On Sept. 5, the Reel Guys will be wearing our matching glow-in-the-dark Dr. Venkman khaki T-shirts to celebrate TIFF’s Bill Murray Day. Beginning at 10 a.m., the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto will feature free screenings of Stripes, Groundhog Day and, everybody’s favourite, Ghostbusters, in advance of the world premier of Murray’s new movie St. Vincent. “I’m a nut,” Murray says, “but not just a nut.” His movies, which range from nutty comedies to dramas and everything in between, show his range. Today, as we celebrate the genius that is Bill Murray, the Reel Guys select a few must-sees.
Richard: Mark, I feel happy just knowing that I live in the same world as Bill Murray. I’ve never met him, but his very existence and the existence of films like Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation and any of his movies with Wes Anderson make my world a better place.
If I had to choose one little-seen Murray movie to tout, it would be Where the Buffalo Roam — his take on the life of the high priest of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. It’s not a great film, but it’s worth it to hear Murray say the famous line, “I hate to advocate drugs or liquor, violence, insanity to anyone, but, in my case, it worked.”
Mark: Richard, here’s my pick for a little-known film starring Murray: The Razor’s Edge. At the height of Murray’s first round of fame, he managed to miscast himself in a Somerset Maugham costume drama about a man’s search for spirituality.
His acting style is completely at odds with the rest of the material, as he’s playing the part as a louche 19th-century wiseass. And you know what? I love it!
Also from this time period, the mid-’80s, is the underrated Scrooged, a great retelling of A Christmas Carol. Traditionalists who fondly remember Alistair Sims would be aghast, but Murray really knows how to shake off the cobwebs and make the movie funny and oddly touching.
RC: Have you seen Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson? He plays Franklin D. Roosevelt and he gives the kind of effortless performance that made me wonder what might have happened to his career if The Razor’s Edge hadn’t been such a flop, forcing him back into comedy. But he can switch back and forth easily.
The same year he played an undertaker in Get Low, he also played an exaggerated version of himself as a man who plays at being a zombie during the apocalypse so he can continue playing golf unbothered by the undead in Zombieland.
It’s a surreal cameo that, like most of Murray’s appearances, is worth the price of admission.
MB: There may be bad movies that Bill Murray is in but there are no bad Bill Murray movies. He consistently rises above the material. But when the script is top-notch, there is no beating him.
I’m thinking here of Groundhog Day — one of the best and smartest comedies of the past 30 years.
He takes a clever idea and turns it into something transcendent, even philosophical. Great movie, great performance.
RC: In the transcendent and philosophical pile, I’d throw in Broken Flowers, where Murray plays a man on a journey to reconnect with all the women he knew before he became a burned-out Don Juan.
Ebert gave this four out of four stars; I give it five out of four. It’s that good.
MB: Yes, a great role for him. But consider this: his supporting role in Tootsie, where he nearly steals scenes from the great Dustin Hoffman.
The Spider-Man movies don’t skimp on the stuff that puts the “super” into superhero movies. There’s web-slinging shenanigans and wild bad guys galore, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb calls the relationship between Spidey and girlfriend Gwen Stacy, “the engine of the movie.”
The chemistry the real-life couple brings to the screen is undeniable, but it almost didn’t get a chance to blossom. Before Emma Stone landed the role of the brainiac love interest, Mia Wasikowska, Imogen Poots, Emma Roberts and even Lindsay Lohan were considered.
Stone won some of the best reviews of her career playing Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man — Peter Travers said she, “just jumps to life on screen” — in a role that gave her the biggest hit of her career to date.
Smaller roles in Superbad and Zombieland hinted at her ability to be funny and hold the screen, but in 2010’s Easy A she turned a corner into full-on Lucille Ball mode, mixing pratfalls with wit while pulling faces and cracking jokes. Smart and funny, she’s the film’s centrepiece.
The movie begins with the voice over, “The rumours of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s the voice of Olive (Stone), a clean-cut high school senior who tells a little white lie about losing her virginity. As soon as the gossip mill gets a hold of the info, however, her life takes a parallel course to the heroine of the book she is studying in English class — The Scarlet Letter.
Stone is laugh-out-loud funny in Easy A, but her breakout film was a serious drama.
In The Help, she plays Jackson, Miss. native “Skeeter” Phelan who comes home from four years at school to discover the woman who raised her, a maid named Constantine (Cicely Tyson), is no longer employed by her family. Her mother says she quit, but Skeeter has doubts. With the help of a courageous group of housekeepers she tells the real story of the life of the maids, writing a book called The Help.
The Flick Filosopher called her performance, “on fire with indignation and rage,” and she moved from The Help to a variety of roles, including playing a femme fatale in Gangster Squad opposite Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin, and lending her trademark raspy voice to cave girl Eep in the animated hit The Croods.
The 25-year-old actress is living her childhood dream of being an actress but says if performing hadn’t worked out, she would have been a journalist, “because (investigating people’s lives is) pretty much what an actor does.
“And imagine getting to interview people like me,” she laughs. ‘’It can’t get much better than that.”
Making a horror comedy is tricky business. Do it right and you get a classic like “Sean of the Dead,” a movie whose body count is offset by just the right amount of laughs. Do it wrong and you’ll wind up with “Repossessed,” a movie that is neither funny nor scary, just dull. “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer (whose next movie is to be called Psycho Funky Chimp) understands that horror comedies are neither fish nor fowl—they are both. For every decapitation you have to have a giggle and “Zombieland” delivers on both counts.
This post-apocalyptic zom com stars Jesse Eisenberg as a teenage curmudgeon who has survived a fast acting viral plague that turned his neighbors (and everybody else) into ferocious flesh eating zombies. Mad cow became mad person which became mad zombie disease! It should be a paradise for this videogame playing hermit—no facebook status updates!—but a life spent killing ravenous zombies has left him starving for human contact. When he meets zombie killer Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and two dishonest sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), he realizes for better or worse, they must stick together to survive.
“Zombieland” has the same over-the-top silly vibe that makes movies like “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” such guilty pleasures. It’s gross-out funny with plenty of action and zombie kills for the hardcores, but underneath the absurdity is a message about humanity. At the end of the movie Eisenberg’s character realizes that his solitary life was turning him into the thing he feared most. “Without other people,” he says, “you might as well be a zombie.” The sentiment may not be as powerful as George A. Romero’s zombie metaphors but it puts a nice little bow on this coming of age story.
Also strong is the casting. Eisenberg, a young actor second only to Michael Cera in playing awkward teens on film, is an unlikely action movie hero, but here he plays to his strengths—playing the witty self-conscious teen—and expands his range to include zombie serial killer.
Equally fun is Woody Harrelson as the Twinkie loving zombie hunter Tallahassee. Harrelson brings a swagger and some unexpected twists to the character and delivers many of the film’s funniest lines.
Both are ably supported by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin who don’t have as have much to do as the boys, but do a great deal to keep the story moving forward.
The showiest role in the film, however, belongs to a Hollywood superstar who has one of the most surreal cameos in recent memory. I’m not going to tell you who it is (it’s funnier if you don’t know) but his wild scenes alone are worth the price of admission.
“Zombieland” breathes a bit of new life into the sometimes stale zombie genre.