“Frozen Ground”: First Look Into Serial Killer Pic

Here’s one movie I now have on my radar. Scheduled for release in December of this year, Scott Walker makes his debut as writer and director of the serial killer thriller Frozen Ground. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (who also serves as co-producer), and — most exciting, John Cusack, playing the serial killer Robert Hansen. I’m not at all a fan of Cage’s numerous action movies — but I don’t think this project will resemble any of those works at all. When Cage wants to, he has the ability to be pretty damn good in some great movies (Matchstick Men, Adaptation, Bringing out the Dead).

Based on real-life events, Frozen Ground follows the 1980’s Alaskan investigation of serial killer Robert Hansen, who stalked or killed between 17 and 21 young women. Cage plays an Alaskan detective who tries to bring down Hansen (Cusack) and finally gets his opportunity after a 17-year old (Hudgens) escapes from the killer and provides key information. Jackson has a supporting role as a pimp. But how wonderful is it that Cusack signed on to play this kind of role?

I think Cusack — who made his screen debut almost 30 years ago — is one of our most underrated actors working today. We usually associate him with being “the nice guy,” the romantic, the likable hero. But his resume suggests that he is much more than that and has played a wide variety of roles and character types. I admire the change of pace and like seeing him take on “the dark” — so it goes without saying that I personally cannot wait to see what he does playing a serial killer. Here, his character kidnaps women only to take them out in the vast Alaskan wilderness to set them free — and hunt them! Are there no deer in Alaska?! Just take a look at the production photo…he looks so creepy!

The photos seen here are first-look photos released by Voltage Pictures, the company that released Killer Joe, The Hurt Locker, and last year’s The Whistleblower. No trailer just yet, but I can’t wait to check it out. I hope it turns out to be an edgy and smart thriller for Walker and crew — and not simply a cliche-ridden story of the rogue detective who makes a singular case of his turn very personal. For now, I remain excited.

Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: Part Uno

 

So I already composed & posted my “Top 10 Films” of the decade list (2000-2009), and I thought it would be fun to do the top comedy films in that same time frame, being that comedies usually play a backseat to the more dramatic films. I started by wanting to make a simple Top 10 List. The problem was…it was not so simple. Not at all. In doing extensive research on the many comedy films released throughout the decade, there were just too many good comedic films that would not crack the ten available slots. And I didn’t want to leave these films out. So I increased it to twenty slots, and finally, after much struggle and inner debate, settled on a final “Top 25 Comedy Film List” of 2000-2009” which you see right here. Many quality comedies are still (unfortunately) left out, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In creating the list (which I spent much more time than I really should have), I was amazed at how difficult the task was — not only in the selecting of films, but putting them in their respective order. Not an easy feat.

The only stipulation I feel I must add here is that many of the best films of the decade have both comedic and dramatic elements in them (for instance, I included “Sideways,” “Matchstick Men, ” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” on my Top 10 List of the decade). I suppose it is up to each individual’s interpretation because though these movies certainly have very funny moments in them, I consider them to be more dramatic films. For this particular list, I went with funny…what made me laugh, what was original & unique, what was an overall entertaining and well-made movie. Some may not even be considered to be great movies by most, but again…I went with funny. And if I enjoyed it and it made me laugh, then I surely needed to consider it. Here’s the list. Enjoy!

#25. You Kill Me (dir. John Dahl)

Ben Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, a man who loves his job….which is odd since he’s a hit-man for the Polish mob and on top of this, happens to be an alcoholic who botches a critical assignment. He is then ordered to re-locate and clean up his act (against his will). He attends AA meetings, gets a sponsor and lands a job in a mortuary where he meets and falls for Laurel (Tea Leoni), a very intriguing woman with almost no boundaries. This movie has some great dark humor to it and what makes most of the film so funny is that it doesn’t go for the laughs — the script & direction play the entire story straight. Kingsley and Leoni make a wonderful pair here, though you wouldn’t think this to be the case going in. Kingsley is a remarkably gifted thespian and here, he gets to show off his comedic chops playing Frank who is not a touchy, sentimental guy. His transformation from beginning to end is an enjoyable one to watch. A great supporting cast includes Philip Baker HallLuke Wilson (as Frank’s gay sponsor), Bill Pullman and Dennis Farina.  A hidden gem that didn’t get a wide release at all, but absolutely worth seeing. The script is taut, inimitable and unpredictable and beneath the murders, dark themes and substance abuse, there is a heart to it all.

#24. intermission (dir. John Crowley)

An Irish comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. What we have here is a collection of numerous stories (11, I believe) set in Dublin that stem from one single circumstance: when John (Cillian Murphy) breaks up with Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) to “give her a little test.” His plan backfires and sets off a constant stream of conflicts & stories concerning all the people around them. One of those people is Lehiff (Colin Farrell), a career criminal working on his next heist and the detective (a very loose and free Colm Meaney) who will stop at nothing to nab him. At its core, “intermission” is a love story, but it brilliantly portrays all of the repercussions surrounding its opening scene and cleverly illustrates how our lives intersect and relate to one another. You get a great sense of the Irish setting and the unique people who inhabit it — a great, diverse collection of characters to watch here. Though it may take some time to adapt to the very thick accents, the film is a non-stop rollercoaster ride, filled with great comedic performances that keeps you on your toes.

#23. Scotland, PA. (dir. Billy Morrissette)

I absolutely love this movie! A modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, “Macbeth” set in the 1970’s in…you guessed it, Scotland, Pennsylvania. If you’re familiar with the classic play, you will surely get much more out of this ingenious adaptation. If you aren’t into the Bard, I think you’ll still enjoy the film on its own. Hard-working Joe McBeth (James LeGros) works at a hamburger stand with his much more ambitious wife, Pat (the gorgeous Maura Tierney). Pat is convinced that they can do a much better job at running the place than their kind, but short-sighted boss, Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) and concocts a plan to do away with the owner (a very comedic & clever scene) and take over the establishment. Most of the elements of the “Macbeth” play are here and part of the fun is seeing how Morrissette modernizes it all. The three weird sisters are three pot-smokers who foresee the future with a magic 8-ball, Macduff is re-created into a vegetarian detective (Christopher Walken) investigating the murder, and the connections keep going and going. Maura Tierney is a fantastic Lady Macbeth here — she is smart, sexy and sinfully ambitious (“We’re not bad people, Mac…just underachievers”). Her chemistry with LeGross is terrific and the two have captured the essence of the relationship that was the Macbeths. But more importantly, the film is just downright funny. The soundtrack of 70’s Bad Company tunes throughout fits very well and adds the perfect mood. The eclectic mix of characters in this small town is great fun to watch and seeing how Morrissette gets the most out of the original story with his crazy, dark script and humble setting is pure pleasure.

#22. Zoolander (dir. Ben Stiller)

I am aware of how ridiculously absurd this movie is. That said, I can’t help but find this movie hilariously funny. Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, an incredibly dim-witted fashion model who was once at the pinnacle of the industry and now finds himself fading and at the end of his career. He is brainwashed by the evil fashion guru Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia – so no, the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Owen Wilson plays Hansel, Zoolander’s chief competition and the fashion industry’s next hot model, usurping Zoolander of his title. The rivalry here is great fun to watch and Stiller and Wilson, we know, work well together. Stiller has created a very engaging character here too — from his walk, to his speech to his contorted facial expressions…he truly does something entirely different. There are some amusing cameos and most of the laughs stem from a combination of Zoolander’s complete stupidity, his obscene vanity and childish vulnerability. His budding romance with Matilda (Christine Taylor) gives the movie its love story, which has its own unusual arc. His “Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too” always makes me laugh, as does the infamous “Walk Off” scene. The one-liners and outlandish, silly scenes are relentless — but in the end, it delivers what it sets out to do and that is make us laugh. For serious!

#21. Old School (dir. Todd Phillips)

Three men who aren’t feeling so great about their personal lives all try to recapture their youth and re-live their wild college days. The catalyst for the insanity that ensues is when Mitch discovers his nymphomaniac girlfriend cheating on him. He finds a new home and his friend Beanie thinks it would be a great idea if they turned it into a frat house. You probably know what happens next. Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson and Will Ferrell make a riotous trio and all are great fun to watch. Ferrell is usually more effective in a supporting role and here, he makes the most out of playing “The Tank,” a man who was once considered a party animal and is now struggling with the obligations of marriage and the mundane life that sometimes comes with it. His “trust tree” scene with his wife while in therapy is hysterical. Jeremy Piven plays their nemesis well — the longtime nerd who is now Dean of the college and has it in for the popular threesome. This is all-out comedy with a slice of romantic subplot thrown in for good measure. Vince Vaughn is as sarcastic and dry as ever and the whole “ear muffs” thing gets me every time as does Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” to Blue’s passing (“You’re my boy, Blue!”). Great, raunchy fun that doesn’t seem to tire on repeat viewings. Had to find room for this one some way.

#20. Superbad (dir. Greg Mottola)

A filthy, warped, and at times sweet coming-of-age movie in the same way as the original “American Pie” was in the previous decade as it focuses on a trio of male friends who are preparing to start their college careers come the end of summer. Well, they aren’t doing much preparing, to be honest. The main goal for these boys is to get laid. Half the teen dialogue here revolves around either booze or getting laid. Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) are best friends who have known each other their entire lives. They luck into getting an invite to a huge party and want to make sure to bring enough liquor to get the gals trashed, thereby having their first sexual experience. They bully their good friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) into using his new fake ID to purchase the booze and that’s when everything goes nutty. Fogell falls in with two completely inept cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) while Seth and Evan get separated and map out their own routes to the big party. Mintz-Plasse steals the show here with his wonderfully dorky McLovin character. Some of the funniest scenes are when he gets his groove on, when he’s in bed with a good-looking girl (“I got a boner!”) and when he mimics his machismo. The friendship between Hill and Cera is a very believable one and the separation anxiety between the two continues to build throughout. On the surface, “Superbad” is a perverse, foul-mouthed movie with a lot of laughs. Beneath, there is an intelligence and warmth to it all, focusing on the close bonds between friendships that will not be forgotten.

#19. The Amateurs (dir. Michael Traeger)

Before “Zack & Miri Make A Porno” there was this movie. This one has the better cast, the more original script and most importantly, more laughs. Andy (the ever-talented Jeff Bridges) is a weekend dad who is experiencing a mid-life crisis and is tired of not getting ahead in life. He comes up with the most unconventional, most insane idea this small town has ever heard — he and any citizens who want to join his merry, independent production company are going to make their own full-length adult film! “The Amateurs” is a small film that not many have heard of, let alone seen and with the cast assembled, that is such a surprise to me. Ted Dansen (who gives an impressive comedic performance), William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenne Headly, Joe Pantoliano and the radiant Lauren Graham highlight this delightful film. Bridges is the core here…the ultimate dreamer and he’s the one who has to convince the others to invest their hard-earned money into this crazy scheme. From there, it’s all about who is going to play what role in the making of this movie (in front of or behind the camera). For instance Pantoliano’s ‘Some Idiot’ (that’s what everyone calls him) wants to write and direct the movie. Andy and his pals try to recruit as many village people as they can to help in the making of this adult film and much of the laughter stems from this. Overall, the film is very sweet and tremendously entertaining. Jeff Bridges can do just about anything and anyone who knows “The Dude” knows that comedy is surely one of those things. If you’re looking to rent a movie and in the mood to laugh, I would strongly suggest giving this little unknown movie a watch.

#18. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)

I’m not much of a fan of Anderson’s work & I didn’t expect much going in to this one, but I laughed out loud throughout this wonderfully written, and at times profound movie based on the Roald Dahl classic story. A terrific ensemble cast lend their vocal talents and is surely entertaining for kids & adults alike. To read my full review of this very witty film, click here.

#17. 50 First Dates (dir. Peter Segal)

Fearful of commitment, Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a veterinarian based in Hawaii who lusts after all of the beautiful tourists who come by for fun-in-the-sun, no-strings attachments. He suddenly meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore) and thinks he has finally found the woman of his dreams. The catch? She has short-term memory loss and forgets who the hell he is the very next day. A clever premise with some resemblances to “Groundhog Day,” but stands by itself quite admirably. A very sweet and endearing romantic comedy that actually does not insult the audience and, with Sandler at the center, is very amusing throughout. Henry must repeatedly make Lucy fall in love with him with each passing sunrise, which makes for some great comic moments in itself. Rob Schneider, Blake Clark, and Dan Aykroyd have some funny moments in supporting roles and the scenes with Henry’s foreign female co-worker are pretty hilarious too. Most romantic comedies I was thinking about for this list were more cute and sweet, with touches of comedy here and there (the very charming “Serendipity” comes to mind as a perfect example), but “50 First Dates” stands out because it never forgets that it is a comedy and the premise alone allows for some great opportunities for originality and humor. Sandler makes a charming leading man and Barrymore does her usual thing, but here she is stretched a bit more than usual. We like her character and her illness makes her all the more endearing. A truly original romantic comedy — with a lot of laughs.

#16. High Fidelity (dir. Stephen Frears)

What is it about John Cusack that we like him so much, especially as a romatic-comedy lead? He is charming, self-deprecating, sweet…just, you know, a nice guy! There always seems to be a little hint of Lloyd Dobler in each of his characters…the dreamer, the philosopher, the romantic; it’s as if we can still see him holding a radio atop his head blasting the tunes of Peter Gabriel. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, “High Fidelity” is another rare romantic comedy that makes this prestigious list. Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a 30’s-something record-store owner and compulsive list-maker (like me!). Here, he is recounting for us, the audience (the breaking of the fourth wall works extremely well here and Cusack is so damn good at it) his Top 5 break-ups, which includes the one in progress to Laura (Iben Hjejle), who he considers to be his all-time true love and tries desperately to get back together with. When we aren’t watching Rob’s fruitless attempts to win Laura back, we are at the record store watching Rob and his two socially inept co-workers (Jack Black and Todd Louiso). Black wasn’t the star he is at this time and here in a smaller role, he truly shines (especially in his rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness“). There are some very funny male bonding moments in the store (speaking to us, Rob says of his assistants, “I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up every day. That was four years ago”). We also have Tim Robbins who is ridiculous (in a good way) as Laura’s new-age lover Ian, who Rob of course cannot stand. As always, we root for Cusack to win back the girl and we laugh at the way he over-analyzes himself and the situation at hand. The film shows a great appreciation for music and is a love story told from the guy’s point-of-view, which I can appreciate. Cusack is near perfect here and funny as hell. He opines to us:  “John Dillinger was killed behind that theater in a hail of FBI gunfire. And do you know who tipped them off? His fucking girlfriend. All he wanted to do was go to the movies.” It’s just a great screenplay. I know many have already seen this one, but do yourselves a favor if it has been awhile…see it again. Right away.

That’s the first 10 comedies to make the list. In the next few days, I will make sure to post the remaining films, (#15 – #1). As always, please feel free to leave me your comments – what you think should be included, which have no business being here, and those rare times when you feel that my thinking is actually right on.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Hot Tub Time Machine”

Three middle-aged guys, all of whom are frustrated with their own lives — and a young nephew — travel back in time (via a magical hot tub) to their heyday year of 1986, a time when the three had their whole lives ahead of them. The premise of Steve Pink’s comedy says it all here and you know what you’re going to get going in. If you are looking for just laughs alone, this film should do it as there are some funny moments here. I would also say that those over the age of 35 and/or those who experienced the 1980’s as a teen would appreciate this film a lot more. On that note, there is a great sense of nostalgia here and plenty of 80’s references sprinkled throughout that will take you back, if just for a little while.

The four men go to a ski resort for some male bonding (and to cheer up one of them up who has been severely depressed). The resort is nothing like they remember it back in their prime — antiquated, filled with old people, near-deserted, with nothing going on. That is, until they all decide to, you know, do the manly thing — and all get in the hot tub together, sans clothing.

Our trio here is John Cusack (the ringleader experiencing a mid-life crisis), Craig Robinson (the married one who still dreams of a life he once gave up on), and Rob Corddry (the vulgar, crude, party animal). It seems with the advent of Apatow comedies (perhaps dating back to the Farrelly Brothers as well) and with the tremendous success of “The Hangover,” most comedies being released need to be over-the-top when it comes to the level of  raunchiness, perversity and sex-themed humor. That’s fine. I’m no prude. But it does sometimes get a bit predictable and really, at this point, what curse word or sight gag is really going to shock us at this point?

Corddry does his best at playing that one friend you see in all of these comedies — the one who will say and do anything, the one with no inner editing device…the asshole who, as Robinson and Cusack refer to as, “their asshole.” Robinson, by the way, is funny, as always. He’s got terrific comedic timing and a wonderful, unique delivery. And John Cusack looks like he’s having a great time, which is fun to see. He’s always a pleasure to watch, despite some of the poor choices he has made in recent years. Clark Duke plays the young, sarcastic, glued-to-my video games nephew and he is fine here in the familiar role.

Overall, though I thought it was funny and I had a good time watching it, I felt it could have gone much further with the time-travel and 1980’s themes. It seemed to touch the surface, but didn’t dig deep enough. The Chevy Chase scenes were somewhat odd and his ominous character felt out of place (though it’s nice to see him getting some work). The subplot between Cusack and Lizzy Caplan was also thrown away. It was great to see Crispin Glover here in a supporting role, but the pay-off on that subplot was not as grand as it could have been. Finally, the ending seemed to be too neatly tied together and yes, rather conventional. Again, I am aware that this was not supposed to enlighten or move me in any profound way. It is a raunchy comedy, and for that, I enjoyed myself. And, as I am in my late thirties, I can honestly say that walking out of the film, it did move me in certain ways; taking me back to 24 years ago and realizing just how quickly it all went by. So there…

Director:  Steve Pink
Year:        2010
Rating:    

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