The Factory: when his daughter is taken by a kidnapper who has successfully evaded him for years the clock is ticking faster than ever for a Buffalo detective. Featuring Cusack, and a similar type of story, you may expect something like The Frozen Ground; or a movie like Insomnia, Se7en, Mystic River etc… Unfortunately, this isn’t in the same ball park. The story’s horribly clunky, and the clues/pointers are even worse – in particular a ridiculously bumbling angle about fertility and infertility which would stick out in any dialogue. The film (and detective) flounder from missed clue to missed clue before it throws up a preposterous ending – complete with flashbacks for those at the back not paying attention. The title of the film makes no sense until the last 2 minutes of the movie – which is also distracting. Character-wise you’ve got the clichéd married-to-the-job detective, rookie sidekick, and a kidnapper that should have been demented and scary (Buffalo Bill style), but was played like a comedy redneck character. Despite a promising synopsis and Cusack in the lead is not much more than a bottom of the barrel, bargain bin, by-the-numbers, straight-to-DVD, B-movie with an A-List star and some TV actors (minor characters from Dexter, Good Wife, Arrested Development).
The Frozen Ground: when an upstanding citizen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping a ‘lying’ prostitute the case is immediately dropped, but lands on the desk of a diligent detective. The first-time director coaxes solid performances from an impressive cast: Con Air’s Cage and Cusack are always welcome (and Cage looks like he actually wants to be here!), supported by the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kurt Fuller, Brad Henke, and 50 Cent’s teeth. Unlike 99% of serial killer films, this is different because you know very quickly who the baddie is – it’s not a random character added in the last act – so we see the cop stalking the killer, while the he tries to evade detection, not unlike Insomnia (in setting / location too). In fact the only real mis-step is the clichéd ‘over-committed-detective-with-suffering-family’ trope, but it’s a minor part of the picture. As great as this is, it’s a tough one to recommend because it’s pretty grim viewing in parts, but I’d put this as being head and shoulders above your average movie in the burgeoning ‘true crime / serial killer’ genre.
The Raven: murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe stories mark him as a suspect, however he and the police must use his specific knowledge to crack the case and find the real killer. Despite Renner, McGregor and Phoenix being marked for the lead, I don’t think any would have been as entertaining as Cusack, who film heavily relies on to elevate it above a standard thriller – he nailed the hard job of playing a watchable, likable asshole. Supporting cast are also solid, from Evans doing a Nelson Van Alden to Alice Eve‘s boobs and teeth – Gleeson‘s accent though, WTF?! The story’s dark, accompanied with some explicit gore and graphic death scenes. There’s some sneaky misdirection towards the end, and the killer could have been anyone really; the post script in Paris is also a little out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s well-directed, with some great suspense built up, particularly in the pursuit and masked ball scenes – it also never drags. The script is generally good, although there’s some tactical swearing and spats of dialogue that seemed a little obvious and uninspired for such a great mind. Sure, a killer looming over foggy candle-lit 1800s streets isn’t a new idea, but I’m surprised at the heavy critical bashing this has taken; although perhaps it’s because this is only my first Poe movie, so have no comparison? For me, The Raven was a thoroughly enjoyable, old-fashioned, ‘classical’, gothic, Hammer-esque, atmospheric murder mystery romp with a hint of Giallo – and all the better for being a blend of fact, fiction and Poe’s famous works.
Con Air: a released prisoner (former U.S. Ranger) gets caught up in a plane hijacking carried out by the criminal cargo. This is one of the best examples of ridiculous, over-the-top 90s action films (homage to 80s). There’s something about the huge fiery explosions, big loud action and epic weeping / heroic guitar licks that plunges me right into these films. Cage, despite being laughably shit and doing THE worst accent in the history of cinema, holds the film together surprisingly well. Malk is the perfect villain – whose calmness only makes him more terrifying – and his band of crazy henchmen are all gratuitously evil. Cusack is good, but his dashing young looks always make him feel miscast as an authority figure. Everything towards the end of the film (In Vegas) is beyond excessive, ludicrous, and poorly cut – but I guess that’s Vegas for you! Held together by the supercast this is a solid, big action, big entertainment, film that still holds up well.
War Inc.: spiritual sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank – same actors playing similar characters etc. This film managed to take some of the weaker aspects of GPB and beef them up; script, story, jokes & characters… in general terms I found to be War Inc. a lot funnier and more memorable. The political satire / wit is this film’s strong-point and although it’s not quite as polished as films like ‘Charlie Wilson’s War‘ it does share a lot of the sentiments, and has moments that match the edginess and drama. There are a few sections when the satire turns into ridiculous slapstick, which doesn’t match the tone of the film: songs & 3D theater for the press. Another aspect that jumped out was that Cusack is pretty good at action! Surprisingly smart political satire romp that has more to say than meets the eye.
Grosse Pointe Blank: Follows a hitman going through a midlife crisis as he heads back home for a big job and school reunion. This was supposed to be a dark comedy but the only black part was Martin Blank’s clothes; the tone was more mawkish than anything else. Minnie Driver was pretty terrible, Cusack is just plain old Cusack and none of the others are particularly noteworthy. There’s a massive (but predictable) soundtrack that they must have spent a lot of the budget on. It pokes a lot of fun at the technology that appeared in 1980’s films although the final message is that too much TV is bad for you. Not a whole lot more to say really. This is probably the finest example of an entire film being drawn out around a single pun – what’s worse is that it adds absolutely nothing to the film! Despite everything that happens it just ends up feeling bland and absurd.
Hot Tub Time Machine: 3 middle-aged guys and a nephew go on a Ski Trip, and get transported back to the 1980s via a malfunctioning hot tub; partial hilarity ensues. It’s essentially a mish-mash of several tried and tested movies: American Pie, High Fidelity, Back to the Future, The Hangover, any ‘Buddy Comedy’ you can think of and the Butterfly Effect. Additionally, the characters are all pulled from the ‘Familiar and Safe’ cupboard; the cool / normal guy, Mr under the thumb, the wildcard and nerd loser. The strangest aspect was that it’s essentially a teen movie, but starring adults… weird to watch. There’s puke, piss, shit & many a gross-out but the ratio of hot tits to saggy men’s asses was disappointingly even (note to the director, this shouldn’t even be a ‘ratio’) HTTM is funny, and by no means a bad film, but it’s exactly what you expect a film called “Hot Tub Time Machine” to be and nothing more. Inevitably suffers from trying to be to broad and tick a huge bunch of ‘safe’ boxes, stick to the Hangover.