By Brad Grandrino
Wes Anderson is one of those directors whose unique style is either loved or loathed. Admittedly it feels as if his past few films have relied heavily on what feels more like a parody of his quirky, Futura-font-bestrewn technique, but that’s debatable among his fans. His films are often painted in pastel hues and shot in a manner that can really only be described as “Wes Anderson.” The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a perfect example of this distinctive composition. Not only is this flick my favorite Wes Anderson work,it’s easily in my top 5 all-time desert island favorites. Unsurprisingly, it stars Bill Murray as our titular protagonist, Steve Zissou: an aging Jacques Cousteau homage who has spent an adventurous life on the sea as an oceanographer. During their last expedition, his closest friend was eaten alive by the possibly-not-real Jaguar Shark, and then Zissou learns he might have a son. Joining Murray in his Moby Dick-esque quest to kill the Jaguar Shark and bond with his maybe-son are Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, and, as his arrogant arch nemesis, Jeff Goldblum. The quirky star-studded comedy proves to be a lot more emotional than other Wes Anderson works, showing us a desolate side to Murray’s Zissou, who is in a state of perplexed depression due to the unfortunate events surrounding him in his aged, washed-up condition. Of course, we’re soon made to realize that he willingly brought much of that misfortune upon himself. We despise, love, and sympathize with Steve Zissou all at once, because, like so many characters forged in the mind of Wes Anderson, he is a charming though self-indulgent asshole hiding a heart of gold. Featuring a dozen acoustic Portuguese David Bowie covers courtesy of Seu Jorge and a score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, The Life Aquatic is a sentimental cruise that will leave you with tear-streaked cheeks, a satisfied smile, and the urge to buy Adidas brand Zissou sneakers.
Meatballs is one of about a million summer camp movies, and one of only a handful of good summer camp movies. I’d put it at the top of that short list, right beside Wet Hot American Summer. One of the best things about 1979’s Meatballs is the fact that they do and say all sorts of shit that a filmmaker couldn’t get away with today – from Bill Murray’s character, Tripper (a camp counselor), blatantly referring to jailbait in a sexual manner to white cheerleaders dressed as Native Americans. Today’s hyper-sensitive “everything offends me” millennials would cry while typing up a whiny rant on Tumblr within the first fifteen minutes of a shot-for- shot modern Meatballs remake. You don’t have to have been alive in 1979 to feel the nostalgia of Meatballs; reminding us of a time when Hollywood had the balls to push the limits of crudeness in a way that didn’t feel forced for the sake of being crude, and everybody loved it. It’ll also be familiar to those of us who had to endure summer camps as kids – and, I’d imagine, those who were camp counselors (unless they went to Camp Crystal Lake, of course). Meatballs is an amusing summer jaunt fitting for an early August viewing. Aside from being insanely funny, the movie has got a heart, and that heart’s name is Bill Murray. Once again we are presented with a Murray movie that feels more like a Christmas present than just another off-the- shelf ‘70s comedy. It may not bring anything new to the table as far as summer camp comedies go, but it’s a good time that’s still deliciously entertaining almost forty years later. And if you don’t agree with that sentiment, well, in the words of Tripper Harrison himself, “It just doesn’t matter!”
I have never been a very big fan of musicals. I’ve always loved the stuff Matt Stone and Trey Parker put out, and obviously movies like The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and Mary Poppins are impossible not to love, but generally when it comes to musicals I’d rather see an on-stage performance than one on-screen. And around 2006 my younger brother developed an obnoxious obsession with Little Shop of Horrors – constantly blasting the soundtrack day and night. This obviously turned me off to the film, which was unfortunate because upon recently watching Little Shop, I’m in love. Audrey II has stolen my heart – which I’m sure the plant enjoyed. Like What About Bob?, Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Yoda himself – Frank Oz. Murray’s role in the flick is brief but glorious – he’s Arthur Denton, a patient of Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist, and he’s wildly masochistic as he practically begs for a root canal. While this role is more a cameo, Little Shop of Horrors is certainly deserving of having Bill Murray in its midst. The songs are catchy enough to stay in your head for months, the set designs are stunning, and the cast – led by the much missed Rick Moranis – shines throughout. Most impressively, though, is Audrey II. The elaborate puppet mechanics of the man-eating plant never fail to amaze, making you yearn for the days when cinema utilized breathtaking practical effects in lieu of today’s not-quite- as-impressive CGI. No modern day computer-generated Audrey II could possibly compete with the realistically terrifying look of the deadly plant in 1986.
It should also be noted that Little Shop of Horrors has two endings, and to avoid any spoilers for this thirty-year- old movie I’ll refer to one as the happy ending and the other as the bad ending. But let me clarify: when I say “bad” I don’t mean “not good” – no, in fact, this ending is my personal preference over the happy ending. Maybe I’m just a sucker for down endings. Granted, I haven’t actually seen the happy ending, but after reading a thorough summary of it I think I can safely conclude that the more horror-friendly finale is objectively better.
And now, to complete this twelve-movie Murraython, I present to you a review that probably won’t give any justice to one of my favorite Bill Murray flicks: Where The Buffalo Roam. First thing’s first: not everybody’s going to dig this movie. In fact, a lot of people hate it. Admittedly if you don’t know much about legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson or you just don’t like the guy, you’re not likely to appreciate Where The Buffalo Roam. Aside from that, I can’t deny that it is rather slow and incoherent. There’s not much of a plot, really – it’s just Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson recalling certain events between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s involving his attorney, Peter Boyle’s Carl Lazlo (based on Thompson’s real-life partner in crime Oscar Acosta). It’s amusing in a bizarre way – which can be expected in any flick about Hunter S. Thompson. But that kind of humor isn’t likely to strike a chord with many audiences, especially since some of the jokes are undeniably bad and sometimes cringe-inducing. Yes, as a massive fan of both Thompson and Murray it pains me to say it, but there’s no denying that Where The Buffalo Roam is rife with problems. The story (or lack thereof) tends to drag on, rarely if ever ceasing its incoherence. It’s difficult to keep up with, because there’s not much of a narrative. At the same time, however, the flick doesn’t really need a narrative: it’s pure Gonzo gibberish – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It plays out like a string of rambling, disjointed stories that aren’t really about anything other than how weird these characters were and the weird time in which they existed.
So long as you keep these things in mind – preferably a mind that’s some semblance of twisted – you’ll be able to enjoy Where The Buffalo Roam. And of course it’s inevitable that Murray’s Thompson be compared with Johnny Depp’s Raoul Duke of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Personally I think it comes down to this: Murray nailed the voice, Depp nailed the look. Simple as that. They were both fantastic though very different in their portrayals of the late Good Doctor, and that’s really all that counts. There are varying shades to Hunter S. Thompson, countless versions of him depending on the perspective of the third party, and Murray does an excellent job depicting a particular aspect of Hunter that perhaps the world of the average moviegoer was not yet ready to see in 1980.
And with that, I bring the Magnificent Murraython to a close. Yes, twelve Bill Murray movies doesn’t even cover half his filmography, so make no mistake: this may be the first Murraython, but it certainly won’t be the last. And if we’re lucky, the next one might include Garfield, followed immediately by my pending suicide note.