Knights of Badassdom on The Frozen Ground

Knights of Badassdom and Frozen Ground are currently available on instant Netflix

Knights of Badassdom

 

Knights of Badassdom (2013) – Rated R

Venturing into the woods to act out a medieval fantasy, three friends face a real-life struggle for survival after inadvertently conjuring a succubus.”

You just summoned a succubus from Hell!” – “Sorry”

First-time writers Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall nail the particulars of LARPing in this mildly amusing movie. The script could have used a serious polishing though to make it shine.

Director Joe Lynch has had an absolutely fascinating career. He started as an actor, creative assistant, and best boy in the movie Terror Firmer. Since then he has been an actor, director of photography, editor, cinematographer, writer, and producer. He has even been an editor on pornographic films under the rather ridiculous alias of Fernando Phagabeefy. In 2007, he took a franchise that was hackneyed from the first film (Wrong Turn) and made a very tongue-in-cheek sequel that was much better than the original.

Lynch assembled a dream cast from nerdvana. Ryan Kwanten, Jason Stackhouse of True Blood, plays our reluctant LARPer, Joe. Summer Glau, River Tam from Firefly and the main Terminator in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, plays our requisite love interest, Gwen. Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, overacts outrageously as drunk redneck LARPer, Hung. Danny Pudi, Abed from Community, plays Lando. Steve Zahn is along for some (extra) comic relief.

The cast is obviously where a lot of the fun comes from. None of them are even remotely flexing their acting muscles but they all seem to be having quite a bit of fun. The meager special effects budget serves the film well in some ways as the monster seems to be just a few steps above those costumed for the LARP.

Frozen Ground

 

Frozen Ground (2013) – Rated R

In this fact-based thriller, an Alaska state trooper pursuing a serial killer teams with a 17-year-old-prostitute who escaped the predator’s clutches.

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage anchored tentpole action movies and John Cusack headlined many fascinating independent movies. They even appeared together in the marvelously over-the-top Con Air.

Sadly, Cage’s career hit the skids and he had some pretty severe income tax problems. He turned to quick direct-to-video movies to make a fast buck. His performances were occasionally good but more often than not, they turned lazy, with Cage playing roles somnambulistically or simply yelling his way through them. I’m not sure what happened to Cusack but he appears to have joined Cage in direct-to-video land.

The Frozen Ground is written and directed by first time writer and director Scott Walker. It is competent, by the numbers, but unimaginative. It is based on the story of serial killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack collecting a paycheck). Scenes involving the victims are very mean-spirited, presumably to show realism but it seems like torture porn lite. Nicolas Cage is our dogged detective on the case, knowing who the killer is but having trouble proving it.

The third member of our cast is escaped victim Cindy Paulson. She is played by Vanessa Hudgens, who seems more alive than the rest of the cast. Dean (Breaking Bad) Norris backs Cage up as another detective on the case.

The Frozen Ground catches the actors frozen but breaks no new ground. It isn’t bad per se but there is not a compelling reason to watch it.

The Numbers Station

The Numbers Station is currently available on Netflix.

One-line review: I give it a 3 of 5 – one each for Cusack, premise, and execution.

The Numbers StationThe Numbers Station (2013) – Rated R

A disgraced black ops agent is dispatched to a remote CIA broadcast station to protect a code operator. Soon, they find themselves in a life-or-death struggle to stop a deadly plot before it’s too late.

John Cusack continues his slow decline into direct-to-video productions with The Numbers Station. I have to wonder if Cusack got into financial trouble as Nicolas Cage did and now he just has to take as many parts as quickly as possible. This year alone Cusack is in Doll & Em, The Numbers Station, Adult World, The Frozen Ground (with Con Air co-star, Nicolas Cage!), Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Grand Piano, Motel, and No somos animales.

The Numbers Station is a by-the-numbers (sorry) siege film. The reason for the location is unique but otherwise this is a nondescript, industrial hideaway for two spies under siege by other spies for nefarious purposes. This is the sort of film that is typically made in Eastern Europe though here it is filmed in England. Obviously the (mostly) single location photography saves money and Cusack is the only star. Malin Akerman is good as Katherine and, to its credit, there is no romantic subplot shoehorned into the narrative.

The Numbers Station is certainly elevated by Cusack’s presence as Emerson, a world weary black ops agent. The film and overall plot are amusing diversions even if the moral conundrums are undercooked (there is no doubt how Emerson is going to react to a certain situation that arises) and the ending is quite ludicrous.

WATCH: Game of Thrones star Liam (Davos Seaworth) Cunningham has a small role as one of Emerson’s (Cusack) bosses.

 

The Factory – Debbie Does Dexter

The Factory is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Boring, boring, boring, left-field twist that makes no sense, end movie as nonsensically as the twist.

The FactoryThe Factory (2012) – Rated R

“John Cusack stars as Mike Fletcher, a policeman consumed with capturing a serial killer who’s been abducting and slaying his victims with impunity. But when Fletcher’s teen daughter vanishes, the fixated cop sets aside his badge to nab the murderer.”

Poor John Cusack. He started out promisingly in the teen comedies of the 80s. His boombox scene in Say Anything is iconic. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he continued making films straight through until now, alternating between high profile mainstream projects (Con Air, 2012) and wonderful indie features (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, Identity). There was an ebb and flow to his career.

How did he ever end up in direct-to-DVD drivel like this? Did he run into financial troubles like Nicolas Cage and Wesley Snipes? I thought that this must be an aberration but, looking at imdb, Cusack has no less than eight films this year.

Yes, John Cusack makes The Factory better than it has a right to be but this is hardly good work on his part. Jennifer Carpenter is looking to break out of her role as Miami homicide detective Deb in Dexter and into movies as Dexter winds down its final episodes. Here Carpenter plays a Buffalo homicide detective. So umm I guess she adds acting cold to her resume.

I noticed on Netflix, someone was lauding the film for being unpredictable. Well there is something to be said for that. That is, if by unpredictable, what you actually mean is nonsensical. I don’t do spoilers but for some films, the ending is the story. What would The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense be without the ending? Sometimes a film can be nonsensical and still be quite enjoyable (Star Trek Into Darkness), most other times it just detracts (Iron Man 3). Here it takes an otherwise routine film and makes you want to hurl something at the screen.

I guess the real problem is that The Factory isn’t very good to begin with. The central premise is that one of the detectives working for years to catch a serial killer of prostitutes has his teen daughter kidnapped by the killer. Please note that this is NOT to get back at the officer, the killer simply mistakes this one girl in the entire city for another prostitute (was the writer/director angry with the way his teenage daughter dresses?).

It is obvious that the writers thought of this wonderful ending and worked their way backwards but, again, it in no way makes sense. You won’t say omigosh! so much as huh? Carpenter and Cusack try to elevate this but it doesn’t rise above the level of dreck.

Con Air – Do Not Get on That Plane week

This is Do Not Get on That Plane week. Con Air is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Con Air (1997) – Rated R for strong violence and language.

“When the government puts all its rotten criminal eggs in one airborne basket, it is asking for trouble. Before you can say, “Pass the barf bag,” the crooks control the plane, led by creepy Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich). Watching his every move is the just-released Nicolas Cage, who would rather reunite with his family. The action climaxes with an incredible crash sequence in Las Vegas.”

“Make a move and the bunny gets it!”

“What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldnt you consider that to be insane”

Okay recommending this movie I realize that I should have a category for Guilty Pleasure. For everything it gets right, it gets something wrong.

This is the first film directed by Simon West. None of his other films so far have been any good (Tomb Raider? The Generals Daughter?) and yet this one is chock full of great action and sort of great performances (more on that later).

We are not even five minutes into the movie when Cameron (Nicolas Cage) is attacked by three thugs who threaten his wife, deface his uniform, and beat him. Clearly they deserve the smackdown. Of course Cameron, a former Army Ranger, allows them to surround him in a rainy parking lot and begin beating him down without initially fighting back which seems quite odd.

The action is fun and pretty much non-stop. The acting is the real reason to watch this movie. They got a great cast and Simon West appears to have told each of them that they should go flat out with their acting. The actors do not seem to interact so much as they try to outdo each other.

Nicolas Cage overacts his heart out. His performance will leave you cringing at times but it does give him a certain charisma. They also take plenty of opportunities to show off his pecs and abs. Even his hair is given plenty of screen time and real estate.

Our other hero is a sandal-wearing U.S. Marshal, Vince Larkin. He is played by John Cusack who is clearly having a lot of fun here. He continually twits rival DEA agent Duncan Malloy played by Colm Meaney (Chief OBrien on Star Trek TNG/DS9 – his keychain has a Star Trek ornament on it).

We know that Malloy is not a hero because the first thing he does is arrive in a very expensive sports car and park in the handicap spot.

Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs was such a part of the cultural zeitgeist by this point that they base not one but two of the felons on his character (Cyrus and Garland).

Cyrus is our main villain and is overplayed to perfection by a scenery-chewing John Malkovich. He is riveting and stands out above the other overactors. His number two is Ving Rhames as Diamond Dog.

Even the minor villains are all chosen for their flamboyance. Comedian Dave Chappelle plays Pinball (humorously of course). The excellent character actor Danny Trejo plays rapist Johnny 23. M.C. Gainey plays white trash Swamp Thing.

Strangely the only actor in the whole movie who seems restrained (and that is only in comparison to the other actors) is Steve Buscemi who gives a delightful performance as Garland Greene.

The actresses are actually restrained (literally in one case). Rachel Ticotin plays a guard and Monica Potter is the love interest, patiently waiting for Cameron to come home. Neither is given much to do – perhaps because they did not overact?

The action is fabulous and almost as over-the-top as the acting. Almost every airplane trope is covered here – emergency takeoff, crash landing, fight in flight, body falling from airplane, landing gear stuck, etc.

I have to say a few words, but only a few, about the plot. The plot is utterly ridiculous – any description of it reveals plenty of plotholes. The dialogue is alternately wonderful and cringe-inducing. The film steals liberally from Flight of the Phoenix, Silence of the Lambs, and others but definitely has its own sense of identity.

I did like that almost the entire movie takes place on Bastille Day.

Con Air was actually nominated for two Academy Awards. Diane Warren was nominated for best song for “How Do I Live”. Con Air was also nominated for Best Sound. Unfortunately it ran into the juggernaut that was Titanic.

I cannot in good conscience call this a good film but I do recommend it because it is a huge amount of fun.

People watch: Powers Boothe does an initial voice-over showing love for the Rangers.