NAME: John Paul Cusack
AUDIT DATE: May 8, 2003
OCCUPATION : Actor, screenwriter
EXPERIENCE : 42 movies since 1983
WARNING: Contains mild Identity spoilers!
The foremost thought in my mind last weekend as I watched Identity (apart from "Man, this movie is some horseshit) was, "Where did it all go wrong for John Cusack?"
Some will say that nothing has gone wrong for John Cusack -- that, on the contrary, things are going pretty well for him. He's in a movie that opened at #1. He recently got to star in a highly controversial little art-house movie, to give him a bit of cred outside the multiplex. He's reportedly dating beloved romcom mainstay Meg Ryan. What's wrong with any of that?
Glad you asked. His movie held on to the #1 box office slot for a matter of hours, only to be ripped the hell out of it the following week by X2. His highly controversial little art-house movie was shunned even by art-house audiences -- partly because the plot revolved around a young Adolf Hitler, and partly because Leelee Sobieski was in it. And the right time to date Meg Ryan (if there ever is a right time) is before Paramount yanked her crappy boxing movie off its schedule. All of this reflects poorly on young John Cusack.
And no one would care about John Cusack's current status as an average Hollywood asshole if he hadn't spent so many years as every Gen-X girl's secret boyfriend. So sweet and doomed in Stand By Me! So sweet and heartbroken in Better Off Dead! And don't even get us started on Say Anything.... As we grew up and our womanly needs evolved, Cusack was there to meet them -- all nerdy and artistic (and in period costume) in Bullets Over Broadway; all angry and political in Bob Roberts; all sensitive yet ass-kicking in Grosse Pointe Blank.
But then, suddenly he started showing up in the kinds of movies we didn't want to see. Overlong, overcooked Southern Gothic dreck (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Generic Jerry Bruckheimer action movie #182 (Con Air -- and in huaraches, to make matters worse). Overlong, lyrical WWII epics (The Thin Red Line). Painful alleged romcoms most notable for showcasing Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton's dysfunctional marriage before the fact (Pushing Tin). We got a brief respite with Being John Malkovich -- an actual good movie, even if Cusack wasn't exactly styled to appeal to our latent crush on him. (Ugh...that wig. And the gay-ass collarless shirts. Moving on.) But then it was back to the same old crapola that had characterized his career since the mid-'90s -- smug and overrated romcom with art-house pretensions (High Fidelity). Regular old utterly forgettable and baaaaaad romcom (America's Sweethearts). The romcom that somehow got saddled with the task of Healing Our National Wounds after the September 11th terrorist attacks (Serendipity). And then, Identity. That makes it a good three and a half years since John Cusack made a movie that wasn't aggressively bad, irretrievably moronic, or both.
In some respects, it's not like Cusack's decline is something we haven't seen before, from hundreds of other actors -- the effect of choosing to make movies that earn them fat salaries rather than movies that are not ass. Which is fine, if you mix it up; if you don't, you end up...well, Nicolas Cage. But at this point, we even respect Nicolas Cage more (only a tiny bit more, but still -- more) than John Cusack, if only because Cage has enthusiastically embraced his new career as a hack. He's done, like, ten Jerry Bruckheimer movies, and he's chewed his way through the scenery on all of them with all the coked-up vigor of a young Kelsey Grammer. But when John Cusack makes a crappy big-budget movie, he makes it clear that, fat salary or no, he knows what he's doing is Beneath Him.
For instance: he'll show up in Con Air -- sharing screen time with a bunch of actors much more talented than he (John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames), all slumming just like himself -- and yet he'll play the guy in huaraches, whose wussiness compared to all the other characters is presented in the guise of cool reason. In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, he's thrust in the middle of this sweaty world of murderous Kevin Spaceys and gigantic drag queens -- but he's the Yankee reporter who observes and judges the proceedings as a detached and superior outsider. In America's Sweethearts, he takes on one of the schmuckiest parts in contemporary cinema -- playing the male "lead" opposite Julia Roberts in a romantic comedy -- and yet play a character who's given up acting in romantic comedies in favour of pursuing some shady, quasi-Eastern religion. In Identity, even after he runs over a woman on the highway and causes her near-fatal injuries -- a car accident that's completely his fault -- Cusack's character is still cast as the hero just because he tries to save his victim from the injuries he caused her, and because, as a former police officer, he's the most upstanding citizen among all the freaks and misfits with whom he's stranded in a creepy hotel. Cusack tries to make us see that he may be in these movies, but he's not of them. If he isn't careful, he's going to turn into Edward Norton. (Can it be a coincidence that both of them have played the young Nelson Rockefeller as he related to Frida Kahlo?)
Because we used to be fans, we'd like to say that John Cusack is at a crossroads in his career, where he must choose whether to continue pouting his way through common Hollywood offal, or go back to putting a little effort into appearing in movies that are equal to his own estimation of his talents. But we can't say that. Because he was at that crossroads circa Being John Malkovich, and followed it up with various kinds of trash. And as far as his fame is concerned, it's a very short-sighted strategy: even as he lines his bank accounts, he loses the affection of all the Gen-X girls who crushed on him back in his Lloyd Dobler days. Any stooge can headline a Jerry Bruckheimer movie or Sixth Sense manqué suspense "thriller," but a devoted cult fan base requires careful nurturing and attention. John Cusack has thrown over his most loving fans in order to make out with Julia Roberts and embody John Grisham characters. Lloyd Dobler has left the building.
Current approximate level of fame: Matt Damon
Deserved approximate level of fame: Matt Dillon
Love him or not, it’s just a fact that John Cusack has been in a lot of movies. A lot. For more reviews of the latest and greatest movies (both with and without John Cusack), click here.
Glory Road (2006) Buena Vista Pictures
1 hr. 54 mins.
Starring: Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight, Austin Nichols, Schin A.S. Kerr, Evan Jones, Sam Jones III, Mehcad Brooks, Alphonso McAuley, Damaine Radcliffe, Emily Deschanel
Directed by: James Gartner
This film is rated: PG
It was around this time last year in 2005 that Paramount Pictures released the inspirational basketball melodrama Coach Carter to resounding box office grosses to start off the new movie season. Well, Walt Disney Pictures will try to capitalize on this same strategy by serving up another poignant double-dribble drama about a determined coach and his disillusioned players. In the sentimental sports saga Glory Road, audiences will probably cater to the social message at hand regarding the realm of racial tolerance and sportsmanship.
Surprisingly, the mellow Glory Road is a Jerry Bruckheimer-themed production. Bruckheimer, known primarily for his produced frivolous adrenaline rush 90’s actioners such as The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon and Bad Boys, tones it down a bit for this cozy, reflective athletic narrative. Director James Gartner and screenwriters Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois serve up a formidable story of historical proportions about the changing face of collegiate basketball in the mid 1960’s. This true story of a progressive white basketball coach daring to arm his team with a completely talented all-black front court revolutionized the ethnic makeup of the NCAA championship.
Although Glory Road is a feel-good tale of shaking up the system within the race-related restrictions of collegiate competition, Gartner never really manages to challenge his uplifting material with anything solidly confrontational or intuitive. The movie plays it “safe” and fails to thoroughly explore the complicated emotional depths of its radical foundation. Glory Road could potentially be dismissed as trivial but this is a big-hearted piece of entertainment that overcomes its lightweight sanctimonious vibes.
Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas from Sweet Home Alabama) has the winning spirit as he proved this claim with his successful high school all-girl basketball team. After being approached to become the coach for Texas Western University, Haskins feels the pressure of fielding a decent squad. But the school’s budget and ambivalent program goals are too lacking to recruit major white athletes that may shun attending the college. The next best thing to rely on is the recruitment of northern inner city black kids. Haskins knows their animated passion and precision for the game as demonstrated in the streets. Of course this unorthodox move to lure black players to a southern academic institution such as Texas Western University will be a tough sell for Haskins to explain to his skeptical employers.
With the selected scholarships extended to Haskins’ black crew of players, he now must teach these athletes how to assimilate to the unfamiliar surroundings and learn the structure of his rigorous basketball expectations. Also, the daunting notion that rival schools will automatically feel disdain for Haskins’ ebony fast-break warriors are overwhelming. This is not counting the negative reaction that the majority of the curious country will encounter when witnessing this bewildering integration policy of college men’s basketball.
Feeling the heated pressure under Haskins’ tutelage, the players are understandably confused, anxious and angry to some degree. Cynical Bobby Joe Hill (Antoine Fisher’s Derek Luke) harbors immense distrust toward everything white despite his ball-handling wizardry. Center David Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr) is a force to reckon with while Willie “Scoops” Cager (Damaine Radcliffe) toughs it out on the playing field with his lingering medical condition. Willie Worsley (former Smallville castmember Sam Jones III) is the quick-footed guard carrying a ton of bravado on his fragile back. Forward Harry Flournoy (Mehcad Brooks) is in academic jeopardy that may force him from the team.
Overall, Glory Road clicks adequately on its dependable cylinders. The film is shot and edited with notable polish as the game footage resonates with welcomed nostalgia and intrigue. Lucas is effective as Coach Haskins whose conviction to compete by any means necessary is self-absorbed yet courageous in forethought. The ballplayers each have a unique personality and their self-inflicted angst is believable for the most part. As opposing Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, Oscar winner Jon Voight conveys the right intensity and outrage for a man of the troubled times set to the landscape of groundbreaking NCAA sporting history. In what amounts to an arbitrary filler role, Emily Deschanel stalls a bit as Haskins’ supportive wife.
Maybe the intended good-nature behind Disney-friendly Glory Road’s innocuous execution was to spread the goodwill of humane cohesiveness as an acceptable microcosm for societal maturity. Still, the clichéd plot devices and reluctance to paint a genuinely complex look at racism in 1960’s America could have benefited this humbling sporting flick in more powerful ways than simply settling as cheeky family fare.
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Barbershop (2002) MGM
1 hr. 42 mins.
Starring: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Michael Ealy, Eve, Troy Garity, Cedric the Entertainer, Keith David, Lahmard Tate, Leonard Earl Howze
Directed by: Tim Story
There’s going to be an immediate appeal to music video-turned-feature film director Tim Story’s horrendous funky follicles-based debut comedy Barbershop, particularly to those in the urban set who’ll probably embrace this embarrassing hair-raising hoot. Although Barbershop boasts some of today’s hottest and hippest acts from the world of television, music and stand-up comedy, this movie strangely enough has the outdated swagger of a shameless ‘70s blaxploitation shuck-and-jive sitcom. Tediously conceived thanks to a lethargic script (courtesy of Mark Brown, Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd) aided by woefully spontaneous acting and a needless array of stereotypical caricatures parading about. Consequently, Barbershop is a loud and numbing inner city farce that needs to shave the monotonous foolishness being perpetrated let alone the noggins being featured in this hyped-up and aimless spectacle.
The manufactured hilarity ensues when Chicago-based Calvin (Ice Cube) inherits a stillborn neighborhood barbershop from his father. Apparently this quaint little business means a whole lot to the community since it’s the center of the social scene. However, as far as being a moneymaking enterprise is concerned, the barbershop has as much buzz as a defective hair clipper. Calvin, who has other ambitions in mind, doesn’t want to be saddled with this financially failing pain-in-the-neck piece of property. The pressure is on and the bank wants its cash if this place is to stay afloat. Still, the guy realizes how much the barbershop means to the local area and wants to make some sort of arrangement in order to satisfy the interests of his personal finances while trying to breathe life into this sinking venue for the sake of the community.
Well, evidently desperate times call for desperate measures as Calvin enlists the assistance of a loan shark named Lester (Keith David, "Requiem for a Dream"). The plan requires selling the barbershop to Lester with the guaranteed promise that the little institution retains its "Barbershop" moniker. Well, the sleazy Lester has a different agenda and sort of sticks to his bargain with Calvin—the place will be known as Barbershop although the concept of cutting hair will be dismissed. Instead, Lester wants to christen this place as a strip club where the only trimming that’s desired will be seeing how much skimpy a curvy exotic dancer’s G-string can be! Feeling guilty about selling out to the riff raffish Lester based on his misguided plans, Calvin schemes to save the day by figuring out a way in reclaiming the barbershop for the South Side of the city to appreciate once again.
In the meanwhile, the movie drifts off into some comical comatose subplot concerning a stolen ATM machine as a desperate way of generating more misguided chuckles based on the snappy interaction of the one-note, pumped-up protagonists. The performances are straining and laughable to say the least. Why a dynamic presence such as the forceful Ice Cube or the joyously devilish Cedric the Entertainer (who also currently toils in the insipid comedy Serving Sara) decided to be part of this demoralizing dud is truly beyond anyone’s comprehension. Tell me if the following sketchy mentioned comedic devices aren’t tired and predictable prototypical samples of urbanized black laughter? Let’s see…how about shedding some light on sassy "sistas" with big mouths to match the constant chip on their shoulders? Or clueless overweight "brothas" to snicker at for more assured comic relief? And the token hip "white guy" as the automatic sight gag? How about the flashy thug one step away from heading behind bars? If this turgid showcase doesn’t stress the point of Robert Townsend’s 1987 satirical piece The Hollywood Shuffle then nothing will, right?
Barbershop wants to recall the nostalgic madcap antics that were so prevalent in a handful of seventies cinema with riotous crowd-pleasing black flicks. Ethnic fare such as Car Wash, When Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Uptown Saturday Night were infectious because of their irreverent charm that reflected an entertainingly flippant and audacious attitude in an awakening era of emerging, off-kilter black cinema. But Barbershop never offers anything original or distinctive in its overactive and stale presentation. If anything, the movie comes off as an insulting and boisterous bore. What the film lacks is an easy-flowing cleverness and wicked insight about its racial humor. Basically, all Story’s direction provides are cliched’ circumstances where these degrading dunderheads get to banter and mug their way through asinine situations that a short-lived situation comedy like That’s My Mama provided with better efficiency. From the shoddy writing to the cheap-looking production set designs for which most of the incessant high-strung vignettes take place, Barbershop is about as relevant and intoxicating as doing The Hustle to an old Soul Train episode.
Next, read up on Donald Glover, another celebrity who transitioned from the music industry to the film industry like Tim Story.
Review of the 2006 romantic period drama starring Edward Norton
A highly intriguing tagline sets the scene for a refreshingly original and beautifully shot tale of emotional and political turmoil in the far east in the 1920's
Glancing at the tagline for The Painted Veil, you could be forgiven for thinking you had misread it: ‘Forgiveness comes at a price.’ Sorry? Shouldn’t that be ‘Revenge/murder/adultery comes at a price’? What starts out as a run-of-the-mill romantic drama soon becomes a highly original and beautifully told story of emotional and political turmoil set in 1920’s China.
Based on the novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, it tells the story of society girl Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts) and Dr Walter Fane (Edward Norton). Kitty is, in her mid-twenties, becoming something of an embarrassment to her family.When they make it clear that they want her married off as soon as humanly possible, a wedding to Fane - a virtual stranger - is the only escape route open to her.
Setting up home in Shanghai, fun-loving Kitty is left cold by her husband’s starchy intellectualism and lack of humour, not to mention his interest in studying infectious diseases. She embarks upon an intense affair with diplomat Charlie Townsend. When Walter finds out about it, he offers to divorce her quietly on condition that Charlie’s wife do the same. The alternative is out of the question: a scandalous divorce, with her reputation left in tatters.
Kitty is broken-hearted to find that, unlike her, Charlie has no intention of getting a divorce. The only option open to Kitty is to remain in her claustrophobic, loveless marriage. Unfortunately, this entails accompanying Walter to care for the sick in a remote Chinese town rife with cholera. It is a time of violent political upheaval in China, and Kitty soon realises that if the cholera (or the boredom) doesn’t kill her, nationalist insurgents may well do the job instead.
What future can their relationship possibly have? Never having loved Walter in the first place, Kitty has betrayed him in the most clichéd, yet painful way possible. His revenge is to expose her to this highly infectious and fatal disease. ‘Do you despise me?’ a stunned Kitty asks. ‘No,’ Walter answers, ‘I despise myself for having loved you once’. The unexpected chain of events that follows is a refreshing change from the predictable fare on offer from the Hollywood stable of romantic drama. With near-perfect English accents, Norton and Watts give memorable performances as two desperately unhappy and flawed characters, battling with the oppression of the social decorum of the era. Norton is especially good, playing against type.
In this film director John Curran manages to weave together seamless performances, an atmospheric score and sumptuous photography to create a surprisingly tense narrative. The viewer is quite sure what is going to happen next.
Winner of a Golden Globe for best original score and NBR award for best screenplay, The Painted Veil is a moving and thought-provoking tale of betrayal, forgiveness and redemption that stays with the audience long after they have left the cinema.
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