Archive for June, 2013

25
Jun
13

When My John Cusack Bubble Burst

John Cusack in Say Anything

John Cusack in Say Anything

Can I just say that John Cusack is wonderful? He’s handsome, intelligent, and witty. He may be older and more worn, but I don’t care. His Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything is the watermark for many a girl’s future boyfriends and husbands. Say Anything director Cameron Crowe has said that Lloyd is such a memorable character because he approaches “optimism as a revolutionary act.” In addition to the obvious examples of this statement (Say Anything, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank), this defining aspect of Cusack’s characters is primarily what makes (for me) otherwise implausible movie plots work, from the sublime (Serendipity, Hot Tub Time Machine) to the ridiculous (Con Air, 2012, Identity, 1408).

Cusack also makes bold choices when playing characters who have a harder time finding hope and optimism in life (The Raven, Being John Malkovich, Grace is Gone). However, I watched a film this past weekend, which challenged what I expect a) from Cusack as an actor and b) from his mere presence positively impacting my perspective on an otherwise mediocre film.

That film was The Paperboy. Let’s say it wasn’t boring. It was difficult to watch in the worse sense. The Paperboy was like bad Tennessee Williams that doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining or good-bad. The actors, who were A-list (Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron in over this head), tried their best, even though their various takes on Southern accents were laughable. It was all just so over-the-top, and John Cusack couldn’t save this one for me.

John Cusack in The Paperboy

John Cusack in The Paperboy

Cusack plays a man in prison named Hillary van Wetter, convicted for a murder he might not have committed. SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the film, Cusack’s character, a rough redneck in bad clothes with bad hair and a bad accent, has been exonerated and released from prison; he quickly sets about committing rape and murder. Maybe I’m being naïve and experiencing some cognitive dissonance with Cusack the person (persona?) versus Hillary the character, which has negatively influenced my thoughts on the movie as a whole. Or maybe it was just bad.

One of Cusack’s next projects is playing Richard Nixon in The Butler. I hope I’m ready for that!

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05
Jun
13

Rhapsody in Blue in Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio's star appearance in The Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio’s star entrance in The Great Gatsby

Although a good deal of the most recent Great Gatsby’s soundtrack is comprised of contemporary hip hop and pop, there is a breathtaking moment in the film in which director Baz Luhrman uses George Gershwin’s 1924 jazz-classical music composition, Rhapsody in Blue, almost as memorably as Woody Allen did in his film, Manhattan. Allen opens Manhattan with black-and-white shots of the city accompanied by Rhapsody in Blue, making the city itself as vital a character in the film as Allen and Mariel Hemingway.

About 30 minutes into The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, the novel’s and film’s narrator, played by Tobey Maguire, attends one of Jay Gatsby’s infamous parties at his palatial estate on Long Island. Anyone who is anyone is not only there but, with the exception of Nick, uninvited. And who would know they are party crashers anyway since the enigmatic host himself never appears at his own parties?

As the soundtrack’s hip hop keeps pounding, Nick strikes up a conversation with a man whose face avoids the camera. We know who it is, but we go with it because the pay-off will probably be worth it. Nick starts naming all the crazy rumors circulating about Gatsby to this hidden man. And then, as the familiar strains of Rhapsody in Blue take over, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, surrounded by fireworks and holding a glass of champagne, turns to face Nick (and since we are privy to Nick’s point of view, he is also facing us, breaking the fourth wall) and nods in acknowledgment of his now-revealed identity. In concert with Luhrman’s use of lighting, camera placement, and narrative POV, this deliberate use of the Jazz Age anthem says as much about Leo’s big first entrance and star power as it does about the impact of Gatsby’s surprise appearance.

Rhapsody in Blue, a piece often associated with New York City, had its premiere at New York’s Aeolian Hall two years after the novel, The Great Gatsby, takes place. In 1931, George Gershwin described composing the piece on a train ride to Boston as “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” Luhrman successfully incorporates Rhapsody in Blue to explore the themes, moods, and characters of The Great Gatsby, although Gershwin’s purposes were apparently more universal, moving beyond the confines of New York and its upper crust.