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The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Suburban Connecticut, 1973. While Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech drones from the TV, the Hood and Carver families try to navigate a Thanksgiving break simmering with unspoken resentment, sexual tension, and cultural confusion. With clarity, subtlety, and a dose of wicked humor, Academy Award–winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi) renders Rick Moody’s acclaimed novel of upper-middle-class American malaise as a trenchant, tragic cinematic portrait of lost souls. Featuring a tremendous cast of established actors (Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver) and rising stars (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes) THE ICE STORM is among the finest films of the 1990s.
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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.
Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and Elena (Joan Allen), parents of Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci) have lost touch with their "inner selves." Ben is trying to find it with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Elena, disillusioned, looks toward Rev. Philip Edwards (Michael Cumpsty) for revelation. Their children explore sexuality at young ages, with Wendy being very bold in asking for what she wants from younger kids who have not even entered puberty. Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), the mother of Mikey and Sandy, is the unfettered wife of Jim (Jamie Sheridan), who never seems to be part of her life. All experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol, kids and adults alike, as all also try to find meaning in life. When a dangerous ice storm hits on the night of a major party for the adults (while the kids have their own plans), lives are permanently changed.
Set in New Canaan, CT, the film alternates moments of dark humor with moments of ineffable sadness, offering a close-up view of suburbanites and their children as they try to negotiate their way through the minefields of self-indulgence in their search for identity and "meaning." Everyone takes chances--shoplifting, taking drugs, sexual experimenting, daring of convention--and no one expects to be caught. The cinematography highlights the attitudes of the times and the relationships of the characters. Like the setting, it reflects the 1970s, the camera angles and lighting emphasizing the shallowness of the times. Developed from the novel by Rick Moody, this film showcases the era, from Watergate to Vietnam and the alienation of the suburban gentry. Mary Whipple