Tag Archives: John Cusack

Cell (2016) “and the Terror of Technology” Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Cell

Director: Tod Williams
Writers: Stephen King (based on the novel by), Stephen King (screenplay by)
Stars: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman

You do realise the zombie apocalypse has already begun, don’t you? For all I know, you may already be one of them.

I don’t own a cell phone. I used to have one, an old fashioned flip phone given to me for Christmas one year. I think I used it three or four times during the first few months before retiring it to my office drawer, where it stayed for several years. As someone who’s simply not important enough to be available 24/7 (none of us are), I’ve just never needed one. I still don’t.

While preparing to move not too long ago, we decided to purge much of the crap we’d collected over time, either donating it to Goodwill, recycling it or throwing it away. My phone ended up in one of those purge piles. My two daughters were somewhat amused when they saw this ancient artifact, which required the supreme physical effort of flipping it open and actually punching in a phone number. You couldn’t use it to text or send emojis in lieu of actual words and sentences. Life was hell back in them olden days.

To this day, I refuse to carry a cell phone, arguably the worst thing to violate society since Fox News. That probably makes me sound like a cranky old curmudgeon who resents and fears advancing technology. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I depend on my computer, personally and professionally, on a daily basis. I love playing games and socializing on Twitter or Facebook with my iPad. I’m able to do 80% of all my holiday shopping in less time than takes to find a parking space at the mall. I haven’t written a physical check in over a decade because I pay my bills online. And like every other red blooded American male, I look forward to the day Debbie Does Dallas is adapted into a VR game. As someone who vaguely recalls the dark days before there was a microwave oven in every home, I’m reminded how wonderful it is to enjoy a piping hot burrito in only a minute or two and still complain about how long it takes. The ways modern technology has enhanced our lives is nearly boundless (though it has taken some of the fun out of buying records).

Cell phones, though? They haven’t enriched our lives in any meaningful way. They haven’t advanced us as a species or rendered us more intelligent. What they have done is alter our behavior. Computers and tablets are wonderful, but still essentially luxuries we could conceivably survive without. However, we’ve made cell phones extensions of ourselves like vital appendages. Many people feel as naked and helpless without one as leaving the house without pants. Cell phones have turned each of us into our own tiny island, oblivious to any part of the world that isn’t presented as text or a grinning turd. In public places where people congregate, you see legions of the Cellular Dead shuffle about like zombies in the Monroeville Mall as they tap, tweet and live life vicariously through a 3×5 screen.

With the possible exception of automobiles, cell phones are also responsible for more deaths than any other device not specifically built for the purpose of killing people. We’re so entranced by their power that we’ve walked off cliffs, stepped in front of trains and plowed into pedestrians during morning commutes. People have died in house fires, drowned in rivers and been crushed in trash compactors trying to rescue their phones. Wikipedia even has an entire page listing notable selfie-related deaths since 2013 (it numbers in the hundreds). Since humans have advanced to the point where we no longer have natural enemies and can cure once-fatal diseases with a quick inoculation, perhaps the cell phone is God’s last-ditch attempt at culling the herd.

But there’s a more horrific depiction of the current zombie apocalypse brought on by the Cellular Dead. The only difference is we don’t return from the grave to feast on the living (though we certainly kill a shitload of ’em). That’s the basic concept of Cell, based on one of Stephen King’s better recent novels.

John Cusack is Clay, a comic book artist arriving at an airport. During the opening credits, nearly everyone around him is talking, texting or taking selfies. Like the undead, they shuffle about the terminal by the thousands, heads down and oblivious of others, all completely absorbed in their own activity. The only reason Clay himself isn’t among them is because his battery is dead. Then a malevolent cell phone signal suddenly turns everyone using one into violent maniacs. This long, bloody sequence is brutal and harrowing. Whether intentional or not, the fact this signal turns nearly everybody into monsters sends a strong message of how prolifically cell phones have insinuated themselves in our daily lives.

Clay manages to escape the mayhem, hooking up with Tom (Samuel L. Jackson), a former soldier turned subway engineer. Along with a few others (some who live, some who die), Clay heads off to try and save his son, whom he’s convinced has survived unaffected (though I’m not sure why). Meanwhile, those affected by the signal (“phoners”) begin to evolve. No longer mindlessly homicidal, they become something resembling Romeroesque zombies (you know…like real cell phone junkies look). They gather and travel en masse, behaving as a collective mind as if telepathically driven by some unknown force (though they’ll still occasionally pause their journey to slaughter any unaffected individual they run into).

The first thirty minutes of Cell are so intense that it’s a shame the rest of it plays like one of those Walking Dead episodes where the cast literally spends the entire episode walking. Secondary characters arrive often, only to die long before we learn much about them, though Stacy Keach appears in a memorable scene on a college campus, where the group douses thousands of sleeping phoners in gasoline before torching them to death. In addition, there are some impressive scenes showing the massive, migrating zombie hordes which remind me of every airport terminal I’ve ever visited.

But Cell is ultimately a missed opportunity. Despite my love for horror and much of Stephen King’s work, none of it is really all that scary. What really would have been horrifying is if the entire opening airport slaughter was simply triggered by everyone’s service simultaneously shutting off. No need for some mysterious signal to fry their brains because I’ve seen firsthand what losing service does to some poor bastards – including members of my own family. It turns them into monsters, screeching like pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers before going into a trancelike state, shuffling like mindless zombies, no longer in control of their own faculties because they’re no longer connected.

It’s how I imagine our population would probably react if their precious phones were simultaneously taken away. If the entire world was made up of junkies and all the heroin suddenly disappeared, it’s highly unlikely they’d collectively shrug and sigh, “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.”

Who knows what atrocities the masses are capable of when denied something they seem to value as much as food & water? Would they fight amongst each other, or take out their rage on the few dozen hapless folks (including yours truly) who never succumbed to the cell phone’s seductive siren song?

Not that’s fucking scary.

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Drive Hard (2014) Movie Review By Darrin Gauthier

Drive Hard

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writers: Chad Law, Evan Law
Stars: John Cusack, Thomas Jane, Zoe Ventoura

Plot:  A former race car driver is abducted by a mysterious thief and forced to be the wheel-man for a crime that puts them both in the sights of the cops and the mob.

Running Time: 92 Minutes

IMDB Score: 4.3

Why I Watched It: Jane+Cusack, fan of both actors.

Random Thoughts: So this was a made for DVD and it took me awhile to find it but it showed up on Amazon Prime and I finally got to see it. John Cusack and Thomas Jane are kind of at the same spot of their careers but go about it differently.  John Cusack is living in DVD hell, he’s just sleep watching he’s cashing in on his name with throw away roles not invested now Thomas Jane has always had a good genre run and his made for DVD or streaming movies have been decent and he’s always pretty good. Now you throw in Australian director Brian Trenchard-Smith and you have a triple threat for a cool B-Movie.

What I Liked: Only reason to watch this movie is for Thomas Jane and John Cusack, they have real good chemistry and they turn this into a kind of buddy crime movie. There is a lot of improve and there’s a couple of times you can tell Jane is laughing and true to form you can tell Cusack is just doing what he wants he’s getting threw it and Jane is trying and he does have a kind of arc and he does do a lot of the heavy lifting acting wise.

I’ve said it before I have no idea why Thomas Jane isn’t a bigger name, sure he works and he works a lot and yes mostly genre roles and I think the reason is he’s very good, genre isn’t easy and here even though it’s an action and not horror he invests himself. Now other then the two main actors and maybe the Australian scenery there’s not much else to like but I will say it’s an easy watch and it’s fun in a silly very slight way.  There’s a couple of moments that are funny and like I said Jane and Cusack work very well together.

What I Didn’t Like: This is a very sloppy movie, not a lot of effort went into this.  The plot is cliches 101 and the action scenes are dull for the most part.  I called it slight and it might be an insult to slight, the idea is fun and it does sent up a good action movie but the film goes through the motions.  We have standard bad guys, a few of them, we have a nagging wife and we have a caper bank heist thrown in and it all goes the way you would think.  The direction is kind of workmanlike but I would say lazy is a better word for it.  The script is the real dud here it’s boring and like I said a lot of the scenes between Cusack and Jane feel very improvised and at times in a bad way like there was no structure and it does hurt the film.

This might seem like a dumb thing to say but a script is important and too many times we get an idea and actors but no script of note and that’s too bad cause a script is like a map and you can see it in this film lack of the script makes this film seem lost a lot of the time.

Final Thoughts: I didn’t mind it but it’s not a great film and it does drag but if you’re fans of Jane and or Cusack you could do worse.

Rating: 5/10

Blood Money (2017) Movie Review by Darrin Gauthier

Blood Money Review

Director: Lucky McKee
Writers: Jared Butler,  Lars Norberg
Stars: Ellar ColtraneWilla Fitzgerald, Jacob Artist, John Cusack

Plot:  Three friends on a wilderness excursion must outrun a white collar criminal hellbent on retrieving his cash, but soon their greed turns them against each other.

Running Time: 100 Minutes

IMDB Score: 4.5

Why I Watched It: I’m still a John Cusack fan and I thought it looked decent.

Random Thoughts: Clearly John Cusack is in his “if the money’s there I do not care phase of his career.”  It’s too bad, the guy can still act and he’s still charming but man here he looks barely awake.

The director Lucky McKee, not too long ago he looked like he could be a very good genre director, he had May, The Women, The Woods but this film, well it’s a work for hire and it really shows.  It’s too bad cause we need directors you get genre and do it well to keep working at it.

What I Liked: I’ll be honest there’s not much to like here, but let me find something.  John Cusack, he’s the only reason to even kind of watch this film, him and if you like movies set in the woods and watching people raft and camp.

Cusack is good even when he’s not trying, he’s the kind of guy I think it would be fun just to see him wake up and do his morning routine.  He’s kind of the flip side of Nic Cage, Cage is over the top and strange Cusack is semi awake and is just trying to get through the shoot.  He looks terrible here, his character has no character he wears a black bandanna and two pair of sunglasses one is purple.

What I Didn’t Like: The script is downright  awful, there are no characters here, they’re barely cliches, they’re types cranked up to 11.  The whole point of three “friends” going camping, there’s history there we don’t know what it is, they can’t seem to stand each other and it’s like that from the beginning, at first I didn’t know who they were to each other.  The plot is Cusack jumps out of a plane throws four bags of money out, doesn’t hold it, has no tracker to it, so he lands and tries to find the money.  Now here’s how lazy the film is, we don’t know anything about him we hear on a police radio that an embezzler is missing and his plane crashed.  How they knew that we’ll never know.  This is an amazingly dumb plot and the kicker is the one girl turns right away, she’s crazy for the money, 8 million and she needs it cause she lost her scholarship, really?  If you have 8 million I don’t think you worry about school.

It’s hard to believe but it gets worst from there, of course this is a weird love triangle, and of course the all hate/love each other but the editing of this film and the script make it so hard to understand the motivations.  There’s one point where the guy says “ i own her, I won” nothing said until like 45 minutes later, then the women played badly by Willa Fitzgerald goes on about being treated like a trophy and blah blah, but none of it means something in a better movie sure but not here.

Also it’s one of those movies as it goes along it gets dumber and dumber, it’s an insult to call this an idiot plot, it does have that much sense.  Characters do things that make no sense it’s like they had an ending and by God they were going to get there weather or not it made sense.  Of course to add to the mess they start the movie with the end, that never helps a movie and this makes it even dumber.  The action finale is and I mean this laughable, they go into this water pipe tunnel and for the unintentional comedy it’s amazing.  I don’t like picking on actors and I’ve seen Fitzgerald in the Scream series but not only is she badly miscast she makes some really bad choices and of course the script doesn’t help her.  All the actors come off badly cause they do such stupid things.

Final Thoughts: We’ve seen this sub-genre a hundred times money/greed making friends and family turn on each other but this is bottom of the barrel. The final third of this film is terrible.  Don’t bother with this one even if you’re a Cusack fan cause he isn’t in it that much.

Rating: 2/10

The Prince (2014) Movie Retro Review by Darrin Gauthier 

THE PRINCE

Director: Brian A. Miller (as Brian A Miller)
Writers: Andre Fabrizio, Jeremy Passmore
Stars: Jason Patric, Bruce Willis, John Cusack

Plot:  When his daughter is kidnapped, a retired assassin is drawn back into the life he gave up. To rescue her, he must confront his former rival.

Running time: 93 minutes

IMDB Score: 4.6

Why I watched it: The cast, this is a pure B-Movie and for Willis and Cusack clearly a paycheque movie but still doesn’t mean it’ll be bad.

Thoughts: This is another made for DVD or I guess now made for On Demand Movie with names but clearly they’ve seen better days.  The one thing I thought was odd was Jason Patric who doesn’t do a lot of these kind of movies, I wouldn’t call him an action guy that’s for sure. Also the title and the poster are both very weak, at least put some effort into it.

What I liked: I really like Jason Patric, I always thought he should have been a bigger name and here I like his take on this character he’s a former hitman and from the sounds of it he was a head case so of course he got out and got married had a family and left his old life behind.  Now this film is a Taken knock off, guy’s daughter is taken and the father has to use his skills to get her back but in this case he’s a former hitman and a nasty guy and what I like is as soon as Patric goes back to his old haunts he’s that guy again, basically what the movie is saying is that people don’t change they hide.

Patric is the best thing in the movie and I like he doesn’t try to be a good guy and clearly he’s not, he’s a bad ass for sure but not a good guy.  The film  is gritty and dark and a hard R, lots of violence and it’s shot pretty well.  Just to let you know Cusack isn’t in it much but he’s pretty good, I like the fact that he’s helping Patric put it’s clear he has a mixture of hatred and fear for this guy. The film moves pretty well it’s short at just over 90 minutes and it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, this is a B-Action movie and it acts accordingly.

What I didn’t like: There’s some sleeping walking in this film and the most guilty is Bruce Willis, man it’s clear he doesn’t give a shit.  He’s a boring bad guy and the funny thing is the character isn’t a bad idea, he has some shading and really could be considered an anti-hero but Willis puts no effort into it. Rain is just strange in this film and really he should have been used more.

The film is pretty by the book and I wished it had more energy and more style is darkly filmed, dark doesn’t mean stylish but many directors think it does.  The other weak link in the film is the daughter played by Jessica Lowndes, she’s not a character she’s a plot device.

Final thoughts: I didn’t mind it, I liked the fact that they made Patrick more of a bad guy and made the film a little meaner than most in this genre.

Rating: 6/10

We’re No Animals (2013) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

WERE NO ANIMALS

Director: Alejandro Agresti
Writers: Alejandro Agresti (screenplay), John Cusack (screenplay)
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Hipp, Kevin Morris

Tony (John Cusack) is a famous Hollywood actor tired and bored of making broad and commercial movies and travels with his colleagues Rudy Maravilla (Paul Hipp), Syd Kuliaky (Kevin Morris) and Patrick Pesto (Alejandro Agresti) to Argentina to experiment in foreign and independent film.

Having recently just got round to watching “We’re No Animals” I found the style this movie was shot in a very messy and choppy style at times. The movie flits between what looks like improvised dialogue between the actors being themselves in between shooting and scenes within the movie they are making. It may just be me but the filming style didn’t change between both and the only time I could tell when there was a film within the film was the occasional boom mic showing to highlight this.

As I mentioned, the dialogue is clearly improvised and the storyline looks like it is loosely based on a template from Director and Writer Alejandro Agresti and John Cusack. This project must have been an actors dream to have the shackles off and being allowed to express themselves for the duration of this movie. From an audiences point of view I felt the film was a bit indulgent to an extent and trying its best to be whimsical. There in my opinion was at times an air of pretentiousness throughout the movie and some of the scenes went on a little too long and became boring.

The movie is also broken down into events (or chapters) with a kind of Tarantino style title card setting up the scene. The difference being Quentin Tarantino used this as a style in filmmaking, in this movie I believe it was used to keep the audience up to speed with things and to ease them into the scene. If that was the case, I believe the filmmaker perhaps didn’t have the confidence that the audience member would be able to keep up to speed throughout the duration of the film and that should be rule number one of making a good film. “Never treat your audience like a bunch of idiots” Harsh? Perhaps but that’s what I took from this.

John Cusack, Paul Hipp and Kevin Morris carry the majority of the scenes and it’s rare that Cusack doesn’t stand out amongst the cast members. All three actors really have the same screen time and appear to all have the same characteristics throughout and watching this you don’t get any attachment to the characters or leave you caring for them in anyway.

Strangely Al Pacino makes a somewhat brief cameo in the movie and portrays a mysterious mastermind orchestrating the project from afar. Ironically although brief probably has the best dialogue in the film improvised or not. Having checked various sites I actually don’t see Al Pacino credited or uncredited in his role, albeit a cameo appearance.

Alejandro Agresti doubles up as the Director and Co-Writer on this film but also portrays the character Patrick Pesto who understandably doesn’t have the same amount of screen time as Cusack, Hipp or Morris probably due to other duties. I think I would be a little more generous if this was his directorial debut but Agresti did direct The Lake House (2006) and although it’s the character “Tony” who tires of Hollywood and moves away to try some experimental film I’m almost convinced this is the Director’s story through the eyes of his main character.

Unfortunately “We’re No Animals” is difficult to understand what its intentions are supposed to be. The movie is experimental at best but disappointingly ends with no significance and will leave  audiences unsatisfied. Even if you are a fan of Cusack, Hipp or Morris I can’t recommend watching this self indulgent project.

Love & Mercy (2014) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

LOVE AND MERCY

Director: Bill Pohlad
Writers: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner (as Michael Alan Lerner)
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Love & Mercy is the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental anxieties and his psychotic decline during his most creative period creating his masterpiece “Pet Sounds” and another project that wouldn’t see light of day to its full potential until the year 2004. The movie is set during his rise to fame in the 1960’s and the escape from his controlling therapist Dr. Eugene Landy during the 1980’s.

I always had an admiration for the “Hits” of The Beach Boys growing up but admittedly I was more of a Beatles fan and never really appreciated the album “Pet Sounds” as a complete entity. The Beach Boys up to the release of Rubber Soul by The Beatles where classed as a typical American surfing pretty boy group that sang about Surfing and California Girls and at one stage managed by the Wilson brothers Father who had already pigeonholed them into the genre for a safe bet and guaranteed income for the band. That all changed at least for Brian Wilson who was blown away by Rubber Soul and inspired him to create a musical collage that each song would be linked in some fashion to the next song.

It is no secret that Wilson had physical symptoms of depression after years of physical and mental abuse from his father and disapproval of his musical direction from fellow band mate and cousin Mike Love, Paul Dano portrays Brian Wilson in the 1960’s and resembles exudes the look of young Wilson perfectly. He learned how to play piano for the role and in some keys scenes in the development of “God Only Knows”, and sings much of the music in the film perfectly.

Dano has the lion share of this period of Wilson’s life but playing the 1980’s version is John Cusack who looks less like Brian Wilson but in my opinion portrays an even more complex version of him battling his demons and expressing how difficult and challenging it is for Wilson to escape his mental anguish and rebuild his life with future wife Melinda Ledbetter portrayed by Elizabeth Banks.

Banks to be fair departs her more well known comedic film roles, and as Melinda Ledbetter, shows her strength and respect for the man she loves through actions and subtle expressions. Ledbetter is the key to Wilson’s sanity and hope and without her strength I’m not sure Brian Wilson would have saw out the 1980’s if this movie is anything to go by. Their first meeting is a rather strange and awkward one in Wilson wanting to buy a car from her showroom. I don’t think I’ve seen Cusack as intense in a role…well ever.

Playing Dr Eugene Landy is the brilliant Paul Giamatti who strangely has almost a cartoon like role in the film as Wilson’s therapist. He really portrays the role almost as a pantomime villain but by all accounts and from what I have read was a close portrayal of a manipulative, violent and controlling person over Wilson’s life. Giamatti really steals all of his scenes and creates an intensity within the storyline.

I felt Director Bill Pohlad did well to capture both periods of Wilson’s life from two different actors without it becoming unbelievable or disjointed. I have seen this done before and failed in a movie called “The Best of Me (2014) in no matter how good a storyline is or how good the direction is, if you miscast the story will fail. Don’t get me wrong for the first 5 minutes of screen time in the 1980’s I was concerned with the casting of Cusack but his performance carried the movie in this period thankfully. Pohlad also let the audience into the studio to see some of the classics being constructed by Wilson and surprisingly to me a bunch of session musicians who albeit where the best at what they do. Interesting as well was showing some of the petty squabbles between Wilson and his cousin Love and Love’s disapproval of some of Brian’s musical choices.

In Summary, If I was to nitpick was the Director not covering the 1970’s in which I have read since watching this movie where as a tumultuous period in which he spent 3 years in his bed suffering depression and drug addiction. Perhaps Pohlad didn’t want to indulge too much in this period for theme and pacing issues (who knows) nevertheless “Love & Mercy” is a fascinating insight into one of the brilliant minds of the 20th Century and is written beautifully with some top class acting on board. If you are a fan of The Beach Boys you will be reminded of the struggles of Brian Wilson, but if you are a casual fan like me you will enjoy, be enlightened and become a slightly more of a fan of the album “Pet Sounds” Highly Recommend.