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Posts Tagged ‘John Cusack’

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Teyonah Parris (second from left) as Lysistrata

“CHI-RAQ” My rating: B

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In recent years even Spike Lee’s biggest fans may have wondered if the creator of “Do the Right Thing” was circling the drain of irrelevancy.

Worry no more. Lee — with an assist from the University of Kansas’ Kevin Willmott and the long-dead playwright Aristophanes — has come roaring back with “Chi-Raq,” a passionate indictment of black-on-black urban violence.

It’s a swing-for-the-bleachers effort that is by turns furious, raunchy, sad, silly and savage.

This mashup of rap concert, poetry reading (the bulk of the dialogue is in rhyming verse) and burlesque sometimes slips into preachiness or heavy-handed satire, but even the shortcomings become part of the film’s overall strength.

“Chi-Raq” begins with titles informing us that in recent years there have been more gun deaths among the citizens of the Windy City than among our special forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then Nick Cannon’s furious rap “Pray 4 My City” kicks in as a sort of profane overture: “Y’all mad cause I don’t call it Chicago / I don’t live in no *** Chicago / Boy, I live in Chi-Raq.”

The city’s South Side is torn between two gangs, led by the preening, cocksure Chi-Raq (Cannon) and the one-eyed, comically goofy Cyclops (Wesley Snipes).

When a little girl dies in a gang crossfire, Chi-Raq’s girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris of “Dear White People”), is so moved by the sorrow and anger of the girl’s mother (Jennifer Hudson) that she organizes the women of both gangs into a movement.

They will deny their men all sexual favors until the guns are put away and violence renounced. Pretty soon their message is taken up by women all over the world. Hookers stop hooking. Porn stars stop porning.

A man can’t get no relief. (more…)

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Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

“LOVE & MERCY” My rating: B+

120 ninutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Several pages in The Book of Great American Lives should be reserved for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, whose 72 years have been packed with genius, celebrity, madness and redemption.

There’s more to the Wilson saga than could ever be wedged into just one movie, but Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” spectacularly chronicles one man’s rise-fall-rise in riveting human (and musical) terms.

Pohlad, a first-time feature director with an impressive list of producing credits (“12 Years a Slave,” “Into the Wild,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have come up with a brilliant way of presenting Wilson’s story.

They’ve made two movies: one set in the 1960s starring Paul Dano as the young Brian, the other in the mid-’80s with John Cusack taking on the role. They so cannily entwine the two that just as the first, earlier story is spiraling into tragedy, the second tale, of the middle-aged Brian, is struggling toward recovery.

Let’s acknowledge up front that neither Dano nor Cusack looks much like the real Brian Wilson. Nor do they really resemble each other.

Doesn’t matter. Through some sort of cinematic alchemy, each actor nails the essence of Wilson at different stages of life. And far from triggering a disconnect, the casting of two performers in the same role enhances the story’s richness.

“Love & Mercy” opens with a montage of newsreel-like re-creations of the early Beach Boys in action — on the concert stage, posing for publicity photos on the beach (most of them were not actually surfers), playing for a “Shindig”-like TV show (go-go girls as a backdrop).

These are the heady days of innocence, fame and hit singles. We sense almost immediately, though, that the songwriter and arranger, Brian, stands apart from the group. He’s an odd duck, unnerved by live performances, crippled by panic attacks and driven to create music that he can hear in his head but must struggle to capture on tape.

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Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore

“MAP TO THE STARS” My rating: C

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There have been plenty of great movies about Hollywood.

“Sunset Boulevard.”

“The Bad and the Beautiful.”

“The Player.”

David Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” is not one of them.

It’s got a terrific cast (including recent Oscar winner Julianne Moore) and offers many observations about the pathetically fragile egos of those caught up in the celebrity/career cycle, and of the moral vacuum in which the entertainment industry operates.

What it hasn’t got is one character — just one — who isn’t either homicidal, mental, or otherwise set apart from the rest of us average folk. Now this may be a perfectly accurate reflection of life in LaLa Land,  but it makes for an uninvolving movie experience.

The screenplay by Bruce Wagner (“Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills”) follows the template of a classic Robert Altman film.  Take an evocative setting (Hollywood, Nashville, a wedding, a health food convention) and toss into it a dozen or so characters whose trajectories intersect at various points.

It begins with the arrival in L.A. of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a fresh face from Middle America seeking her future and fortune in the city of angels. Did I say she had a fresh face? Not pecisely. Agatha has a huge scar on her left cheek and wears old-fashioned over-the-elbow lady’s gloves to hide what she says are burn marks.

She hires a limousine driver (Robert Pattinson, late of the “Twilight” franchise) to give her a tour of the sights and of celebrity residences. He’s actually an actor, he says, and is contemplating Scientology. “I was thinking about converting. Be a good career move.”

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Emma Roberts, John Cusack

Emma Roberts, John Cusack

“ADULT WORLD” My rating: D (Opening March 7 at the Screenland Armour)

 97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In the skin-crawling indie comedy “Adult World,” former tweener star Emma Roberts (TV’s “Nancy Drew”) dulls up the screen as a college coed whose lack of self awareness and sense of entitlement  is so total as to be crippling.

Her Amy, a student at Syracuse University, has convinced herself that she’s a great poet. In fact, she is a ghastly poet (“…shattered wings catapult the vulva to vast oblivion…”), but nothing like a reality check gets in the way of her quest for literary greatness.

In short order she has dropped out of school and been kicked out of her parents’ home.  She gets a job clerking at Adult World, a mom & pop adult book/video store owned by a mom and pop (Cloris Leachman and John Collum, who make an early appearance and then bail) and managed by the sweet/cute/ironic  Alex (Evan Peters, Jesse Eisenberg now being too old for these parts.).

Given the setting, you might expect some “Clerks”-style satire of the whole porn thing, but  we get only a few half-hearted stabs at the store’s loser clientele (“Do you have the anti-microbial anal beads?”). Outrageous? Hardly. It it all feels very 1980s made-for-television. (Still can’t figure out what earned the movie an R rating.)

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