Rating: The Good – 88.5 Genre: Action, Comedy Duration: 107 mins Director: George Armitage Stars: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd
Completely original black comedy with a razor sharp wit and superb performances throughout, Grosse Pointe Blank is that rare achievement where every aspect of the film’s production is perfectly tuned. That’s right, this film is perfect – from the immensely innovative action sequences, to the quirky searing humour, to its real sounding yet slickly cool dialogue, to the fantastic array of actors who one and all ‘get’ the script, this film is perfect. John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a hit man going through an existential (or just plain “guilt”) crisis who has to return to his home town for the first time in 10 years to do a job. Of course, it just so happens the job coincides with his 10 year high school reunion and still living in that town is the girl of his dreams (literally) whom he stood up on prom night to run off and join the army. Needless to say, much fun is had as he bumps into a series of characters all of whom he has a past with (pasts which are never explicitly mentioned) and goes from existential crisis to near on full melt down. And on top of all that, an utterly deranged colleague (played superbly by Dan Aykroyd) is lurking about as he attempts to force Martin to join a hit man union… or pay the price!
Rating: The Good – 77.4 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 110 mins Director: Stephen Frears Screenplay: Donald E. Westlake Stars: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening
The Grifters is a darkly spun story about three confidence artists that borders on black comedy. John Cusack and Anjelica Huston play son and mother respectively who are both on the grift and both estranged from one another. Their paths cross when she is sent to Los Angeles to work one of the local tracks. This gives Cusack’s lady friend Annette Bening, herself a grifter, some ideas on running a scam of her own. The film is shot in traditional noir style with Stephen Frears directing and Martin Scorsese (who was originally down to direct) as producer. The dialogue is as sharp as you’d expect from a modern noir with shades of David Mamet’s style in places. Being a long-time fan of Jim Thompson’s novel, John Cusack is in fine form as the young con-man who is caught between two titans of the art who both use their experience and feminine wiles to pull him this way and that. Huston and Bening are utterly superb as said titans and Pat Hingle puts in a nasty turn as the overtly ridiculous Bobo Justus.
Rating: The Good – 76.5 Genre: War Duration: 170 mins Director: Terrence Malick Screenplay: Terrence Malick Stars: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, George Clooney
Fascinating introspection at the mental landscape of war and man’s natural or unnatural relationship to it. The Thin Red Line is very much an ensemble piece with an array of Hollywood A-listers all lining up to participate in Malick’s take on the WWII pacific theatre. There are many standout performances but Jim Caviezel’s overshadows all of them. There’s an untidy serenity to it which, though sounding like and oxymoron, is exactly the type of enigmatic quality the film needed at its centre. Malick chose well.
John Toll’s cinematography is intuitively informed by Malick’s perspective but while the visuals are in general deeply arresting, they are no more so than the use of sound in this film. The sounds of nature, man, woman, and child which Malick has always seemed attuned to like nobody else, gently come to the fore here to contextualise the narrative in their own way. Hans Zimmer provides a perfect score (perhaps his best) which lifts the film at crucial junctures and it is intricately involved in the movie’s crowning moment (in fact this score now counts as one of the many wonderful pieces of music which Zack Snyder has “borrowed” to give his trailers at least an overt sense of depth).
The decision to shoot the movie from the individual’s perspective was a brave one because it diverges from the traditional film-making template significantly. However, not only does it provide a platform for a more honest account of what soldiers go through, it also elevates the action to a level of reality beyond that of a typical war movie. The Thin Red Line came out in the same year as Spielberg’s WWII feature Saving Private Ryan, and while the latter received much praise for its realistic opening sequence, it really doesn’t touch the former in honesty or perceptiveness. The Thin Red Line is a triumph in that regard and while that may displease more mainstream movie fans who have set expectations from a war film, it will should excite those who want to see the envelope pushed further back.
Rating: The Good – 66.8 Genre: Comedy Duration: 100 mins Director: Rob Reiner Stars: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards
Very 80′s, very nostalgic (even if you haven’t seen it before), and highly enjoyable comedy about a college freshman (John Cusack) who travels across the country to hook up with a ‘sure thing’ only to get stuck travelling with the girl who has most recently rebuked his advances (Daphne Zuniga). Some of the jokes are dated but for the most part The Sure Thing still works. The chemistry between the two leads is excellent and Cusack, who was one of the kings of the 80′s teen comedy, owns the camera when it’s on him. Great support from Anthony Edwards and Cusack’s long-time buddy Tim Robbins.
Rating: The Good – 80.5 Genre: Romantic Comedy Duration: 102mins Director: Cameron Crowe Stars: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney
Cameron Crowe’s finest hour came with this obscure take on the romantic teen drama where John Cusack tries to woo Ione Skye despite their seemingly disparate personalities. Sound familiar? Well don’t worry because everything that happens here is so delightfully unpredictable that this is one of the most absorbing rom-coms you’ll ever see. For a starters the characters of Lloyd Dobbler and Diane Court are rich, enigmatic, strong, and passionate but with entirely different backgrounds and ambitions. This immediately captures the attention because neither profile matches what we typically see in rom-com leads but the tried and tested romantic tension which we do typically find is present. The characters are also very real and, inhabited as they are by both Cusack and Skye, they foster a curious chemistry which becomes a keystone to the movie’s success. The dialogue is quirky to say the least but unusually perceptive and, as such, it rings in the ear with intelligence. There’s an authentic charm to Crowe’s phrasing which the actors seem to relish and that too comes across at every point in the film.
Cusack was never better at that early stage in his career and his eccentric kickboxing Dobbler is all the more endearing for it. Skye is wonderfully strong as the overachieving valedictorian and the relationship she shares with John Mahoney as her father is as compelling as that between her and Cusack. Mahoney is utterly tremendous as the dedicated father whose over-protection manifests itself in unusual ways. There is a diverse and substantial supporting cast on show too which are all given the opportunity to flex their acting muscles with Lili Taylor in irresistible form as the jilted girlfriend with a penchant for singing songs about her egomaniac ex.
All this is wrapped up in a wonderfully idiosyncratic package by Crowe who after writing such minor gems like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, stepped behind the camera for the first time to shoot this one himself. Moreover, in giving the film such strong personality and a unique identity, he showed some really impressive composure and confidence. Not surprisingly for one of his films, music plays a big part in setting the tone at crucial points (with the scene represented in the film’s poster being the best example) but in the final analysis this film is all about Crowe’s writing. Say Anything is a breath of fresh air not only for its genre (which has been plowed unimaginatively for years) but for cinema in general. If only there were more movies like it.