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  • Winter of Frozen Dreams
    • Winter of Frozen Dreams
    • Runtime:91 min
    • Release Date:2014-08-21 20:06:14
    • Director: Eric Mandelbaum
    • Genres: Crime, History
    • Studio:
MOVIE REVIEW:Winter of Frozen Dreams
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Winter of Frozen Dreams is based on a sensational Wisconsin murder case
in the late 1970s. But while it may have been a big story in the local
media back then, this film does nothing at all to convey any of that
importance or appeal. These filmmakers manage to conjure up one
interesting character, but fail to find anything interesting about the
murders, the investigation or the trial. They also couldn't come up
with any larger point to this story, leaving you to wonder why they
bothered to make this movie.

Perhaps realizing that they didn't have a point or an compelling story
to tell, these filmmakers largely construct this film around the
narrative technique of the flashback. It starts in 1980, with the
verdicts being read in two murder charges against Barbara Hoffman
(Thora Birch), then flashes back to 1977 and bald, middle-aged loser
Harry Bergee coming home from work in the winter. The story then jumps
forward to Jerry Davies (Bredan Sexton III) leading the cops to
Bergee's dead body in a snow bank. As aging detective Chuck Lulling
(Keith Carradine) rather ineffectually investigates Harry's death, more
flashbacks are used to fill in the details of the relationship between
Barbara, Jerry and Harry. Barbara was a brilliant college student who
dropped out and became a prostitute. Harry was one of her johns that
Barbara convinced to leave her everything in his will. Jerry is
Barbara's supposed boyfriend that she summons to her home one night,
telling him that she found Harry's dead body in her bathroom. Barbara
blames her pimp (Dean Winters) for dumping Harry's body on her. After
the story meanders along with no sense of any forward movement and some
confusion over whether you're watching a flashback or a flashback
within a flashback, Winter of Frozen dreams eventually turns on the
question on whether Jerry's love for Barbara is more important to him
than anything, even his own life.

That little recap I just wrote is about 87% more fascinating than the
actual film. This thing is slow and lifeless. Though it has many scenes
with Detective Lulling, it does an awful job of telling the story of
the police investigation. At one point, Barbara is arrested by the
police and there's absolutely no explanation given for why she was
arrested at that point or what evidence the arrest was based on. The
impression given is that these Wisconsin cops were just sitting around,
eating donuts and waiting for someone to confess.

The movie is not much better at dealing with these characters. Barbara
begins the story as a beautiful enigma and never becomes more than
that. In his only significant scenes, Harry might as well have "victim"
tattooed on his forehead. Detective Lulling looks like he was pressed
out of the same cookie cutter that's produced every
aging-cop-close-to-retirement in a jillion other crime dramas. Most of
the 50some other characters in the film don't even have names, let
alone their own personalities.

The only character with anything going for him is Jerry. He's
essentially a younger version of the sort of loser that Harry became
and he thinks that Barbara coming into his life is the best thing that
every has or will happen to him. There's a part of the story where
Jerry takes Barbara home to meet his mom, and the silent resentment
between mother and son helps you to understand why Jerry feels like
having Barbara somehow redeems his sorry existence. And when Jerry
starts to figure out that Barbara isn't what he convinced himself she
was, Brendan Sexton III does a nice job letting us see Jerry's need for
her battle against his meager self-respect. However, the movie never
spends enough time with Jerry to make his part of this tale more than
mildly engaging.

According to information on the DVD, this case was the first televised
murder trial in the history of Wisconsin. Yet that part of the story is
totally ignored. There's also no effort made to connect this story to
any larger perspective on where or when it occurred or give any reason
whatsoever for why this particular murder case should ever have been
made into a film.

Winter of Frozen Dreams isn't really a bad film so much as it's an
unnecessary one. It's competently made but did not need to be made. The
use of flashbacks to try and make the story appear more complicated
than it was doesn't fix that problem. I f you're a Wisconsinite who
remembers the Hoffman murder trial, you might find it vaguely
entertaining. There's not enough here for anyone else to enjoy.

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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Stiff film that's confusing at times. Thora Birch portrays a college
drop-out with an IQ of 145 who drops out to become a prostitute.

She meets up with an ugly older man who she will kill after getting him
to sign everything over to her.

The film deals with her continuous suspicion of her boyfriend, the
latter helping her in disposing of the body. She uses two names which
is never fully explained and has an assortment of hoodlum like guys on
the side.

Keith Carradine portrays the older detective on the case. At the
beginning he announces that he will not retire as he wouldn't know what
to do with himself. By the middle of the film, without explanation, he
talks that this will be his last case as he is retiring. With a poor
script like this, he shouldn't have ventured into this production to
begin with.

Actress Thora Birch displays a cold veneer as the sadistic killer. By
the way, why did she really use 2 names?

|||

This is not your typical murder mystery but rather a portrait based
somewhat on conjecture of alleged murderess Barbara Hoffman. It's one
of those movies that leaves things open-ended as far as what actually
happened and what motivated the characters' actions. Also, the film's
perspective and time-line both shift with no easily discernible
pattern. The focus is really on the enigmatic personality of the main
character and to a lesser extent that of her strange boyfriend. The
chills and thrills are more of the intellectual sort than the
edge-of-your-seat draw of a typical thriller. In a nutshell, the film
is subtle. It's also very well-made. The acting is superb, the 70's
sets and costumes spot on, the outdoor scenery appropriately stark, and
the editing, which can be very tricky in a film of this nature, works
really well. My one complaint was the courtroom scene at the beginning
of the film. I would have preferred the suspense of not knowing the
verdict until the end of the film. Other than that, it's an interesting
film that ponders the mysteries of the human psyche, and well worth
watching.

|||

Thora Birch made a vivid impression with her talent, her carefully flat
affect and her poetic appearance in "American Beauty". Now, in "Winter
of Frozen Dreams", all three qualities are back on display. Her ghostly
complexion haunts the film, in which she is the centerpiece femme
fatale.

The film, set in a small town in mid-winter, has an unusually strong
sense of colour and a very successful handling of visuals overall. Both
the anti-heroine and the landscape from which she emerges are carefully
pictured and scorchingly cold.

Keith Carradine wins out with dialogue, as the jaded detective about to
retire. His character follows the trail of Thora Birch with one wry
remark, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, after another.

As a portrait of a brilliant psychopath, the film kept me rooted to the
spot as I studied Birch's careful depiction.

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