Posts Tagged ‘john cusack’

better-off-dead

Lane Meyer (John Cusack) is an average teenager with a lot of issues.  His mother Jenny, (Kim Darby ) can’t cook.  His father Al, (David Ogden Stiers ) has issues with the paperboy.  His brother Badger (Scooter Stevens) is sending for weird books through the mail.  He has Korean brothers, Yee Sook Ree (Yuji Okamoto) and Chen Ree (Brian Imada) trying to drag race him, when all he drives is his parents station wagon, and his classic Camaro sits under a sheet, untouched by human hands.  His neighbor Ricky Smith (Dan Schneider) is spending the summer with a pretty exchange student, named Monique, (Diane Franklin) who can’t speak a word of English.  But at least Lane has a girlfriend named Beth (Amanda Wyss) who he obsesses over.

But then Beth breaks up with Lane, she starts going out with ski champ Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier) needless to say, Lane takes the breakup badly.  He tries to commit suicide, albeit half-heartedly.  Lane’s friend, Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong)  advises Lane to ski the K12, the most challenging ski run in the area and to take up the saxophone, both designed win Beth’s heart back. His father wants Lane to date Joanne Greenwald to help dad’s business prospects.  In a fit of anger, Lane challenges Roy to a race down K12.  Lane is a good skier, but is he ready for K12?  And if he does race, will this impress Beth, or win him the affections of another girl, Joanne Greenwald or Monique perhaps?

When I watched this movie 32 years ago, I thought it was better than it actually was.  Now I watch it, and as much as I wanted to slap a classic tag on it, I couldn’t.  The production values are so cheap, the recurring gags recur so many times, hinting at a lack of material, and the plot is so stunningly obvious from the start, that despite my admiration for John Cusack, I just couldn’t label this movie a classic.  I realize now  my fondness for Better Off Dead occurs more from nostalgia than it being a good movie.  And suicide is never funny, and shouldn’t be treated as a joke.

The actors are very familiar.  John Cusack gives a heartfelt performance as a heartbroken teen, but this is familiar territory for him.  He plays similar roles in Say Anything and The Sure Thing, and I think the best of the three is The Sure Thing, but his performance in this is worth watching for sure.  David Ogden Stiers is from MASH of course, and he plays the clueless father with some of the same timing he had in MASH, Amanda Wyss was in Nightmare on Elm Street, and plays Beth to be as unlikeable as possible. Diane Franklin, who was in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure had great chemistry with Cusack and also made the movie worth watching.  Curtis Armstrong is best known to me as Booger from Revenge of the Nerds and essentially plays the same character, a wise guy, who’s been around the block a few times. E.G. Daily, from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure even sings a few songs. All this 80’s talent should’ve resulted in a better movie.

I think the fault lies in the direction.  “Savage” Steve Holland is the director’s name and he sure savages his movie.  The movie has no continuity, the scenes seem like a bunch of vignetttes, loosely tied together, and as soon the punch line hits, it’s on to the next scene. The recurring gags grow tiresome after repeated use, and the best part of the film, the animation, is used too sparingly.  To his credit, the music is good, and there is at least one good skiing montage, and the last ski race is filmed well.

Better Off Dead:  Worse than I remember.

 

Advertisements

CHIRAQ

Chi-raq (Nick Cannon)  is a rapper and gang leader of the Spartans in modern day Chicago.  During a performance, members of a rival gang, named the Trojans, try to kill Chi-raq. Chi-raq and his girlfriend Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) escape unscathed, but that incident combined with the shooting of a little girl named Patty shakes Lysistrata to her core.  While staying with a learned woman named Miss Helen (Angela Bassett) Lysistrata learns about a woman in Liberia who ended the second civil war there by banding all of the women together and making them withhold sex from the male soldiers.  That gives Lysistrata an idea on how to stop the shootings and violence in Chicago, a sex strike.  She starts small with the girlfriends of the Trojans, but soon the idea takes root, and Lysistrata and a small army of women take over an armory in Chicago.

Patty’s mother Irene (Jennifer Hudson) and a priest in her church, Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) try a more conventional way to find Patty’s killer, they offer a 5,000 dollar reward for any information on the killer.  Three months after the sex strike has begun, police commissioner Blades (Harry Lennix) is under intense pressure from the mayor of Chicago (DB Sweeney to end the strike, but the strike has gone to the White House and worldwide. Does Lysistrata get the peace treaty she wants, or does Chi-raq break the strike? Do the priest and Irene find Patty’s killer?

Chi-rac is an incredible movie.  It’s based on an ancient Greek play called Lysistrata by Aristophanes.  Some of the dialogue rhymes, I don’t know if that is a tip of the cap to Shakespearian quatrains or rap music, but it makes the movie more lyrical and whimsical.  Another aspect of the movie that I like is that it incorporates all aspects of African American life in the search for a solution to the problem of violence, including the black church, so many films forget that the black church is a vital part of African American life, Spike Lee includes the church, and I thought that added to the authenticity.  Lee knows there’s lots of blame to go around, so he spreads blame evenly, institutional racism, the gun lobby, the youth who glamorize the gang culture, none of the targets escape blame.  The comedy at times is a bit broad, but at its best reminds me of Dr. Strangelove. Any writer that can balance laughter and pathos like Lee and co-writer Kevin Willmott do, they deserve credit for the effort.

I have one complaint about the acting, and that is the choice of Nick Cannon as a gangster rapper, no matter how hard Cannon tries, (tattoos, muscles, trying hard to look like Tupac) it just doesn’t work, he can’t ditch that clean-cut image.  The rest of the cast is stunningly good, Teyonah Parris owns this role, she is a strong woman who uses sex as a weapon, and realizes the power of that weapon.  It would have been easy to make Lysistrata a superficial woman, obsessed with her looks, but Parris gave the character depth.  She was also good in Dear White People.  Angela Basset is incredible as a woman who has lost a daughter to gun violence, and wants the next generation to learn lessons from the reckless violence before it’s too late.  There’s a lot of anger simmering just below the surface of the Helen character, and Bassett only wants to show so much. Jennifer Hudson gives a great performance of just pure raw emotion of a parent who’s just lost a child, it’s compelling.  John Cusack’s roaring performance as Father Corridan is spellbinding, it is no doubt based on father Michael Phleger , a real life Chicago priest, and social activist.  Cusack, Hudson, or Bassett could have easily been nominated for Oscars.

Like all Spike Lee films this movie pops with color.  There are all kinds of visual cues that control the mood.  The juxtaposition of scenes is masterful, just when the viewer thinks this is a comedy, Lee pulls the viewer back to reality, and shows what this film is about, the pacing is brisk, and Lee gets great performances from the whole cast.

Chi-raq:  Not shy at all.

must love dogs

Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) is a divorced preschool teacher, her husband cheated on her with a younger woman.  Her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) forces Sarah to jump back into the dating pool, by putting her profile on an internet dating site. Sarah meets some men, a lawyer interested in much younger women, a man who cries uncontrollably, and then she meets Jake.  (John Cusack)  Jake has had his heart broken in a serious relationship, and is content to spend the rest of his life watching Dr. Zhivago and wallowing in self-pity.  But as fate would have it, Jake answers Sarah’s ad, which includes the phrase, must love dogs.  They meet at a dog park, for a disastrous first date, Jake is a little too honest and theoretical about love.  At the same time, Sarah finds herself attracted to Bob, (Durmot Mulroney) the father of one of Sarah’s students, who is called incorrigible by his ex-wife.  So who does Sarah choose, too honest Jake, or too smooth Bob?

This movie starts out so promisingly, it is funny and well-acted, some of the jokes are laugh out loud funny, then some of the jokes become contrived, (nobody sings the Partridge family theme in their kitchen) and then the last 20 minutes happens. The movie becomes weepy and trite, and actually forces the conclusion on the viewer.  It would have been preferable if both men were worthy of Sarah’s affection but this movie, like so many other Rom Coms chooses one guy over the other, and that’s too bad.

The performances are excellent.  John Cusack is excellent once again as an intelligent guy, who’s been through a painful relationship, and still searching for love.  Diane Lane is surprisingly funny and approachable. Christopher Plummer is very good as Sarah’s womanizing, smooth talking, womanizing widower father, Bill.  Stockard Channing is unexpectedly wonderful as Bill’s vulnerable girlfriend, Dolly.

The pacing is good, and the length is perfect, but again, the script sabotages what could have been a very good movie.

Must Love Dogs: I have a bone to pick with this movie.

The Mayans have a prophecy that the world is going to end in 2012.  In 2009, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) travels to India and notices an increased occurrence sunspots and solar flares.  He flies to Washington and tells Presidential advisor Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) what is happening and the potentially tragic consequences for the country and the world.  Anheuser starts to create an evacuation and government continuation plan for world leaders involving arks located in China but no one in the government tells anyone outside the inner circle anything about the coming catastrophe.

Jackson Curtis (Cusack) is a divorced father of two kids, part time chauffeur, full time failed author, takes his kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park where he meets end of the world prophet Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) Charlie is convinced that the world is going to end and tells Jackson that he knows where the evacuation ships are because he’s got the maps.  Jackson mostly thinks he’s a nut, but then realizes that the nut might have a point when earthquakes start roiling California and Governor Schwarzenegger tells everyone the worst is over .  He drives his limo full speed to his ex-wife Kate’s (Amanda Peet) house picks up the kids and tries to get out of California.  Then the really big earthquakes begin. Jackson goes back to Yellowstone, gets a map from Charlie, and tries to make his way to China with his kids and her currant boyfriend Gordon (Tom McCarthy) who just happens to know how to fly a plane.  Jackson’s current employer Yuri Karpov Zlatko Buric gets Jackson a plane to fly.  Does he make it to China? Does he make it to the ark?

This movie is an all too formulaic disaster movie is the mold of the Poseidon Adventure and Independence Day. Cusack is always one step ahead of being swallowed alive by mother earth, Amanda Peet’s boyfriend has two whole flying lessons and he flies like a stunt pilot, Cusack is a part-time chauffer, but he turns into the best driver in the world.  The president is black, which always seems to be the case in these end-of-the world movies.  See Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact.  What is Hollywood trying to tell us anyway?  The story is so formulaic, and trite that the viewer knows exactly who’s going to die and when.  John Cusack is all wrong for this movie, he should be making sophisticated films, this movie screams out for Nicholas Cage playing the lead.  Isn’t he in all these nutty conspiracy theory movies lately?  Daanny Glover looks old and tired, like he IS a couple of days from retirement, it’s nice to see Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson in this movie, but they don’t belong in this movie.  They all try very hard, but it’s a god-awful 2 ½ hours long and it didn’t need to be.  There were about 10 subplots going on. The geologist has a thing for Thandie, the geologists father is a jazz singer with George Segal on a cruise ship.  George Segal’s son is estranged from him because he married a Hispanic girl Who the f— cares?  Unnecessary, most of them die anyway, and the viewer knows it.  The ending is pure Hollywood milquetoast.  I just felt empty after watching it, empty and bored

2012:  Yours, Mayan, and Ours.

Image

Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is a grumpy record store owner, made all the more grumpy by the fact that his latest girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle) has left him.  Now, Rob is starting to take stock of his life, he’s ranking his five worst breakups, and what’s more he wants to meet his five exes, and see where things went wrong.  Rob never meets Allison Ashmore (Shannon Stillo) but talks to her mother and finds out that she married the second guy she kissed, which was the guy after Rob. Penny Hardwick (Joelle Carter) is Rob’s second girlfriend and a really nice girl, who Rob broke up with because she wouldn’t sleep with him in high school.  When Penny tells him that he destroyed her life, Rob strangely takes this in stride, and remains happy.  Rob eventually meets girlfriend number three, Charlie Nicholson (Catherine Zeta-Jones). He was intimidated by Charlie, but when they meet again, she is pompous and pretentious, and so it’s no big loss that she got away.  Rob’s fourth girlfriend, Sarah (Lilli Taylor) was coming off a bad relationship, and is now just off the deep end.  Then, there’s Laura.

Rob finally realizes that he had a good relationship with Laura, but by the time he comes to the realization, there are a number of obstacles in their way.  Laura has a new boyfriend named Ian (Tim Robbins).  At the same time he’s thinking of Laura, he’s sleeping with singer Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet), who he has no intention of having a long term relationship with.  Rob’s also done some despicable things to Laura during the relationship, when Rob’s own sister, Liz, (Joan Cusack) hears Rob’s dark secrets, she comes to Laura’s aid.  But when Laura’s father dies, she calls Rob to come to the funeral.  Is there a chance for these two mismatched lovers?

Which came first, the music or the misery?  Now that may sounds like the beginning of a beginning of a long and depressing movie, but High Fidelity is actually a very funny movie.  I compare this movie to another Cusack movie, Say Anything, and this is a much better movie on all counts, a much better more realistic story about a self-absorbed guy who likes to pity himself for things that are essentially his fault.  High Fidelity is also a much funnier movie. The makers of this movie break the fourth wall and have Cusack talk directly to the camera.  If done badly, it fails miserably, but it works here, to great comic effect.   The Greek Chorus of Jack Black and Todd Louiso as a pair of musically hip snobs are hilarious.  Tim Robbins who was in the Sure Thing with Cusack is once again very funny as Laura’s ponytailed new age rebound boyfriend.  The scenes between Robbins and Cusack are worth the price of a rental in itself.  And surprise, Catherine Zeta Jones is very funny as a non-musical snob, who lives on her looks, and little else.   Lilli Taylor who was the funniest part of Say Anything has a few funny moments here.  To top off the enjoyment, the music is superb, a mix of soul and punk and everything in between.

High Fidelity.  High Comedy.

Image

Lilly Dillon (Angelica Huston) is a con-artist who operates out of a racetrack.  She gives most of her proceeds to a mobster named Bobo Justus, (Pat Hingle) and Lilly better keep paying Bobo, because Bobo doesn’t have a problem with hitting a woman.  Bobo burns Lilly’s hand when she doesn’t run the con correctly. Her son Roy (John Cusack)is master of the short con, he says he’s a small time con-artist, but look behind the clown paintings in his dingy apartment and you’ll see he’s hidden a lot of money.  Roy’s girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening) is a con-artist called a roper, she ropes in unsuspecting rich men and gets them to invest their money with her. Myra needs a new partner, and she sees Roy as her Prince Charming.  Who will get their hands on Roy’s money first, his lovely girlfriend, or his mommy dearest?

I loved this movie, until about the last 15 minutes of the movie.  The characters are finely crafted, they can be as sweet as pie one minute but when that façade drops, look out, they can be as nasty as they need to be to get what they want.  These characters are also as cagey as hell, the viewer never knows what they are going to do next, which is what makes the last 15 minutes of this movie so disheartening.  Surely the writers could have come up with a better ending than they did, I felt betrayed that the writers would resort to such an ending when they built up these characters with wit, charm and grace for an hour and 45 minutes, and then bam, the ending, it was disappointing.

The acting in this movie is superb.  These actors put such verve and charm into their characters, that the viewers almost forget how despicable the characters are.  John Cusack still looks so young and he’s got that boyish charm going full tilt.  Don’t let his innocent smile fool you, this guy is a shark.  Anjellica Huston is masterful, at times she sounds like a sweet old Southern grandma, at times she makes the viewers blood run cold. She looks like she could either kiss you or kill you, and she’s capable of both.  Not to be outdone, Annette Bening exudes sexuality in this role.  She knows exactly what she’s got and exactly how to use it, and she’s using it to rope in Cusack, who resists mightily. Lilly hates Myra. Is Huston being protective of her son , or is there something else at work here?  The actors make the characters better.

The Grifters.  Con-fident performances can’t save a lousy ending.

serendipity

During a chance encounter while shopping for gloves at Bloomingdale’s John (John Cusack) meets Sara. (Kate Beckinsale) By the end of the night John is smitten and wants to get to know Sara better, so he asks for her number.  Sarah is a firm believer in fate, so she leaves their next encounter to fate.  Sara asks John to write his number on a five dollar bill, which she promptly spends and she writes her name and number inside a random copy of Love in the Time of Cholera.  Sara reasons that if they are meant to be together, John will find the book and she will find the five dollar bill.

A couple of years pass, both Sara and John seemed to have moved on.  John is on the verge of marrying a beautiful, sweet girl named Halley (Bridget Moynihan) Sara is engaged to new age singer Lars (John Corbett).  Even though they both seem happy, neither John or Sara can forget that one magical night they spent together.  John enlists his best friend, Dean (Jeremy Piven) a New York Times obituary writer, and a snooty Bloomingdale’s salesman (Eugene Levy) to find Sara.  Nothing works.  John is beginning to feel as if he is fated to marry Halley. At the same time Sara is growing tired of the increasingly pompous Lars.  She breaks it off with him, and heads off to find John in New York, with her friend Eve (Molly Shannon)  Do Sara and John ever meet?  Does John find the copy of Love in The Time of Cholera?  Does Sara find the five dollar bill with John’s name and number?

I liked this movie.  Even if you don’t believe in fate or destiny (and you may not) this is a very funny movie, and the cast makes the material better.  Sure it’s predictable, all romantic comedies are, but this is a movie where the journey to the ending is worth taking.  John Cusack is charming, yet vulnerable, a role he’s used to playing in romantic comedies, although some of his pickup lines sound insincere. Cusack must have a thing for astronomy This is at least the second movie where he mentions constellations.  Kate Beckensale plays the kind of girl any guy would flip for.  Beckinsale is classy, soft spoken, yet quick with a quip. She unfortunately got typecast, not as the love interest in these kinds of movies but as a kick-butt chick in horror flick like Underworld, Van Helsing and Vacancy.  Her career has taken a bizarre turn. The chemistry between Beckinsale and Cusack is palpable.  Jeremy Piven, who I usually dislike, is a wonderful foil for Cusack.  Eugene Levy and Molly Shannon get lots of laughs in the few scenes they are in.  And  John Corbett is pretty funny as the Yanni-esque singer.  This was a year before he became well-known in My Big, Fat Greek Wedding.  Only the captivating Bridget Moynihan was underutilized.

Serendipity.  Pity more movies aren’t like this.