Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Tale of Two Movies - Ice Harvest & Narnia

I managed to see two movies in a month. A rare, rare occurence for me and in true Steph dichotomy, both movies were the opposite sides of the movie spectrum.

Firstly ... go see Ice Harvest. In the season when kiddies movies are terrorising our screens everywhere, this is an adult, intelligent and wryly satirical black comedy in the grand tradition of film noir.

I watched it last week without a clue what it was about. When I got the invitation to watch it, all I got via sms was "Wanna see a movie? Ice Harvest. 9.30pm."

"Who's in it? Wassit about?" was my articulate response.

"Comedy. John Cusak and Angelina Jolie's ex-husband."

I said yes. I was not sure how many ex-husbands Angeline Jolie has had but I reckoned it was Billy Bob Thornton. The cast seemed fairly stellar. I vaguely remember some movie where these two starred with some misguided airplanes.

I'm quite glad I did not know much about the movie before I saw it. Too often, I go in with some level of expectations based on either reviews or the profile from PR hacks and am regularly disappointed.

With Ice Harvest, I had zero expectations. I did not even know what the movie was about. I knew my movie companion is an art movie lover and intellectual so I guess I expected a Farinelli-like movie experience. But of course, with Billy Bob Thornton, that would have been as likely as me acting in a Chinese drama serial.

First off, I almost did not recognise anyone in the movie. Everyone looked like they'd put on 20-40 lbs in the movie. Sure, I knew John Cusak, Randy Quaid and Oliver Platt were supposed to be dissolute alkies but boy, they sure went for the method acting. Even Connie Nielsen looked more filled out than normal. Although the additional weight looked good on her. I always thought she was a classy broad but just a tinge too skinny.

I loved the art direction, lighting and cinematography of this movie. The makeup, lighting and hairstyling for Connie Nielsen was very 1940s and she walked around with the constant white band of lighting across her eyes. And her hair reminded one of Veronica Lake. But her voice was definitely the best special effect. Husky, throaty and with amazing timing and inflection, her voice alone could have won the Sex on Two Legs Award. The audience in the cinema was 80% male and I just knew they went there just to watch and listen to her.

Whoever wrote the script penned a funny and highly intelligent movie that is not pretentious and full of over-acting gits. The dialogue was fast and gritty yet filled with an understated, tongue-in-cheek irony that totally won me over.

The casting was near perfect. John Cusak's wry performance as the long suffering, weary yet clueless mob lawyer is remarkably understated yet spot on. As the small time mobster with a passionate disdain of his wife, Billy Bob Thornton gleefully played his role with slimey bonhomie and psychotic casualness. Connie Nielsen is beautifully and dangerously alluring and you can totally see why Cusak's character was in such sexual knots over her.

I personally loved Oliver Platt. I've always thought he's one of the funniest actors out there. He just plays the dissolute, lost alkie to the hilt. Exasperatingly lovable despite his drunken shenanigans and self-loathing, you could understand why he was the chosen companion at the end of the movie.

The movie was just what I needed for Christmas. None of that saccharine sweetness of fake goodwill, it was satirical, truly funny without trying too hard and wonderfully subtle. It reminded me of Fargo and LA Confidential and my movie companion remarked that it was reminiscent of the Cohen Brothers.

From the stark white, to gritty shadows and cold blue filter of the camera lens, the typically boring landscape of Wichita came to lurid life. In the famous lines penned on the back of the trailer ... As Wichita Falls, So Falls Wichita Falls.

That saying, I may go buy the DVD when it comes out.

I love ... no ... adore C S Lewis and I grew up on the books. So months ago when the first trailers for Narnia came up I was a giddy girl chanting "Narnia! Narnia! Narnia!" to the great consternation of people around me.

I actually managed to see Narnia at a preview! Score! A friend could not make it so he passed his ticket to me. Unfortunately, I forgot that he is a school teacher and that meant that the preview would be full of kids from his school. Despite the pain of having daft kids coming in late and then wondering why it was so dark and they can't find their seats ... It's called the Lion, The Witch and the Freaking Wardrobe, you daft gits! They didn't have Ikea lights in the wardrobes during WWII.

Anyway, I liked it but I was not 100% sold. Perhaps because I grew up on C S Lewis, my expectations are rather high. The special effects are fab, the acting was fairly solid but it lacked ... magic.

The awe of discovery, the stirring of the soul as you grapple with the fantastic ... these were lacking. I did like the subtle treatment versus the usual swish bang over the top productions of Hollywood. But I really thought they could have at least made it a little more comparable to the standards of Harry Potter or LOTR.

The kids were cute, especially the little girl. Fairly solid acting for kids but again, there was no real spark reminiscent of Anna Paquin in The Piano or Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire. I think the Oscars will be safe next year.

Tilda Swinton in a Cate Blanchett wannabe styling is unfortunate. Talented actress, brilliant character ... wooden and totally plebian performance. She was as menacing as my senile Aunt Ruth in the bath ... and Aunt Ruth wins only because she is nekkid.

I have a gripe about the sets in Narnia. I know it should be looked at with the eyes of a child but for the love of God, don't make it look like a high school production! The tents especially really annoyed me. Which alcoholic, Parkinson-ridden, colour blind set painter did they get to fabric paint the tents? The sets were so lame that they kept distracting me from the dialogue. That really pissed me off. If you are going to spend so much bloody money on the special effects at least budget some for better sets.

The snow covered visage after leaving the wardrobe was a pale consolation. Bland and failing to evoke any sense of wonder or awe, it could have been any Nordic landscape. Just stick a lamp post in it. Where's the glistening icicles? Where's the reflection of the amber glow from the lamp post on the frozen skeins of leaves? Where's the sparkling snowflakes more glittery than a thousand diamonds? Where the hell are the set designers? And the lighting guys??!!!

I like CGI. In fact, I love CGI but Aslan was an oxymoron. I was impressed yet disappointed. I could see many kids sniggering at a talking lion. It just was not impressive enough. The full majesty, nobility and charisma of Aslan was not brought to life at all. You became distracted by the CGI artists' masturbatory glee in their own cleverness with each lock of quivering fur in the wind. Aslan's eyes had as much emotion as my Tickle Me Elmo. The technician in me appreciated the technical ability. The artist is me hated the lack of soul.

I do have to compliment the producers on the faithful depiction of war-torn UK and the gentle yet nostalgic treatment of the entire movie. It was very English and I am glad of it. It was the only thing that saved it from the Neverending Story or Dungeons and Dragons ignomy. However, I do not think it will be a defining movie as Star Wars was for us because the kids nowadays are a way more sophisticated and cynical bunch. It is a pity that a new generation of kids have received such a poor introduction to the magic of C S Lewis.

Disney had no problems with the sets in WWII England and everything was beautifully authentic. Recreating the past is obviously not a problem for them but creating the fantastical is definitely a serious issue. If this had been made by Dreamworks, I think the results would have been incredibly different. It was the wrong choice for Narnia to be made by Disney.

So all in all, I think I would prefer to cuddle up with a hot chocolate and my Narnia books as opposed to cuddling up with my popcorn in the cinema. Still, I would have happily forked money out to watch this since it defined much of my childhood (I once pretended our dog was Aslan and tried to cut a hole in the wardrobe to get to Narnia) but luckily I didn't have to.

I admit it. I am slightly disillusioned by Narnia. My last shards of childhood innocence refuse to accept the pithy consolation of this latest offering. My imagination and internal paintbrush are much lusher and richer than this movie. If only it was the same for Disney.

So in the Tale of Two Movies, I take the gritty Ice Harvest over the anaemic Narnia.

Categories - Rambling Prose


Blogger OsloFoodie said...

Oy, I am sold. I have to see Ice Harvest anyway, are you kidding, John Cusack's in it :). There are only a handful of actors that can make me all goofy, John Cusack, Mandy Patinkin, Edward Norton and a couple more that I can't remember right now. Haha, watching Narnia with kids around must be a bit of a pain-in-the-somewhere. That's one movie that is also on my list. Arrgh, so many things to do, so little time.

6:29 pm  
Blogger MM said...

OMG, you like Mandy Patinkin too??? I thought I was the only one! I totally loved him in The Princess Bride.

6:38 pm  
Blogger Cate said...

Never heard of/seen that movie, but love John Cusack, so I'll check it out. Thanks for the heads up! I caught up a lot on movies this weekend too. Saw Ice Princess, War of the Worlds and The Perfect Man.

12:25 am  
Blogger MM said...

I saw Ice Princess a long time ago. I didn't think I would like it since it is a teen movie but I'd watch anything that involves some level of dance. To my surprise I rather enjoyed it.

2:22 am  
Blogger OsloFoodie said...

mm, I absolutely love Mandy Patinkin, his acting, his singing, he does as much as arch an eyebrow and I get all worked up. He has such a powerful presence. In fact I just watched him tonight in his new TV series called "Criminal Minds". Awesome! See? I get all goofy.

8:05 am  
Blogger MM said...

OsloFoodie, it goes to show ...Mandy Patinkin is a hottie. And my girlfriends thought I was nuts when I said I found him sexy. LOL.

4:13 pm  

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