Tag Archives: Bill Murray

Ghostbusters, 30 years on: proof that Bill Murray is the coolest man alive

21 Aug
Ghostbusters, outdoors at Somerset House

Ghostbusters, outdoors at the historic Somerset House

The Cult of Bill Murray has grown strong over the years. The Toronto Film Festival has declared September 5 “Bill Murray Day”. The internet is awash with posts such as “20 Reasons Why Bill Murray Is The Coolest Human Being Alive”. Even the Guardian headlined a piece on him “Actor, Hipster, Genius, FDR… God.” He crashes random parties. He doesn’t have an agent. He lets students film him walking in slow motion. He made Groundhog Day, a film so brilliant you can watch it again and again – even during the first time you watch it. And most of all, he never, ever, ever (any more) does a film just for the money.

When did you last see Bill Murray propping up some big action blockbuster with a cool supporting role, like every other respected thesp always, eventually, does? I’d put it at Charlie’s Angels (2000). He didn’t sign on for the sequel. I’m not including Zombieland, in which he played himself as a last-minute favour to his friend Woody Harrelson, since that was relatively low-budget and very cool. Okay, Garfield, but that’s just a voice-over.

All of that makes the upcoming US Labor Day 30th anniversary reissue of Ghostbusters, a genuinely good blockbuster in which Murray has, as it were, the starring supporting role, an extra thrill. How does his performance stand the test of time?

I caught up with the film recently at Somerset House’s outdoor Summer Screen series in central London, and it seems as fresh as when I first saw it, at a Saturday matinee at Muswell Hill’s art deco Odeon, packed with kids who screamed ‘GhostBUSTERS!’ during the theme song. Sure, the special effects are ropey, even for the time – the big special-effects houses were pre-booked for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi – but Murray is flat-out fantastic.

Like John Belushi, who was originally slated for Murray’s role in Ghosbusters, but OD’d instead, Murray specialised at the time in teen comedies: Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981). Unlike Belushi, he radiated a keen intelligence while doing so, as though he had already explored every possible intellectual branch of endeavour and decided that dumb comedy was the smartest response to life. A Zen comedian, if you will.

Murray’s skip-hopping walk, when he meets Sigourney Weaver in a public square, is the funniest since John Cleese’s and all the sweeter for being understated.  A lot of his lines are improvised, but also co-writer Harold Ramis had written for him in the above three films, and says he was familiar with “certain insane instincts of his”. The result is a lot of jokes that are strikingly inappropriate for a family audience. “Yes it’s true… this man has no dick.” “Mr Stay Puft’s okay! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!” Not to mention a possessed Sigourney Weaver moaning that she wants him “inside me”: “It sounds like you’ve got at least two or three people in there already.”

One scene, however, has dated badly, in this Operation Yewtree age. The introduction to Murray’s character – intended to showcase him as cool, confident, funny, a rule-breaker, someone to be admired – is him administering a telepathy test to two students. To the man, Murray delivers painful electric shocks, calling all his guesses wrong (even when correct); the attractive blonde he praises for her miraculously correct guesses (even when wrong), and proposes an evening in which they can discuss her gifts further. In other words, he’s using his position of professorial influence to con his way into bed with a young student. Ha ha.

Columbia Pictures are still officially at work on a Ghostbusters III, despite the death in February of Harold Ramis and resultant departure of original director Ivan Reitman. Dan Aykroyd is keen, but on current form Murray will take some persuading to sign up. On Letterman in 2010 he called it “my nightmare”. Earlier this year, he eloquently answered a journalist’s question about whether he would do it with, “Are you thinking of going back to high school?”

Make that 21 reasons why Bill Murray is the Coolest Human Being Alive.

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New films: Sly, Denzel, Bill, and l’il Lynch & Cronenberg

3 Feb
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Denzel Washington in Flight: the thinking man’s drinker

Note: this is the first in a weekly fix of new-release round-ups, saving you time and money. In future, I will post it on Fridays (as well as other blogs here and there).

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. When people used to smile wistfully and say, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore”, they meant screwball comedies, or heart-warming romances for the whole family. But now, fortysomething film fans might be thinking that about Bullet to the Head.

Stallone is on a mission to bring back the ‘80s, thankfully minus the haircuts. After two Execrables (sorry, Expendables), this is another testosterone-fuelled, muscle-packed, tattoo-laden fightfest, with a Ronseal slogan for a title.

The good news is that Bullet to the Head is directed by Walter Hill. He has always taken violence to mythic extremes: The Warriors (1979) was stuffed with classical allusions from Xenophon. If action’s what you want, Hill delivers it a little more satisfyingly than most.

With Arnie back in The Last Stand, and Terminator 5, Triplets and The Legend of Conan in the pipeline, it’s as though the last quarter-century never happened.

Another week, another Oscar contender. Flight features a subtle, career-best performance from Denzel Washington as a brilliant pilot who rescues his plane from a fireball, but is subsequently found to be alcoholic. Is he a national hero, or a menace?

There’s a classic piece of acting advice, which most ignore. It’s not to play drunk. Drunk people pretend to be sober – most actors are sober people pretending to be drunk, and it shows. [Actresses also take note: people given terrible news usually try to contain their grief, not let it out.] Anyway, Denzel nails his character. The opening flight scenes are as thrilling as you would expect from director Robert Zemeckis, too.

It’s always a pleasure to watch Bill Murray, in those rare moments he isn’t turning up unannounced at student parties or rescuing random people in unexpected ways (see the cult of www.billmurraystory.com). But his charming performance as President ‘FDR’ Roosevelt, being courted for the war effort by King George VI, isn’t enough to lift Hyde Park on Hudson. Plus… no werewolves! What’s that all about? FDR: American Badass gave us Nazi werewolves, so we’re definitely short-changed here.

Finally, welcome please the Next Generation in cult film-making:

Chained is directed by Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David. Astonishing they let her near a movie camera again after Boxing Helena (1993), the heart-warming story of a man who loves a woman too much – so much he cuts off her arms and legs and keeps her in a box. Chained is about a serial-killing New York cabbie called, yes Twin Peaks fans, Bob. Ah well. What kind of films do you expect from someone who grew up knowing Eraserhead was inspired by her birth?

Antiviral is the low-budget but beautifully shot debut of 32-year-old Brandon Cronenberg, son of David. The premise is intriguing: a clinic harvests viruses from sick celebrities to sell to rabid fans, so they can catch the same illness. Far-fetched? Maybe not. Is it really that far from the Britney Spears fans who were encouraged by internet pranksters to Go Bald for Britney after spreading rumours that she had cancer, or the Beliebers who were made to Cut4Bieber when he was pictured smoking a joint?

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