Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Connoisseurs of silver screen cinema, particlularly of the old-time westerns, screwball comedies and noir crime pictures often use the phrase 'they just do not make 'em like they used to,' when describing a certain style that has faded into history. Well in the case of Robert Aldrich's 1955 Mike Hammer film Kiss Me, Deadly the phrase, 'they never made them this way' is probably more appropriate. One of the earliest genre mashing stories that is that is part noir, boiled right down to the ether, part cold war commentary and well ending not with a whimper, but with a bang (and and then whimper), it set an unusual standard for many genre and art-house filmmakers to come. Any film which visually inspired such diverse fair as Raiders of the Lost Ark , Pulp Fiction , Repo Man and Lost Highway is all good in my book. And something tells me that on top of all that, David Mamet might just get a charge out of this film for its level of machismo dialed up to 11 and set to grapple the societal conditionings of the human animal.

Mike Hammer, badass PI and all around misanthrope gets way in over his head when he picks up a mysterious woman half-naked on the side of the road. An investigation involving a rogues gallery of characters along with stupidity, greed and hamfisted blunders. The film goes places that Mickey_Spillane's novel (which the film is really only loosely based on) never went.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Director Ang Lee is a master a painting a mature and sophisticated tableau of a time and place. From the just outside the city family life in Eat Drink Man Woman, to the grasslands and towns of Wyoming in Brokeback Mountain. His films often involve characters making difficult choices over the course of their lives, but the choices they make never seem to be in service of the plot or narrative, but rather seem to come from well realized human beings that do their best (often unsuccessfully) to avoid mistakes, while fulfilling their desires.

But my favourite film of his wide oeuvre (which also includes the fantastical ballet of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and historical romantic thriller Lust, Caution) is his adaptation of Rick Moody's novel The Ice Storm. Set over a thanksgiving weekend in the early 1970s (right in the middle of the Watergate scandal, rising feminism, and swinging 'key parties') the film follows an upscale suburban neighborhood and the confused intertwining of two families. The father of the Hood family (Kevin Kline, rarely better than he is here) is having an affair with the mother of the Carver family (angular and sexy Sigourney Weaver), whilst the teenage Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci, angry and vulnerable) is sexually exploring with both of the Carver boys (the youngest of which being a pre-Frodo Elijah Wood.) Elena Hood (Joan Allen at her most delicate) suspects her husband, but is going through a bit of her own identity crisis, seeing herself mirrored in her growing, yet still innocent daughter. Furthermore, it follows college aged Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) on a trip to New York with the goal of seducing a sexy and smart classmate (Katie Holmes in possibly her only good performance, ever).

The framing narration involving The Fantastic Four featuring loving pans across the three colour pulp comics is perhaps better than all the comic book movies made over the past 10 years, and it is very curious that most of the young cast ended up headlining in these modern comic book films, not to mention the director following up by making one. Ang Lee succeeded in making one of the few upscale and mature comic book movies, of all subject, the big green raging fellow Hulk.

If this makes the movie sound dense, Lee carries the host of characters and situations with a graceful ease spanning melancholy, anger, frustration, pathos, confusion, sexuality and a wicked sense of humour. Christina Ricci giving her highly politicized Thanksgiving Grace, or Elijah Wood waxing philosophically on the nature of molecules, is funny every single time. In fact, for me, this film is exactly why I watch movies, it has it all without needing to be showy, predictable or pandering to the audience, yet it arrives at many basic human truths and reflects them emotionally and visually. Like the layer of moisture which exists precariously between states in the titular storm, The Ice Storm chronicles a critical yet transient moment in peoples lives that nevertheless defines them, minute by minute, even as it changes them. A case could certainly be made that this is the best film of the 1990s.