Tag Archives: Bill Murray

EAKER VS. EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Aja Eaker: Hey, 366 Fans!

I have no idea what Alfred is furiously clicking away at for this review. All I can say is that he is scowling, chain-smoking, and guzzling coffee that I think was left over from this morning (although it could be from last night), and we are sitting opposite each other, every MacBook Pro for oneself.

Let’s get straight to it: if you are not old enough to recall the original Ghostbusters when it came out, this movie is going to be hard to talk about in terms that adequately convey the magnitude of what it set out to accomplish. This is one of the movies that defined the 1980s American popular culture scene. When news broke of the remake as a legit happening, the response was one of skepticism.

Everybody showed up for the party, except Harold Ramis, but he died, so we can excuse him on those grounds. And they did throw in a guy that looked just like him—for a silhouetted nod during the end credits—so calm down, those of you over 35: you’ll get all the goods, plus fresh faces of comedic glee.

Still from Ghostbusters 2016What I loved about this Ghostbusters was the female cast who successfully completed a daunting therapeutic task for the global psyche. During the Hollywood premiere, a photo was taken of Kristen Wiig greeting a girl of about ten wearing a complete Ghostbusters‘ costume. A 16-year old onlooker saw this potent exchange and wrote an article about that moment and its meaning, which is now circulating social media. The crux of the article is about women’s representation in film and how this one got it right. It is a darn good read.

I’m all for a flick that not only pays homage to the greatness of what came before (thank you for throwing in Slimer, Sigourney, and Stay-Puff), while presenting that today’s women can be equally funny, clever, tough, and most importantly, SMART. As a fellow female physics nerd, it was easy to love the quirks and quarks of this remake. While I traditionally love the humor of Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon totally stole the show. I think it was because I could personally relate to being committed to being a scientific badass that social expectations for what a “normal” woman looks like is lost on us at times. We dig our own weirdness, and that is actually really cool. I found her delivery hilarious throughout.

So take my review with a big grain of Morton Salt, as I unabashedly loved the original and collected all of the GB paraphernalia back in the day, and I loved this version for its effort. I found parts of it lackluster and too long, over-reaching and kitschy, but balanced well enough that I would feel totally safe taking a trove of tweens to see it. No gratuitous flashes of skin, not a single misuse of female sexuality, while still poking fun at the universal ability to get all goofy Continue reading EAKER VS. EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

CAPSULE: LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson

FEATURING: , , , , ,

PLOT: An aging underwater nature documentarian assembles a team to hunt down the jaguar shark that ate his partner, including a pregnant journalist he has a crush on and a pilot who may or may not be his illegitimate son.

Still from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Oh, Wes Anderson, you come so close to making weird movies, but you just can’t take that final step over the brink of madness, can you? Set in a skewed, child’s-eye reality where aquatic documentarians are major celebrities and decorated with toy-like animated glow-in-the-dark sea creatures, Life Aquatic is probably the closest thing to a weird movie Anderson has made. Looking at the direction of his latest projects like Grand Budapest Hotel, which are moving towards the mainstream, if ever so marginally, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever go full-out surreal. But his singularity makes him a director we will have to continue to monitor for signs of weirdness.

COMMENTS: Aside from their acknowledged “quirkiness,” Wes Anderson’s comedies are distinguished by their deadpan style: the characters are detached and weary, expressing profound feelings of love or betrayal while fighting off an overwhelming urge to nap. The other thing that makes an Anderson movie is the heightened, obsessive sense of design; each individual scene is costumed and decorated like a diorama exhibit. This mixture results in a highly artificial oeuvre, and Life Aquatic may be his most formalistic movie. Aside from the hard-to-believe plot, a mashup of “Moby Dick” and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which involves the laconic Zissou searching for a possibly mythical “Jaguar Shark” while dealing with family squabbles and fending off pirates and rival oceanographers, Aquatic features a deliberately fake (but extremely colorful) marine fauna—peppermint-striped crabs, rhinestone-studded stingrays—almost the types of fish designs you’d expect to see at an “Under the Sea”-themed prom. (These creatures are often stop-animated by none less than ). The running soundtrack supplied by a Team Zissou sailor (Seu Jorge) with a guitar and a David Bowie obsession, who performs amazing acoustic renditions of “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” and “Changes” in Portuguese, adds to the movie’s one-of-a-kind feel. Poker-faced Bill Murray is a natural match for Anderson’s dry style. Murray’s Steve Zissou is an impressive portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis: he’s still competent, but showing cracks. Maybe he’s gone mad: is the jaguar shark he seeks revenge upon real, invented as a publicity stunt to stir up interest in his faltering career, or a hallucination brought about by nitrogen narcosis? Murray makes Zissou complicated, flawed, and sympathetic. The cast of supporting characters is sprawling and the adventure epic. There’s a topless script girl, a three-legged dog, and a seahorse in a champagne glass for additional color. All around, it’s hard to be bored, and I’d say Life Aquatic is Anderson’s most interesting and strangest movie.

Anderson’s style can be frustrating—why does he insist on inserting so many layers of “look at me!” between the audience and the material?—but his meticulous craftsmanship is undeniable. I’m not a part of the Anderson cult, but I find it impossible not to appreciate his vision.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The script’s] bittersweet weirdness leaves a residue even as the narrative disintegrates.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Cindy Hoskey.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: PASSION PLAY (2010)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Mitch Glazer

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: A trumpet player discovers a woman with wings at a freak show while hiding out from a

Still from Passion Play (2010)

gangster who wants him dead.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Because it’s the most predictable and obvious movie about a jazz trumpeter saving an angel from a gangster it would be possible to make.

COMMENTS:  There’s almost nothing that Passion Play gets right, starting with its pretentious, inappropriate title: if Mickey Rourke is a Christ figure, then I’m a sex symbol.  The scenario starts out promisingly enough, positioning itself in a twilight netherworld somewhere between film noir and fairy tale.  Junkie jazz musician Nate, who gets by providing bump ‘n grind accompaniment for strippers in pasties at the Dream Lounge, is seized by persons unknown and taken to the desert for summary execution.  After an incredible escape from certain death, he stumbles upon an equally improbable carnival that has pitched its tents in the middle of nowhere and where yokels pay a dollar to peep at a beautiful “angel” with eagle wings.  So far, your suspension of disbelief is strained but not broken, but then the movie goes too far: 59-year old Mickey Rourke, with his stringy unwashed hair falling in clumps around a face that looks like the beaten-up mug of an ex-boxer experimenting with Botox injections, knocks on Megan Fox’s trailer door, and she asks him in for a drink.  From there the movie just gets worse and worse, as the mobster who ordered Nate’s execution also becomes obsessed with Fox and the pic turns into a conventional, obvious and boring love-triangle that begs us to care whether angelic Megan Fox will choose old, sleazy, poor Mickey Rourke or old, sleazy, rich Bill Murray.  Rourke, whose look and backstory are modeled on Chet Baker in his heroin-ravaged final days, is acceptably gruff, and you’ll believe he shoots junk and sells out those dearest to him.  The fact that there’s nothing sympathetic or likable about his character is a serious problem, though.  Watching the sex scene between Rourke and Fox is guaranteed to make your skin crawl; wondering where she’s going to position her wings as they roll around on the hotel room bed isn’t the only thing that’s awkward about it.  “Happy” Shannon’s laid back, almost emotionless mien may have been a deliberate acting choice by Bill Murray to make his character seem cold and calculating, but in the context of a film this bad, it makes it look like he’s acting under protest.  You feel more sympathy for Fox as an actress than you do for her character; after starring in one awful movie after another, she tries to expand her horizons with an ambitious art film, but winds up in yet another bungled disaster (and this time, it’s not even her fault).  Passion Play‘s target audience seems to be creepy old guys who like to daydream that they’d have a shot at Megan Fox if only she had some sort of easily overlooked physical deformity.  So when I, as a creepy older guy who wouldn’t kick Ms. Fox out of bed if she sprouted wings, tell you that this movie sucks, it should carry extra weight.

Mickey Rourke made waves for openly criticizing Passion Play after its release, publicly calling it “terrible.”  I can’t say I disagree with him, but openly and proactively trashing your own film seems like the kind of classless move Passion Play‘s crummy trumpeter might make.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…though the movie is both too strange to take seriously and not weird enough to live up to [David] Lynch’s macabre surrealism, you have to credit writer-director Mitch Glazer (co-author of ‘Scrooged’) for being daring.”–Kyle Smith, New York Post (contemporaneous)

ED WOOD (1994), TIM BURTON’S GLORIOUS SWANSONG.

In 1980 , two years after Ed Wood‘s alcohol related death at 54, film critic Michael Medved and his brother published “The Golden Turkey Awards” and gave Wood the award of being “The Worst Director of All Time” and naming his film Plan 9 From Outer Space “The Worst Film of All Time.”  The forever constipated Mr. Medved must had the biggest bowel movement of his life when he discovered that he and his brother unintentionally put the wheels in motion for the cult celebrity status of Wood who, to Medved, was little more than an object of derision.

Quite simply, Ed Wood was an outsider artist, whose medium was film.  He managed to create two highly personalized “masterpieces” of naive surrealism; Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) with “star” Bela Lugosi, who was clearly at the end of his tether.

In between these two films Wood made Bride of the Monster (1955) , also starring Lugosi (the only one of the three Wood films in which Lugosi actually ‘starred’), but that film was more of a concession to the genre and lacked the pronounced Woodian weirdness found in either Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Fourteen years after Wood’s cult status rocketed out of the pages of Medved’s book, Tim Burton produced his valentine to Eddie.  Clearly, Ed Wood was as personal a film for Burton as Glen and Plan 9 had been for Wood.  Burton faced immense difficulty in mounting the project and was given what, for him, was a small budget.  Artistically, the endeavor paid off and even did so financially, in time, although it took Touchstone years to realize the film’s cult potential for the DVD market.
Still from Ed Wood (1994)
In 1994 Tim Burton was the perfect artist to bring Ed’s story to the screen.  Burton, recognizing a fellow auteur and genuine oddball, treated Wood, not with derision, but with the respect he deserved.  Before Ed Wood, Burton, although trained at Disney, was still an outsider with Hollywood backing, which makes him (in that regard) a kindred spirit to Stanley Kubrick.  Burton’s first big budget feature effort Continue reading ED WOOD (1994), TIM BURTON’S GLORIOUS SWANSONG.

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009)

twoandahalfstar

DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Isaach De Bankolé, Paz de la Huerta, ,

PLOT: An enigmatic hitman is sent on an obscure mission to kill an unknown man for

Still from The Limits of Control (2009)

unexplained reasons; the movie follows him as he meets with a long string of contacts of unclear significance, each of whom gives him a matchbook with further instructions and offers him a piece of dime store philosophy.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Set in an unreal moviescape of secret rendezvous and mystifying portents, The Limits of Control has definite shadings of weird.  It’s a bold experiment in pure cinema, and like most bold experiments, it’s partly successful and partly frustrating.  Stripping the plot down beneath its bare essentials, to the merest skeleton, Jarmusch proves that you can get pretty far on cinematic tone and technique alone.  He also proves that you can’t quite get all the way to a good movie solely through cinematics.

COMMENTS:  Dawn’s light breaks across the open eyes of a lone man lying in a hotel room bed.  He gets up, puts on a natty suit, and does tai chi exercises, measuring each move slowly and precisely.  He goes to a cafe, sits alone, and orders two espressos in two cups; he sends the order back when the waiter brings a double espresso in a single cup.  Night falls.  He returns to his hotel room, lies down on his hotel room bed, eyes wide open.  Time presumably passes.  Dawn’s light breaks across his unblinking face.  A new day has begun.

It’s a typical twenty-four hours in the life of the character known only as the Lone Man, a secret agent who spends most of his days walking around, looking at the Spanish scenery or visiting the modern art gallery, sitting alone quietly in a cafe sipping espresso, and staring off into space blankly.  He’s a quiet man, one who makes Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name look like a chatterbox.  He won’t say one word if zero words will get his point across.  Occasionally, another spy will meet him at a cafe and they will exchange Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009)