Posts Tagged ‘radha mitchell’


Does anybody remember this effort from first-time writer/director Scott Walker (not to be confused with the musical genius of the same name) hitting theaters at all? I sure don’t, and even though my memory is nowhere near what it once was — basically because I’m learning over time to just plain forget shit I don’t care about — I think I’d have at least some dim recollection of a serial killer flick starring semi-A-list talent like Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Vanessa Hudgens (and featuring supporting turns from the likes of Radha Mitchell and Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris) playing at the multiplexes in my area if, indeed, it ever did so. Hell, it sounds like the kind of thing I might even go see.

In any case, my best bet is that the 2013 release date attached to The Frozen Ground is a home video release date, because the only actual information I can glean about this film’s box office take from IMDB is some shit about how much business it did in the Netherlands, which is probably the only place where it was released on the big screen. I’m not sure I’d choose to play it that way if I were one of the producers and financiers of this thing given it cost a reported $27 million to make, but whatever. Not my call. Let’s just assume, then, that this was, for all intents and purposes, a DTV feature by the time it came out, even if it didn’t start out as one . Sound fair?


Granted, whether or not any particular movie ever played theaters shouldn’t have any sort of effect on how we judge its relative merits, but who are we kidding here? I flat-out expect less from straight-to-DVD numbers than I do from theatrical releases, and I’m betting that you do, as well. Which is what makes a fair-minded analysis of Walker’s flick so difficult, because as a medium-budget theatrical release it’s certainly no great shakes, but as a bigger-budget DTV feature, it’s actually not too bad.

Fair warning, though : if you’re bored to death by police procedurals, The Frozen Ground won’t do much for you. We know the identity of the killer from the outset (it’s Cusack, doing a reasonably good job portraying infamous Alaska serial murderer Robert Hansen, which is not a name I’d ever want to give a kid being another Robert Hansen was also America’s most notorious modern-day turncoat spy), so the main focus here is on how Cage, in his role as state trooper Jack Halcombe, brings him in with the aid of the psycho’s only known escapee, streetwise prostitute Cindy Paulson (Hudgens). Oh, and while Halcombe’s on the hunt for Cindy to give him a positive ID on her assailant, Hansen himself and a paid lackey are hot on her trail as well, trying to silence her permanently before she can squeal.


Sound familiar? I thought so. It may be based on a true story, but in essence The Frozen Ground is Vice Squad meets Alaska State Troopers. And that brings up the problem of unfortunate comparisons because, solid as Cusack is (and so is everyone else if I gotta be completely honest — even Cage, who has mailed it in time and time again in too many higher-profile-efforts-than-this-one to mention), he ain’t no Wings Hauser. If you’ve never seen Ramrod’s harrowing pursuit of Princess in Gary Sherman’s uber-sleazy 1982 exploitation classic for yourself, then the menace oozing from this flick will probably be enough, but if you have, well — nothing else is ever going to measure up, is it?



True crime fans will, needless to say, probably find a bit more to like here than the average movie-goer, but some reasonably compelling performances, gorgeous Alaska shooting locales (even though that state’s been done to death in recent years, particularly on “reality” TV) and a decent number of entirely-expected-but-nonetheless-well-handled twists and turns make for a pleasant enough time being exposed to a pretty fucking unpleasant story. Like I say, if I’d shelled out 8 or 10 bucks (ore more, given today’s prices) to see this thing in a theater I’d have left feeling somewhat underwhelmed, but given that I caught it on Netflix (sorry, no DVD or Blu-Ray specifications included with this review), I was fairly satisfied with everything as a whole. That might not constitute the most overwhelming endorsement by any means, but if you’re in the mood for something that’s just sorta “good enough,” you could certainly do a lot worse than this.

"The Crazies" (2010) Movie Poster

I really — and I mean really — don’t want to compare director Breck (“Sahara”) Eisner’s new remake of  1973 independent exploitation horror classic “The Crazies” with Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. It’s just too obvious. But then, the parallels are too blatant to ignore. And not just because they’re both based on George Romero films.

First off, like “Dawn,” the fact is that “The Crazies” just didn’t need to be remade. The original is as fresh, exciting, and relevant as ever. Sure, Viet Nam is no longer a contemporary issue, but substitute Iraq or Afghanistan vets for the lead characters in the original, and all the issues end up being the same. Biowarfare, massive paranoia in the populace, government fuck-ups and subsequent government cover-ups, and excessive state secrecy — the main political themes in the original are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1973 — hell, moreso.

Secondly, like Snyder’s “Dawn,” this isn’t, on the surface, a bad remake. It’s stylish, exciting, suitably grisly (although, also like the 2004 “Dawn,” not so grisly that it would only appeal to horror fans — this is definitely a mainstream flick not intended solely for a genre audience), competently acted for the most part, suspenseful, and a fun and gripping ride.

Thirdly, it’s respectful to the original premise without being a tired rehash. The basic set-up is the same — plane carrying a biowarfare agent code named “Trixie” crashes down in a small rural locale (this time the fictional town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, rather than Evans City, Pennsylvania — again, as with “Dawn” 2004, Romero’s story gets transplanted to the midwest), but the characters have the same names and that’s about it, the focus here being  solely on David (Timothy Olyphant) his wife  Judy (Radha Mitchell) , and David’s best friend Russell (Joe Anderson) trying to both escape and learn what it is that they’re escaping from.

On paper, this should work. The original paid as much attention to the action from the point of view of the military as it did to the plight of its nominal protagonists. And while Romero was able to pull of this juggling act with his usual supreme skill, in point of fact the idea of a small confused group of principal characters who are in the dark as to what is going on so that we learn the truth of events at the same pace they do is, technically speaking at least, better and more gripping in terms of pure plotting.

As always, though, it all comes down to execution, and the creative choices made by the filmmakers along the way.

The “Trixie” virus itself operates in essentially manner as the 1973 film, inflicting loopy behavior followed by violent homicidal madness followed by death. The folks fighting it, though — that’s where the main difference between the two films is to be found, and it has profound implications for exactly what type of movie this remake is.

In Romero’s original, Dave and Russ are Viet Nam vets back in their home town, trying to adjust to a society they no longer quite understand. They’re blue collar guys trying to find their way in a country that has used them up and spit them back out. David’s girlfriend ( or, as the new version would have it, wife) is also blue collar, working as she does as a small town nurse. They are quite literally nothing to the political and economic establishment, outsiders to the system trying to eke out a means of basic survival within it.

In the 2010 version, though, that’s all changed — and with it, so has the tone of the film itself, at least from a political standpoint. You see, this time around, David is the local sheriff, Russell is his long-serving trusty deputy, and Judy is the town doctor. Our heroes, therefore, are no longer outsiders fighting against a murderous virus unleashed by a murderous establishment that’s trying to use a murderous military to clean up their mess — our heroes are yuppie system insiders who used to be part of the establishment but now are expendable to it since said establishment is out to use its military to clean up its mess.

In a way, this shift in focus is somewhat tolerable, in that it shows that the system is more than willing to eat its own to cover up for its excesses and/or incompetence, but on the whole, it’s a pretty serious cop-out compared to Romero’s original vision, because it the message in the 1973 version is that the system is rotten, corrupt, evil, and homicidal and can only be successfully fought by those outside it. The new version, though, sends an altogether different message — yes, the system is rotten, corrupt, evil, and homicidal, and yes, it will even turn on its own, but brave and courageous souls within the system itself can fight it. In Romero’s film, the system was co-opted from top to bottom and rotten to the core. In Eisner’s new version, the system is out to destroy innocent lives, sure, but our best chance for salvation comes from within its very ranks.

Another key difference between the films is that in Romero’s flick, the military were incompetent fuck-ups who were changing their plans on the fly every second and everything they did only made matters worse. This seems much closer to actual reality, as we have $300 million helicopters that can’t fly, “Patriot” missiles that can’t hit their targets, and more red tape and bureaucratic snafus among the brass than you can count. Who many times have we “changed strategy” in Iraq and Afghanistan? Has anything worked?

In Eisner’s version of events, however, the military, while certainly undertaking actions that anyone in their right mind would consider unconscionable, such as wiping out innocents and infected alike in order to prevent the virus from spreading, acts with cold, technical precision and absolute competence. So while Romero was telling us that the money we were shoveling at the Pentagon was wasted, the new, Hollywood-approved vision of “The Crazies” is one with a perfectly capable and dependable military — it’s just that they gotta be ruthless sometimes. You know how it goes.

"The Crazies" Promo Poster

If you feel like shutting your brain off and going for a well-made cinematic thrill ride that offers little or no actual food for thought,the 2010 version of “The Crazies” works just fine. It’s a pretty solid little white-knuckle rollercoaster of a flick. The effects are solid, the story is involving, and the premise is neat,the ending is pretty damn spectacular — and it even has the guts to show a news report during the closing credits giving the government’s official BS line about what happened in Ogden Marsh. But come on. The government and the media lie? That’s an easy and obvious criticism to make. We all know that.

And here’s where the final unfortunate parallel with the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake comes in. Like that “reimagining,” where Zack Snyder and company managed to set the film in a mall packed to the rafters with excess yet somehow say nothing about consumerism and greed and “the American way of life,” this new version of “The Crazies” takes a classic Romero work of socio-political commentary and almost completely emasculates it. The film takes Romero’s bold and thoroughgoing critique of the entire system itself and makes it safe and palatable. Sure, the government lies, but they’re competent and efficient and there are good people within the system who can change it when things get a little too ruthless and bloodthirsty (provided they don’t, you know, get killed). In the end, Eisner doesn’t seem to have the guts to even seriously criticize the military itself, despite the fact that they’re clearly the bad guys in the film! Go figure.

And that is this movie’s ultimate failing. It portrays a ruthless and inhuman military-industrial complex engaged in full-fledged, wholesale slaughter — and metaphorically, if not literally, lets them, and even more importantly the system they serve, off the hook. The essential theme at the core if the film is no longer “smash the system, it’s beyond repair” as it was in 1973, instead it’s “work from within to change the system — even if it’s trying to kill you, hey, it’s nothing personal.”

As with  Synder’s “Dawn,” Eisner here has taken Romero’s work and replaced all its guts with stuffing, while preserving it an admittedly aesthtically pleasing form. You might call that a remake, I just call it taxidermy. And while stuffed birds are nice to look at, they’re not nearly as spectacular as those that are alive and flying.