The Grifters 1990 Based on a novel by Jim Thompson. Directed by Stephen Frears. Terrific neo-noir. The story revolves around con artist Lily Justice (Angelica Huston – terrific! ) who works for mob boss Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle), her son, Roy (John Cusack), a small time, independent grifter, and Roy’s girlfriend Myra who has her own long game plans. (Annette Bening, the first time most of us became aware of the actress.) Relationships are manipulative, violent, and money-driven. Plot twists abound. Thoroughly engrossing.
Cusack read the novel and wanted to turn the book into a film himself. When he found out Scorsese (producer) and Frears were planning an adaptation, he actively pursued a role in the project. The actor studied with real grifters, learned card and dice tricks as well as sleight-of-hand. The shoot was so emotionally draining for Huston, she often ran from the set at the end of a scene. Free with Cinemax Trial.
Pushing Tin 1999 Directed by Mike Newell. Over the top professional competition between two air traffic controllers, Nick “The Zone” Falzone (John Cusack), and loose cannon Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) in an already extremely stressful occupation. Nick encounters Russell’s wife, Mary (Angelina Jolie), crying in the supermarket. They cheat on their respective spouses. Much to Nick’s surprise, she tells her husband who then seems to take an interest in Nick’s wife, Connie (Cate Blanchett). The battle between the men accelerates. Work and personal choices drive both to the brink. The film has an unexpected ending.
Taut characterization and a terrific feel for the insane atmosphere of the job. The film is loosely based around the real world New York TRACON radar facility. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Grosse Point Blank 1997 Directed by George Armitage. When professional Assassin Martin Blank (John Cusack) messes up a job, the client demands he make up for it by killing a federal witness in Detroit. Martin has just received an invitation to a ten year high school reunion in his home town of Grosse Point, not far from Detroit. He’ll take the job and attend.
In Grosse Point, George makes an attempt at reconnecting with lost love, Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), whom he abandoned prom night to enlist in the army. To say she’s conflicted minimizes Debi’s feelings. When she witnesses a shoot out between Martin and an assassin hired to take him out, he confesses, assuring her that he only accepts contracts on corrupt individuals. It’s a deal breaker, however. Meanwhile, third hired murderer, Grocer (Dan Ackroyd) ,is also on the scene. More killings occur. As befits black comedy (deadpan works here), there’s a happy ending.
“We shot the script as written, we shot a mildly understated version, and we shot a completely over-the-top version, which usually was what was used.” (George Armitage) Also with Joan Cusack, Alan Arkin, Jeremy Piven, Hank Azaria, Barbara Harris. Rent on Amazon Prime.
High Fidelity 2000 Based on the British novel by Nick Hornby. Directed by Stephen Frears. Laura is the latest in a long line of girlfriends to dump music-loving, record store employee Rob Gordon (John Cusack) for lack of commitment. The sincere little film finds him learning what he really wants. A good ensemble cast includes Jack Black and Todd Louiso as his buddies, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet, Sara Gilbert, Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack, and Tim Robbins. A well crafted soundtrack for rock fans. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Serendipity 2001 Directed by Peter Chelsom. Christmas in New York. Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) encounters Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) reaching for the same glove at a counter in Bloomingdale’s. Though both are in relationships, they’re attracted and go to Serendipity 3 (a famous café on East 60th Street) for cocoa. After parting, they immediately run into one another again. This indicates to Sara that destiny is in play. When she gives Jonathan her phone number, however, it blows away. How then to see what the universe is actually saying? Sara writes her name and number on a $5 bill and the endpaper of a book at a book stall.
Years pass. Both are engaged to other people, she in San Francisco, he in New York. Sara has cold feet and Jonathan can’t get her out of his mind. They make near-miss attempts to find one another and, of course, cinematically do. Charming and undemanding. With Molly Shannon, Jeremy Piven, Eugene Levy, and John Corbett. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Map to the Stars 2014 Directed by David Cronenberg. Advertised as a satirical drama, the film depicts Hollywood as representative of festering humanity. The entitled are hysterical, despicable, and/or mentally certifiable. Murders and suicides occur. Wait – did I mention incest? Ghosts? Think slow motion train wreck.
Central characters are washed up, unbalanced. Actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), post-rehab child star Benji Weiss (Evan Bird), his post- asylum incarcerated sister Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) and the youngsters’ parents, controlling television psychologist Stanford Weiss (John Cusack) and Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams), a mother out of Greek tragedy. Everyone plays it seriously. Watch at your own risk. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock