Arizona Republic Film Critic Bill Muller Dies

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Bill Muller, the film critic for The Arizona Republic whose carefully researched critiques brought readers straight talk about movies, has died.

Muller continued writing reviews most of the past year despite being ill with kidney cancer. He died Thursday at age 42.

Muller had been an accomplished beat reporter for more than a decade before taking on the role of film critic at the Republic seven years ago.

“Bill was the full package as a journalist,” said Ward Bushee, Republic editor and vice president for news. “He was a hard-charging reporter who covered some of Arizona’s most important topics. But beyond the gifted journalist, our staff will remember a friend who was a character and a great guy. We all feel a tremendous sense of loss.”

Muller was The Republic’s beat reporter covering public utilities during the late 1990s, and he warned about the dangers of deregulation in the power industry.

He also worked on the newspaper’s investigative team until 2000, when he changed career focus and switched from reporter to film critic.

Muller was described as having an encyclopedic knowledge of TV shows and film trivia even before that transformation.

“When he turned his attention to being The Republic’s movie critic, it was a role that fit him perfectly,” Bushee said. “And his profile rose to a national level.”

Muller joined The Republic in 1994 from the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., where he worked for two years. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, he got his start in the business in 1987 with the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, where he started working nights covering crime stories.

Described as a boisterous newsroom figure, Muller had a down-home drawl and infectious laugh that belied his smarts. He was renowned for politeness in dealing with sources, tenacity in pursuing news and natural storytelling skills.

Movie theater owner Dan Harkins said Muller didn’t just screen a film, he researched it carefully, talking to screenwriters, directors, actors and others.

“To him, it wasn’t a job, it was his life,” Harkins said. “Some of Bill’s reviews were more entertaining than the actual movies.”

Muller’s conversational style was aimed at average Americans, and he preferred irony and sarcasm to insider arrogance. He even resorted to an occasional pun.

For instance, when panning the animated feature Surf’s Up, Muller wrote that much of the movie had the audience “waiting for something to happen. Talk about surf bored.”

Muller, a Phoenix resident, is survived by his wife Deborah, whom he met when she worked as a publicist for a movie studio; and children Madeline, 4, and Hudson, 2.

Survivors also include his mother, Sandra Sue Harvey; sister, Kelly Roberts; and brother, Chris Yannetta, all of Texas.

Services are pending.

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