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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ang Lee
Cast:
Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Henry Czerny, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Adam Hann-Byrd, David Krumholtz
Writing Credits:
Rick Moody (novel), James Schamus

Tagline:
It was 1973, and the climate was changing.

Synopsis:
Director Ang Lee's main concern is a subtle examination of family life that he began with The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman. With The Ice Storm, Lee creates a truly American period film that is equally concerned with family relationships, set in 1970s New England. It is Thanksgiving, 1973, and the Carvers and the Hoods are two prototypical suburban families seemingly living the good life in New Canaan, Connecticut. Behind their New Age philosophies and polyester fashions, however, lies deep discontent. One husband carries on an unsatisfying affair with the other family's wife, while his teenage daughter experiments sexually with both of the neighbor's boys. When a winter storm descends upon their upper middle class neighborhood, buried resentments bubble over, leading to a tragedy neither family will ever forget.

An intense, well-acted drama based on the novel by Rick Moody, The Ice Storm is a masterly depiction of the frigid emotional life of suburbia. Great care was taken to accurately recreate the fashion, philosophy, and music of the 1970s without devolving into camp. Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, and Joan Allen all excel in their roles, but it is the younger actors (Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd) who steal the show.

Box Office:
Budget
$18 million.
Opening Weekend
$75.183 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$7.837 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 113 minutes
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/18/2008

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director Ang Lee and Producer/Screenwriter James Schamus
• Trailer
DVD Two:
• “Weathering the Storm” Documentary
• “Rick Moody Interview”
• “Lee and Schamus at the MOMI”
• “The Look of The Ice Storm” Featurettes
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary


• 20-Page Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Ice Storm: Criterion Collection (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 18, 2008)

Whether or not you like his work, you have to give director Ang Lee credit: he certainly has produced a diverse body of material. To me, 1997’s The Ice Storm feels like the oddest piece of this puzzle, but don’t take that as a criticism. Like most of Lee’s films, it takes place in the past, but not a distant one; Ice Storm goes to suburban America of 1973. It examines the social climate of the time, in which kids tried to grow up too quickly and adults found it hard to act in a mature responsible manner.

Most of the film concentrates on the Hood family in New Canaan Connecticut as they “celebrate” the Thanksgiving holiday. We find father Ben (Kevin Kline). He’s a decent enough guy, really, but he seems clueless about how to relate to his kids Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci), and he also doesn’t know how to get along intimately with his semi-frigid wife Elena (Joan Allen). As such, he has an affair with the neighbor’s wife, Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), a somewhat domineering woman whose husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) spends a great deal of time out of town on business. Elena knows that something’s happening, but she’s too wimpy and repressed to do anything about it, though she flirts with some adulterous possibilities herself.

As for the kids, they’re fairly distanced from their family. Paul goes to school in New York, so he only makes a brief return visit for the holiday. He feigns interest in his parents, but he only really connects with Wendy, as the two seem to best understand what a mess their family is. Nonetheless, he quickly hightails it back to school, mainly to go after a cute girl named Libbets (Katie Holmes) who invited him to her place.

Wendy’s the most overtly messed-up of the bunch, I suppose, though she doesn’t really show it to the outside. She spends most of her time with Janey’s son and her semi-boyfriend Mikey (Elijah Wood). The two do some mild sexual exploring, but Wendy upsets Mikey when she decides to play doctor with his younger brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). Not that anything terrible comes of this, even when Wendy’s caught with one of the boys; the parents in the film are so ineffectual that they muster little threat.

All of the action comes to a head during the titular tempest; yes, the movie’s name is allegorical, but it also describes an actual storm seen in the film. While this event takes place, all of the main adults are at a swinging soirée where Elena confronts Ben’s cheating ways indirectly. This shindig includes something called a “key party”. All of the couples involved put their car keys in a bowl, and the women draw them; the females then go home with the men whose cars they select. Although the Hoods didn’t plan to participate, Elena gets involved mainly as a “screw you” to Ben.

While this sexual nuttiness ensues, the kids are left on their own. Wendy and Sandy get to know each other better, while Mikey checks out the physical effects of the ice storm. Paul hangs out with Libbets, but not with the desired results. Before the evening ends, the families will be given serious “wake-up” call.

The Ice Storm seems fairly similar to other films of the genre, though it might be a bit more subtle. 1980’s Ordinary People and 1999’s American Beauty also examined the lack of heart found at the center of some suburban households, and both took home Best Picture Oscars. The Academy totally snubbed The Ice Storm, though a lot of critics gave it good marks. Why did People and Beauty manage to earn so many more awards than TIS? I really don’t know. Timing may have played a role, but it also may stem from the fact that Storm is a bit more elusive than the other two. Its charms are somewhat less clear, and it’s a colder, more off-putting piece.

Not that I regard that as a bad thing. No, I can’t say that I was totally enamored of The Ice Storm, but I thought it was an interesting and generally provocative piece. The film lacks the immediacy and intimacy with the subject found in most movies of this sort, an aspect that makes sense when you consider the director; Lee clearly had no experience with well-off suburban families of the early Seventies. As such, he tends to treat the material with more of an artsy flair. What he lacks in knowledge he tries to make up through style.

In that vein, Lee largely succeeds. Frankly, the setting and time period of The Ice Storm are fairly irrelevant. They examine a distance that could apply to a variety of different family situations and eras; the movie just happens to take place in early Seventies America. The swinging attitudes of the period create additional drama that might be less evident elsewhere, but they aren’t restricted to the era. As I indicated, Storm fits in well when compared to other suburban dramas.

The Ice Storm won’t be for everyone. It lacks great dramatic thrust and it proceeds at an unremarkable pace. There’s little of the quotable comedy found in American Beauty, and the characters generally provoke little sympathy or connection from the viewers. Nonetheless, I thought it was a strangely compelling piece that kept me interested. I don’t know if it makes as grand a statement as it seems to believe, but it’s a fairly engrossing and nuanced program that merits a viewing.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

The Ice Storm appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though much of the flick looked quite good, some notable issues arose.

Actually, I should probably refer to a notable issue: edge enhancement. Haloes cropped up too often through the movie, and they left wide shots as moderately soft and ill-defined. Closer images seemed great, as they showed very nice delineation and clarity, but the farther-out elements suffered from the muddiness that came with the edge enhancement.

At least the movie lacked jagged edges or moiré effects, and source flaws were absent. In terms of colors, Storm went with a fairly chilly palette to match its emotional tone. This didn’t mean that the flick was totally desaturated, though, as it still boasted some pretty warm, full colors. I thought the hues were good given the design parameters.

Blacks looked deep and firm, while shadows were reasonably clear and distinctive. A few low-light shots were a bit murky, but those were in the minority and not a big concern, especially given the dim nature of so much of the film’s photography. Without the edge enhancement, the transfer would’ve been great, but those haloes left this as a “B” presentation.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of The Ice Storm offered a decent but unspectacular experience, though its shortcomings were more expected. I didn’t think the film would be a multi-channel extravaganza, and I was correct. The mix stayed strongly oriented toward the forward spectrum, where it provided a pretty positive atmosphere. Effects were placed accurately across the front speakers, and they blended together well. Music showed strong stereo separation and appeared well-defined. The surrounds contributed acceptable reinforcement of the forward mix, and they came to life fairly nicely during a few louder segments, such as when trains roared past.

Audio quality appeared positive. Speech sounded distinct and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were clean and realistic and they displayed no signs of distortion. The music appeared warm and bright, and the track offered reasonable low-end when appropriate. Ultimately, The Ice Storm provided a good but unexceptional soundtrack that worked well for the film.

How did the picture and audio of this Criterion release compare to those of the prior DVD from 2001? The old disc provided a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix instead of this one’s 2.0 track. I don’t know which one represented the theatrical audio, though I’d have assumed Storm had a Digital track since it came out in 1997; that seems late in the game to stick with 2.0 audio. Whatever the case may be, I couldn’t discern any true differences between the two mixes. Both sounded very, very similar.

On the other hand, the transfers differed. I thought the Criterion image worked better, though not to an enormous degree. The new DVD looked cleaner and a bit better developed, but that edge enhancement kept it from thoroughly topping its predecessor. Though I preferred the Criterion, it wasn’t good enough to totally beat the prior release.

While the old release came with almost no extras, this two-disc Criterion package throws in a mix of supplements. On DVD One, we find the movie’s trailer as well as an audio commentary with director Ang Lee and writer/producer James Schamus. They discuss the source novel and its adaptation, cast and performances, sets, locations and period authenticity, the challenges involved when a Chinese director takes on such an American story, music, editing and deleted scenes, and a mix of production issues.

During its early moments, the track drags a little. However, it picks up pretty quickly and becomes quite engaging. We get a good impression for a mix of subjects, and both men seem pretty frank about the good and the bad aspects of the experience. Throw in a number of fun anecdotes and this becomes a winning commentary.

Over on DVD Two, we start with a new documentary called Weathering the Storm. In this 36-minute and eight-second show, we get movie clips, archival materials and new interviews with actors Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Sigourney Weaver. They chat about themes, characters and performances, story elements, how they came onto the film, working with Lee, reflections on the era in which the flick takes place, and a few other thoughts about the shoot.

I’m happy Criterion was able to round up so many of the movie’s main actors here, and they provide nice insights. The performers cover a good range of subjects connected to their experiences in this informative and enjoyable program.

Next comes a Rick Moody Interview. During the 21-minute and 19-second piece, we hear from the source novel’s author as he discusses his work, its adaptation for the screen, and his reactions to the cinematic result. Moody takes a rather elliptical way around these subjects, but he comes across as up-front with his opinions and lets us know what he does and doesn’t like about the movie. I admit I’d prefer something more straightforward, but Moody presents enough interesting remarks to make the featurette worthwhile.

We get more from the commentary participants in a piece called Ang Lee and James Schamus at the Museum of the Moving Image. It runs 32 minutes and four seconds as they go over Lee’s acting background and his early career, the partnership between Lee and Schamus, aspects of Lee’s flicks, and general elements of his work. “Image” doesn’t tell us a ton about Ice Storm, but it doesn’t purport to do so. Instead, it offers a nice overview of Lee’s career. We get a mix of interesting thoughts about his movies and some fun anecdotes in this entertaining show.

Three featurettes appear under The Look of The Ice Storm. This collection includes “Cinematography by Frederick Elmes” (13:37), “Production Designs by Mark Friedberg” (14:00) and “Costume Designs by Carol Oditz” (8:23). As you can tell from the titles, these cover cinematography, production design and costumes with comments from Elmes, Friedberg and Oditz. They also chat about working with Lee and a few other aspects of the Ice Storm experience. Their notes give us good information about the various topics.

DVD Two finishes with four Deleted Scenes. Taken together, they last a total of six minutes, 47 seconds. We find “Ben Hood at the Office” (2:07), “Elena and Rev. Edwards” (2:14), “Elena’s Offer” (1:14) and “Paul’s Moral Dilemma” (1:12). I like “Office”, as it provides some laughs and also better sets up the rivalry between Ben and co-worker George. “Elena” is less interesting, mainly because it telegraphs the Seventies sleaze vibe given off by Edwards. “Offer” does little more than reiterate the well-established distance between Ben and Elena, while “Dilemma” shows Paul’s temptation to take advantage of an intoxicated Libbets. Frankly, we already get that sense from the shot in the final flick, so this sequence would be redundant.

We can watch these scenes with or without commentary from Schamus. He provides some basics about the shots and tells us why they got the boot. Schamus throws in a few decent thoughts but not as much meat as I’d like.

Finally, the package features a 20-page booklet. It includes some photos along with an essay by film critic Bill Krohn. This isn’t one of Criterion’s best booklets but it’s still pretty good. They make the best booklets in the business, and this is another useful one.

Does the Criterion DVD lose anything from the prior Fox release? Yeah, but not much. It drops a promotional featurette from 1997. That was a decent piece, but I don’t miss it.

The Ice Storm is a chilly but involving affair that provided a deft and compelling examination of suburban America. The film neither condemns nor endorses its characters, which was a refreshing change from most works of this ilk. The DVD provides reasonably good picture and audio along with a satisfying complement of supplements. This becomes a solid release for an intriguing film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0303 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main