The critics: Video

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The Independent Culture
The Ice Storm (15). Studiously mournful and quietly ominous, Ang Lee's film charts the psychic disintegration of two suburban families over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973. Painstaking as James Schamus's screenplay is, it doesn't quite preserve the nuances of Rick Moody's fine original novel, and the film is finally most notable for its puritanical streak. For all the careful attention to period detail (water beds, Nixon masks, alarming man-made fabrics), there's actually a very contemporary morality at work here. At worst, The Ice Storm is basically a simplistic cautionary tale in which characters are emphatically punished for their sexual indiscretions. Still, the actors are excellent, with the exception of Kevin Kline, whose emotional range seems more constricted than usual (the script is partly at fault). Joan Allen is heartbreaking as his put- upon wife, and Sigourney Weaver, as a man-eating vixen, makes the most of a one-note role. But it's the gifted young performers who come off best: Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Adam Hann-Byrd, and especially Christina Ricci, who - perfectly cast as a wise-beyond-her- years adolescent - is as fiercely intelligent as ever.

Telling Lies in America (15). Though relatively unsalacious, this specious, ham-fisted film still bears the imprint of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Showgirls, Basic Instinct). The giveaways: cardboard characters, stock scenarios, and a gratuitous reference to fellatio and teeth-marks in the first half hour. Set in the early-Sixties Cleveland of the writer's boyhood, this is a schematically nostalgic coming-of-age movie, filtered through the immigrant experience of Hungarian-born Catholic schoolboy Karchy (Brad Renfro), who believes that lying well and being able to pronounce "th" are essential to making it in America. Handpicked to work as lackey for a ladykiller disc jockey (Kevin Bacon, having fun with a caricature), Karchy wises up, falls in love with a pre-Ally McBeal Calista Flockhart, and finds himself implicated in a payola scandal. Director Guy Ferland is attentive enough, but he never gets to the heart of the story - quite possibly because there isn't one to begin with.

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