Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 12, 2013

Movie Mayhem: Crow’s Feet Commons, Bend, OR, edition

Crow’s Feet Commons is a coffee shop, bike shop, ski/snowboarding shop, pub, music venue, and occasional movie theater in downtown Bend. The best kind of outrageous, and somehow pulling it off in a down-to-earth way. The folks that run it obviously care a lot about the things they’re representing, from their very specific lines of merchandise to their fun tap list. And they also care a lot about Bill Murray movies. All winter they have been hosting a ‘Mondays with Murray’ event, drawing from the actor’s huge body of work and running a tempting drink special alongside. I caught the last 4 movies before they concluded the event until next fall – in favor of filling that extra hour of (hopefully) sunshine that daylight savings just provided us, with more biking and skiing and what-have-you.

I got to see some old favorites and two films that I’ve been meaning to watch for years.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Writ. & Dir. Wes Anderson. Based on the book by Roald Dahl. Star George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and of course Bill Murray. USA, 2009) It took me awhile to warm up to Wes Anderson movies for some reason that remains a mystery to me. When I first saw this one soon after it came out, my reaction was an overwhelming “Meh”. Then I saw it again last spring and couldn’t figure out what I had disliked about it. It has become a favorite and I’ve seen it…erm, something like 4 more times since then? Anderson movies definitely have a unique tone and pacing, and while this one is stop-motion animation and slightly skewed towards a younger audience, it is just as weird and slightly dark as most of his other stuff – with the added Dahl wit and quirky charm. Mr Fox’s adventure on the road towards balancing his family responsibilities with being true to his wild nature always makes me laugh, and usually makes me ponder my own efforts at balancing elements in my life… Like most Anderson films this one just gets better with each viewing. And the scene with the wolf toward the end? Makes me choke up every time. (Bill Murray gives voice to Mr Fox’s sensible lawyer and has a few funny lines delivered with a flatness that only he can achieve…!) – Bechdel Test Pass or Fail? = FAIL* (Okay, so we’re dealing with animals here…but still, Mrs. Fox, one of several named female characters but the only one to get much screen time, never speaks to anyone other than ‘men’ about any thing at all for more than a moment.)

Ed Wood (Dir. Tim Burton. Writ. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Based on the book ‘Nightmare of Ecstasy’ by Rudolph Grey. Stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, and of course Bill Murray. USA, 1994.) Based on the life of Edward D. Wood, Jr., Burton’s biopic is the wistful tale of a Hollywood director, screenwriter, and actor who just wanted to make terrific films. Unfortunately, he made terrible films…(some have called him the worst director of all time!) Burton depicts him as an earnest, energetic young man who cared deeply for his projects and for his friends. The story revolves around his more-or-less adoption of the aging actor Bela Lugosi, whose famous role as Count Dracula haunts him just as viciously as the tax man. Ed makes flop after flop, Bela teeters on the edge of ruin and sanity, Ed’s girlfriend Doloras ditches him and his worrisome cross-dressing ways, and he is forced to compromise his vision repeatedly, yet through it all Ed more-or-less retains his optimism and refuses to give up on his dreams. The movie is funny, but the underlying sadness of the tale makes for a complex tone. Johnny Depp is perfectly (and unsurprising) cast as Ed, bringing his usual weird passion to the role. Filmed in black and white, and with a script that has an old fashioned feel to it (more like stuff written around when Wood was actually working) this is a rather bemusing story overall. (Bill Murray is kind of adorable as Bunny Breckinridge, the stylist who yearns for a sex change…) – Bechdel Test Pass or Fail? = FAIL (A variety of named female characters, but they never speak to each other about anything for more than a moment.)

Coffee and Cigarettes (Writ. & Dir. Jim Jarmusch. Stars…everybody. Including Bill Murray…! USA, 2003.) A series of 11 vignettes that feature people talking while enjoying coffee and cigarettes. Shot in black and white, and usually fairly amusing, each little story builds a bit on the last ones and common themes and topics crop up repeatedly. At it’s most basic, an overall theme is the enjoyment of the little things in life – a good cup of coffee and a cigarette. It’s far more complex than that (especially as one common sentence is variations on, “Coffee and cigarettes? That’s all you’re having? That’s hardly a healthy lunch!”) Often the two (or more) people in the scene are not exactly comfortable with each other – they’ve just met, don’t know each other well, are somewhat estranged, are not getting along, or are in the midst of an argument. The relationships run from new to old friends, twins, cousins, siblings, working acquaintances. There are inside jokes from one story to another, and to sources outside the movie. I think it probably benefits from more than one viewing. The scene where Iggy Pop and Tom Waits smoke cigarettes to celebrate quitting smoking, while drinking coffee in a diner and making very awkward conversation was hilarious. In the segment titled Cousins? Alfred Molina has a meeting with Steve Coogan to tell him the great news – they appear to be related according to Molina’s genealogy research! Coogan is unimpressed. I kept cringing in sympathy for Molina, but the end of the piece brings a satisfying result. Bill Murray plays a waiter in his segment, serving tea to the hip-hop artists GZA and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. They talk him into doing something bizarre to cure his smokers cough. Overall this is what I’ve come to expect from Jarmusch – weirdness that makes me shake my head in both puzzlement and wonder. I don’t mind that! – Bechdel Test Pass or Fail = PASS…? I think, but just barely (The segment titled ‘Cousins’ – without the question mark – is a conversation between Cate Blanchett as herself and her non-famous cousin Shelly, also played by Blanchett. Meeting in a hotel lobby between interviews for Cate, they talk about boyfriends and husbands and babies (sorry Julie!), and the boyfriend’s music, so indirectly still the boyfriend, but also touch on Cate’s career and other aspects of Shelly’s life. If I remember correctly…it’s been a few weeks. This is a tentative PASS for sure…!)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Dir. Wes Anderson. Writ. Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Stars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, and Willem Dafoe. USA, 2004.) Another Anderson movie that underwhelmed me when I first saw it, and which I now enjoyed. Steve Zissou searches for the possibly mythic jaguar shark that ate his best friend, accompanied by his marine documentary filmmaking team, his increasingly frustrated wife, an impertinent (and pregnant) reporter, and a pilot who may or may not be his son. Anderson-esk shenanigans ensue. The usual elements of the ridiculous are rampant, paired with a particularly nifty set design. Some of the imaginative sea creatures are quite lovely, and there is an almost painful element of whimsy to the whole feel of the film. Zissou is unhappy, trying desperately to remain relevant, and increasingly hurt and confused by the lack of faith among his friends and crew, actual mutiny, and a gradual loss of respect. He is blind to some of the more obvious causes of these things, wrapped up in himself, although as he explores his relationship with his possible son he starts to make some revealing discoveries about himself – and actually takes them into account. On the whole it is a sad movie, slightly disjointed, with the standard Anderson lightness that showcases the “I have to laugh because otherwise I’d cry” sentiment precisely. There are amusing and even hilarious parts round every corner. The scene at the end (in the submarine) is heart-wrenching though. Still, at the very end, the movie (being an Anderson affair) manages to end on a somewhat positive note. Not my favorite Anderson, (although his films tend to grown on me, apparently) but one I’ll probably watch again. – Bechdel Test Pass or Fail = FAIL (*sigh* Eleanor Zissou and Jane, the reporter, are both decently interesting female characters, and are sketched out fairly well. But the only time they have a conversation together they are talking about Steve and Ned – the pilot and possible son. So much for that.)

Looks like Bill Murray is working on two new movies (including another one by Wes Anderson – sheesh!) which will be something to look forward to when the Mondays With Murray starts up again in the autumn. I might keep the tradition going myself between times though. It’s kind of a fun habit to have gotten into! Any suggestions for me?

* For details of the Bechdel Test and why I care, investigate here.

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