A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.theguardian.com 

The Overnight

Release: Friday, June 19, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Patrick Brice

Directed by: Patrick Brice

This one time, at Jason Schwartzman’s house . . .

No, but seriously. This is no band-camp experience; this is a movie about adults having a sleepover. Wait, that sounds even weirder. Schwartzman’s Kurt is hosting. Well, he and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) are and they want to do everything they can to ensure all guests enjoy themselves. The occasion? Welcoming some new friends to the neighborhood.

Recently relocated couple Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) have been having a hard time finding their crowd in suburban Los Angeles. One afternoon they happen upon Kurt when his son Max and Alex and Emily’s son R.J. become fast friends at a local playground. Kurt is empathetic to the newcomers’ situation and invites them over for dinner and drinks and even offers to help them find ways to branch out in their community. Though a little strange, Kurt seems like a genuine person so the couple accept.

Given its often surprising direction, a title like The Overnight winds up being sufficiently vague, even if there’s barely enough material to justify a full-length feature. Running a scant 80 minutes, young writer-director Patrick Brice’s new film begins as an innocent play-date amongst four thirtysomethings with children. However, it’s after the children have gone to sleep where we really start to reap the benefits of a rather nondescript title: while we stay within the luxurious confines of Kurt and Charlotte’s beautiful, bohemian abode we dive into another world marked by a perverse subversion of social etiquette and/or the complete absence of personal boundaries. After the children have gone to sleep, things get weird.

On the surface, The Overnight asks of whatever small audience it is going to find what lengths would we go to in order to make new friends in a strange city? Where would we draw the line at a party hosted by people we have only known a day or so? Said party involves the usual — drugs and alcohol (of course) — but what if, for the sake of our supposed enjoyment, it took a turn for the surreal? Do we draw the line before or after skinny dipping has been suggested?

Digging beneath that surface, Brice’s sex comedy won’t exactly inspire the most profound conversation, but it goes deeper than just a raunchy sketch. An intimate portrayal of two long-time couples seeking — accidentally or not (certainly not without some cringe-inducing moments) — sexual gratification, The Overnight could inspire some pillow-talk. Finding ways to spice up a couple’s romantic life doesn’t necessarily lend itself to dinner conversation, but that’s why Brice has the kids put to bed and has created a suitably dynamic environment in which such a discussion can take place naturally. Or as naturally as possible with these people involved. Needless to say the affairs become pretty personal; the opening scene has become a great barometer for the party environment into which we step.

Brice’s sophomore effort feels more like a series of personal confessions of people we know caught on film than a comedy performed by seasoned actors. It’s a precariously slight production, liable to be forgotten all too soon. Still, a very game cast help make this series of escalating, bizarre scenarios more pleasurable than it has any right to be.

Recommendation: Suffice it to say this won’t be the most substantial film you’ll see this year — it’ll likely finish second if you manage to limit your movie watching to just two all year — but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of the kinds of shenanigans Adam Scott seems to find himself in a lot. In fact the entire cast is really likable and the situations, though they get weird, are pretty fun to see get played out. The Overnight would probably function better as a short film or even a series of shorts, but as a sex comedy, it finds minor success. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 79 mins.

Quoted: “I feel like I just gave birth to myself.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.timeout.com 

Big Eyes

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Release: Christmas Day 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski 

Directed by: Tim Burton

Tim Burton’s latest feels a little on the safe side. Why does that sound like I’m complaining? Shouldn’t the one thing that I ought to be doing right now be praising the director’s efforts for attempting to reach for a new muse? I guess more than anything I’m afraid for Waltz (or Amy Adams for that matter), as I don’t want either of them to end up floating down a chocolate river sometime soon in their careers. That’s a concern that’s as metaphorical as it is literal.

Because you never know with Burton. The next muse he might find could be a tap-dancing lizard. But there is one thing that’s clear about him this time: he’s willing to tone down the weird — or dispense with it completely — if it serves the subject properly. I have time for any artist who is willing to show humility, especially those this far into careers that have thus far worked even moderately well for them. In years past, there hasn’t seemed to have been a great deal of suspense when it came to anticipating (and later experiencing) one of his projects. You know what you are going to get with him, despite not knowing precisely what you are going to be shown on screen. Fine for everyone who has bought into his peculiar brand.

It’s different with Big Eyes. This doesn’t feel like that one thing that has captured another ‘it’ actor in a bubble; mostly that’s due to Christoph Waltz’s inability to be described as such. The man’s talent knows no bounds. Plus, he probably doesn’t want to hang out in a bubble anyway. Adams, the same. And it’s not like this story is so familiar that any sort of contemporary revisitation would become an exercise in embarrassingly transparent superfluity at the corporate level (Dracula: Untold, my big eyes are on you). In a way, Burton ought to be credited for taking something as endearing as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and renovating it so much it’s no longer recognizable to even its most blue-faced fanatics.

Big Eyes concerns the personal and (lack of) professional life of one Margaret Keane (née Peggy Doris Hawkins), a woman who marries an artist she meets on a sun-spackled San Francisco boulevard because he is a bit of a charmer. He also can provide the financial support she and her daughter Jane both desperately need. That same husband would later claim credit for every piece she created while locked away in an attic outfitted as a dingy art studio. That’s no spoiler if you’re familiar with the Keane story. But I’ll keep my big mouth shut when it comes to revealing the manner in which this typically extravagant director goes about solving Margaret’s problems with her increasingly cartoonishly delusional husband. Suffice it to say this is Burton’s most accessible story in years, even if the subject matter might not appeal.

His film truly showcases some gorgeous artwork, and it is within these delicate frames — portraits, typically of children with gaping, vacant eyes standing against drab backgrounds — that some semblance of Burton’s infectious spirit pops out at the viewer. It’s restrained to the point of manifesting as another artist miming his style, but there’s no plagiarism going on here. On occasion Margaret’s dedication to maintaining the lie that she has helped build around herself, purely out of fear of crumbling the family’s financial empire that has gloriously arisen out of it, contributes to her hallucinations of people having actual big eyes. Once more Tim Burton reveals himself but for only brief interludes.

Big Eyes is something to admire, if not for the way it belies Burton’s fascination with the absurd, then for its distancing from it. It’s not the first time Burton has done something besides messing with skeleton-looking. . .thingies. . .for an inspiration but this is probably the furthest he’s been from actually thinking about them in sometime. There’s a profound respect he has for Margaret’s work here that shall not be denied. After all, in the 1990s he did commission the artist to paint a portrait of his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie. Hopefully that one hangs right beside an eerie oil-on-canvas of Willy Wonka grinning ear-to-ear, standing directly behind a wide-eyed Charlie Bucket.

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3-0Recommendation: While Big Eyes isn’t the most inspired piece of film you’ll see this year (whoops this was supposed to be posted last year), this is a passionate love letter to the artistic style of Margaret Keane and her ‘big eyes’ portraits. The narrative brims with a potent fascination with the times, the people, and the art itself and it gives weight to both the artist and the husband behind her in equal measure. Waltz and Adams are both spectacular and their performances make this film memorable. Ultimately, this just doesn’t feel like a Tim Burton film, despite his obvious infatuation with Keane’s unique style.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Good God, it’s a movement. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Release: Friday, March 7, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Getting to work with Wes Anderson on any given project just has to be an unforgettable experience. If he called, I honestly don’t know how one would be able to use the word ‘No’ during that conversation; that scheduling conflict better be worth it.

Whether just a weekend visitor or planning to rent out a room for the long term, an actor who steps foot inside the lobby of Wes Anderson’s creative space is never quite the same afterwards. Ideally, this is what happens anyway. The opportunity of getting to work alongside such a unique and self-assured director has been one a diverse collection of actors has already taken advantage of and benefitted from.

It’s like clockwork with this guy. Each time he has a new offering there are more big names to point out in a cast that seems to continuously expand. In the case of his latest, the roster has swelled to very grand proportions indeed. Weekend visitors this time around include the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan and Léa Seydoux — all names that bear much recognition already but that also decided they could use some time away at the Wes Anderson school hotel of filmmaking in order to tap new potential.

Their career moves aren’t so much brave as they are smart. In 2014 the aforementioned names are to join the Wes Anderson fraternity — Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, among others all being potential role models for the newcomers to this wild and wacky world created by one of the most original filmmakers in the business today. By attracting this large of a cast, his new work seems to be bursting at the seams with potential to take his signature quirk to the highest level.

This year Anderson has whipped up The Grand Budapest Hotel, a rollercoaster ride of a friendship between hotel concierge M. Gustave H (Fiennes) and his lobby boy-in-training, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Taking up the task of training the wet-behind-the-ears lad, Gustave proudly and confidently tours both Zero and the audience through the expansive and elegant enclaves of the hotel whilst explaining the proper etiquette that is expected of its staff. Gustave is something of a celebrity in the mountainous region of the Republic of Zubrowka, where his hotel is located, as he has been known to go to bed with several of his female guests — all of whom have been blonde.

His latest escapade with an elderly woman leaves Gustave embroiled in controversy when evidence of her mysterious death surfaces and doesn’t exactly cast him in a favorable light. As it turns out, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) was an incredibly wealthy individual with a number of possessions to give away. In a surprise move, she bequeathes a rare painting to Gustave for his kindness and care in her later years, and this is done to her surviving family’s great chagrin.

Embittered and angry sons Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling — which must be a Zubrowkan name for ‘Dracula’ or something because Willem Dafoe looks the part — plot Gustave’s demise in the ensuing chapters. Gustave and Zero bond over the years as they attempt to prove his innocence in the matter by traveling all over the ridiculous place just to get him an alibi. He has to consort with the mysterious Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) in order to do so and at the same time, avoid the increasing threat posed by Jopling and Dmitri. For his assistance and loyalty in this most trying time, Gustave promises to make young Zero his heir at the Grand Budapest, all in due course. . .of course.

Despite the film borrowing shamelessly elements from all other Anderson films — as all other Anderson films do of all other Anderson films — The Grand Budapest Hotel is decidedly one of the darker tales. It shares the same giddy levels of cartoonish action and physical comedy, and the writing is sharply written to the point of guaranteeing at least one painful laugh per half hour. It is even divided up into small chapters like other films are. It features heavy narration and a bevy of well-known actors in funny roles and outfits.

Upon reflection, the 2014 effort features a central story that’s generally bleaker than a lot of his other material has been. Though it is not completely lacking, there isn’t quite as much adoration or affection presented in the affairs ongoing. Even though we’re told about it, we don’t see Zero’s passionate love affair develop much with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan); there are more threats than laughs coming from Madame D’s family as the investigation continues into the death of a member of elite society; Gustave goes to prison for some time because he gets framed for the murder. When Zero’s backstory is given time to be explained, the film looks to be heading in the direction of full-on drama but thanks to the strength of the screenplay and the awareness of Anderson, we never quite go there.

Even when it is apparent that the fate of the hotel is anything but certain given the looming violence on the European horizon, this is through-and-through a Wes Anderson comedy-drama that banks on the same appeal his films have consistently displayed and been appreciated for over the last 20 years.

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4-0Recommendation: Although it doesn’t do much in the way of providing an argument as to why it should be considered his best, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a traditional Anderson dish with a European flare. Almost slapstick in delivering the laughs, the tale is quickly paced once it gets going, though first-time or on-the-fence viewers might find the first twenty minutes or so a bit tedious. Although, the Anderson tropes and the film’s slow opening may all be forgotten if one is a big enough fan of Ralph Fiennes. A stellar turn for the man in a role that contrasts considerably from his usual fare.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “You’re looking so well darling, you really are. I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue but, I want some.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

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Release: Friday, February 8, 2013 (limited)

[Redbox]

Okay. First of all, anything with Charlie Sheen’s name on it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Actually, make that an entire shaker’s worth. If you ever saw the former-hit sitcom Two & A Half Men, you’d know his character in it was ridiculous and that a good portion of that show’s misogynistic leitmotif stemmed from it. He’s a boisterous womanizing drunkard, and he knows it. He even publicly fuels controversy over it:

“I was banging seven-gram rocks, because that’s how I roll. I have one speed, I have one gear. Go.”

Or how about this:

“I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path, because it was written for normal people. People who aren’t special. People who don’t have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”

Ah, well then that explains everything! Tiger blood is to blame for several stints in rehab (questionable completion, I might add…), the removal of his kids from his own custody and put in the care of an actual adult (who unfortunately is lacking in tiger blood), the aftermath of the fall-out with Chuck Lorre, and more than likely, its A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III‘s only reason for being.

Regard, the one and only Charles Swan III. As the main character, he’s meant to be a little bit different than Charlie Sheen himself. In the film he’s a graphic designer, and a pretty interesting one at that (hence the eggs and bacon on his car). But please, cut the bullshit. We see right through it in Roman Coppola’s film when it becomes apparent how much he (Coppola) wanted the film to have an organic, semi-unscripted and “real” feel to it. And truth be told, this director forces his hand in the opening shots.

The script is extremely basic, the dialogue too, and there’s virtually no distinction between a likable and unlikable character throughout the entire thing. Of course, I knew that I should be expecting such low brow film-making when the entire feature would revolve around the tiger blooded Chuck Sheen. Still, I figured it would at least be a chance to see a more 3-dimensional version of the guy who went viral due to his insane interviews, or it could at the VERY minimum be an trashily entertaining way to spend nearly 2 hours.

Trashy was right — consider me the anti-fan of anything Roman Coppola at this point. Despite some interesting visual effects and “distractions,” a high school film student may as well have shot this. (No offense to you, high school student, this would have been a great first project. . . )

We begin with a therapy session where we learn that Charles Swan has recently been rendered single after his long-time girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) breaks it off with him suddenly. Distraught but moreover drunk, Charles reacts by throwing his ex’s shoes — all gathered in a single garbage bag — down a steep hill. Or at least he tries to. It gets caught in a tree, and when he tries to move it and re-attempt the act of good riddance, he again fails. You might consider this one scene to be a microcosm of everything he does in the movie — and if you are particularly bitter, like me, it could be representative of this guy’s entire public life. Everything he tries to do to fix something becomes more epic than what had just happened, and with his attempts to “fix” things, the problems only get worse.

And so is the case with Charles Swan, who now feels the need to try and get back in contact with Ivana to tell her he’s sorry and that he wants to change, and prove himself worthy of love and worthy of being considered a “man.” Jason Schwartzman plays Kirby Star, a stand-up comedian and Charles’ best bud, and Bill Murray tags along (inexplicably) as Swan’s business advisor, Saul. Even though both of these central characters are similarly dysfunctional in some way or another, neither compare to Charles Swan and both are ultimately wastes of the actors’ talents through and through. I cannot understand why Murray was involved at all. At. All.

Maybe this was a favor Murray was paying Chuckles. . .

Whatever the case may be, all that really matters is that we get the Charlie Sheen preening I was anticipating; the film is his own private kingdom for grooming his already well-groomed, slowly fraying image. In his own terms, he is “winning” for some of the movie, then he goes very quickly in the opposite direction when he pursues his ex using the world’s most ridiculous tracking bug, a device that was more complicated than the entire premise here.

I would say there’s one other reason for this film to exist — to feed Charlie’s ego and make him feel better having just been fired — but you know as well as I that he probably doesn’t need it

For awhile there, I was appreciative of an actor who would simply go off the rails for the sake of making themselves a public spectacle (and I know how pretentious that sounds, trust me) — when the first interviews were televised and Charlie was heard saying certain things, I was a mix between excited and disgusted by the guy. I felt the movie might cater to this same hopeless curiosity, but what I got in return for my tiger-blood loyalty was a tiger bite in the ass. It’s a stupid flick, but in order to fully mine the depths of Sheen’s recent stupidity and depravity, the film lacked full-bore commitment to being stupid. Maybe instead a better description would be lazy and stupid.

You might ask why I should be so surprised by the quality of this picture. That’s a good question, but I’ll counter with the fact that you just never know what he’s going to be up to next. And for some strange reason, I believe the guy really thinks he’s winning still. I like the positivity!

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1-0Recommendation: If you are infatuated by his antics, pick this up to rent and quickly forget about — not voluntarily so, either. It’s just that the movie is literally a camera following Chuck in a day-in-the-life kind of fashion. If this is even possible, this was a squandered opportunity to show off a deeper part of the inner workings of Charlie Sheen’s mind. Turns out, it could be better (cheaper definitely) to just look him on YouTube for some of that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 86 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com