Archives For Bill Murray

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Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray in WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955, d. Curtiz, Paramount)

THE LION IN WINTER – PG (1968) – It’s the best ever dysfunctional-family-at-Christmas-movie. Peter O’Toole AND Katharine Hepburn? Come on!

WE’RE NO ANGELS – NR (1955) – A rare Bogart comedy and a winning one at that. Wonderful cast, dark and funny, hard to find but worth the search.

DIE HARD – R (1988) – What a ride! Like two hours in an amusement park at Christmas time – if you were being shot at by Euro trash-Terrorists the whole time.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING – PG (1995) – It’s my wife’s favorite romantic comedy of all time – and that makes it mine.

ELF – PG (2003) – Will Ferrell was never better before or since. (But STRANGER THAN FICTION came close.)

LETHAL WEAPON – R (1987) – Nothing says 80’s So Cal Christmas like Lethal Weapon.

A CHRISTMAS STORY – PG (1983) – A cable network runs it for 24 hours each Christmas – and we all still watch it.

HOLIDAY INN – NR (1942) – The film that gave us “White Christmas” and a better movie than WHITE CHRISTMAS. Another stellar cast and a quintessential American time capsule.

SCROOGED – PG 13 (1988) – A Bill Murray comedy that’s about something (before he did many of those). A fun take on a tired premise with lots of great little grace notes and a solid supporting cast.

LOVE ACTUALLY – R (2003) – Possibly the most equally loved and reviled movie on the list. Flawed and sappy; well made and deeply felt. The parts are better than the whole and some parts are much better than others. Bill Nighy is amazing.

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Bill Murray as VINCENT from ST. VINCENT (in theaters now)

If you’re looking for something film-related to watch, listen to, or read this weekend, try these on for size:

Go see ST. VINCENT (PG-13, 102 mins) – This is one I’ve eagerly anticipated and it does not disappoint. Tracy and I saw it with a full house and appreciative audience at a sneak preview Tuesday night. Word of mouth has been good enough that the Weinstein Co. expanded the number of screens for it’s nationwide opening this weekend so it’s probably playing at a theater near you (if you’re in the U.S.) If you’re a Bill Murray fan, there’s plenty here to like.  If you’re NOT a Bill Murray fan I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by his textured, unflinching, believable performance. The entire supporting cast shines in a story that could have easily been treated in a manipulative and saccharine manner. Sure, it follows several movie-making conventions but it never disrespects the audience. Kudos and congrats to Ted Melfi for writing, directing and getting this movie out to the masses.

Watch LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF – this festival favorite and passion project of CalArts professor, Thom Andersen has been in distribution limbo for years due to the sheer tonnage of clips that had to be cleared and licensed. They finally cracked that code and now any film-lover can see this remarkable documentary. It’s exhaustive (169mins) but not exhausting. Originally completed in 2003 this comprehensive examination of how Los Angeles has been portrayed in the movies has been remastered for its first home video release. There’s a noir quality to the film that’s probably an extension of Andersen’s personality. This is a true labor-of-love-dear-john-mashup for a filmmaker, thinker, and Angeleno who loves his city. In case you’re not convinced check out the trailer here.

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Listen/Read NOT TO BE MISSED: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film – When asked in an NPR interview why he calls movies his friends, Kenneth Turan replied, “Because they speak to me!” I get that. If you do as well, I think you’ll enjoy Turan’s passionate, informative and thoughtfully laid out book. Turan loves movies and it shows. But he’s also generous in the way he shares his favorite movies with the reader. I read the book earlier this year and find myself using it often as a reference. I’ve been able to track down several of the films unfamiliar to me on his list(s) and each has been as rewarding as he promised. The book is available in all formats and if you’d like to get a little taste of what’s in it, check out the aforementioned NPR interview (7mins 47secs) here.

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Theodore & ST. VINCENT

September 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

I can’t really say that writer/director Ted Melfi and I are friends. But we are friendly. Ted’s an acquaintance who did me a solid back in 2005 when my partner and I were getting our first film ready to hit the festival circuit. Over the years I’ve read a couple of his scripts and we’ve talked about working together. I’ve always appreciated Ted’s talent and spirit. So, when little nuggets started popping up in the press a year ago about his then-in-production feature film, ST. VINCENT, I was happy for Ted and quite interested in the film. When the official trailer debuted this summer my interest turned into avid anticipation.

ST. VINCENT is enjoying a warm and enthusiastic reception following it’s debut last night at the  Toronto International Film Festival. Good reviews for the film and strong notices for Bill Murray abound. Variety’s critic says this is the role that Murray’s fans have been waiting for. USA TODAY’s Andrea Mandell asked Melfi about the process of casting Murray in the lead role. Melfi’s amusing account of getting Murray on board adds another great chapter to the stories that other directors and producers have told about Murray over the years.

ST. VINCENT is high on my must-see list for this fall. What’s on yours?

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Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd – GHOSTBUSTERS (Columbia PIctures)

Thirty years and roughly 3 weeks ago, I ate at Chili’s for the first time (the original location on Greenville Avenue in Dallas). I saw GHOSTBUSTERS for the first time the same day. One of those institutions has fared better than the other. I’ll give you a hint which one has not: the Greenville Avenue Chili’s closed in 2007 and was eventually demolished to make way for a 7-11. The chain is doing fine as far as I know but I can’t remember the last time I ate in one – and I used to frequent the place.

I came home from Dallas after having seen GHOSTBUSTERS on its opening weekend and promptly went to see it again at the Heights Theater on Kavanaugh. A high-end women’s clothing store, Feinstein’s, now occupies one side of that venerable old building and ZaZa Pizza Kitchen occupies the other.

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The former Heights Theater as it appears today. (Little Rock, AR 2014)

My point – and I do have one – is that restaurants can start out strong and eventually lose their way, theaters can close and retail stores move in, but movies are forever. A film is like a painting that moves and talks. It might be a major work or a minor one. It can be flawed or a masterpiece. But whatever it is when the paint dries, that’s what it will be as long as it exists.

If you watch a film today that you loved thirty years ago you might come to the conclusion that it’s not very good after all. In that scenario I’m relatively certain you’re the variable that changed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are things we enjoyed in our youth that don’t hold up very well under closer examination when we’re older. That possibility is what makes revisiting a movie you loved decades before — only to discover it still works for you — such a delight.

Thirty years on, GHOSTBUSTERS holds up for me. It is absolutely of its era but it’s timeless because it has its priorities straight: character, story and plot, in that order. It’s my favorite kind of comedy – a story with a big, ridiculous idea at the center that’s played straight by the cast and crew. Of course there’s silliness along the way but the humor comes from character and gags that make sense within the story. A lot of credit for that must go to screenwriters Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Harold Ramis. The movie is perfectly cast all around but nowhere does it shine like it does in the lead role. Aykroyd and Ramis wrote Peter Venkman to fit Bill Murray to a T. It is Murray’s movie-playground from start to finish.

GHOSTBUSTERS, like several standout comedies of that era, is a visual and aural feast. It takes such great advantage of the NYC locations that it deserves to figure prominently on any list of Best New York Movies. It’s beautifully shot like a “serious” film in 2:35. The color and composition in each frame were captured just right by the late Laszlo Kovacs under the watchful eye of Director Ivan Reitman who was at the top of his game. It’s not just great comedy – it’s great cinema.

The Elmer Bernstein score is another character in the film. Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters Theme (Who You Gonna Call?) became a smash hit song and video. (And the basis of a lawsuit that he lost to Huey Lewis and the News.) The Ghostbusters Soundtrack was in heavy rotation on my car’s cassette deck and in my Walkman during the summer and fall of ’84.

Peter Guber calls movies “emotional transportation”. That’s an apt description. Movies carry emotions to audiences willing to experience them. Movies also transport us to places and introduce us to people we might never experience otherwise. But movies also have the power to transport us to times in our own pasts. That’s their real magic.

I saw GHOSTBUSTERS at the Heights Theater at least three more times that summer. In those days if you loved a movie and wanted to see it again you had to go to the theater because it might be years (literally) before you could watch it at home. Over the last 25+ years since I’ve owned the movie on VHS, DVD and Blu ray. And now, as I write this, it’s streaming on my iPad. No matter what platform I see it on, watching it still transports me to June 1984.

Times change, tastes change, and of course technology changes. Movies are forever.

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NOTE: Now that another June is behind us I’m posting this and two other June memories — three events that happened 30, 33 and 35 years ago that have informed and impacted my life and work today.

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John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray: THE MONUMENTS MEN — in theaters now.

One of my favorite haunts in Los Angeles is Musso & Frank – the celebrated restaurant that’s been in continuous operation in Hollywood since 1919. Legend has it Dashiell Hammet wrote The Maltese Falcon at the bar. In the years that followed, he and Humphrey Bogart drank there together. Sometimes Lauren Bacall joined them. F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the place during his Hollywood sojourn. Orson Welles had his own table. Being in the heart of Hollywood near the venerable Stanley Rose Bookshop, Musso & Frank became the intersection where the brightest lights and biggest names in American Cinema and American Literature crossed paths in the 1930s and 40s.

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Snapped this pic with my iPhone the last time I was at Musso & Frank, Hollywood.

Musso’s current executive chef is only its third since opening. You can order the fish or chicken but don’t. It’s a steak, potato and Scotch kind of joint – but it’s no dive. It’s a place of comfort, class and style from its dark paneled décor to the formal uniforms worn by the middle aged and older male wait staff. And while it may have fallen in and out of fashion many times in the last ninety-five years, it remains a spot that locals frequent and tourists seek out for a quintessential Old Hollywood experience. The standards are high, the food is excellent, and the experience is memorable. But nothing there suggests anyone is trying to break new ground. They’re not trying to start trends at Musso & Frank. They’re striving to continue a tradition with excellence, integrity and pride in their work.

THE MONUMENTS MEN is the Musso & Frank of movies. It’s a straightforward, solid, Old Hollywood entertainment about a Big Idea. It’s made with all the modern technology but favors traditional elements from big time movie stars and memorable character actors right down to the film’s vintage score. (I’ll grant you the difference between dated and vintage is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.) If the film had been more thoroughly considered in this light – as an intentionally old fashioned movie, I feel it might have gotten a more admirable nod from the critics who panned it. Even so, I’m at a loss to understand how anyone thinks “there’s no there there” or that the film “never gets started.”

THE MONUMENTS MEN’s greatest sin against modernity seems to be that it is not an orgy of violence with no consequences, dripping with irony, driven by an incomprehensible plot, slathered over with physics-defying CGI. In other words, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Except they did kind of make one like this recently. To be more precise: Quentin Tarantino made one like this with the exception that his was on an acid trip. And as much as I’d hate to confirm this hunch, I suspect INGLORIOUS BASTERDS might have shaded the way THE MONUMENTS MEN was received by tastemakers.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is the only movie Quinten Tarantino has made that I care to see again. I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise. There’s a lot about that movie that I genuinely love and am still blown away by. But let’s be honest, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is a twelve-year-old boy’s fantasy. I don’t know Tarantino personally so it’s not for me to say who he is or what he’s like as a person. As a filmmaker he is a precocious, perpetual twelve year old — an uber talented enfant terrible. He got off on answering the biggest “what if” wish fulfillment scenario he could think of. As such, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS can only be taken seriously as a film. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

THE MONUMENTS MEN can be taken seriously as a film and as an effort to shine light on a little known story, while posing a relevant question: what would have happened to the human spirit if all the art stolen by the Nazis from France, Italy, Poland, Brussels, etc, had been destroyed?

MONUMENTS is the movie version of a true story about a volunteer squad of art historians on a mission in the last months of World War II, to reclaim and return art stolen by the Nazis. It’s the same kind of heartfelt, high-minded entertainment that was de rigueur of the studio system. From the early days until its demise, the Studio System put out all kinds of content but it prided itself on telling stories that inspired our better angels to aspire to ideals of beauty, fairness, courage… and all that jazz. When The Moguls ran The Studios, they could be persuaded to make a picture because it was important for people to see and hear what the film was about.

“If you want to send a message, call Western Union” is a quote often attributed to legendary producer (and co-founder of MGM) Samuel Goldwyn.  But he didn’t say it. I’m confident he didn’t say it for two reasons: 1) his biographer, Scott Berg, has found no evidence that he ever said it and 2) the movies he chose to make were full of messages – universal themes of human ideals and foibles. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is arguably the crowing achievement of Goldwyn’s producing career. It is a message movie if ever there was one.

I saw THE MONUMENTS MEN at my neighborhood theater (it’s still my favorite way to see a movie) with my wife (still my favorite person to see a movie with) on Valentine’s night. We both enjoyed it very much. The theater was three quarters full on this, the movie’s second Friday night. Saturday morning’s numbers showed that MONUMENTS was only experiencing a 28% drop in Box Office from it’s opening weekend. That’s an impressive, enviable hold for any film. I think that demonstrates there’s an audience hungry for this kind of movie. MONUMENTS had already opened stronger than expected the weekend before. I suspect it will have a longer, better life than the chances given it by those who’ve called it corny.

Having read some of the dismissive criticism of MONUMENTS before I saw the film, I couldn’t help but think of Frank Capra after seeing it. Today it might be easy to see why some consider Capra’s work corny. But here’s the kicker: they called it corny when he was making it in the 30s and 40s. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — “Capracorn” they called it.

The thing is, MONUMENTS is both homage and manifesto. It’s made in the tradition of classic American filmmaking and it makes a statement not just about the beauty of art but the essential nature of art to culture and the human experience. We already know what Tarantino would do with the basic subject of the Nazis manipulating an art form for their own twisted purposes. Scorsese might have made a three-hour epic with nary an hero in site. I’m not saying either would have been better or worse than the movie Clooney made. I’m just saying it appears Clooney made the movie he wanted to make. I’m glad he did.

I have a favorite booth at Musso & Frank. I love walking in and seeing waiters who’ve been on the floor since the late ‘50s. Old men who, when they were younger, waited on John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart and Rita Hayworth. And I have many fond memories of sharing meals with friends there. The place reminds me of something about our past and it inspires me to respect certain classic lines of continuity in our culture. It’s the same feeling I get when I watch a classic movie – or a new movie made in the classic tradition.

The Monuments Men on IMDb