Posts Tagged ‘ Bill Murray ’

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

Being miserable but still wanting to work is frustrating sometimes. I’m not at a loss for things I’d like to write and rant about. Fifteen minutes on any reputable news site or blog yields just as many ideas. SOPA is a good example, but in general there’s more than enough horror in the world to fill this blog with social and political commentary.

It’s about time I took a serious swing at that stuff, and not just allude to it in everything else I write, so you may see a process of experimentation with that type of writing in the near future.

Hopefully, there will be a long vacation from movie reviews for a while. I’m pretty burnt out on them, but I’m halfway tempted to try a short-ish column of some kind.

Then there’s just banging out some free-wheeling observation pieces that I hope will have a decent humorous slant going for them. I still dream of writing for Cracked.com, and this blog is as good a place as any to work out the best voice for trying to do that.

My mind is more erratic with conflicting, warring thoughts than I can ever remember it being. Writing is still a beautiful way of sorting them out. With a little luck this blog should become an awfully interesting scene over the next few months.

So, stick around, put up with the tail-end of this challenge and wish me luck.

Being unhappy for no reason is no excuse for a lack of productivity, or for not trying at all times to find the next thing that keeps you at the table you worked so hard to get to in the first place.

I’ll be twenty-seven the next time I blink for more than a few seconds. I complain constantly to myself of not being where I thought I would be when I was seventeen, eighteen. Moments of the universe’s giddy idea of bad fortune aside I have no one to blame for that but myself.

And, really, weird ladies, disgruntled gentlemen, wouldn’t you like to see me talk about something else besides movies and self-loathing?

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Nine: First Movie You Remember Seeing

Ghostbusters II (1989)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver

One of the recurring themes of these reviews is that many of the movies mentioned here are ones that have been favorites for a long time. A lot of things act as markers over the course of my life so far. People, places, certain books, certain albums, TV shows to a very minor extent, and, of course, movies. Some of the long-time personal classics mentioned in past reviews, I can remember the exact time, place, surroundings and even feelings that happened to be around at the same moment. Others are vaguer, and seem as though they have been part of my landscape for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m not going to remember the first time I saw them. That’s fine. It’s usually not important. I would call it a mildly engrossing, self-absorbed trivia of a kind.

Sometimes, I just like to look at the first time I saw a movie, and see how it’s held up over the years in the face of everything else in my life evolving, changing, disappearing or moving past me. I’m interested in seeing how the consistent (my love of movies) moves, alters or endures within the inconsistent (damn near everything else).

I’m going to cheat slightly. I’ve already listed the first movie I ever remember seeing (Ghostbusters). So, instead I’m going with the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Going to the theater can still be a wonderful experience. I don’t go as often as I would like, but some of my favorite memories are that of going to a theater, sitting in the dark, blinking and then being at a complete loss to explain how a couple of hours could have gone by so quickly.

Bad movies can have the opposite effect. You’ll check the time a dozen times, stagger out of the theater as quickly as possible when it’s over and wonder if it’s possible to get the time and money back.

That’s happened to me, but not so often as to sour me on going forever. I’m twenty-six, have been going to movie theaters for twenty-two years, and I still get a nerd rush from going to see a movie at night, completely loving it and then coming out of the theater to the strange blur of the real world. The blur goes away, the evening goes on, but the movie, if it was any kind of impact on you at all, stays with you for a while.

It was a much larger experience for me as a child, but then again, most things were. I’m just happy that I still like going at all.

It makes sense that the first film I would see in a theater would be Ghostbusters II. At that point in my life I was pretty damn obsessed with the whole thing. My parents saw no alternative but to take me. I still remember not being able to sleep the night before. My optimism in those days was pretty solid. There was no way this could end badly. The thought that the movie might be intensely terrifying on the largest screen I had ever watched a movie on, or the possibility of the movie not being very good didn’t even occur to me. I had countless toys, an already-worn-out copy of the first movie on VHS, a proton pack, a trap, the firehouse and watched the cartoon every time it came on.

There was no way this could end badly.

No way at all.

In retrospect I blame my parents. My four-year-old perspective was not ready for Vigo or the part where Ray, Winston and Egon go into the sewer to find the river of slime. I had seen horror films up to that point, but this was different. This was at a movie theater with a screen the size of a small island. Speakers roared and shook the darkness with music and sound effects from every corner of the room.

I wasn’t especially crazy about the dark back then.

My parents realized they had made a mistake pretty early on, but I’ll always remember that sewer scene. I wasn’t handling it very well, and my parents used the moment when the gang decides to go back and get their proton packs as a last-ditch effort to calm me the hell down. I would imagine the other patrons in the theater were pretty sick of me at this point. I’ve dealt with freaked out kids at movie theaters, and I’ve wanted to hit whoever brought them with a sock full of quarters.

My parents managed to calm me down, and then Ray had to go and finally track down the river of slime.

That didn’t please me a whole lot. I turned to my mother and echoed one of Ray’s lines from the film. “Why aren’t they going back?! Why aren’t they getting their proton packs?! They NEED their proton packs!”

And so forth.

It was a long time before my parents took me to see a movie.

Not even Bill Murray’s pscyhic powers could save me.

I loved the movie though. I thought it was just as good as the original. Over the course of my childhood I watched it just as many times. Things like Vigo became a good deal less frightening as I got older.

Almost twenty-two years later, and I still watch it every once in a while. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s holding steady. I’ve come to realize through the years that it’s not nearly as good as the original. There’s a lot of great things in it (like Peter MacNicol stealing every scene he’s in as Vigo’s lackey, and the whole completely left-field romantic subplot between Rick Moranis and Annie Potts), but it just doesn’t have that lightning-in-a-bottle sense of fun that the first one had. The writing and cast can barely hide the fact that they’re pretty much just trying to repeat the magic. There isn’t a lot of originality to be found.

Does that really matter though? I don’t think so. It’s a good formula, and it would have been foolish to mess around with it too much. Ghostbusters II is still an incredibly entertaining movie. Murray asking Akroyd if he’s been sleeping with the slime, followed by Akroyd looking entirely too uncomfortable, is still one of my favorite bits from either movie. The same goes for Murray, and his horrible TV show, Ernie Hudson’s encounter with the ghost train and Ramis’ great deadpan line, “We had part of a slinky, but I straightened it.”

Another endearing quality of Ghostbusters II are the small, distinctive roles filled out by actors like Kurt Fuller (whose interactions with Murray are fun), Kevin Dunn as a psychic, Ben Stein, Philip Baker Hall, Cheech Marin and Brian Doyle-Murray as the psychiatrist who wearily listens to the Ghostbusters’ pleas to be let out of the madhouse before Vigo ushers in his “season of evil.” (I would argue that’s every Christmas, but I’m not the ghost of a 17th century warlord).

I also didn’t know until recently that Max Von Sydow did the dubbing for Vigo. That’s worth a couple of brownie points for the movie right there. I’ve often wished my own life was narrated by a man whose voice probably makes God nervous.

This movie has plenty to enjoy. It just doesn’t stand on quite the same level as the first one. I can live with that, and I can therefore enjoy the movie on its own terms.

There’s a good story, too. I dig the idea of a long-dead European tyrant haunting a painting, drawing energy from a river of slime beneath the streets of New York City, and how this pulls the Ghostbusters out of litigation and obscurity, and back to work (the courtroom scene, with Moranis as their sublimely incompetent lawyer, is great). I’ve seen worse examples of a follow-up to a classic going through the paces. Could it have been better? Maybe. Should it have been made at all? That’s up to individual opinion. Probably not, but I’m glad they made it anyway. Ghostbusters is one of those things I unapologetically can’t get enough of. As long as the entire gang is on board they’ll have my complete attention.

Ghostbusters II at least deserves credit for one thing, even if you hated the entire thing. It got Bill Murray back after a four-year exile from acting, with the exception of 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, after the failure of the underrated Razor’s Edge. I’m certainly not going to complain about that. I don’t even blame him for wanting nothing to do with Ghostbusters III (the last time I checked). Two movies just might be pushing it. This sequel will always have a place in my library and geekdom memories. I’m not going to weep if all we have to enjoy is a great movie, a good movie, a fantastic video game, a memorable animated series and an assortment of books and comics. Why do we need anything else?

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-One

I can definitely promise that my next non-movie review will not be poetry or short fiction.

Or it definitely will be.

I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how that tricky mood thing is treating me in a few days.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-One: Movie with Your Favorite Actor:

Lost in Translation (2003)
Directed by: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi

Really, I could have gone with just about any Bill Murray performance. Certainly he’s lent his talent to some awful movies, but I would argue that he has never once failed to deliver a memorable performance. In some cases he’s been the sole saving grace of an otherwise disastrous couple of hours. The consensus amongst a lot of people I know seems to be that Murray made his big comeback with Wes Anderson’s brilliant Rushmore (a movie I don’t think I will ever get tired of). Certainly, Rushmore was the first movie in years to showcase Murray’s comedic genius under the best circumstances possible (and the whole movie itself is wonderful, too). I would venture to say that you can find brilliant gems from Murray in lesser vehicles like Larger than Life and The Man Who Knew Too Little. You can even find great moments from the man in questionable choices like Space Jam or Wild Things (okay, well, besides the other reason why some people still remember that movie).

The later-career classics though have come in the years since Rushmore. His association with Wes Anderson has proven to be very good to him, but arguably his biggest success since Rushmore is Lost in Translation. I don’t mind that. It’s probably not my favorite Murray film, but it’s pretty high along the list. Lost in Translation will always be one of those rare films in which my expectations were met and even succeeded. I wouldn’t be unhappy if that happened more often.

It was also difficult to choose just one actor. I have quite a few favorites that seem to be perennially tied for first. Bill Murray gets the nod. Simply because he was the first actor I ever remember really, really liking, and this was roughly twenty-two years ago, after seeing Ghostbusters for the first time (it’s insane what I remember sometimes–I can’t tell you what I did for Christmas five years ago, but I can vividly recall the first time I saw Ghostbusters).

I’m going with Lost in Translation because to me it’s the definitive Bill Murray movie. In the sense that it’s the one I would likely to show to someone who had never seen one of his movies before. My favorite Bill Murray movies are not necessarily the ones I would try out on someone straight away. It cemented that late-90’s comeback, and it gave him one of the most compelling roles of his career (so far, because he’s still surprising me even now).

I’ll never understand the opinion that this is simply a typical Murray performance. It’s true that a lot of what people like about the guy as an actor can be found throughout, but I’ve always believed his performance went a little deeper to display a subtle but profound range, within the general sort of character Murray most often plays. Murray’s character, Bob Harris, is very much in the vein of those personalities he played throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. A lot of that is very much in place, but I would suggest to anyone who either hasn’t seen the movie or hasn’t seen it in a while that they maybe pay a little more attention.


Those who do pay attention will receive a Japanese plush toy from Murray himself.

Bob Harris is older, far less manic and far more aware of how quickly everything has passed him by. His jokes in Lost in Translation come with a great sense of weariness, of realizing that very little of what he’s done in his life up to this point has come to mean much of anything. Humor can save your life on many occasions. It can lend something very essential to getting through the day in one piece. Unfortunately, that particular type of salvation can become more and more difficult to revisit as one gets older. That has always struck me as the heart of Harris when we first meet him in the film’s opening moments. It’s still funny, but in a quiet, minimal sort of way. There’s also a lot going on beneath the surface of that humor. That’s true of Murray’s performance, and it’s true of the film in general.

Sophia Coppola proved without question here that she’s a much better director than she is actress. She doesn’t strike as being as aggressive a director as her father. For the most part she simply hangs back, and lets the gorgeous Tokyo backdrop (I love movies that effortlessly romanticize the possibilities of a seemingly endless city of lights, buildings, people and thousands of sounds crashing together at once) and a terrific cast do what they do best. That’s not to say she doesn’t deserve credit. Someone still had to direct the kind of movie where the scenery is breathtaking, the pacing perfect and performances fantastic.

Nobody move, or they will become alert, and they will most likely flee into the woods.

Lost in Translation may star Bill Murray, but it’s not just his movie. This is still far and away my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance. She strikes a perfect balance with Murray, and the result of that is one of my favorite love stories. You can also just look at it as a depiction of a great, multi-layered friendship. Coppolla’s direction and Murray and Johansson’s performances leave plenty of room for ambiguity and interpretation for what exactly Murray and Johansson’s characters are thinking, and what they take away from their time together. Murray is an actor in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey ad. Johansson is a newlywed desperate for purpose. Everything else is a leisurely, wandering bit of storyteller that comes together at the end as something that only answers its questions if you look at the movie that way. You might not. You may just feel that things wandered around, characters interacted, nothing really changed and the movie came to an end. If that’s how you look at it, that’s fine, because you may still love it. The story doesn’t pound out plot point. It’s a style perfectly to actors like Murray and Johansson. Anna Farris (who I actually do like sometimes) and Giovanni Ribisi (as Johansson’s stunningly oblivious husband) round things out quite nicely.

Lost in Translation is likely to be the only time Murray ever scores an Oscar nomination. That’s too bad, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. It’s not going to stop him from lending something brilliant to anything he happens to appear in. I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, people will be more apt to remember actors like Bill Murray, and not necessarily the guys who got the accolades he should have received. I could be wrong, but it already seems like more people remember Murray in Lost in Translation than Sean Penn in Mystic River. That’s just how it looks though. I guess history will have to pick up the slack. Something tells me history will be kind to Murray, and they will be especially kind to a role and movie as phenomenal as Lost in Translation.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Three

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Three:  Favorite Comedy

Ghostbusters (1984)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson
By Gabriel Ricard

There was a long period in my life when I was pretty sure I loved horror above any other genre. I still love horror but find myself more and more cynical about it. Most of the movies I watch in that field these days are either classics I’ve been meaning to see or something I’ve seen and loved several times before. Maybe, it’s the whole business of getting older. Scaring me is not as easy as it was twenty or even ten years ago. People become jaded. The fix becomes more and more difficult to score. New horror films tend to be an incredibly tough sell with me. It’s rare for a recent release to jar me the way Jacob’s Ladder did when I was seven (that movie still kind of freaks me out) or The Exorcist did when I was sixteen (for some reason it had a much greater impact on me at that age than when I saw it at nine).

I’m making a point here. I promise. Horror is still a favorite, but I’ve come to realize that comedy is at the top of the genre heap. I’m cynical about laughter, too, but it still seems to come more easily to me than being scared by anything in a film. I guess my compromise with that is dark comedy, because it does seem like I dig an awful lot of those.

Dark comedies might be part of the reason why comedy wins out over horror or any other genre in the end. Horror is a very specific thing to me. There are types of horror films, but only a small number of those types have the potential to terrify the living hell out of me or simply be entertaining. Comedy has a lot more room than that to get my attention. I laugh at a lot of things. Sometimes being aware of that is the only thing that staves off a nervous breakdown.

I’ve had those before, and they’re not fun. You know how it is. You’re in Wal-Mart and suddenly see someone running naked through the dairy aisle screaming at the top of their lungs.

They weren’t always like that. Chances are, they just didn’t laugh enough.

I love countless types of comedy. That’s what’s so great about it to me. I can go in for the subtle, deeply subversive stuff as easily as I can laugh at the broadest of the broad comedies. Those are the films that supposedly appeal to the widest audience and/or the lowest common denominator. Whether or not I like something along those lines tends to rely on my mood and what I need in terms of a laugh. That leaves the door pretty wide open for something to entertain me. Or even reach for something more than that. I try to be open-minded.

My favorite comedy was an easy one to pick. Ghostbusters is the film I have seen more than any other (by a substantial margin), has consistently held up as a great movie for most of my life and even managed to get me kicked out of pre-school (seriously). Somewhere in my walk-in closet I could dig out the original VHS tape (complete with trailers to movies like Starman and The Karate Kid after the credits roll), but that didn’t stop my first DVD and Blu-ray purchases from being Ghostbusters. I wish I had taken better care of all the toys I had as a kid. I’m not big on collecting action figures and the like, but some of that stuff would be pretty neat to have right about now.

It’s a comfort movie at this point in my life, but I can still point out what I love about it. Everything about Ghostbusters is still a joy. That’s especially true with the performances. The story is great and well-told (it’s not lost on me that it has some strong elements of horror in it), but it’s really just a loose structure for the talent to have a ball with. This is the movie that introduced me to people I still like to this day. Bill Murray is likely my favorite actor of all time (occasionally I see a really good Al Pacino role, and a ridiculous argument starts up in my head). This was the first thing I ever saw him in, and it’s been one great turn after another. No one has been more enjoyable to watch through the years. The others have been hit and miss (especially Aykroyd), but they’re still responsible for some of my favorite roles and films of all time.

Forget about the awful Year Zero. Harold Ramis is still a great writer and director. I frequently find myself wishing Rick Moranis was still making movies. I also think Ernie Hudson is still a decidedly underrated character actor. The fact that he’s not listed on the front or back of the recent Blu-ray release strikes me as slightly criminal. William Atheron has become one of my favorite character actors, too. He plays a scumbag so sublimely that it’s almost a shame to find out he’s supposed to be a pretty nice guy. Annie Potts was the first actress I ever had a crush on. I’m not ashamed to admit that.  Avatar was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen in my life, but it was nice to see Sigourney Weaver prove she could still be so awesome twenty-five years later.

Everyone in Ghostbusters is significant. Even if they’re only around for a few moments to feed the main cast a great straight line or reaction (that poor, poor stupid bastard who didn’t know they were going to be giving him electric shocks).

Most of the special effects still hold up fairly well, too. The music is a mixed-bag. I still love a lot of the instrumentals, and anything annoying in the soundtrack is quickly trumped by the movie replying, “Yes, well, here’s that Ray Parker Jr. song that you like so much, so shut up.” The song blaring over the last few moments of the film makes me want to immediately watch it all over again. I’m pretty sure I’ve done just that.

Actually, my favorite musical moment in Ghostbusters is when they arrive at the apartment building for the big showdown. I think that’s the song I want playing, should I ever be called upon to save the world (let’s hope not—I’m lazy). It’s one flawless scene in many.

I’ve been to New York several times now, and I’ve never seen the famous firehouse. Supposedly it might be torn down soon. That’s a shame. It’s not an important landmark by any means (well, maybe to me), but I would be very disappointed if I never got around to seeing it. Ghostbusters put me on the path towards wanting to be a writer (I actually started out wanting to draw comic books, and then I had to unfortunately realize later on that I couldn’t draw worth a damn and never would), so that obviously places it pretty high on my list of things that are important to me.


I could be wrong, but Murray looks like he’s rocking one of the most sarcastic smiles of all time.

Whether or not I ever get to do something as frivolous as visiting the firehouse wouldn’t change that, but it would still be nice to see the building with my own eyes. I’d like to remind myself that it’s still possible to be profoundly moved by frivolous things and taken from that starting point into countless other directions. Ghostbusters is one of those broad comedies to be sure, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything that claims to be smarter, better-made or more ambitious. I love a lot of that stuff, too, but Ghostbusters is still funny to me twenty-three years later. Life doesn’t have a whole lot of consistency with the good things, so it can be important to hold onto books, movies, albums, paintings, TV shows, stand-up performances or anything else that brings out the best in your personality over and over again. Ghostbusters will always be a part of that list.

To this day, my secret (well, not anymore) fictional dream job remains to be a Ghostbuster. It just seems like a great gig. I have a feeling I’m not alone in thinking something as silly as that. Considering how many astonishing proton-pack replicas I’ve seen over the years.