Ask Mick LaSalle: Bill Murray’s 2 unusual traits
Dear Mick: Why do studios pay Bill Murray to work for them, and why do moviegoers buy tickets to see him? What is his appeal?
Dear Bert: Bill Murray is funny, plus he has two good traits that are unusual for a comedian: He is not sentimental about himself. (He lacks the usual comedian’s maudlin streak, which would have limited him in straight roles.) And he is a genuine, bone-deep pessimist, which puts him in the minority of comedians and in the tradition of W.C. Fields. He has been ambitious from the beginning. He used the clout he had from making good hit comedies like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” to star in the drama “The Razor’s Edge” (1984), which critics of the time would not accept — critics often being the ultimate enforcers of typecasting. But it was an interesting, adventurous movie that provided him with a role that expanded him. He has made more bad movies than good, but aside from “Hyde Park on Hudson,” in which he was insanely miscast as that great American optimist Franklin Roosevelt. his movies have rarely been bad because of him. Meanwhile, that mix of humor and existential bleakness has been well used in many films, such as “Groundhog Day,” “Zombieland,” “Broken Flowers” and “Lost in Translation.” When you compare him to the other “Saturday Night Live” alumni of his era, his body of work is way ahead of everybody’s.
Dear Mick: A few weeks ago, “The War Room,” which has Christian themes, arrived in theaters unheralded and reviewed by few critics. The next weekend, “The Perfect Guy,” with primarily black characters, got little attention. Circumstances like these make it difficult for the media to avoid accusations that they are dismissive of so-called “faith-based” and “black-themed” movies. Your thoughts?
Jim Gray, Albany, N.Y.
Dear Jim: Movie reviews are able to appear in the newspaper the same day that films are released only because movies are screened in advance for critics. When a major release isn’t reviewed, it’s almost always because the film wasn’t screened. Now years ago, some newspapers made it a practice to hunt down every film that tried to avoid critical scrutiny and review them for Saturday’s paper. But for most of the 21st century, the majority of newspapers simply will not review movies that do not screen. It’s not just a matter of staffing. It’s also the fact that movies that don’t screen are pretty reliably mediocre or worse. (Alfred Hitchcock ’s “Psycho” and Orson Welles ’ “Touch of Evil” are the classic exceptions, but they were over 50 years ago. In Hitchcock’s case, he was afraid critics would either give away the shower scene or allude to some major twist in the middle of the movie.) Right-wing political films almost always arrive in theaters without screenings, because they get a double benefit — they avoid critical response, while fostering in their customers the fantasy of a vast left-wing conspiracy out to suppress the great truths being revealed. The real truth is that when movies don’t get reviewed, the critics aren’t avoiding them. The filmmakers are avoiding the critics.
Dear Mick LaSalle : You have proved you have no ability to judge movies. Do you have the ability to do anything? If so, then please demonstrate it to your readers. Instead, your readers will come to the conclusion that you are trying to live up to the adage “Those who can’t do anything, judge.” The problem is you can’t even do that!
Dear Tom Meyer: I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but “Those who can’t do anything, judge” is not an adage. You will search in vain to find that one anywhere, probably because to judge something is to do something, so the line doesn’t really make sense. But since we’re forging fake adages, how about this one? “Those who can’t do, criticize. Those who can’t even criticize, criticize critics.”