Tag Archives: Labor Day

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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LFF gala premiere: Kate Winslet’s Labor Day

15 Oct
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Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in Labor Day

Last night was the May Fair Hotel Gala Premiere of Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. It was great to be back on the red carpet – I used to go to all the LFF galas when at Time Out and The Times. Kate Winslet looked radiant in red, though she complained of “pregnancy brain” to one interviewer on the red carpet. What awesome timing, though – to be pregnant while promoting a film called Labor Day!

As to the film itself, it’s nearly brilliant. It has a great set-up: an agoraphobic mum (Kate Winslet) and her young son are forced to drive an escaped con (Josh Brolin) to their home, where he lies low until he can escape. The sense of menace is mixed with a palpable sexual tension as he ties her up “for her own good”, so that she can’t be accused of being his accomplice.

But later, when he unties her and starts doing jobs around the house, it becomes clear that he is not merely a good man, but an absurdly good one, the kind you wouldn’t find outside Mills & Boon (the film, by Jason Reitman, is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard). He fixes the car, the furnace, the garden wall; he cooks, he cleans, he irons with his shirt off; he teaches the son baseball and is kind to his disabled friend. In a faintly ludicrous sequence, reminiscent of a three-handed version of the pottery scene in Ghost, he teaches mother and son to make a peach pie, one of many heavy-handed visual metaphors for the family they are building together. Once the looming menace is replaced with the simpler fear that the police will find him before they can live happily ever after, the film loses much of its tension.

Me interviewing Francesca Cardinale

Me interviewing Francesca Cardinale

And then on to the after-party at the May Fair Hotel, which specialises in putting up stars from the world of film and fashion. Here I bumped into my old Cannes mucker, director Paul Wiffen, always with a stylish hat on his head and a beautiful actress on his arm. This time the young lovely was Francesca Cardinale, niece of the great Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, currently at a top acting school in Rome, opposite Cinecita.

I interviewed Francesca briefly, though between my lack of Italian and her lack of English, all I could glean was that she has a small role in Those Happy Years, an Italian film  well received at the Toronto Film Fest, and showing at the London Film Festival on Oct 18 and 19; and that in Paul Wiffen’s forthcoming secret agent romp SpyFail she plays the daughter of one Maria Gratis Tuttilenotte (geddit?) who is bent on revenge.

Wiffen also says he is on the verge of a casting coup for his secret agent character, Roger Most. I am sworn to secrecy until the ink has dried on the contract, but it’s someone handsome, debonair, ludicrously funny, and richly deserving of another big-screen outing. Watch this space.