Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ride with the Devil

Based on the novel Woe to Live On, Ride with the Devil tells the story of a couple of young Southern men who join a Missouri-based guerilla group during the Civil War as they seek refuge by protecting a family with a slave helping them. Directed by Ang Lee with a script by longtime collaborator James Schamus, Ride with the Devil is an epic drama that chronicles the journey of young men who face terror in a troubled war while finding a life outside of conflict and vengeance. Starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright, Simon Baker, Jewel, Jonathan Brandis, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Mark Ruffalo, James Caviezel, Zach Grenier, and Tom Wilkinson. Ride with the Devil is an extraordinary yet sweeping Civil War drama from Ang Lee.

The German-born Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) and his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) are young Southern men from Missouri that have just joined a group of local irregular soldiers known as the Bushwhackers. Chiles gains vengeance for his father’s death during an ambush with their leader Black John Ambrose (James Caviezel) and a wild young man named Pitt Mackeson (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Roedel and Chiles meet up with other bushwhackers including George Clyde (Simon Baker) who is accompanied by his slave Holt (Jeffrey Wright) where the four decide to hide out nearby the home of Mr. Evans (Zach Grenier) who offers them tools to create a cave to hide in.

While Clyde goes out and hide at another nearby home leaving Holt to help Roedel and Chiles, they meet Evans’ widowed daughter-in-law Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel) whom Chiles falls for. During the period of hiding, Roedel befriends Holt as Holt reveals his loyalty for Clyde while hoping to reach his mother who had been sold somewhere to Texas. During an attack on Evans’ home, Roedel, Holt, Clyde, and Chiles lead an attack on the Union soldiers who attacked Evans only to have things go wrong. With the Evans’ family seeking refuge at another house along with Sue, the remaining Bushwhackers had to regroup with their gang. With William Quantrill (John Ales) leading a group of Bushwhackers to attack and raid Lawrence, Kansas, Holt and Roedel take part of it with Clyde as a supervisor.

During the raid, Roedel has a confrontation with Mackeson as Union soldiers make their way to attack the Bushwhackers where everything falls apart. Holt and Roedel get wounded during the battle as they’re accompanied by Cave Wyatt (Jonathan Brandis) to take them to the Brown family where Sue had been living for several months. Living with Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Tom Wilkinson and Margo Martindale), Roedel and Holt recover from their wounds as they ponder what to do next. Even as Sue had just had a baby as the two men ponder life after a war that they know is already at a loss.

The film is about a young man and his friend joining a guerilla group to fight off Union soldiers and protect their family. Yet during the journey, Jake Roedel would face things as a Bushwhacker that would change his views on war and on himself. Jake, like the African-American Holt, faces a similar prejudice towards some Southerners but as a German whose father supports the Union. Jake is a very flawed character as he meets a captured Union soldier (Mark Ruffalo) whom he knew as he made him sent a message that would later haunt him. Roedel’s development is crucial as he starts out as a young innocent man loyal to his home only to become a weary man filled with grief pondering what to do next.

James Schamus’ script is superb in its character study as well as setting a mood for the story as it all takes place during the Civil War. The script does a have a few flaws as far as when some of the events happen while it’s also a bit uneven in tone. The latter of which is due to the fact that it’s a war film with a bit of romance and drama that at times, doesn’t really mesh. Still, it does have a narrative that is engaging and keeps the story going as it’s all driven by Jake Roedel’s fascination with his surroundings along with the friendships he have with Jack Bull, Holt, and later Sue. Despite the few flaws the script has, Schamus does create a script that is compelling and filled with fully-fleshed characters that people can enjoy.

Ang Lee’s direction is truly magnificent in its presentation and willingness to be engaged by the story and the characters in the film. While Lee does manage to take his time with the story by opening the film with a wedding that Roedel and Chiles attend to reveal their lives. He also lets the story move forward by having this terrifying scene of Roedel and Chiles forcing to flee following an attack and then move the story a year later for a great ambush scene involving the two characters. Then slows it down for scenes where Roedel and Chiles meet up with their fellow Bushwhackers that includes a wonderful poignant yet simple scene of Roedel reading a letter that brings ease to the soldiers.

Lee’s direction for many of the film’s intimate settings such as the cave and the interior houses are very intimate in his use of close-ups for the characters. For the battle scenes, Lee definitely takes a wide scope to allow the film to be big as if he is making an epic. Lee knows how to frame these wide shots such as the horses coming down a hill or to capture the chaos of the battle. The overall work in the direction is truly amazing in its framing but also maintain an intimacy for the film’s dramatic moments as Lee creates a dazzling yet engaging war-drama.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes does a phenomenal job with the film‘s gorgeous photography from the very green look of the Missouri-Kansas forests in the spring and fall to the white cold of the wintertime. Elmes’ work in the exteriors are just as beautiful in its intimacy and the mood it creates for the characters in their situations. Longtime Lee collaborator in editor Tim Squyres does an excellent job with the film’s editing in creating a tight yet leisured pace for the film. Particularly when he utilizes jump-cuts for some of the film’s action along with transitional dissolves and fade-outs to help move the film forward for its 138-minute running time in its theatrical cut.

Production designer Mark Friedberg, along with art director Steve Arnold and set decorators Stephanie Carroll and Bryan E. Jordan, does an incredible job with the set design for the film such as the houses the characters live in to the cave home they create in the first half of the film. Since it’s shot largely on location in a town in Missouri, Friedberg and his team were able to recreate the look of the town in its Civil War setting to maintain its authenticity. Costume designer Marit Allen does a wonderful job with the costumes from the ragged soldiers clothing the men wear in combat to the suits they wore along with the big dresses that the women wear.

Sound editor Phil Stockton does a superb job with the sound to capture the calmness of the forest to the raucous chaos of the battle scenes to showcase the world the characters are in. The film’s score by Mychael Danna is brilliant for its array of traditional, folk-driven pieces that is played to set the mood of the times. Danna also provides some lush, orchestral flourishes for the dramatic and sweeping epic scenes to enhance the ambition of the film. Along with some traditional pieces of that era, the soundtrack includes a song by Jewel that is played in the final credits of the film.

The casting by Avy Kaufman is truly sensational as Kaufman creates what is undoubtedly an amazing ensemble. Numerous small but notable performances include David Darlow and Kathleen Warfel as Jack Bull’s parents, John Judd as Jake’s father, Celia Weston as a woman who brings in the Bushwhackers, John Ales as the famous Confederate guerilla leader William Quantrill, T. Max Graham as a reverend, and Mark Ruffalo as a captured Union soldier sent to bring a message to the Union. Other notable small roles as fellow Bushwhackers include Matthew Faber as Mackeson’s friend Turner, Thomas Guiry as the young Riley Crawford, James Caviezel as the local leader Black John, Stephen Mailer as the cautious Babe Hudspeth, and the late Jonathan Brandis in an outstanding performance as helpful Cave Wyatt.

Zach Grenier is very good as Mr. Evans, a local Confederate supporter who helps out the Bushwhackers while Simon Baker is also good as the experienced George Clyde who has a very warm friendship to his slave Holt. Margo Martindale is excellent as Mrs. Brown while Tom Wilkinson is amazing as the no-nonsense but sympathetic Mr. Brown. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is great in a terrifying role as the wild Pitt Mackeson, a soldier with outlaw tendencies who despises Roedel over his German ancestry. Jewel is wonderful as Sue Lee Shelley, a widow who falls for Jack Bull while helping the rest of the men by feeding them as she has some funny lines in a subtle yet charming performance.

Skeet Ulrich is brilliant as Jack Bull Chiles, a wild soldier with a conscience as he often leads his small band to battle while trying to fight for what is left of the Southern lifestyle he grew up with. Jeffrey Wright is great in what is definitely the best performance of the film as Daniel Holt. Wright brings an eerie quietness to his character who has a fierce loyalty to George Clyde while taking Roedel as a friend in their shared struggle with prejudice. Tobey Maguire is amazing as Jake Roedel, a young guerilla soldier who deals with prejudice and the consequences of war while fighting what’s left of a war he realize he is going to lose. It’s a remarkable role for the actor who definitely shows a real weariness with a sense of humor to a character that goes into a journey that would change his view on the world.

Ride with the Devil is a grand yet glorious film from Ang Lee featuring exhilarating performances from Tobey Maguire and Jeffrey Wright. While it’s not a perfect film due to a few flaws in the script, the film definitely overcomes those flaws with a sweeping vision and engaging characters. Fans of American Civil War films will see this film as something a bit different in terms of storytelling but at least has the big visuals needed for a film like this. In the end, Ride with the Devil is a thrilling yet captivating Civil War drama from Ang Lee and company.

© thevoid99 2011

The Wedding Banquet

Directed by Ang Lee and written with Neil Peng and James Schamus, Xi Yan (The Wedding Banquet) tells the story of a gay Taiwanese man whose life unravels when he decides to marry a Chinese woman so she can get a green card. Things get worse when his parents arrive in America to help with the wedding while he’s dealing with his boyfriend who feels left out. The film has Lee explore the theme of homosexuality as it would something he would explore again with his 2005 masterpiece Brokeback Mountain. Starring Winston Chao, May Chin, Ah Lei Gua, Sihung Lung, and Mitchell Lichtenstein. Xi Yan is a witty yet engrossing comedy-drama from Ang Lee.

Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao) is a gay man who lives with his boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) as they live a happy life in New York City. Yet, Wai-Tung still has to deal with pleasing his Taiwanese parents (Sihung Lung and Ah Le Gua) for him to marry and give them a grandchild. Wai-Tung also has to deal with a penniless tenant named Wei-Wei (May Chin) who needs a green card or else she gets deported back to China. After pressure from a dating service his mother puts him through, Wai-Tung takes Simon’s idea to marry Wei-Wei to please his parents and she gets her green card.

Wai-Tung tells his parents about his engagement Wei-Wei where they reveal they decide to go to New York City to celebrate much to Wai-Tung’s horror. Simon helps out to await their arrival as they’re aware that Mr. Gao has just suffered a mild stroke weeks earlier. When Wai-Tung’s parents arrive to meet Simon and Wei-Wei, they’re happy about the upcoming marriage only to realize that Wei-Wei and Wai-Tung are marrying the next day at court. The parents reluctantly accept the wedding as the dinner is held by one of Mr. Gao’s former soldiers (Tien Pien) is the restaurant owner who offers to hold an extravagant banquet for Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei. The wedding banquet becomes a massive event with loads of people at the ceremony.

The ceremony ends up overwhelming Wai-Tung, Wei-Wei, and Simon as the party raged on afterwards where something happens that changes everything they have been planning for. With Mr. Gao’s health becoming more fragile, truths come out as the three young people figure out how to live this new life.

The film is about a gay man trying to please his family by marrying a woman so she can get her green card and he can get his parents off his back. What happens doesn’t turn out this way as the time with the Wai-Tung’s parents become much more intriguing forcing the three young people to think about their lives and future. While Wai-Tung and Wei-Wei marry for selfish reasons, they realize that their married life isn’t going to be as easy to do when his parents are around. Wei-Wei becomes sentimental and overwhelmed by the gifts Mrs. Gao gives her while Simon becomes fascinated by the parents including Mr. Gao whom he helps as a physical therapist.

The screenplay that Ang Lee, James Schamus, and Neil Peng create is one that is lively and as engrossing as it does a bit of exploration into gay life along with the idea of how families would react to the news of coming out. Since it takes place in the early 1990s when gay culture starts to become much more open, there is the struggle to come out along with the idea of a family featuring gays. Even as there’s dialogue where Mrs. Gao and Wei-Wei talk about the different roles of women in their generation and the same struggles they each have. The script is truly captivating in its study of family and culture along with the idea of what was considered to be very unconventional in terms of a family setting with these two people, a woman, and two gay men.

Lee’s direction is definitely potent in its presentation for the way he captures the chaos of the wedding banquet to the intimate settings in the townhouse Simon and Wai-Tung live in. Lee also creates some wonderful framing and compositions to the dramatic scenes without going being melodramatic or underplayed. The humor of the film is also very subtle without being too much as it’s presented in a more wild fashion for the banquet and after party scenes. While the mixture of humor and drama does make the film a bit uneven in its tone, Lee does create a fascinating yet touching film about family and acceptance.

Cinematographer Lin Jong does a great job with the colorful look of New York City in its exterior settings while creating a much vibrant yet straightforward look for the wedding banquet sequence. Editor Tim Squyres does a superb job with the editing in creating an array of stylish cuts for the film including dissolves and jump-cuts to create a lively movement for the film. Production designer Steve Rosenzweig, along with set decorator Amy Beth Silver and art director Amy Beth Silver, does an excellent job with the look of Wai-Tung and Simon‘s apartment with its clean look that is mixed with Asian artifacts along with the lavish look of the wedding banquet scene.

Costume designer Michael Clancy does a wonderful job with the costumes in the look of Wei-Wei’s wedding dress to the traditional thin dress she wears after the wedding. Sound editor Pamela Martin does a very good job with the sound to capture the intimacy of the apartment to the raucous world of New York City and the wedding banquet in all of its craziness. The film’s score by Mader is brilliant for its mix of traditional Asian music mixed in with soft orchestral arrangements to comical musical pieces to play up the film’s humor.

The casting by Judy Dennis is amazing for the ensemble that is created that includes cameos by director Ang Lee and his son Mason in the wedding scenes plus Vanessa Lang as a woman Wai-Tung is set up with early in the film, Yung-Teh Hsu as an old friend of Wai-Tung, and Tien Pien as a restaurant owner who knows Mr. Gao as he helps create the lavish wedding banquet. Ah Le Gua is wonderful as Wai-Tung’s mother who brings some humor to her maternal role along with a wonderful sentimentality in her scenes with May Chin about the young Wai-Tung. Sihung Lung is great as Mr. Gao, Wai-Tung’s father who observes everything that is happening while dealing with his own health problems as he gets to know Simon. May Chin is superb as Wei-Wei, an artist in need of a green card as meeting Wai-Tung’s parents make her think about her own family along with the unexpected relationship she has with Mrs. Gao whom she comes to think as a mother.

Mitchell Lichtenstein is excellent as Simon, an American who brings the idea for Wai-Tung to marry Wei-Wei so he can help win the approval of Wai-Tung’s parents. Instead, he unknowingly becomes part of the family while sharing his own sense of frustration and anguish over not being with Wai-Tung in an intense period. Winston Chao is brilliant as Wai-Tung, a business man trying to maintain his homosexuality while wining the approval of his parents. Chao brings a wonderfully understated yet real quality to a man who is in conflict while worrying how the truth would hurt his ailing father.

Xi Yan is a fun yet heartwarming comedy-drama from Ang Lee that features a superb cast along universal themes about family and acceptance. Fans of Lee’s work will no doubt see this as one of his finest films in its exploration of family and homosexuality that he would explore in later films. For fans of 90s gay cinema, this is one of the quintessential films as it is gives American audiences a chance to see a world that is very different but also exciting. In the end, Xi Yan is a warm yet sensational film from Ang Lee.

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lust, Caution

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/11/07 w/ Additional Edits.

In 2005, Taiwan-born director Ang Lee released Brokeback Mountain to the world and garnered a surprise reaction. The film about gay cowboys, drew rave reviews with critics as well as surprising smash in the box office along with a load of parodies all over the Internet. The film walked away with several Oscars nominations plus three wins including Best Director for Ang Lee. Despite the upset and controversial loss of Best Picture to Paul Haggis' race-relation drama Crash, Lee moved forward as he decides to return to his native Taiwan to create an espionage thriller that pushed the limits of his directing style entitled Se Jie (Lust, Caution).

Directed by Ang Lee based on Eileen Chang's story, the film tells the story of late 1930s/early 1940s Shanghai when a young woman plays spy in order to stop a man working with the Japanese only to be seduced by him. Reuniting with longtime collaborator and producer James Schamus who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Hui-Ling Wang, the film reveals Lee's moody, harrowing tale of passion and suspense. Starring Tony Leung Chui-Wai, Tang Wei, Lee-Hom Wang, Anupam Kher, and Joan Chen. Se Jie is an eerie, provocative spy drama that is also seductive and hypnotic from Ang Lee.

It's 1942 in Shanghai as a young woman named Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) under the guise of Mrs. Mak is playing mah-jong with Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) as she later goes to an English restaurant to make a phone call to Kuang Yu Min (Lee-Home Wang). Wong sits down to think about how she's gotten herself into this role as spy. Four years ago, she was just a young student in Hong Kong who is also an aspiring actress along with friend Liang Junsheng (Ko Yue-Lin). After a successful performance in a play directed by Kuang. Things seem to go great for the young students as Kuang suddenly gets an offer to help the Chinese resistance in their war against Japan. After making contacts with the resistance, Kuang decides to organize a plan to help the resistance in aiding the assassination of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chui-Wai), who is a high-ranking official working directly for a national traitor named Wang Jingwei.

Liang and Wong join Kuang with Wong playing the role of Mrs. Mak, the wife of an export-import salesman as she finds herself in the posh circle of Mrs. Yee. Rarely capturing a glimpse of Mr. Yee, they finally meet during a game of mah-jong as she helps him pick out clothes and such. Befriending the Yees became easy while she finds herself getting closer to the much-cautious Mr. Yee. Realizing that she might become a mistress of the man, she sacrifices her virginity in order to prepare for the role. Unfortunately, a chance to assassinate Mr. Yee fails thanks to Mr. Tsao (Chin Ka Lok) who destroyed their chance as things went awry with Wong leaving the team.

Three years later as she lives in Shanghai with her aunt and as a student learning Japanese, she meets Kuang who is now working directly for the secretive Chinese resistance. Kuang along with a spy named Wu (Ton Chung-Hua) who learned about her role. He gives her background files as Mrs. Mak where she would continue her role as another attempt to assassinate Mr. Yee was planned. Catching up with Mrs. Yee, she and Mr. Yee find themselves again in good company as eventually, a sexual-driven affair ensues. Realizing how close she is getting into her role, she starts to become confused by Mr. Yee's charms as their sexual affair troubles Kuang. Learning more of Yee's role, Wong realizes the dark position she's in as she suddenly finds herself in a comfortable, closer world that is a shock to the very guarded Mr. Yee. With the plan getting closer, it's all up to Wong to play her part as she becomes confused about her own loyalty.

While the film’s plot of a young spy trying to play her role while being seduced by her target is easy. The journey that screenwriters James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang take through Eileen Chang's short story is mesmerizing. In reality, the film is about performance and how it can distort things including loyalty. The film is not really a thriller or fits into any kind of period drama but rather a character study and the character that is the heart of the film is Wong Chia Chi. Her development from this shy, quiet young student who exudes the kind of ideal innocence anyone is startling from that to in the film’s beginning and third act, a woman who is confused by her role and morals.

It's a very complex character and so is the target in Mr. Yee. Here's a man who is indeed a villain but also human. Despite what he does for the Japanese, he comes home feeling somewhat detached by his own wife who enjoys her time shopping and playing mah jong. In Wong as Mrs. Mak, he finds the cure he needs for his loneliness and companionship.

Ang Lee's eerie, observant direction definitely harkens towards not just some of the provocative style of Italian auteur Bernardo Bertolucci and 1940s cinema but also the internal moral conflict of the late Ingmar Bergman. Lee's vision of China and its occupation by Japan in those times is true that includes a line of Mr. Yee being aware that Japan's day in the countries are numbered. Lee definitely gets a lot of things right in terms of the time while the atmosphere plays to how the Japanese and working-class Chinese are defined in their environment. Still, it's all about character as Wong and Mr. Yee try to figure out their own worlds while figuring out how to take their relationship away from the politics.

Then there's the film's sex scenes which have garnered the film the very-dreaded NC-17 rating in the U.S. Yes, the sex scenes between Tony Leung and Tang Wei are very graphic indeed. Lots of flesh are shown and such to the point it's almost real that will also lead questions into whether the sex was simulated or not. Sex scenes are often used as an excuse to show naked body parts but through Lee's direction. There's layers in those scenes to reveal the complex emotions of both Mr. Yee and Wong and how they react to each other. The sex is complementary to those emotions that even in their Kama Sutra-like positions, are wonderfully presented. While for a film that's 158-minutes long, there's a few issues in pacing that does drag a bit. Still, Lee's direction and his approach to the story is solid throughout as he's starting to become a real cinematic master.

Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who worked with Lee on Brokeback Mountain, brings some amazing colors to the camera with its bright, evocative shots of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and parts of Malaysia for many of the film's exquisite exterior scenes. Prieto's camera in the exterior scenes are very intimate with low-lights and colors to convey the dark atmosphere of the film, notably the sex scenes that are wonderfully shot without being too polished. Production designer Lai Pan along with a team of art directors do amazing work in recreating 1940s Shanghai with its restaurants, cars, and such including a scene in a Japanese restaurant that is jaw-dropping to watch. Editor Tim Squyres does some fascinating, meditative editing to convey the tension of the film as well as its suspense throughout its 158-minute running time despite a few pacing issues in some scenes.

Sound editor Phillip Stockton does some great work with the sound to convey the different atmospheres of poor China and Japanese-occupied Shanghai with its sound effects and tone. The music of Alexandre Desplat is very enchanting with its chiming, majestic orchestral score. Desplat brings a lot of grand arrangements to convey the film’s suspense and drama with a lot of subtlety. The music also plays to the times with piano music and such including a traditional pop song called A Singing Girl At The Edge Of The World that is performed onset by Tang Wei in an amazing scene at a Japanese restaurant.

The casting of the film is wonderfully assembled with small performances from Johnson Yuen, Ying-hsien Kao, Chih-ying Chu, and Ko Yue-Lin as Kuang's fellow students who are apart of the early organization in Mr. Yee’s assassination plot. Other small roles from Ton Chung-Hua as Wu, Indian actor Anupam Kher of Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham fame as a jeweler, and the incomparable Joan Chen as Mrs. Yee are brilliantly performed. Notably Chen as a charismatic, mah-jong playing wife who cracks jokes and manages to steal a few scenes. Chinese pop singer Lee-Home Wang is great as Kuang, a director and resistance soldier who worries about Wong's life while dealing with the role she has to play for him as his performance is superb.

Tony Leung Chui-Wai, who is known by many for his work with Wong Kar-Wai, is brilliant as the very guarded, cautious Mr. Yee. Leung brings a lot of subtlety and brutality to his role as the government official who seems to deal with the loneliness of his work while having a relationship that's a bit brutal but also fulfilling. Leung is really solid in his role while proving that behind every villain, there's some redeeming qualities in him. In a true breakout performance, Tang Wei is phenomenal as Wong Chia Chi. A very multi-layered performance full of complexity, Wei brings a mixture of innocence and passion in the film's early sequences while in the second act, she is full of charm and wonder as she deals with reality as well as Mr. Yee. By the end of the film, she is confused, very flawed, and also older as her performance is very layered as if she's performing within a performance.

The chemistry between Leung and Wei are amazing to watch as they perform together in scenes that are so hypnotic, it's almost as if they're acting in an old-school 1940s film. For the sex scenes, both actors expose themselves not just physically but emotionally as it's very erotic but also eerie to watch. With Leung being a man with little charm, he also manages to be very relaxed with Wei acting with him. Notably a scene in a Japanese restaurant as she sings an old Chinese song that is amazing to watch. Overall, the performances of Leung and Wei make the entire film worth watching.

While Se Jie isn't a perfect film, it's still a powerful, provocative period thriller from Ang Lee and company with brilliant performances from Tony Leung Chui-Wai and Tang Wei. While the film might have something to offer for art-house film buffs for its amazing acting, great set pieces, and its observant, eerie direction. It's a shame that the film is not being widely accepted by a mainstream audience. Then again, a film like this won't really work with a general audience for three reasons. One, it's 158-minutes with a meditative pacing that won't get everyone's attention. Two, it's in subtitles that will annoy a general portion of American audiences. Three and finally, it's NC-17 for its graphic sex scenes. Despite all of those issues, Se Jie is still a solid film from Ang Lee who continues to amaze audiences with such provocative topics and themes.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Brokeback Mountain

Originally Written and Posted at on 1/8/06 w/ Additional Edits.

Throughout the world of gay cinema in independent films, the subject of homosexuality has been explored throughout whether in its anarchistic view of Gregg Araki, the Douglas Sirk setting of Todd Haynes, or to the elliptical, harrowing viewpoint of Gus Van Sant. By the mid-90s, independent films was definitely a great area to explore homosexuality as most films about gays have always been praised through the independent film community. Then in the mid-90s, the controversial cartoon show South Park commented in an episode about a Sundance film festival of sorts comes to South Park where Eric Cartman has complained that, "independent films are those black and white hippy movies. They're always about gay cowboys eating pudding." Well, years later since that infamous episode, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's take on independent films has finally come true. A movie about gay cowboys... who don't eat any pudding called Brokeback Mountain.

Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a tale about two young men in the 1960s who work as ranchers as their feelings toward each other become something secretive. After years of separation and new wives, they would meet again for 20 years on as they come to term with their sexuality and feelings. Directed by acclaimed Taiwan director Ang Lee with a screenplay by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain is more than a gay cowboy movie but something more about the exploration of love when homosexuality was taboo. Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Anna Faris, Linda Cardellini, and Randy Quaid. Brokeback Mountain is a poignant, elegant drama from the prolific Ang Lee.

It's 1963 in Signal, Wyoming as two young men are looking for work at a ranch. A ranch boss named Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) comes in and hire the two men to run the herd of sheep into the mountains. Joe takes Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) to lead the pack as he is joined by a Texas boy named Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) where the two ride through the wave of mountains. While Jack is more outgoing about his dream to be a rodeo champion, Ennis prefers to keep things to himself. Immediately, the two work and work throughout the day watching the sheep and camping out. While Ennis hopes to use the work to raise money so he can marry his girlfriend Alma (Michelle Williams), he finds himself having good company with Jack as they drink and eat deer. Then during one cold night after a moment of drinking,  Jack lets Ennis sleep in his tent where things get really comfortable.

At first, it becomes a denial stage but their growing feelings for each other gets stronger as Ennis begins to open up more about how he was raised by his siblings. During their job, Joe begins to look very suspicious about the closeness of Ennis and Jack as the two end their stint and the ranch. The time for them also ends as Jack hopes to see him again soon. One year later, Ennis marries Alma while Jack tries to return to Wyoming to meet Ennis for a ranching stint but is rejected while Ennis doesn't make it. Jack returns home to Texas where he catches the eye of rodeo princess Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway) as the two wed and raise a son. While Jack has a nice life in Texas, Ennis' life with Alma and their two daughters Alma Jr. and Jenny has its good and bad moments. Then one day, Ennis receives a letter from Jack as he asks to visit.

Jack drives up to Wyoming and meets Ennis for the first time in four years where Alma begins to see the two doing things that they're not supposed to do as fishing buddies. Through the years, Jack and Ennis would see each other and talk about their own lives at home during their trips to the mountains while coming home to their wives. The trips though proved to be more and more troubling in the years on as Ennis' family life goes into chaos while Jack's sexual tendencies starts to get to him as during another trip, their relationship becomes more troubling to hide.

While there have been many tales of homosexual romance and the tragic consequences, Brokeback Mountain is a film that handles the troubling circumstances in the most poignant way that doesn't carry the need for any explosive dramatics. Much of that credit goes to Ang Lee for his observant and restrained approach to directing the film since he allows more intimacy between the characters. Especially in how the film's story is told from the early 1960s to the early 80s where homosexuality was taboo. While the film doesn't break ground in the ideas of homosexuality in those times, especially in places like Texas and Wyoming. The film shows all the troubles that goes on in two men's attempt in maintaining a natural, loving relationship.

With a fantastic script by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty, the film has a very interesting structure with the first act being these two young men meeting each other and falling in love while trying to claim in their words, "I ain't queer". The second act is where the film has a unique structure where it starts off the separate lives of Jack and Ennis and their relationships with their wives and children. The story moves back and forth to their own individual stories to the two coming together and talk about what's going on, especially a haunting story where Ennis reveals a thing he saw with his father. Then comes a very troubling third act where both men struggle with their sexuality and the different lives they lead outside of each other. Jack is more outgoing, content, and proud of who he is and where his life is as everything around him is great yet he wants more. He would wander off places and find things while Ennis' life is a lot harder and tougher since he keeps things to himself while trying to find something.

The direction by Ang Lee is exquisitely amazing since he aims for a natural feel and look to the film while his choice of locations are very inspiring, especially from those mountains where the film has an epic feel of sorts. Especially in its structure where he chooses to film an intimate moment without any music or everything else that's going on. Just a shot of these two men whenever they're talking or being silent. The ending of the film is pretty anti-climatic since the last shot just quiets everything down. It confirms the tragic nature of the film where the tragedy is the fact that despite these feelings for each other, Jack and Ennis couldn't be together because at that time, the idea of it is wrong. Especially in how Jack wants to and forget about what other people thinks yet "being queer" in places like Wyoming or in Texas  in those times will certainly get these men killed. Even by 201, in those areas despite the fact that people are more aware of homosexuality, homophobia still goes on today.

Helping Ang Lee in his epic vision is Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto who does amazing work in many of the film's exterior scenes from his shots of the mountains on day and night to the fields of the west. His cinematography truly captures the American heartland at its finest while doing wonderful work in many of the film's interior scenes. Production designer Judy Becker and art director Laura Ballinger do a great job in contrasting the worlds of Jack and Ennis were Jack's home life is clean with all the fine things Lureen's family have and the down-home world of Ennis. Especially in how Becker designs the home of Alma and Ennis where everything that is broken or missing is all over the place. Costume designer Marit Allen also does great work in the costumes for the men with their blue jeans and cowboy hats to the different style of clothing from the women. Editors Dylan Tichenor and Geraldine Peroni do great work in the film's editing with wonderful dissolve and fading cuts that helps the film move in its 134-minute pacing along with some wonderful sound work from Eugene Gerty for capturing the atmosphere of the mountains and fields.

The film's music which is done by composer Gustavo Santaolalla is wonderful subtle and melancholic with its mix of acoustic guitars, country textures, and orchestral arrangements that doesn't overplay the drama while adding tension to what is going on. It's one of the most memorable and poignant score pieces. The soundtrack which includes additional work from Marcelo Zarvos features cuts from the likes of Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, and Steve Earle that plays to the film's world of the American heartland.

Finally, we have the film's superb cast that includes fine performances from Kate Mara, Cheyenne Hill, and Hannah Stewart as Ennis' eldest daughter Alma Jr. along with Sarah Hyslop and Brooklynn Proulx as the youngest daughter Jenny. Other performances from Graham Beckel and Mary Liboiron as Lureen' parents, Roberta Maxwell and Peter McRobbie as Jack's parents are all wonderful including David Harbour as a friend of Lureen. Anna Faris does a wonderful, scene-stealing performance as a talkative friend of Lureen named LaShawn who represents that upper class world that Jack lives in. Linda Cardellini is also great as Cassie Cartwright who tries to understand Ennis amidst the chaos of his life as she realizes how introverted he is. Randy Quaid is also great as the tough, conservative Joe Aguirre who sees things that he thinks is wrong as he does wonderful work in the film's early scenes.

While it's a small role in some sense, Anne Hathaway does wonderful work as Jack's wife Lureen with her fast-living, rich lifestyle who provides a nice sense of comfort and companionship Jack needed though she is unaware of who he really is. While her performance is not entirely great when she is forced to wear a wig, Hathaway manages to pull off a memorable and convincing performance of a woman unaware of everything while being devoted to her husband. The film's best performance truly goes to Michelle Williams as Alma. Williams pulls off all the emotional punches of a woman who is in shock at what she sees and her reaction is heartbreaking. Williams pulls off all the troubles of what she does since her character doesn't know what to think or what to do which leads to the chaos that her husband will have to go through. In her many scenes with real-life boyfriend Heath Ledger, the two have great chemistry together as Williams brings a career-making performance.

Finally, we have Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger who both bring the performances of their young career as the two protagonists trying to fall in love in a world that is very in those times. The chemistry of the two is very natural along with the tension they bring in their frustration over the outcome of their relationship when their characters get older. Jake Gyllenhaal has the more showy performance as the more extroverted Jack Twist since he likes to do crazy things and get into risky situations while at home in Texas, he lives that life while maintaining control. Including one scene about his son should be raised where he reveals who is boss. Gyllenhaal deserves a lot of credit for his performance. Heath Ledger is the more introverted and troubled performance as a man who doesn't talk much while being haunted by things around that he doesn't want to reveal. Ledger pulls off all the anger and strictness of a man who has a hard time dealing with himself while disconnecting himself from those around him including his wife and children. It's two great performances for those two young actors.

Brokeback Mountain is a brilliantly poignant and heartbreaking film from Ang Lee with a wonderful film team and a cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, and Michelle Williams. While the film isn't groundbreaking to the works of Gus Van Sant or Todd Haynes, it's still one of the best love stories ever told. While it's likely that this film will or already inspire parody and in some cases, controversy. It's a movie that reveals on how far humanity has gone in the feeling of love between two men. It's a movie that must not be missed on how tragic the world was when everything seemed wrong as Ang Lee creates another great film in Brokeback Mountain.

(C) thevoid99 2011

The Ice Storm

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/21/04 w/ Additional Edits.

One of the more recent prolific directors in cinema, Taiwan-born Ang Lee has made films in his homeland whether it was the dramas Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet or the martial-arts masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yet, he's also ventured into the world of Hollywood with the Civil War drama Ride with the Devil, the Jane Austen adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, and more recently, a big-budget action flick with Hulk. In 1997, Lee goes to the early 1970s in America where the age of cynicism begins as the ideals of American family life begins to disintegrate based on a novel by Rick Moody entitled The Ice Storm.

Adapted into a script by producer James Schamus, The Ice Storm is a family drama about a man and wife whose perfectly good marriage disintegrates as the man has an affair with his neighbor while his wife is trying to find fulfillment in her boring role as a housewife. Meanwhile, their children begin to explore sexuality and angst while looking at the world through their own sense of cynicism around Thanksgiving in 1973. With its central characters trying to find something, they realize that what they seek isn't, as it seems when tragedy collides through one night on an icy storm. Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Jamey Sheridan, Henry Czerny, Allison Janney, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Adam Hann-Byrd. The Ice Storm is a brilliant, provocative drama from Ang Lee and company.

16-year old Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) is at a NYC prep school where he's become attracted to his classmate Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes).  Paul yearns to win her affections before his lothario roommate Francis (David Krumholtz) can.  Paul's family lives a small town in Connecticut as his parents Ben (Kevin Kline) and Elena (Joan Allen) are preparing for Thanksgiving with Paul set to return.  Paul's 14-year old sister Wendy (Christina Ricci) becomes intrigued by the Watergate scandal which prompts her to gain a cynical view on the world.  Ben and Elena eat dinner with Jim (Jamey Sheridan) and Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) where Elena begins to suspect something isn't right in her marriage in the way Ben eyes Janey.  Even as she begins to reminisce her own childhood when she saw Wendy ride a bike during a book sale where the local minister (Michael Cumpsty) attends.

Ben spends part of his time at work with rival George Clair (Henry Czerny) while his off-time sleeping with Janey while Wendy spends time with Janey's eldest son Mikey (Elijah Wood).  Mikey's younger brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd) is reaching adolescents as he blows up toys and discovering sex when Wendy tries to expose herself.  Wendy's time with Mikey eventually leads to trouble as Mikey becomes more aloof towards the world.  When Paul returns home for Thanksgiving, things become chaotic when Wendy spouts remarks towards the U.S. government during grace.  Elena learns that their friend Dot Halford (Allison Janney) is throwing a party the next day as she and Ben reluctantly attend.  Paul goes to New York City to attend a party Francis is holding as Libbets is there where things don't go well as Paul hopes for.

At the Halford party, Ben and Elena learn it's a key party as the Carvers also attend where Elena decides to get into the party where things unravel.  Wendy decides to go see Sandy while Mikey roams outside during the cold November night where a night of party and intrigue becomes tragic.

What makes The Ice Storm such a compelling film is Ang Lee's approach to storytelling. Taking Schamus' wonderfully structured screenplay, the film builds up to a certain momentum where by the second half when the Hoods go to the party is where everything begins it sense of deconstruction. While the film has a lot of sexuality, there isn't any nudity shown but it doesn't matter with this film since Lee is playing an outsider in trying to discover what drives these people into behaving the way they act. Is it the cynicism that is surrounded by the American government or the idea that the American dream and ideal is over? The film plays well with its morals and strange parallels in the scenes where Tobey McGuire's Paul characters is reading The Fantastic Four while comparing it to his own family life. Lee's breathtaking directing style works very well in each frame, notably the scene where Elijah Wood's Mikey is running around on the icy grass in slow motion. It's clearly one of the most masterful and evocative presentation in film.

Helping Lee in that breathtaking vision is cinematographer Frederick Elmes in capturing the evocative world of the 1970s with scenes of bike riding and notably the night scene of the ice storm itself with its idiosyncratic approach to lighting. Editor Tim Squyres also brings that same idiosyncratic style in the film's structure with its editing sequences where the film not only has a nice pacing but the way the scenes of its characters are moved back and forth. Production designer Mark Friedberg and art director Bob Shaw also help in the film with a grand, very detailed look of the 1970s with its furniture and appliances along with the waterbed. Costume designers Carol Oditz and Elizabeth Shelton also help out with the film's look with a great detail on the costumes and clothing in the film that really gives that 1970s authenticity.

Atom Egoyan's longtime composer Mychael Danna also shines with his eerie, melancholic film score with his use of morose piano sequences and eerie, evocative flute playing while music director Alex Steyermark shines with his soundtrack of the film that includes Elton John, Jim Croce, and many more including a haunting ballad from David Bowie redoing his song I Can't Read from his work with Tin Machine.

The film has a great cast overall with fine, small performances from Allison Janney, David Krumholtz and a sleazy one from Henry Czerny as Kline's rival. Michael Cumpsty also stands out as a minister where in the party scene, we see for what he really is which proves that no one in the film is safe. Katie Holmes shines in one of her early performances as Libbets with cute sexiness and the ability to play stoned. Jamey Sheridan is the film's most quiet performance as Sigourney Weaver's husband who is often gone in his life and yet, he gains sympathy during the party scene. Sheridan shines in his clueless role of husband and father while he and Joan Allen have great scenes together.

Adam Hann-Byrd also stands out as the more innocent but angst-ridden Sandy with his curious approach to his performance that is really amazing to watch. Elijah Wood is wonderful in a performance that marks a transition from child actor to a more determined young thespian as the more offbeat and quirky Mikey. Wood's stoned out performance represents as a young man who is trying to find more in life away from sex and family while presenting a distance from reality in a performance that is awe-struck. Christina Ricci also brings in a transitional performance by being a sexy cynic who tries to figure out sex and ways to anger her own parents in a performance that is intimidating yet enchanting. Tobey Maguire is excellent in his role as narrator along with the clueless family patriarch who doesn't know what goes on in his town in favor of his own desires. It's a great and mature performance from the young Maguire while proving himself as a gentlemen and dreamer.

Sigourney Weaver is wonderfully cold in an amazing performance as Janey Carver with her vivacious sexiness and an awful selfishness that is very complex. Weaver's character may have been the most unlikable but it's also the most intriguing as we see a woman who is trying to fulfill her own needs by having affairs while she begins to slip away from what is really important. This is truly one of Weaver's most enduring performances. Kevin Kline is also amazing as the bored, commanding father and husband who seeks to have this affair with Janey as if it's the greatest thing for his own sexual needs that isn't at home. Yet, his character begins to disintegrate in the party scene where Kline really shines in his dramatic stature.

The film's best performance goes to Joan Allen as Kline's anguished wife who is trying to find her own niche into the cynicism of the 70s. Allen brings a subtlety and calmness early in the film but by the second act, she makes her character sympathetic but not a martyr as she tries to explore her own sexual needs while trying to deal with what's going on with her children and the world around her. It's a great performance from the always, underrated veteran actress.

The Ice Storm is a compelling film from Ang Lee thanks to Lee's eerie direction, James Schamus' Cannes Film Festival award-winning script, a dedicated crew, and a superb cast. In many ways, The Ice Storm wasn't just a film of the 1970s but also what was going on in the late 1990s where the dysfunctions of families become more evident and later in 1999; Sam Mendes' American Beauty will fulfill the boredom of suburbia. The credit really goes to Lee, Schamus, and novelist Rick Moody for capturing the world of American culture in its decline through cynicism and angst in the 1970s when everything begins to go wrong. The Ice Storm is one film not to be missed.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sense & Sensibility (1995 film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/2/09 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Still popular for many years, the novels of Jane Austen has been ready by countless readers throughout the years. One of Austen's most popular novels is her first published novel called Sense & Sensibility released in 1811. The novel tells the story of two sisters who fall in love and deal with heartbreak while moving to a home as their left destitute when their father gives his estate to their half-brother. The book has been acclaimed by many readers though a film adaptation has been attempted for several years. While a 1981 TV serial was the first attempt some acclaim, it would be another adaptation in 1995 that would help create a new wave of film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels as the famed novelist would gain a new generation of fans through both books and film adaptations.

The 1995 film version of Sense & Sensibility tells the story of three sisters and a mother left destitute due to an inheritance deal as they move to a cottage with their relatives. Two sisters would fall in love and deal with heartbreak as their lives would change. Helming the film adaptation is Taiwan-born director Ang Lee, who had just come off the critical acclaim of his third film Eat Drink Man Woman as he makes his first Hollywood-style production. Writing the adaptation is actress Emma Thompson who takes on the role of Elinor Dashwood. Also starring Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Greg Wise, Gemma Jones, Imelda Staunton, Robert Hardy, Hugh Laurie, Imogen Stubbs, and Tom Wilkinson. Sense & Sensibility is a charming, dramatic, and wonderfully humorous film from Ang Lee.

After hearing his the last request of his dying father (Tom Wilkinson), John Dashwood (James Fleet) gets his inheritance only if he would take care of his stepmother (Gemma Jones) and his three half-sisters.  Unfortunately, John's wife Fanny (Harriet Waller) has ideas of her own forcing Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie Francois) out of their estate and a small inheritance which isn't enough.  Fanny's brother Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grants) makes a visit as he befriends Elinor and Margaret as he helps them gather their things much to Fanny's chagrin.   Moving to a cottage that is owned by Mrs. Dashwood's cousin Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and his wife (Elizabeth Spriggs), the Dashwood women are invited to tea where Colonel Christopher Brandon (Alan Rickman) makes a visit as he becomes smitten by Marianne during a piano performance.

With Brandon befriending Marianne and Elinor longing for Edward, who remains in London and manages to mail Margaret's atlas book, Marianne walks with Margaret as they meet John Willoughby (Greg Wise) whom Marianne falls for.  Brandon holds a picnic with Mrs. Jenning's daughter Charlotte (Imelda Staunton) and her husband Mr. Palmer (Hugh Laurie) as their cousin Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs) attend.  Yet, the picnic is abruptly cancelled when Brandon had to go to London that only furthers Marianne's attraction to Willoughby who also has to go to London to meet with his aunt Lady Allen.  The distraught Marianne gets upset until an invite from the Palmers to go to London with Lucy and Mrs. Jennings has her wanting to see Willoughby while Eilnor reluctantly goes to London to accompany Marianne.  

During their trip to London, Marianne learns some news that devastates her while Col. Brandon reveals to Elinor about Willoughby.  Elinor also meets Edward already knowing about his secret engagement to Lucy, which eventually gets revealed putting Edward in trouble until Col. Brandon makes a deal for Edward that he couldn't refuse.  Returning to Devonshire with the Palmers and Col. Brandon, the Dashwoods stay at the Palmers where Marianne becomes ill prompting Elinor to ponder if she and her sister will ever find happiness.

One of the key traits of Jane Austen's novels is strong female protagonists. In this story, we have two in Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Two sisters both mourning the death of their father and having to lose their home to their selfish, greedy sister-in-law. When they each encounter suitors who might seem fine for them only to realize something more complicated in their own lives. They face heartbreak and such while it's the bond between Elinor and Marianne that is unique. Emma Thompson, who is a devoted fan of Austen's novels, does a fantastic job with the adaptation in taking on what is needed for the story and such. Though with all adaptation, it's not perfect due to what details that are cut and such. Still, Thompson captures the heart of the story and its characters.

Thompson's screenplay is filled with plot structure and plot points that carry the story as it transitions from this lightly-humored story to something more dramatic. From its opening scene of the dying Mr. Dashwood telling his son to take care of Mrs. Dashwood and his half-sisters. Once the audience is introduced to Fanny, it's clear that the Dashwood women will be in trouble. When audiences get to know Elinor, it's clear she's kind of the head of the family who is organizing things and taking care of everyone. Including her mother, who is grieving, and her youngest sister Margaret who is adventurous and finds comfort in the likes of Edward and Col. Brandon. Marianne is a young woman who is just being helpful until she comes across Willoughby as she becomes lovesick over him. When Willoughby is forced to break off the relationship due to troubling circumstances and is forced to fend off Marianne. She becomes heartbroken and distraught only to go into illness when she walks towards Willoughby's home in the rain.

While Austen has been known for creating stories with strong women, there's always men in her stories that are just as complex. Edward Ferrars arrives as a man who is shy and at times, stutters when he's nervous yet provides a sense of charm and wit that Margaret enjoys and something comforting for Elinor. Yet, when it's revealed that he's engaged to someone else. He has no idea how to say all of this because he deeply cares for Elinor but doesn't want to hurt her or Lucy. Yet, Ferrars is a man that is certainly a joy to watch with flaws and all while revealing that he's just someone into simple things.

The character of Colonel Brandon is seen as a melancholic, morose man who had lost a great love in his life years ago and seems disconnected to some degree. The moment he hears Marianne sing and sees her play, it's as if he is awaken as it's love at first sight for the middle-aged army colonel. Becoming fully attentive to her needs and giving her flowers and such. It all goes well until the appearance of Willoughby where he finds himself competing with the younger, more dashing man. Brandon nearly concedes until learning what Willoughby had done as he focuses his sole attention towards Marianne.

Thompson's screenplay is rich with its development of characters and broad, light humor. Nearly every character gets a chance to shine whether it is through humor or drama. Helming all of this is Taiwanese director Ang Lee in his first English-language film debut. An outsider like Lee in doing a 19th Century period piece might seem like it could go wrong. Instead, Lee's straightforward direction with rich compositions, wide shots, and intimate scenery is mesmerizing in everything he captures. Even in allowing the humor to be well-played with such subtlety and the drama being restrained for the most part except in a few scenes. Lee also creates a great mix of humor and melancholia in a few scenes. Notably a scene in which Margaret, Marianne, and Mrs. Dashwood are all in their rooms crying with Elinor sitting on the stairs listening to them.

The way Lee captures those scenes along with the dramatic moment that includes long, wide shots of these hills and mountains of the English countryside. In other dramatic moments at the cottage that the Dashwood women live in, Lee knows when to pull the camera away for unique compositions and scenery as if he knows not to impose on the characters in these emotional moments. Lee also creates unique shots like a crane shot on a party scene from the inside or a shot from the ceiling to see what is happening. The creative compositions Lee creates along with his staging of the drama is purely rich and intoxicating in every scene he creates. It's a testament to his talent as he's regarded as one of cinema's great directors.

Cinematographer Michael Coulter does fantastic work with the film's cinematography from the gorgeous, exterior rainy day shots of the English countryside to the days of sunshine where it's done with little tricks and such. The interior scenes are truly majestic and dream-like to the period setting at hand. From the sepia-like candlelight shots of the nighttime exteriors to the shading of light through the windows. Coulter's work is magnificent in its atmosphere and devotion to the period in its look. Lee's longtime editor Tim Squyres does excellent work with the film's editing in the use of dissolve transitions and straight cuts to give the film a leisurely pace that isn't too slow. Squyres plays to the rhythm of the drama and humor with his cutting while moving the film from scene to scene with such ease without losing its rhythm and pace.

Production designer Luciana Arrighi along with set decorator Ian Whittaker and art directors Philip Elton and Andrew Sanders do an amazing job in the look of the estates and cottages of 19th Century England with its tables, appliances, and such. Even the huge atlas book that Margaret is fond of is well-made along with other little details including carriages. The art direction overall is superb in its authenticity including the costume design by Jenny Beaven and John Bright. The costumes from the suits the men wear with top hats and coats to the dresses the women wear from the simpler to the more lavish. The costume design is purely splendid in its detail and look. Sound editor Steve Hamilton does a great job in the sound work from the nature-like atmosphere of the countryside to the more busy, chaotic sounds of London. Even the interior scenes from the sounds of the floor to the clinks of tea are all masterfully captured.

The film's score by Patrick Doyle is wonderfully subtle and rich with its arrangements of piano-driven flourishes to more orchestral, broader sounds to play up the film's drama. Doyle's score is truly majestic while includes some traditional piano pieces played by Winslet who also sings in the film.

The casting by Michelle Guish is phenomenal in the casting of nearly every part of the film. From small appearances from Lone Vidahl as Lady Grey, Allan Mitchell as Mrs. Jennings' butler Pigeon, Oliver Ford Davies as Dr. Harris, and as the Dashwood women's loyal servants, Isabelle Amyes as Betsy and Ian Brimble as Thomas. Other notable performances from Richard Lumsden as Robert Ferrars and Tom Wilkinson in a small but memorable appearance as Mr. Dashwood are excellent. Small but memorable performances from Imelda Staunton as Charlotte Jennings Palmer and Hugh Laurie as her annoyed husband Mr. Palmer are funny with Laurie being all deadpan in his humor. Robert Hardy as Sir Middleton and Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings are also funny for their lavish personalities as they say the wrong things yet bring laughs in nearly every scene they're in.

James Fleet is good as John Dashwood, the half-brother who inherits everything while Harriet Waller is brilliant as the scheming, snobbish Fanny who wants everything for herself. Imogen Stubbs is wonderful as Lucy Steele, Edward Ferrars' secret fiancee who befriends Elinor though her intentions are good and just wants to be part of a family. Greg Wise is excellent as Willoughby, the dashing young man who falls for Marianne only to be hindered by his own troubles and later, rejecting her. Emilie Francois is great as Margaret, the youngest Dashwood girl who has a love of adventure and exploration as she has some great scenes with Hugh Grant doing some pretend sword fighting. Gemma Jones is good as Mrs. Dashwood, the grieving widow who is living with her daughters while dealing with some of Elinor's judgements over Willoughby and her fears for her daughters' future.

Hugh Grant is extraordinary as Edward Ferrars, the shy, stuttering man who falls for Elinor but deals with his loyalty towards Lucy while hoping for a simple life. Grant's subtlety and light, comic-timing is perfect for the character who is flawed but honorable as it's masterfully performed with such restraint from Hugh Grant. Alan Rickman, known to American audiences in villain-like roles as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and the complex Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, is amazing as the melancholic, middle-aged Colonel Brandon. Rickman's restrained performance is a marvel to watch as he pines for Marianne and being attentive to her needs while forced to watch in the sidelines as she falls for Willoughby. Rickman is a real surprise as he has great scenes with both Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet while being the man that every woman needs in terms of loyalty and attention.

In one of her pre-Titanic film roles, Kate Winslet is phenomenal as Marianne. The innocent, lovesick young lady who deals with her first love and heartbreak over Willoughby only to find comfort in Col. Brandon shows Winslet in one of her great performances. Filled with humor, charm, and melodrama, it's a performance from a young actress who would later become a force in the years to come as it has Winslet showing her talents that rank up there with veterans like Thompson and Rickman. Emma Thompson is superb as Elinor Dashwood, the elder sister who is trying to take care of things while falling for the young Edward Ferrars. Thompson's subtle, hardened performance is one of the actresses great roles as she rarely displays any heavy emotions until the third act. It's a magnificent performance from the great actress who rarely gives bad performances as she displays herself with dignity and grace.

Released in late 1995, the film drew rave reviews as it was also a modest box office hit. The film garnered several nominations for the Academy Awards with a surprise win for Emma Thompson in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. The film also helped raise Ang Lee's profile as he officially arrived in Hollywood where he would have a career with several critical hits and landmark films for the years to come. The film also helped mark a new revival in the works of Jane Austen which was also helped by Amy Heckerling's adaptation of Emma in the hit teen-comedy Clueless released earlier that summer.

Sense & Sensibility is a majestic, charming, and remarkable film from Ang Lee featuring a superb cast led by Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. Fans of Jane Austen's work, whether in film or books, will enjoy the story as it's true to what Austen had envisioned. For Ang Lee, this film is truly one of his essential masterworks with such films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and The Ice Storm proving his versatility in stories and cinematic style. In the end, Sense & Sensibility is a film that is entertaining with such grace and style from the mind of Ang Lee, screenwriter Emma Thompson, and its novelist Jane Austen.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Eat Drink Man Woman

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/3/09 w/ Additional Edits.

After a couple of acclaimed films with 1992's Pushing Hands and 1993's The Wedding Banquet, the Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee was clearly becoming one of the new rising directors in the Asian film scene. Though both films were shot in the U.S. and got considerable attention, Lee was considering to go back to his native Taiwan for his third film. While his previous films dealt with alienation and homosexuality, themes he would explore in later films. His third film was a personal tale about a semi-retired chef dealing with the death of his wife, his loss of smell, and the lives of his three adult daughters. The film is entitled Yin shi nan nu (Eat Drink Man Woman).

Directed by Ang Lee with a script he co-wrote with longtime collaborator James Schamus and Wang Hui-Ling. Yin shi nan nu tells the story of a semi-retired chef dealing with the changes in his life while losing his sense of taste, dealing with the death of his wife many years ago, aging, and his three daughters growing up. Meanwhile, his three daughters face their own personal ventures in life as they each deal with love in a different way as well as their own goals. Starring Sylvia Chang, Sihung Lung, Yu-wen Wang, Chien-lien Wu, and Kuei-mei Yang. Yin shi nan nu is a wonderful, enchanting film from Ang Lee.

Semi-retired chef Chu (Sihung Lung) is making a feast for Sundy dinner with his three daughters. His eldest daughter Jia-Jen (Kuei-mei Yang) is a school teacher who is also a Christian as she is unattached following a broken heart nine years earlier. His second daughter Jia-Chen (Chien-lien Wu) works as an airline executive making deals and such while has a casual affair with her ex-boyfriend Raymond (Lester Chit-Man Chang). His youngest daughter Jia-Ning (Yu-wen Wang) is a college student who works at a fast food restaurant with Rachel (Yu Chen) while often meeting Rachel's boyfriend Guo Lun (Chao-Jung Chen), who is always waiting outside. During dinner, Jia-Chen makes an announcement about getting an apartment while making subtle criticism over the food believing her father has lost his taste buds. Chu tries not to be angry but is called upon by his colleague Old Wen (Jui Wang) to come in and make dinner for the governor's son at the wedding.

While Chu is out, his divorced neighbor Jin-Rong (Sylvia Chang) arrives with her daughter Shan-Shan (Yu-Chien Tang) as she is friends with Jia-Jen as they talk about things changing in their lives. With Jin-Rong's mother Mrs. Liang (Ah Lei Gua) set to return from the U.S., Jin-Rong feels like her mother is going to interfere though she finds comfort coming to Chu who treats her like a fourth daughter and Shan-Shan like a granddaughter whose food he makes for her are a hit at her school. With Chu still coming in to a kitchen he works on occasionally, the lives of his three daughters start to change. Jia-Jen finds herself being attracted to the new school gym teacher named Ming-Dao (Chin-Cheng Lu) while Jia-Chen meets a new co-worker in Li Kai (Winston Chao). Jia-Ning starts to hang out with Guo Lun as an attraction develops. Then when Old Wen becomes ill, things start to unravel in the lives of Chu and his daughters while changes occur for Jia-Jen through love letters and Jia-Chen getting a promotion.

Mrs. Liang becomes attracted to Chu, Chu has other problems to deal with while Jia-Chen's time with Li Kai reveals a story that might relate to Jia-Jen. During a dinner conversation in which Jia-Ning reveals some big, life-changing news, Jia-Jen has a conversation with Jia-Chen about her former boyfriend that reveals to be Li Kai. Li Kai is being confronted by Jia-Chen as he reveals something that Jia-Chen has trouble believing. With Chu's life filled with changes and overwhelmed, he finds himself hanging out with Mrs. Liang as Jia-Chen begins to make decisions of her own life as well as what she really wanted to do. Even as both Jia-Ning and Jia-Jen are having some breakthrough moments in their love lives as a big feast involving their lovers and extended families has Chu making a grand announcement of his own.

The film is about many themes yet all of this comes together in a weekly feast where people gather hopefully to talk to each other about their problems and such. Yet, there's always an event for announcement for families member and such. What the film is about really is life changing through a man and his three daughters as they each face through crisis of identity, aging, ambitions, and love. The script Ang Lee, James Schamus, and Wang Hui-Ling definitely revels into many themes while the story gives each character as well as the Jin-Rong character some stories for each of them to unveil. Yet, the core story is about Chu and his daughters. For Chu, still mourning the loss of his wife as well as feeling disconnected from his daughter has caused him to lose his sense of taste.

At the same time, unable to communicate through his daughters in even a simple conversation, he uses his mastery in the art of cooking in creating lavish meals with great detail despite the loss of his taste sense. He goes to Old Wen for conversations as it's often through alcohol as Chu as they talk about many things. When things in his life starts to unravel, he finds some comfort in making lunches for Shan-Shan in secrecy though Jin-Rong finds out that Chu had been eating the lunches she made for Shan-Shan with amusement. When Mrs. Liang arrives, he often has to hear her talk as everything she says is with lots of criticism about this and that in a motor-mouth manner.

While there isn't much development in some of the minor characters, they do get moments to shine including Mrs. Liang as the focus is on Chu and his daughters. Jia-Chen has the biggest story as her original ambitions was to be a master chef but fell by the wayside to become an airline executive. That loss of original ambition and her notice by her father's diminished sense of taste has caused tension between her and her father. While she has inherited his cooking talents as well as his attention to detail, she also has her late mother's stubbornness. She is unattached to anyone only to engage in a casual relationship with Raymond until she finds herself attracted to Li Kai, who also shares her frustrations in working as an executive. Jia-Chen's story arc is the one with the most interesting development as she sees and hears things about her own family that troubles her. All of this forces her to question her own life and ambitions as well as the decision to take a promotion far away from her family.

Though the story arcs of Jia-Jen and Jia-Ning aren't as big as Chu and Jia-Chen, they each get enough moments and depth for the audience to be interested in. Jia-Jen is a repressed woman who believes she will be the one to take of her father in the long run while devoting her life to being a Christian. When she meets Ming-Dao, sparks happen that is increased by a series of love letters while some truths about what happened to her nine years ago are unveiled through an outside source. Ming-Dao represents the man who can pull her out of her repressed persona while Jia-Ning is a just a young woman going through a growing phase. Meeting Guo Lun every time she steps out of work leads to one through another as it leads to a series of moments where she is unaware that she stole the boyfriend of a co-worker. This also leads to another life-changing event of her own that would make her the first to leave the family household.

Lee's subtle, enchanting direction is truly mesmerizing in its location shots of Taipei and all that is going on. The film moves leisurely yet he uses transitions and such to make sure how much time has moved on. At the same time, he keeps the camera moving with steadicam shots where the audience walks through the tense, chaotic kitchen that Chu occasionally works on. At the same time during the feasts, the camera moves for dramatic effect to add momentum to what effect the scene is going to have. Lee clearly gets to do more technically while having time to let the acting and drama unfold with some humor added to the mix. When Lee focuses on the food that is made throughout the film, there's a something magical that goes on that keeps the viewer very attentive without losing insight to the story. Lee's overall direction is truly intoxicating in every frame he captures every scene with such beauty as he creates a film that is dazzling.

Cinematographer Jong Lin does excellent work with the gorgeous, exterior look of Taipei at night while the day time, in its varied look in weather, also has something that is colorful. Lin's shots of Taipei truly is amazing as it's a very different world from the typical Asian cities in Japan and China. The interior shots are also great, notably the nighttime feasts where it's colorful but also straightforward as Lin's work is superb. Lee's longtime editor Tim Squyres does fantastic work with the editing in the use of smooth transitions, dissolves, jump-cuts, and mostly, fade-outs to help move the film from one time transition to another. Squyres also does great work in the use of repetition to give the film a day-to-day to feel to convey the idea of time moving on as Squyres' work is phenomenal.

Production designer Fu-Hsiung Lee does great work in the look of the place that Chu works for as well as the school that Jia-Jen works at and the home of Chu. Chu's home is definitely filled with a lot of space and a backyard that he houses chickens and such while his kitchen is definitely filled with lots of things. Costume designer Wen-Chi Chen does excellent work with the costumes from the more conservative look of Jia-Jen, the casual look of Jia-Ning, and the modern look of Jia-Chen. Another notable costume comes in the more lavish look of Mrs. Liang who wears these dresses that expressive her large personality. Sound editor Steve Hamilton does fine work with the sound to capture the chaos of the kitchen and exuberance of the school that Jia-Jen works at. Music composer Mader brings a unique yet whimsical score from traditional, Asian music to play to its drama while playing a more piano-driven, Latin-like melody for some of the film's humor and as accompaniment to the Mrs. Liang character.

The cast is excellent with many of them appearing in Lee's previous films. Small but memorable roles from Chuen Wang as Jia-Chen's boss, Shih-Jay Lin as the boss' son, Man-Sheung Tin as the restaurant manager that Chu and Old Wen work at, and Yu Chen as Jia-Ning's co-worker Rachel. Other notable small roles like Lester Chit-Man Chang as Jia-Chen's ex-boyfriend Raymond and Yu-Chien Tang as Shan-Shan are memorable with Tang bringing lots of joy in her scenes. Chin-Cheng Lu and Chao-Jung Chen are excellent as the respective suitors of Jia-Jen and Jia-Ning with Lu as the more charming Ming-Dao and Chen as the melancholic, book-reading Guo Lun. Jui Wang is great as Old Wen who assists Chu at the kitchen hall while being an uncle of sorts to Chu's daughters. Winston Chao is really good as Li Kai, an airline executive who befriends Jia-Chen while carrying some things in his past as he sympathizes with Jia-Chen over the boredom of working at an airline.

Sylvia Chang is fantastic as Jin-Rong, a single mother finalizing a divorce while always turning to Chu for advice while dealing with her motor-mouth mother's criticisms and overbearing advice. Ah Lei Gua is great in a small role as Mrs. Liang, Jin-Rong's mother who likes to talk and talk about anything while trying to nab Chu for herself. Yu-wen Wang is very good as Jia-Ning, the youngest daughter who works at a Wendy's dealing with school and her first real love as she comes to term with the changes in her life. Kuei-mei Yang is excellent as Jia-Jen, the oldest daughter turning to Christianity for balance while falling for a gym teacher who helps loosen her up as she finds freedom from her duties at home. Chien-lien Wu is phenomenal as Jia-Chen, the middle daughter dealing with all of the things that are going on in her life. Wu's performance is really the standout as she encompasses all of the drama that goes on as her character tries to have her own life only to realize how much is changing around her family.

Sihung Lung is brilliant as Chu, the master chef who is dealing with things in his life that are troubling him. The death of his wife many years ago, the loss of artistry in cooking food, his sense of taste, and his own daughters. Lung's performance is full of life when he is playing cook to the young Shan-Shan whose lunches he makes become a hit at her school. Even as he plays a great listener to the ongoing jabbering of Mrs. Liang as Lung is really the heart and soul of the film.

Released in 1994, the film was a huge hit with critics while becoming a hit in the art house film circuit. Its acclaim helped the film receiving Foreign-Language film nominations at the Golden Globes and Academy Award. Ang Lee meanwhile, was asked to direct an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Sense & Sensibility for its star and screenwriter Emma Thompson which he did next. In 2001, a remake of Yin shi nan nu was released as Tortilla Soup starring Hector Elizondo, Elizabeth Pena, Paul Rodriguez, Jacqueline Obradors, Constance Marie, and Raquel Welch that received a decent reception from critics and audiences.

Yin shi nan nu is a enjoyable, intoxicating, and heartwarming film from Ang Lee and company. Led by a superb cast including Sihung Lung and Chien-lien Wu, it's a film that delves into various themes that audiences can relate to while salivating the dishes that are made throughout. Fans of Ang Lee will no doubt put this as one of his best films that stands up among his other revered films like Sense & Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain. In the end, for a film that has universal themes of aging, values, and ambitions with a side of some tasty dishes that will make anyone's mouth watering. Yin shi nan nu is the film to see from the great Ang Lee.

(C) thevoid99 2011