The Films of Harold Ramis
Groundhog Day (February 2/15)
Directed by Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day follows weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) as he finds himself forced to live through the eponymous day over and over again. There's little doubt that Groundhog Day benefits a great deal from Murray's appealing turn as the central character, as the actor's sarcastic, sardonic presence often elevates even the most minor of sequences - with the affable vibe heightened by the early inclusion of several irresistibly comedic segments (including an engaging stretch detailing Phil's efforts at bedding a pretty local). It's equally clear, however, that the movie suffers from a palpably listless feel that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, with the growing emphasis on a burgeoning romance between Phil and his attractive producer (Andie MacDowell's Rita) certainly exacerbating Groundhog Day's increasingly less-than-engrossing atmosphere. (The total lack of chemistry between Murray and MacDowell's respective characters ensures that their scenes together lack the romantic spark that Ramis has surely intended.) The intentionally repetitive nature of the film's premise paves the way for a second half that's almost entirely lacking in momentum, which ultimately prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the feel-good conclusion (ie it's an awfully tough slog getting to that point). It's ultimately difficult to comprehend why Groundhog Day has become something of a modern classic in the years since its 1993 release, with the film's forgettable, padded-out nature confirming its place as a promising yet disposable high-concept comedy.
Stuart Saves His Family
The Ice Harvest (May 10/08)
For the most part, The Ice Harvest generally comes off as an effective adaptation of Scott Phillips' admittedly superior novel - as screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton retain many of the more memorable elements within Phillips' work (including the off-kilter structure and emphasis on unlikable characters). John Cusack stars as Charlie, a shady lawyer who teams up with a strip-club owner (Billy Bob Thornton's Vic) to rip off a local mobster - with complications ensuing after said mobster learns of the pair's efforts. There's little doubt that The Ice Harvest fares best in its opening hour, as director Harold Ramis' inability to sustain a consistent tone grows increasingly problematic as the film progresses - with the inclusion of a needlessly upbeat conclusion certainly not doing the proceedings any favors. This unevenness hardly proves disastrous, however, and it's ultimately impossible to deny the effectiveness of many of the film's attributes (ie Oliver Platt's hilarious turn as one of Charlie's bumbling cohorts). And while the movie is a far cry from its various cinematic cousins - ie Fargo - The Ice Harvest is a low-key, sporadically enthralling effort that should satisfy fans of Phillips' book.
As underwhelming as its buzz might have indicated, Year One has been infused with a pervasively scattershot sensibility that grows more and more problematic as the movie unfolds - with the overt absence of laughs ultimately rendering the affable atmosphere moot. The movie - which follows a pair of cavemen (Jack Black's Zed and Michael Cera's Oh) as they encounter a series of Biblical figures after they're kicked out of their tribe - admittedly boasts an amiable opening half hour that benefits substantially from the palpable chemistry between Black and Cera, as it's initially difficult not to get a minor kick out of the actors' unabashedly irreverent work. And while both Black and Cera are essentially playing variations on their long-since-established onscreen personas - ie Black is brash and overconfident while Cera is timid and sarcastic - the novelty of viewing their antics within the context of a Biblical satire is enough to carry the plotless proceedings for far longer than one might've anticipated. There does reach a point, however, at which the pronounced lack of substance simply becomes impossible to overlook, with the lamentable emphasis on hopelessly puerile bits of comedy - ie Oh is forced to rub oil all over the unreasonably hairy chest of Oliver Platt's High Priest - ensuring that the movie runs out of steam long before it reaches its aggressively frenetic finale.