Remembering Harold Ramis

With the sad news of the death of Harold Ramis, many of use are reliving our younger years remember all of the great movies he was involved in. You can’t talk about comedies in modern film without discussing many movies that Harold Ramis helped get made, whether as a writer, director actor or mentor.

It pretty much started when he and two friends wrote “Animal House” and then it snowballed from there, with all-time classics like “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Vacation” following. There were many more.

So enjoy the clip of Ramis acting opposite Bill Murray in “Stripes” and all of the other clips and stories about Ramis being shared this week. He will be missed.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – House

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is a film for hardcore fans of things like Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King novels, and the more horror-heavy pages of the classic Heavy Metal magazine. In fact, in many ways it is very much like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt episode, one that is especially heavy on the comic relief. Produced by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed the first two sequels to that film, this is decidedly campy, deliciously cheesy and immensely satisfying B-movie fun.

Not to be confused with the 1977 Japanese cult movie of the same name, the 1986 film House (aka Ding Dong, You’re Dead, its original video release subtitle) stars William Katt as best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, a Vietnam vet who has been struggling with writing about his experiences in the war. One of his problems is that no one else seems particularly interested in this story, preferring he write another horror story instead, but more importantly, he is also dealing with the fact that his wife, popular TV actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), has recently left him. Even more recently, his beloved Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French), committed suicide by hanging herself in her creepy old Victorian mansion, where Roger and Sandy’s young son Jimmy (played alternately by twins Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared some time ago. Roger inherits the house and decides to try and finish his new book there, in solitude, while also dealing with the demons of his past.

Of course, he doesn’t exactly find the solitude he’s looking for, due to a bumbling but well-intentioned neighbor named Harold Gorton (George Wendt), who provides much of the films comedy, and a series of strange monsters that seem to come from another dimension within the house, who provide the rest. Saying the monsters are more funny than scary is not a criticism of the film, however, as this is clearly intentional most of the time. Though the effects will look dated to viewers in the modern CGI era, they are quite well-done; they are not the nightmare creations of other films of the time like John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but they stand up nicely alongside more silly films like Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

As it turns out, Roger’s preoccupation with his Vietnam memories is especially relevant to the literal demons he faces in the strange old house, and though the film takes some rather dead-end narrative turns along the way, its central story is pure pulp horror in the most classic sense. House is not a good horror film to watch if you want something genuinely frightening, but if you’re in the mood for tongue-in-cheek fun that only takes itself seriously enough to deliver a few cheap scares, it’s well worth a look.

  

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Amanda Seyfried, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Atom Egoyan on “Chloe”

Movies involve looking at people. Sometimes those people are doing some pretty intimate things, too. No wonder then that voyeurism remains about the single most pervasive and discussed theme in the movies and, no matter how often the particularly cinematic obsession of voyeurism has been recycled, there’s always room for a new angle.

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In the case of “Chloe,” which is hitting about three hundred theaters nationwide today, voyeurism in the form of morbid curiosity threatens not only the desiccated relationship of an affluent middle-aged couple played by Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, but also the woman’s familial ties with her son (Max Theiriot) and possibly her entire life. The vehicle for all of this is a young woman Dr. Catherine Stewart bumps into who turns out to be a high-end sex worker named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried). The sex work in question here is that Dr. Stewart has some pretty good reasons to worry that her professor husband may be cheating, and so she asks Chloe to test her husband’s fidelity in the most direct way possible.

As for the results, all you really need to know right now is that this is an erotic thriller, that it’s directed by the elliptical art-house master Atom Egoyan at his most Hitchcockian, and adapted with some definite cunning by writer Erin Cressida Wilson from a relatively banal French import (2003’s “Nathalie”). Interestingly, “Chloe” is also produced by Ivan Reitman. Reitman is, of course, the famed director and producer far better known for broad comedies like “Meatballs” and “Ghostbusters” than for stylish melodramas. These days, he’s perhaps even better known as the father of “Up in the Air” co-writer and director Jason Reitman.

Sadly, “Chloe” will likely also be remembered as the movie that was interrupted when leading man Liam Neeson got the horrific news that his wife, Natasha Richardson, had died as the result of what appeared to be a minor skiing accident. Even a year later, it’s obviously a sensitive topic that was not broached at the first of two press days I attended at the L.A. Four Seasons to promote the film with Amanda Seyfried, a burgeoning film star after the success of such films as “Dear John” and “Momma Mia!,” and Erin Cressida Wilson, who is probably best known for her screenplay for the kinky romantic comedy-drama, “Secretary” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.

Things got off to what I suppose is an appropriate start given the kind of movie “Chloe” is. Asked about a word tattooed on her ankle, Seyfried volunteered it was crude British slang word for “vagina” — it’s apparently a kind of joking term of endearment used by her and friends. And then there was the European journalist who was clearly tasked with getting material as gossip-rich as he could manage. As the inevitably top-of-mind topic of the film’s somewhat explicit nude sex scenes came up, as well as the inherent difficulty of doing those scenes, his felt the need to ask which of the cast members was the best kisser. Seyfried, somewhat outspoken and girlish, but also clearly a pro at 24 years of age, sidestepped the icky question. Fortunately, someone came up a query that was more germane if no less sensational: Did she meet with any real-life prostitutes to research the role?

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“No. Atom actually met with some working ladies in New York and I believe in Toronto as well…It was interesting what he had to say and how he approached it. He was very open about the information that he needed and they were very willing to share. And that’s the same with Chloe; she’s very willing to share that part of her life because she feels like it and in a way it’s being justified by [the fact that] someone’s asking you about your job.”

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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The New Centurions

This entry in Sony’s amusingly vague new “Martini Movies” imprint stars George C. Scott (“Patton”) at the height of his early seventies fame as Kilvinski, a humane cop nearing retirement who bonds with his new partner, a would-be lawyer rookie partner (Stacy Keach) going through some big changes of his own. Adapted from a bestselling novel by ex-policeman Joseph Wambaugh, “The New Centurions” often foreshadows later cop dramas, particularly eighties TV groundbreaker “Hill Street Blues” — right down to earthy pre-patrol briefings and actor James B. Sikking sporting what appears to be the very same pipe he parlayed to semi-fame as the affected, egomaniacal Lt. Howard Hunter. Still, while familiar faces from lighter fare show up (Isabel Sanford of “The Jeffersons,” Erik “CHiPs” Estrada, and the eventually dickless William Atherton of “Ghostbusters”), 1972 was a year when grim was in and even the most mainstream of Hollywood films were often deliberately under-structured. Taking place over what appears to be several years, there is no particular “case” and this is not really a story about crime fighting; it’s an investigation into the effects of police work on vulnerable human beings. Written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Soylent Green,” and “Mandingo”), “The New Centurions” is slowed by overly novelistic/episodic pacing and a few too many contemporary mannerisms (including a wah-wah heavy score by Quincy Jones) but it works more often than it doesn’t because of its two first-rate lead actors and a great deal of sincerity. The film’s benevolent view of the quasi-militarist seventies LAPD may be iffy, but its depiction of the bigger truth here feels true enough: policemen are nothing more than human beings doing a job that can be as seductively destructive as heroin.

Click to buy “The New Centurions”

  

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