Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection) (1997)

The Ice StormI, personally, was not alive in 1973 -it was a decade too early for me and my closest friends

But Ang Lee gave us some glimpses into the landscape of 1970s suburbia, in the wake of the sexual revolution. "The Ice Storm" is a chilly, bitterly lonely little drama, with moments of biting humour and poignant alienation between these people. They pass each other, but never touch.

The Carvers and Hood live in the same affluent suburban neighborhood, and on the surface all seems well. But self-absorbed Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with the icy Janie Carver (Sigourney Weaver), and his daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) is experimenting with Janey's son Mikey (Elijah Wood. And Elena Hood (Joan Allen) is experiencing an identity crisis as a woman.

Things start crumbling over Thanksgiving weekend, when Ben finds Wendy and Mikey in a compromising position (which involves a Nixon mask), and Elena figures out the truth about her husband's affair. As an ice storm sweeps over New Canaan, the parents set out to a "key party," all their relationships will reach boiling point -and a tragedy will strike.

The neighborhood of "The Ice Storm" is not one you'd want to live in -people talk but rarely speak, have sex but no intimacy, and can't communicate with their own children and spouses. So it's a credit to Ang Lee's directorial skill that he can actually draw you into this story.

And Lee does a really brilliant job of not only illustrating these intertwined, painfully distant relationships, but tying them into the 1970s world. It's like a bunch of beautifully filmed moments strung together -the kiss in the swimming pool, wintry trysts, biking through the woods, and the awkward Thanksgiving dinner where Wendy goes into a political rant "prayer" at grace.

Lee seems a bit overfond of ice metaphors and dead leaves, to the point of close-ups of ice-cube trays. Really, enough. But his direction is pitch-perfect -he paints a delicate, lonely, chilly beauty into every corner of the movie. This is especially true in the second half, when we see the spacey Mikey sliding and running in an icy wonderland.

Though it's rather bleak, there are plenty of darkly humorous moments ("Mikey have you heard the explosions coming from the back yard?" "I dunno"). But as the story winds on, dialogue becomes much less important -there are long silences that tell us much more than words. Sorrow, resentment, pain, anger and indifference are all hinted at without a word.

And the acting is practically perfect all around. Tobey Maguire serves an important function -he is the "normal" one, an ordinary boy who is hoping to score with a girl. Christina Ricci is excellent as a political nymphet. And Elijah Wood is glorious as Mikey, an endearingly ethereal boy who is obsessed with molecules and squares.

As for the adults, Kevin Kline is amazing as the detached Ben, who discovers the hard way what his selfishness has caused. Weaver and Allen are similarly great as two icy women with warm feelings swimming deep inside, but very different ways of dealing with their unhappy marriages.

The Criterion Edition is partly making up for the bare-bones treatment "Ice Storm" got before. This time, it has new video interviews with author Rich Moody as well as many of the actors -Allen, Wood, Kline and Ricci. Production designs, deleted scenes and more are also included.

The world of "Ice Storm" is a cold, barren one, and I'm not just talking about the late-autumn weather. But Ang Lee gives it a cold, poignant brilliance.

Director Ang Lee has had a fascinatingly diverse career. He's tried his hand at the literary adaptation with Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition), the Civil War epic with Ride with the Devil, a period martial arts tale with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a comic book adaptation with the much-maligned Hulk (Widescreen 2-Disc Special Edition). He has successfully dabbled in several genres and with The Ice Storm, he adapted Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name, a drama set in 1973 during the waning years of the sexual revolution.

The Ice Storm feels like an Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavetes film from the 1970s with a dash of Atom Egoyan (the look of either Exotica or The Sweet Hereafter). It also has a textured, painterly quality thanks to the exquisite cinematography of Frederick Elmes who also shot some of David Lynch's best films (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Wild at Heart). He really captures the tacky, kitschy look of the `70s and is helped considerably by the attention to period detail (awful sweater vests over turtleneck sweaters) and the top notch production design (capturing the look of the houses from that era).

The Ice Storm takes a fascinating look at a specific time and place through the eyes of an outsider the Taiwanese-born Lee who offers a fresh perspective on American culture. His film can be seen as a melancholic lament for the end of an era and the loss of innocence that began with the Kennedy assassination. Kudos to the Criterion Collection for giving this unfairly neglected film their deluxe treatment.

The first disc features an audio commentary by director Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus. They banter back and forth like the long-time friends and collaborators that they are. Lee makes some astute observations about the characters and points out his favourite shots and lines of dialogue in the film. This is an entertaining and informative commentary.

There is also a theatrical trailer.

The second disc starts off with "Weathering the Storm," a 36-minute retrospective featurette with new interviews with a lot of the key cast members who reflect on making the film and how it affected their careers. Everyone talks about what it was like to work with Lee. This is an excellent look at how the film came together by some of the actors who were in it.

"Rick Moody Interview" features the author of the source novel talking about his feelings towards the film adaptation. These characters were an intimate part of him and the film version was a very different take on them.

"Lee and Schamus at MOMI." The two talk about their filmmaking career together at the Museum of the Moving Image in November 2007. They talk about how various films came together and reflect on them in an eloquent and intelligent way.

"The Look of The Ice Storm" features interviews with cinematographer Frederick Elmes, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Carol Oditz. They talk about how they helped realize Lee's vision.

Also included are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Schamus. We see Ben at work in a funny bit with Kline and Henry Czerny. He talks about why these scenes were cut.

Buy The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection) (1997) Now

The old cleche the book is better than the film is usually true. A writer can convey an idea in a word, page or chapter. A film maker, somtimes, only has a shot.

But not ture for Ice Storm. I both read and viewed. The elaborations in Moody's book are on political events, decorating styles, and small details of the early 70s. Toe socks. Metal ice trays.

Director Ang Lee works these into each shot of his 1997 film, about two, next door familes, Thanksgiving weekend, 1973. Coouples are having affairs and testing group sex. Everything held true was false. They were lied to about Vietnam and were embroiled in Watergate. The country they knew, gone. Their early teen kids are expermenting with sex and drugs.

In the book, Ben Hood, the father, spanks his kid with a hairbrush. Is unrepentant about his afairs. There is viscousness. In the movie, Kevin Klien's Ben is flawed too--but is gentle, uncertian, ashamed of his indiscretions, trying but failing to find his way home. Klien is too likeable and cerebral an actor to play Hood as a cad.

The same goes for Hood's wife, Elaina. When, in the book, she catches her daugter Wendy in bed with the neighbors kid, she first tries to spank her and pulls hair when the kid resists. On screen, Joan Allen gives a befuddlled look, tells Wendy to dress, and shuts the door. She does not know what to do. But at least she thinks before acting.

Book to film, the premice changes. Rick Moody is more interested in hypocrocy and cruelity, how families destory each other. Lee sees the damage a result of uncertianty, secrets, people unable to deal effectively with their own emptiness.

I perfer the film. The characters are complex, and you can empathize with them more. You may not like what they do, but you can see something in them basically decent.

Lee's directing is full of nuance, pockets of silence, and subtext. It unfolds slow as a New Haven Winter day. If you are going to make a film about 1973, why not use 1973 pacing and subtlety.

If more 2009 films were made like this, paying twelve bucks for a movie would be a lot easier to swollow.

Read Best Reviews of The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection) (1997) Here

Another excellent edition by the folks at Criterion. The mastering highlights all the blue and icy shades of the cinematography. For the owners of the previous edition, you will see that the original Featurette was replaced with an updated version. A great ensemble cast and a great, thought-provoking film.

Want The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection) (1997) Discount?

It has to be said right away this movie is depressing and exhausting to watch, much like Ordinary People and American Beauty were. All three of these films examine American upper-middle class family life with a dark, critical eye. Ice Storm will haunt you if you watch it with care and attention. So if you are up for that, this is an extraodinarily good, memorable film. It has really only one flaw -it becomes message-heavy near the end. It didnt have to push the message that hard to accomplish its goal. Its a minor flaw and the movie succeeds in virtually every other way.

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