Doodad Kind of Town

It’s "Serious Movie Season" and I’m Back
October 21, 2007, 8:56 pm
Filed under: John Cusack, Victor Garber

Where the hell have I been? Good question!

When last I blogged, the flood waters were receding from my basement storage room. Since then, my brain cells have been fully taxed by my day job, and evenings have been for vegging in front of the TV or getting together with friends.

As the days grow cooler, and my work days get less taxing, I’m ready to write again.

Some Random Sunday thoughts:

** What a delight to see my Number One celebrity crush, Victor Garber, showing up on “Ugly Betty” as Betty’s nasty new creative writing instructor (“like Simon Cowell, but with a Pulitzer”). He is snarky, snarly and laugh-out-loud funny, the perfect foil to America Ferrera’s sweet, optimistic sincerity. I hope we’ll be seeing more of him!

** Now that we’re in Serious Movie Season, the theatres are full of films themed around corporate greed, government corruption, and, of course, the Iraq War. On the multiplex screens right now: “The Kingdom,” “Rendition,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Michael Clayton.” Coming soon are Brian DePalma’s “Redaction,” Mike Nichols’ “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Lions into Lambs,” “Grace is Gone,” and some assassination hoax thriller with William Hurt and Dennis Quaid whose title I can’t for the life of me remember, even though I’ve seen the trailer three times in the last 2 weeks.

Which bring me to my main point: Why do these films all look so boring? Go to the movies any night now, and be prepared to sit though about 20 minutes of trailers that pretty much all look and sound the same – the same deadly earnest speechifying, portentous music and close-up after close-up of award winning actors looking grim, determined or shocked. Ho hum! Even the non-topical dramas from directors I love, like “There Will Be Blood” from Paul Thomas Anderson and “No Country for Old Men” from the Coen Brothers, have a numbing sameness.

(One notable exception is the trailer for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” probably because it’s funny and uses music like “All Along the Watchtower” and “American Pie” to great effect. Plus it features not only the always-wonderful Tom Hanks, but also a nearly unrecognizable Julia Roberts in a cotton candy bouffant blond hairdo. I’m pretty jazzed about this one, especially ’cause it’s from Mike Nichols. His “Primary Colors” was one of the best films – maybe the best film – about politics I’ve ever seen.)

And then there’s “Grace is Gone,” which I sincerely hope does not turn out to be the shameless, manipulative ploy for John Cusack to win an Oscar that it appears to be. Cusack plays a father of two girls whose wife is killed while serving in Iraq; the film is about his decision to defer breaking the news to his girls by taking them to their favorite amusement park for the day. Now, I am not a unkind person, nor is my heart made of stone or anything else as hard. I am moved to tears very easily by movies like these, and don’t normally object to being shamelessly and calculatingly manipulated into doing so. I fully expect “Grace is Gone” to break my heart.

And yet…

Something about the trailer for “Grace is Gone” made me queasy. There’s John Cusack, all cuddly and nonthreatening in ill-fitting, unstylish “Dad” clothes and big, nerdy eyeglasses. John Cusack, for God’s sakes! What makes Cusack interesting on screen is his edge, that ever-present suggestion of barely concealed darkness or rage that informs his best performances. Even Lloyd Dobbler of “Say Anything,” his sweetest character, had a slightly explosive, unpredictable complexity that made his character far more interesting than the usual teen comedy hero. I’d rather see how a character like that grieves, than one who’s been detoothed and desexed for the the comfort of Oscar voters.

What I’d really like to see right now is a great black comedy, a 21st century “Dr. Strangelove.” Maybe we’ll get it. Cusack’s next project is a war profiteering satire called “War, Inc.” which co-stars Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and his big sister, Joan. That’s the kind of John Cusack movie I can get excited about.

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