Artisan // 2001 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 7th, 2003
Prepare to battle the undead!
While giving the Taliban a reason to hate the West during the Afgan-Russo War, a couple of American mercenary buddies, Jack Frost and Nat McKenzie, find themselves assisting the CIA in "guiding" the combat toward a decidedly non-Czarist conclusion. These two soldiers of misfortune have been buddies forever, even after Nat clumsily tripped a retina-searing flash pot and left Jack with the unquenchable biological urge to wear sunglasses 24/7. One day, a group of ungrateful townsfolk ask the Yankees to do what GIs do best: kill a seemingly innocent man. But while trying to decide whether or not to put one in his brain, ala Johnny Caspar, the condemned creep bites Nat on the forearm, instantly infecting him with a heretofore unknown terrorist chemical weapon: vampirism. Soon our killers for pay go their separate ways: Jack becomes a regular bon vivant, painting tasteful nudes in his California art studio and writing books on ancient humanities. Nat lives like a homeless rat, wandering from war zone to coup de tat murdering anyone he can for a sandwich. But when he gets the blood drinking cramps real hard, he turns a Mexican prison into a buffet and makes his way back to L.A. to find a more health conscious neck juice. Bodies start turning up and a weird museum owner named Micah keeps telling the police that only Jack can solve the cases. It's not long before Nosferatu meets Renaissance Man as the two ex-buddies get together for a little cemetery side reunion. Beef, wooden bullets, and brotherhood collide in a final showdown that you know will be Jackie's next bestseller when the claret is finished coagulating. And the name of this tell-all tome? Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, of course.
If trying were triumph, Frost would be the greatest movie in the 100 plus years of motion picture production. This is a film that never says die and keeps giving it the old university stab, even when all hope is gone of it ever succeeding. You have to give it credit for never quitting. Frost is not a film that throws in the towel or calls in the reliever. Which is really too bad, since it could use a momentary pause for some clarity, or better yet, another rewrite and a few more professional casting choices for the lead roles. Frost: Portrait of a Vampire began life as a comic book, nay graphic novel, nay series of overstylized drawings with arch dialogue and overriding moralizing noir themes to teach the funny book geek a thing or two about ethics along with his bi-weekly dose of death, dismemberment, and drop dead gorgeous babes. And here's a guarantee that the pen and ink personas created on the page and paddling through the panels are a heck of a lot more electrifying than the stone statues hired by Kevin VanHook (thanks in no small part to the zero dollar budget he had to work with) to make his hero and villain come alive. Actually, Jeff Manzaneres as Frost and C.R. Lister as Nat are not bad. Neither actor is capable of real reanimation. They can barely register on the screen. Manzaneres looks like Kevin Smith crossed with Treat Williams all encased in Brian Wilson's pre-Dr. Landry bearded drug bloat body. He's like a less talented Kane Hodder for the husky crowd. Lister is Eric Idle as imagined by Joe Estavez and channeled through the homeless man from Mulholland Dr. to create a kind of skid row Lestat, a being of unimaginable strength housed in the body of an out-of-shape tennis pro. Together they create the vacant center of this talky terror tale, a film more than happy to constantly backtrack itself and retell plot points in hopelessly dull scenes of extended exposition.
You can sense VanHook's high intentions here. His script sounds like the kind of epic ethereal claptrap that would pour out of a well paid Hollywood hunk's botoxed buss as he stands in front of a computer generated cityscape, overlooking his carefully costumed and lit super nemesis. Their titan-like two shot, bristling with all manner of misplaced homo-eroticism and baroque rococo imagery, would sell a million action figures and start a thousand blogs. In the end, even if the movie was completely mediocre, you'd still have the three dimensional realization of a favored two-dimensional entity around to market the mierda out of. Too bad that VanHook's vision and his paltry peewee budget results in a film without ambitious action sequences or cutting edge make up effects. What we get instead is an Ingmar Bergman style talk and pause passionless play interspersed with some shockingly sad CGI military stuff. It's interesting to note that the computer generated helicopters look worse than an episode of The New GI Joe Adventures, and yet the later binary bats and blood filled evil eyes look pretty decent. Apparently, if you are dealing with unreal entities of malfeasance you can render something realistic. But try to vamp on the military industrial complex and you're moments away from an all Army version of Rollie Pollie Ollie. But even if ILM pulled out all the stops and created beasts and battle tanks that rivaled the genuine article in detail and destructive power, they'd still be stuck in a yawn-inducing yak fest starring stage managers from a local summer stock company. There are some interesting ideas in Frost and a few moments were the movie threatens to actually find an active voice and move forward at a brisk pace. But it never succeeds. It just keeps busting its potential box office butt, trying its damnedest.
Artisan offers Frost in its Edict approved all out special edition style packaging paydirt. We get a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation that looks pretty good overall. Occasionally, the daytime scenes (especially during the opening act's military malarkey) can be overly soft, but that may be the result of having to introduce Colecovision style graphics over the top. On the sound front, both the 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital presentations are good, especially when things blow up onscreen. Otherwise, when two people are talking for twenty minutes at a stretch, it's hard to give anything other than the front channels a decent workout. As for bonus material, we get a decent home video style trailer, along with a collection of other sneak peek film ads. We page through a brief storyboard gallery that shows us how much of the film was, sadly, planned out to look and play this way in advance. We then get an interesting step-by-step dissection of the CGI work, showing that both big and small companies create things digitally in much the same way (albeit others are a tad better at it). Our final big windfall is a director's commentary for the film (the deleted scene is absolutely unimportant). Kevin VanHook is a Hollywood veteran, having worked on the special effects for several big name projects (Hart's War, Daredevil) and this film was a labor of love, since he started the comic it was based on years before. During this commentary, which also features director of photography Matt Steinauer and a couple members of the visual effects crew, we learn a great deal of dry factual information about the movie. It was shot in bits and pieces over four years. We find out that the majority of the cast were stuntmen or first time actors (no real surprise there). And we discover that making a low budget film is not really so hard if you have access to high placed friends and image depicting super computers. The only problem is the resulting movie, this so called horror action film entitled Frost: Portrait of a Vampire is really neither. Too talky to be terrifying and to reliant on sedentary actors spewing lines to produce much excitement, it's a failed effort in the guise of an exercise in independence. Jack Frost may have limited eyesight thanks to an accident, but unfortunately, the average film fan will see right through this boring bloodsucker.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Storyboard Gallery
* Special Effects Featurette
* Deleted Scene