On its surface, Noir seems like the easiest film genre to pull off. All you need is a gun, a girl, something everybody in the film wants, a few ulterior motives and voila! Instant “Big Sleep.”
As has been proven by Hollywood over and over again, however, it just ain’t that easy. The latest film to prove that truism is “The Ice Harvest.” Though it shoots for the language of Noir and might well have succeeded, the darkness of the plot gets mucked up along the way by odd threads of comedy, drama, love story, “Pulp Fiction”-style philosophical shoot-em-up, and maybe a little Dean Martin-grade drunk-guy humor. The result is bloody, unbelievable, unsatisfying and often confusing, with a wholly predictable ending and a middle as mushy as Old Saint Nick.
Set in Wichita, Kan., on Christmas Eve, “The Ice Harvest” is the story of Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), a mob lawyer who — in cahoots with massage parlor owner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) — manages to steal $2 million from Wichita kingpin Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Planning on skipping town the next morning, Vic and Charlie are shocked when a mob hitman appears in town, asking for them.
With the jig obviously up and Vic and Charlie on the run, an ice storm hits Wichita, Vic looks like he might be a turncoat and the money goes missing, with stock femme fatale (Connie Nielsen) playing both ends against the middle. One body in a steamer trunk, a severed thumb, and a face full of birdshot later, a character leaves town with the money in tow. No, I’m not going to tell you which one.
Though Cusack is charming, as always, in the role of a less-than-lovable loser, Billy Bob Thornton is mostly wasted in what has become a pigeonhole for him: the level-headed hard-ass. Beyond that, the movie is a snoozer, neither exciting nor particularly original, sophomoric in the moments when it’s trying to be profound and cringe-worthy in the moments when it’s trying to be funny. Our verdict: Wait for the DVD. That way, you can turn it off when you get bored.
— By David Koon
“Chicago,” in going from stage to screen, not only maintained the “feel” of Broadway, it actually may have surpassed it. Its Oscars for best picture, supporting actor and adapted screenplay are evidence of its success. “Chicago,” in our view, was an amazing feature film.
Outside of “Chicago,” however, few musicals have been able to make such a successful transition from stage to screen. “Cabaret,” yes. “The Sound of Music,” yes. Of the more recent efforts, perhaps the off-Broadway “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” released as an indie, was a winner, but it isn’t easy to recall many other titles of success.
Now comes the rock-opera “Rent,” which is in its 10th year on Broadway and has spawned a series of national tours. Filmmakers managed to bring together a large percentage of the original cast — most of whom have gone on to bigger and better things — to bring the late Jonathan Larson’s Tony-winning musical and stage masterpiece, which he based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” to the screen.
This reviewer has seen the Larson musical two times, once on Broadway and once with the national tour, and knows the soundtrack by heart. Something was lost in the transition from live performance on stage to performance on screen.
Behind Chris Columbus’ direction, the performances overall were good, and the singing was excellent. But the film is much too long at two hours and 18 minutes run time. Columbus chose to keep everything in, when a little something here and there could have gone.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia, as the transvestite Angel Schunard, was the standout of the cast (many who saw “Rent” when it opened on Broadway would have said the same then). However, like much of this film, the moments that made such an impact on stage (such as when Angel jumps from the floor to the top of a tall table wearing stacked heels) just don’t pack the same punch now.
Jesse L. Martin (playing the HIV-positive teacher/philosopher Tom Collins) was in fine form, especially singing the “I’ll Cover You” reprise, as were Idina Menzel (as Maureen) and Tracie Thoms (as Joanne). Rosario Dawson, a newcomer joining the original stars, proved to be the perfect young dancer Mimi (one would imagine Daphne Rubin-Vega probably looks much too old for the Mimi role today, while 10 years of aging don’t seem to have bothered the other original actors).
Angel’s relationship with Tom Collins is convincing. Less convincing is Adam Pascal as Roger, the rock star with HIV via needle-sharing with his now-dead girlfriend, whom he mourns while he plays his guitar trying to The movie hits a high point in the group’s rendition of “la vie Boheme” at the Life Cafe in Alphabet City. It’s a great song and showcases impressive dancing from the ensemble. With the exception of that lively scene, we’re shown a New York City of the late 1980s that’s a hell on earth, with graffiti and homeless people everywhere. The film, like the play, manages to depict well the loneliness and fear of AIDS sufferers and others struggling to survive in the East Village some 10-15 years ago, when Larson originated his play in theater workshop.
Except this, however, that we screened this film as an open promotion at the Rave, which was packed with people who probably knew little about the musical. The row of people sitting behind us talked and laughed out loud the entire movie, making it a miserable experience. Do people not know how to act in public anymore? Do they not care that they are ruining the film for everyone? If they’re not interested in watching it, why are they even there? Oh yeah, it was free for them. Still, it was very irritating.
— By Tricia Harris