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.
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.
The Rock: when some miffed ex-military seize Alcatraz and aim chemical rockets at San Fran, a SWAT team is sent in to the save he day. Unlike most run-of-the-mill action films this is genuinely intense in parts, and has a substantial story – particularly the bad guys cause, which makes you question if it’s wrong to be rooting for them. Connery plays a blinder, reprising the James Bond role (great article here) and owning every scene he’s in with all the best lines. Cage does his crazy/comedy acting that somehow fits the tone of the film perfectly, and you couldn’t hand pick a better bunch of bad guys if you tried. The only downside is that there are some ridiculous attempts at comedy that fail terribly, and undermine / cheapen the film. Despite that little niggle, It’s almost incomprehensible that Michael Bay used to make films this good. Brilliant 1990s action affair. Ahhhh, Nicolas Cage and his green balls…
8mm: A private investigator is hired to authenticate or debunk a snuff film found by an eccentric millionaire’s widow. The headline here is a shocking display of anti-acting by Cage – could easily be in his bottom 5 performances (and that’s saying something) – totally woeful – especially when he loses his shit near the end Gandalfini steals the show with his ‘here’s what happened’ scene, and Phoenix plays a stereotype deviant well enough. So you’re thinking ‘Cage is rubbish, but at least the story’s alright…’ then the last hour happens. What the shit is the end of this film about; why does some guy have a crossbow? Why is Cage going vigilante? Why burn a stack of Porn? Rainy Mud fight? DANZIG?… everything is turned up to 11, or 20. It reeks of all the good 90s thrillers, but feels like a TV movie. 8mm is one of those films that everyone remembers being decent, but when replayed, is absolutely terrible. While the subject matter is intriguing, this film’s far too bizarre for most people to enjoy. Would recommend Tesis and Hardcore over this. Shame on Schu-macher!
Knowing: [unavoidable spoilers]: an astrophysicist receives a bit of paper that holds the key to every major disaster on earth. The number connection at the start feels like a high-brow Number 23, especially the drunken math-ster montage. The film’s surprisingly atmospheric and way more spooky than it looks. Ironically, and eerily, the movie also predicts a Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, weird. Disaster-wise we have an epic plane crash and destruction sequences on a supreme scale. Cage is rather good in this. Everything’s going really well then from out of nowhere: ALIENS AND FLAMING WOODLAND ANIMALS!!WTF?!?! Just when the film’s almost bounced back from that the final 15 minutes is another gigantic slap in the face. Knowing is a great premise that worked surprisingly well and was heading towards a 7-8 score. Unfortunately, it was absolutely mauled by the ending.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Werner Herzog’s tale of a crooked cop in post-Katrina New Orleans. This is to all intents and purposes a Nic Cage film, and boy is he back on form; overacting an eccentric, pain-ridden dirty cop and tripping on-screen for the full 2 hours… this is the man we fell in love with. The drug use brings a few bizarre and surreal moments ranging from Croc and Iguana close-ups to a breakdancing soul and Cage just talking absolute rubbish. There’s a good amount of very dark humour despite the drugs, murders, prostitution, blackmails and general shenanigans of the worst cop ever. The ending – particularly the scene at the Lieutenant’s desk where everyone visits him – felt like a massive cop-out and could have been so much more. Eva Mendes is good (and hot!), Stiffler‘s mum looks a little worse for wear until the end, Val Kilmer‘s only in about 3 scenes and I can’t see Xzibit without thinking about Pimp My Ride / Yo Dawg Yo. It’s really well shot, doesn’t drag too much and you know it’s well told when no matter how low the Lieutenant stoops, you’re still rooting for him. The amoral protagonist and situations he instigates will probably be the biggest turn-off here, nevertheless it’s a solid detective / drama film.
Nicolas Cage: I realise this has probably been done elsewhere but it would be cool to glean everyone’s brutally honest opinion on perhaps one of the most troubled actors of our times. Career highlights: The Weatherman, Matchstick Men, Face/Off, Wild at Heart, Adaptation, Lord of War and even National Treasure, Kick–Ass & Bangkok Dangerous are acceptable. Crimes against Cinema: you can never unsee The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Next… I recently saw the Sorcerers Apprentice trailer my heart just sank into my guts – why does he always have such shit hair?!?! Naturally, he picks up these awful big buck roles to aid his habit of spunking money on stuff like jets, yachts, 9 Rolls Royces (!), dinosaur skills (!!) a handful of castles (!!!), and his own god-damned island (!!WTF!!) Given his track record he’s like your crazy uncle at Christmas: will he embarrass himself and the entire family or will he be the highlight of the day?
Verdict: Despite his downfalls I put Cage in the Genius category because the pros of his career outweigh the cons (so far…)
Genius or Arse – You Decide!
Kick Ass: A guy who’s only power is being invisible (to girls) sets out to become a crime-fighting ‘superhero’. in order to remain original, which it does pretty well, Kick Ass avoids the usual comic book clichés – however the film suffers because the story’s pretty flat. All of the main characters are well-played, especially Cage and Strong, although you don’t see nearly enough of anyone that isn’t Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass; and as a lead he’s not that interesting! My biggest problem was that it kept leaping between American Pie style comedy, shock value, grim & realistic violence, outrageously OTT fantasy/comic violence, romance, gangster… This will drag you through so many genres (sublime and ridiculous) that you never know what’s coming or how you’re supposed to react. Some of the action scenes are fairly frantic and unclear, especially the lame “doom style” night vision shootout!! It should have been about 30 minutes shorter and borrowed a lot of visuals from the recent Spiderman flicks. Despite the bashing above it is good fun, pretty entertaining and there are LOADS of comic-references for your inner-nerd to pick out – for me however it was a bit too superficial and the saturated trailer campaign absolutely ruined all the best bits.
Bangkok Dagerous: (2008 Remake) The best hitman in the world goes on one last big job before retirement but breaks all his own rules and ends up in a whole bunch of trouble. Unfortunately this isn’t Cage’s finest hour, or hair cut, and although coming across as emotionally retarded generally works for hitmen he ends up looking super goofy in scenes that require any feeling. Even in the voiceover parts sound affected. I was bamboozled as to why almost everything about this re-make was so true to the original it turns out it was the same directors are behind this, which is no bad thing. Barring both deaf aspects this is shockingly faithful, even down to the rough, grainy and washed out look. It was a bit weird that Cage was the only white guy in a ‘westernised’ re-make, almost made it pointless, but I guess big names put the bums on seats. The 5.1 audio track is great, particularly in the action scenes. Not a bad film by any means but if possible, definitely check out the original.
Face/Off: is what happens when John Woo makes a film about a cop and a baddie swapping bodies. The rule is that any film that opens up with a double-assassinaton attempt, fake moustaches and a kid getting shot is going to be great. The first 40 minutes are filled with ridiculous over-acting and pseudo-science; a fully working face swap, really?!? Neither actor can pull off the madness of Caster Troy convincingly and when he wasn’t making ridiculous noises and faces, Cage was trying his damndest to un-act. Then there’s the action, and Face/Off is crammed with huge slabs of over-the-top action, culminating in the apartment shootout carnage with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ pumping through the speakers; one of the most epic and intense action scenes I can remember. Because both guys’ families are in danger it makes the story more gripping. There’s a lot of face touching, religious symbolism and bad parenting throughout (what ever happened to the hot goth Dominique Swain?). Despite the cheese and clichés this is my top action film of the 90’s, perhaps ever. If you’ve not seen this yet, where have you been hiding?