Category Archives: Movies

Man Crush (1 in a series of 25): John Cusack

crush (krush) v. crushed, crush-ing, crush-es  1.  To break, pound, or grind (stone or ore, for example) into small fragments or powder. 2.  To extract or obtain by pressure or squeezing:  crush juice from a grape.

n.  informal 1.  A usually temporary infatuation. 2.  One who is the subject of an infatuation.

Heterosexuality is my most consistent characteristic.  It is as certain as sun up or sun down, as a Starbucks on a street corner near you or the better-luck-next-year of the Chicago Cubs of any season since 1908.

Straight husbands suffering from a quarter life crisis have crushes, too; ours bear a little more sophistication from the teen-aged version:  Sheer lust is replaced by admiration, frantic obsession is muted by respect, candle-light vigils trumped by google searches.

To wit:

The career of a former child star follows a familiar arc:  Fame is sudden and the ascent is meteoric, public consciousness/tolerance reaches a saturation point, the decline is a horrific–albeit spectacular–plummet back to where any social relevance has been reduced to random trivia answers, TV reality programs with a nostalgic bent, or a hallucinogen-induced crime spree .

Then there’s John Cusack.

The native Chicagoan is the rule’s exception, having successfully navigated the treacherous straits of Hollywood burnout.  In the process, he has assembled an impressive, if not prolific, inventory of film credits that even the venerable Michael Caine must view with a spot of envy.

Identifying Cusack as a former teen heart-throb is like preceding ‘addict’ with ‘recovering.’  Cusack seems sensibly rooted in a clever understanding of where he began his career and where it has evolved from.

Cusack has saturated movie audiences with a heavy volume of projects, seemingly releasing a movie every year since 1983.   The recent Hot TubTime Machine demonstrates that he possesses the quality that eludes most entertainers:  He doesn’t take himself too seriously.

More reasons to love John Cusack, in no particular order:

1. He golfs.

2. He contributes to the Huffington Post.

3. He’s made-out with Amanda Peet, Diane Lane, Daphne Zuniga, Ione Skye, Annette Bening, Dianne Wiest, and Minnie Driver.

4. His sister is Joan Cusack.

5. He loves baseball.

6. He made out with Nicolette Sheridan, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Marisa Tomei and Demi Moore.

7. He loves The Clash and The Ramones.

8. He is fearless with his political views.

9. He starred in Being John Malkovich.

10. He made out with Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener, Lisa Bonet, Iben Hjejle, Bridget Moynahan and Kate Beckinsale.

By definition, a crush suggests something fleeting and temporary, yet the  man crush I have for Cusack defies even this description.

Cusack has fanned the flames of my smoldering man crush ever since he portrayed Hoops McCann in One Crazy Summer.

Cusack is a dude’s dude, sharp as a dagger and an icon of film.

Just don’t call him Kevin Spacey (see below).

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The Ten Greatest Cinematic Collaborations of All-Time

Here’s a Top Ten list for you to chew on, dear reader:

As 2009 draws to a close, the chic thing to do is to create a Top Ten list for the decade.  Here at Bacon Makes It Better, we are more concerned with the larger scope of things;  how about an all-time list about one of our favorite subjects?  Hoo-ray for cinema!

No other artistic medium requires more collaboration than cinema.  Where an author needs only a pen and a page (and a good agent), a filmmaker enlists the efforts of a small army:  writers for a script, a cinematographer for his visuals, a production assistant to fetch his BLT, etc.

In the process of making movies, no other relationship is more critical than the director and his lead actor.  Most times, the relationship is merely a working arrangement.   For the duration of the shoot, the director and his lead talent merely co-exist.  They tolerate each others’ egos with the comforting knowledge that after six more weeks of shooting, they’ll be vacationing at separate Caribbean destinations.

Other times, the relationship becomes volatile; like the time that George Clooney and Director David O. Russell got into a fist fight on the set of Three Kings.

But sometimes– and this is more the exception than the rule– great miracles occur.

Cinema history is full of these wonderful moments when space and time grind to a resounding halt; when the cosmos aligns perfectly to allow a director and his lead actor to produce an amazing movie with an unforgettable performance.  And when the chemistry is good, the final product shows.  Lucky for us– the movie-going fan– when a director finds this connection, he usually works with the lead actor again.  The result is a series of work that defines careers and elevates reputations to legendary status.

That is the service of this post; to recognize the Top 10 All-Time Cinematic Collaborations between a Director and a Lead Actor:

10.  John Woo & Chow Yun Fat (A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow II, Hard Boiled, The Killer)

Woo created the template for the modern action film.  The requisite ingredient?  An unapologetic, bad ass male lead.  Chow Yun Fat was that guy.  Who knew bullets and blood in hyper slow-mo could be so beautiful?

9.  Frank Capra & James Stewart (Mr. Deeds Goes To Washington, It’s A Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take It With You)

Capra had a knack for stories about the principled, every-day man overcoming long odds.  Stewart was the man who made us believe, even when all hope seemed lost.  Together, they combined for such classics as It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Deeds Goes To Washington.  The filibuster scene in Mr. Deeds validates their position on this list.

8.  Spike Lee & Denzel Washington (Mo’ Betta Blues, He Got Game, Malcolm X)

Before Washington became seduced by the action blockbuster genre, he made some really great movies!  Under Lee’s actor-friendly direction, Washington’s performances flourished.  Malcolm X is the best work of either artist.

7.  Elia Kazan & Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, On The Waterfront)

Post World War II movie audiences universally rejected the idealism that popularized the musicals and comedies of earlier times.  They craved qualities in movies that were more identifiable to their daily struggles.  Kazan and Brando collaborated to provide the grit and realism they sought.  And in the process, the two artists pushed cinema into a brave new direction.

6.  Woody Allen & Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Interiors, Play It Again, Sam, Love And Death, Sleeper, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Radio Days)

It still seems that after all these years– and a thousand movies later– Allen is still trying to recapture the magic of his earlier successes.  The same can be said of Keaton.  And why not?  The chemistry of these two talents working in the same movie is a delight to behold.  Every romantic comedy made after 1979– to a greater or lesser degree– has a bit of Annie Hall in it.

5. Billy Wider & Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Erma La Douce, Avanti!)

Watching these two cinematic luminaries collaborate was like watching Magic dish to Kareem, McMahon feed Carson or Robin carry Batman’s utility belt.

4.  Francis Ford Coppola & Al Pacino (The Godfather; The Godfather, Part II;  The Godfather, Part III)

Proof that even the most combustible of relationships can yield high quality cinema.  Coppola and Pacino may have teamed up only three times for one role– but what a role it was!  Without Michael Corleone there is no modern mobster genre.  Tony Soprano had better kneel down and start kissing ring fingers.

3.  Tim Burton & Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, The Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

A bold visual style and fearless acting.  When combined, as in the case of Burton and Depp, the results can be both haunting and memorable.  Actors give their best performance when they are free from constraints.  Burton provides the environment for Depp’s talent to roam free.

2.  Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune (Yojimbo, Sichinin no Samurai, Rashomon)

Only Mifune– with his silent restraint or his over-the-top Kabuki style– could project the meticulous vision of Kurosawa, the undisputed sinsei of cinema.  Said the great Kurosawa of Mifune, “I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him.”

1.  Martin Scorsese & Robert DeNiro (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, King Of Comedy, Casino)

Their careers followed the same arc; first as struggling amateurs, then as rising stars, appropriately as Oscar winners, ultimately as the greatest creative force to collaborate in cinema.  Always trusting each other, never compromising on passion and intensity.  Nine times they have worked together; each film an undeniable classic.

Just Missed The Cut:

John Hughes & Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink)

Joel and Ethan Coen & John Goodman (Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

Orson Welles & Himself (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil)

Agree?  Disagree?  Agree to disagree?  Tell me about it!

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The Box: A Telepathic Movie Review

Dude, where's my career?

telepathy:  (Greek origin)  The sympathetic affection of one mind by the thoughts, feelings or emotions of another at a distance, without communicating through the normal channels of sensation.

In my high school days, The Book of Questions was a sensation.  The book confronted the reader with an endless stream of questions that challenged one’s moral judgment and ethical make-up.

The questions in the book were usually phrased in such a manner, or some approximation, to the following:  If you had the ability to kill a complete stranger in a unique manner– like say, pressing a red button on a mystical box–  in exchange for a million dollars, would you do it?

My buddies and I would gather ’round and pose these questions to each other; our responses were dissected and laid bare for all to criticize.

Controlled substances were optional.

It was a great way to pass the time and delude ourselves into believing we were complex and sophisticated thinkers.

Little did I know that in 2009, popular culture would try to pull that sh*t on me again, this time in the form of the movie called “The Box.”

Disclaimer:  I have not seen the movie “THE BOX”, nor do I have any desire to see it.  I have no affiliation or vested interest in the success or failure of this movie. See * page of this blog.  Nonetheless, I will review this movie with a wink and a hunch.

Five years down the road when I’m having trouble sleeping at 2 in the morning for whatever reason and the only other viewing alternative is some Tyler Perry suckfest on TBS or the late local news and a Seinfeld re-run is a half-hour away.  I have just described the only conditions where I might see any glimpse of this atrocious excuse for a movie called “The Box.”

Spoiler alert!  Do not attempt to read any further!  Spoiler alert!

1. It’s a flimsy star vehicle. They tried to seduce us by casting Cameron Diaz to salvage this mess.  Her career trajectory hasn’t exactly been upwardly mobile these days.  The producers could have found better insurance from that talking lizard.

2. The first twenty minutes of the movie is devoted to boring characterization scenes.  In order for the movie to function we have to buy into the notion that the main character is totally sympathetic and completely redemptive.  Again, Cameron Diaz as insurance.

3. Be prepared for Cameron Diaz in impeccable make-up, soft fill lighting with plenty of obnoxious close-ups as the director has proactively shot the movie in a user friendly film ratio to aid the inevitable data transfer from big screen to TV screen.

4. Despite the seemingly insurmountable moral dilemma that the trailer is projecting, Cameron Diaz will press the red button in the box.  Of course she does.

5. The person that will die as a result of her pressing the red button in the box will have eventual implications on her life.  The only suspense here is if the audience will still be awake or coherent enough to find out.

Let’s recap:

The movie “The Box.”  Why bother?

Here at Bacon Makes It Better, we don’t just rant, we offer solutions, too:

Top Five Things To Do Instead of Paying Good Money To See “The Box”

5. Clean out storm drains.

4. Visit your dentist.

3. Watch something else.  Anything else.

2. Go to the DMV.

1. Stab your eyes out with a rusty screwdriver.

Look!  I’m a film critic/ movie going consultant!

That’ll be $8.50, please.


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