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Pride & Prejudice is beautiful and funny

By Lady Liberty
web posted November 28, 2005

The Ice Harvest

* out of ****

The Ice HarvestI read some early reviews of The Ice Harvest which suggested it was an indie-type film that probably wouldn't do well commercially, but which deserved better. One of those reviews even called The Ice Harvest a "dark comedy" reminiscent of Bad Santa. Since I'm fond of dark comedy, and because I think Bad Santa is hysterical. I couldn't wait to buy a ticket to The Ice Harvest. While all movie reviews are subjective to one degree or another seeing as how each relies on the opinion of the reviewer, I never-the-less was sorely disappointed and a little surprised at just how awful The Ice Harvest is.

The Ice Harvest takes place on Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas. Lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) has stolen upwards of two million dollars from mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). All he and his partner, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) want for Christmas is to get out of town before their crime is discovered. Charlie and Vic simply need to "act normal" for a few hours, and then escape the confines of Wichita with their riches.

So Charlie continues to make his usual rounds of the strip clubs owned by the boss. At The Sweet Cage, Charlie enjoys a quick drink with beautiful manager, Renata (Connie Nielsen), a woman it's readily apparent he has some feelings for. It being Christmas Eve, even bartender Sidney (Ned Bellamy) is a little chatty. But when Charlie takes a bathroom break, he returns only to discover that one of the mob's henchmen is looking for him. That can't be a good sign!

Charlie immediately gets on the phone to Vic who doesn't want to hear any of Charlie's concerns. He thinks Charlie is too paranoid, and cautions him once again to "act normal." Charlie eventually calms down enough to head for the next strip club on his route. But when he discovers that there's somebody looking for him there, too, he heads straight for Vic who is having a leisurely dinner at a good restaurant.

Once again, Vic gets Charlie calmed down. When the two separate again to go about their last minute business, Charlie discovers his best friend Pete (Oliver Platt) has also spent the evening at the restaurant and is now utterly incapable of driving himself home. Pete, who happens to have married Charlie's ex wife, laments his life and begs Charlie to take him away. Charlie's unsympathetic, however, and brings Pete directly to his wife's parents home where the family is celebrating Christmas Eve.

Facing the resentment of his former family and dealing with the very drunk Pete, Charlie manages to disentangle himself and get back on track with the rest of his plans for the evening. But a citywide ice storm is slowing everything and everyone down, and Charlie is getting more and more paranoid as the night wears on. He eventually begins to wonder who he can trust, worries about who he can't trust, and despairs of getting out of Wichita alive let alone with the cash.

The Ice Harvest story line seemed to have a good premise with decent potential. The varying scenes, however, are neither funny nor particularly suspenseful (unless you think drunks puking in cars is amusing, or shootings you can see coming a mile away at all nerve wracking). There's nothing at all wrong with the acting. John Cusack, who was brilliant in 2003's Identity, is also quite good here. And Billy Bob Thornton is, I think, incapable of turning in a bad performance. But the best actors on the planet can't take an unfunny script and make it humorous, nor can they take an ordinary screenplay and make it scary or suspenseful.

Director Harold Ramis has an impressive comedy résumé, including classics like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day (Ramis also wrote or co-wrote some very funny films). I have no earthly idea what he thought when he signed on to direct The Ice Harvest. If he was looking for drama, this particular script never builds to the point where it provides any. And if he was looking for comedy, he should have turned around 180 degrees and gone in the opposite direction.

The Ice Harvest is a short movie — less than an hour and a half — and it dragged. I couldn't wait for it to be over. The Ice Harvest may have had good intentions somewhere along the road to its creation and execution, but the end result left me feeling completely cold.

POLITICAL NOTES: There's a brief subplot in the film involving a fervently religious local official who is caught on film engaged in a compromising act. His hypocrisy is obvious to everyone but him, and that's something I see all too frequently in the real world where some politicians are concerned. While I certainly don't approve of or appreciate those politicians who demand everyone live to their stated and stringent moral standards, it's even worse when the politician himself doesn't toe his own line.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Ice Harvest is rated R for "violence, language and sexuality, and nudity." This isn't a movie for young children. They'll be utterly confused by a plot conveyed in mysterious bits and pieces even if they can handle the graphic violence and the matter-of-fact nudity found in seedy strip clubs. I frankly don't really recommend The Ice Harvest for anyone of any age, but if you must see for yourself, I'd keep those under the age of 16 at home or in a more appropriate venue.

Pride & Prejudice

*** out of ****

Pride & PrejudiceLet me state right up front that I've never read Jane Austen's classic, Pride and Prejudice (you can chalk that up to the shortcomings of a public school education if you like, but more realistically should blame the fact that such books aren't really to my taste). That, in turn, might make you wonder why I went to see Pride & Prejudice in the first place. The answer, at least in part, is that I really enjoy a well done period piece (I have as much a thing for costuming and authentic sets as I do for special effects). But I'd also heard good things about the acting and the film in general, and figured it was worth the matinée price to check it out for myself.

Pride & Prejudice takes place in Georgian England where ladies and gentlemen alike endured certain expectations of them from society at large. Deviations were, at best, frowned upon and could even result in the ruin of reputations and families alike. The Bennett family is no exception to these stringent if unspoken rules. With five daughters, Mr. Bennett (Donald Sutherland) has his work cut out for him. His wife, Mrs. Bennett (Brenda Blethyn), has that work well in hand as she schemes incessantly to get her five girls safely married, preferably to wealthy men.

Though lacking in wealth themselves, the Bennett family is viewed well enough in society to enjoy invitations to parties thrown by others in their rural community. So when the rich and good looking Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) has a ball, the Bennett daughters are among those present. Mr. Bingley and his astringent sister, Caroline (Kelly Reilly) are also playing host to Bingley's best friend, the dour Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen). Though the eldest Bennett daughter, the beautiful Jane (Rosamund Pike) finds Mr. Bingley much to her liking, the independent Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) feels just the opposite about Mr. Darcy.

With misunderstandings of intentions and feelings cropping up on all sides, Jane tries to hide her emotions while Elizabeth's are all too evident. Matters are only made more complicated when the staid and stiff Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) shows up for a visit to the Bennett estate he's named to inherit. Mrs. Bennett is delighted when Mr. Collins expresses some interest in one of her daughters becoming his wife, believing the family will be safe from being turned out if he's married to one of them. But handsome British leftenant Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend) and Elizabeth's good friend, Charlotte (Claudie Blakley) may have a thing or two to say about that!

Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy's upper crust aunt, the Lady Catherine de Bourg (Dame Judi Dench) has some marriage plans of her own. But decisions by Mr. Collins, actions by Mr. Darcy, and the inexplicable by one of the Bennett daughters throw virtually everybody's plans and desires into a complicated and potentially catastrophic state. And poor Elizabeth finds herself in the very center of the storm.

Keira Knightly is a very pretty girl and not a bad actress, but her tendency to have what my mother always called "mush mouth" makes her hard to understand at times. Rosamund Pike and Jena Malone (as the irrepressible Lydia Bennett) have no such difficulties, while Brenda Blethyn is a tour de force in her role as the nervous Mrs. Bennett. Tom Hollander has Mr. Collins' disapproving looks down pat, while Simon Woods and Rupert Friend are both perfect for their roles. Matthew MacFadyen is all right, too, though I might wish Donald Sutherland troubled himself to have at least some semblance of an English accent.

In Pride & Prejudice, though the acting is all fine or better, perhaps the most enjoyable element is provided instead by a story that should be antiquated, but somehow isn't. Kudos to the screenwriter who provided this latest screen adaptation to include the proper atmosphere even while including drama and humor that were perfectly understandable and appreciable by modern audiences. As I'd hoped, the costumes and the sets were just fabulous. There were also a few really creative edits and some very good direction to round the picture out. The cinematography, too, is spectacular.

Pride & Prejudice is a really enjoyable movie on a number of levels, though I suspect it will be most successful as a date movie or a so-called "chick flick." In a way, that's too bad. It's honestly better than that. In fact, it's better than a lot of other movies have been this year. I sincerely hope it's broadly appreciated by audiences who will be in for a real treat when they take their seats for Pride & Prejudice.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Pride & Prejudice is rated PG for "some mild thematic elements." Although tales of Georgian England are sufficiently "clean" to satisfy even the most strict of parents, the language and plot is complex enough that I'd leave the under-12 crowd with tickets to Zathura instead. I also have to admit that teenaged boys aren't much going to care for Pride & Prejudice. For everyone else, though, I recommend Pride & Prejudice without reservation. It's fun; it's funny; it's beautifully filmed; and it's just plain good.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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