TBT – Groundhog Day (1993)

Bill Murray, classic, comedy, films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, Harold Ramis, TBT

Before I start today’s post I have to hold my hands up and say “I’m sorry”. In my flu-y haze I managed to forget that yesterday was the first Wednesday of February. That would normally be my day for a Top 10 post but I ended up falling asleep. So, you’ll have to wait a week longer to read it but, hopefully, the added time will make it a doozy. I mean past experience tells me it won’t be but you never know.

Just over a week ago it was announced that John Hurt had died. He was a phenomenal actor who could  turn his hand to any role. He was a chameleon and would always sparkle on screen, especially in his more villainous parts. So learning that he had been battling cancer was clearly devastating to his fans. So, in honour of greatest works, I was planning on using this TBT post to discuss one of Hurt’s greatest film roles. Then I found out it was fucking Groundhog Day and I decided I couldn’t miss the chance that had fallen in my lap. I’ll move the memorial post to next week and discuss one of the greatest films of all time. It’s one I’ve loved for a long time and was delighted to study in my one year of taking film studies at University. I didn’t carry on the subject because I wasn’t a fan of the course or the lecturers but it will always live on in my memory as the only time I’ve ever been able to watch some of my favourite films, like Groundhog Day and Beauty and the Beast, and call it work. Movie night with my flatmates as a learning experience? That’s the kind of shit I can get behind. As much as I love studying poetry it’s not quite the same.

As someone who grew up in the UK and didn’t really give much thought to the world outside my little social bubble, Groundhog day never meant anything to me until I saw this film. Now the quirky annual American event has become synonymous with repetition. The film centres around the small town tradition that states if a Groundhog comes out of its burrow on February 2nd and the weather is cloudy Spring will come early. However, the film really has very little to do with the celebration that takes place every year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Instead it has everything to narcissistic TV weatherman, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) becoming stuck in a time loop and repeating the day over and over. To begin with, Phil tries to have fun with his situation and live a hedonistic and wild life without consequences. Over time, his life becomes more bleak and he realises that he has time to become a better person. After all, it’s the only way he can end his quest to win the heart of his producer, Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell).

Phil has been forced to cover the Groundhog day celebration in Punxsutawney for years and, it’s safe to say, he has a great deal of contempt for the assignment. He considers the town and it’s people to be insignificant and the holiday to be a huge joke. He believes he’s meant for better things than interviewing a Groundhog about when Spring will arrive. So, it’s the ultimate karmic revenge when every time he wakes up February 2nd has started over again. Phil relives the same day an unspecified number of days but there have been several attempts to work it out. These range from the modest 8 year, 8 months and 16 days to the more harrowing 33 years 350 days. Still, looking at the amount of shit that Phil achieves and manages to work out about the town people, it’s clear that he celebrated Groundhog dog an awesome number of times.

Despite the endless feeling of déjà vu that both Phil and the audience will get as the narrative repeats itself, Goundhog Day never feels old. It’s continually fresh, funny and heartwarming. That feeling comes, not from a relentless silliness that was probably most associated with Murray at this time, but from the mixture of light-hearted and deep issues that Phil deals with. Yes, he has fun with the endless cycle by eating whatever he wants and using his insider knowledge to bed women. On the other hand, he deals with dark issues like suicide and the realisation that his shallow life cannot sustain him. Harold Ramis and Billy Murrary reportedly argued about the overall tone of the film; with Ramis wanting to keep things firmly in the comedy camps whilst Murray wanted to go for a more melancholy tone. In the end, the film works so well because it is neither one thing or the other. The two ideas, like the director/actor combo, work so well together that is is seamless.

That’s what has made Groundhog Day such a classic. It uses the greatest of Murray’s comedy and dramatic chops and has become the kind of film that not only succeeds in multiple viewings but basically demands it. The late, great Roger Ebert initially awarded the film a very respectable 3 star rating but, when he revisited it, admitted that he has dismissed many of the film’s great points. The actual Groundhog Day festival may have been overshadowed by this cinematic masterpiece but it does provide the perfect excuse to rewatch Bill Murray at his best every single year. Groundhog Day is a sweet, funny, and incredibly clever film that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

TBT – Groundhog Day (1993)

Bill Murray, classic, comedy, films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, Harold Ramis, TBT

Before I start today’s post I have to hold my hands up and say “I’m sorry”. In my flu-y haze I managed to forget that yesterday was the first Wednesday of February. That would normally be my day for a Top 10 post but I ended up falling asleep. So, you’ll have to wait a week longer to read it but, hopefully, the added time will make it a doozy. I mean past experience tells me it won’t be but you never know.

Just over a week ago it was announced that John Hurt had died. He was a phenomenal actor who could  turn his hand to any role. He was a chameleon and would always sparkle on screen, especially in his more villainous parts. So learning that he had been battling cancer was clearly devastating to his fans. So, in honour of greatest works, I was planning on using this TBT post to discuss one of Hurt’s greatest film roles. Then I found out it was fucking Groundhog Day and I decided I couldn’t miss the chance that had fallen in my lap. I’ll move the memorial post to next week and discuss one of the greatest films of all time. It’s one I’ve loved for a long time and was delighted to study in my one year of taking film studies at University. I didn’t carry on the subject because I wasn’t a fan of the course or the lecturers but it will always live on in my memory as the only time I’ve ever been able to watch some of my favourite films, like Groundhog Day and Beauty and the Beast, and call it work. Movie night with my flatmates as a learning experience? That’s the kind of shit I can get behind. As much as I love studying poetry it’s not quite the same.

As someone who grew up in the UK and didn’t really give much thought to the world outside my little social bubble, Groundhog day never meant anything to me until I saw this film. Now the quirky annual American event has become synonymous with repetition. The film centres around the small town tradition that states if a Groundhog comes out of its burrow on February 2nd and the weather is cloudy Spring will come early. However, the film really has very little to do with the celebration that takes place every year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Instead it has everything to narcissistic TV weatherman, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) becoming stuck in a time loop and repeating the day over and over. To begin with, Phil tries to have fun with his situation and live a hedonistic and wild life without consequences. Over time, his life becomes more bleak and he realises that he has time to become a better person. After all, it’s the only way he can end his quest to win the heart of his producer, Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell).

Phil has been forced to cover the Groundhog day celebration in Punxsutawney for years and, it’s safe to say, he has a great deal of contempt for the assignment. He considers the town and it’s people to be insignificant and the holiday to be a huge joke. He believes he’s meant for better things than interviewing a Groundhog about when Spring will arrive. So, it’s the ultimate karmic revenge when every time he wakes up February 2nd has started over again. Phil relives the same day an unspecified number of days but there have been several attempts to work it out. These range from the modest 8 year, 8 months and 16 days to the more harrowing 33 years 350 days. Still, looking at the amount of shit that Phil achieves and manages to work out about the town people, it’s clear that he celebrated Groundhog dog an awesome number of times.

Despite the endless feeling of déjà vu that both Phil and the audience will get as the narrative repeats itself, Goundhog Day never feels old. It’s continually fresh, funny and heartwarming. That feeling comes, not from a relentless silliness that was probably most associated with Murray at this time, but from the mixture of light-hearted and deep issues that Phil deals with. Yes, he has fun with the endless cycle by eating whatever he wants and using his insider knowledge to bed women. On the other hand, he deals with dark issues like suicide and the realisation that his shallow life cannot sustain him. Harold Ramis and Billy Murrary reportedly argued about the overall tone of the film; with Ramis wanting to keep things firmly in the comedy camps whilst Murray wanted to go for a more melancholy tone. In the end, the film works so well because it is neither one thing or the other. The two ideas, like the director/actor combo, work so well together that is is seamless.

That’s what has made Groundhog Day such a classic. It uses the greatest of Murray’s comedy and dramatic chops and has become the kind of film that not only succeeds in multiple viewings but basically demands it. The late, great Roger Ebert initially awarded the film a very respectable 3 star rating but, when he revisited it, admitted that he has dismissed many of the film’s great points. The actual Groundhog Day festival may have been overshadowed by this cinematic masterpiece but it does provide the perfect excuse to rewatch Bill Murray at his best every single year. Groundhog Day is a sweet, funny, and incredibly clever film that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

TBT – Ghostbusters 2 (1989)

Bill Murray, CGI, Dan Aykroyd, fucking awful, meh, sequel, TBT

Since watching it for the first time on Sunday, I’ve discussed the new Ghostbusters film nonstop with people. I know I seemed critical in my own review of it but I did like it. I’ve seen it again since and it’s grown on me. I still think my new found lady love is a major reason for this but I still maintain that it deserves a sequel to give it a real shot. I’m clearly not the only one that thinks so because the consensus of film critics is, for the most part, mainly positive. Of course, nobody is fucking raving about it but everyone admits it doesn’t deserve the backlash it received online. Try telling that to the so-called fans, though. They are still holding strong with their hatred of the whole thing and it’s fucking boring. I really don’t know why people got so sensitive this film. I mean, way before the internet started going apeshit about how much Paul Feig and co. had ruined the Ghostbusters franchise another film got there first. Let’s all be honest, if we’re looking for a film that shamelessly cashed in on the success of the original film then we need only look to the sequel that came 5 years later. Whatever you may have thought about the 2016 reboot we all have to agree that it had more potential than the sequel that was nothing more than an awful rewriting of the first film.

Yes, Paul Feig’s narrative owed a lot to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ script but at least it wasn’t a crude carbon copy. Ghostbusters 2 is the exact same plot as its predecessor where the Sumerian God has been replaced by a fucking painting. It’s not only shows a lack of imagination but the narrative doesn’t make sense. Much like the first film, our neighbourhood friendly Ghostbusters find themselves the underdogs once again. But that doesn’t make any fucking sense. They were riding high at the end of the last film and now, suddenly, everyone’s forgotten that they prevented the apocalypse? What the fuck? I know it makes sense to show them on that upward journey again because it gives the narrative a neat structure but how do you explain that nobody even believes in ghost a mere 5 years after a buttload of them invaded New York City?

Still, for whatever reasons, the Ghostbusters are left fending for themselves and unable to investigate the paranormal. Then, surprise surprise, New York City is once again affected by a paranormal events that apparently only they know about. They, once again, save a grumpy old dude from a ghost, become super popular, get sent to prison before banding together, on the mayor’s authority, to save the world from annihilation. Then, to go along with this, their old client, Dana Barrett, is back after the phenomenon singles her out to terrorise leaving the door open for Peter Venkman to romantically pursue her… again. I have to wonder how long it took to write this fucking script? Take the old film, scribble out a few things, add a painting here, some emotional slime there and a fucking awful CGI sequence of the Statue of Liberty walking through the city and you’re done.

For years, people have been unwilling to admit just how bad this film is. Yes, it isn’t a huge fucking shambles but nothing featuring these four men on screen together ever could. They group still have great comedic timing and a great chemistry. It’s just a shame that everything feels less charming and more desperate this time around. I mean, I’m still cringing from the first time I watched Ray and Winston dancing to the fucking Ghostbusters theme at a kids party and I can’t even remember the first time I watched this film. This film just isn’t as much fun and everyone involved seems to know it. Nobody is really at their best and, for the most part, the talent is just doing what needs to be done. Even Bill Murray is tame here… still funny but not as inspiring as usual.

So, for all those people not giving the new Ghostbusters franchise a chance, I say this: if you want to criticise a film for taking advantage of a much loved film and turning it into a pathetic attempt to make money then look a little closer to home. It wasn’t Paul Feig and co who started the trend of messing with a classic. No that was set in stone nearly 30 years ago.

TBT – Ghostbusters (1984)

Bill Murray, comedy, Dan Aykroyd, ghostbusters, ghosts, Sigourney Weaver, TBT

Despite my excitement about the upcoming reboot of Ghostbusters, it did make me super nostalgic and all I wanted to do was watch the original. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve watched that film and I’m always outraged when I find out someone hasn’t watched it. I mean, in this day and age, who hasn’t seen Ghostbusters? I lived with a guy at university who hadn’t seen anything. I could accept that he hadn’t watched Gremlins or The Breakfast Club or something like that. But Ghostbusters? I mean what kind of awful childhood did that guy have that he never got the chance to watch it? I’ve since lost touch with him (not based on this revelation but it didn’t help his case) but will always remember him as the guy who never watched Ghostbusters. I assume he still hasn’t watched it and I feel bad for the guy. He’s missed out on so much.

It’s been over 30 years since Ghostbusters was released and it still feels as fresh as it ever was. Originally written  by Dan Aykroyd for him and John Belushi, it has become such a beloved classic that the announcement that it was being rebooted caused uproar. It’s one of my favourite films. Every time I hear the theme song I can’t help but get taken back to that first time I saw it. The joy, the fear, and the utter hilarity. I admit it’s not exactly the most intelligent or perfectly crafted film. However, if I had to pick one film that was close to perfection then this would definitely be a contender.

The story revolves around three scientists who were booted out of their cushy university offices and have their funding cut off. In order to make money they start their own business hunting ghosts for a nominal price. After a brief montage of their success, we see that the Ghostbusters experience a euphoric rise in popularity. Except with the city officials. Their big case comes in the form of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) whose fridge is transformed into a magical portal. Unfortunately, it marks the start of an impending apocalypse. And when the world is ending, who you gonna call?
Ghostbusters works on so many levels. With a sharp script and an outstanding performance by Bill Murray. There are countless quotable lines, memorable action pieces, and some great chemistry between Murray and Sigourney Weaver. The special effects, in 1980s terms, are remarkable and add to the story rather than take away from the comedy. It’s a fun romp that works all the more because Dan Aykroyd believes what he’s selling. In others words, the ghosts are not just silly sources of comedy but presented as a real possibility.
In fact, there is so much right with Ghostbusters that’s it hard to find something negative to say. However, there are some things that could have been done better. The story is really by-the-bye and is little more than a brief anecdote bloated by quotable lines and special effects monsters. Every time I rewatch the film I am shocked by how short it is. I always imagined that it was drawn out for longer but there is very little substance to the narrative. We have the Dana plot, a few interludes with other ghosts and a brief stop off at City Hall. I’m not saying the story isn’t good; it’s just not substantial.
In terms of cast, the group chemistry isn’t all it could be and that basically comes down to the dominance of one star over the others. Writers Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd seem sort of happy to let Murray take the spotlight here but it’s hard not to detect a certain amount of resentment filtering though. Thanks to the studio’s changes, Murray takes this film to even greater heights because of his undeniable star quality and commitment to the character. However, Ramis and Aykroyd are left with very little to do and are completely overshadowed.
Ernie Hudson is relegated to the role of sassy black co-star and has very little to do but quote bible scripture and play the streetwise New Yorker. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get anything to do and leaves very little impression on the narrative. It’s not Hudson’s fault and he is a talented actor but Winston just doesn’t get any good moments. We now know that Hudson’s character was changed massively to allow Murray the role of top dog, which makes the reality even more frustrating.
There is no doubt that Ghostbusters is Murray’s film rather than the equal partnership it should have been. His performance is the most memorable thing in it but it also sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s probably just me but I get more uncomfortable with his dominating role every time I see it. No matter how much I love this film (and I fucking do love it) I just wish it could have been more of an equal partnership. Although it’s a bit of a Catch 22 when you think about it. Murray completely takes over the film but without his dominating improvisational style this film probably wouldn’t have been the success it is to this day.

TBT – Space Jam (1996)

basketball, Bill Murray, Looney Tunes, review, TBT

When it comes to these throwback Thursday posts, I like to try and tie in my nostalgic lookback to my Monday post. Sometimes this is nigh on impossible and I just pick something at random. Other times I’ll just make a really tenuous link and hope for the best. Then there are times like this: times when everything falls into fucking place. Monday saw me reviewing The Martian and discussing one man’s struggle in space. To go with it I chose a film about one man’s struggle with beings from space. It also happens to be the first film I saw multiple times at the cinema. I fucking loved it and I still do. Every time I watch it I feel like a kid again. Suffice it to say, this probably won’t be a very objective review… but considering Space Jam is fucking awesome it doesn’t really matter.

The other week at work we had a debate: did I prefer Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Space Jam? It was a difficult question because my brain refuses to let me forget that Roger Rabbit is a much better film. The story, script, execution: it’s just better. However, my fucking heart just can’t deny how much I love Michael Jordan’s battle against basketball pro aliens. I mean that sentence alone should get you excited.

Space Jam was Warner Bros. attempt to revive their classic Looney Tunes characters whilst utilising Michael Jordan’s immense star quality. They weren’t that successful at carrying out their aim but they create on hell of a film. The story takes places straight after Jordan announced his first retirement from basketball and shows his attempt to break into baseball. Turns out the reason Jordan returned to the NBA was thanks to bugs bunny and co.

These familiar cartoon characters are threatened by a horde of tiny aliens intent on kidnapping the Looney Tunes and putting them centre stage in their galactic theme park. Apparently the only solution is to challenge their minute foe to a basketball match, despite the fact that non of them have any real experience of the sport. Fucking obvious. So when the little aliens steal the talent of some of basketballs big hitters and grow to be fucking huge the Tunes realise they’re pretty fucked.

That’s where Jordan comes in. Pulling the ex-star into their cartoon world, the Tunes persuade him to coach their team… with hilarious results. Really, you shouldn’t really give a shit about the plot because it’s clearly just the first way some executive thought up to mix together Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. It doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t really make sense. It’s fine though. That’s not what this film is about.

It’s about fun. Batshit crazy, basketball fun. Space Jam won’t appeal to Looney Tune purists. Certainly Looney Tunes veteran Chuck Jones was incredibly aggrieved by some of the sassy jokes and aspects of the plot. Yes, Warner Bros. attempted to modernise their old favourites somewhat. Of course they fucking did. Kids are what bring the money in. Space Jam still just a bright and crazy as always though. The spirit of the original remains there’s just more sexy female bunny love interests this time around.

And to his credit, Michael Jordan does a pretty good job at interacting with them. He plays down his role and never pretends to be the funny, cartoon guy. He plays it fairly straight and low-key. He’s obviously not the greatest actor but, for a basketball star, he plays against imaginary bunnies and ducks like a fucking pro. Then again, he is only being asked to play Michael Jordan. He should have that down.

The other human characters are hit and miss but there are some fantastic appearances from comic big-hitters Billy fucking Murray and Wayne Knight. Murray’s cameo in the film is both fucking amazing and totally fucking absurd. Still, it makes for a pretty great final act. That’s Space Jam in a nutshell: you’ll think it’s totally fucking crazy but absolutely love it despite yourself. Everything tells me that I should hate this film. It’s nonsensical, silly and totally focused on marketing. However, it’s such a fucking joy to watch.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

animation, Bill Murray, fucking beautiful, Ralph Fiennes, review, Tilda Swinton

I have to admit that if I had to pick one director as my spirit animal then I’d probably go for Wes Anderson. That’s not to say that I, hands down, consider him the best director of all time (we all know his had his fair share of misfires) but, out of everyone, it is his cinematic vision that always has the ability to make my heart leap with joy. I mean I still smile to myself when I remember the gorgeous stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr Fox. He also happens to be a very divisive director and I often find myself having to justify my Anderson appreciation to one of my closest friends who often dismisses him as hipster pretentiousness. This is the same friend who has also spent years trying to convince me that her love of Ralph Fiennes is anything other than madness. To her dismay, I’ve never really got over his insistence on pronouncing his name “Rafe” or been able to forgive him for Maid in Manhattan. However, after watching his recent films, Coriolanusand Skyfall, I found myself coming round to her way of thinking (although his time as Magwitch in Great Expectations proved to be unintentionally hilarious – I mean that death scene) and if any man could prove her to be correct it’s Anderson.

For his eighth outing, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson is moving into the world of murder mystery and slapstick crime caper a la The Pink Panther. Taking inspiration from Austrian author Stefan Zweig, Anderson introduces us to the fictional European country of Zubrowka, home of the eponymous hotel. We experience the hotel through multiple timelines starting with the celebrated author (Tom Wilkinson) who remembers his meeting with the hotel’s owner (Abraham F. Murray) in the 1970s. The young author (Jude Law) inquires into how the mysterious Zero Moustafa took possession of the hotel and why, if he as rich as people say he is, he insists on sleeping in cramped employee quarters. Taking us even deeper, Moustafa reminisces about his time as lobby boy working for the much loved concierge M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

As we’ve come to expect from Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a pastel coloured, visual treat. With his beautifully imagined snowy vistas of Middle Europe, watching Anderson’s latest film is like indulging in a fucking huge ice cream sundae without feeling sick. Sitting on top of it all is Anderson’s crowning glory, The Grand Budapest Hotel itself: sitting atop this ice-cream mountain looking like the world’s best wedding cake.

Whilst a selection of the interior shots was filmed on location at an old department store in Germany, the wide shots of the hotel were gained thanks to a scale model. Like Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox, this gives the film a greater sense of nostalgia and feels as though we’re all watching over the residents of a really intricate dollhouse. Let’s be honest though, when you watch a Wes Anderson film you are watching an adult child playing with the biggest toy set that he can get his hands on. He has such a deep-seated presence within his own film that everything comes together precisely and it’s always a joy to behold. Take those brief moments of animation which have a wonderful homely feel to them and sort of make it feel like Oliver Postgate got creative in a candy store. I could easily gush about how fucking beautiful this film is for hours because it’s just fantastic.

Although, there is a lot more to The Grand Budapest Hotel than the sweet candy coating: the story packs an emotional and dramatic punch. We are dealing with a Europe underneath the gathering storm clouds of invading Communism. The growing presence of the grey Nazi-like force with their “ZZ” emblazoned uniforms increases as the film progresses and is just one of Anderson’s reminders that life isn’t just a soft pastel joyous affair. Gustave himself is a contrast of perceived perfection whilst hiding his secret life as a gold-digging paramour to the hotel’s elderly and wealthy women. Gustave’s illicit affairs come back to haunt him after his greatest conquest (played by an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) dies suddenly and leaves him a priceless painting. This sets in motion a plot filled with art theft, murder, love, prison breaks, clandestine meetings, military occupation and cake. It is a dark tale that whilst full of horrors and dangers is tinged with enough optimism that I left the cinema feeling a great serenity wash over me. Quite simply, The Grand Budapest Hotel is your typical Wes Anderson controlled mayhem in which even the moments of violence and danger are played out with polite society in mind: take for example the gunfight taking place towards the end of the film.
Any of you out there playing Wes Anderson Bingo or whatever will no doubt be overjoyed to discover that, added to The Grand Budapest Hotel’s already fairly full list of the director’s staples, the film contains a whole host of Anderson collaborators. The film offers brief appearances from regulars, likes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Willem Defoe, as well as some from the newer members of his film family, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody. Some of these are fleeting and used primarily to keep to long standing tradition but, as with all customs, there is some comfort to be found in their presence.
It also helps that the supporting characters are horribly (or fantastically I suppose) overshadowed by the central figure of Gustave, played to great effect by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes hasn’t pulled off this great a comic turn since his part in 2008’s black comedy In Bruges. Fiennes clearly relishes the challenge of the concierge’s rapid-fire dialogue that flawlessly moves between sophisticated, smarmy and obscene. It is the definition of a pitch-perfect performance and everything is perfectly executed.  With his stiff and angular mannerisms, his straight back and perfectly groomed facial hair, M. Gustave is the perfect figurine to roam through Anderson’s dollhouse.
Whilst watching, there never comes a moment when you are worried that Anderson has lost control of his film. Everything is planned out with utter precision and attention to detail. All parts of the films are planned out to aid the storytelling and create a fully imagined world full of 3-dimensional characters. It may seem like a small thing but Anderson even goes so far as to differentiate between the three different timelines by utilising three different aspect ratios: 1.33, 1.85, and 2.35:1 respectively. Frankly, it’s brilliant and rather exciting film making. Whatever your thoughts on his style, there can be no denying that Anderson is a director who knows how to use his camera, particularly for comic effect. His preference for theatrical framing devices and Kubrick-esque love for symmetry is as much on show here as it ever is. His signature long tracking shots and comic zooms (often immediately panned straight back) are present throughout. Although, you never get the feeling that these things are simply par for the course because everything has a purpose. There is no aspect of The Grand Budapest Hotel that feels redundant.
I’ll be honest with you, I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel from the moment I saw the opening titles and that oh-so-Anderson font (despite the fact that he once again avoided his classic Futura). I went to see this with a friend who had little experience of Anderson’s films so I was worried my over enthusiasm would oversell it. However, my fears were soon forgotten: this is by far Anderson’s most accessible and funniest film in years. It also happens to be the most Wes Anderson film that the director has made for a long time.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

animation, Bill Murray, family, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, review, stop motion, Wes Anderson

Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox remains one of the most loved books of my childhood. My twin and our friend would demand to listen to the audio cassette whenever we were driven anywhere. I still have incredibly fond memories of this book so it was with a certain amount of apprehension that I sat down to watch Wes Anderson’s adaptation. His quirky style and fondness for more unique characters should be the perfect accompaniment to Dahl’s own style of writing but things don’t always work out the way they should. So how would one of my favourite directors fair with this significant piece of my childhood?

Fantastic Mr Fox is hardly an epic tale so Anderson and Noah Baumbach have had to flesh out the narrative a bit but all of the key points are there. After a pretty close-call, Mr Fox promises his wife that he will stop stealing birds and instead settle down into family life. He finds his subsequent work as a journalist dull so comes up with a three-part assault on the farms of his vicious neighbours, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. As Mr Fox goes all Ocean’s 11 on us, his son, Ash, struggles to live up to family name and gain his father’s respect. When his impressive cousin Kristofferson joins the family, the young fox finds himself even more removed from his fantastic parent.

This type of sub-plot, packed with troubled father/son relationships, is nothing new for either Anderson or Baumbach, which is perhaps why it feels a little stale and unnecessary. The angst of the teenage Ash and jealousy towards his cousin is such an overworked cliché that even placing animals at the centre of the drama cannot make it seem fresh. Unfortunately, the theft is over in the blink of an eye and the resulting conflict is pushed into the background once the familial plot takes over. Once the animals find themselves seeking refuge underground, the plot has worn so thin that the audience is simply faced with an unoriginal soap opera style plot.

Although at least a soap opera would be able to provide terrifying enemies. Dahl is not afraid to place his characters and his young readers in the presence of a real and terrifying danger. The main disappointment of this film is the farmers themselves. They are not the grotesque images of evil that the original text summons up. They are instead rather pathetic individuals finding themselves in a, frankly, utterly petty war. The farmers are presented as so pathetic and witless that there never appears to be any real danger for the animals. It is only in the form of the vicious Rat, voiced expertly by Willem Defoe, and a terrifying rabid dog that any real tension is created.

As with all Anderson’s film you get the sense that every detail has been thought out. The look of the characters, the backgrounds and the colour scheme. The film primarily makes use of autumnal colours and is littered with various yellows, oranges, and browns. It is only in Kristofferson that we see a rare glimpse at the colour blue so the audience is fully aware that he is an outsider.

The animation is much more traditional and looks much less polished than contemporary animated offerings. The stop-motion animation brings to mind the works of animators like Oliver Postgate and is truly astounding, despite it’s potentially outdated feel. The detail on the puppets is breathtaking; just look at the way the foxes fur moves during the close-ups. We are not left with the brash and hectic Disney universe but with an understated world in keeping with Dahl’s own, very British, setting.

As you would expect, music plays an important part within the narrative and both the original scores and well-known pop songs fit into the ensemble perfectly. It is Jarvis Cocker’s Petey and his campfire song that leads to one of the film’s best scenes. Cocker’s ditty is played beneath images of Fox and his animal friends dancing in celebration. Watching as the crude puppets perform such adorable dance moves is a sight to behold complemented expertly by Cocker‘s performance. At least Fantastic Mr Fox is a constant treat for the eyes even when the narrative proves a little disappointing.

Although I did like Anderson’s film. I think it had a lot to live up to and it’s entirely possible that I’m just being a bit too stubborn because of my vested interest. The narrative, though nothing ground-breaking, is still a pretty decent script and enjoyable for a mixed audience. Were is a film not grounded in both literary and personal history then I’d probably have been jumping for joy. The wonderful story of Dahl’s original novel may have been lost in translation somewhat but when it is presented in such a charming and beautiful way, with such an amazing array of voices and a tremendous soundtrack, I’m not really sure how much that actually matters.