1408 And A Cry For Quality Cusack

“But you wouldn’t be sleeping with a person. You’d be sleeping with a whole sad single-person culture. It would be like sleeping with Talia Shire in ROCKY if you weren’t Rocky.” *
– Rob Gordon (John Cusack) HIGH FIDELITY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2000)

* A friend emailed me this quote not long ago and asked “what does this mean?” I honestly have to say I don’t know.

I avoided 1408 upon its original run in theaters earlier this year because I suspected that the explanation (or lack of) for the supernatural premise would really piss me off. However I ordered the new release DVD on up from Netflix because my curiosity got the best of me but also because I like John Cusack (see below) and knew he’d at least deliver. So here’s my review:

1408 (Dir. Mikael Håfström, 2007)

The premise (based on a short story by Stephen King) is simple – John Cusack gets trapped in a hotel room from Hell. He’s tortured by apparitions of the many who were killed or killed themselves there and by images of his own deceased daughter (no, she didn’t die in the room).

The angle is that he’s an extremely skeptical writer of anti-ghost books – guides to hotels that are believed to be haunted that he stays in to debunk. So naturally when he hears (by way of a cryptic postcard) about a hotel room in the Dolphin Hotel in New York City that nobody has lasted more than an hour in and that has been closed off to the public, he gets his publisher to cut through some legal red tape and book the room.

He first has to listen to a series of lectures from hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson (whose role is essentially an extended cameo) about the history of grisly deaths interspersed with repeated attempts to talk Cusack out of staying in the room. “It’s an evil fucking room” Jackson concludes in the grimmest most intense manner he can muster as Cusack cynically and drolly rolls his eyes. This is where the plot description ends and I just bitch about the movie in full.

As for lasting an hour – the first hour of 1408 is pretty good – sharp and genuinely creepy. The second half however is really ludicrous – literally throwing every horror movie cliché at Cusack as he is almost burned, frozen, stabbed by ghosts, drowned, chased by a corpse in a heating duct, and he almost falls to his death hanging from the ledge when he tries to escape to the next room’s window which of course disappears.

These are technologically savvy ghosts – they outdo the AMITYVILLE HORROR‘s screwing with the bedside alarm clock ploy, though they do that too. Yes Siree – these ghosts can manipulate Cusack’s lap-top’s video messenger screen and broadcast their own satellite cable transmissions on the room’s television. They sometimes even tap into surveillance camera and old family camcorder feeds somehow to better scare Cusack. They can also appear in black and white complete with old film scratches or in technicolor depending on when they died craftily enough.

But of course it’s not the ghosts but the room itself as the title implies and Jackson said – it’s evil and can take control of everything including time, space, bed, bathroom and beyond. How could that be? You can’t have a Indian burial ground beneath a rented space in the sky so what gives? Then we have to filter in the estranged wife (Mary McCormack) and dead daughter (Jasmine Jessica Anthony) – who the room and the film use as heartstring pulling psyche-out set-up punches.

It’s the kind of movie that boils down to “we’ve traced the call – it’s coming from inside of your brain!” That said, this is an amusing time waster that has a better than the material performance by Cusack who carries pretty much the whole show. Like those movies depicting plane crashes that are banned by airlines, I think this would be a good one to censor from hotel-chain pay-per-view. I doubt I could sleep in a hotel room after watching it – just sayin’.

Postnote : Not that it affects my review but I only saw the unrated version of 1408 which is disc 2 of the Special Ed. DVD. I wasn’t aware that there was an alternate ending that is completely different to the theatrical release’s. I thought that the unrated version would be everything, you know? As readers of film babble must know I hate when there are alternate endings – cop-outs based on test screening panic for the most part.

A Cry For Quality Cusack

So how long since the last really good John Cusack movie? Uh, let’s go back through the bad ones – MUST LOVE DOGS, which was a real dog, was 2005, before it there was RUNAWAY JURY which was beneath the bottom of the bail and IDENTITY (another failed supernatural thriller like 1408) were both 2003, and SERENDIPITY and AMERICAN SWEETHEARTS which both seriously sucked so the last really good John Cusack movie was HIGH FIDELITY (2000). Wow, 7 years!

HIGH FIDELITY is one of my favorite movies (as the Nick Hornby novel it was based on is one of my favorite books) so because of Cusack’s top notch work as heartbroken music snob/geek Rob Gordon (named Rob Fleming in the book) in that film as I read somebody say on The Onion The A.V. Club he gets a free pass. However it looks like the pass is going to expire soon unless he takes some action. It looks like there’s possibilities ahead for the upcoming films MARTIAN CHILD (by Menno Meyjes who directed Cusack in MAX – which was decent but unmemorable) and the drama GRACE IS GONE (pictured below) so with hope the 7 year itch will be scratched.

Now I don’t want to write one of those “open letter to…” or any smarmy “here’s some career tips Mr. Big Star”, I mean how moronic would that be for me – a lowly blogger to even slightly think I know what really goes on with choosing scripts and signing on to projects but damnit I wish Cusack would do 2 things:

1. Work with Stephen Frears again – 2 of Cusack’s best films (THE GRIFTERS and HIGH FIDELITY) were with Frears directing and it seems like a good time for them to hook up again. Also Cusack was great in Woody Allen’s SHADOWS AND FOG and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY so another collaboration with him would be great too. How about this being a plea for Cusack to work with better directors in general? The last seven years smell of behind the camera hackery.

2. Host Saturday Night Live – That’s right, Cusack has never hosted SNL despite the fact that his sister Joan Cusack used to be a cast member. In his friend Tim Robbin’s excellent mock poli-doc BOB ROBERTS Cusack played an actor doing a SNL-type show called “Cutting Edge”. Just credited as “Cutting Edge Host” Cusack had a great anti-corporation/anti-right wing folk-singing senate candidate Bob Roberts (Robbins) rant. It would be a great actor exercise for him to do a string of different characters all live on SNL and I bet it would refresh his comedic facilities.

But like I said who am I to say such things – nobody that’s who! As long as Cusack still makes movies with his sister – the very funny above-mentioned Joan Cusack (they’ve been in 5 movies together and 2 more coming up) and Jeremy Piven (6 films) I’ll stop complaining. In fact I bet Joan would made 1408 quite a bit better if she would’ve appeared as the voice of the hotel phone operator and Piven as the bell hop – man, that would’ve added a more chilling effect to the proceedings.

So in conclusion – I have to do right by HIGH FIDELITY‘s Rob Gordon and his obsession with top-5 lists and name:

The Film Babble Blog Top Five John Cusack Movies

1. HIGH FIDELITY (2000) – No surprise there.

2. SAY ANYTHING (1989) – Excellent Cameron Crowe high school relationship movie. Best known for the boom box blaring Peter Gabriel held to the skies by Cusack’s immortal Lloyd Dobbler character – no, I’m not going to post that picture. I’ll go with the one with the Clash t-shirt on the left.

3. THE GRIFTERS (1990) – A con man (Cusack) and a few con women (Annette Benning, Angelica Houston) and a dark uncompromising comic tone that never lets up make this essential on my blog.

4. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) – One of Woody Allen’s best screenplays with Cusack spot-on as a troubled neurotic playwright in 1920’s New York who has to deal with mafiaso control of his project. A pleasure from start to finish.

5. THE SURE THING (1985) – Very underrated Rob Reiner helmed comedy originally billed as a college-kids-on-the-road-sex-farce but it has better intentions and results. It makes the Top 5 because it was the first full-length that cemented the Cusack persona – he’s one of the only guys who can get away with a line like: “How would you like to have a sexual experience so intense it could conceivably change your political views?” Great Tim Robbins cameo to boot.

Came close but didn’t make the cut : BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (Dir. Spike Jonez, 1999)

That’s all for now – next time I’ll try not to come anywhere near giving celebrities career advice. I’ll leave you with this nice montage of Cusack in the rain which sort of says it all.

More later…

Keepin’ Cool With The AC Breeze & New Release DVDs

“Doing da ying and yang, da flip and flop, da hippy and hoppy (yodels) Yo da lay he hoo! I have today’s forecast.
– MR.SEÑOR LOVE DADDY (Samuel L. Jackson)
DO THE RIGHT THING (Dir. Spike Lee, 1989)

He said it! It was been unbearably hot this week so the best thing to do is to get the air cranking, tear open a few Netflix envelopes, and devour some DVDs. Here’s some I’ve seen lately and while for the most part they are a dire lot they did provide some diversion from the sweltering Summer sun. Let’s start with :

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2006) From the trailers I saw for this last Christmas (sorry Holiday season) it looked to me like yet another Ben Stiller as punching bag enterprise but this time aimed at kids with lots of CGI. Well, that’s pretty much what it is but it’s better than I expected with more than few really funny moments and a great supporting cast. Abundant back and forths (some improvised) between Stiller as a hapless failed inventor turned security guard and Robin Williams dominates the lively proceedings. Williams plays a life sized Teddy Roosevelt in battle mode mannequin, who as I’m sure you know if you’ve even glanced in the direction of this movie, comes to life with everything else in the museum at night. Not so life size are the miniatures cowboy Jebediah (Owen Wilson – uncredited for some odd reason) and Roman warrior Octavius (Steve Coogan) who make good with their bit parts – sorry for that lame ass pun. Wait – lame ass puns dominate this movie so I’ll leave that in.

Anyway Ricky Gervais somehow pulls off some amusing walk-throughs without having a single genuinely funny line while oldtimers Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs pull no punches (literally) but the real shining player here? 3 words – Dick. Van. Dyke. Nice to see the man atone for years of bland TV and forgettable cameos by sinking his teeth into his role as Stiller’s smooth retiring night guard mentor. Lots of critics have dumped on NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (it has a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and I agree with the consensus that the CGI doesn’t impress like it used to and that the humor may be way too broad at times but I still think it’s a decent family film. Even if that’s all that it is.

THE NUMBER 23 (Dir. Joel Schumacher, 2007) Sometimes I watch movies that I know are going to be horrible. It’s that I want to know just how and in how many ways they are horrible. I guess the genre here is psychological suspense though there’s nothing either psychological or suspenseful in this convoluted Jim Carrey vehicle. For the first 10 minutes or so Carrey is his usual glide through life wisecracking self until his wife (Virginia Madsen) gives him a book about the supposedly mystical number of the title. He of course becomes obsessed with 23 seeing it everywhere – in his birthday, address, social security #, etc. He cites examples (as does the opening credit sequence does to drive home the meaningless point) like “Ted Bundy was executed on the 23rd of January” * and even writes “9,11, 2001 – 9+11+2+1=23″ in pen on his arm. Before long he makes the connection to not only the saxophone (the saxophone has 23 keys!!!) playing detective of the book to some murdered girl and others who have had similar deadly numerical obsessions helping the movie make its red herring quota. Schumacher’s films all have an overly glossy look – something he perfected in the era of high impact rock videos and magazine ads – and this is no exception. Nothing resembling real life here. This time he tried to disguise the stylized emptiness with the contrived “depth” of a cultish pseudo-intellectual theory. Consider it an extremely dumbed down Pi (which cinematographer Mattthew Latique worked on too!). How many ways is this movie horrible? I’m think-ing of a number…

* Actually he wasn’t! Bundy was sent to the electric chair on January 24th, 1989. Ah-ha!

DISTURBIA (D.J. Caruso, 2007) So I feel old and unhip because it took until his hosting of Saturday Night Light earlier this year for me to take note of Shia Lebeouf. I mean the kid is apparently really hot these days – magazine covers, TRANSFORMERS, and he’s even going to be the son of Indiana Jones next Summer. Lebouf was called by Vanity Fair the next Tom Hanks (who was called the next Jimmy Stewart in the 80’s) has here what was billed as REAR WINDOW for a new generation. Uh, okay. Well, underneath the teen angst veneer the premise of Hitchcock’s classic is just a clothesline to hang cliche after cliche on. Under house arrest instead of being wheelchair bound Lebeouf out of boredom spies on his neighbors – mostly Sarah Roemer – the cliched perfect girl next door until his binoculars wander to the cliched suspicious activities of…oh you know the plot!

It’s not really so odd how it’s not that we can guess everything that happens way before it happens – it’s that it seems like the film makers knew we could guess them and still made no attempt to actually trigger true suspense. The house of the serial killer is one of those that only exists in the movies – so full of secret compartments, passageways, shrines, and a well lit sanitized freezer room – he must have gotten the Murder Maniac special at the local real estate office! I shouldn’t be so hard on this movie though – it’s just another PG-13 thriller throw-away for the weekend multiplex crowd. I’ll also admit though that Lebeouf is talented – he rises above this dreck at every unsurprising turn. Now let’s just see how he handles that bullwhip.


Isn’t it funny how Eddie Murphy who reportedly walked out of the Academy Awards last March because he didn’t get the statue for DREAMGIRLS turned down the sequel to DADDY DAY CARE and actual Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stepped in to play the same role in DADDY DAY CAMP? Isn’t that funny? Isn’t It?!!? Oh, nevermind.

Don’t ask me what’s funny about UNDERDOG – because I got nothing.

If they ever make one of those VH1 biopics about The Kids In The Hall they really ought get that guy who’s supposed to represent Verizon (or is it AT&T? Cingular?) in those damn Alltel commercials to play Dave Foley. I mean the guy – Scott Halberstadt – would nail it I bet.

The new celebrity-reality show The Two Coreys featuring the present day antics of former teen movie stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim is airing now on A&E – The Arts & Entertainment Channel. This is definitely ironic because The Two Coreys is neither art nor entertainment. Discuss…

If it seems like the Coen Brothers are overdue for a movie and it sure does to me – their all too brief Buscemi bit in PARIS, JE T’AIME was such a tease – well, soon (November) we’ve got – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It’s got Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Kelly McDonald, and Josh Brolin. Despite the fact it has been a while since the Coens have done a film based on their original screenplay this seems promising.

More later…

If I Was A Flashy Quotable Critic…

Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) : “It’s getting hot in here…”
Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) : “I’m from Tennessee, I didn’t notice!”
(Dir. David R. Ellis)

Well now that the country has gotten over SNAKES ON A PLANE (pretty much on its opening weekend a few weeks back) and the summer movie season is over we can do a little summing up. I sure don’t want to work up a full review post of SOAP so I thought I’d pretend to be a flashy quotable critic and go with a 2 word review :

“Entertaining Crap!”

says Daniel C. Johnson
(Chapel Hill, NC)

Hey I like that – I’ll try that brief snappy approach with a few other summer flicks :

WORLD TRADE CENTER (Dir. Oliver Stone)

“Earnest effort but unabashedly undercooked”

of the #1 internet site for aimless movie chit-chat –
FILM BABBLE BLOG August 30th, 2006

(Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)

“Finely tuned fun for lovers of the predictably quirky”

– so sez the most trusted influential babblin’ blogger on the web today – Danny J of
FILM BABBLE BLOG August 25th, 2006

More later…

Recent Raves

Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) : In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share… you know what they did?
Ah Ping (Ping Lam Siu) : Have no idea.
Chow Mo-wan : They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.
Ah Ping : What a pain! I’d just go to get laid.
Chow Mo-wan : Not everyone’s like you.
(Dir. Kar Wei Wong, 2000)

Again sorry for not posting for a bit – I’ve been too busy working 2 jobs to see many movies lately. Now I have a little time to write so I thought I’d babble ’bout not just movies but some music, books and other whatnot that I’ve been digging lately in a post I call :

Recent Raves – Film, music, and other whatnot
(or things that have kept me alive lately)

WAL-MART : THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE (Dir. Robert Greenwald – 2005) This may be full of information most already know (small long owned businesses being destroyed when a Walton family owned monstrosity rolls into town, scores of people who are on welfare while being employed by Wal-Mart, repeated crimes in their security-free parking-lots, etc) but Greenwald’s heartbreaking documentary makes a convincing case that there may not be anything but EVIL at that discount superstore monopoly. Without much polish – no glitzy graphics or snappy soundtrack – this flick particularly got to me because the company I work for does some of the same shit. The movie is not all depressing doom – it does end on a hopeful note and the parody commercials are great :

Betty Johnson (Susie Geiser) – I’m Betty and I’m a Wal-Mart associate. I love working at Wal-Mart! I love that they pay me less than min. (minimum wage) because that means I can’t afford to eat as much and I get to keep my figure!”

SNAKES ON A PLANE-Mania Internet Style : This hilariously titled upcoming Samuel L. Jackson action flick has created a flurry of web activity – satirical trailers (I actually can’t tell the spoofs from the real thing – in fact I don’t know if the poster image to the left is real or a joke), excited fan blogs, and even a promotional campaign that involves a songwriting contest – a winner get to have their homemade song on the soundtrack. I’m sure the premise of hundreds of venomous snakes set loose on a plane to kill someone testifying in a mafia case will inspire many a young starving musician. Apparently the movie had some re-shoots in which they added a line the Internet Movie Database says is expected to take on cult status:

Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson): “I want these motherfucking snakes off the motherfucking plane!”

That’s a badass line, sure. I’m just wondering if Jackson will say as he has in so many movies “this is some repugnant shit!” In fact I’m betting on it.

If you haven’t checked out the suberb site YOUTUBE you really should. Where else can you get William Shatner’s riveting interpretion of Elton John’s Rocketman , this great live-action version of the Simpsons opening done to promote the Simpsons syndication in Britain, and an archive of TV performances from the Kinks, Iggy Pop, the Specials, Funkadelic, and many other previously uncirculated goodies. My favorite find is the rare footage of 4 members of Monty Python appearing on a Texas PBS station in 1975. Recently discovered after being shelved for 30 years its unfortunately short (only 14 minutes because an engineer taped over the last bit) but a treat indeed to see.

Wilco @ Memorial Hall, March 5th and 6th 2006: I never thought Wilco, who I consider the best band RIGHT NOW, would play at Memorial Hall here in Chapel Hill – the same venue that hosted a historic 1954 Louis Armstrong concert and where I saw Mel Blanc speak when I was a kid (still have the autographed picture that he handed me while doing his most famous voice – Bugs Bunny : “here you go Doc”) So of course I had to attend both nights. The place had been renovated in the last year or so and the acoustics were fantastic.

The first night while singing “Hummingbird” Tweedy scooped a young girl (obviously the daughter of fan parents in the front row) out of the audience and held her without losing the song’s flow at all. A wonderful moment. It was to his credit that he didn’t try the same thing the next night – he knew you can’t turn some spontaneous connection into some show biz move.

“Is any song worth singing if it doesn’t help?” Jeff Tweedy’s sad-sack vocals beautifully etched out their own precious place in the Hall as the melody stiftened during the opening song “Wishful Thinking” the second night. Despite his saying that the show would be the same even the banter – the whole setlist had been juggled around with less Summerteeth and a couple of new songs (I won’t guess at the titles) were premiered.

I was elated to get recordings on disc of both shows from my friend Hook. The sound quality is sweet and to hear “She’s A Jar”, “The Good Part” and dusted off from the 1996 album Being There the charming as country- rock-can-get “Say You Miss Me” blaring from my stereo and filling up the walls of my house has really soothed a number of sleepless nights lately.

Kar Wai Wong’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and its bizarre follow-up 2046 I had been meaning to see IN THE MOOD… for a long time and the occasion of the release of its somewhat sequel 2046 announced that now is the time. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) suspects his wife is having an affair with the husband of his neighbor Su Li-zhen Chan (Maggie Cheung). They form a friendship and a unique relationship develops. An achingly lyrical film that stayed with me for days.

2046 is as complicated as its title. Its a hotel room number, it is the last year before Hong Kong would be completely absorbed by mainland Chinese rule, and probably most important it is the name of a science fiction martial arts story that Chow Mo-wan is working on. Less poetic than its successor, disjointed and definitely too long 2046 is still worthwhile – incredible visuals, touching acting, and an unimposing soundtrack make it a fine companion piece.

More soon…