Randy Quaid

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000, Des McAnuff)

As a musical, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle might have worked. When there’s the big Pottsylvanian national anthem scene, director McAnuff finally seems comfortable. He needs a stage; Rocky and Bullwinkle is a road movie. There aren’t any stages. The occasional set piece hints at potential for the format–CGI animated moose and squirrel opposite life action–but McAnuff never knows how to direct them. And there’s something off about the CGI.

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s “real world” is drab and generic. But not drab and generic in the right way to match the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” animation style, which the film opens with. The story has “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” forgotten in reruns, but then have to be brought over to the real world to help the FBI. Specifically, FBI agent Piper Perabo, who’s supposed to be the perky, adorable female lead.

She’s terrible. McAnuff doesn’t direct his actors at all, so it’s not like she got any help, but she’s all wrong. Her performance, whatever direction McAnuff gives, all of it; she can’t act well off the CGI moose and squirrel. Sometimes they get close, like Rocky’s flying sequence, but it’s never for long.

And since she’s the one with Rocky and Bullwinkle most of the time, it gets to be a problem. At least she’s better than cameoing Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. They manage to be the worst of the cameos, save John Goodman. Goodman can’t even pretend in his bit.

If any part of Rocky and Bullwinkle worked–be it Perabo, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, and Jason Alexander as the live action idiot spies, the endless cameos–the film would be immensely better. It would be a failed ambition. But it’s not ambitious in any way. McAnuff’s direction is catatonic, Kenneth Lonergan’s script isn’t any better–the occasional laughs are all thanks to Rocky and Bullwinkle voice performers June Forey and Keith Scott. The actors look deranged or miserable. The film sets itself up to fail, betting a lot on the successful introduction of the cartoon characters into reality. When it doesn’t come off, the film stalls.

So it’s stalled for acts two and three. It stalls real early.

Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is flat and muted. While reality is supposed to be, visually, reality, Lonergan’s script is frequently absurdist. He tries for “Rocky and Bullwinkle” type sight gags and puns for the regular residents of reality. It’d work as a musical.

Everything would work if it were a musical. Maybe even Jason Alexander, who’s lifeless and miserable. Rene Russo tries. She almost has a good scene. But there are no hidden gems in Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s bad.

Moose and squirrel deserve better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Des McAnuff; screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan, based on characters created by Jay Ward; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring June Foray (Rocky), Keith Scott (Bullwinkle), Piper Perabo (Karen Sympathy), Robert De Niro (Fearless Leader), Jason Alexander (Boris), Rene Russo (Natasha), Randy Quaid (Cappy von Trapment), and Janeane Garofalo (Minnie Mogul).


Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

There’s a mature way to talk about Independence Day. I should know, I’ve started writing this response about twelve times and this attempt is an entirely new draft. The mature way involves complementing David Brenner’s editing, complementing director Emmerich’s ability to integrate the special effects (regardless of their quality) and saying something nice about some of those special effects. Not all of them. The film has laughably bad explosions and lame matte shots. One could argue it was early in the CG days and it did actually have a limited budget so it did all right.

One could argue those things and, if trying to be mature, one might accept them and consider them.

I won’t be considering them further than this paragraph. Because what Independence Day does is embrace being a half measure, it tells its audience the recognizable but not exactly A-list cast is good enough, it tells its audience David Arnold’s “I’m like John Williams but bad” score is good enough. And it worked, because Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin aren’t serious filmmakers. I mean, they might take Independence Day seriously, which is a mistake because it means the jokes never quite work–Bill Pullman, the stupidest person on the face of the earth, as the President of the United States, in a terrible performance. It ought to be amazing. And it’s never even all right.

Because Emmerich and Devlin aren’t serious. They don’t care about integrity or craft and they know there’s a lot of potential audience who don’t care about it either. And they were right. Emmerich’s handling of the special effects, which very well may have done wonders in acclimating general moviegoers to science fiction action, isn’t thoughtful. His multiple homages to Spielberg are so awkward because he’s clueless. Emmerich knows how to present the visual information for consumption, but he can’t make a single artful thing. And he knows it. Independence Day is hilariously comfortable in its own mediocrity, which is a complement. It would actually be worse if it resented being so lame.

Not to say Devlin and Emmerich don’t exhibit confidence in the screenplay. They do, even down to Harry Connick Jr.’s moron sidekick to Will Smith. Or Randy Quaid’s lovably drunk Vietnam vet crop duster. They know how to do what they want to do. They just don’t want to do too much. Mary McDonnell as the First Lady, for example. She gets a similar treatment as Connick or Quaid, but McDonnell’s good enough to get through the part (she has less to do). She, Judd Hirsch and Adam Baldwin get through Independence Day the best. Baldwin probably gives the best performance (in the film), while Hirsch is downright terrible. But part of the point is admiring Hirsch’s professionalism in his terrible performance. Of course it’s awful, but look at how consistent he is with it. He’s a pro.

Not so much with Jeff Goldblum, who’s playing the really smart guy, only Emmerich and Devlin’s understanding of intelligence is apparently based on reruns of “Head of the Class.”

As for breakout star Will Smith. He’s good about twenty percent of the time. He’s got some annoying dialogue, which Smith essays with gusto, but he still manages to be somewhat likable. Maybe that sympathy comes from the film eventually treating him like a moron. The plot’s moronic, yet Smith has to be even more moronic so Goldblum can explain things to him (and the audience). Smith’s dialogue then has him spout of non sequiturs meant to maintain his independent likability while still acknowledging Goldblum’s superior intellect.

It’s heinously manipulative but also awfully rendered, so who cares? Emmerich’s direction of Smith and Goldblum’s scenes is his worst direction of actors in the film and his direction of actors is atrocious.

The first third, setting up the alien attack, isn’t godawful. It’s fine, if still poorly acted and poorly written. It does start to go downhill when Goldblum and Hirsch join Pullman’s storyline, but there’s still a pace (and some of the film’s best effects sequences).

The rest of it? So much worse. Even Arnold’s music gets worse.

Independence Day is a film with a bad James Rebhorn performance. Such a thing should not exist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by David Brenner; music by David Arnold; production designers, Patrick Tatopoulos and Oliver Scholl; produced by Devlin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Will Smith (Captain Steven Hiller), Bill Pullman (President Thomas J. Whitmore), Jeff Goldblum (David Levinson), Mary McDonnell (First Lady Marilyn Whitmore), Judd Hirsch (Julius Levinson), Robert Loggia (General William Grey), Randy Quaid (Russell Casse), Margaret Colin (Constance Spano), Vivica A. Fox (Jasmine Dubrow), James Rebhorn (Albert Nimziki), Harvey Fierstein (Marty Gilbert), Adam Baldwin (Major Mitchell) and Brent Spiner (Dr. Brakish Okun).


The Last Detail (1973, Hal Ashby)

Even though Jack Nicholson gets top billing and the most bombastic role in The Last Detail, Otis Young has the harder job. He’s got to temper Nicholson, both for the sake of the audience and of the narrative. The film introduces the two men simultaneously–Robert Towne’s script almost immediately establishes an unspoken bond between the two, even though it takes them well through the first act to get to know each other.

The Last Detail is an atypical buddy picture for many reasons, with the two buddies getting thrown together being one of the more immediate ones. But more, the film is practically a parenting outing. Nicholson’s the crazy, fun dad, Young’s the responsible mother (who you don’t want to cross) and Randy Quaid’s the kid. Of course, Nicholson and Young are escorting Quaid to the stockade.

Along the way, Nicholson and Young do not go on an odyssey of self discovery. Their efforts in humanizing Quaid don’t lead to big momentous changes in their lives. Towne is reserved, saving the expository character development scenes for when Quaid’s doing something else (sometimes just napping); it makes those scenes, with Nicholson calm as opposed to manic and Young not fretting as much, rather special.

Director Ashby and editor Robert C. Jones create a tranquil, quiet quality for the film, using fades to guide the viewer’s attention. Great photography from Michael Chapman and a rather good score from Johnny Mandel.

All the acting’s great. Detail is muted, precise and often devastating.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Ashby; screenplay by Robert Towne, based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Robert C. Jones; music by Johnny Mandel; production designer, Michael D. Haller; produced by Gerald Ayres; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Buddusky), Otis Young (Mulhall), Randy Quaid (Meadows), Clifton James (M.A.A.), Carol Kane (Young Prostitute) and Michael Moriarty (Marine O.D.).


Moving (1988, Alan Metter)

I really wish–even though the cameo is great–Morris Day wasn’t in Moving. If he weren’t, one could make the argument all the terrible people are white and all the good people (basically Richard Pryor and his family) are black.

But Day shows up for a funny moment. Oh, and bad guy mover Ji-Tu Cumbuka is black too.

Race isn’t actually an issue in Moving (except when Pryor gets confused for a robber and even then they don’t press it). I was just trying to find something interesting to say about the film.

Pryor can apparently rise above any material, even writer Breckman’s script–Breckman eventually has Pryor donning body armor and running around Boise, Idaho with a bunch of guns (he got the gun part right, though I think there are more black people in the film than there are in Idaho state).

Beverly Todd is fine as Pryor’s wife, though the script eventually falls out from under her and she’s left to just silently follow him around. Stacey Dash manages to be weak but appealing as the daughter. As twin sons, Raphael and Ishmael Harris are likable.

Randy Quaid falls flat in a Vacation variation, but Dana Carvey is absolutely hilarious as a car mover with multiple personalities. Conversely, everyone else in the film lacks personality.

Howard Shore’s music’s innocuous, as is Metter’s direction (though there are a few good shots).

It’s like they’re trying to do a W.C. Fields movie for modernity.

It doesn’t work.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Metter; written by Andy Breckman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Alan Balsam; music by Howard Shore; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Stuart Cornfeld; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Pryor (Arlo Pear), Beverly Todd (Monica Pear), Dave Thomas (Gary Marcus), Dana Carvey (Brad Williams), Randy Quaid (Frank / Cornall Crawford), Stacey Dash (Casey Pear), Raphael Harris (Marshall Pear), Ishmael Harris (Randy Pear), Morris Day (Rudy), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Edwards), King Kong Bundy (Gorgo), Alan Oppenheimer (Mr. Cadell), Gordon Jump (Simon Eberhart), Bill Wiley (Arnold Butterworth), Bibi Osterwald (Crystal Butterworth) and Paul Willson (Mr. Seeger).


Bye Bye Love (1995, Sam Weisman)

About halfway through Bye Bye Love, I realized it was reminding me of “The Bradys,” the hour-long drama sequel to “The Brady Bunch.” Two very successful sitcom writers wrote this movie; it’s like an hour-long comedy drama… Only the movie runs about a hundred minutes. It’s way too long.

What’s interesting—there’s not a single laugh in the film, so one has to find interesting things to think about—is the casual misogyny running through it. Sure, Matthew Modine being a philanderer is a bad thing, but one has to look very hard to see a positive female character and ignore some glaringly awful ones. Randy Quaid’s ex-wife, played by Lindsay Crouse, lets her new boyfriend beat her son. Janeane Garofalo, as Quaid’s date, is a “ha ha, she’s so dumb because she’s a feminist” character. Paul Reiser’s ex-wife has this odious husband who calls Reiser the “birth father” of his fourteen year-old daughter. As the daughter, Eliza Dushku’s occasionally awful but the character’s probably mildly honest.

Quaid’s really good when being the dad, bad when interacting with women (it’s the script). Modine’s interesting as the Don Juan; it’s funny to see him in this kind of role. Reiser’s all right as a less engaging Modell.

The biggest draw is Maria Pitillo’s outstanding performance as Modine’s suffering girlfriend. Oh, and Amber Benson’s good….

Wait, I forgot the music… J.A.C. Redford’s score is unbearable.

It’s sort of worth a look as a curiosity, but not really.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Weisman; written by Gary David Goldberg and Brad Hall; director of photography, Kenneth Zunder; edited by Roger Bondelli; music by J.A.C. Redford; production designer, Linda DeScenna; produced by Goldberg, Hall and Weisman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Reiser (Donny), Matthew Modine (Dave), Randy Quaid (Vic), Amy Brenneman (Susan), Maria Pitillo (Kim), Janeane Garofalo (Lucille), Ed Flanders (Walter Sims), Johnny Whitworth (Max Cooper), Lindsay Crouse (Grace), Eliza Dushku (Emma), Ross Malinger (Ben), Mae Whitman (Michele), Amber Benson (Meg), Cameron Boyd (Jed), Jayne Brook (Claire), Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Heidi Schmidt), Wendell Pierce (Hector) and Rob Reiner (Dr. David Townsend).


Kingpin (1996, Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly)

The Farrelly Brothers created the mainstream gross-out comedy here in Kingpin, with all the familiar trappings–a familiar, if somewhat independently minded cast (Chris Elliot is in Kingpin), the star in need of a hit (Bill Murray), the popular soundtrack, and the storyline entirely capable of being tame, then ramped up for the belly laughs.

The difference between Kingpin and what came after, and the Farrelly Brothers made lots of them, until they finally stopped having hits (they have finally stopped making hits, haven’t they–I try not to see their movies), is Woody Harrelson. Harrelson turns in an exceptional performance in Kingpin, turning his (dirty) comic strip character into a full-fledged human being by the end. One of the great things the Farrelly Brothers do here is keep him gross throughout. Even after he turns the corner, he’s still bald with a comb-over (lots of comb-overs, Murray’s being the most stunning), with terrible teeth.

The film’s a rehash of The Color of Money, just with bowling and forty-six year-old Randy Quaid playing a twenty-something. Quaid’s great too, but it’s hardly a stretch. In his best dramatic scenes, he seems to be imitating his brother, actually.

Vanessa Angel is fine as the sexpot with the heart of gold (she’s kind of like a Rosanna Arquette who can act).

Also impressive are the bowling scenes, when it becomes a straight narrative, only with Harrelson in his absurd makeup.

It’s fantastic, hilarious and exceptionally confident.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly; written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Christopher Greenbury; music by Freedy Johnston; production designer, Sidney J. Bartholomew Jr.; produced by Brad Krevoy, Steven Stabler and Bradley Thomas; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie McCracken) and Chris Elliott (the Gambler).


Christmas Vacation (1989, Jeremiah S. Chechik)

It’s telling how Christmas Vacation is probably John Hughes’s best film and no one noticed it when it came out. I mean, it’s got its problems–the introductory first half, where all the characters are established and Chevy Chase and company drive around that part of Wisconsin with the big mountains looking for a Christmas tree, is a complete mess. But once Christmas itself starts . . . the film’s solid gold.

The film, regardless of what section, works because of Chevy Chase. He’s not doing his doofus dad here. He’s doing his doofus dad with a nice amount of Fletch injected. It lets him have a little bit of edge and keeps him from being the butt of the jokes. Hughes recycles a lot from previous scripts (anyone else notice it’s basically Sixteen Candles at Christmas) and it’s entirely competent. In a lot of ways–the quality of jokes–it doesn’t even seem like him. The absence of black people (in Chicago, so Christopher Nolan’s Chicago is the same as John Hughes’s apparently) is visible until the end, when the one black actor is the film’s only real authority figure….

Anyway.

It’s perfectly cast–William Hickey and Mae Questel kind of walk away with it in terms of laughs, but John Randolph’s so good in it, in his one big scene, I teared up.

The production values–even with the bad Cali inserts–are good; Chechik can direct and Angelo Badalamenti’s score is way too classy.

It really is a modern classic.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik; written by John Hughes; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Angelo Badalamenti; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Hughes and Tom Jacobson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold), Johnny Galecki (Rusty Griswold), John Randolph (Clark Wilhelm Griswold Sr.), Diane Ladd (Nora Griswold), E.G. Marshall (Art Smith), Doris Roberts (Frances Smith), Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie), Miriam Flynn (Catherine), Cody Burger (Rocky), Ellen Hamilton Latzen (Ruby Sue), William Hickey (Uncle Lewis), Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany), Sam McMurray (Bill), Nicholas Guest (Todd Chester), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Margo Chester), Brian Doyle-Murray (Mr. Frank Shirley) and Natalia Nogulich (Mrs. Helen Shirley).


Caddyshack II (1988, Allan Arkush)

Now it makes sense–Rodney Dangerfield was originally going to come back for Caddyshack II, but then fell out over script disputes and Jackie Mason came in, persona in hand, to fill in. I kept wondering who writers Harold Ramis and Peter Torokvei envisioned in the lead role while writing the script.

My history with Caddyshack II is probably more amusing than the movie itself (not really–it’s a dumb movie, but it’s got a bunch of funny stuff in it). When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to see R rated movies, so instead of Caddyshack, I watched Caddyshack II. If I remember the first one correctly, they’re about on par with each other (no pun intended).

What Caddyshack II has going for it is the performances. Mason’s effective and often funny. He’s not a good actor, but he’s doing his schtick and it works. He’s so amusing, it’s believable when Dyan Cannon finds him beguiling. It shouldn’t work–I mean, Dyan Cannon was married to Cary Grant (which may or may not be part of the joke)–but it does.

The movie opens, rather smartly, with its younger cast though. Chynna Phillips, Brian McNamara, Jessica Lundy and Jonathan Silverman are all in the opening scene. I’d forgotten how appealing Silverman could be in his young everyman performances. It’s a solid opening–even after the menacing “An Allan Arkush Movie” credit a few moments before–almost entirely based on Silverman’s appeal, Phillips’s fantastic bitchiness and Lundy’s somewhat disguised warmheartedness. McNamara is okay in these opening scenes, maybe some of his best stuff in the movie, given he’s usually the butt of the jokes.

Throughout the film, these established personas for Phillips, Lundy and Silverman create frequent genial amusement. They never–except maybe Phillips–get the laugh-out-loud jokes, but they’re solid throughout. Silverman went on to some–very measured–success, Phillips did the music thing and Lundy disappeared for a while. The three of them ought to do some kind of a reunion (I think McNamara’s gone on to better performances).

The older actors–Robert Stack, Dina Merrill, Paul Bartel–are fine. Actually, Merrill’s great. Stack’s funny in the “I’m watching Robert Stack do this or that” and Bartel’s solid as always in his small role. He’s funnier rolling his eyes than most people are slipping on banana peels. Cases in point, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Marsha Warfield. Warfield’s the only one in the entire movie I feel bad for–it’s one of her few film credits and it’s a lame performance. It’s stunt casting. Chase is a lot better than Aykroyd and Chase is still terrible–Aykroyd’s beyond bad, constantly upstaged by the animatronic gopher. Admittedly, the gopher effects are pretty good and the little rodent is always getting into amusing situations–but still. Aykroyd bases his whole performance on what someone foolishly thought was a funny voice.

The movie falls apart a little halfway through–there are so many narrative jumps, I wonder what they cut–when Mason turns the golf course into an amusement park… but whatever. It’s not supposed to be good… it’s supposed to make you laugh for ninety minutes and smile afterwards. It probably succeeds.

And the less said about the desperately unfunny Randy Quaid, the better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Allan Arkush; screenplay by Harold Ramis and Peter Torokvei, based on characters created by Brian Doyle-Murray, Ramis and Douglas Kenney; director of photography, Harry Stradling Jr.; edited by Bernard Gribble; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, William F. Matthews; produced by Neil Canton, Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jackie Mason (Jack Hartounian), Robert Stack (Chandler Young), Dyan Cannon (Elizabeth), Dina Merrill (Cynthia Young), Jonathan Silverman (Harry), Brian McNamara (Todd Young), Marsha Warfield (Royette), Paul Bartel (Mr. Jamison), Jessica Lundy (Kate), Chynna Phillips (Miffy Young), Randy Quaid (Peter Blunt), Chevy Chase (Ty Webb), Dan Aykroyd (Capt. Tom Everett), Anthony Mockus Sr. (Mr. Pierpont) and Pepe Serna (Carlos).


The Paper (1994, Ron Howard)

For a painfully brief period in the 1990s, Ron Howard was one of the best filmmakers working. It didn’t last. The Paper kicked off his run. Howard and the Koepp brothers (I can’t remember for sure, but I think Stephen worked at a newspaper) imbue the film with the traditional Hollywood newspaper movie idealism, but also enough modern cynicism to make the film fit for human consumption. Actually, the traditional Hollywood newspaper has always had the commercialism conflict, in The Paper personified by Michael Keaton and Glenn Close’s printing press fistfight, but along with the rest, it all somehow seems fresh. The rest is Robert Duvall’s aged newspaperman paying the various prices for his life, Marisa Tomei worrying about having her imminent baby with workaholic Keaton, Randy Quaid as a griping, indifferent columnist, and, of course, Jack Kehoe’s search for a comfortable chair. Howard’s special touch was bringing a heartening sense to his films without ever pandering. He could make a movie where a doorman could worry about a tenant in a medical crisis without it coming across as mawkish.

But there’s the technical aspect one shouldn’t ignore. The Paper takes place over a day, twenty-four hours, and while there are occasional visual errors, Howard and cinematographer John Seale do a beautiful job creating that day with wonderful skies. When Tomei is on the street, talking to Keaton on her cellphone, you can feel the warm New York evening. The editing is also very nice–and the Randy Newman score (there is, of course, a Randy Newman song over the end credits too), but the score sets the perfect tone for the film. It’s that extinct drama… the adult comedy.

All of the Koepp brothers’ dialogue is great, so much so, it’s strange David never came back to dialogue-heavy movies. Their characters–and here’s an odd compliment–are just sparse enough the actors can bring defining features to them, since the story doesn’t have any room for them (as written) except as figures moving throughout the story. The newspaper story, the one Keaton can’t get wrong, unfolds wonderfully. The plotting being good, I can figure that one from Koepp, but the dialogue just seems odd coming from him.

The acting is all fantastic. It’s one of Keaton’s best performances, it’s probably Tomei’s best. Randy Quaid’s good in the smallest of the principal roles, but he does get a great payoff at the end. Duvall’s great. Glenn Close probably has the most complicated role and she’s the only one with a eureka moment and she pulls it off. The supporting cast, with Kehoe maybe being the most memorable, is also fantastic. Roma Maffia and Lynne Thigpen being the other two standouts, but they’re all great.

The Paper is largely, I’m guessing because of the cast, forgotten. There’s a lousy pan and scan DVD in the United States and Howard’s shown no interest in the last ten years in forcing an acceptable release. It’s got a place in film history–one of the forgotten films of the 1990s (it won no major Oscars and did not make over a $150 million), an ever growing category and maybe the most depressing–but it really ought to be known for its excellence, not as an entry on a list or as a footnote. It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by David Koepp and Stephen Koepp; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Daniel Hanley and Michael Hill; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Brian Grazer and Frederick Zollo; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Henry Hackett), Robert Duvall (Bernie White), Glenn Close (Alicia Clark), Marisa Tomei (Martha Hackett), Randy Quaid (Michael McDougal), Jason Robards (Graham Keighley), Jason Alexander (Marion Sandusky), Spalding Gray (Paul Bladden), Catherine O’Hara (Susan), Lynne Thigpen (Janet), Jack Kehoe (Phil), Roma Maffia (Carmen), Clint Howard (Ray Blaisch), Geoffrey Owens (Lou) and Amelia Campbell (Robin).


The Ice Harvest (2005, Harold Ramis)

In the few reviews of The Ice Harvest I looked at before renting the DVD, the reviewers all called John Cusack’s lawyer character dumb. Watching the film, however, I noticed John Cusack was doing what he always does… playing John Cusack. So, I didn’t really see his character as stupid (I was trying to read so much into those reviews, I was actually questioning what the reviewers must have thought he should do scene to scene–but only for a little while, it got distracting). I queued The Ice Harvest this week because I’d forgotten about it. A film written by Robert Benton and Richard Russo, it’s of a particular pedigree. Harold Ramis seems an odd choice for a director, given I expected the Benton and Russo script to be incredibly quiet… and The Ice Harvest is incredibly quiet. More happens in the first fifteen minutes or so than in the rest of the movie, just because Cusack drives to more places in that time. But Ramis handles it quite beautifully. I was halfway through the film before I noticed just how good of a job he does.

Instead of being a heist at Christmas gone wrong (which is actually The Ref, isn’t it?), The Ice Harvest defines itself in the scenes between Cusack and Oliver Platt as a (quiet) rumination on the state of the American male. It’s almost a modern Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Platt’s excellent, of course, so’s Cusack (playing himself) and the rest of the cast is good. Billy Bob Thorton’s good, with the most laughs in the film. Randy Quaid, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, all good. The only problem with The Ice Harvest–besides its lack of focus, which is probably more serious than the following–is Connie Nielsen. Nielsen’s awful. She couldn’t sell shampoo, much less play a femme fatale. Her scenes drag The Ice Harvest to a halt–and at a fast-paced ninety minutes, it’s a hard thing to do. When it started and she showed up and was terrible, I really hoped it wasn’t Connie Nielsen. Maybe the character was just a throwaway, certainly not the third-billed. But the third-billed it was… She practically haunts the whole movie.

Overall, I’m really sorry I waited so long to see The Ice Harvest. I intended to see it in the theater, but never made it. Its quietness amid some really smarmy, loud settings makes it peculiar but still a very worthwhile film. It also has a nice lack of predictability thing going.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Ramis; written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton, based on the novel by Scott Phillips; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Lee Percy; music by David Kitay; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Focus Features.

Starring John Cusack (Charlie), Billy Bob Thornton (Vic), Connie Nielsen (Renata), Randy Quaid (Bill Guerrard), Oliver Platt (Pete) and Mike Starr (Roy).


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