Film Review: Zombieland (2009)

Release Date: September 25th, 2009 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray, Amber Heard

Relativity Media, Pariah, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Are you fucking with me?” – Tallahassee, “Uh, no. You should actually limber up as well. Especially if we’re going down that hill. It is very important.” – Columbus, “I don’t believe in it. You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?” – Tallahassee

I know that a lot of people absolutely love this film. I like it too but I wouldn’t say that I love it. In fact, I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters. I just never really felt like watching it again until now.

To start, the cast is great and I like the chemistry between all of them. But let’s be honest, Woody Harrelson is the scene stealer and the real star of the picture, even though this boasts the talents of three young stars who would all have great careers beyond this movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. But even when the legendary Bill Murray shows up for a cameo, Harrelson steals that scene as well.

But it is the characters that make this movie work so well. They all just gel and you genuinely care about them, even though you just get to scratch the surface with this quartet at only an 88 minute running time.

I guess the only really big negative about this film is the finale. The girls decide to go to an amusement park for fun, albeit when it’s dark out in a world that is plagued by zombies and no security guards. Somehow, the park has power, the girls turn all the lights and rides on and are suddenly shocked when they are immediately overwhelmed by zombies.

Before this idiotic outing, the film spent an hour showing that these girls were smart and cunning con artists. So their complete stupidity to set up the big final battle is just baffling as all hell. And while I can suspend disbelief, I can’t ignore blatant and colossal idiocy.

And how the hell did they control the rides while riding them? Carnival rides aren’t automated, they have operators that hit buttons on a control panel to start and stop the ride. In the real world, one would have to ride while the other one had to hit the buttons on the control panel. I mean, despite the cool fact that we got to see zombie mayhem in a theme park, the set up and reasoning behind the sequence is asinine and ludicrous.

But the movie is supposed to be fun and I get that but I can never accept the rampant stupidity of the characters in the last twenty minutes.

All that being said, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s unique. There are zombies and you have to survive. There really isn’t anything about this movie to make it special and there isn’t an original twist that allows it to be its own thing in a genre that ran its course a long, long time ago. I mean, you could say that comedy is the twist but this is far from being the first zombie comedy.

I guess the only thing that works is that I like the characters and the actors. Well, I’m not a big Eisenberg fan but he was fine in this role, as it’s sort of the type of character I imagine him being. Woody Harrelson is, by far, the real highlight and the Bill Murray cameo is a lot of fun.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Shaun of the DeadCoootiesScouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Top 25 Roles of Bill Murray

*written in 2015.

Bill Murray is a god.

He has gone from being the best talent in Saturday Night Live history, to being the focal point of some of the greatest comedies of all-time, to being nominated for an Academy Award and constantly giving us great performances.

In fact, I would consider him to be my favorite living actor at this point.

Plus, he’s a serious Cubs fan and loves the Blackhawks as well.

This list is comprised of not necessarily my favorite films with him in it but of my favorite roles that he has played.

And here we go!

1. Ghostbusters & Ghostbusters II
2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
3. Scrooged
4. Ed Wood
5. Where the Buffalo Roam
6. What About Bob?
7. Coffee & Cigarettes
8. Rushmore
9. Groundhog Day
10. Lost In Translation
11. The Royal Tenenbaums
12. Caddyshack
13. Stripes
14. Zombieland
15. St. Vincent
16. Meatballs
17. Moonrise Kingdom
18. Tootsie
19. Mad Dog and Glory
20. The Grand Budapest Hotel
21. The Monuments Men
22. Kingpin
23. Broken Flowers
24. Quick Change
25. City of Ember

Film Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

Release Date: April 4th, 2016 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Marks
Based on: The Jungle Book by Rudlyard Kipling, Disney’s The Jungle Book
Music by: John Debney, George Bruns (original Jungle Book themes)
Cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Neel Sethi

Walt Disney, Fairview Entertainment, 106 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2016.

My mum wanted to see The Jungle Book for her birthday. It wasn’t a film I had planned on seeing in the theater even though I thought it looked pretty decent. The thing is, live action Disney films just haven’t hit their mark for me. So is this one any different?

Well, in all honesty, I would say that this is the best of the live action Disney remakes of their classics. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect film, far from it, but it is an exciting adventure and pretty enjoyable all around.

The voice cast is the highlight of this film. Idris Elba is chilling as the killer tiger Shere Khan and he is nothing but evil in this film. There are no bits where Shere Khan is not taken seriously, unlike the original animated version. Ben Kingsley is majestic as the good panther Bagheera. Bill Murray is perfect as Baloo the bear and his physical mannerisms add to the performance. Scarlett Johansson was good as Kaa and Christopher Walken was solid as King Louie, especially during his rendition of “I Wan’na Be Like You”.

Neel Sethi, the young boy who plays Mowgli, was spot on. In most films, child actors are a distraction and can either overact or underact and just don’t feel natural. Therefore, there is cause for concern when the bulk of a film has to be carried on the shoulders of a child. This kid deserves props. He nailed the role, he wasn’t annoying and you truly felt for him. Director, Jon Favreau did a good job casting the young Sethi.

The visual style of the film is striking and effective and Disney made magic happen once again. Also, it feels a lot more realistic than their previous live action remakes. It wasn’t overly stylized. It felt natural, lush and authentic.

The Jungle Book is a quality film and all involved should be proud of the finished product. As I said, I wasn’t planning on seeing it in the theater but I am glad I did.

Rating: 7.75/10

Documentary Review: Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)

Release Date: January 20th, 2008 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Music by: David Schwartz
Narrated by: Johnny Depp

BBC Storyville, Diverse Productions, HDNet Films, 118 Minutes

Review:

There have been a lot of documentaries made about Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. In my estimation, this one is the best. None of them are bad, per se, but this one really delves into the man and gives real insight to his life and career.

Additionally, this film talks to his ex-wife, his widow and his son, as well as close friends and colleagues. The cast of interviewees is much more intimate than any other Hunter S. Thompson documentary out there.

Johnny Depp gives us the narration and he does a more than fantastic job. In fact, Depp gives it a sense of authenticity being that he played Thompson in the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And frankly, I can’t think of anyone more perfect than Depp for this task – except maybe Bill Murray, who also played Thompson.

If you are a fan of Thompson’s work but don’t know his story and really how insane and eccentric he was, this film is a must view. Luckily for you Netflix subscribers, it is usually streaming on there. Sometimes it disappears but it always seems to come back. So go watch this and then watch Where The Buffalo Roam with Bill Murray. Have yourselves a Gonzo day.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Vice Principals (2016-2017)

Original Run: July 17th, 2016 – present
Created by: Danny McBride, Jody Hill
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King, Sheaun McKinney, Busy Philipps, Shea Whigham, Maya G. Love, Ashley Spillers, Edi Patterson, Susan Park, Mike O’Gorman, Madelyn Cline, Bill Murray

Rough House, HBO Entertainment, 9 Episodes (so far), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wasn’t happy when Eastbound & Down came to an end but, at the same time, the show did run its course and the last two seasons weren’t as good as the first two seasons. I just wanted to see more of Danny McBride on the small screen because he’s comedic gold. Plus, Jody Hill has always been the perfect collaborator with McBride.

Vice Principals is a sort of spiritual successor to Eastbound & Down. Also, it added Walton Goggins to the cast, who is pretty fantastic in everything he does. Now, having seen this, this might be my favorite character Walton Goggins has ever played. Well, after the trans-hooker Venus Van Dam from Sons of Anarchy. It’s hard to top Ms. Van Dam.

Vice Principals is pretty damn great and that’s not just because Bill Murray is in the first episode. It truly maximizes the talents of McBride and Goggins and pits them against one another and then as allies in what is one of the most hilarious and entertaining buddy duos of all-time. They start out as bitter rivals and evolve to become trusted friends, while being thorns in each other’s sides all along the way. Their mission is a pretty selfish and evil one but both are very human characters, even if they continually display deplorable characteristics.

Accompanying McBride and Goggins is Kimberly Hebert Gregory as the new principal Dr. Brown. She starts out very serious and can be a tyrant but ultimately, she is a compassionate woman that truly cares for the kids in her school. She is also dealing with the separation from her husband and having to raise two mischievous boys who aren’t happy that they left Philadelphia for a small town in South Carolina. From episode-to-episode, she evolves and becomes increasingly hilarious. You also truly feel for her character and have nothing but sympathy for her when the shit eventually hits the fan. Kimberly Hebert Gregory has great comedic timing and is a dynamo in her more dramatic scenes. Something about her really legitimizes the the show and she makes every scene better simply for being in it.

Vice Principals, while a hilarious show, visits some really dark places and can sometimes get a bit uncomfortable. Every character is much more complex than you would initially believe and they all have their own moral struggles. Unfortunately, for all of them, things go really bad. But this is how season one ends. Season two is on its way and there is still a lot of story to explore and these characters could still evolve in different ways. Season two will be the last of the series but it was planned that way all along.

I don’t like this show as much as Eastbound & Down, as I am an avid baseball fan and I loved that aspect of it, but Vice Principals is much more refined and better written. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which debuts sometime this year.

Rating: 7.75/10

 

Film Review: Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Release Date: April 25th, 1980
Directed by: Art Linson
Written by: John Kaye
Based on: The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson
Music by: Neil Young
Cast: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby, René Auberjonois, R.G. Armstrong, Mark Metcalf, Craig T. Nelson, Richard M. Dixon, Brain Cummings

Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

There are very few famous people that I give a shit about. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Murray are two of the very few. So if there is a film where Bill Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson, you can most assuredly guarantee that it would be something I would have to watch. Of course, I’ve watched this film at least a dozen times over the years and I would say that I play it just about annually.

I feel like this film should be looked at as a sequel to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, as it is set after those events. Actually, I now see it as the final part of a trilogy which also includes The Rum Diary, which takes place first if you care about chronology.

Out of the three Thompson films, I find this one to be the superior of the three. Again, it has Bill Murray in the lead and I like his interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson slightly more than Johnny Depp’s. Also, he provided the template for Depp to follow. I’m not taking anything away from Depp’s great performance but Murray’s was damned near Oscar caliber (and maybe Depp’s was too).

Where the Buffalo Roam is a hell of a journey and as far as story, it doesn’t follow a singular path. This movie is comprised of a series of events, all of which are entertaining and fun to watch. The only real constant in the film is Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson and the times that Peter Boyle pops up as Lazlo, Thompson’s lawyer. In fact, Lazlo can be seen as virtually the same character or companion as Benicio Del Toro’s role in Fear and Loathing. In fact, both characters are based off of Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was an attorney and politician that was close friends with Thompson.

I love this film. I have heard that Thompson wasn’t happy with it when it was released. I’m not sure if that changed over the years but regardless of his personal feelings, I think it is kind of a hidden gem that many people don’t know about. Hell, most people I know who are big fans of Fear and Loathing either haven’t seen this or haven’t even heard about it.

Is it a masterpiece? No. But it is a lot of fun and it respects the man and the work of the man it was based on.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin, Carmen Filpi

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.

Rating: 10/10