vicious strain of the Dog Flu has broken out, in order to protect the humans from the flu, the Mayor  of the Prefecture, Mayor Kobayashi , (Kunichi Nomura) has deported all the dogs to Trash Island.  Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) a 12 year old distant relative of the mayor, flies a plane to Trash Island, in search of his dog, Spots. (Liev Schreiber)  The plane crash lands on the island.  The leader of the dogs on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t trust humans, but decides to rescue Atari.  Atari then sets out to find Spots.

At the prefecture, Professor Watanabe  (Akira Ito) thinks he has come up with a cure to the Dog Flu, but something happens to Watanabe after he eats some sushi.  At the same time, the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive on Trash Island, and he sends his men to find him.  Mayor Takashi easily wins re-election, but exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects a rigged election.  Does Atari find Spots?  Do the Mayor’s men find Atari?  What’s happened to Professor Watanabe?  Is the election on the up and up?

It’s impossible to watch this movie and not draw parallels to the political situation in America over the past two years.  A power hungry politician deports dogs to a distant place in the name of national security.  The election of the politician is called into question, as the politician faces dissension from the populace.  At the heart of it, Isle of Dogs is a story about a boy and his dog,   it’s also story of possible redemption for a jaded dog, who doesn’t like humans very much, and has become something of a recluse.  It’s interesting to see how all the different elements of the story come together in the end of the film.

The acting is very good and it has to be because all the emotions have to be conveyed through the voice.  Kunichi Namora is very good as the corrupt politician, he wants to stay in power at all costs.  Bryan Cranston is excellent as the lead dog, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, yearning for someone to love him.  Koyu Rankin is also good as Atari, vulnerable but determined.  Greta Gerwig was funny as the angry exchange student.

Wes Anderson did a great job directing and co-writing this movie.  The stop motion animation was terrific, the ha;; where Mayor Kobayashi gave the speech reminded me of the scene from Citizen Kane,  where Kane gave a speech, Trash Island was suitably grungy, and the use of symbolism, Atari wearing white, his dog being a white dog, Chief becoming a white dog after Atari gives him a bath, it was all very well done.  The pacing was fast, the performances were good, I don’t know how much of a role Anderson played in that, these are all skilled veteran actors, except for the boy who played Atari. This film and Moonrise Kingdom are his best work to date.

Isle of Dogs:  Biting satire.


st vincent

Vincent (Bill Murray) is a crotchety old man, whose life is taking a downward spiral. He’s an inveterate drinker and gambler, and he’s sleeping with a pregnant Russian prostitute named Daka. (Naomi Watts) Vincent meets his new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) when movers she hired knocks over a tree branch.  Maggie is a medical technician who is also a single mother with a 12 year old son named Oliver. (Jaeden Lieberher) Oliver goes to a Catholic school despite being Jewish, and he’s being bullied by a boy named Ocinski. (Dario Barosso)  During an emergency Maggie asks Vincent to babysit Oliver.  Is Vincent a bad influence on Oliver, or is Oliver a good influence on Vincent?

I didn’t like St Vincent at all.  What I liked least about this movie is that the story was so damn predictable that I knew from the first minute what was going to happen, no suspense, no surprises, the screenplay was basic connect the dots.  There was some phony baloney pathos thrown in for all the characters, but nothing real enough to draw the audience in or make them care.  Why make a Jewish kid go to a Catholic school, except to justify the title of the movie.  It makes no sense.

The acting is just plain awful. Murray plays a grumpy old iconoclast, who the audience is supposed to feel sorry for once the movie unfolds.  But he seems so bored with the screenplay that he can only feign interest in a character not grounded in reality.  Murray has a little trouble with his accent, at first he sounds like he’s from Chicago, then Boston, but I think the story is set in New York.  Poor Naomi Watts, saddled with an awfully written Russian character, forced to do a lousy Russian accent, playing Hollywood’s favorite female character, sadly, that’s a prostitute.  The good news is that Melissa McCarthy has toned down her angry, raging loudmouthed character, the bad news is it doesn’t help the movie at all. The kid who plays Oliver is cute and precocious, but what 12 year old gives an adult life advice?  Not many.

The director, who has  mostly directed short films before this got a restrained performance from McCarthy, which is an improvement, but he gets a comatose performance from Murray, which was not great.  And he uses a montage in the firm, one of my least favorite movie techniques.

St Vincent:  Murray doesn’t deserve top Bill-ing anymore.


Frank Stokes (George Clooney) is a Harvard art conservationist, who sees the great art of the world being stolen by the Nazis in World War II.  Germany wants to build a museum if the Fuhrer, filled with the stolen artwork from the Louvre.  He brings the story of the art theft to FDR, (Michael Dalton) who in turn asks Stokes to go into Europe, and recover the stolen art.  Stokes puts together a team of older art experts, James Granger (Matt Damon) Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) Walter Garfield (John Goodman) Preston Savitz, (Bob Balaban)  a Frenchman, Jean Clermont (Jean Dujardin) and an Englishman, Donald Jeffries. (Hugh Bonneville) The group must join the army and follow patrols into German cities as they fall.  Granger has to find Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) who probably knows more about the stolen art than anyone in France, but Claire is not talking, because she has been jailed by the French for being a collaborator and doesn’t trust anyone.  The mission takes place with the Nazis in retreat in 1944, but the mission is still fraught with danger.  Jeffries loses his life guarding the Bruges Madonna in Belgium, and what starts as a mission to save the greatest artwork in history, becomes a mission of life and death. Stokes think he knows where the art is kept, but when he gets to the first city in Germany where he thinks the art is kept, there are no art pieces to be found.  Where in Germany is the art being kept?  Can James Granger get any information from Claire Simone?

I have mixed feelings about The Monuments Men, it is an interesting story, one that I knew nothing about, but there doesn’t seem to be enough of a story to sustain two hours of filmmaking, so there are points where the movie drags.  The cast tries to fill the slow spots with comedy, but World War II is still a very serious topic, so there is a limit to how much comedy they can put in a movie like this.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of conflict in the film, the Monuments Men seemingly cruised through Germany with little resistance or hardship of any kind.  With no conflict, there’s no real emotional hook to this movie, it’s a hybrid, it tries to be a movie about art and culture, but it also tries to be a war movie.  But it’s not Schindler’s List, or Saving Private Ryan, or the Great Escape or Stalag 17, it’s not even Inglorious Basterds.

The story is not cohesive, that is both the writer and director’s fault, and since both are George Clooney, he has to shoulder the blame for it. The story skips from the hunt for the art to the subplot between Claire and James, which features a clumsy attempt at romance, which detracts from the main plot, which is not that strong in the first place.

The cast is excellent, they make the material better than it is.  I don’t like Clooney’s dull monotone delivery, but even he has a good scene interrogating a Nazi officer about the lost art, and the officer’s participation in concentration camps.  Matt Damon is very good as Granger, the man trying to cajole information from Claire. Cate Blanchett is good, as Claire, a sweet, librarian type, who has lost her ability to trust.  John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Jean Dujardin all add comedic flourishes, and make the movie more enjoyable than the material.

I would say this is a good movie to rent, but not good enough for a trip to the theater.

The Monuments Men.  Not Monumental.


Movie Review: Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Posted: September 7, 2013 in Drama

hyde park on hudson

In 1939,Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) prepares to host the British King George (Samuel West) and his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Colman)  to Hyde Park for a mini summit about the state of the world in wartime.  Edward wants the US to help England and join the war, FDR has many isolationists that he must convince in America, before he can get involved in WW II.  FDR invites his fifth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) to join him in Hyde Park, and soon they are constant companions.  Is there more to their relationship than meets the eye?  Does Edward convince FDR that entering WWII is a worthwhile pursuit?

I did not like Hyde Park on Hudson at all.  This movie only seems intent on defaming FDR, as a serial philanderer, and feckless husband who has to deal not only with an overbearing wife, but also an overbearing mother as well.  Roosevelt happens to be a political hero of mine for many reasons.  He won WWII as Commander in Chief, got the economy out of the Great Depression, and did all this while suffering from polio, which he had to hide from the press and public.  Social Security, a cornerstone of Roosevelt’s New Deal, is still with us today.  Like him or not, he fundamentally changed America, and he doesn’t deserve that tabloid hatchet job that this movie turns out to be. Whatever they do to FDR, they treat Eleanor even worse.  The movie makers treat Mrs. Roosevelt with disdain because she wanted to be inclusive of people who had been left out of the political process, and because she is a strong-minded independent woman with opinions of her own.  She should be lauded for her outspokenness and inclusiveness, not condemned for it.  The trailer made it seem like it would be a light-hearted comedic film about a meeting between the king and President, it was anything but, the characters are anything but likeable and the movie on the whole left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The acting is horrendous.  I like Bill Murray, in both his dramatic and comedic roles, but Roosevelt had an upstate New York patriarchal voice, and whatever Murray was trying to do with his voice, it didn’t work, and proved to be more of a distraction than anything else.  Olivia Williams, who plays Eleanor is a Brit, and her accent seeped through her delivery a couple of times.  So there was the battle of the accents, Murray trying to put one on, Williams trying to take one off, it was troublesome.  Samuel West brings some much needed levity to the proceedings, but really overemphasizes the stuttering.   See The King’s Speech if you want to see the definitive movie about King George.   Olivia Colman plays Elizabeth as a relentless nag, and that gets old fast.  Laura Linney plays Daisy as a doormat, a wet dishrag that doesn’t inspire much interest.

The direction yields a few interesting shots of FDR and Daisy in the countryside, among the wildflowers, but overall the pacing is slow and ponderous.

Hyde Park On Hudson:  The only thing you have to fear is…watching this film.