MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

John Cusack .. Stuff Happens

This is incredibly tough for me to write. You see, I’m an enormous John Cusack fan and not just because I grew up watching Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, One Crazy Summer, and Say Anything… over and over again. Of course, I remembered him in all those films and thought of him fondly, but he was never somebody whose work I actively sought out. Then in 1997, my freshman year in high school, I went with a few of my friends to a packed theater to see Grosse Pointe Blank on opening night. I had read a little bit about it and was excited by its premise of a hitman going to his high school reunion. The theater was so full that I had to sit apart from my friends, so this was essentially the first time I’d seen a movie all by myself and within the first five minutes, it didn’t matter where my friends were.

I was entranced by the mix of dark comedy and action and I still appreciate what Cusack (as star and co-writer) was able to do in that film with the help of director George Armitage; it walks such a fine line, with extremely grisly murders and glib humor and a romance at the center that we have to be invested in. It must have been impossible to pitch this film because it doesn’t fit into any one genre, yet every scene is imbued with the same rhythms and sensibilities so there’s never a moment that feels out of place.

It was truly a star-making performance for Cusack (to my eyes, at least) and it made me seek out his work in The Grifters (where he went un-nominated while Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston did, which was a shame), Bullets Over Broadway, Eight Men Out, and True Colors. I was astounded by his ability to play the straight man role without falling into the background. Later that year, he would go on to star in both Con Air and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; the former is forgettable, but the latter I felt to be an underrated almost-masterpiece that I savored every moment of. Needless to say, I had become an enormous John Cusack fan.

When he co-wrote another film, 2000’s Nick Hornby adaptation High Fidelity, it came out on my seventeenth birthday and it was one of the best birthday gifts I could have gotten. That film really ages well and as I experience some of the heartache that Rob Gordon does, I empathize more with him. It’s probably one of the best “break-up” films ever made and it really speaks to the nuances of relationships better than most films made about similar subject matter. And once again, Cusack is at the center of it all, owning every moment of that film.

So, it’s been eight long years since John Cusack has decided to add his ample intelligence to the writing of a film in addition to starring in it and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release ofWar, Inc. which I’ve been following since it was originally called Brand Hauser: Stuff Happens. Another film in which Cusack would be playing a hired assassin, only this time the film is a satire of war in the modern age, in which corporations have almost as much power as the countries fighting the war. It sounded good on paper, something that Cusack could really sink his teeth into and a throwback to one of my favorite recent Cusack films. It also had Marisa Tomei, sister Joan Cusack, Sir Ben Kingsley and Hilary Duff co-starring, so I figured it had to be a pretty decent script to attract such a cast.

All of this has been a build-up for me to able to say the following: War, Inc. is a colossal failure that really does not work on any level. It’s really hard for me to say that because I went into this film wanting so much to love the film and every time I felt the film about to pick up, it just shoots itself in the foot. What makes it especially difficult is that it is clear from the writing of the film that there are intelligent and creative people behind the project, but all of their ideas are way too on-the-nose; instead of first making a film that will be entertaining that has a riveting story, it seems the writers (Cusack along with Jeremy Pikser and Mark Leyner) first decided what they wanted to say politically and what they wanted to send up and then they tried to over-compensate to create an entertaining story. The result is a film that has almost every cliché in the book and a lot of performers that are struggling with the constant rhythmic shifts in the film.

The story follows Brand Hauser (Cusack) who is a trained assassin that is sent by the former Vice President (Dan Aykroyd doing a terrible Dick Cheney imitation) to the fictional Turaqistan which is occupied by the Vice President’s mercenary army. He wants Hauser to assassinate an oil minister named Omar Sharif (hardy har har) while inexplicably putting on a kind of variety show starring a middle Eastern pop star named Yonica Babyyeah (Duff). Also there is a reporter (Tomei) that is snooping around, trying to find out what’s really happening.

Again, the plot synopsis isn’t really all that important because the film is really just an excuse for us to see gags like the reporters being kept in the green zone and forced to report their stories by strapping themselves into shaking chairs and watching documentary footage. This would be fine except that the next few scenes will be ones that we have to take ultra seriously and then it will return to another satiric scene. Every single sequence in the film feels disjointed and as a result, none of the performances retain any continuity. I don’t know if this is a result of poor editing or if the director Josh Seftel just never could settle on the correct tone, but my guess is that it’s a little bit of both.

There are a couple of things that work, like Hauser’s addiction to taking shots of hot sauce or his conversations with a judgmental OnStar representative, but then it’s disappointing when we have to go back to the rest of the story. The second half of the film, especially, is excruciating to watch as twists and turns that we’ve suspected from the first reel start to occur, but they don’t ever make a difference on the participants. When we learn about Hauser’s past, it not only stops the film dead in its tracks but it completely deflates the mystery of the character.

Cusack is okay in his role, trying his very best to roll with the punches but his own script fails him by revealing too much at times and at others, not enough. Tomei, who has been so brilliant in so many films, is just a non-entity in this one; Kingsley comes off as pretty foolish with a ridiculous Southern twang, but Duff actually makes a pretty good impact and provides a little bit of fun in a film that tries so hard to be a romp, but fails.

I sincerely hope that Cusack does not become disheartened by the inevitable poor response to this film. It’s just a bump in the road and is the result of a confluence of bad ideas. Cusack is at his best when he writes and stars in films about characters that are organically grown and fully realized and having those characters interact with one another. His characters of Rob Gordon and Martin Blank are guys that I believed walked right off the screen and into their normal lives, but his Brand Hauser feels so artificially created that I could never take him seriously.

His other two films were written with the help of writing partners Steve Pink (who went on to direct the film Accepted) and D.V. DeVincentis. I don’t know if his relationship with the two of them is still strong, but I would recommend heading back into the writer’s room with the two of them. I have a feel whatever the result is of that session, it will be an improvement over War, Inc.
E-Mails of the Week

So last week, I asked that you guys send me stories about bad experiences you’ve had in movie theaters and the result was great. So, I’ve picked out my favorites for everyone to enjoy below and thanks to everyone who responded!

“My girlfriend (now wife) and I were seeing Breakdown with Kurt Russell, back in the day. A man directly behind us would not stop coughing for the entire movie. I couldn’t ask him to stop because I didn’t think he was doing it on purpose. If the movie hadn’t been so great, I probably would have been really, really annoyed. Anyway, we got back home and my girlfriend took off her white shirt. To our surprise, the back of the shirt was covered in chocolate specks. The man had been eating candy and coughing it onto her back! After that incident, we started sitting behind one another in theater until the movie started, then switching at the last minute so there wouldn’t be anyone behind us.

Coughed on in Maryland”

“While in Dublin, I went to the Cineworld theater to catch a show of The Savages. Needless to say I was dying to see it (no pun intended) and I was fully engrossed in the story when a young, may i say beautiful, woman seated directly in front of me had her cell phone begin ringing as Phil Bosco’s feet begin to curl at the end of his bed. For those who have seen the movie, it is an obvious moment of emotional intensity and one that any reasonable spectator of the film would allow to fully envelope them, but apparently not this young beautiful dame plopped down with her oversized backpack directly in front of me. She looks at the phone, and as I really truly believe she will close it, she begins to have a conversation, albeit ducking a little to avoid the cold glances being thrown at her (primarily from myself). I did a lil’ “ahem”, but knowing this wasn’t the full extent of my limitations of criticising annoying patrons of movie theaters, I told her to leave the theater. She turned around, and after having repeated myself, she turned around again to tell me, in quite a frustrating london-accent, to “feck off”. I wanted to spit on her. And look Laura Linney did something amazing– I guess life goes on.

Ross B.”

“My best (worst?) story would be seeing a revival of “Lawrence of Arabia” at my local Museum of Fine Arts. I’d been wanting to see this film on the big screen since I was a teen, but the whole experience was ruined when an elderly man in the front row took it upon himself to fart very loudly every twenty minutes or so for the entire run of the film. I’m not exaggerating this one bit; he even made these loud “Oh!” exclamations after a few of them. God knows what the people seated near him were going through. And yet no one said a word to him as far as I could tell. Later, a middle-aged man behind me decided to drape his sandal-clad foot over the empty seat next to me, right next to my head. When I asked him to move his foot, he even acted as if I was the one being rude.

Maybe I just had blinders on before, but I really do remember feeling that sharing an experience with an audience was always the best way to see a movie. These days, though, it’s definitely a negative. I once used to feel that if I missed a movie on opening night, something would be lost. Now, though, unfortunately, I’ve found there’s more to be gained by simply being patient and waiting to have an acceptable viewing experience on DVD in front of my plasma TV with trusted friends.

Aaron Reynolds”

“Remember that “Honey, I shrunk the Audience!” ride in Disneyland? Remember the bit with the mice running all over the floor. Well in Amsterdam there’s 2 movie theaters where it happens for real! I was there some time ago and I could see the mice runnig all over the floor, up and down, and while there ofcourse was little light during the film, sometimes I did see some dark shadows move by really quickly on the floor. I later read an article somewhere that they had big problem with all those little Jerry’s all over the place at those theaters, but they were about to terminate the problem (and the mice too probably) forever.
Back to the present day. I went to see Speed Racer (I was just curious how bad it was; it was terrible) and I had a backpack with me and some sandwiches (hell I’m not always gonna buy that expensive popcorn and soft drinks!) anyway, I left my bag open at the seat next to me and at some point I heard the something going on with the plastic bag inside my backpack. So I moved my bag around a bit and there came a mouse jumping from my bag and running off. Also I saw another mouse running away from the top of the chair. I quickly closed the zipper of my bag but I feared there was another mouse trapped in there. But it was dark, so I waited for the end of the show. Luckily enough, no more stowaways in my bag. I did feel kinda perverted though.

Thanks for reading,
Jonathan from the Netherlands.”

– Noah Forrest
May 20, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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Frenzy On Column

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon