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An Anton Ali Pop-Ed: An Ode to Harold Ramis

This week, Harold Ramis passed away from a rare illness at the age of 69. I actually had no idea that Ramis was sick, so it was a little bit of a surprise to hear that this particular disease was something that he was struggling with for four years. The last movie he made was Year One with Michael Cera, which unfortunately wasn't that great. It might be because I'm not a huge fan of Jack Black and the novelty of Cera's one dimensional characters he plays wears off pretty quickly. Ramis' legacy however will forever be about the movies he made earlier in his career. Much of these movies involved the one-and-only Bill Murray. Below are the ones that I thought were worth mentioning. Keep in mind that I wasn't even born when some of these movies came out, but I had the benefit of having awesome parents that let me watch whatever movie they were watching as I was growing up. Also, I left Animal House off the list ... seems crazy, but I haven't actually seen it in its entirety. Anyway, here goes ...

Caddyshack (1980)
This was the movie that ignited Harold Ramis' career. The movie, starring the aforementioned Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield (admittedly, this and Ladybugs are the only movies I've seen with Dangerfield), was given props for the amount of comedic liberty that seemed almost improvisational. The movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel almost eight years later. Turns out the sequel was really supposed to be build around Dangerfield, who ended up backing out. With Chase being really the only returning cast member from the original, and with the amount of time that passed between this and the original, people didn't really seem to care anymore. Ramis himself even said the movie was terrible.

Stripes (1981)
In this movie, we not only see Ramis' writing skills at work, but we saw him as a star player alongside once again, the Bill Murray. Ramis seemed to work well against Murray in another movie that we later find to have major scenes improvised by the actors. This movie also introduced me to another favorite of mine growing up, John Candy. I vaguely remember Candy hilariously mud wrestling with a bunch of girls in this movie.

Ghostbusters (1984)
Who could forget the original Ghostbusters? The original movie was a massive hit for Ramis (who co-wrote the movie with Dan Aykroyd). The movie made me wish Harold Ramis did more movies besides Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. We had Ghostbusters II, which was also commercially successful, but certainly not as memorable. I still had some hope however that there would be a sequel for this movie, as there was talk about the original cast coming together to do another one. There was even some talk that Ramis was going to come out of retirement. Would it have worked today? I think the legacy that the original movie built speaks for itself. Plus, it would have had Bill Murray.

Groundhog Day (1993) 
For me, I've saved the best for last. I really thought this movie was ingenious. As Phil Connors, Bill Murray is a self-absorbed meteorologist who is forced to re-live Groundhog Day over and over again. He, of course, selfishly takes advantage of the situation as much as possible. What comes with this "gift," however, is immortality. Whether he dies by driving off a cliff or throwing a toaster in the bathtub, there Phil is in bed the next morning waking up to "I Got You Babe" playing on the radio. The weight of what he has become, not just over the repeated day but over the course of his life, finally causes Phil to change, and it is only when this happens when he is able to move on with his life. The movie wasn't just funny — Murray was able to give this character a lot of emotional substance, which demonstrated his ability to take on a more dramatic role than what we previously saw him in. 

Unfortunately, Groundhog Day was the movie that seemed to end the friendship between Ramis and Murray. With a significant amount of disagreements over the development of the story during production, Murray never really ended up speaking to Ramis again. Murray's formal statement after his death was short saying, "He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him." Murray didn't say much, but he seemed to give credence to the significance Ramis played in the world of cinematic history. President Barack Obama's statement actually said it best: "When we watched his movies — from Animal House and Caddyshack to Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day — we didn't just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings."
An Anton Ali Pop-Ed: An Ode to Harold Ramis Reviewed by Anton Ali on 2/26/2014 Rating: 5

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