NEW Ice Harvest (DVD)
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Lawyer Charlie Arglist finds it harder than expected to leave town on Christmas eve after successfully stealing two million dollars from his mobster boss.
Genre: Feature Film-Comedy
Release Date: 28-FEB-2006
Media Type: DVD
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
John Cusack plays an everyman, a lawyer who has sold out to the values of corporate corruption. With mixed feelings, he steals over two million dollars from the local mob on Christmas Eve, then plans with Billy Bob Thornton to make a break for it later on Christmas Day.
The mob boss (Randy Quaid) finds out and sends a hit man to get his money back, and the movie plot is about John Cusack trying to avoid getting killed by them.
The movie has been pretty much panned by almost every critic to review it, although Roger Ebert praised it enough for three stars. I loved it and loved the book before it. I realize that I am in a small minority in this regard.
What makes THE ICE HARVEST work for me is its noir blend of saltiness and satire, its mixture of comedy and karma.
The comedy here is based upon the hypocrisy of Christmas in this era of corruption and greed. All of the liars and killers and thieves in this movie talk about Christmas, about being home opening up presents with their kids. If you don't get that, I guess you won't see the comedy. It is nice that it is set in Wichita, Kansas, especially if you have read Thomas Frank's WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?
The opening graffiti above the urinal, "As Wichita Falls Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls," is a repeated line of jazz that caused an existential crisis for the film's French translator who had trouble distinguishing between "falls" as a noun and "falls" as a verb with a misplaced execution, Wichita Falls not being in Kansas but in Texas.
The author of this blood red graffiti is not revealed until the end of the film, at which time its coded karmic message seems clear, "what goes around, comes around," or "as ye sow, so shall ye reap."
The backstory segments are generous and entertaining, including a segment where the movie is discussed by book author Scott Phillips and the screenplay authors, Robert Benton and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, author of STRAIGHT MAN and EMPIRE FALLS.
John Cusack is endearing as an everyman who has gone too far with a fantasy and now is just trying to survive.
Billy Bob Thornton is menacing as Vic. His idea of winning is the American way, giving lip-service to religion and humanist values while embracing ruthless materialism.
Oliver Platt plays a jolly-faced loser, John Cusack's hapless doppeldinger, addicted to sexual conquests and alcohol, now married to Cusack's former wife. He seems to be an extention of the drunks who played in GROUNDHOG DAY.
Connie Nielsen vamps it up, a cross between Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake. She's a tribute to a different era, like the femme fatale in WHO'S AFRAID OF ROGER RABBIT?, not really bad, just drawn that way. The book fills the character out more and speculates more on her background as an abused woman who learned how to survive, a hardened refugee from the war in Bosnia.
Randy Quaid is terrific as a capitalistic Christian mob boss murderer, sad to be doing business when he could be home celebrating Christ's birthday.
This movie has fun poking fun, with style and karma, with a moral and a motto. As Jon Stewart says, "IN GOD WE TRUST" is our motto, and we place it where it can be read on every dollar bill in this film, "right where Jesus would have wanted it."
This is easily the best flick Cusack has been in since 2000's HIGH FIDELITY and the wait was painful. His character is a bit of a throwback to his role in THE GRIFTERS, but with a hint of additional warmth.
Admittedly, this movie was marketed all wrong. Advertising this Coen-brothers-like neo-noir as being from "The director of GROUNDHOG DAY and CADDYSHACK" is like advertising MUNICH as being from "The director of 1941 and JAWS." Sure, it's true, but it gives people the wrong expectation.
I say, give it a shot.
Harold Ramis steps outside his normal feel-good comedies (ANALYZE THIS, etc.) and jumps headlong onto the dark side. Having the look and feel of a Cohen Brothers noir film, Ramis chose to incorporate old themes (good-looking but flawed guy falls for even more flawed girl while trying to pull a fast one) but did so using an updated script.
The film opens with Charlie (Cusack), a lawyer for the local mob in Wichita Falls, stealing two-million dollars from "The Boss" and meeting up with his partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton, BAD SANTA). They plan to leave the city in the morning but a horrendous ice storm hits town and life on the roads (and in general) becomes slippery and dangerous. A recurring poetic verse keeps popping up, too: "As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls." Charlie keeps seeing it written everywhere. But who's the author and what does it mean?
We quickly learn that Vic is as morally bankrupt as a person can get and has no intentions of sharing the ill-gotten funds with Charlie (are they really ill-gotten if you steal them from the mob?) But thrown into the mix is a beautiful femme fatal named Renata (Connie Nielsen, GLADIATOR). She runs a strip club in town but has an unusual attraction to Charlie, Vic and money. But which will win out?
When mob boss Bill Gerard (Randy Quaid, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) discovers the theft, he puts a thug named Roy (Mike Starr, KNOCKAROUND GUYS) onto Charlie and Vic's tails. But when even that fails to pull Charlie and Vic in, the boss is forced to deal with the two thieves himself.
The karma here is as dark as dark can get, but also amazingly funny. When Randy Quaid waves his gun around at a few of the characters and complains that he should be at home with his kids celebrating "the birth of God", it's actually quite funny in a very irrational way. Worrying more about money than the message a holiday like Christmas is supposed to represent fills every moment of screen time. Are they that far off when compared with the message of modern consumerism in December? Ouch.
Watching the two additional alternate endings on the DVD made me thankful that they chose the theatrically released one; the other two were flat-out TOO dark. But the ending here will make you both laugh out loud and cringe.
This movie was universally panned by film critics, which makes me sad that they couldn't see the humor associated with our counter-culture.
Oh yes, and the "As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls" verse. It's fairly nonsensical, but only in a way that makes perfect sense. Understand? No. Watch the film and learn.
The chilly surface of the film is captured perfectly here. The cool looking surface of the film mirrors the subject matter. Detail and clarity are exceptional. The 5.1 presentation sounds quite nice but keep in mind that this is a comedy with action not an action comedy. There's a difference-the former focuses primarily on highlighting the dialogue the latter the explosions. The film is available by the way in both a 1.85:1 widescreen and 1.33:1 full screen presentation.
The special features are pretty good. "Cracking the Ice" features screenwriters Robert Benton ("Kramer vs. Kramer", "Places in the Heart"), Richard Russo ("Nobody's Fool," "Empire Falls") and novelist Scott Phillips discussing the creation of the story covering it from a unique angle-from the moment that Philips came up with the idea for the novel through the adaptation process for Ramis' film. Benton discovered the book recommended it to Russo. The three writers interview each other. Interestingly both Benton and Russo thought it was perfect for a film while Phillips felt it was not good material for a film despite the fact that he had spent months previously to writing it working on screenplays.
"Beneath the Harvest" features director Ramis, producer Ron Yerxa, actors Connie Nielsen, John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton discussing what the film is about and what attracted them to the project. Ramis is the most interesting of the group revealing what attracts him to comedies like this (let's just say it's a dark philosophy). Cusack focuses much more on what he liked about playing Charlie his character in the film and what drew him to playing such an unfortunate character. One of my favorite actors Oliver Platt mentions what he feels is the core of the story and what makes it work so well. Interestingly Ramis came to the project AFTER the script was written and admits he went back to read the novel after he read the screenplay. While he loved the screenplay he wanted to see if there was anything the writers had missed (probably the writer in him talking) and found that they had captured it perfectly. It's a solid "making of" featurette although nothing spectacular.
"Analysis of a Scene" is pretty self explanatory discussing the difficulty in creating one scene involving the lake. The scene was central and crucial to the success of the film. Ramis and the producers had their team create a mini-lake that they digitally enhanced for the sequence. They all knew though that they needed to have a physical location to sell the scene beyond the digital enhancements. They used melted paraffin to crate the look of the ice in the scene making it easier (and safer to shoot the sequence). We also have a very funny outtake where Thornton plays the scene in his character of Carl from "Sling Blade".
Ramis provides an amusing blow-by-blow commentary track that's quite amusing. Strangely you can access his commentary tracks via both the special features menu and language but can't turn it off via both menus. The special features are great for this set my only complaint is that you can't turn on and off the commentary track via your remote (something I like to do if I've just watched a scene and want a scene specific commentary) via your remote. Other than that whomever Universal hired to do the special features did a exceptional job overall.
A suspenseful black comedy that lost its way into the glut of holiday releases, we're lucky to have home video to appreciate this terrific black comedy. This is truly a gem of a film. Yes, it's cynical and dark but it's funny as hell. Ramis has crafted the antithesis of "It's a Wonderful Life". It's a tonic for the dark soul and funny bone regardless of the type of year you watch it.
The Ice Harvest is done in the same tradition as other anti-Christmas movies like The Ref and Bad Santa but perhaps its closest cinematic cousin is Fargo in the way the violence is depicted: surprisingly awkward, bloody and brutal. Ramis refreshingly moves away from predictable fare like Analyze This and Analyze That with this off-kilter crime comedy. It's a movie that doesn't follow the usual beats. For example, the actual crime takes place before the film even starts. Charlie and Vic are supposed to be partners in crime and yet we rarely see them together until 50 minutes into the movie.
Ramis constantly subverts our expectations at every turn. The fun of this kind of movie is trying to anticipate the various plot twists and the surprises as characters reveal their true nature. One thing that is true about neo noirs, they rarely end well and Charlie is going to have to navigate very dangerous waters if he's going to survive the night. The Ice Harvest follows an unpredictable trajectory with Charlie as the only constant.
There are two alternate endings, both in which things don't turn out so well for Charlie. The first one is much more haunting while the other reunites Charlie, Vic and Renata and is not as strong.
"Outtake with Billy Bob Thornton" is an amusing take on a scene with Cusack where Thornton reprises his Carl character from Sling Blade (1996) much to everyone's amusement.
"Cracking the Story" features a conversation between screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton and author Scott Phillips. It's a spirited, informative and entertaining discussion.
"Beneath the Harvest" is a standard if not informative making of featurette that mixes cast and crew soundbites with clips from the movie. There is also some decent, on-location footage including shooting a scene on a very cold, rainy night.
"Ice Cracking: Analysis of a Scene" examines the icy lake scene - the centerpiece of the movie. It shows how the filmmakers created a lake, the ice in it and so on.
Finally, there is an audio commentary with director Ramis. He does occasionally delve into some character motivations and the film's themes. This is an okay track but Ramis could have used another participant to fill in some of the lulls.