Bill Murray is an enigma prone to acts of randomness like running bases at Cubs games, calling Kelly Lynch’s husband when Roadhouse is on cable and popping up in the strangest of places (inside a tree in Get Smart) He appears in amazing films like Ghostbusters, Ed Wood, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Rushmore, Life Aquatic, Lost in Translation and Royal Tenenbaums. However, he will show up in Osmosis Jones, Larger Than Life, The Man Knew Too Little, Passion Play and Garfield He should have received an Academy Award nomination for Kingpin and his cameo in Zombieland was a highlight of a film full of highlights. When I watched the trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson I was ready to proclaim it is the greatest film ever. Murray is known for his unexplained exploits so the fact that he was playing a president who got the United States through the depression and a massive war seemed perfectly normal.
The majority of my excitement died down as the film started. Hyde Park on Hudson doesn’t know what it is. It is a snapshot of history that meanders, switches narratives and doesn’t leave you with much. You find out that FDR had a multitude of mistresses, pushed hot dogs on kings and loved stamps. The scenes between Samuel West’s King and Murray are highlights that make you wish the movie would have been these two sitting in a room talking while Eleanor and the Queen engage in uncomfortable small talk.
Despite the oddities of Hyde Park on Hudson it allows you to spend time with the elusive Murray. The eccentricity of the film allowed me to develop a theory as to why Murray was in it.
You ready for a wonderfully untrue yet totally believable theory?
One day Murray was bored so he decided to visit his Rushmore costar Olivia Williams on the Hyde Park on Hudson set. Murray’s charming demeanor and copious amounts of scotch endeared him to the director of the film. The director jokingly offered him a role and Murray replied “Yes. Want more Scotch?” When the booze exited the director’s bloodstream he quickly realized his conundrum. He fired the man playing FDR, told Laura Linney she was no longer the star and had the writer edit the entire script to Murray’s liking. What followed was a mixture of disjointed moments, a weird driving scene and more Scotch.
Sidenote: look at the poster. I bet it was originally just Linney. However, they captured a wonderful picture of Murray on the set and they photo shopped him in.
Don’t watch Hyde Park on Hudson. Watch the trailer then pop in Life Aquatic and enjoy the Murray.
How do you follow up a successful writing gig on Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom? You gather Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Patricia Arquette and Dermont Mulroney and throw them into an odd film involving Charlie Sheen’s broken psyche after a break up. Throw in some odd visuals, various dream sequences and wonderful hair and you have yourself an odd film that accumulated a plethora of critical vitriol and 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Roman Coppola infuses the film with a 60/70s vibe that exudes pop art but forgets narrative function. I’m assuming the flashbacks, dream sequences and scantily clad women were all intentional but that excess cost the film a cohesive feel. When a film meanders it seems to float listlessly going nowhere. You appreciate certain aspects of the film (Bill Murray in a funny hat) and forget the rest.
It is neat that Roman and Charlies relationship has come full circle. During the late 1970s they played together in the Philippines while their fathers Francis-Ford and Martin made Apocalypse Now. Now Roman is directing Charlie in what seems to be an excuse for the two to have fun again. An interesting thing about this film is that Roman couldn’t get it insured due to Sheen’s involvement. So, in his words “Thank god, because I saved two percent of my budget for not giving it to that worthless function.”
The best story coming out of this film was of the casting of Bill Murray. Murray is an elusive man of mystery who has no agent or manager. Roman had worked with him on Lost in Translation and with a little persuasion got him to cameo in the film. Murray agreed and Coppola didn’t hear anything from him until the day before when Murray showed up randomly on set. You gotta love the Murray.
Shane Black + Robert Downey Jr. + a character driven standalone script = A wonderful film that will undoubtedly make a billion dollars and keep the Marvel train rolling.
Iron Man 3 is a breath of fresh air and fantastic way to start off Marvel’s phase two. In 2008 Iron Man exploded onto the screen and surprised everybody. It was funny, exhilarating, critically loved (93% RT) and made Robert Downey Jr. a superstar. It was the perfect way to introduce the world to Marvel’s characters while setting a high bar for quality. The grounded in reality script appealed to the mainstream which allowed Marvel to wisely introduce small doses of cosmic forces in Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Avengers and now Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man.
I was stoked when I heard Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was directing the newest Iron Man installment. I knew the script would be a breezy blast of humor, action and snark. It wouldn’t stick to traditional narrative and most likely annoy comic enthusiasts. Black rejuvenated RDJ’s career with his role on KKBB (you have to see it now!) and Iron Man 1 & 2 director Jon Favreau fought to bring in the historically troubled funny man for the role of Tony Stark. The gamble paid off and the result is over two billion dollars at the box office and home video. RDJ made $50 million for The Avengers and with IR3 already accumulating $450 million worldwide the investment seems like a smart and expensive one.
What I appreciate about Iron Man 3 is that it doesn’t phone it in. It doesn’t make the mistake of bigger is better. Instead, it scales down at certain moments and allows for Downey Jr. and crew to embrace their characters and provide levity amongst the CGI. You will love Don Cheadle’s password and the hilarious henchmen. IM 3 takes chances with the comic book story, has genuine surprises and effective bad guys. What the first two Iron Man films were lacking were threatening villains. Thor has Loki. Captain America had Red Skull and the Winter Soldier. Iron Man was threatened by an angry bald dude, a heavy breathing Mickey Rourke and the always hilarious but never menacing Sam Rockwell . Also, both films ended with action scenes full of CGI robots and underwhelming results. The finale of this film is an intelligent masterstroke of character and plot development despite the stock shipyard setting.
The bad guys in the film are memorable, surprising and threatening to the Stark world. Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, James Badge Dale and several henchmen get multiple scenes to shine yet are not evil enough to justify the Avenger’s reassembling. Thus, it is believable that Downey jr. Cheadle and Paltrow are left to battle the threat while spouting wonderful dialogue and looking good.
I won’t give away the surprises of Iron Man 3 because it would wreck the ride. The movie is an unpretentious blast of summer movie air. Let’s hope the movie going public doesn’t get bored with these films because there is a lot of gold to mined from the Marvel universe.
Watch the film. Don’t dig too deep. Don’t be annoyed by the shipyard battle. Hope Downey Jr. will be back in The Avengers 2.
Mud is the best film of 2013 (so far). It is an instant classic that relies on authenticity, three dimensional characters and vivid scenery to tell a wonderful story. It also proves that a poster featuring a man grabbing something from his back doesn’t have to be bad (Looking at you Contraband).
Mud tells the story of two boys who meet a man named Mud. They find him on an island off the Mississippi that is home to a boat in a tree. They become quick friends and make a deal for the boat. The boys will get Mud food and keep his whereabouts secret and he will let them have his gun and tree boat when he leaves. What follows is a neat story about love, loss and growing up. The film has drawn many “modern day Huckleberry Finn” comparisons and the similarities are there. However, the movie should be appreciated on it’s own unique merits. Mud doesn’t feel self important and has a respect for the geography. It is told with humility and understanding by a man who is finding his footing in the American cinematic landscape.
Director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter) has excelled at creating soulful characters and insular stories. His characters are not motivated by greed or selfishness and thus their problems feel universal. The central characters deal with protecting their families, mental illness or growing up too fast. His films pack a realistic punch, show off vivid geographical detail and close attention to characters. Stereotypes are non-existent and the focus on family is always strong.
His films do not have an epic scope or feature twirling in corn fields (nothing wrong with that). They feature snapshots of time that involve important moments. The setting may be small but divorce, lost love or a first kiss are huge in factors in life. Nichol’s tells his films with a laid-back grace that doesn’t pander to familiar tropes yet doesn’t push the Kubrickian limits.
The reason this film works is because Nichol’s understands the world and dives deep into character. It is easy to see why the kids would help Mud. Matthew McConaughey infuses the character with charm and a sense of danger. Also, the two kids are dealing with their families splitting apart or never having one at all. They meet Mud at the right moment and the three of them go on a neat adventure. While watching you feel the breeze, fear the snakes and can swear a mosquito is buzzing around you. Nichol’s knows how to bring you into his cinematic world and engross you in middle America.
I hope a younger audience discovers this film and learns something from the two kids. They search, build and approach the world with an adventurous spirit. I remember when movies used to feature kids going on adventures not involving dragons or beanstalks. Remember Stand By Me, Goonies or Home Alone? I grew up with that DIY youthfulness and I always appreciate movies like this.
Watch Mud. Appreciate the adventure. Watch Take Shelter. Listen to Lucero.
What I love about Upstream Color is that it lives and dies with it’s creator. Shane Caruth (Primer) directed, produced, wrote, cast, shot, designed, edited and scored Upstream Color. Steven Soderbergh called him “the illegitimate offspring of David Lynch and James Cameron.”
The movie has an abstract loveliness that fills the senses and pours beautiful images over you. If you thought Tree Of Life was difficult to understand then UC will give you fits. Knowledge is power but I find that to be the opposite with films like this and Primer. Stay away from reviews because they give away too much and cheapen the end result. I don’t want to leave you completely in the dark so here are some things to expect from the film. You will see mind altering worms, pigs, streams and characters named Thief and Sampler.
Treat Upstream Color as the great unknown. Don’t look for clues or meaning. Enjoy the fact that there is a director out there who doesn’t want to make things easy and puts everything on his shoulders to appease the masses.
Watch Upstream Color. Watch it again. Think about it. Watch it again. Think about it. Enjoy the ride.