Space Jam (1996)

2017 #76
Joe Pytka | 84 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | U / PG

Space Jam

Space Jam is one of those movies that everyone of my generation seems to have seen, and many of them have fond childhood memories of it too. I remember when it came out. I pretty thoroughly dismissed it at the time, because I had no interest in basketball (partly because I’m British — I was baffled anyone else over here cared at all), and not much more interest in the Looney Tunes characters either, to be honest. Plus it just looked silly. And not in a good way. But, as I say, everyone else seems to have seen it, so I thought “why not?” and taped it off the telly one day. (Well, I didn’t tape it — no one uses tape anymore, do they? Recorded it. DVR’d it. TiVo’d it. Whatevs.) Then, one night when my critical faculties were feeling like they didn’t want to be challenged with anything too worthy of my time, I decided to bung it on — and learnt that I was right in the first place.

For those who’ve managed to avoid awareness of this movie, it stars Michael Jordan as Michael Jordan, the basketball player, who ends up being recruited by Bugs Bunny and co to teach them how to play basketball so they can beat a group of aliens who want to kidnap them. I would say “it makes sense in the film”, but it doesn’t make much more sense.

Not even Bill Murray can save this movie

A plausible plot is not a prerequisite for an entertaining kids’ movie, but Space Jam provides nothing in its place. It is joyless. Not funny. Not clever. It’s just flat. The concept of character is nonexistent — no one has an arc. It wastes time on a subplot about a bunch of players who aren’t Michael Jordan. (I say “wastes time” — the whole thing’s a waste of time.) Bill Murray turns up for no apparent reason — did he need the money? Does he really love basketball? I don’t know. He brings some small joy just by being him. Elsewhere, there’s a grand total of one funny line.

Even on a technical level, the animation and live-action interaction isn’t all that good. So much of it is obviously just Michael Jordan on a green screen, looking around himself at thin air which some animators filled in. It’s perhaps a little smoother around the edges than Roger Rabbit (which was released eight years earlier), but it lacks that film’s class and tactile sense that the live-action and animation are genuinely interacting, which is more important than computer-aided precision.

You may have seen earlier this week that a list was released of “Must See Movies Before You Grow Up”, aiming to list the 50 films every child should see by the age of 11. Space Jam was on it. So was Home. Over half the list came from this millennium, a third from the past seven years. There’s lots of good stuff on there but, yeah, I think I’m going to ignore it. Like I suggest you should ignore Space Jam.

1 out of 5

Space Jam featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

Rushmore (1998)

2016 #146
Wes Anderson | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

RushmoreThe breakthrough film of cult writer-director Wes Anderson, Rushmore is the story of high school student Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, making his debut, aged 18 but still looking like one of those twentysomethings-playing-highschoolers you so often see in US productions). He’s a prolific participator in extracurricular activities at the prestigious Rushmore Academy, but is put on notice for his failing academic standard. At the same time, he becomes infatuated with first grade teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) and attempts to woo her by building an aquarium on school grounds. He enlists the support of local business magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), but soon Blume is falling for Miss Cross too, setting the men on a path of mutual enmity.

Having only seen Anderson’s three most recent films, it’s interesting to observe the early days of his distinctive style. The squared-off framing and blocking, the mannered acting, the interludes and asides, the not-quite-real / not-quite-fantasy quirkiness of it all… These things have only become more pronounced since, presumably as Anderson has become more confident in his own voice, or possibly as other behind-the-scenes forces have become more comfortable letting him do his thing. There might be an argument for newcomers to ease into Anderson’s unique world via something like this, but I kind of prefer the in-at-the-deep-end way I encountered him.

What do you mean 'quirky'?Part of that is probably tied to Anderson’s own development. It’s not only his very personal touches that have flourished with further films, but I feel like his storytelling and depiction of character has become more sophisticated, too. That’s not to say Rushmore comes up short, but coming to it for the first time with that degree of hindsight, it feels very much like a formative work.

Maybe I’m being unfair to it — it’s amusing and delightfully unpredictable in its own right — but it didn’t excite me in the same way as the other Andersons I’ve seen. Perhaps if I revisit it once I’ve plugged the gap between this and his later work, I’ll be able to enjoy it for itself rather than playing “spot the directorial development”.

4 out of 5

Lost in Translation (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #56

Everyone wants to be found.

Country: USA & Japan
Language: English, Japanese, German & French
Runtime: 102 minutes
BBFC: 15

Original Release: 3rd October 2003 (USA)
UK Release: 9th January 2004
First Seen: DVD, c.2004

Bill Murray (Ed Wood, Broken Flowers)
Scarlett Johansson (Ghost World, Under the Skin)
Giovanni Ribisi (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Avatar)
Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs)

Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, The Bling Ring)

Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette, Somewhere)

The Story
In Tokyo to shoot a lucrative whiskey commercial, one-time movie star Bob Harris battles with middle-aged ennui. In his hotel he encounters Charlotte, a recent Yale graduate who’s tagged along with her entertainment photographer husband, and feels similarly untethered by life. Perhaps these two lost souls will find something in each other…

Our Heroes
“I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people,” says Charlotte, succinctly assessing the life situation of not only herself, but also her new friend, Bob. He’s dryly amused by the world (who better than Bill Murray for that role?), struggling to connect with his wife back home who pesters him with questions about carpet colours. Charlotte, unsure what to do with her life after graduating from university, and finding her husband and his acquaintances to not be on her level, is a kindred spirit, despite the age gap.

Our Villain
Not strictly a villain, but Charlotte’s husband is hardly the most inspiring figure in her life. Not a strong basis for a marriage, really.

Best Supporting Character
A lady known only as Premium Fantasy Woman. “My stockings. Lip them. Lip my stockings. Yes, please, lip them… Lip them. Hey! Lip my stocking!”

Memorable Quote
“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.” — Charlotte

Memorable Scene
After an exuberant night out, Bob and Charlotte sit quietly side by side in a karaoke joint’s hallway. She slowly lowers her head on to his shoulder, smiling to herself, while he stares into the distancing, participating in the moment but also not. To quote further from my ‘What the Public Say’ selection, “it expresses the connection, and simultaneously, the quiet distance that still exists between them (mostly in their minds). It’s romantic without really consuming the romance.”

Making of
Bill Murray no longer has an agent, instead maintaining a voicemail number that he rarely gives out. Sofia Coppola reportedly left hundreds of messages on it, having written the part of Bob especially for him. Eventually he called her back, but still only gave a verbal commitment to appear — she wasn’t sure he was actually going to show until the first day of filming, when he did.

1 Oscar (Original Screenplay)
3 Oscar nominations (Picture, Actor (Bill Murray), Director)
3 BAFTAs (Actor (Bill Murray), Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Editing)
5 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Music)
FIPRESCI Prize (to Sofia Coppola for “the cool detachment and freshness with which she observes the antics of various American and Japanese television and communication industry people in the anonymous surroundings of a large Japanese city, and for the sensitivity with which she modulates the atmosphere of the film from comedy to melancholy.”)
1 MTV Movie Awards Mexico nomination (Funniest American in Japan — it lost to Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai)

What the Critics Said
Lost in Translation revels in contradictions. It’s a comedy about melancholy, a romance without consummation, a travelogue that rarely hits the road. Sofia Coppola has a witty touch with dialogue that sounds improvised yet reveals, glancingly, her characters’ dislocation. She’s a real mood weaver, with a gift for […] mining a comic’s deadpan depths. Watch Murray’s eyes in the climactic scene in the hotel lobby: while hardly moving, they express the collapsing of all hopes, the return to a sleepwalking status quo. You won’t find a subtler, funnier or more poignant performance this year than this quietly astonishing turn.” — Richard Corliss, TIME

Score: 95%

What the Public Say
“It’s an incredibly quiet film, with little narrative or story-related dialogue. We follow Bob and Charlotte as they gently explore their environment and grow towards each other, and it feels like we’re watching seaturtles swim together. It’s all very graceful and beautiful, and quiet, and meandering, and slow. And I mean that in a good way […] For a film that explores disconnection and loneliness, to me there is no better way to frame that story.” — Reinout van Schie, One Shot


There seems to have been a glut of “men coming to terms with their place in the world”-type movies in the early ’00s, for whatever reason. (I’m not sure there was before that? There have been plenty since, though they can feel like hangers-on.) Some once-popular ones have turned into objects of derision (Garden State), but I think others hold up. No doubt the quality of the BAFTA-winning performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson have a lot to do with that, creating a cross-generational pairing of two lost souls that feels real and touching, rather than tipping into some creepy love affair thing. Nonetheless, through to its ending the film plays with variations on melancholy — a difficult feeling to evoke in movies, in my opinion, but a level writer-director Sofia Coppola here hits with impressive consistency.

#57 will be… Denzel Washington in flames.

Groundhog Day (1993)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #42

He’s having the day of his life…
over and over again.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 101 minutes

Original Release: 12 February 1993 (USA)
UK Release: 7th May 1993
First Seen: TV, c.1996

Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Andie MacDowell (sex, lies, and videotape, Four Weddings and a Funeral)
Chris Elliott (Cabin Boy, There’s Something About Mary)
Stephen Tobolowsky (Thelma & Louise, Memento)

Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Analyze This)

Harold Ramis (Animal House, Ghostbusters)
Danny Rubin (S.F.W.)

Story by
Danny Rubin (Hear No Evil, Stork Day)

The Story
Dispatched to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a TV news team get stuck overnight by a snowstorm. When weatherman Phil Connors wakes up the next morning, he finds it’s Groundhog Day again — he’s stuck in a time loop which no one else is aware of, reliving the despised day over and over again. The only advantage is he might be able to use the special knowledge he gains to woo his producer.

Our Hero
Grumpy TV weatherman Phil Connors definitely doesn’t want to be covering the ridiculous Groundhog Day ceremonies, so it’s a personal hell to relive that particular day over and over, possibly for the rest of time. Equally, it might just wind up making him a better man.

Our Villain
Who knows what caused Phil’s predicament? Maybe it was the groundhog — he’s in the title, after all.

Best Supporting Character
Now, don’t you tell me you don’t remember Ned because he’d sure as heckfire remember you. Ned Ryerson. Needlenose Ned. Ned the Head. From Case Western High. Ned Ryerson, did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson, got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn’t graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson, dated Phil’s sister Mary Pat a couple times until Phil told him not to anymore? Ned Ryerson? Bing!

Memorable Quote
“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” — Phil

Memorable Scene
Fed up with his limited immortality, Phil tries to commit suicide. It doesn’t work — so he keeps trying, in new and ingenious ways. I mean, when you put it like that it kinda doesn’t sound funny…

Making of
So, how long is Phil trapped in the time loop? Director Harold Ramis said the original idea was 10,000 years, though he later said it was probably more like 10 years. Various websites have tried to work it out, because of course. Estimates range from just under 9 years to more like 34 years, in order to account for all the time Phil spends learning to play the piano, become an ice sculptor, etc. In the film itself, we see events from just 38 days.

Next time…
The creative team behind the RSC’s successful musical Matilda are working on a stage musical adaptation of Groundhog Day, including songs by Tim Minchin, which will premiere at The Old Vic later this year before opening on Broadway in March 2017.

1 BAFTA (Original Screenplay)
1 British Comedy Award (Comedy Film)
1 Saturn Award (Actress (Andie McDowell))
5 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Actor (Bill Murray), Director, Writing, Costumes)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“While Murray’s deadpan putdowns and dry dismissals of provincial peccadilloes are the comic highlights, Groundhog Day is no supercilious rip of small-town U.S.A. Under Ramis’ even-handed, smartly tilted direction, Groundhog Day also shows the strong virtues of small-town decencies and the maturing-effect they have on the glib media-slicker.” — Duane Byrge, The Hollywood Reporter

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“What has always come best from Bill Murray is a kind of flat, dead-pan delivery, a manner of looking at bizarre situations and sizing them up […] Groundhog Day is right at home for Murray because it affords him at least two dozen moments like that. It is the perfect playground for his kind of humor. Yet, it is something more than that. Here he begins by playing a man who is smug and self-important and slowly transforms into a man who is happy.” — Jerry, armchaircinema

What the Philosophers Say
“perhaps the ultimate meditation on man’s struggle to give meaning to his life within the abyss of an inconsequential existence, at least as far as ’90s comedies go.” — Colin Newton, Mind Over Movies


A Twilight Zone-esque setup gets a comedic twist in the hands of co-writer/director Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray (teaming up in a version of that configuration for the sixth time). While the film is undoubtedly a showcase for Murray’s comedic talents (which is no bad thing), alongside that it develops an endearing vein about what it means to be a good person, touching on some pretty philosophical stuff along the way. It’s also a movie about leading a repetitious life, but it isn’t repetitious itself — surely a feat all of its own.

How many #43s can there be? There can be only one.

Ghostbusters (1984)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #37

They’re here to save the world.

Also Known As: Ghost Busters, technically.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 105 minutes
BBFC: PG (1984) | 12A (2011)

Original Release: 8th June 1984
UK Release: 7th December 1984
First Seen: VHS, c.1990

Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation)
Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places)
Harold Ramis (Stripes, The Last Kiss)
Ernie Hudson (The Crow, Congo)
Sigourney Weaver (The Year of Living Dangerously, Gorillas in the Mist)
Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids)

Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Kindergarten Cop)

Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Dragnet)
Harold Ramis (Animal House, Groundhog Day)

The Story
After losing their university jobs, a trio of paranormal researchers set up a ghost extermination business. They’re soon hired by Dana Barrett, who believes her apartment is haunted. Turns out it is, by an evil demigod who posses Dana and sets about bringing the world to an end…

Our Heroes
They ain’t afraid of no ghosts! Discredited parapsychologists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler set up the Ghostbusters to combat the increasing problem of paranormal activity in New York City, and later recruit Winston Zeddemore to cope with demand.

Our Villain
Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian god of destruction. Likes to turn his servants into supernatural hounds and allow the good guys to choose the form of their ‘destructor’ — which is how you end up having to fight a 112½-foot marshmallow man.

Best Supporting Character
Among a strong cast of memorable characters, one has to feel for William Atherton as antagonistic EPA agent Walter Peck. Peck is so unlikeable that, according to director Ivan Reitman, it “ruined” Atherton’s life: people confronted him as if he were the character, including starting fights in bars. He’s just too good at being a slimy little so-and-so, I guess.

Memorable Quote
“Don’t cross the streams.” — Dr. Egon Spengler

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Dogs and cats, living together!” — Dr. Peter Venkman (well, we used it a lot…)

Memorable Scene
The Ghostbusters fail to stop the coming of Gozer, who shortly declares that the destructor will follow, in a physical form chosen by the team. Although three of them manage to clear their minds, something pops into Ray’s head — “the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy us.” Unless it was eleven storeys tall and motivated by evil, of course.

Sing the Theme Tune…
“If there’s something strange in you neighbourhood, who you gonna call?” Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is as iconic as the movie itself. It lost the Oscar to Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You. Won the BAFTA, though.

Truly Special Effect
The film is full of excellent effects work — all done practically, of course, in those pre-CGI days. That also means an abundance of techniques were used, from simple stuff like hanging things on wires or using wind blowers to make library cards fly around, to miniatures with a Godzilla-style man in a suit, to full animation for things like the proton packs’ streams. And it was all produced on such a tight schedule that, according to the film’s effects mastermind, 70-80% of the work was achieved in the first take.

Making of
Dan Aykroyd wrote the part of Winston with Eddie Murphy in mind, having just worked with him on Trading Places. When Murphy was unavailable due to working on Beverly Hills Cop, Ernie Hudson was cast. He was so excited by the part that he agreed to do it for half his usual salary, only to then receive a revised script in which Winston had a greatly reduced role. In 2015, Hudson commented, “I love the character and he’s got some great lines, but I felt the guy was just kind of there. I love the movie, I love the guys. I’m very thankful to Ivan for casting me. I’m very thankful that fans appreciate the Winston character. But it’s always been very frustrating — kind of a love/hate thing, I guess.”

Next time…
First came The Real Ghostbusters, an animated series that ran from 1986 to 1991 and produced 140 episodes (the addition of The Real to the title being due to another series from the ’70s). Due to its success, the cast and crew were cajoled into making a film sequel, Ghostbusters II, which scared the life out of me when I was about 4. In 2009, Ghostbusters: The Video Game used the likenesses and voices of many of the original cast, and Dan Aykroyd described it as “essentially the third movie.” Rumours and/or plans for a genuine second sequel persisted for a very, very long time (there’s a mass of details here, if you’re interested), though finally seem to have been abandoned in favour of this summer’s all-female reboot.

2 Oscar nominations (Visual Effects, Original Song)
1 BAFTA (Original Song)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Fantasy Film)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“The cast could not be better. Although his role is too small, Aykroyd is endearingly serious as a diehard, but easily scared, ghost-hunter. Harold Ramis, the co-writer of the script, is extremely funny as a hopeless egghead […] But Ghostbusters is primarily a showcase for Murray, who slinks through the movie muttering his lines in his usual cheeky fashion and getting off an occasionally hilarious crack that proves he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.” — Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

Score: 97%

What the Public Say
“the use of special effects, specifically practical effect, shines as well. The ghosts may not be perfectly rendered, but they are so interesting in design and they have so much energy onscreen that you don’t mind it. The practical effects, like having the ground open up or drawers being opened by unseen ghosts are done very well. In a time where many effects-heavy films rely solely on CGI, it’s nice to look back to a time when practical effects were still commonplace in movies and done well in movies.” — Joey Sack, Reel Reactions


Along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ThunderCats, I loved Ghostbusters when I was a kid — I had a dressing up set, with a jumpsuit and a proton pack with a yellow foam whatsit for the stream, and one of the traps, and an Ecto-1, and the firehouse playset, and one time I got my fingers caught in the grill on the roof (which was there to pour goo through, because toys) and I’m sure I panicked until liberal application of butter freed me… Good times. I guess back then my love for it was more to do with the animated series than the movie, but the film itself is a work of blockbuster comedy art. The characters are a joy to be around, the dialogue is hilarious and quotable, multiple sequences lodge themselves indelibly in the memory, the special effects are exemplary, and the dramatic stakes can be surprisingly effective for what’s primarily a comedy.

All together now: “bustin’ makes me feel good!

#38 will have its revenge… in this post or the next.

Ed Wood (1994)

2015 #134
Tim Burton | 127 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Before he descended into self-parody, Tim Burton made movies like this: a biopic of the eponymous ’50s filmmaker, renowned for his so-bad-they’re-good productions. Burton still contributes his trademark dark quirkiness, but it conjures a subject-appropriate tone rather than aimless Burtonesqueness.

It’s the same with Johnny Depp’s lead performance: affected and childlike, as usual, but here to depict a naïve, deluded, optimistic oddball human-being, rather than a self-consciously outrageous fantasy figure.

The result is a true story whose themes and moods are enhanced by stylised moviemaking — much more interesting than either the genre’s regular staid realism or Burton’s later empty theatrics.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

2015 #148
Roger Michell | 90 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12 / R

Wannabe-prestige picture Hyde Park on Hudson is like two films playing at once: the dramatic/romantic story of President FDR’s (Bill Murray) burgeoning affair with his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), and the comedy-drama of his meeting with King George VI (aka “the one Colin Firth played in The King’s Speech”; here, Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth 1.5 (Olivia Colman) in the build up to World War 2, at a time when America really didn’t want to get involved.

This internal battle between the two plots — and, consequently, the ways in which the film was promoted — seems to have caused some confusion with viewers. The trailer (or the British one, at least) sold it as being about the UK/US culture clash, a four-hander in which the British monarchs met FDR and… some woman. See how the British poster is a three shot of Murray, West and Colman, while the American one makes it all about Murray with Linney behind him (and they retained those images for the DVD and Blu-ray releases, too). Understandably, therefore, British viewers seem to expect a film about the UK/US meeting, and are surprised to find the visit is a poorly-integrated subplot to a tale of FDR’s philandering, while US viewers seem to expect a film about FDR having an affair with his cousin, and are surprised by how much time is spent on a poorly-integrated subplot about a British state visit.

For what it’s worth, the film was born of the discovery of Daisy’s letters and diaries, which told of the relationship. Apparently the screenwriter was one of the people who found these, so I guess that’s where his interest lies. The film is a UK production from Film4, however, and made in the wake of the global success of The King’s Speech, so perhaps that explains the root of the royal involvement. While both stories have some potential, they aren’t made to gel, switching back and forth as if in some kind of narrative relay that enables the film to run a theatrical distance.

The screenplay doesn’t help the cast, either. West and Colman are quality actors, but they’re not given good enough material to work with — they’re little more than the funny-Brits comic relief. Their performances seem pitched as a cheap Sunday afternoon TV movie, and are further hamstrung by the inevitable comparison to Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter’s award-winning portrayals of the same people just a couple of years earlier. With the material they’re given, West and Colman never stood a chance of matching that standard.

Elsewhere, Murray gives a good performance, though equally he’s never afforded a scene to really dig into his character, to display some of his inner life. Linney is landed with an over-explanatory voice over, and a character who’s three steps behind the viewer.

Roger Michell’s direction is adequate if unremarkable. DoP Lol Crawley provides a few spots of nice cinematography during any scene set in daylight, with vibrant colours evoking a place of sunny happiness, but anything set at night is graded with a terribly extreme, not to mention awfully rote, case of teal-and-orange.

While not strictly speaking a good film, Hyde Park on Hudson is passable as a Sunday-afternoon-style period drama (albeit one with an occasional risqué edge). One wonders if it could’ve been something more, somehow.

3 out of 5

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

2014 #95
Wes Anderson | 83 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Fantastic Mr. FoxQuirky cult-y director Wes Anderson tries his hand at stop motion animation with this Roald Dahl adaptation, in which an all-star cast voice the tribulations of a gaggle of talking animals — led by the eponymous vulpine — who come into conflict with three vicious farmers.

I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film before, but his reputation is such that I don’t think you need to have to spot that Mr. Fox has been heavily Anderson-ised. It’s probably for the best I’ve not actually read Dahl for decades, because the purist in me would hate it for that. So it’s Quirky with a capital Q, and yet, miraculously, not irritatingly so — it feels like it should be considered self-consciously Quirky, but somehow isn’t. Instead, it’s almost (almost) charming. Whatever, it works.

Ostensibly a kids’ film, because it’s based on a children’s book and it’s animated, I don’t think it really is a film for kids. Not that it’s unsuitable for them, but only so in the literal sense that it’s an animated movie without extreme violence or swearing. A lot of the humour and the storytelling style, not to mention the slightly-creepy animation, are clearly aimed at a more mature viewer. The aforementioned animation was shot at the half-normal speed of 12 frames per second, to emphasis the nature of stop motion. That’s part of the creepiness, but it’s also the gangly designs, and that the animals look like they’ve been made out of real fur (because they have), which ruffles all of its own accord (accidentally moved by the animators’ hands, of course, but when seen in motion…) Honestly, I think it would give some kids nightmares more than joy.

Fox familyCompositionally, I thought I’d get sick of the squared-off 2D style, but Anderson’s cleverer than that. It might look flat and lacking in dimension at first, but that’s the starting point for variation, including some great bits of depth (farmer Bean trashing a caravan is a particular highlight of this), and when it breaks form (like a rabid dog chase) it’s all the more effective. There’s also a fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat. Not your usual plinky-plonky Quirky Kids’ Movie music (though there are instances of that), but something more raucous. Nice spaghetti Western riffs, too.

The main downside is the ending: it kind of reaches a conclusion, but also kind of just stops. It’s like Anderson doesn’t know how to end it… which, as it turns out, is almost exactly true. The ending isn’t the same as the book, because Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach weren’t happy with it, but they couldn’t think of anything else. The final moments they’ve ended up with are apparently based on alternative material found in Dahl’s original manuscript, making it faithful (in its own way) while also settling the writers’ desire for a new finale. As I said, I’m not convinced.

(While we’re on trivia, residents of or regular visitors to Bath may spot the recognisable red facade of the Little Theatre towards the end. Its appearance is indeed based on the real one, though goodness knows why.)

Fantasticer in the future?Fantastic Mr. Fox is the kind of film I feel I may enjoy more on a re-watch. Indeed, some comments on film social networking sites (e.g. Letterboxd) do suggest that it only improves the more you see it. Having parked any desire for faithfulness to the original at the door, then, I feel there’s a chance the film’s boundless originality and almost-incidental outside-the-norm creativity may potentially render it an all-time favourite. But that’s something future viewings (if or when ever they occur) will have to ascertain.

4 out of 5

What About Bob? (1991)

2010 #15
Frank Oz | 95 mins | TV | PG / PG

What About Bob is a comedy about mental health. As such, it feels primed for misunderstanding and inappropriateness. And it is indeed a little worrying early on: Bill Murray’s performance is, from the off, superbly believable, but it’s undercut by bad ‘this is a comedy’ music that suggests we’re meant to laugh at his impairments rather than feel sympathy. And maybe that’s what the screenplay, direction and performance were actually aiming at, but, personally, I don’t find laughing at the mentally disabled all that funny, even in a film nearly 20 years old. At one point, people clap as Bob gets off a bus he struggled to even get on — perhaps this is meant to indicate “thank God he got off!”, but I choose to take it as them celebrating his achievement, because, if not, it’s just attacking the disabled again.

Fortunately, after these troubling moments in the film’s early minutes, the tone becomes more settled. Once Bob’s made it to New Hampshire, inappropriately on the trail of his new therapist Dr Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), and begins to get to know Dr Marvin’s family, the film really lifts off. From here out we get a nice array of, essentially, related sketches. That does them something of a disservice: each is linked and they build in a well-structured fashion as Bob finds himself accepted as part of Dr Marvin’s all-important family, leading to the turning point of a Good Morning America interview, where love for Bob spreads out into (to all intents and purposes) the whole world; and then Dr Marvin’s last potential safe haven of sanity, his fellow therapists, are won round too.

The film hinges entirely on Murray and Dreyfuss, and both are excellent in their respective roles. Murray portrays Bob’s mental health struggles early on in a way that would garner wider praise for accuracy if this were a drama, showing the potential he’s only unleashed in more recent years to play straight roles. But he’s equally good as the film becomes a clear-cut comedy: Bob doesn’t suddenly become a caricature, but is revealed as a good-natured, child-like, fun-loving person who, perhaps, just needs some care and love from others to help his conditions. Dreyfuss, meanwhile, is slickly believable as the uncaring fame-minded therapist, whose true nature — and problems — begin to unravel the more he’s confronted with Bob.

What we see here is that the apparently-afflicted patient is actually in a pretty good place (almost), while the apparently-perfect doctor is actually on the verge of a complete collapse (which, of course, he ultimately has). If it feels a little like a stereotyped plot arc, I’m not entirely certain why; and What About Bob? plays it out with enough truthfulness and humour to make it entirely palatable.

Believe it or not, some side with the psychotherapist, viewing Bob as a damnable annoyance that no one but Dr Marvin can see. It’s an interesting way to view the film, certainly, but I suspect whether you ‘side’ with Bob or Dr Marvin says more about you as a person than it does about the film, the characters or the performances. It seems starkly obvious to me that Bob is the ‘good guy’, a nice but troubled chap who just wants to get by and have a good time, while Dr Marvin is a control freak with a raft of suppressed problems that are gradually unveiled throughout the film until they ultimately overwhelm him. He’s not a bad chap per se, but he is in the wrong.

What About Bob? seems to have been forgotten — I’d never even heard of it until it was on TV at the tail end of last year — but that’s unfair. I can only assume it stems from those people who seem to have misinterpreted it, because such a misinterpretation must make it quite an awkward experience. Seen correctly, however, What About Bob? is a funny, heartening, feel-good comedy that deserves to be better remembered.

4 out of 5