DAY 3:

This was a very difficult day to get through. This is not the fault of the movies themselves. 20 Cusack movies in three days is too many. Any 20 movies in three days is probably too many. I couldn’t tell you. In any event, I was getting a bit stir crazy.

If the overarching  theme of day one was teen romance, day two would have been crime. Grifting, fixing the World Series, running off with missing money, crooked politics; he did it all. Now, as we approach 2000 and High Fidelity, we see Cusack tackle blockbuster action, animation, surrealism, and more.

GROSSE POINTE BLANK, 1997:

If Lloyd Dobler’s life took a somewhat wacky turn after the events of Say Anything, he could easily have become Martin Blank. See, like Lloyd, when Martin left high school, he had no plans, only some pressure from his family to go into the army.  Unlike Lloyd, Martin has turned to a life of crime, as a hired assassin. When a job brings him into the vicinity of his 10-year high school reunion, he is forced to reevaluate where his life is going, and to look back at the girl he left behind.

It’s fun to take a look back at the themes of those early Cusack romances from a different angle, but I didn’t feel as though Grosse Pointe Blank lived up to the hype surrounding it. I should probably go back and watch it again, sometime when I haven’t just watched 13 other Cusack movies in the course of 48 hours.

Writers D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink both returned to work on High Fidelity, and there are a couple of moments where it shows. Both films contain the phrase, “Let me ask you a question, and you don’t have to answer it.” Homage, or sloppy reuse? I couldn’t tell you. All four Cusack siblings appear here, in roles of varying sizes. And, well hey, it’s the most recent movie in which I’ve enjoyed Dan Akroyd.  That must count for something.

CON AIR, 1997:

I’m not going to claim that this is a good movie, but it sure as hell is a fun movie. Simon West’s directing debut is a film with a horribly dumb premise, completely redeemed by a stellar cast giving over-the-top performances. There are popcorn movies, and then there are chocolate-and-caramel-covered popcorn movies. But Cusack’s job here is thankless. In the midst of Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Danny Trejo, M.C. Gainey, and Colm Meaney all being their wacky selves, someone has to be the straight man. Someone needs to thread what passes for the plot together. Cusack is that man.

He also has to dodge improbable explosions, and look at planes. The script doesn’t give him much to work with, nevertheless Cusack’s performance is serviceable. Need someone to present some exposition without getting in the way? He does it! Need someone to move the plot forward without making a fuss? He’ll do it! This is not one of the great Cusack roles, but the movie needs him (well, not him specifically) and he’s there for it, even if he doesn’t get to put a gun to a bunny’s head.

Malkovich has all the fun. If only there was a way to be him…

Lest this should come off as too negative, I should note that Cusack and Colm Meaney have excellent chemistry. It’s a real shame that Cusack never made an appearance on Deep Space Nine.

ANASTASIA, 1997:

Here we have the first animated feature to star the voice of John Cusack. For some reason, this film, from directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (cumulatively responsible for The Land Before Time, An American Tale, and a host of other memorably non-Disney animated features), never quite achieved classic status. Maybe it’s that many of the main characters were real people, who died horrible violent deaths. Maybe it’s the frighteningly animated faces that never seem to convey the right emotion.  Maybe it’s the jumble of unmemorable songs. Okay. It’s a mess. And unfortunately, Cusack’s vocal performance does not serve as a saving grace.

In this shot Cusack’s character looks down Anastasia’s dress. 
It should be noted that she is not wearing it.
She is wearing something else.
Still creepy though.

All of Cusack’s lines seem disjointed and unemotional. It really sounds like a rough runthrough. I expect some of the blame lies with whoever was coaching him through his recording sessions. If a Cusack is acting in a forest, and there’s no one around for him to act off of, does he make a sound? Yes, just not as good a sound as he does in live action.

It doesn’t work if it isn’t real rain.

Of all the movies starring John Cusack that opened on November 21st, 1997, containing references to Grigori Rasputin, this is the second best.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, 1997:

Cusack costars with Kevin Spacey here in Clint Eastwood’s adaption of John Berendt’s non-fiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a tale of murder, prejudice, and the South. I have heard that this film is a great disappointment if you have read the book, that it does not do the source material justice, and that it takes unforgivable liberties with what is apparently a true story. Having never read the book, I found it quite enjoyable. It may be Cusack who we follow around Savannah Georgia, but this isn’t his movie; it belongs to Kevin Spacey, The Lady Chablis (playing herself) and Berendt’s bizarre Savannah itself. Cusack’s performance is subdued, never drawing much attention to itself, and (unlike in City Hall) that is exactly what the movie needs. Cusack is a tour guide through this strange town. We don’t need to relate to him, we just need to follow him around for two-and-a-half hours.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil opened on the very same day as Anastasia. It is worth noting that Kevin Spacey’s character shows Cusack the knife that was used to kill Rasputin (Russia’s famous love machine), which would have been really handy in the other movie.

“Excuse me, I have to go give this to an animated version of myself.”

PUSHING TIN, 1999:

I did not enjoy Pushing Tin. I wanted to enjoy Pushing Tin. The cover promised John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in what someone from ABC-TV describes as “A High-Flying Comedy.” The film is about two men in a high-pressure, aviation-related field that have a pissing match because one of them is a risk taker. Sound a little familiar? It probably does if you read Bill’s posts. That person from ABC-TV could have better prepared me for this movie by describing it as “The Boring Parts of Top Gun.”

The film also features an unintentionally foreboding opening shot.

Cusack plays Nick Falzone, an air traffic controller who dresses like Lloyd Dobler, and who makes even cheating on Cate Blanchett with Angelina Jolie seem boring and tedious. We see a lot of the introspective brooding of Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, but unlike those movies, we have little reason to care. Perhaps someone thought that Cusack would bring instant likability to the character, so the script didn’t have to help him out any.  I don’t know.

Rain tantrum.

We have a couple of High Fidelity parallels here. He has a coworker named Barry. He tries to convince a woman to get back together with him, shortly after the death of her father.

It should be noted that the movie contains whatever the hell this is:

This is not an endorsement of Pushing Tin. Just of whatever this is.

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, 1999:

Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich shows us what can happen when John Cusack has something to work with. The material is great, and Cusack doesn’t let it down. His performance feels different than any of his previous roles. Of course, it could be the long stringy hair. He plays Craig Schwartz, a miserable puppeteer who discovers a portal into John Malkovich’s mind.

“Any Oscar nominations for me down this hole? Nope, just one for Catherine Keener.”

Certain plot-lines in this film, if looked at on paper, might seem to be in the classic Cusack vein: Craig strikes out with a girl he is interested in, and deals with being rejected by his wife. Unlike in most Cusack fare, however, we are shown the dark twisted side of being rejected. Lloyd Dobler didn’t lock Ione Skye in a cage with a monkey after she broke up with him. It’s a fresh breath of air to see Cusack stretching himself a little. Of course, it’s impossible to determine how much is attributable to his performance, as opposed to the script, or that greasy wig. In any event, Cusack fits the role very nicely.

Something, something, rain, you know the drill.

During the scenes where Craig is controlling Malkovich, John Malkovich does a very good John Cusack impression. The rhythm of his speech is spot on. Fun fact: according to IMDb, the 3 movies for which Malkovich is best known are Con Air and Being John Malkovich (both starring Cusack) and Dangerous Liasons (directed by Steven Frears.) That’s a tidy little bundle of High Fidelity connections.  Maybe Cusack has gotten into his brain.

HIGH FIDELITY, 2000:

So. At last we arrive at the reason for this whole ghastly affair. How does High Fidelity stand up to the body of John Cusack’s previous work? Well, that can be found here in my weekly viewing.

[Cusackathon picks up post-High Fidelity here.]