Skip to main content

Have you ever seen anybody do anything like this before?

The Frozen Ground
(2013)

Does John Cusack have troubles with the taxman, on the scale of Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer? An actor who used to appear in a couple of movies a year showed up in seven during 2013, and has another eight pencilled for 2014. What gives, John? Nicolas Cage meanwhile, whose wigmaker also appears to have fallen on hard times, seems to be curtailing the quantity if not the dubious quality. So the two of them together, realising the vision of first-time director Scott Walker, didn’t bode well. The results bear this out, which is especially unfortunate as Walker’s subject matter had the potential for a gripping piece of work.


The Frozen Ground is based on the 13-year killing spree of Robert Hansen, outwardly a respectable family man and member of the community, but whose rap sheet testified to a history of criminal activity and violence against women. Hansen abducted, raped and murdered at least 17 women. A hunter, he would fly his victims out to the Alaskan wilderness where he shot and buried them. It’s a grisly tale, the sort of material one could imagine David Fincher casting a meticulous eye over (he does adore his serial killers, does David). Scott Walker is most definitely David Fincher. He may have the eye for a compelling story, but neither his script nor direction are up to the challenge of translating it to screen.


While Walker hits the essential beats of the tale, he also makes a right botch of Hollywood-ising it in all the wrong places. His attempts to amp up traditional thriller elements are never less than risible. This is particularly ironic, as he announces with great sincerity that this is Cindy Paulson’s story and ends the movie with a roll call of all Hansen’s (known) victims. This would be a nice touch if it the movie weren’t so ham-fisted and straight-to-video in its dramatic content.


Vanessa Hudgens does a tolerable job as panda-eyed Paulson, but she’s saddled with a character required to repeatedly put herself in harm’s way so as to maximise the tension. Are we really supposed to believe that Hansen hired a heavy (Justified’s Brad William Henke) to dispose of Paulson? Has Walker managed to convince himself he’s telling her story, complete with Fiddy Cent as Paulson’s pimp? The attempts to enliven the interrogation of Hansen are no better, with the crucial evidence of Hansen’s map (showing the sites he flew his victims to) introduced as a sudden revelatory moment. “I’ve got it! That’s what these little “X”s mean!” Hansen’s eventual spilling of the beans is toe-curlingly inept as devised and staged.


There’s little to commend him for in terms of the other characters either. There’s zero insight into Hansen, the hows and whys. He may as well be the standard issue boogeyman, despite assurances that we would be presented with the opposite. Cusack is okay, but just being subdued and glowering is no substitute for motivation. Cage’s Sergeant Jack Halcombe is standard issue Cage. He’s fine (I’ll big up Cage in any role; I’m fully aware of the brickbats he takes but I find him enormously entertaining, even when the enjoyment may be inadvertent on his part), but Halcombe is as wafer-thin as Nic’s syrup. He even has a wife (Radha Mitchell) ragging on him who then comes round to his way of thinking when she sees how important his case is. Poor Mitchell; her relocation from Oz has all gone a bit wrong. Also popping up uneventfully are Dean Norris (playing a cop!) and Kevin Dunn (playing a lieutenant; virtually the same role as in True Detective, but not nearly so auspiciously).


Even less assured are Walker’s stylistic flourishes. He appropriates handheld camera as if it’s going out of fashion. There are few directors with the assuredness to use handheld well. Paul Greengrass is one, so much so that his name is virtually synonymous with shakycam. Walker attempts no visual gymnastics, but his technique is horribly distracting. His camera moves and darts without rhyme or reason, an approach bereft of any understanding of the dramatic integrity of a scene and how it fits into the film as a whole. Close-up of a hand, a face, move the camera randomly to suggest import or momentum, cut; stir and repeat. If it looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing as a storyteller, I’d suggest that’s because he doesn’t.  There’s a nice shot with an ethereal moose wandering the city, but it’s an ill-fitting affectation.


As straight-to-video fare goes, this is probably about what you’d expect. But it’s the sadder testament that lingers. Two stars reduced to slumming it in rote roles (is it really 17 years since Con Air?) and a true story executed in an at best mechanical and at worst borderline inept fashion. The morbid fascination of the crimes ensures The Frozen Ground holds interest, but Walker’s floundering take guarantees it will be another decade before anyone goes near Hansen’s story again and attempts to do it the justice.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna (2019)
(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…