The Bill Murraython
52 weeks; 52 Bill Murray films. Simple.

Jun
13

Director Sydney Pollack
Screenplay Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, Barry Levinson, Elaine May
Studio Columbia Pictures
Genre Romantic comedy drama
Released 1982
Running Time 111 minutes
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange
Co-Starring Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Bill Murray

Synopsis
Talented but opinionated actor Michael Dorsey [Hoffman] has spent twenty years trying to get his big break in New York city, but is constantly frustrated by his inability to toe the line, leading to blacklisting by casting directors citywide. With nothing to lose, he decides to masquerade as “Dorothy Michaels” and audition for the part of a female character in soap opera Southwest General – much to his surprise, he is offered the role. This leads to an ever-increasing series of complications for Dorsey as he has to keep his deception from his director Ron Carlisle [Dabney], his fellow cast members – including the object of his affections Julie Nichols [Lange] – and best friend and fellow actor Sandy Lester [Garr]…

Reaction
Cross-dressing comedies have been a basic story-type since Shakespeare – if not before; Tootsie follows in the more recent cinematic tradition of Some Like It Hot, which was a slightly more direct and obvious comedy than Tootsie. After taking the job on Southwest General, Dorsey falls for his co-star Julie Nichols, becoming close friends with her as Dorothy – but the longer he spends getting to know her, the more difficult it becomes for him to reveal his true identity.

While visiting his friend Sandy Lester, he strips to his underwear to try on one of her dresses whilst she’s in the shower, but she prematurely leaves the bathroom and catches him in a state of undress; to cover the fact that he’s playing as a woman in a role for which she’d also auditioned, he bluffs and tells her that he “wants her”. The two have sex and he convinces her that they would be together, but this leads to a breakdown in their relationship as he fails to follow up on this, instead spending most of his time with Julie – as Dorothy.

To further add to the complications and nearly completing the circle of unrequited affection around Dorsey/Dorothy, Julie’s father falls for Dorothy, proposing to her in an awkward scene in a restaurant. When Dorothy finally reveals her true identity on live television, it ends up alienating almost everyone he’s befriended, undoing the good work he’d been able to achieve as Dorothy, by bringing a degree of happiness to them. Dorsey is really an absolute bastard and a bit of a creep, playing with all these peoples’ lives and building everyone – including himself – up for a fall, but Dustin Hoffman is so likeable, that you’re enthralled in everything he does.

Bill Murray co-stars as Jeff Slater, Dorsey’s friend and house-mate. Slater’s a fellow struggling actor, who also works part-time at the same restaurant as Dorsey, who hopes to make a name for himself through writing. In one of his earliest film roles, Murray’s performance is understated but sincere and well-suited for the role. Jeff isn’t an overtly comedic character – as one of the few people who’s aware of Dorsey’s double-life, he acts as his conscience, reminding him of the ridiculousness of the escalating situation he’s put himself in and futilely attempting to prevent the almost inevitable fallout from Dorothy/Dorsey’s eventual reveal…

[Copyright 1982 Columbia Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $177,200,000
2nd-highest grossing film in the USA in 1982.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 87% fresh [38 reviews]

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BBFC Classification: 15
Amazon UK – £4.93 [DVD]
hmv.com – £4.99 [DVD]
Play.com – £4.99 [DVD]
iTunes – £6.99 [Buy]

NEXT UP: Meatballs [1979]

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Jun
06

Director John McNaughton
Screenplay Richard Price
Studio Universal Pictures
Genre Police/mob drama
Released 1993
Running Time 96 minutes
Starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman
Co-Starring Bill MurrayDavid Caruso

Synopsis
Wayne Dobie [De Niro] is a crime scene photographer, affectionately – and ironically – nicknamed “Mad Dog” by his partner Mike [Caruso] because of his timid nature. After he walks in on a hold-up in a convenience store, he manages to overcome his fears and successfully saves the hostages, including mob boss Frank Milo [Murray]. Milo invites Wayne to his club, where he falls for barmaid Glory [Thurman]. Milo offers Wayne a gift in exchange for saving his life – one week with Glory as his personal assistant.

Reaction
When we first meet Wayne, he’s incredibly reserved and his only form of expression is mumbling along to blues in his flat. After the hold-up in the convenience store, which is the first time he’s had to draw his gun in the line of duty for fifteen years, he’s heavily shaken by the experience.
Wayne struggles to work out what he’s feeling for Glory and what he’s “meant” to do – should he be saving her from her debt to Milo or should he avoid interfering in her life? Over their time together, they have a series of incredibly awkward and cold discussions about her previous “jobs” for Milo, including a period assigned to a man who raped her.

As their week together nears an end, Wayne decides that he wants to free Glory from her obligation to Milo – he offers to transfer her debt to him. She balks at the idea that he’s trying to buy her, so Wayne takes on Milo in a fight for her freedom in the film’s final scene. Surrounded by cops and mobsters, the pair battle in the street; after taking a beating from the mob boss, Wayne finally lands a couple of decent blows, knocking out one of Milo’s teeth. Impressed by Wayne’s determination – and finally living up to his Mad Dog nickname – Milo agrees to leave the pair alone.

As a David Caruso fan, it’s interesting to see him in an early film role, setting the tone for much of his career ahead – as a smart-talking, tough cop. Mike’s a much more physical cop than either NYPD Blue‘s John Kelly or CSI: Miami‘s Horatio Caine – he stands up to the abusive boyfriend of Wayne’s neighbour and is right there, egging-on Wayne in his fight with Milo at the end of the film.

Bill Murray’s Milo is used sparingly, only appearing when needed to move on the story, ostensibly to give more screen time to Wayne and Glory. The lack of fire between De Niro and Thurman means that this was a poor decision, and Murray is largely wasted in the role. His best moment is near the beginning when delivering a stand-up set at his own club, full of bad jokes about Italians, and that alone says everything about Murray’s role in this film.

My biggest difficulty with Mad Dog comes from the incredibly shallow drawing of Glory’s character. She was attracted to Wayne precisely because he wasn’t the strong, aggressive type she’d been with previously; being with her changed Wayne and gave him the strength he wanted, but as a result lost everything that attracted her to him originally – yet they still end the film together. There’s so much potential in this scenario which the film is simply too scared to address.

Mad Dog and Glory is a self-aware film which understands that there a sizeable number of potential cliches that await any romantic film, so it wisely tries to steer clear of them. However, in avoiding the pitfalls of making the wrong decisions, Mad Dog ends up making no decisions at all and leads to a totally unremarkable experience. With no real depth to any of the characters or their relationships, there’s a reason why this isn’t hugely well-regarded in either of Murray or De Niro’s bodies of work.

[Copyright 1993 Universal Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $11,081,586
105th-highest grossing film in the USA in 1993.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 76% fresh [25 reviews]

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BBFC Classification: 15
Amazon UK – £3.93 [DVD]
hmv.com – £8.99 [DVD]
Play.com – £3.99 [DVD]
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: Tootsie [1982]

May
30

Director Wes Anderson
Screenplay Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwarztman
Studio Fox Searchlight Pictures
Genre Comedy drama
Released 2007
Running Time 91 minutes
Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
Co-Starring Angelica Huston

Synopsis
Three brothers, Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman [Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman respectively] meet up for the first time in a year, since the death of their father. Brought together on a train through India, the titular Darjeeling Limited, with the aim of each escaping from their own lives and their own insecurities, they travel across the country on a tour planned by Francis; visiting shrines and holy places, they try to find spiritual redemption in each other.

Reaction
This is the first of Bill Murray’s five films with director Wes Anderson that I’ve covered this year – and there are many common factors in all his films, visually, narratively and thematically. Firstly, Anderson is a director who works with a stable of actors, re-casting a number of them in film after film; secondly, there is a distinctive style both to the composition and colour of his shots, as well as the choice of angles; third, the choice of music accompanying his films; and most importantly, the stories themselves carry similar underlying concepts. As there’s four more Murray-Anderson collaborations still to come in my year-long journey I’ll focus on just a few key areas each time, as there is so much in common amongst his films. This time: cast and story.

Wilson, Schwartzman, Huston and Murray – as well as a number of the supporting case – had all previously worked with Anderson, but this was his first collaboration with Adrien Brody; the two have since worked together on Fantastic Mr. Fox. Many directors have favoured actors who they work with many times in key roles,film after film [e.g. Martin Scorsese’s many collaborations with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio], so this is not unusual. However, as Anderson’s films all share key character and story traits, this re-use of many actors in most of the major roles in film after film leads to diminishing returns on both the message of the story and the effectiveness of the actors portraying them.

Anderson’s films are all essentially about characters from dysfunctional families with troubled histories, coming to confront their own neuroses, failings and weakness, sometimes partially coming to terms with them,but never finding total solace or reconciliation with their family. The Darjeeling Limited sees the three brothers attempt to find spiritual reconciliation both with each other and with their own lives after the death of their father and a long-term estrangement from their mother [Huston]. All three share an inability to be honest with themselves or with each other; all three have their own personal issues to deal with, in addition to their shared grief – Francis’ suicide attempts, Peter’s difficulties in accepting his wife’s pregancy and Jack’s inability to get over a recent split with a girlfriend. Asa background to this, the train itself serves both as a facilitator for the progression of the story and also as a sledgehammer of a metaphor for them all trying to move on with their lives.

Darjeeling is not as funny or as engaging as, for example, The Royal Tenenbaums, which is one of Anderson’s more straightforward dry comedies – The Life Aquatic was a more notably poignant film than Tenenbaums, but Darjeeling is another step further. More emotional than funny, Darjeeling‘s strict adherence to the style and format of Anderson’s previous works means that, while just as visually interesting, it’s a much less meaningful experience.

Bill Murray appears as “The Businessman” in a cameo in the first scene of the movie – in back of a taxi, racing to the railway station to try to catch his train, this essentially serves as scene-setting for the film by showing thus hectic movement and colours of the Indian city streets. As he runs to try to catch the train, which is already pulling away from the platform, he’s joined by Adrian Brody; Brody makes the train, but Murray is left behind. He reappears very briefly later in the film, during a trademark Anderson panning shot of “connected rooms” finally on a train!

[Copyright 2007 Fox Searchlight Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $11,902,715
Worldwide: $35,078,918
138th-highest grossing film in the USA in 2007.
118th-highest grossing film worldwide in 2007.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 67% fresh [165 reviews]

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Official Site

Buy Online
BBFC Classification: 15
Amazon UK – £4.43 [DVD]
hmv.com – £2.99 [DVD]
Play.com – £4.99 [DVD]
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: Mad Dog and Glory [1993]

May
23

Director Jon Amiel
Screenplay Robert Farrar, Howard Franklin
Studio Warner Bros Pictures
Genre Espionage comedy
Released 1997
Running Time 93 minutes
Starring Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley
Co-Starring Richard WilsonAlfred MolinaPeter Gallacher

Synopsis
American Wallace Ritchie [Murray] decides to celebrate his birthday by flying to London to surprise his brother, James [Gallacher]. James, a high-flying city banker, had already made plans to spend the evening entertaining visiting investors from Germany; to keep Wallace entertained for the evening, James pays for Wallace to take part in a real-life play which promises to cast him as a participant in a crime drama. Following a serious mix-up, Wallace unwittingly becomes embroiled in attempting to foil a very real plot to kill both the British Prime Minister and the President of the USA , but as far as he’s aware it’s all just an act…

Reaction
The central concept of this film is a great idea, with lots of potential comedy to be gained from the idea of the unwitting hero in a life-threatening and high-tension situation. Thinking that everything he experiences is an act, he doesn’t take anything seriously and reacts in the opposite way he would if presented with the same situation under normal circumstances. This creates a great deal of confusion in those he meets, from muggers to policemen to mob bosses, with his misplaced confidence meaning that he says “yes” to every question posed to him, as he thinks he’s being led through the story by actors.

Sadly, the film never lives up to this potential. Amiel’s direction is generally rather lazy – while the film largely strays from the conventions of using establishing shots of famous London landmarks, it instead uses very “British-sounding” actors, such as Richard Wilson. This film was Murray’s third – and so far final – collaboration with his Quick Change co-director Howard Franklin, who co-wrote this film. The very thin plot is heavily padded as a result of Wallace’s many cases of mistaken identity, allowing Murray to pull off some good, but not exceptional comedy – clearly he was on autopilot for much of this film. Christopher Young‘s music is fitting and somewhat lifts the film; it’s thematically very much like The Saint or The Pink Panther – very 60s, very kitsch – and the near-constant double-bass twang is clichéd and rather simplistic, but effective.

The film uses a range of “authentically-British” actors and TV personalities/newscasters, with the ostensible intention of establishing a convincing interpretation of London, but it sadly just comes off as the result of a low-budget production. I’m not sure who this is intended for the benefit of, as a comedy film surely doesn’t need attempts at real-world authenticity; American viewers would largely have no idea who these people are and would gain nothing from knowing whether they are being used in a way that would be relevant. Many of the British supporting cast, such as Alfred Molina and John Thomson, are playing Russian gangsters with horrifically-bad accents – and a particularly horrid moustache, in Molina’s case – which will surely only result in decent comedy for anyone who is already familiar with them and understands that they are being deliberately hammy; otherwise, it’d just seem plain bad.

As a big fan of David Fincher’s The Game, The Man Who Knew Too Little is a very interesting counterpoint, especially as the two were released theatrically within two months of each other. The Game stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas van Orton, whose brother Conrad [Sean Penn] buys him a part in a live-action role playing game for a birthday gift – sounds familiar? Fincher’s film is very much a psychological thriller, with van Orton suffering deep and sustained emotional trauma as a result of a series of life-shattering events, unable to tell where the game ends and real life begins; The Man Who Knew Too Little takes an entirely different route with the same basic building blocks – with neither the gamesmasters [including, rather fittingly, Dexter Fletcher] nor the player being fully aware of what’s happening, leading to a series of comic events.

The Game takes the much more successful approach and, while Murray is enjoyable in the lead role, The Man Who Knew Too Little is sadly all too unremarkable.

[Copyright 1997 Warner Bros Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $13,717,039
104th-highest grossing film in the USA in 1997.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 38% fresh [29 reviews]

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BBFC Classification: 12
Amazon UK – Not available
hmv.com – Not available
Play.com – Not available
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: The Darjeeling Limited [2007]

May
16

Director Ira Miller
Screenplay Royce D. Applegate, Ira Miller, Dan Praiser, Charley Smith
Studio National American Films
Genre Sketch comedy
Released 1980
Running Time 73 minutes
Starring Ensemble cast, including Bill Murray, Harry Shearer and Buddy Hackett.

Synopsis
Loose Shoes is a series of eighteen sketches, purporting to be trailers for forthcoming movies, presented in the style of a cinema’s pre-movie advertisement sequence.

The faux-trailers in the film include: “The Sneaker”, in which Woody Allen is visited by the foul-mouthed ghost of Clark Gable, who urges him to perform sexual acts on an inflatable doll; “Walt Wisney” in which the studio head is buried alive in a bunny suit by his son Roy; “Invasion of the Penis-Snatchers 3-D“; and “Star of David Wars”, in which a penis-shaped spaceship is trying to escape from a laser-firing menorah in a parody of the opening scene of Star Wars.

Reaction
18 trailers are featured in 73 minutes – an average of just over 4 minutes each. How many real films have 4-minute theatrical trailers? Very few, and even then only major event movies enjoy this privilege. Equally, how many  TV sketch shows have 4-minute sketches? It takes a lot of skill – or a hell of a lot of work – to make a long sketch work, but clearly these film-makers had neither. While some of the scenes contain the nugget of a good idea, the sketches massively out-stay their welcome and are largely poorly-paced, -shot and -acted. Even if the film was reduced to a 21-minute TV show, there simply isn’t the material in there to sustain it.

Loose Shoes’s production values are generally low – almost amateurish in parts – with unintentionally laughable continuity gaffes [which perversely provide some of the funniest moments in the film] and poor sound quality, with lots of ambient sound throughout – indicating a lack of budget for ADR. For a much more recent example of how to successfully create fake trailers inside films, look no further than Grindhouse or Tropic Thunder – some of these feature concepts that work well as brief pastiches and could easily be extended to a full-length movie. In fact, one of Grindhouse‘s trailers – Machete – will be released theatrically later this year and looks to have a lot of promise.

My favourite section is the first 30 seconds of the trailer “Birth of a Nation”, a silent movie in which a pregnant woman gives birth to a number of fully-grown adults, charting the history of the USA. Sadly, as with the rest of the film, it outstays its welcome and devolves into a poorly-conceived Chaplin parody. The other noteworthy sketch is “Dark Town After Dark”, which is linked below, that takes an infamous quote from former US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz and turns it into a big-band jazz number. While it is intended to be a satirical take on Butz’s racist remarks – “the only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight p*ssy, loose shoes and a warm place to sh*t“, it’s difficult to separate this from a significantly less racially-mature scene earlier in the film, where white actors are made up as Indians [from the subcontinent, not Native Americans] in the Wild West and left me with an uncomfortable feeling.

Bill Murray is the titular Lefty in the trailer for “Three Chairs For Lefty”. A Death Row prisoner, he becomes incredibly angry at the badly-cooked quiche that has been provided for his last meal. The next morning, he’s handed a joint of meat by the warden to hold whilst in the electric chair, to tenderise it for the warden’s dinner that night. It’s a very rough sketch, with no connection between the elements, there’s no real setup or payoff to the scene – and that’s the film’s major issue. Film trailers are incomplete glimpses of a larger picture – the sketches that make up this film are the same, but not in a good way.

[Copyright 1980 National American Films]

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations

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BBFC Classification: X [equivalent to 18+]
Amazon UK – Not available
hmv.com – Not available
Play.com – Not available
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: The Man Who Knew Too Little [1997]

May
09

Director Sofia Coppola
Screenplay Sofia Coppola
Studio Focus Features
Genre Comedy drama
Released 2003
Running Time 97 minutes
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Co-Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris

Synopsis
Middle-aged American actor Bob Harris [Murray] arrives in Tokyo for a week-long trip to film a commercial for Suntory whiskey. Away from his family and all alone in a strange country full of alien sights, colours, customs and language, Harris suffers badly with jetlag and is left to reflect on his own life, wallowing in midlife crisis. A chance encounter with recently-married graduate Charlotte [Johansson] – who is struggling with her own life, without plans or directions for her future and unsure about her marriage to John [Ribisi] – leads to a brief, but deep, friendship in which both find some sense of solace and purpose in their shared insecurities.

Reaction
In perfect contrast to Hamlet, this film is engaging throughout the long establishing scenes, despite the fact that Bob and Charlotte don’t meet until thirty minutes into the movie. Powerful mood is a theme common to all of Sofia Coppola’s films – she brilliantly combines powerful visuals, ambient sound and guitar/vocal music to this end; for a film that has no real story and no powerfully defined character arcs, it’s incredibly well-paced. Sofia has a great talent for that – despite Marie Antoinette‘s many failings, its mood was strong.

Charlotte is a 25-year old who recently graduated in philosophy from Yale, but has no job, defined career path or life aim. She came to Japan with her husband of 2 years, who’s so deeply engaged in his work that he rarely spends time with her. Bob & his wife have been married 25 years and have young children; the passion and youthful fire has gone from their relationship. The best of his career is behind him, hence why he’s in Japan filming commercials. She’s still at the start of her adult life, struggling to find direction; he’s already made his choices about the direction his life has taken, and has to live with them.

Both are essentially left alone with their own thoughts; both are alone in a strange country full of unfamiliar customs, bright lights, and a foreign language; both are unable to sleep due to jet-lag. She tries personal improvement tapes and flower arrangement, visits shrines and spiritual gardens, and wanders the streets; he stays in the hotel pool, bar and gym. People all around them are getting on with their lives while they stand still, not sure where they’re going; culture shock, individual isolation and insomnia bring the two of them together. Although neither really finds satisfactory answers to their questions, they find hope and comfort in each other, their shared situation and – perhaps – the thought that maybe, if things were different… As neither the characters nor the audience receive closure, the film highlights the key things that are common in everyone, regardless of our origin, age or demographic – the fallibility and insecurities of humanity.

For a film so full of emotionally-charged drama, there are many great moments of comedy. Murray’s comedy genius works perfectly with the tone of the film – he’s not trying too hard for a laugh, as he might have been accused of doing through the mid-late 90s. He seems to have settled better into his skin with middle-age and seems much more comfortable with his comedy; he’s lost much of the arrogance of his youth, but his dryness has matured nicely and he seems suitably vulnerable. His multiple award nominations – and wins – are well-deserved for a role which is the perfect confluence of comedy and maturity.

[Copyright 2003 Focus Features]

Box Office
USA: $44,585,453
Worldwide: $119,723,856
67th-highest grossing film in the USA in 2003.
48th-highest grossing film worldwide in 2003.

Awards/Reviews
Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role – British Academy Film Awards [2003]
Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Musical or Comedy) – Golden Globe Awards [2003]
Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Independent Spirit Awards [2003]
Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Musical or Comedy) – Satellite Awards [2003]
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Academy Awards [2003]
Nominated: Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role – Screen Actors Guild Awards [2003]
Nominated: Best Male Performance – MTV Movie Awards [2004]
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% fresh [215 reviews]

Find Out More
Wikipedia
IMDb
Box Office Mojo
Official Site

Buy Online
BBFC Classification: 15
Amazon UK – £3.99 [DVD]
hmv.com – £6.49 [DVD]
Play.com – £3.99 [DVD]
iTunes – £2.49 [Rent] & £6.99 [Buy]

NEXT UP: Loose Shoes [1980]

May
02

Director Michael Almereyda
Screenplay Michael Almereyda
Studio Miramax Films
Genre Drama
Released 2000
Running Time 103 minutes
Starring Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Kyle MacLachlan
Co-Starring Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Diane Verona

Synopsis
Hamlet [Hawke], a New York film student, mourns the untimely death of his father. His uncle Claudius [MacLachlan], having assumed control of The Denmark Corporation, marries Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude [Verona]. Uncomfortable about the circumstances surrounding his father’s death, Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his late father, who accuses Claudius of his murder. Hamlet, enraged and maddened, sets in motion a series of events which leads to the deaths of his father’s most trusted advisor Polonius [Murray] and his two children – Ophelia [Stiles] and Laertes [Schreiber] – as well as his mother, his uncle and finally Hamlet himself.

Reaction
As one of Shakespeare’s best-known and most widely performed works, the story of Hamlet needs little introduction; Almereyda’s adaptation, however, has a lot to be discussed.

Hamlet takes the original Shakespearean text and moves it to a 21st-Century location, abridging the source material heavily to better fit the modern setting by cutting it down to a 100-minute runtime and removing the metre. Something about the juxtaposition between the original 17th-Century text and the 21st-Century setting doesn’t work for much of the film, as it distracts rather than immerses.

Hawke is such a blank, inexpressive fellow for the first fifty minutes of the film; when Hamlet’s meant to be confused and angry about his father’s death, he just looks dumb. His “intense voice” simply involves talking in such a low pitch, he’s essentially just mumbling with the occasional bit of squeaking. Much of Hamlet’s early dialogue sequences are expressed as a voice inside his head, while Hawke attempts to brood, staring into space in his bedroom. When he first meets his father’s shade, he seems totally unamazed by the whole thing and just stares blankly. This means that his eventual descent into anger and later madness loses a lot of its impact, because it’s hard to believe that Hawke’s Hamlet had a mind to lose in the first place.

Hamlet should be less about Hamlet himself than it is about the way he reflects parts of other characters. This film loses sight of that and fails to say much of what should be said about Hamlet by cutting large swathes of dialogue for Claudius, Gertude, Ophelia and Polonius, focusing almost exclusively on Hamlet for the first hour of the film – showing us images of Hamlet as himself in reflections, photos and video he recorded of himself.

Once Hamlet is sent to England, the film discovers more of the voice of Shakespeare’s original, giving greater focus to the rest of the cast – this is part of the reason why the film works better for the last forty minutes. Liev Schriber’s Laertes is very good – the highlight of the film; Stiles is good in an all-too-brief scene as a grief-stricken Ophelia – she suffers most significantly from the abridgment of the source material and is sorely underused.

Murray seems stilted and rather uncomfortable. His Polonius is a particularly officious bore, intended to annoy the audience. Murray’s playing against type is an interesting but ultimately flawed choice – a more bumbling, affable Polonius would have likely suited Murray better and brought more character to the dull first hour of the film.

[Copyright 2000 Miramax Films]

Box Office
USA: $1,577,287
Worldwide: $2,046,433
183rd-highest grossing film in the USA in 2000.
176th-highest grossing film worldwide in 2000.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 56% fresh [84 reviews]

Find Out More
Wikipedia
IMDb
Box Office Mojo

Buy Online
BBFC Classification: 12
Amazon UK – Not available
hmv.com – Not available
Play.com – Not available
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: Lost In Translation [2003]

Apr
25

Director Picha
Screenplay Tony Hendra
Studio Almi Distribution
Genre Animated alternative history
Released 1980
Running Time 84 minutes
Starring James Vallely
Co-Starring Jonathan Schmock, Joseph Plewa

Synopsis
Stewie Babcock [Vallely], one of the earliest homo sapiens, narrates a tale about the early days of the species. Stewie is rejected by his tribe at birth because of his red hair and is left to fend for himself. Rescued by a passing apatosaurus, who he names Bone [Plewa], the young human tries to find his way in a hostile world filled with danger and strangeness…

Reaction
B.C. Rock [original French title Le Chaînon Manquant, meaning “The Missing Link”] is one heck of a strange film. Despite Stewie’s introductory narration, explaining that the film will explain his version of events as to the beginnings of man, the film struggles with direction as there’s no real sense of whether the film knows exactly where it’s heading or what message – if any – it wants to convey. Only in the final five minutes, when Stewie returns home to his tribe by flying inside an inflated shark, does it find any sort of purpose: Stewie discovered a large number of inventions on his travels, including the use of fire and the wheel. Rather than accepting him for his discoveries, his tribe steal them and vow to use them to wage war on all the Earth, propogating violence, prejudice and hatred for all time. This attempt at moral awareness simply sounds like preaching, given the near complete lack of supporting context in the rest of the film – it just comes across as something tacked on the end of the film in a hurry.

It’s difficult to tell how much of the blame for this should lie at the feet of the American translation – and accompanying music track. While most non-English language animation now enjoys a great deal of care in their translation, this was not the case in the early 1980s, so it’s hard to tell how much of the original creative intent remains. The constant references to modern inventions and cultural memes are irritating – such as when the wise-cracking pterodactyl Slick [Schmock] lambasts Stewie because he “ain’t got no clothes on”.

The film’s use of music is also incredibly jarring – like so many others from the same era, every scene must be accompanied by some sort of horrid country, soft rock, jazz or hideous 80s synth/electro. Not only does this date the film horribly, reducing its shelf-life, but the use of lyrical accompaniment distracts from what’s happening on-screen. There’s so much change, with many songs of different styles and from different artists used in each scene, and no unifying style at all. Thankfully, non-scored soundtracks are much more sophisticated these days.

Bill Murray appears in two scenes as a foul-mouthed dragon who cannot breathe fire; he can only fart it. Although I really shouldn’t be questioning the historical accuracy of a film where the main character co-exists with dinosuars, dodos – and also becomes the first human to discover the joys of casual sex with cats [yes, seriously] – I can’t help but wonder how dragons fit in with early human history history…?

[Copyright 1980 Almi Distribution]

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations

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BBFC Classification: AA [equivalent to 14+]
Amazon UK – Not available
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NEXT UP: Hamlet [2000]

Apr
18

Director Bill Murray, Howard Franklin
Screenplay Howard Franklin
Studio Warner Bros Pictures
Genre Heist comedy
Released 1990
Running Time 84 minutes
Starring Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid
Co-Starring Jason Robards, Tony Shalhoub

Synopsis
Civic planner Grimm [Murray], who is bored of his mundane life and wants a change, successfully pulls of a heist of a bank in Manhattan whilst disguised as a clown. He and his accomplices, his girlfriend Phyllis [Davis] and his best friend Loomis [Quaid], attempt to escape from New York with the money; can they make it out of town, past the many pitfalls that New York and its people present, before Chief of Police Rotzinger [Robards] catches up with them?

Reaction
Quick Change is a light-hearted crime caper, shot primarily from the perspective of the bank robbers. The police are depicted as rather unobservant and slow – Grimm spends a significant length of time on the phone with Chief Rotzinger, giving his list of demands for the release of the hostages, but when Grimm sneaks out of the bank, pretending to be a hostage, Rotzinger completely fails to recognise the robber’s distinctive voice while debriefing him, allowing him to escape.

This sets up an unusual balance between the robbers and the police. Like all good heist movies with a cops vs. robbers theme, the robbers are one always at least one step ahead of the police, who are simply waiting for the robbers to slip up; but, whereas most heist films focus on the police gradually piecing together the plan before one key slip-up from the robbers allows them to close the net and catch them [See The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three], the police in Quick Change are essentially incompetent and – even though Grimm’s plan begins to crumble within minutes – they continue to stumble from one discovery to the next almost by accident.

This provides the robbers with the opportunity to undergo a number of comedic misfortunes without worrying about the police getting any closer to them. Roadworks, a mugger, a disgruntled man with a gun [played by the late Phil Hartman], an immigrant taxi driver with no grasp of English [Shalhoub], mobsters [including Kurtwood Smith and a young Stanley Tucci] and an obsessive-compulsive bus driver are among the hiccoughs on their path to freedom.

My favourite line of the film: “What’s that smell?” asks Davis, as the two of them board a bus filled with hobos; “Used wine”, retorts Murray.

Quick Change is particularly notable for Bill Murray’s co-directorship. To date, this remains Murray’s only directorial effort; there is nothing particularly outstanding about the composition of the film or any of the scenes which would give an idea of a “vision” he might have had when working with fellow director Howard Franklin. Franklin has worked with Murray twice more, when he directed 1996’s Larger Than Life and then co-wrote 1997’s The Man Who Knew Too Little, so the relationship between the two must have at least been friendly.

Murray works well alongside Davis and Quaid in this nicely-paced comedy. The film works well because of the characters that they meet – they’re all unique, obnoxious and different, so they and their needs conflict with the main cast well. This is a more serious comedy – if such a thing could exist – than much of Murray’s previous work. Quick Change is more like Where The Buffalo Roam than something like Ghostbusters, but is funnier and more enjoyable than the first, though somewhat less memorable and dynamic than the latter.

[Copyright 1990 Warner Bros Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $15,260,154
82nd-highest grossing film in the USA in 1990.

Awards/Reviews
No awards/nominations
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% fresh [25 reviews]

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BBFC Classification15
Amazon UK – Not available
hmv.com – Not available
Play.com – Not available
iTunes – Not available

NEXT UP: B.C. Rock [1980]

Apr
11

Director Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Studio Columbia Pictures
Genre Apocalyptic comedy
Released 2009
Running Time 84 minutes
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson
Co-Starring Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Synopsis
America is being ravaged by a zombie apocalypse. Columbus [Eisenberg] loses his car after a confrontation with three zombies at a petrol station; he resorts to walking along the freeway in an attempt to make his way back home from college in order to find his parents. On the way, he meets up with Tallahassee [Harrelson] and the pair decide to travel together, in the hope of a greater chance of survival. They encounter fellow survivors Wichita [Stone] and her younger sister, Little Rock [Breslin], at a grocery store. Can the four together find a safe haven from the zombies?

Reaction
Zombieland‘s zombies follow the recent zombie archetype, in that they’re not simply shambling, mindless hordes – they’re physically agile, self-serving and often solitary creatures. They’re particularly responsive to sound caused by the surviving humans, often screaming out to alert fellow zombies when they’ve encountered prey or they’re in peril. In the case of Zombieland, quick zombies lead to a quick film, with very little padding through set pieces of the humans being chased by zombies; the film runs for 79 minutes before the closing credits roll.

The length, feel and story of the film very much lends the feeling that this is a feature-length pilot for a TV series, rather than a fully-fledged cinematic feature. The characters and their evolving relationships between them follow broad and very basic clichés, which helps in setting up the basic premise of the world as well as the dynamic between the four leads in a way you’d expect from the first episode of a TV serial. As you reach the end of Zombieland, you’ve become comfortable with the group and are excited for the story to move on to the next level, but all you’re left with is the credit roll. If this was the premiere episode of  a TV series, we’d only have to wait a week for the next episode, but there is no such luxury in this case. The most direct comparison would be M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, which chronicles David Dunn’s discovery of his super-powers and the implications that this will have on his life, closing with the introduction of his nemesis; however, whereas Unbreakable leaves the audience exhilarated, Zombieland falls rather flat. This is rather a shame, as Zombieland is otherwise enjoyable, if sadly .

Bill Murray’s appearance is as himself, in a rather ingenious sequence. The group end up in LA, needing a place to spend the night. Finding a “Map to the Stars”, they arrive at Bill Murray’s Beverley Hills mansion and attempt to crash there. They encounter Murray, who has disguised himself as a zombie in order to attempt to continue to live his life as normal – by allowing him to shop and play golf unhindered by the zombies, who don’t attack their own kind. It’s a great idea, which leads to a great conclusion.

[Copyright 2009 Columbia Pictures]

Box Office
USA: $75,590,286
Worldwide: $102,288,097
42nd-highest grossing film in the USA in 2009.
56th-highest grossing film worldwide in 2009.

Awards/Reviews
Nominated: Best Ensemble – Detroit Film Critics Society [2009]
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% fresh [203 reviews]

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BBFC Classification: 15
Amazon UK – £8.99 [DVD] & £15.71 [Blu-Ray]
hmv.com – £9.99 [DVD] & £15.99 [Blu-Ray]
Play.com – £8.99 [DVD]
iTunes – £9.99 [Buy]

NEXT UP: Quick Change [1990]