Tag Archives: Bill Murray

Sweet Zombies, Silly Slashers Make for Un-Scary Halloween

Every film critic has at least one dirty, little secret, one genre they pretend to love but secretly loathe.

For me, that genre is horror.

Since I was a little girl, sleeping with the nightlight on, I’ve cowered in fear of spooky thrillers and big-screen chillers. I’m fine during the day, but after dark, my imagination transforms scary movies into reality, casting giant, terrifying shadows across my mind.

As I grew up, I learned to avoid horror movies, shunning everything from “Nightmare on Elm Street” to “The Grudge.” This strategy worked pretty well until I landed a job as movie critic for the local newspaper. Suddenly, I was expected to see whatever films readers wanted to know about, even the scary ones.

I sat through my share of flicks that kept me up at night, but more often than not, I would do my best to invent excuses so I could weasel out of flicks like “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity.” I freely confess that when it came to horror movies, I was a big slacker.

This Halloween, in honor of my fellow cowards, I offer eight films that are more fun than frightening. A few of them have their share of guts and gore, but they all emphasize hilarity over the sort of terror that will leave you traumatized for weeks.

Go ahead and watch these with the lights out, and sleep tight afterward.

“Arsenic and Old Lace,” 1944: Featuring the incomparable Cary Grant at his harried, madcap best, “Arsenic” is hilarious and demented, an unexpected treat, considering it’s the work of wholesome “It’s a Wonderful Life” director Frank Capra.

Grant gives his superb physical comedy skills and elastic facial expressions a thorough workout, playing Mortimer Brewster, a theater critic whose wedding day is thrown into chaos when he discovers that murder is a family tradition. It seems Mortimer’s maiden aunts (Jean Adair, Josephine Hull) are offering more than simple charity to lonely old bachelors. Other mad relatives pop up as well, prompting Mortimer to exclaim, “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!”

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“Young Frankenstein,” 1974: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is one literature’s great titles, but one could argue it has yet to inspire a truly great film adaptation. “Young Frankenstein” is my favorite by far, so much more fun than stuffier attempts by directors with mustier credits than king of cinema spoofery Mel Brooks.

This spot-on black-and-white parody of Universal’s 1931 “Frankenstein” and 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein” boasts a remarkable cast, including Gene Wilder as the neurotic Dr. Frahnkenshteen and Peter Boyle as his tap-dancing monster.

“The Evil Dead,” 1981: Sam Raimi’s low-budget, DIY horror comedy is a classic, influencing every campy genre spoof that followed it with its inventive special effects and weird and gory humor. Bruce Campbell gives an epic, deadpan performance as Ash, one of five doomed souls at the proverbial cabin in the woods when a bloodthirsty demon is inadvertently unleashed.

Raimi’s original is legend, but Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake isn’t half bad. I’m partial to Raimi’s even cheesier sequel, 1992’s “Army of Darkness,” which pits Ash and his chainsaw arm against legions of reanimated, stop-motion skeletons.

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“Ghost Busters,” 1984: You might say the 1980s was the Golden Age of horror comedy. “Ghost Busters” is the cream of the crop of campy classics, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with lots of screenings and news of a planned reboot.

None of the wussy ghost hunters currently occupying cable television can compare to parapsychology professionals Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis, who set out to rid New York City of its pesky ghouls and goblins.

Other silly-spooky ’80s gems include “An American Werewolf in London,” “Beetlejuice,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Gremlins” and “Fright Night.”

“Shaun of the Dead,” 2004: If George Romero was British and liked to hang out at the pub, he would have created this zombie comedy instead of “Night of the Living Dead.” Comedian Simon Pegg is in fine form as the eponymous Shaun, a suburban slacker whose life spent goofing off with slovenly best mate Ed (Nick Frost) is upended when the flesh-eating dead come shuffling into his neighborhood.

Desperate to win back his fed-up ex (Kate Ashfield), Shaun is forced to play the hero. His weapons of choice? A cricket bat. His plan of action? Hole up at the local drinking establishment and wait for the apocalypse to blow over. As you probably guessed, that doesn’t go so well.

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“Zombieland,” 2009: If “The Walking Dead” was goofy and offered a good time instead of soul-crushing despair, it would be “Zombieland.” Like the comic book turned hit AMC series, this comedy is about a disparate band of survivors who latch onto each other and form an oddball family.

They include Jesse Eisenberg’s timid student, who stays alive, post-apocalypse, by sticking to a set of practical rules, and Woody Harrelson’s cowboy, who dreams of Twinkies. They’re joined by a pair of con artists, played by a smokey-eyed, smokey-voiced Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as her little sister. The movie also happens to feature one of the best cameos in cinema history.

“The Cabin in the Woods,” 2012: Deceptively advertised as a straight-up horror flick in an attempt to avoid spoilers, this insanely clever twist on the genre went largely unseen when it debuted in 2012. Penned by master of meta Joss Whedon and “Lost” writer Drew Goddard, “Cabin” deserves a wider audience.

It starts out as a stereotypical slasher flick, with Chris Hemsworth as a college jock heading out to a raucous weekend in the middle of nowhere with a gang of equally hackneyed characters, including a brainy virgin (Kristin Connelly) and a pot-smoking nerd (Fran Kranz). Trust me, though. By the end, “Cabin” has becomes the perfect parody, turning the horror movie inside out and exposing its quivering guts.

“Warm Bodies,” 2013: Think all zombies are repulsive, rotting creatures with chunks of flesh falling off their bones? Think again. Nicholas Hoult stars as the most adorable, blue-eyed member of the walking dead you’ve ever seen. And he’s in love with a girl. A human girl (Teresa Palmer), who thinks he’s creepy and doesn’t know he ate her boyfriend’s brains. Awkward.

Probably the sweetest movie ever set in the zombie apocalypse, “Warm Bodies” falls into that strange and wonderful horror subgenre, the zom-rom-com. It’s funny. It’s playful. It’s the undead teenage love story “Twilight” should have been.

What movies do you plan to watch on Halloween?

 Photos: http://www.watchandreview.com and ghostbusters.com.

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Looking Forward to Films of Fall

Fall may be the best season of all.

And not just because it begins with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Along with sweaters, scarves, Halloween, turning leaves and a welcome chill in the air, fall is a time of renewal for Hollywood as a late-summer slump at the movies gives way to a fresh supply of films we’re actually looking forward to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been AWOL from the movie theater. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Idris Elba — who deserves better — terrorize Taraji P. Henson — who also deserves better — in “No Good Deed.” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looked as dreary and depressing as its title. “This Is Where I Leave You” has a wonderful cast, but then I read the reviews. I meant to see “The Maze Runner,” but was less than impressed with the book and haven’t gotten around to it.

Starting this weekend, however, there will be reasons galore for moviegoers to get off the couch and get their butts into the cineplex once again. Film buffs, rejoice — the fun won’t stop until after Christmas.

Here are the fall (and winter) movies I’m most looking forward to.

“The Boxtrolls,” Sept. 26: Stop-motion animation studio Laika brought us the exquisitely dark “Coraline” and hilariously macabre zombie comedy “ParaNorman.” The painstakingly rendered “Boxtrolls” — which features more than 200 detailed puppets — looks to be just as enchanting.

“Gone Girl,” Oct. 3: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous he-said, she-said thriller was impossible to put down. Watching director David Fincher pull off the book’s epic twists should be interesting. So should watching Ben Affleck inhabit the role of douche-baggy murder suspect Nick Dunne.

“Kill the Messenger,” Oct. 10: The underrated Jeremy Renner takes a break from playing the loneliest Avenger to tackle the meatier role of real-life journalist Gary Webb, who investigated the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. Sure, I’ll miss the spandex and the crossbow, but it will be nice to hear Renner say more than three lines in this drama.

“Whiplash,” Oct. 10: Young up-and-comer Miles Teller (“Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Divergent”) stars as a drummer under the sway of a maniacal music instructor (J.K. Simmons) in a drama that caused a sensation at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. It sounds just strange enough to be awesome.

“Birdman,” Oct. 17: This dark satire appears to be a significant departure for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”), who isn’t exactly known for his comedies. Michael Keaton steps into the role of a washed-up actor once celebrated for playing a superhero. Could he be riffing on his stint as a certain caped crusader? If this movie has anything intelligent to say about our comic book obsessed culture, it could be fascinating.

“Fury,” Oct. 17: There are so many movies about World War II, coming up with a new angle on the conflict isn’t an easy task. “End of Watch” director David Ayer seems to have done it though, telling the story of a Sherman tank crew on a mission behind enemy lines. Brad Pitt plays a philosophical sergeant — am I the only one who’s tired of the actor’s incessant speech-making in recent films? — but I’m more excited about the underrated Michael Pena as the Fury’s driver.

“St. Vincent,” Oct. 24: Anytime Bill Murray decides to come out of his eccentric, hermit-like shell and make another movie, it’s cause for celebration. It’s a bonus that the comedy, about a cantankerous Brooklyn veteran who becomes a boy’s unlikely babysitter, looks so darn hilarious. It also stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, which can’t be bad.

“Horns,” Oct. 31: The boy who played Harry Potter is all grown up and has been busy carving out an eclectic career on the stage and screen. Daniel Radcliffe’s latest choice, a bizarre thriller by horror director Alexandre Aja, may be his strangest and most intriguing endeavor yet. The former wizard plays a man on a quest to find his girlfriend’s killer. He’s aided by supernatural horns that spontaneously sprout from his head.

maxresdefaultMatthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” (photo YouTube)

 “Interstellar,” Nov. 7: After the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” I would travel many miles and shell out a lot of cash to see anything director Christopher Nolan dreams up. His latest is an enigmatic sci-fi odyssey we know little about, thanks to a typically obscure Nolanesque advertising campaign. We do know “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors. This is a must-see if there ever was one.

“Rosewater,” Nov. 7: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with a drama, starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured following his country’s 2009 presidential election. This is the movie that managed to temporarily lure Stewart away from his beloved “Daily Show,” so it better be good.

“Foxcatcher,” Nov. 14: Steve Carell in a non-comedic role that requires him to wear a creepy prosthetic nose? Sounds like a recipe for disaster … or wild success, considering the raves coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont, who became embroiled in a murder while sponsoring an Olympic wrestling duo in 1996.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” Nov. 21: I’m not the biggest fan of the final chapter in author Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. That last book was a letdown and it’s too slight to be divided into two parts, as studio Lionsgate has deemed necessary in an obvious grab for more box-office cash. Still, the trailers for “Mockingjay — Part 1” suggest the film could actually be thrilling as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss becomes the unwitting leader of a revolution.

“The Imitation Game,” Nov. 21: Benedict Cumberbatch is the only reason needed to anticipate this period drama about genius politician Alan Turing, who cracked a notorious Nazi code during World War II and was later persecuted for his sexual orientation. When it comes to playing brilliant minds, “Sherlock” star Cumberbatch is the best. This “Game” could be even more thrilling than “Mockingjay.”

“Wild,” Dec. 5: Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about her harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a crisis turned her personal life into a shambles, “Wild” seems poised to strike a chord with moviegoers. I hope so, if only to see Reese Witherspoon reclaim her spot at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. She’s gunning for another Oscar. Godspeed, Reese!

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Dec. 12: Biblical epics are all the rage again. After the cheesy misfire that was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” I know I shouldn’t be looking forward to director Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic, starring Christian Bale. But I just can’t help myself. The film looks so fabulous and corny, from Joel Edgerton as an eyeliner-wearing Rhamses to “Breaking Bad” bad-ass Aaron Paul as Joshua. And who doesn’t want to witness the Red Sea part in spectacular CGI?

“Inherent Vice,” Dec. 12: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix for a psychedelic 1970s-set noir film about a private detective investigating a string of juicy conspiracies. “The Master” was sometimes difficult to sit through. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I found it just hypnotic enough that I’ll be back for more of Anderson and Phoenix’s bizarre collaboration.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” Dec. 17: The first installment of director Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy was a slog, overlong and sluggishly paced. Last year’s “Desolation of Smaug” was a marked improvement, zippier and more engaging. Now I can actually look forward to the finale, which will test all of visual effects house Weta’s computer wizardry as they bring to life the show-stopping skirmish of the film’s title.

“Big Eyes,” Dec. 25: Tim Burton re-creates the dysfunctional marriage of painters Walter and Margaret Keane, who in the 1960s produced a series of memorable paintings of children with creepy peepers. The couple is played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, a match made in cinema heaven, considering these two are amazing in everything they do.

“The Interview,” Dec. 25: There is no homoerotic comedy union more hilarious than that of Seth Rogen and James Franco, from “Pineapple Express,” to “This is the End,” to the duo’s brazen parody of the Kanye and Kim video “Bound 2.” In their latest wacky endeavor, the pair play tabloid TV journalists who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The dictator reportedly denounced the movie, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.

“Into the Woods,” Dec. 25: Fairy tales are in again, as evidenced by the insane popularity of “Frozen,” “Maleficent” and “Once Upon a Time.” Stephen Sondheim’s bedtime story mash-up could be a dark and cynical anecdote to the sugary sweetness of Disneyfied fables. The only catch is that it’s a Disney movie with director Rob Marshall catering to a family audience. At least it boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Into-the-Woods-Movie-Meryl-Streep-as-the-WitchMeryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (photo teaser-trailer.com)