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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

"Ice Age: Continental Drift" hits theaters Friday, but you don't even need to leave the house for these "cool" flicks.

Five great cold movies for hot summer days


I think we can agree that the recent heat wave that struck Wisconsin, as well as pretty much the entire country, was awful. The grass turned sickly brown and walking on it sounds like you're walking on a patch of potato chips. Basic tasks, such as standing, suddenly became sweat-inducing exercises. The only people who may have enjoyed the suffocating heat? Aquafina.

The good news is that the heat wave, for the time being, is over. Of course, it's still summer, which means it's still hot. "Ice Age: Continental Drift," the fourth installment of the animated series, hits theaters on Friday, but here are five other chilly movies that you can watch without having to leave the air-conditioned comfort of home for a second.

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is one of the most chill-inducing horror films ever to be made. Jack Nicholson's slow descent into complete madness is subconsciously terrifying. What could be more frightening than your family, the ones closest to you, mentally cracking on a dangerous level? In addition, Kubrick's unsettling mood, aided by his use of sound, music and unnervingly long shots, keeps the audience consistently off balance. There are tons of memorable images in the horror classic, but the climactic chase through the snow-covered hedge maze, and the shot of Nicholson frozen to death the next day, are two iconic shots that are literally frozen in time, as well as in my nightmares.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Spider-Man isn't the only character from a book that got a speedy Hollywood reboot. Last Christmas, David Fincher's version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" hit theaters (rape, murder; sounds like a typical Christmas movie to me) barely two years after Sweden's own take on Lisbeth Salander came across the ocean and into American cinemas. Though Fincher's rendition was slicker, it's the Swedish version, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, that comes out as the better film.

Whereas Fincher seems to be running through the motions, the lead duo's (Michael Nyqvist and "Prometheus"'s Noomi Rapace) unraveling of the mystery's clues is genuinely haunting. Nyqvist and Rapace are great, inhabiting their characters down to the bone, but much of the Swedish film's success goes to Arden Oplev, who ties the chill-inducing mystery with the equally icy and cold Swedish landscape.

The Grey

Audiences earlier this year probably weren't too pleased with "The Grey." The commercials sold the movie as two hours of Liam Neeson punching demon wolves in the face. However, the actual film was a harsh survival tale more interested with its characters' psyches and facing death than delivering death to man-eating wolves. Frankly, the movie we got was far better than the movie we wanted.

Carnahan gets terrific performances from his cast, especially Neeson, who plays his role with the kind of world-weary grit only he can provide. The deaths, when they happen, are not Hollywood-ized and glamorous; they're heart-wrenching, as neither the audience not the characters are prepared for their fates. It's a surprisingly philosophical look at men facing down the cold darkness of death in the harsh brutality of nature (Alaska, in the film's case). I suppose that's harder to sell than "Taken" with wolves instead of Albanians.

The Thing

Let's all forget last year's phenomenally average remake, and look back at John Carpenter's 1982 haunting remake of "The Thing from Another World." The chilly South Pole atmosphere creates the perfect setting for the characters' battle with a shape-shifting enemy who may or may not be one of them. The creature effects, including a massive spider made from a human head and a horribly mutilated dog, are as impressive as they were 30 years ago, but it's the dreadful sense of paranoia that makes "The Thing" worth remembering (something last year's version forgot in order to make room for more CG creatures).

Groundhog Day

In case you're not in the mood for a dark, soul-chilling thriller on a bright summer day, here's a frost-filled comedy to lighten things up. "Groundhog Day" seems like a relatively basic premise: An egotistical local weatherman (Bill Murray) covering Groundhog Day gets trapped in an unexplained time paradox in which he lives the same day again and again.

However, the movie embraces the concept so inventively and freely that it's hard not to enjoy it. Much of the film, in fact, is plotless, a collection of set pieces involving Murray interacting with a world with no consequences. Its aimlessness could've enraged audiences (I was at first). Luckily, it's easy to warm up to almost all of the hilarious little vignettes, especially the scenes of Murray taking several attempts to perfect a date.

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