Archive for Bill Murray

The Furry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2009 by dcairns

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Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR FOX is as good as they say. Not only a free-yet-faithful adaptation of the Roald Dahl source, but a very satisfying Wes Anderson film, with all the trademarks (dysfunctional extended families, flat compositions, “offbeat2 comedy, a created world at several removes from our own). And in fact it’s Anderson’s best film for some time. His irritating tendency to undermine any credible emotional development — seen at it’s worst in THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, where Bill Murray spends the whole film slowly engaging with his son, reaches an apparently genuine tragic crisis, then pisses it all away for the sake of a cheap joke — is suspended here, maybe because it’s a kids’ film.

I have to admit to some inconsistency here. When I saw the first TOY STORY, what I admired most about it was the way it delivered the emotional requirements of a dramatic story without stopping being funny. For instance, Buzz Lightyear’s traumatic realization that he is, after all, only a toy, is comedically undercut by the TV ad that’s responsible for the revelation. The toy Buzz is pictured jetting through the air, and a caption superimposed beneath reads “Does not fly.” This is both cruelly funny and oddly moving.

On the other hand TOY STORY II departed from this approach with the heartrending song “When She Needed Me,” which is totally serious and utterly affecting, no ironic underlay required. Both techniques are valid.

I think what had been bugging me in Anderson’s films is that they were, at base, always all about emotions, but the filmmaker seemed embarrassed by the idea of resolving emotional knots, committing himself to a view of the behaviour he presented, or allowing the characters to grow and face their difficulties (full disclosure: still haven’t seen THE DARJEELING LTD). The very real problem to be faced by the maker of comedy-drama being that characters are funny when they have blind spots and stubborn areas where they cannot adapt to circumstance — they insist on being themselves at the very times they should change. And that change, very welcome in a drama, kills the laughter. So there typically is a problem to solve — some comedies successfully do without any character arc, generating laughs from the inflexibility of a character, but such films must be about something other than emotions — there must be plot. And Anderson’s stories tend to be character-driven, so there’s a requirement to deliver some kind of redemptive change or realisation, but can that be made funny? Well, if it happens late enough in the story, maybe it doesn’t have to be funny…

George Clooney is a magnificent Mr Fox, capitalizing on that air of self-satisfaction that can be his undoing in buddy fluff like the OCEAN’S films. We expect George Clooney to be glad he’s George Clooney, anything less would be ungrateful and strange, but he has to modulate away from smugness. Here, Mr Fox’s total self-belief and amoral opportunism are the very character flaws that are addressed in the adventure, so Clooney’s casting is a triump, using to the full his skills as light comedian, even if he’s apparently present only as a voice (we know that’s really him under the fur, amid the stuffing, within the puppet armature, somewhere in there). And pairing him romantically with Meryl Streep is delightful, and the kind of thing which, sadly, might be deemed impossible in a live-action film.

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I love the way the long-shots make everything look like crap toys, too. Anderson’s Keatonesque flatness is finally used to serve up visual gags, as it always should’ve been, and his penchant for designing alternative universes is taken to a new extreme in a film where even the landscapes are unreal.

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If some of these stills have the quality of roadkill taxidermy, it’s because they lack the alchemy of animation and voice-work. The cast, featuring several of Anderson’s usual gang (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson) underplay in the usual Anderson manner, creating a feeling quite atypical to the world of the animated film, and it all works marvelously. And Michael Gambon, as the No. 1 villainous human, gets to apply his characterisation from THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER to a puppet seemingly modeled on Rupert Murdoch (with a wife who looks not unlike Camilla Parker-Bowles).

Now, since there’s no real way to type the finger-point, whistle and click-click which is Mr. Fox’s trademark, you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

Intertitle of the Week: Let ‘x’ equal ‘x’

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2009 by dcairns

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Despite my Duvivier advocacy, I hadn’t heard a thing about LE MYSTERE DE LA TOUR EIFFEL until it turned up as a download and I grabbed it. What a treat! Duvivier in playful mode, pastiching Feulliade and Lang in a serial-style caper involving impersonations, disguises, abductions, escapes, secret societies and Siamese twins? What could be better to get me in the mood for the MoMA retrospective (this movie isn’t screening in it — such are the riches in the Duvivier canon, a whole month isn’t enough time to programme them all).

Plot — apart from the Ku Klux Eiffel, a secret society operating out of a sinister castle and the Eiffel Tower — there’s this Siamese Twin dance act, not actual Siamese, or conjoined, or twins, or in fact related, but look-a-likes who dance side by side. When one of them comes into an inheritance (1957 million francs, a tidy sum) the other impersonates him and claims it. But his dastardly act does not go unpunished, as his windfall attracts the attention of the KKE, who start persecuting him, even in his sleep ~

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The impostor hatches a devilish plan, hiring the true heir to impersonate him for eight days, assuming that in this time the Klan will kill him. To make their job easier, he warns the true heir that, while he is carrying out his masquerade, he may be subjected to practical jokes by a few friends. Now, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE, our hapless hero is primed to laugh in the face of danger, simply because he doesn’t recognise it. Also, he’s in the unusual position of impersonating a man impersonating himself. He’s posing as himself and he doesn’t even know it.

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What follows is great fun, although there’s nothing to compete with the insane early sequence in which radio broadcasts of popular music from the Eiffel Tower are interrupted by coded signals from the KKE, an effect Duvivier attempts to represent in visual form, with frenetic cutting and strobing intertitles. The castle HQ, with gratuitous labyrinth, throne-room and futurist laboratory, is an impressive Evil Empire, and from there we rush pell-mell to the great tower itself, for a gobsmacking final running battle amid the girders, shot without benefit of special effects. Not for the nervous ~

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The shuttling back and forth between Paris and the mountainous castle makes me think of THE DA VINCI CODE, another tale of secret societies, and this Cathar connection also brought to mind Theodore Roszak’s paranoid cine-fantasy novel Flicker. And when the same symbols from the KKE’s coded message started flashing up on the screen around the reel changes, it made me think of Roszak’s concept of the underfilm, subliminal messages woven into the warp and woof of the celluloid to sterilize mankind and bring about eschaton.

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And it all somehow ties in, in my mind, with Duvivier’s death at the wheel of his car, 40 years after making this film.

Festive Facts in a Film File of Fun #3

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2007 by dcairns

 Egg nog Yen.

1] IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE flopped on first release but became a Christmas television favourite, prompting director Frank Capra to attempt to capitalize on its success by producing yuletide versions of several of his other films. Results included IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, SAINT NICK AND OLD LACE, MR. SMITH GOES TO CHRISTMASTOWN, SANTA’S DIRIGIBLE, and the rather surprising THE BITTER EGG NOG OF GENERAL YEN.

2] THE MUPPET’S NATIVITY was to have starred Kermit and Miss Piggy as Joseph and Mary, Little Robin as the Baby Jesus, and The Great Gonzo as Herod, before alarmed TV execs cancelled the project in favour of THE GREAT MUPPETS ESCAPE with Fozzie Bear as Steve McQueen and Professor Bunsen Honeydew as Donald Pleasence.

I can't see a bloody thing.

3] After the success of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, director Robert Fuest and A.I.P. planned a seasonal follow-up, I SAW MOMMY KISSING DR. PHIBES, in which Vincent Price’s mad surgeon would execute the members of the jury who convicted him using methods derived from the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. But the script ran aground over the issue of how to murder somebody using eight maids a-milking.

Terry-Thomas is slain by the two French Hens

4] Apart from the modern-dress SCROOGED with Bill Murray, and the porno SCREWED with Johnson Package, there have been numerous reimaginings of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, including a giant version with Peter Mayhew and Richard Kiel, HUGE SCROOGE, Chantal Akerman’s Belgian translation, BRUGES SCROOGE, and the 1930s canine version from the makers of the Dogville Shorts, CUJO SCROOGE-O.

Quality sledging.

5] Steven Spielberg bought the sled supposedly used in CITIZEN KANE for $20,000. He said at the time, “Rosebud will go over my typewriter to remind me that quality in movies comes first.” But in fact he just uses it for sledging.