Talking Movies

June 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

2001: A very bad year

Well, I finally saw Evolution last weekend. Just because it was on. And because I was eating dinner. It was a sorta ambient film-watching experience. Watch 45 minutes. Tape the rest. Watch that during lunch the next day. Wonder then why I bothered watching any of it. Muse on not knowing about Head & Shoulders’ efficacy against aliens. Cheer on some truly minor TV actors in small roles. Wonder why on earth David Duchovny took the lead. Muse on whether its failure stopped him from parlaying his X-Files fame into a leading man career on the big screen. And then remember that, even though it was from the director of Ghostbusters, I’d skipped the film on purpose in 2001 from a complete lack of interest. A lack of interest not limited to Evolution. There were multiple reasons why I saw only eleven films in the cinema in 2001, an alarming number of them rep showings. But one of them is that the year 2001 was not a very good year for cinema. In fact it was by way of being a very bad year. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tigerland, which were 2001 highlights for me arrived here then but were actually 2000 films. And the hangover went the other way with Ocean’s 11 and Monsters Inc being 2002 experiences here. Shrek, Planet of the Apes, AI, Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Fellowship of the Ring. These were the films of 2001 I saw on the biggest screens in the Savoy and Ormonde during 2001, and if not for the Antipodeans Luhrmann and Jackson unleashing immortal classics in the final four months of the year what a washout it would have been. I don’t know if anything can really be said to cause a slump the likes of which Hollywood experienced in 2001 but it was a slump for sure.

John Cusack: Former Film Star

John Cusack turned 54 yesterday which led me to the question: What in the hell happened to John Cusack? In what should have been the decade of his career in which he played a defining role, like Kirk Douglas in Spartacus or John Wayne in The Searchers, or Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko or Keanu Reeves as John Wick, the best that Cusack rose to as a fortysomething was his lead role in the minor Stephen King horror story 1408 and his hero repeatedly escaping just ahead of the shockwave(s) in Roland Emmerich’s over-egged disaster pudding 2012. What went wrong? How did he end up making so many films that were not released, barely released, or sunk without trace here? 1408 and Cell, his two Stephen King horrors with Samuel L Jackson, got cinema releases in late summer 2007 and 2016 – they almost neatly cordon off the decade of disaster under scrutiny, and the decline in Cusack’s celebrity, as the latter went to VoD before a very limited cinema release. Before 1408 came Grace is Gone and The Contract. Ring a bell? Nope… 2012 and Hot Tub Time Machine while not great films got wide releases and made money. The Raven and The Frozen Ground are better films but got less wide releases and made considerably less money. They also flag a recurring problem – there are way too many films here that merge together when you read the loglines; impressive casts assembled for some glossy crime thriller, involving a serial killer or assassination or heist: The Factory, The Numbers Station, The Bag Man, Drive Hard, The Prince, Reclaim. There’s even a Phone Booth–like appearance in Grand Piano. And what’s stranger is that in the midst of these formulaic films Cusack made We Are Not Animals in Argentina, about a Hollywood star fleeing formulaic films, and then went back to Hollywood to make more formulaic films. There have not been enough meaty roles like his older Brian Wilson in the split-focus biopic Love & Mercy. Instead he’s made cameos in The Paperboy, The Butler, Adult World, taken more substantial roles in glossy films that sank without trace (Dragon Blade, Shanghai), indie films that failed to connect (Maps to the Stars, Chi-Raq), and somehow bungled a spiritual sequel to his towering 90s achievement Grosse Pointe Blank in the shape of War, Inc. Cusack has not stopped working, and perhaps that’s the problem. Like Matthew McConaughey, he needs to say no to a looooot of scripts for a while if he wants to get back on track. Otherwise Cusack will continue to work steadily, but solely on trashy nonsense (constantly declining in quality), that is made for midnight drunken Netflix buffoonery, and clicked on increasingly only by people who remember that his was once a face that appeared on posters inside cinemas.

July 18, 2013

The Frozen Ground

Nicolas Cage’s Alaskan state trooper hunts down John Cusack’s sadistic serial killer in a dramatisation of the real-life Robert Hansen case in early 1980s Alaska.

IMG_2828.CR2Teenage prostitute Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) is found by police officers in an Alaskan motel room; handcuffed, badly beaten, and distraught. She claims she was raped by pillar of the community Robert Hansen (John Cusack), so the brass instantly dismiss her accusations. However, after the discovery of a dead girl in the Alaskan wilds, state trooper Sgt. Jack Halcome (Nicolas Cage) reopens Cindy’s case as he suspects that there is a serial killer targeting young prostitutes like her, and that she is the one that got away… But keeping Cindy safe while he builds a case against Hansen without enraging the local PD is complicated for Halcome both by Cindy’s distrust and her pimp (50 Cent) forcing her to work the streets; because Hansen is prowling those sidewalks eager to find the loose end that could unravel his secret life.

This is the second film in as many months about a family man who secretly mass murdered his way thru the 1970s and 1980s, but this is not The Iceman. Hansen dominates his religious wife Fran (Katherine LaNasa) but keeps his true darkness hidden, and we never get any real sense of his inner life. By focusing on the procedural element of Halcome’s investigation Antipodean writer/director Scott Walker produces a cold detachment which feels oddly like Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal TV show. Patrick Murguia’s murky handheld camerawork is of course radically different, but at times you can feel you’re watching a basic cable version of Criminal Minds; a feeling reinforced when overly cautious DA (Kurt Fuller) rubbishes the report by one of the FBI’s new ‘profilers’. And that’s before noticing the supporting TV faces: Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Michael McGrady (Hawaii Five-O), Brad William Henke (LOST).

At some point Hudgens will stop trying to shock us to shed her Disney image, and we’ll finally be able to judge if she can actually act. But that point is still in the future. Her (flagged as ‘all-the-way’) drugged-up striptease here is mightily uncomfortable, as is the amount of offhand female nudity given that the film ends with a montage of the victims to whom the film is dedicated; mostly sex-workers, which renders such gratuitousness earlier tacky at best. Indeed it’s quite shocking how McGrady’s vice detective tolerates public prostitution, even down to negotiating with the Mob over questioning their hookers who work off-street, so long as things are kept reasonably under control. Differently shocking is Radha Mitchell’s thankless role as Mrs Halcome, who explicitly prioritises keeping one distressed hooker out of her house over catching a prolific murderer. Such considerations only come to mind because the sadism of Hansen is presented to us in vignettes played merely for tension rather than character analysis.

Walker stages a tense chase finale, and a nice tactical gambit from Halcome’s boss (Kevin Dunn), but his film while satisfying lacks true insight.

3/5

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