NBFF Reviews: The Iceman and Ghost Team One

the iceman whysoblu poster-001I have already reviewed the Closing Night film of the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival (the very entertaining The Way Way Back), but this is my final article in regards to the films I saw on Thursday night, closing out my time covering the festival.  It has been an exciting and exhausting experience, but I have been very pleased with the amount of coverage I have been able to provide this year and look forward to continuing to cover the festival next year.  The final round of films I will be reviewing here are very different from each other, but have their merits.  The Iceman is a crime drama based on true events that recounts the story of one of America’s most notorious contract killers.  Ghost Team One is a pseudo-documentary made in the vein of Paranormal Activity, but handled with a very comedic touch.  I was looking forward to both of these features and can now delve into what I thought about them.

The Iceman (Movie Review)


Here is a description provided by the NBFF regarding The Iceman:  Appearing to live the American dream as a devoted husband and father, Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) lived a double life as a ruthless killer-for-hire.  When he was finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife (Winona Ryder) nor daughters had any clue about his real profession.  In a film inspired by actual events, follow the infamous career of a notorious contract killer from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men.

For a film that can be eventually caught only in limited release, the cast is quite solid, as it also includes Ray Liotta as a mob boss who sends Kuklinksi on the majority of his hits, Chris Evans as a rival button man who operates out of a Mr. Freezy truck, David Schwimmer in the unlikely role of a sleezy mobster, Stephen Dorff as Kuklinski’s imprisoned brother, and even James Franco turns up in a bit part as a mark for Kuklinski.  The film was adapted from Anthony Bruno’s book “The Iceman:  The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by screenwriter Morgan Land and director Ariel Vromen.

the iceman whysoblu 1

It is unfortunate that this movie is not better.  For all of the potential this film has, given the material to work with, the setting, and the actors involved, The Iceman really never goes anywhere beyond the path of a straight and narrow crime drama, that happens to be based on a true story.  Sure Michael Shannon is terrific (and I’ll get to that), but the film is awfully ordinary in presentation.  Yes, the setting looks nice and the film is unapologetically violent, in order to truly depict the nature of what these men are doing, complete with some dark humor to make sure you know that Goodfellas continues to leave its mark on fact-based mob movies, but there is nothing all that innovative going on in this film.

The near saving grace of this picture is Michael Shannon’s performance as Richard Kuklinski.  Rather than really delve into this man’s psyche via flashbacks or loads of exposition, we simply get to watch this man act around others, reveal his emotions internally, and keep his image highly reserved, while he either stares down the barrel of a gun or participates in heinous criminal acts.  There is a level of intensity in what Shannon is doing that continues to prove that he is one of the best actors currently working and it completely informs the performance that he gives in The Iceman, despite the film not having much else to say.  To give credit where it is due, I will say that Liotta, while playing a character he knows how to play very well, does continue to do that here; and Ryder is also quite good as Kuklinski’s wife, with an impressive evolution of her character as the film moves forward.

It is disappointing that The Iceman is not better.  Everything is there for this film to capitalize on, but Vromen’s directorial touches do not do enough to really bring out the material to a higher place.  Shannon is certainly the reason to see this film, if any, but not quite enough for me to say you should race to the cinemas and watch it.  For a film based on the fascinatingly dark story of a hitman known as “The Iceman”, the film left me pretty chilly.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

the iceman whysoblu poster

Ghost Team One (Movie Review)


Here is the humorous plot synopsis for Ghost Team One:  In early 2012, filmmaker Billy Chen answered a Craigslist ad looking for someone to document possible paranormal behavior.  What he found were two sexually retarded friends (Carlos Santos and J.R. Villarreal) scheming to impress a beautiful woman (Fernanda Romero) who believed their house was haunted.  They were willing to face their darkest fears to get in her pants, but found themselves much closer to a demon whore than the woman of their dreams.  Warning:  This film is not for those with weak hearts or strong genitals.

I remember hearing about Ghost Team One and how it premiered at Slamdance this past winter, but was not sure what it was, aside from knowing that it won over its audience.  Learning that it was essentially going to be ‘Harold and Kumar’ meets Paranormal Activity, I had a general idea of what I was getting into, but still not quite sure how I would respond.  To some surprise, this was one of my favorite films of the festival, simply because I laughed out loud a lot during this film.  I saw a few nice comedies throughout the week, but none of them made me laugh as hard as Ghost Team One did and I give this film a lot of credit for being able to do so, especially since I was practically burnt out, after a week of screenings.

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For those concerned by either the premise or the humor, I can say that even the most jaded person that dislikes all the Paranormal Activity films may be one over by what Ghost Team One accomplishes.  It very much follows the same formula, but the humor is fully capitalized on and handled greatly by actors who seem to bounce very naturally off of each other.  From what I understand, while the story beats were in place, the script essentially allowed for a lot of improv between the two lead characters, Sergio and Brad, along with all the other cast members that bounce in and out of the story.  As a result, the film feels very authentic and while a lot of the humor is very R-rated and, at times, very juvenile, it reflects the kind of people that actually exist and could act in this heightened sort of way.

Another surprise was the horror factor.  While Ghost Team One is very much a comedy, I was quite pleased at how the film actually has some good jumps in it, complete with the ability to establish a fitting level of atmosphere to keep things tense.  Achieving the balance of humor and horror can always be tricky, but the film does a very good job at making it all work.  Writers/directors Ben Peyser and Scott Rutherford manage to get a lot out of making a low-budget found footage film (that could be a redundant piece of phrasing), utilizing a lot of different types of handheld cameras, and making the most with the effects and settings at their disposal.  If there is one thing to knock against the film, I would say that it does not quite know how to wrap itself up the most effectively, but it is really a minor point, as the film is so much fun throughout that the energy really carries it through.

In a year where there seems to be nothing at all appealing about films like Scary Movie 5 or A Haunted House, which are attempting to do the same sort of thing, to an extent, I am so happy that a film like Ghost Team One exists and can only hope that it finds an audience.  While very funny (and actually scary at points) on its own, the film would play so well with a large audience in a large theater.  I can only hope that the buzz gets built and pays off in the long run for everyone who actually does get to check it out.  Ghost Team One was a great time at the theaters and a great way to close out my experience at the film festival.

Check out the film’s unrated trailer here:

ghost team one poster whysoblu

This completes my coverage of the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival.  Thanks to all who followed along throughout the week.  You can click the poster below to learn more about the festival and you can find all of my coverage of the festival HERE.


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


1 Response to “NBFF Reviews: The Iceman and Ghost Team One”

  1. Brian White

    Never heard of Ghost Team One. Thought Iceman would be better than that.