Tag Archives: Groundhog Day

The 11 best films about life insurance

12 Dec
Ned Ryerson, life insurance salesman, in Groundhog Day. So good I could watch it again, and again, and again...

Ned Ryerson, life insurance salesman, in Groundhog Day. So good I could watch it again, and again, and again…

Who knew life insurance could be so fascinating? I didn’t, until I was asked by The Guardian to compile a list of the top 11 movies about life insurance. It has provided the engine for many a film noir, but also featured in comedies such as Groundhog Day and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant short film.

Read the surprisingly interesting top 11 on the Guardian website.

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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.

Edge of Tomorrow: why video games are not the future for Hollywood

2 Jun

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If Edge of Tomorrow was just a big, dumb, popcorn movie about mankind’s last desperate battle against alien invaders, with only Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to save us, I’d probably have enjoyed it more. But it also throws in a potentially intriguing time-loop in which every time he is killed Cruise repeats the same day, again and again and again, until he gets it right.

If you think this sounds like a sci-fi take on Groundhog Day, you’d be right. If you pointed out that, er, Source Code already delivered a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, you’d be right again. So you’d expect Edge of Tomorrow to delve deeper into the psychological and philosophical ramifications of this premise – eg what does it do to you to die in agony day after day? If you die and are “reset”, are you the same person or a new one? And what happens to the other “yous” who died and where does their consciousness go? But no. Instead it turns it into a pure video game.

The movie is basically a series of “levels” in which Cruise tries and dies, tries and dies, each time progressing a little bit further as he learns from his mistakes. I Googled this, and discovered that director Doug Liman has indeed done this on purpose: “I’ve tried to bring the best aspects of video games, the most immersive aspects of video games, into my movies,” the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper explained to games site IGN.com.

There’s a problem with this: if you’ve ever waited for your turn while someone else plays a video game, you’ll realise they do not always make great spectator sports. And where’s the jeopardy if our action hero is indestructible? Nevertheless, it’s intriguing that as video games get more filmic, films are getting more videogamey.

The creators of Lost admitted that they constructed the series like a giant video game – eg you find a hatch; you finally work out how to open the hatch; and that takes you to a whole new subterranean level. My favourite example of the genre is Gareth Evans’ brilliant action movie The Raid, which involved the hero climbing up through various (literal) levels of an apartment building, defeating a host of baddies on his way to the climactic confrontation with The Boss.

Tom Cruise is excellent in Edge of Tomorrow, reminding us why he’s such a plausible and likeable action hero after the snoozefest that was Oblivion. Emily Blunt, who’s become one of my favourite actresses, makes the most of a one-note role. The dialogue is sparky, thanks to the writing combo of Jez “Jerusalem” Butterworth and Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie. And the action scenes are brilliantly edited, even if the Normandy beach invasion scenes (yes, this is Groundhog D-Day) suffer in comparison with Saving Private Ryan.

But the ending – and I won’t give any spoilers here – is particularly dumb. Not only is it too easy, there is a time problem which I can’t discuss (because spoilers) but which is so glaring I thought I must have missed something till I Googled “stupid ending problem” and found a thread of puzzled fans scratching their heads over the exact same thing.

So if you like killer aliens and Tom Cruise kicking ass in an exo-skeleton – and I do, I do – you will surely enjoy this. But if you hope to exercise the little grey cells over a time-twisty sci-fi pic – and I do, I do – you will be sadly disappointed.