Tag Archives: john cusack

Romcoms, Curated By Batman

Apparently (Lego) Batman has a special fondness for cheesy romantic comedies. Sure the Dark Knight tends to enjoy a rather solitary existence, but he unwinds at the end of a long day by watching kiss-a-thons. For every baddie that he puts away, he likes to watch a good smooch. Nothing wrong with that.  In his new movie, currently out in theatres, several of his favourite love movies are highlighted, so here they are, to the best of my memory:

must-love-dogsMust Love Dogs: Poor Diane Lane is so love-starved that her family takes her new singlehood into their hands, fixing her up with an internet dating profile she doesn’t want, or necessarily know exists, but which insists that all suitors ‘must love dogs.’ This is a pretty good gambit because along comes John Cusack, with a borrowed dog and good intentions. And that’s okay since her dog – a Newfie named Mother Theresa – is also not technically hers. Thus a relationship is born from the ashes of lies and non-shared non-interests. Condom hi-jinks and some VERY suspicious coincidences: classic.

Serendipity: Two people, attached to others, nevertheless share dessert when they try to buy the same pair of cashmere gloves for Christmas. They part – reluctantly – but both return for missing items and spend more time together. It’s magical (ahem). But her phone number gets blown away in the wind, a bad sign, obviously, so he puts his info on a $5 bill, hers in a used book, and if the universe thinks they’re meant to be, they’ll find the info and live happily ever after. Did I mention it’s John Cusack again? Batman must have a thing for Johnny.

Marley & Me: Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are newlyweds who work at competing 232247-marley-and-me-marley-gif.gifFlorida newspapers – she successfully, he decidedly not. When they think about starting a family, they adopt a dog instead, to test the waters. The puppy is incorrigible but provides fodder for a column and suddenly he has a career too. The babies come, eventually, and changes in home, work, and friends. Marley’s there through it all – but well all know dogs don’t live forever. I’m sure this one hits Batman right in the feels. Dogs are the one thing he likes more than John Cusack.

Jerry Maguire: A sports agent eventually falls in love with the single mother who absconds the firm with him. She supports him, he fails to appreciate her. She has the kind of life that previously horrified him. They separate. It’s quite pathetic until he realizes that she’s had a profound impact on his life and that he wants to be with her no matter what, at which time it becomes even more pathetic. You had me at hello, 10lb head, show me the money, etc: you betcha Batman quotes along with this one.


So, do you have much in common with Batman? Which one of these would pair well with a cuddle?


Love & Mercy

beachboysLove & Mercy tells the story of two Brian Wilsons (the heart and soul of the Beach Boys): 1960s Brian, portrayed by Paul Dano, at the height of his creative genius, working doggedly on a game-changing album that no one else believes in while fighting the ugly spectre of an abusive father, and 1980s Brian, portrayed by John Cusack, a broken shell of a man under the care of and heavily medicated by a shady, domineering psychiatrist.

Both Brians are sad to watch on-screen. No matter how much or how little you know about Brian Wilson’s life going in, you do know the Beach Boys, and you understand pretty quickly that the Beach Boys were nothing without him. The man was so talented that he took a harmonizing boy band in matching shirts and pushed them toward musical complexity to rival (and inspire) The Beatles. And he did it all while in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

The recording sessions in the film were some of my favourite. Sean has a nice little vinyl collection and of course Pet Sounds has always been part of it – Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the top 500 albums OF ALL TIME rates Pet Sounds at #2, only being eclipsed by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album The Beatles made in response to their hearing and adoring Pet Sounds. So it was really neat to see and hear the hard work and the many layers and the sheer creativity that went into producing a sound that had never been heard before. And even if you don’t know the album, I guarantee you’ve known some of these songs for nearly your whole life. They’re part of our cultural lexicon. And now you get to peek behind the curtain thanks to scenes that were mostly improvised with real studio musicians and shot in a documentary style with 16mm handheld cameras.

This is not a traditional biopic. It depicts two very specific times in Brian Wilson’s life, and this parallel narrative is very effective, contrasting the height of his career with his crashing mental 01-love-and-mercy.w529.h352.2xand emotional downfall. We see him change from vitality to despondency, and to heighten that disparity, director Bill Pohlad kept actors Cusack and Dano separate so that they would each develop their own organic understanding of Wilson in their respective time periods. In the second portion, the John Cusack years, Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Landy, the evil psychiatrist while Elizabeth Banks appears as a love interest. These two are of course at odds with each other and the battle over Brian Wilson, when Wilson is too traumatized and petrified to fight for himself, or to even recognize the need for it.

Tonnes of original Beach Boys recordings are featured throughout the movie, lots flawlessly mixed in with Paul Dano’s own voice. And I’m giving props to composer Atticus Ross who had a mountain of a task to compose a score that would flow in and out of all of these iconic songs, and yet he didn’t just do a competent job, he elevated things, drawing inspiration from such varied sources as The Beatles’ Revolution 9 to Jay-Z’s The Grey Album and it sounds exciting and alive and masterful.

boysThere are significant gaps in this film, which is narrow in its scope, but it is an otherwise mournfully accurate account. Lots of the characters and events feel larger than life but if anything, Wilson felt that perhaps some were treated “too fairly” and after all he’s been through, you can understand where that’s coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, from the recreation of several Beach Boys album covers to Elizabeth Banks’ impressive 80s garb, and as much as I can tell you so, you really just have to see it yourself.

Movies Set in a High School


As I’m writing this, Jay and Sean must be driving home from Sean’s twenty-year reunion. It’s got all of us thinking back to our high school days and our favourite high school reunion movies. Funny how Wandering Through the Shelves seems to be on the wavelength.

grosse pointe blank

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)Jay revisited this one just a couple of weeks ago preparing for the reunion. John Cusack has never been cooler as a hit man coming home to his own ten-year reunion. First of all, I’m a sucker for Prodigal Son Returns movies. Second, I loved seeing Cusack return to high school since many of us remember him from ten years earlier in high school movies like Say Anything. Oh, and the soundtrack is just perfect.

election Election (1999)– Speaking of actors we knew from high school, Ferris Bueller is back as a teacher trying to sabotage an election for school president. Director Alexander Payne is the master of cringe-worthy moments and the satire always rings true. There were definately some Tracy Flicks in my school. Both Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon do their best work ever here.


Elephant (2003)– Here’s one I’ll never forget. Gus Van Sant offers no theories or explanations as to what the motivations of the shooters were in his depiction of a high school massacre. Based in part on the Columbine shootings, we follow several students through what at first appears to be just an ordinary day at school. Once the massacre begins, the film is harrowing and unflinching, refusing to even try to make sense of things.


Grosse Pointe Blank

I dug this old DVD out from our shelves recently because one of the Assholes (coughSeancough) is just old enough to be attending his own high school reunion. It’s impractical to tease him about it 24 hours a day, so I took a 107 minute break to watch this movie.

John Cusack is attending his own high school reunion in this movie – his 10th – and going back to grossepointeGrosse Point, Michigan means confronting the feisty prom date he stood up a decade ago (Minnie Driver) and his tenacious feelings for her. Oh, and did I mention he’s a hitman? You’d think ‘professional assassin’ would be a card you kept close to your chest, but actually Martin Blank plays it frequently, confessing to anyone who will listen, only no one ever believes him. I mean, would you, Sean, take the kid who repeatedly forgot his geography homework seriously if he told you he killed people for money? Or would it take finding a bloody corpse with a Bic pen sticking out of his neck crumpled by your old locker to think “Gee, this guy might be a psychopath”?

Going back to your old haunt after so many years away is never easy, and to be honest, I believe that high school reunions are for two types of people: 1) the geeks and nerds who have grown up to be either hot or rich or preferably both 2) the popular kids who ruled and peaked in high school and now, having gone down hill, want to relive their glory days. Not my cup of tea.

And for spouses, it’s even more awkward. This is not your school. These people are not and never were your friends. I liken it to being in a grocery store full of strangers, only for some reason you’re required to shake everyone’s hand and stand around making chit-chat with them as if you care. And you don’t care. You don’t want to see pictures of their stupid kids. You’re there for one of two reasons: either 1) you’re a trophy wife to show off or 2) you’re a crutch for when your spouse’s old high school insecurities start to flare. And now you’re obliged to stand around in uncomfortable shoes for hours while people you don’t know reminisce about things you weren’t there for. And it’s pointless to get invested – these people haven’t spoken to each other for 20 years and will go back to ignoring one another until their 40th. No one really cares, they just want to see and be seen. They hope that their social standing will have improved. They hope their successes will compare favourably to their peers’. But they don’t really care. If they really cared, they wouldn’t have lost touch. I mean, hello, it’s the age of Facebook. Aren’t high school reunions kind of obsolete now? What’s stopped you from Facebook-stalking any of these losers? They’re just somebodies that you used to know.

Okay, you can see that I’m hard on this whole high school reunion thing. I don’t get it. Have you been to yours? Would you? Was it terrible? I’m watching movies to prep myself, because that’s what I do. Next up: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. That should be educational, right?

Ode to John Cusack

It’s impossible not to encounter an AWFUL lot of John Cusack when you’re perusing teen comedies. He practically had right of first refusal back in the 80s.

Say Anything

This one seems to lose a lot of sparkle the more I see it, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s not aging well, or I’m not. Either way, the things that used to get me – the Peter Gabriel on the boomsayanything box, the post-virginity snail mail, it all starts to feel like not quite enough. Like, is this really the gold standard? I’m not sure if it used to impress me, but nowadays I just can’t shake the feeling that Lloyd Dobler is a loser. “Noble underachiever” is a phrase that can only be used by someone with the word teen at the end of their age. Unemployed, unambitious lazybones is more like it. Does that make me sound like my mother? Sure he’s sweet, but I like my sweet with a steady paycheque and some hobbies that go beyond stalking.

Better Off Dead

This movie is so bad I can’t even. Hadn’t seen this before, and should have kept it that way. The effects are terrible, although not quite as terrible as the wigs on the stunt doubles, but nothing holds a candle to the terribleness of the sentient hamburger animation. I can’t believe this didn’t derail Cusack’s career then and there. This comedy, which deals repeatedly with Lane (Cusack) better-off-dead-burgerwanting (and attempting) to kill himself because his girlfriend dumped him, should be much too dark for a burger playing an Eddie Van Halen song. And yet!

Turns out, no one hates this movie more than John Cusack. He walked out of the movie after 20 minutes of the screening and accused writer-director Savage Steve Holland of tricking him. “Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me.” He felt used and foolish and finished working with Holland only out of contractual obligation. Too bad they don’t mention any of this on the back of the DVD.

Sixteen Candles

Poor Molly Ringwald. She’s trying to turn 16 and it’s all going horribly wrong. John Cusack is only in this peripherally, as a skinny little nerd, but even he’s not enough to keep the nostalgic glow sixteencandlesalive. Matt recently re-watched this and couldn’t get over the overt racism – a gong literally sounds every time not-at-all-racistly-named Long Duk Dong comes on-screen. For me, it was the rape that was unbearable. There’s sexism throughout the movie, of course, but rape is rape. This isn’t creepy or questionable. It’s legally, certifiably, conviction-worthy rape, but the movie plays it like it’s just par for the course. John Hughes died in 2009, recently enough that a look back should have been painful, but we’ll never know what he thought because he all but retired from the spotlight in 1991 after John Candy died suddenly of a heart attack. He wrote a few terrible scripts – Maid In Manhattan, Drillbit Taylor – under a pseudonym but kept his privacy well-guarded. He was nevertheless a genius of his generation and I wish we could have heard him say he knew now that it was wrong. Because this movie does get it very, very wrong.