Tag Archives: Bill Murray

Top 100 Films #38 – Rushmore (1998)

 

bill-murray-rushmore#38. Rushmore (1998)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Seymour Cassel, Olivia Williams, Luke Wilson

Rushmore was only Wes Anderson’s second film, and it was already clear that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with in American independent cinema.  His penchant for quirky dialogue, situational humor, and meticulously crafted visuals pushed him to a career that currently sees him as one of the most popular independent filmmakers in the world.  Rushmore was his second of three highly successful writing collaborations with actor Owen Wilson, whose brother Luke appears in the film.  The story sees young Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) struggling to balance his grades and many extracurriculars at Rushmore Academy, a Texas-based private school that is seemingly far out of Max’s league. Max strikes up a close friendship with the disillusioned and wealthy Rushmore donator Herman Blume (Bill Murray).  The two eventually fall for new first grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), who Herman begins a private affair with after persuading Max to let go of his feelings of her.  When Max finds out about the affair, he and Herman begin a war for Rosemary’s affections.  Wes Anderson’s Rushmore is one of the funniest, most quirky films of the 1990’s – it would be a sign of things to come in the young director’s later career.  While it doesn’t feature quite the amount of detailed production design that future Anderson films would, Rushmore’s most memorable moments stand out on their own without these visual aids.  Anderson and Wilson’s screenplay perfectly establishes Max Fischer as a complicated, three-dimensional character who is very easy to get behind, and his relationship with the unsatisfied, manipulative Herman Blume is believably absurd and humorous.  The screenplay’s pacing is perfect, running at a very brisk pace and yet still allowing for a great deal of character and situation development.  Even while Max and Herman are doing battle with one another, both characters still must contend with other conflicts like Max being expelled from school and being ashamed of his humble upbringing, and Herman being unsatisfied with his home life.  Even with a tremendous script, Rushmore would not be half the film it is without its lead performances from Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, whose comedic chemistry is undeniable. Schwartzman’s Max Fischer is just the right amount of arrogant and overly-ambitious, contrasting perfectly with Murray’s Herman Blume, a man who has been disillusioned and unsatisfied for far too long, and finds an odd sense of comfort in young people like Max.  Both characters are some of the most memorable and charming, if slightly off-kilter, of the 1990’s. Rushmore is a quirky, hilarious, and stylish comedy from Wes Anderson that is worth everybody’s time.

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Top 100 Films #47 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

 

royal_young#47. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Seymour Cassel

The Royal Tenenbaums is the film that launched Wes Anderson from indie darling to world-class filmmaker, and is the film I would consider to be the best of his filmography – even if I like a certain other film marginally more. Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums tackles the collective trials and tribulations of the titular Tenenbaum family –  Royal (Gene Hackman), the selfish patriarch of the family, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), his ex-wife, Chas (Ben Stiller), a financial prodigy who has recently become a widower, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), the adopted playwright, and Richie (Luke Wilson), a depressive former tennis tar.  The family comes together after Royal’s announcement of his alleged stomach cancer diagnosis – coming coincidentally right after his ex-wife Etheline is proposed to by a man named Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).  The magic of The Royal Tenenbaums comes in Wes Anderson’s ability to create a genuine family on-screen, comprised of some of the most underappreciated actors of the early 2000’s – every moment feels genuine, despite being full of Anderson’s usual cinematic flare.  Each character has a detailed and believable backstory, immediately making them endearing and relatable – their struggles and triumphs feel real and carefully structured.   The writer-director’s careful attention to detail has become famous since his debut, and The Royal Tenenbaums may be the best example of this.  Each frame is littered with an unending amount of decorative flare – it’s clear that Anderson is passionately about the production design of his films.  His obsessive eye for detail makes immersion second-nature – it’s easy to fall in love with his films just based on their visual and audio content.  The writing is at all times witty and loaded to the brim with quirk, but never coming off as disingenuous or annoying.  The performances from top to bottom are very good, with the strongest two being Gene Hackman as Royal, who is selfish and conniving but undoubtedly well-intentioned in the end, and Luke Wilson as Richie, whose manic depressive personality feels genuine and adds a great sense of poignancy to the film.  Wilson’s famous “Needle in the Hay” scene is the most powerful in the entire film, and a must see for anybody who hasn’t. The chemistry between the entire cast blends perfectly with Wes Anderson’s incredible world building, adding a layer of sincerity that many films could never dream of having.  The Royal Tenenbaums is one of the finest films of the 2000’s, and one of the best movies ever made about the family unit.  It’s intelligent, it’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s incredibly stylish and beautiful – what more could you want?

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Top 100 Films #61 – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

 

lasz-dafoe-and-wilson#61. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort

The first Wes Anderson film to appear on my list was also the first film of his I had ever seen.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the magical tale of the titular oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) who meets his possible son Ned (Owen Wilson).  Zissou and his eclectic crew of misfits go to sea aboard the decrepit Belafonte in search of the great jaguar shark who killed Steve’s dear friend Esteban.  Along the way they form long-lasting bonds, see beautiful underwater sights, and tangle with Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), Zissou’s nemesis, and even a violent band of pirates.  The Life Aquatic was something of a departure for Wes Anderson, whose work up to this point had been far more grounded – it’s fantastic nature showed that the director could make almost any material work, especially with his crew of talented regulars.  Anderson uses practical visual effects and his usual tremendous production design to give The Life Aquatic a unique, charming look and feel.  The film also marked Anderson’s first collaboration with independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who would also go on to co-write the script for 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The character of Steve Zissou is a personal favorite of mine, and my favorite of Bill Murray’s collaborations with Anderson – his chemistry with both Owen Wilson and Cate Blanchett is terrific, and his bone dry wit works perfectly through the film.  When Murray is required to emote, he does so in the most natural and believable way. The film’s best scene comes when Zissou and his crew finally encounter the legendary jaguar shark – the beautiful effects, lighting, and the use of Sigur Rós’ song Starálfur makes for a deeply moving moment.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is charming, funny, thrilling, and whimsical, which is everything I look for in a Wes Anderson film.

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Classic Musicals #3 – Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little_shop_of_horrorsLittle Shop of Horrors (1986)
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Howard Ashman (based on Little Shop of Horrors (stage musical) by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960 film) by Roger Corman)
Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, John Candy, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Paul Dooley

1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors proved to be an early hit for the prolific and iconic filmmaker extraordinaire Roger Corman.  Shot on a meager budget of $30,000 and being shown mostly in drive-in movie theaters, Corman’s film had a much further reach than he ever could have imagined.  The original film inspired a hugely successful off-Broadway musical, as well as a beloved 80’s cult musical that managed to be a modest financial and critical success.  Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors has a lot going for it, including hilarious leading men Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, a screenplay full of catchy and consistent songwriting by Disney writer Howard Ashman, and an experienced visual director at its helm.  Frank Oz famously worked side by side with Jim Henson (creator of The Muppets) for years, developing his craft and becoming familiar with the use of puppetry and other practical special effects.  Oz, former voice of famous Muppet characters like Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy, as well as Star Wars’ Yoda, made a career of directing cult hits like The Dark Crystal, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, The Indian in the Cupboard, Bowfinger, and Death at a Funeral.  Little Shop of Horrors, one of the director’s earliest hits, combined Oz’s penchant for practical effects and oddball humor.  Starring alongside Moranis and Martin are Ellen Green and Vincent Gardenia, along with cameos from stars like John Candy, Bill Murray, and Christopher Guest.  The movie’s ending was famously re-shot after test audiences reacted negatively to its dark and morbid nature.  Executives at The Geffen Company had been against the original ending in the first place, and used this as an excuse to axe it from the final cut.  The cast and crew of Little Shop of Horrors were forced to cut 23-minutes of footage from the original cut of the film, and instead shot a much more family friendly and optimistic final act.  The removal of the original ending cut two original songs from the film, and even saw a casting change as Jim Belushi replaced the then unavailable Paul Dooley for the role of an important marketing executive. Despite the heavy re-shoots, Little Shop of Horrors proved to be a financial and critical success, picking up two Oscar nominations (for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song), as well as two Golden Globe nominations (for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical and Best Original Score).  Little Shop of Horrors has managed to find itself a dedicated cult audience, and currently sits among the best musical films of the 1980’s.  The film’s original ending is now readily available on home media, and Frank Oz and Howard Ashman’s original vision can now be seen in all its glory.

Little Shop of Horrors closely follows the plot of Alan Menken’s off-broadway stage play, but also lifts basic elements from Roger Corman’s 1960 film.  The film follows down on his luck Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis), who works at Mushnik’s Flower Shop, owned by the strict and mostly unsuccessful Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia).  At the flower shop, Seymour works closely with his crush and colleague Audrey (Ellen Greene).  Both Seymour and Audrey live in Skid Row, and dream of one day becoming successful and being able to leave the city slums.  Unfortunately for Seymour, Audrey is dating the emotionally and physically abusive dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), who refuses to let her out of his clutches.  After a string of bad luck (and bad business), Mr. Mushnik decides to close up his flower shop and move on with life.  Seymour is able to save the shop by displaying his newly acquired unique flower in the shop’s window.  He names the mysterious new plant Audrey II (Levi Stubbs), and quickly finds that the formerly unassuming plant has an insatiable appetite for blood and flesh.  The young and hopeful flower shop attendant soon finds himself conflicted, on one hand not wanting to feed into Audrey II’s dangerous appetite, but also wanting to lead a successful life and move far away from Skid Row. Through a series of unfortunate events, Audrey II finds its prey and grows many times its original size, bringing hundreds of paying customers into Mushnik’s Flower Shop.  Without knowing it, Seymour’s feeding of the plant spells disaster for the flower shop and for the city of New York if it isn’t stopped.  Will Seymour find a way to appease the mysterious Audrey II, or will the ever growing alien plant prove too much to handle for the hapless young man?  Find out in Frank Oz’s 1986 Little Shop of Horrors!

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Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Vincent Gardenia playing the employees of Mushnik’s Flower Shop in Little Shop of Horrors.

For the sake of clarification, I’ll start by stating that I watched the film as it was originally meant to be seen, downer ending and all.  This is the version supported by the director and writer of the film, and therefore I think it’s only appropriate to focus on that original vision.

Before starting my journey through the classics of movie musicals, I had only heard vague details about 1986’s cult hit.  I knew all about the famous story of re-shooting the ending sequence, and I knew that the now retired Rick Moranis starred in the picture, but it was otherwise a completely fresh experience for this critic.  Having loved nearly every Frank Oz production I’ve seen up to this point, I should have known that my time with Little Shop of Horrors was going to be a memorable experience.  I’ve never enjoyed Rick Moranis as much as I did in this project, and I finally feel like I understand his appeal.  His turn as Seymour Krelborn is perfect, even if it doesn’t go about reinventing the wheel.  His hapless but hopeful good-natured character is far from original, but Moranis manages to nail the role in every way.  Unfortunately for Rick Moranis, his co-star is Ellen Greene, who may just have the most grating voice I’ve ever heard on film.  While it does suit her catchy musical numbers, I just couldn’t take her seriously as Audrey.  What is supposed to be a beautiful, hopelessly romantic, sympathetic punching bag is instead reduced to an annoying cliche that doesn’t even seem to fit the film’s offbeat nature.  Luckily for the film, Frank Oz’s casting of comedic veterans like Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, and Christopher Guest more than makes up for Greene’s occasionally painful performance.  Martin in particular steals the show with the most physical performance in Little Shop of Horrors, playing a delightfully evil dentist and delivering the most memorable musical number in the film.  Even more impressive than the many hilarious performances are the musical numbers, which are far and away the highlight of this bizarre movie.  Howard Ashman, who co-wrote the successful off-Broadway production, brings with him a host of memorable and incredibly quirky tunes, many of which feature prominent doo-wop and 1950’s pop influences.  The two most memorable numbers come in the form of Steve Martin’s rendition of “Dentist!”, which sees him purposely inflicting pain on patients on dental staff alike, and “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”, where Audrey II tells of its sinister true intentions (and shows off its impressive lyricism, too).  The special effects in the film are incredible in all respects, especially the creature design for Audrey II in all its forms.  The puppetry is entirely convincing and has aged perfectly, never seeming too over-the-top or looking “fake”.  The puppets (designed by Lyle Conway) are gracefully operated, creating a truly frightening and visually interesting antagonist.  The film’s original ending sees the use of incredible model work for downtown Manhattan, all of which looks incredible even today.  I can’t imagine how Frank Oz must have felt when he was forced to cut 23-minutes of tremendous footage from Little Shop of Horrors.  On the subject of the film’s climax, I can say having seen both versions that the original is far and away the best version.  While it may seem unsatisfying for viewers who prefer lighter fare in their musicals, it perfectly suits the offbeat and dark nature of the film.  It’s dark and horrific in many ways, but I wouldn’t want it any other way in this case.  I’m glad that the original version of the film has been restored and treated with the respect it deserves, because it truly adds weight to the final product.

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Steve Martin as the evil Orin Scrivello, DDS in Frank Oz’s cult hit Little Shop of Horrors.

While Little Shop of Horrors may not be a perfect film, there’s just far too much about it that I adored.  The talented comedic cast, the memorable musical numbers and offbeat nature of the screenplay, and the incredibly detailed practical effects and puppetry are more than enough to overlook a few bad performances and some slight drag in the movie’s later moments.  If you’re a fan of cult musicals like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise, or 80’s horror movies in general, then I can confidently say that Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors is for you.  Little Shop of Horrors is an incredibly funny and catchy, if slightly bizarre and nonsensical, musical.  It’s highly recommended.

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