Bill Murray

The Dead Don’t Die

13/07/19

Jim Jarmusch’s mumblecore zombie movie, The Dead Don’t Die (or Dawn of the Deadpan, as I like to think of it) is typically understated, the somnolent residents of Centreville downplaying the impending apocalypse even as it overwhelms them.

Bill Murray is the small town’s chief cop, Cliff Robertson, cheerfully supported by officers Ronnie and Mindy (Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny respectively). They’re an easy-going trio without much to tax them, apart from occasionally rebuking Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) for stealing Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi)’s hens.

True, strange things are certainly afoot: fracking has caused the earth to tilt on its access, blurring the lines between day and night; phones don’t work and TVs stutter; pets are missing all over town. But no one pays these things much heed – they shake their heads and carry on, with no real concern for where it might all lead…

The metaphor is hardly subtle. We’re all sleepwalking towards our own destruction, tutting and frowning about climate change and the rise of the far right. Jarmusch’s version of middle America (and, by extension, most of the western world) is not far from reality.

The zombies here (including, marvellously, Iggy Pop) are never really frightening. They’re not too dissimilar from the townsfolk they want to eat: shuffling in pursuit of banal and transient aims. “Wifi!” they moan, “Sweets! Chardonnay! Coffee!” They want what we want, and they move among us – and we won’t know until too late just how dangerous they (we) are. Sure, they’re bloody and hungry and the images are visceral, but it’s all very low-key and unremarked upon. The townsfolk never think to band together, to coordinate a response against their own demise. (Like I said, it’s not subtle.)

Having read several lacklustre reviews, I wasn’t expecting much from this. But I find myself really enjoying it – even the inconsistent post-modernism – largely because of its lugubrious tone. Sure, there are issues: Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton)’s story arc certainly jumps the shark (although Swinton is the luminous enigma you’d expect her to be) and the strand concerning three sweet inmates at the local juvenile detention centre leaves them, well… stranded. But it’s beautifully acted throughout, and – I think – a great addition to the zombie pantheon.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Isle of Dogs

25/03/18

The arrival of a new Wes Anderson movie is generally a cause for excitement and Isle of Dogs has the added frisson of seeing him return to work with the London-based 3 Mills animation team, whom he employed to such great effect on Fantastic Mr Fox. It must be said, however, that this is an altogether more ambitious project than his previous stop-motion foray.

The story is set twenty years into the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. After a recent dog-flu epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (Komichi Nomura) orders all the city’s dogs to be rounded up and exiled to an offshore island, essentially a rat-infested repository for much of Japan’s unwanted garbage.

On the island, a group of dogs are struggling for survival, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a battle-scarred stray who sees himself very much as the alpha male of the pack. His followers  are voiced by a whole menagerie of A-List talent (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, to name but three). The sudden arrival of Kobayashi’s twelve year old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), changes everything. Atari is in search of his beloved lost pet, Spot, who the mayor has insisted must follow the example of all the other four-legged offenders and be sent into quarantine off-shore. This sets Chief and his pack off on a quest to help Atari by locating the missing canine and, of course, they uncover some startling truths in the process. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group led by the intrepid Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are leading an insurrection against Kobayashi, who, it seems, has not been as honest as he might have been…

Some critics of the film have accused it of cultural appropriation, but I can’t help hoping they are barking up the wrong tree. The love and respect for Japan and its traditions are evident in just about every frame of this delightful movie, from the Taisho drumming sequences to the visual references to veteran directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Mizazaki. What’s more, the animation is so detailed and so brilliantly realised, it’s hard to suppress my gasps of admiration as the story scampers along at high speed from revelation to revelation. All the usual Anderson qualities are in evidence – witty one-liners, a steadfast refusal to get too sentimental about the characters and a delicious vein of dark humour that ties the whole package neatly together.

On the same day we viewed this, The Cameo Cinema hosted a dog-friendly screening, but, as we chose to attend the humans-only show, I cannot really comment on how it went down with its four-legged viewers.

But in my humble opinion, at least, this film is a howling success.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Rushmore

12/01/18

Wes Anderson is one of contemporary cinema’s most original talents. Although his subjects are diffuse and far-ranging, his movies are always shot through with an idiosyncratic sensibility that marks him out as a true auteur. With his new release, Isle of Dogs, looming on the horizon, this is clearly a great time for a retrospective of his work and Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema have seized the moment by devoting Monday evenings to showings of all his full length films in chronological order. It also gives me the welcome opportunity to see the one Anderson film that has thus far eluded me.

After the incendiary calling card of Bottle Rocket, 1998’s Rushmore is the film that cemented Anderson’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with but, for a whole variety of reasons, I have never managed to catch up with it until now. It’s the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) a fifteen-year-old student at the titular preparatory school who has an obsessive genius for organising clubs and societies, even if this means that his actual school work consistently falls short of its potential. He also writes and directs hilariously over-ambitious school plays – his adaptation of Serpico needs to be seen to be believed.

Max chances upon what he feels is a kindred spirit in Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a dispirited businessman who, despite considerable wealth, has become disillusioned with his loveless marriage and the antics of his two oafish sons. He is quite happy to fund some of Max’s madcap enterprises. Max’s acquisitive eye also falls on a new teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), whom he starts to pursue in reckless fashion, even attempting, as a declaration of his love for her, to build a massive aquarium on the school sports field, without even bothering to seek permission. When Rosemary and Herman start an affair, Max is devastated – and takes out his anger in ways that will have disastrous consequences for his future…

Rushmore is an unqualified delight from start to finish and Schwartzman’s performance in the lead role is an extraordinary tour de force. Max is an inspired creation, a charming maverick who, despite a surfeit of confidence, still has an appealing vulnerability. Bill Murray puts in a sanguine and understated effort as the jaded businessman and, as the film progresses, I find myself wondering why we haven’t seen a lot more of Olivia Williams on the big screen, because she offers a beguiling presence as Rosemary.

For me this is up there with Anderson’s finest work (and that’s praise indeed). The completist side of me is very happy to have finally had the chance to tick this off my ‘to see’ agenda. Any other Anderson fans who fancy catching up (or reconnecting) with his work on the big screen should keep their eyes peeled for subsequent showings. Even his slighter efforts are never less than interesting.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney