Sunday, October 07, 2007

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...


Harrison Ferrone said...

interesting article. why do you put The Grifters as the second best John Cusack movie.

also, i noticed you have a lot of authority. i'm new at this, and i write a similar blog about movies. how do you link to others sites, and get authority? any help would be greatly appreciated. thanks

Daniel Cook Johnson said...

Uh, actually I listed THE GRIFTERS as mu 3rd favorite and I think I said why.

Anyway I checked out your site and like it - couldn't find your email address. Please send it to mine listed at the top of my page.

Anonymous said...

1st of all, I should expect this kind of thing from people who watch films instead of movies, but where the fuck is Better Off Dead? Oh I know, it's a crappy novelty movie, some sort of pre-Farrelly Brothers post-romantic romp through high school full of plastic jokes and devoid of any connectible heart and soul. It's also the absolute first movie I think of when I think of John Cusack, and specifically the "Cusack Character". Sure he's matured and done more "serious" (read higher paying) roles, but the absence of this movie on your list makes me think of people who love Pepper or Magical Mystery Tour but think With the Beatles or Hard Days' Night are just full of hand claps and female pandering. Please. But then again, you probably prefer action movie Cage to "no but your face is" Cage.

sophomorecritic said...

I never got on board John Cusack's acting career but in some roles, he plays a good muse. Like in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, he was the normal guy/observer to whom bad things happened around. Bullets over Broadway he's also the straight man in the middle of all the craziness.

I felt 1408 was too reminiscent of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Bullets Over Broadway except little to no acting variation. But other than that, I agree, too many horror movie cliches, and when you bend reality enough in one plot contraption after another, you stop caring after a while.

1408 was probably the least enjoyabv

Anonymous said...

what?! no "One Crazy Summer" or "Better Off Dead"?!

Daniel Cook Johnson said...

I just have to say I'm not a fan of either Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. I know they have their fans but years of cable airings and over playing on video store monitors has burned me out on flicks that I didn't think were that funny in the first place.

I failed to mention that Cusack said recently that he has only made "10 good movies". His list is :

The Sure Thing, Eight Men Out, Say Anything, The Grifters, Bullets Over Broadway, Grosse Pointe Blank, The Thin Red Line, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity & Max.

Yep, I knew neither BOD or OCS would make the cut.

Chus said...

This is what I think: Better Off Dead (film)