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Capone shivers during the ICE HARVEST and wonders how he's going to pay his RENT!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with our own Capone and his opinion on the two big Thanksgiving films, Harold Ramis' black comedy THE ICE HARVEST and Chris Columbus' stage musical adaptation RENT! I've seen them both and completely agree with Capone on ICE HARVEST and completely disagree with him on RENT. Here's Capone!!!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here with a couple of the big Thanksgiving weekend releases. For whatever reason, I've gotten more people asking me about RENT than any other film on the schedule between now and the end of the year. More on my reaction right after this little gem...

The Ice Harvest

I have a soft spot for Harold Ramis, and not just because he’s a Chicago guy whose path has crossed mine a few times over the years. The films Ramis has written (Animal House, Meatballs, Stripes, Ghost Busters, Back to School) and directed (Caddyshack, Vacation, Groundhog Day) have had as much of a hand at shaping my sense of humor as those by Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, or Monty Python. I’m intimately familiar with his straightforward approach to comic direction and timing, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for when I went to see The Ice Harvest, starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

I don’t know if I’m the first, but I’m sure I won’t be the last to say that The Ice Harvest is a dark, devious, and disturbed new noir that probably has a bit more humor than similar films from the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple seems the most similar), Red Rock West, or A Simple Plan. But even with all the laughs, the film is a major change of pace and style for Ramis, who we discover has as much of an affinity for bloodshed as he does for belly laughs. Set on a frozen-rain-slick Christmas Eve in Wichita (although shot in and around Chicago), The Ice Harvest begins moments after mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (Cusack) and his partner Vic (Thornton) have just taken more than $2 million from a Kansas City underworld boss (Randy Quaid). The details of the heist are never revealed, nor are they important, but as soon as the cash is in hand, trouble begins.

Vic exits the picture for a while to finalize plans to split the money and leave town. Charlie likes to hang out at strip clubs (hooray for boobies!), including one owned by Renata (Connie Nielsen, sexier than ever) who runs the Sweet Cage. She instantly notices a change in his behavior, and makes an educated guess that he’s come into a whole lot of money. Charlie hears stories about a mob associate going from club to club looking for him, and he begins to panic. At least in Charlie’s mind, things are beginning to unravel.

What’s most interesting about The Ice Harvest is the open-endedness of some of the storylines. Characters and plot elements are introduced that don’t really have anything to do with the main story and never get resolved. We find out well into the story that Charlie is a divorced father of two, and he largely ignores his kids, even on Christmas. His ex-wife is now married to his still-best friend Pete (the wonderfully drunk Oliver Platt), who now fully understands why Charlie divorced. Their commiserations are the highlights of the film. The vicious screenplay from Richard Russo and Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer; Nobody’s Fool), based on the book by Scott Phillips, handles the bitter domestic angle with thorny accuracy. But even more exciting, the film is real bloody.

The final act of The Ice Harvest is a bloodbath. The mystery figure searching for Charlie and Vic in the strip clubs finally catches up to them. Vic reveals just how much he loves his wife. And both men start second guessing each other’s loyalty to the master plan. And just how much can Renata be trusted? The double crosses are everywhere, and even a hint of suspicion is dealt with by gun or other handy instrument of death. And the final confrontation with Big Boss Randy Quaid is like a masterfully choreographed sack of nasty.

My instant reaction to The Ice Harvest was, “Please, Mr. Ramis, may I have another?” Cusack and Thornton don’t need any help finding the humor in any situation, Cusack taps into some of the badass mannerisms he had in Grosse Pointe Blank, and while Thornton doesn’t quite go the Bad Santa route (despite the Christmastime setting), he doesn’t need to. He’s got some great line deliveries here. Platt steals every scene he’s in at gunpoint. You’ve seen him do it 100 times before, and it never gets old; the guy is that good and reliable. Most importantly, the film doesn’t feel forced or awkward in Ramis’ hands. Some may find the mixture of big laughs and messy violence off-putting, but those people need to get over it. This film is a scream.

Rent

I thought the film adaptation of this 10-year-old stage phenomenon was a sure thing. I know people who consider seeing the musical Rent one of the highlights of their lives, and I thought at its worst the film might lose some of that luster, but still rock the house. I never saw the rock musical, nor am I particularly familiar with La Boheme, the opera that apparently inspired it, so I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that AIDS played a big part in the stories of these characters, people living on the fringe among other artists in New York’s Alphabet City. I have nothing against musical theatre or movie musicals, but something about Rent didn’t connect, and I have a sneaking suspicion that even fans of the stage version are going to find it lacking.

Part of the problem is time. I’m pretty certain that these characters are supposed to be in their 20s, but in casting most of the original 1996 Broadway stars, the filmmakers now have a group of largely 30-somethings, who seem too old to be touting the idealized bohemian lifestyle that serves as the running theme of this show. Only the new cast member Rosario Dawson (as the HIV-positive stripper/junkie Mimi) seems about the right age, and her energy goes a long way to keeping this film afloat. But even if you can put aside the age of the cast members, time still works against the film. The subject of AIDS has been dealt with extensively and creatively in the last 10 years. As recent films like The Dying Gaul and Loggerheads (or even HBO’s adaptation of Angels in America) have proven, the subject is still important and worthy of exploration, but Rent’s approach feels dated and manipulative.

Ever since films like Longtime Companion or Silverlake Life, I’ve felt that telling us the truth about AIDS has been the most effective means of communicating the tragedy the epidemic in film. Rent sugarcoats it, despite the inclusion of multiple HIV-positive characters, one of whom dies from the disease. I’m prepared for an onslaught of hate mail on this point, and that’s okay. I was impressed that Rent showed so many HIV-positive characters being fully active, singing, dancing, and just being generally sassy, but when the one character dies (a character, by the way, that we hardly get to know enough to be sad about his passing), the power ballads kick in and the emotional connection is lost.

Let’s talk about characters. Rent is filled with clichés, whom I found nearly impossible to connect with. Trust me, the starving artist and I are old friends, but these characters sole defining feature is that they don’t want to pay for anything. The film opens with a group of artists living rent-free in a building set to be converted into a business by Benny (Taye Diggs), who used to hang with these cats until he sold out and got a job. This poor guy is abused more than any one else in the film, and it really turned me off. He cuts these people every break in the book as far as living on the property for free, and they still call him a sellout for no other reason than he wears a tie. I actually think we’re supposed to see this guy as the villain here, but I never did. He really did seem to be helping his friends, and they humiliate him repeatedly. I’m sorry, but isn’t reverse-economic discrimination still a form of prejudice?

And what about these “artists?” In addition to Mimi, we have Roger (Adam Pascal), a would-be rock star with adequate scruff and longish hair. His roommate Mark (Anthony Rapp) is a filmmaker, whose best work seems to be simply putting together a montage of the gang laughing and hanging out. It reminded me of one of those ridiculous soda commercials where the people are being wacky because they’re drinking Diet Sprite, or some such nonsense. Others in the group include Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel), a performance artist, whose protest piece about the redevelopment of the neighborhood is probably the highlight of the film. It actually embraces the fact that most performance art is silly. Menzel is one of the few performers I could actually appreciate, primarily because her voice is spectacular (she actually played The Wicked Witch in the original Broadway cast of Wicked more recently). Maureen has recently become a lesbian, so Joanne (Tracie Thoms, also possessing a powerful set of pipes) is introduced into the group.

Rounding out the cast is Tom Collins (“Law & Order’s” Jesse L. Martin) and drag queen boyfriend Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), who seem like the most fun in the bunch, but the film unwisely focuses on some of the less interesting characters. The overall difficulty I had in getting behind these folks is that they never seem to consider the situations they find themselves dealing with. They just back their friends without any thought to the circumstances. As a result, the film has the emotional depth of an episode of “Melrose Place” (to keep things more or less in the timeframe of the story, which is the late 1980 to early 1990s).

Much like the characters, the songs are hit and miss. I’m sure in a live setting, they were far more impressive, but in the film they sound sterile and overproduced. Actually, I could say the same thing about Rent in general. As directed by Chris ColumbusRent comes across simply uninspired and worn out. I think the “could-have-heard-a-feather-hit-the-concrete” response from the group I saw this film with might be an indicator that I’m not far off the mark. But I am genuinely curious what the rest of you think, particularly those who saw Rent on stage.

Capone





Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 22, 2005, 9:31 p.m. CST

    I am blessed

    by DoogieHowitzer

    Love Cusack and Thornton - looking forward to some good holiday laughs from this....Oh - and first - 3 times in 2 days....crazy.

  • Nov. 22, 2005, 9:31 p.m. CST

    Wow...appreciate the reviews, but is this really the best 'e

    by Negative Man

  • Nov. 22, 2005, 9:33 p.m. CST

    so am i..

    by nolan bautista

    ..to be merely third..

  • Nov. 22, 2005, 9:38 p.m. CST

    ..oh well..

    by nolan bautista

    back to jacking off again..

  • Nov. 22, 2005, 9:40 p.m. CST

    Everyone Has AIDS!!!!

    by AshesOfDonnie

    Id rather watch the begining musical number in Team America than watch the film, heck just the fact Chris Columbus' name was attached i knew not to expect much.

  • Nov. 22, 2005, 11:08 p.m. CST

    i think every single article that mentions RENT on this site has

    by mrgreentheplant

    for a good reason. after all, we need to break down these barricades...

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 1:26 a.m. CST

    Completely agree with the RENT review

    by Doc_McCoy

    Overlong and dull. Definitely hasn't aged well. Directed as if by a geriatric. Go see SYRIANA instead. That was an interesting flick.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 2:30 a.m. CST

    Don't Summarize... REVIEW!!!

    by all

    NO ONE wants to sort through your crappy sypnosis. You're wrecking the film while giving no advice as to it's admission worthiness.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 2:58 a.m. CST

    Cliche Gays

    by pammybabe

    I have never seen rent so perhaps I shouldn't judge but I will scream if it peddles the old 90's cliche about all gays being sensitive, artistic types who care passionately about their fellow human beings and have great taste (and usually have aids). I have many gay friends (non of whome have aids by the way) and at least one is greedy, self centered and amazingly, doesn't have an artistic bone in his body. His flat is a decorative mess. It always annoys the hell out of him that people just expect him to know about interior decorating.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 4:21 a.m. CST

    "I think the

    by freak2thec0re

    I've never understood why people will critisize audiences for yelling and hollering during a movie, and then turn it around and use it as a diss on the movie when an audience knows how to be quiet and just watch. Manipulative comments like that make me think you hated the movie before you even stepped in the theatre

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 8:06 a.m. CST

    pammybabe

    by monkeymafia

    yeah, you're wrong here... but don't worry, you come across as big of an idiot as I'm sure you are...

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 2:14 p.m. CST

    Good word...

    by Childe Roland

    ...on Ice Harvest from a reviewer I trust. Something else to be thankful for tomorrow, I suppose.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 4:20 p.m. CST

    On this date, twenty years ago on "The Facts of Life"...

    by Borgnine JR

    ... the girls travel to New York where a lonely Tootie meets an under aged hooker in a bus station and almost falls prey to the machinations of a smooth good looking pimp. Jo arrives just in time to save the day! Don't tell Mrs. Garrett!

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 4:54 p.m. CST

    That's good news on 'The Ice Harvest.' And speaking

    by Mel Garga

    Did anyone ever see the show after George Clooney joined the cast? He played, appropriately enough, a guy named George. There exists an episode in which El Debarge guest stars. The girls go ga-ga and manage to meet Debarge and even record a song with him. And there's Clooney, donning a headset and singing along with the girls. Absolutely priceless. Say what you will about ol' George but the man has paid his dues ten-fold. Oh, and, EVERYONE HAS AIDS.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 7:32 p.m. CST

    ice harvest wasn't exceptional

    by reckni

    It had some good laughs, some nudity, but other than that I can't say it's anything more than a decent diversion from boredom. Watchable for sure, but I'd say rent it. Billy Bob's wife rules.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 7:35 p.m. CST

    saw rent in '97

    by reckni

    My former girlfriend and I didn't really like it, even though it was free and front row. I probably won't be seeing the film.

  • Wow...and I thought I hung out with some real losers.

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 9:38 p.m. CST

    "Aint' Nuthin' Goin' On But The RENT, Mutha FUCKA!"

    by buster00

    "The RENT n' yo' AIDS, shabby-ass mutha FUCKA! GIT OUT MAH HOUSE!!"

  • Nov. 23, 2005, 9:41 p.m. CST

    No, I Confess...

    by buster00

    I just wanted to see what the above would look like in print. Carry on. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful I don't have AIDS. Or live in Alphabet City.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 2:05 a.m. CST

    there's nothing wrong with living in alphabet city?

    by freak2thec0re

    I don't know how Rent portrays it, but it's not like a ghetto or anything, there's some damn nice apartments there

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 3:14 a.m. CST

    Freak, Regarding Ave's ABC Etc.

    by buster00

    Oh, sure, they've got great apartments there now that it's been yuppified. Remember when you had to be Puerto Rican to get all the way down Avenue C without getting something thrown/shouted/urinated at you? And Avenue D? FUCK you. Not without the National fucking Guard. But then, I'm a scrawny white dude. Your experience may differ. Either way, the yuppie developers are just another form of thug. Let's see a play about THEM getting AIDS.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 9:09 a.m. CST

    monkeymafia

    by pammybabe

    Mmonkeymafia, I was trying to make a point about the way the media portrays gays (perhaps I was probably doing it badly). Every gay I see on TV/film seems to be either Will or Jack off 'Will & Grace', i.e. they are either flamming queens with emotional problems or are very sophisticated and have fabulous taste. Most gays I know don't match these steriotypes. With at least two I can think of, you wouldn't know they were gay unless they told you. Plus, they don't have aids.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 10:25 a.m. CST

    Rent was wonderful

    by Paul Franklin-Bihary

    All of the negative comments I've seen / heard about the film version of Rent seem truly off-the-mark. For someone that lived through the early-nineties and participated in this 'bohemian' lifestyle during that time, I thought the film captured the spirit of this era and this play almost perfectly. The end of the film had me in tears, not just because of the emotional connection that I felt for the characters (which Capone sadly didn't feel for some reason), but also because it was like I was there with those characters, watching the footage of my past, and saying goodbye. It was a very menloncholy moment for me, to look back fondly at those times in my life when friends were my family, and when AIDS was the horrific terrorist in our lives. Now, the movie wasn't perfect, and I would have done things a lot differently if I was the director, but it still worked for me. I think, for most fans of the stage version, this film will work. For those that don't know it, it probably won't. It is cheesy. It is a fucking musical, how can it NOT be cheesy! But that doesn't take away from the fact that the spirit and energy of this story was portrayed in excellent fashion by the original cast (and Rosario was awesome...I was honesly worried about her casting, but she really pulled Mimi off). Anyway, the age of the actors, the cliches, all of those criticisms just don't hit the mark. Don't be so damned nitpicky, and just enjoy the story and the songs. If you liked the play, if you enjoy musical theater, you'll probably like the movie. I loved it. Goodbye Angel (and my past). No day but today...

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 10:37 a.m. CST

    Rosario Dawson was the Best Part(s) of Alexander

    by tonagan

    It's true.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 11:51 a.m. CST

    "Silverlake Life"

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    I'm glad someone remembers this amazing documentary. One of the hardest things I've ever watched and I still have my old VHS of it that I bought used at Blockbuster, of all places. It's tough to even think about as it's such a tragic (albeit sometimes comic) piece.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 4:57 p.m. CST

    Nearly every negative review of Rent

    by Sayhey Kid

    focuses on the characters not wanting to pay for anything rather than what the film is really about: Social acceptance, living with a deadly disease, and discovering what is really important in life. Benny wasn't abused because he "got a job," he sold out and married into money...or did you not even watch the movie? AIDS may not be in every headline, but still a major problem. Hating people with "alternative lifestyles" are just about the only prejudice that is still considered okay by the majority of society.

  • Nov. 24, 2005, 7:42 p.m. CST

    Fuck Bohemians...

    by AristidesTheJust

    Seriously... having seen the way a female friend of mine "lived" while in the clutches of these losers, packed like sardines 6 deep in a 2 bedroom apartment, one of them with an actual paying job, all of them chronically starving, I shed nary a tear when one of them died of an inevitable drug overdose... And NONE of them produced anything of worthwhile, not bad art, not nothing. They say the life of a 9 to 5er is meaningless, well, fuck them, I can EAT mutherfucker and I can SUPPORT my kids. Now, about RENT, ehhh, whatever. Do enough people want to watch a musical about gays choosing to suffer and singing and dancing about it? I have no idea, but count ME out.

  • Nov. 25, 2005, 12:23 a.m. CST

    All musicals just go completly over my head.

    by Citizen Arcane

    I'm missing the gene or proper DNA sequence that allows humans to comprehend why characters in the middle of a story will break out into incredibly cheesy song. But Rosario Dawson is hot. So I think I'll compromise and pick up Sin City this weekend.

  • Nov. 25, 2005, 7:59 a.m. CST

    "AIDS is here, we're all gonna get it...

    by Drunken Rage

    Time to buy stuff on credit." Thank you, Mr. Alex Chilton.

  • Nov. 26, 2005, 2:53 a.m. CST

    On Target

    by MrD

    Your review almost perfectly sums up how I felt about the stage show. It has few points, some of questionable worth (how dare they be expected to get jobs and pay rent!), and it hammers them repeatedly. Characters are cardboard cutouts, from the sell out capitalist to the all-too-perfect Angel. It never really asked the tough questions about these characters, their situation, how they got into it, and how they should get out.

  • Maybe we're getting confused by the title of the show? Y'know, RENT? Even were this a secondary point, if the writers wanted us to sympathize with these characters, maybe they shouldn't have come across as whiny, unproductive brats. Oddly enough, it's not the "alternative lifestyle" - ie sexual practices -that's irritating the hell out people here, it's their complete lack of responsibilty for their own lives (which may well have more to do with how they managed to get HIV in the first place).In the end, the problem is not the point of the story, but how poorly it's made.

  • Nov. 27, 2005, 6:46 p.m. CST

    MrD

    by Sayhey Kid

    You're post proves you are confused about the title of the show. You say the movie is poorly made, but you can't even understand basic symbolism, despite it being explained to you in the material. Rent holds a double meaning "...they say you can buy love, but I know you can't rent it." In simple terms, we can only "rent" it because our time here is limited (some of us more than others)and we should appreciate it while we're here. It's a basic allegory that apparently went over your head while you were judging people as irresponsible for contracting AIDS. I bet you think Lord of the Flies is just about a bunch of kids on an island, or The Old Man and the Sea is just a guy catching a fish. Zathura is still in theaters, that might be more your speed.

  • Nov. 27, 2005, 6:48 p.m. CST

    typo above

    by Sayhey Kid

    the about quote should say "...they say you CAN'T buy love, but I know you CAN rent it." Damn the no edits!!!!

  • Nov. 27, 2005, 11:47 p.m. CST

    Sayhey, It's Worth Noting....

    by buster00

    that you can RENT love and BUY blowjobs from the same bitch on Avenue B. And she will probably give you AIDS.

  • Nov. 28, 2005, 8:27 a.m. CST

    buster, is that coming from experience?

    by Sayhey Kid

    which would explain why you were so relieved earlier that you were thankful you didn't have AIDS. If so, how much did it run you? And how did she fare next to the bitches of Avenue C? And will she burst out into song afterwards?

  • Nov. 28, 2005, 1:28 p.m. CST

    EVICT - a grag queen junkie AIDs squatter artist musical for the

    by bunkyboo

    What a piece-o-shit movie. Didn't care about the characters or their deathstyle. It shoulda ended after the first song because the rest was an act of cinemacide. BUNKYBOO HAS SPOKEN.

  • Nov. 28, 2005, 11:32 p.m. CST

    The Price Depends On What You Need, Sayhey.

    by buster00

    The blowjob is gonna be about $125-175 cheaper than the ride, depending on how ugly/needy the bitch in question is. I'd go to Avenue B before I'd get drunk enough to wander back into Avenue C (the "C" stands for "Cardassian Territory"), but I don't hang my hat or squirt my sperms in the East Side these days anyway. Will she burst into song? That set-up is WAY too easy... Hope this helps. Happy hunting!