Bill Murray is excellent.
Aykroyd is awesome.
It stands up.
Bill Murray is excellent.
Aykroyd is awesome.
It stands up.
I’m so happy to be bringing you an actual film review today.
Even though I’m under the weather.
Yes, the airborne molds here in San Antonio seem to have brought on a nasty head cold.
[And before that it was the mountain cedar pollen. It seems my city is among the five worst in the U.S. for allergens!]
But nothing does the health quite as much good as a larf 🙂
And I must say, categorically, that Caddyshack is a masterpiece.
I suspected as much, but I never truly analyzed every bit of dialogue.
And let me just start off by saying, the screenwriters responsible for this film deserve immense kudos.
First, Douglas Kenney.
If you go to the Caddyshack page on Wikipedia, you will notice that Mr. Kenney has no hypertext love for his name in the “informatics” box.
[Correction, Kenney’s name under the heading “Writers” is not hypertext-enabled, but his name is linkable elsewhere on the page.]
The story of Mr. Kenney is sad.
The strangest part is, HE DOES indeed have a Wikipedia page!
So why no link to the Caddyshack page?
My guess is that this film (and its stakeholders) probably want to distance themselves from the late- Mr. Kenney.
And that’s the saddest part.
You see, Douglas Kenney died almost exactly a month after Caddyshack was released.
Apparently Mr. Kenney was depressed about the bad reviews Caddyshack had gotten.
It’s a tragic story.
But we’re here to celebrate this wonderful film!
And there are two more writers to credit.
Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014, is also credited with writing our timeless work.
And finally, Brian Doyle-Murray (who is thankfully still with us).
These three writers crafted a great story.
But most importantly, they should be revered for the fantastic banter which they concocted.
In its own way, the script for Caddyshack deserves a prominent place next to Ernest Lehman’s North by Northwest.
But to pull off great lines, you need great actors.
And Caddyshack is chockfull of masterful performances.
But first let’s take a look at the socioeconomic aspects of this story.
The action is completely set at a posh golf course in Nebraska: Bushwood Country Club.
While some of the allegorical caricatures are a bit crude (indeed, the whole film is gloriously crude), there is a nice message to this film.
Quite simply, it is the “haves” and the “have-nots”.
And the main, anarchist “have-nots” are the caddies.
Those lowly youngsters who schlep golf bags up and down green hills in lieu of golf carts.
The manager of the Caddy Shack (actually played by writer Brian Doyle-Murray) holds the specter of replacement over the young caddies’ heads.
Shape up, or you’ll be replaced by golf carts.
[Or something to that effect]
I can hear the same strains echoing from my local McDonald’s (though I never go there).
You want fifteen dollars an hour?
But these kids put up with a lot of shit.
And, though this film doesn’t get this in-depth, I feel for the youngsters who are out there working crappy jobs.
America is fucked up.
A cashier at a corner store shouldn’t be prevented from getting antibiotics for her infected tooth.
She shouldn’t have to miss work because we can’t figure out this problem.
I’m guessing she can’t afford the doctor’s visit.
Or the visit to a clinic.
But that’s pretty sad.
It’s like panhandling…
No one would dream of such an existence.
So we gotta be less cynical.
Yeah, panhandlers will try any trick in the book.
But in the final estimation, one must really feel sorry for anyone who has no better options than to spend their time begging (or, for that matter, hawking cigarettes for minimum wage at the Kwik-E-Mart).
But I digress…
The late- Ted Knight did a great job of playing the yuppie villain in this film.
You want to go to law school? And your parents can’t afford it?
Well, the world needs ditch-diggers too.
It’s a bloody-jawdropping line from our three screenwriters!
Ted Knight plays Judge Smails.
Yes, a real piece of work he is!
The “good-old-boys” network.
Even up in Nebraska.
Perhaps a jab at Warren Buffett?
We know, of course, that Mr. Buffett was having a very convenient charity golf tournament the morning of 9/11 at Offutt Air Force Base.
And Offutt is the central node of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
And George W. Bush eventually made his way to Offutt on 9/11 (after stopping over at the second most important nuke site, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana).
And then there was the jet owned by Mr. Buffett that was conveniently in the air near Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
And Ms. Anne Tatlock who would have normally been in her office at Fiduciary Trust Company in the World Trade Center, but was playing golf with Warren Buffett.
Fiduciary Trust lost 87 employees on the morning of 9/11 when Flight 175 slammed into the WTC.
But Tatlock was in Omaha.
Too crazy to be true?
And who were the other invitees at Buffett’s event?
Let’s return to comedy, shall we? 🙂
Chevy Chase is fantastic as Ty Webb in our film.
He has no editing mechanism.
Here is a guy so effortlessly-rich that he just says whatever is on his mind.
Remind you of anyone?
And if that pointed-allusion to our PEOTUS isn’t pithy enough, we then have Rodney Dangerfield’s ostentatious character: a realtor!
Remember, in 1978 (two years before Caddyshack) the villain of Superman (Lex Luthor) was also a realtor.
It’s an interesting meme.
Indeed, the word “meme” was coined just two years before THAT (in Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene).
So perhaps it was just the Zeitgeist, but our writers had latched onto something with the realtor trope.
However, as stated, the villain of Caddyshack is the venal Judge Smails.
Rodney Dangerfield (who was magnificent in this film) is very much an anti-villain: the enemy of our enemy.
Dangerfield’s character Al Czervik may be nouveau riche, but he has many redeeming qualities.
To reel in one of my favorite memes, he puts the disruptive in “disruptive innovation” (thank you Clay Christensen).
I mean, really…you gotta hand it to a guy with Budweiser on tap in his golf bag 🙂
But perhaps the most important character is Carl (played to genius proportions by Bill Murray).
Carl is the slack-jawed “assistant [head?] greenskeeper” whose internal monologue is just audible enough to guide us through this film.
Every film critic should identify with Carl (except, of course, the “successful” ones).
Here’s a guy who basically lives in the toolshed.
I mean, the scene where Chevy Chase “plays through” is just classic!
Carl eventually does a little housekeeping with a leaf blower (presaging the eccentric roots of Beck Hansen [whose dust-choking start was still a ways off in 1980]).
But Carl really makes this film tick.
He is the Fanfare for the Common Man.
And there are Bronx cheers in place of the timpani!
[Did somebody sit on a duck?]
Sarah Holcomb probably doesn’t get much credit for her role in this film, but she should.
Ms. Holcomb was born on September 11, 1958.
This was her last film (according to Wikipedia).
While her Irish accent is a bit grating (because, I am guessing, it is merely a plot device), she is a joyful presence in this film.
Ah, but Cindy Morgan really steals the show as Lacey Underall.
And she’s not just a pretty face!
Her acting (and chemistry with Chevy Chase) is really remarkable.
Plus, she has the best line of the film:
“BULLFIGHTS ON ACID.”
God, I love that line…
Which takes us back to our writers.
These guys were really something!
But I haven’t even mentioned the auteur of our film.
It was, indeed, one of the three writers: Harold Ramis.
Sure, there are cheap stunts (actually, $8 mil. worth…in 1980!).
But they almost all work beautifully.
For instance, the Jaws spoof with the Baby Ruth in the swimming pool 🙂
I mean, God…what a concept!
And even little touches…like Ted Knight hacking through the bathroom door with a golf club instead of an axe (à la The Shining).
The Shining, incidentally, was released about two months before Caddyshack.
[Jaws hailed from 1975 and Jaws 2 had dropped in 1978.]
It’s hard to say to what extent Bill Murray and Chevy Chase improvised in this film.
The same goes for Rodney Dangerfield.
These were/are comedic geniuses.
So no doubt a good bit of credit for the final product goes to these three gentlemen.
But Harold Ramis pulled it all together.
And so, dear friends, if you haven’t seen this film, then you absolutely must.
It’s not Gone With the Wind, but it’s a very significant milestone in the development of cinema.
The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.
Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.
They opt for “children’s film”.
Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.
In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.
1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.
By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:
-William S. Burroughs
-and many others.
Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.
But maketh thou no mistake: The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!
By then, The Beatles were no more.
1968 had come and gone (violently). And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).
There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.
Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album
But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.
It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).
It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.
The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.
But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.
There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.
Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).
–1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]
-1989: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]
Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.
Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.
By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.
It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.
If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.
-1970: Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]
-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]
-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode
-1971: The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago
-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance
-1972: Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido
-1973: Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)
-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)
But we missed something significant:
If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.
-their first two albums were released in 1969
-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]
–Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971
–Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973
–Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975
But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music. Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.
AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.
But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.
Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977. One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).
But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.
From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.
And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.
Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).
Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.
But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.
I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.
As to whether it is fit for families to view together.
But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.
It’s damned funny!
I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso. Long ago.
I thought I had a chance. But I was Amish. I just didn’t know it yet.
But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.
#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).
Woody has had an interesting life.
When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers. This gave us great comfort. Great laughs. And Woody played the character Woody Boyd. One of the bright spots of a great television cast.
But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life). And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown: San Antonio.
It was a drug hit. Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home. The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years. Harrelson got life in jail.
Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood. He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.
Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.
#2 is Bill Murray. Bill is an old hand (no pun intended). Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film. Of course, this is a comedy. So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.
At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.
Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.
You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.
[N.B. Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin. We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]
The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.
[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]
Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.
Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.
I got great joy out of seeing this.
Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.
I’ve done it.
Now I have an advanced degree in management.
And still, I know…it’s hard!
But back to family films.
This IS a family film.
But it is also an example of what the family film has become.
In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.
That’s just my opinion.
But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.
It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.
But I leave that discretion up to the parents.
Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!
It’s funny. They’re good at it. It has a point. But it might be too lewd for some families.
Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film: the Amish.
It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.
In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.
From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.
But this is also a road movie.
And we know strange things happen on the road.
I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting. It’s effortless. Flawless.
And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté. Truly an acting coup!
But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!
Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?
Yeah, that’s her.
And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!
Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!
At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.
To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.
We are all sinners.
But music saves us.
“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.
And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.
“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat! The Strangeloves!!!
“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.
“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.
But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.
Such a magical song!
Great movie. Great acting. Comes from a place of reality.
We all need a little therapy.
And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.
For me, this one does the trick.
Multiple phobias would be an understatement.
And I can relate.
You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.
But only temporarily.
Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.
But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.
And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.
Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).
His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).
But Bob has no malice in his heart.
He just needs help.
But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.
Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.
That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.
Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.
He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.
His son is named Sigmund.
His daughter, Anna.
And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.
[I couldn’t resist]
But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.
As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.
Bob has problems “moving”.
But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.
Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.
And I can relate.
Boy, can I!
Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.
People love this guy.
If they take a second to get to know him.
And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).
But the lines blur early and often.
And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.
While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.
So what I mean to say is this: yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!
Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.
Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.
Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know: the most annoying person in the world.
They don’t come along often.
But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.
So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.
The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.
Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.
Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna. She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.
Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund. He does the same. He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.
But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.
Fear of the edge. Ok, let’s just make this the edge. No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.
Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.
Dumb luck. Or serendipity.
But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.
Mind as battlefield. You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.
But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.
You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”
It’s funny. Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.
So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate. It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.
Saying a kind word.
We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.
You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.
You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.
Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.
For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.
Illustrating that great scientific query: “In relation to what?”
One human in the lonely crowd.
And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.
Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.
With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.
And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.
But these are the humans we need.
These are the spice of life.
Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.
But I am sticking with spice of life.
What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.
And so we return to patience.
It’s a test.
And patience is its own reward.
You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.
Yet, this patience must be tested. Stress tested. Like a bank.
Over years of potentially infuriating situations.
If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.
But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.
How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?
If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.
We make it part of our persona.
But it will be tested!
As in a crucible!!
And so what about Bob?
Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.
A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.
He never saw a Bob coming.
He had no contingency for this sort of personage.
And so he is off-guard. Mean. Ugly. Nasty. Snotty. Vile.
Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.
How do you deal with your fear of death?
Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.
The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.
One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee. If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.
This has been Death Therapy, with your host: Pauly Deathwish. 🙂
Same day. Really feels surreal.
Wake up. Some food.
Tired. Moving slowly.
Pull yourself together.
And you’re off to see Punxsutawney Phil.
Same day. But different content.
Learning the subtleties and dimensionality of situations.
You feel dreaming.
And you do your job. Same as previous. And the next day.
Will be a carbon copy.
You need to do the same thing the next four days in a row.
And maybe, just maybe, it will all work out alright.
And that’s starting from complete mental exhaustion.
Well, that’s how I feel.
About Groundhog Day.
It’s a damn fine film.
Harold Ramis as director.
But Bill Murray is the star.
He just doesn’t give a fuck.
Starts off as a cross between Ron Burgundy and Dick Tremayne from Twin Peaks.
But he settles into a surly sarcasm which melts faces.
Very few can pull it off.
Thora Birch in Ghost World.
Bill Murray here.
And then there’s the lovely Andie MacDowell.
I used to be so in love with her when I was a little kid.
My first celebrity crush (if I remember correctly).
I was just fascinated with her hair.
A perfumed jungle.
Certainly some Baudelaire in there.
Maybe I can’t say anything really enlightening here.
Because I’m really tired.
But I wanted to write. Needed to write.
And needed the laugh that great comedy provides.
Thank you Bill Murray!
Bill gives freaks like me hope 🙂
Looking at the DVD cover for this film lowered my expectations. Harry Treadaway cut a rather effete figure and Saoirse Ronan bore somewhat of a sartorial resemblance to her Susie Salmon role (The Lovely Bones). Fortunately, the dust jacket designers did the disk a disservice as this is actually quite a good movie.
I make a habit of not scrutinizing the list of players prior to viewing films (especially for newer fare such as this). It wasn’t long into this picture before the phrase “Thank God for Bill Murray!” rang resoundingly in my head. Indeed, Murray was just what this film needed on many levels. Conversely, I’m not sure Murray needed this film, but that’s neither here nor there.
We are there. Ember. One immediately feels references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and perhaps also City of Lost Children. One thing is certain: the beginning of this affair bears a striking resemblance to the Jeunet film Amélie in its focus on lost, hidden, and wrapped secret items. One might assume that Ember’s writer Jeanne DuPrau was culturally borrowed from the French by producer Tom Hanks (among others), but her scant Wikipedia bio lists her simply as an American writer from San Francisco.
On to the film proper we see an admirable directing job by Gil Kenan. In the lights which fall from the artificial sky, we might think of that quasi-classic The Truman Show (1998) (and when the lights emit showers of sparks, perhaps the reference is The Natural from 1984). City of Ember’s $55 million budget is apparent in the lavish sound-stage city. There is quite a parallel to the National Treasure franchise (particularly its second installment Book of Secrets) in the end segment of our film. The narrowly-escaped deluge bears mention as Book of Secrets was released the year before City of Ember. Even the large staircase to the outer world echoes the original National Treasure movie of 2004. Of course, we can’t forget that a similar style of filmmaking was already successful at least as early as The Goonies (1985).
Another Saoirse Ronan film also would later feature a sort of underground city (The Host, 2013). Further parallels could perhaps be drawn between the pernicious blackouts of our film and the home state of our author DuPrau (California).
In simplest terms, Bill Murray is hilarious as always (when allowed to work to his strengths). Murray plays the mayor of our doomed civilization…generally a scumbag throughout. Harry Treadaway’s first few lines are delivered rather starched, but he improves vastly over the course of the film to give an all-around fine performance. Saoirse Ronan (my reason for watching in the first place) is excellent as always. Her sprinting streaks as a messenger presage the awesome talents of Hanna which she would pull off a few years later.
Truth be known, this is unrecognizable from a Disney movie, but I do not fault it for that in the least. It is good to see even these largely sanitized stories point an indicative finger at the national security state and the way it operates. The corruption of power is timeless. In yet another National Treasure borrowing, the Pipeworks technician Sul keeps the gears of the hydro plant working just as Ed Harris had held the gate open for Nicolas Cage and company to escape the flooded Cibola. Oh, and the sun also rises…