Saw “Frozen Ground” the movie: Three 1/2 Stars

I just saw “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. It’s available through October as an On Demand movie (check your local listings).

Aside from the usual complaints about what happens when movies try to condense the narrative that’s only possible in books, I have several observations:

  • Scene I missed the most: In the actual investigation, Holcombe (AST Sgt. Glenn Flothe) learns of Robert Hansen’s sordid past while standing next to AST Major Walter Gilmour as they’re peeing at the urinals.
  • AST Sgt. Holcombe’s (Cage) wife in Frozen Ground is largely unsympathetic. The real wife here, Cherry Flothe, interacted with Cindy Paulson on a regular (and always supportive) basis — usually by phone, when Glenn was unavailable. Cherry was an unswerving believer in Glenn, even when others had doubts. In this case, the real thing is much, much better than the fictional thing.
  • Nicholas Cage turns in a strained but credible performance as Glenn Flothe (Holcombe). My “Butcher, Baker” co-author, the inimitable Walter Gilmour, once joked that the first instinct was to put all the asshole cops on the dancer murders. They only succeeded when they put a nice cop (Flothe) on the case.
  • My biggest (positive) surprise was Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy Paulson. She deftly manages to communicate the edgy vulnerability of the real person. Kudos — if Hudgens fails, the movie fails, because the credibility of everything else depends on that performance.
  • The aerial shots of the Chugach Mountains, the Knik River and Anchorage were stunning at times. More than anything, the Hansen murders call up a sense of people and place — and the place is inseparable from how Hansen’s crimes were committed and how he got away with them for so long.
  • Strangest moment #1: Holcombe (Cage) describes Robert Hansen as a stutterer. Yet Hansen (Cusack) barely stutters. Probably a good acting decision. But still a WTF moment.
  • Strangest moment #2: Hansen’s entire interaction with the (white) pimp/enforcer. People, people, people… Robert Hansen was (justifiably) terrified that every human interaction was a route to the unraveling of his elaborate cover. He went to GREAT lengths to make sure no one ever saw him with any of the young women. And then went to great lengths to scare, secure and isolate them. To think that he would blithely order a “hit” on Cindy Paulson is magical thinking on the part of the filmmakers (yes, it adds drama; I would argue it’s gratuitous, that it just gives the actors some action sequences, but… Nevermind).
  • And, yes, there were jailhouse rumors about a hit on Cindy. Or more accurately, talk about how Hansen wanted her to just go away (as in pay her to leave town). Those are two different things. I say: consider the source. Yeah. The jailhouse.

Recommendation: If you like Nicholas Cage, see the movie. If you followed the Hansen case, see the movie. And then, when you feel the need for more soda and popcorn, read “Butcher, Baker.” If you want to support a great institution in the process, order it from the Alaska State Trooper Museum.

Movie Update: Don’t Cry for Me “Frozen Ground”

In the latest Frozen Ground update, we note a few changes about its impending release. First, the release date has been moved from early December 2012, to March 2013. Second, the theatrical premiere is now scheduled for Argentina. No word on when, if ever, the film will be released in U.S. theaters.

Other tidbits.

  • Not sure how I missed it the first time, but E (Entertainment Online) has a snarky piece on Vanessa Hudgens playing a stripper in the Frozen Ground, the serial murder film inspired by Butcher, Baker.
  • Speaking of snarky, there’s the always dependable Chelsea Handler on Chelsea Lately. This time, she digs at Vanessa Hudgens (Cindy Paulson) and 50 Cent (50 plays Cindy’s pimp).
  • Or was that Vanessa Hudgens and Nicolas Cage?
  • At any rate, the whole Nicolas Cage dust-up over Vanessa Hudgens seems to have rated an apology, if not a denial.

You can still buy the original work on Amazon. Yes. “Butcher, Baker” is the real thing. No made up scenes. No gratuitous drama because, really, it isn’t necessary. This is true edge of your seat stuff. And you don’t have to go to Argentina to get it (although that sounds like a great idea).

Stills From “The Frozen Ground”

IMDb is featuring still photos taken from the Butcher, Baker inspired movie, “The Frozen Ground.” Here’s the link to the IMDb slideshow. Some creepy stuff, for sure. My spine be tingling.

Nicolas Cage as Alaska State Trooper Detective
Nicolas Cage in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

John Cusack as serial killer Robert Hansen
John Cusack in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 3

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe has described Cindy Paulson (Kitty Larson), the young woman who escaped Hansen and led to his downfall, as one of the best witnesses he’s ever worked with. Hidden City: Anchorage mentions, for example, that she’d memorized the tail number of Hansen’s plane. She also memorized the location of his house. And everything in his basement.

She did so because, in her own words, “this motherfucker wasn’t getting away with it… I knew I was in trouble… But if there was any chance of me getting away, he wasn’t getting away with it.”

As in any criminal investigation, details matter.

Consider what occurred when Cindy Paulson was at Merrill Field ID’ing Hansen’s plane with an officer from the Anchorage Police Department. While they were observing the plane, a private security guard at the air field approached and told them he had seen someone at 5:14 a.m. that same day.

[The security guard] observed a white male running from that Super Cub to a green vehicle and that he noted the vehicle to have Alaska license number BJZ775. [The guard] also stated that the man was wearing a green coat and cap and that he ran from a wooded area at the rear of the airplane toward the green vehicle. When the man saw [the guard], he slowed his pace to a walk, and entered the green vehicle and drove away.

That license number turned out to be registered to a green Buick, owned by Robert Hansen. There were several people being very observant that day. None better than Cindy Paulson. But she was not alone. Details matter.

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Amazon vs Walmart

Amazon gets a lot of ink about its innovations and business practices. Deservedly so. Wired magazine’s Tim Carmody has even compared them to Walmart. In a provocatively titled article penned last year, Carmody asked: “If Amazon Out-Walmarts Walmart, Can Anyone Out-Amazon Amazon?”

Good question. Flawed premise. Amazon’s biggest problem, a persistent one, is that after twenty years it still doesn’t know how to manufacture a decent profit. We go to MG Siegler of TechCrunch for the most recent evidence:

  • “Not only did Amazon only make $177 million on sales of $17.4 billion last quarter, they’re warning that they could actually lose money this quarter.”
  • “Last quarter, Walmart pulled in $109.5 billion in revenue, which led to $3.3 billion in profit. As with Amazon, the margins are awful, but at that scale, it doesn’t matter.”
  • “In fact, Amazon’s margins are so slim that Facebook, which just filed to go public […], recorded nearly double the profit of Amazon last year ($1 billion versus $631 million).”

Notes Siegler: “Compare this to Apple’s most recent quarter in which they posted a record $46.33 billion in revenue and, more importantly, a record $13.06 billion in profit. The margin difference could not be any more stark.”

I write this not to diss Amazon (although paying a little more attention to the bottom line couldn’t hurt) as much as to put Amazon in perspective. On the publishing side, there is great fear of Amazon. A recent article by Nico Vreeland points fingers at the publishing industry for not having their act together as compared to Amazon. Point taken.

Just remember who Vreeland’s talking about when he says:

So publishers: it’s time to embrace technology, put your customers first, and entirely revamp the logistical architecture of your industry, or Amazon’s publishing arm will do it for you (and nobody wants that).

Hidden City: Anchorage

Marcus Sakey’s Travel Channel series, Hidden City, recently filmed in Anchorage, Alaska. Among the topics: Robert Hansen. Well, of course; Hansen is the state’s worst serial murderer. (The series calls it Robert Hansen’s Most Dangerous Game.)

The show marks the incredible resurgence of interest in the “Butcher, Baker” story. First the movie, The Frozen Ground. And now a Hidden City episode.

The episode also covers the infamous Blackjack Sturgus murder. Sturgus, the first police chief in Anchorage, was shot in the back with a bullet from his own gun. He is said to haunt the Anchorage Hotel, working on the ultimate cold case. His own.

Mark your calendars! We’ll be watching. Hope you will, too.

Air Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2012.

So You Want to Make a Movie

My fascination with the movie business may fade, but for the past year or so it’s held more than a share of my attention. I’ve read (and discussed) Edward Jay Epstein’s landmark work, The Hollywood Economist. I’ve followed the money trail of State Film incentives. I’ve even spent a few words on Nicolas Cage and his unique approach to acting.

And then the esteemed Horace Dediu does it again. Shines light in places that, you know, might need some. In a chart-laden screed, Horace digs into the available movie data, reviewing statistics on around 12,000 titles released between 1975 and the present. Impressive in itself.

Most impressive to me are two very telling charts. One we’ll call “what gets made.” The other we’ll call “what makes money.” It is a tale of two cities (apologies to Charles Dickens).

What Gets Made
Drama, Comedy and Romance account for 60% of movies made.

Horace Dediu -- Hollywood by the Numbers (What Gets Made)

What Makes Money
Action and Adventure are the big money makers.

Horace Dediu - Hollywood by the Numbers - What Makes Money

Dediu attributes this differential to the so-called blockbuster audience. Adolescent males. If we didn’t know it already, Hollywood says a big hello to testosterone. And testosterone says, “hello” right back. Lest there be any doubt, check out the blockbuster release schedule.

Blockbuster Release Schedule (Titles Grossing over $200 M)
Note the emphasis on the U.S. school holiday schedule (summer and winter break).

Horace Dediu - Hollywood by the Numbers - Blockbuster Release Schedule

What do I make of this? Looking narrowly at the Robert Hansen movie, The Frozen Ground, there are several takeaways. As a “thriller,” the film overlaps the action genre. Put that in the plus column. As a film set for a December release, it fits into one of the two prime release slots. Another one for the plus column.

Additionally, two of its stars have teen-cred. Vanessa Hudgens (who plays prostitute Cindy Paulson) and 50 Cent (who plays her pimp). Two more in the plus column.

Having Nicolas Cage and John Cusack on board doesn’t hurt things, either. Hey, this Frozen Ground thing could be a success.

I was told early on that producer Randall Emmett knows his business. That becomes more obvious by the minute. Looking back, it perhaps explains (in part) why there was so much pressure to sign an Option Agreement for “Butcher, Baker” in November-December of 2010: for Frozen Ground to make a December 2012 release, things needed to line up on schedule. It is, after all, a high-stakes business. Ah, the joys of hindsight.

What Happened to Glenn Flothe?

When the movie the “Frozen Ground” was first announced, the filmmakers made a pretty big deal of the fact that it was going to focus on two real-life people, Sgt. Glenn Flothe and Cindy Paulson. Or did they?

Cindy Paulson was the teenage prostitute who got away from Hansen, leading to his arrest and conviction. Sources tell us that Cindy Paulson worked with the filmmakers in telling her story. A look at the full cast and crew on IMDb confirms that, indeed, Vanessa Hudgens stars as Cindy Paulson.

Glenn Flothe was the Alaska State Trooper whose belief in Cindy Paulson helped bring Hansen in. According to the Variety story announcing the film, “Cage would portray the Alaska State Trooper who cracked the case.” Sounds like Glenn Flothe to me. Sounds like Glenn Flothe to a lot of people. But the Wikipedia entry for The Frozen Ground tells us another story:

“The Frozen Ground” is based on the true story of Alaskan detective Glenn Flothe (called Sgt. Jack Halcombe in the movie). Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) sets out to end the murderous rampage of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a serial killer who has silently stalked the streets of Anchorage for more than 13 years.

Ok, all of this is fine, really. Stuff happens on the way from script to screen. And we notice that, while most of the cops kept their real names, other characters have not. For example, Darla Hansen is now called Fran Hansen. Huh?

But there is still something nagging me. Maybe it’s this little piece by Sheila Toomey in the Anchorage Daily News, datelined November 5, 2011:

Earwigs have been wondering why the Nicolas Cage character isn’t called by the name of the actual trooper who led the task force that nailed Hansen, Glenn Flothe. Other cop characters have the names of the real people. Maybe we’ll find out when movie publicist David Linck interviews Flothe. Linck announced Thursday that Glenn had agreed to chat on tape.

Two months on and still no sign of a Glenn Flothe – David Linck interview. Just saying.

The Frozen Ground: Vids

Today we’re sharing video clips from “The Frozen Ground,” the film based on the crimes of Robert Hansen, first written about in “Butcher, Baker” (1991). The film is currently in post-production for a December 2012 release. There’s not a lot to share, so we’ve been waiting till we have critical mass. We may have to keep waiting but here’s what we found.

Geoff Oliver shares his take on the Frozen Ground filming in Anchorage, Alaska. This one is a lot of fun. I love that precious moment at 0:03, when Geoff temporarily spaces on the film’s title.

Frozen Ground Aerial Site Prep. This video captures the look and feel of Hansen’s Knik River killing ground, with shots of a small plane doing touch & go’s along the sandbars. With Mike Kincaid and Jeff Babcock.

Anchorage Transformed for Frozen Ground Movie (Channel 11, CBS News, Anchorage).

Vanessa Hudgens talks about Frozen Ground. Vanessa plays escaped victim Cindy Paulson, the young prostitute who got away and led to Hansen’s arrest. At 1:21, Vanessa talks about getting personal coaching from Cindy Paulson. We just hope Cindy tells her that chewing gum is not a recommended practice in the sex trade.

More Vanessa news on Frozen Ground shoot here (old, old stuff).

And hey, this is Hollywood, so everybody can get in on the act, right? Here’s an UNOFFICIAL teaser trailer for Frozen Ground. I guess it’s a pitch for doing the score. I like it because, hey, his description sounds a lot like Butcher, Baker.

Frozen Ground: Movie & Moose

Ear gossip columnist Sheila Toomey, of the Anchorage Daily News, has issued a retraction:

JUST KIDDING, DARLINGS . . . Did Ear really say “The Frozen Ground” movie people rounded up a stray street moose for a scene where the heroine, played by Vanessa Hudgens, has a surprise encounter with our favorite ungulate in a downtown alley? Surely not. Of course, the extremely conscientious production crew jumped through all the required hoops and permit requirements and signed Jack from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to play the part of “Moose.” And did Ear suggest Jack had a diva moment and charged someone? Mais non! Perhaps an accidental encounter with a light pole and the resultant commotion excited him a bit, but he was soon calmed by his oh so professional handlers. OK, we all friends now?

Really, this whole thing had me worried. Moose are not to be trifled with.