"Brick" is a Modern Masterpiece by Rian Johnson


After his breakout role in "Mysterious Skin" Joseph Gordon Levitt followed that up with another sleeper indie hit in "Brick" the debut feature of writer/director Rian Johnson. "Brick" takes the classic noir crime drama and plants it in a modern day high school.

Levitt plays Brendan a scrappy loner who finds the dead body of his old girlfriend.  We then flashback a couple of days to see all of the events that lead up to this discovery and who is ultimately responsible.  Emily played by Emile De Ravin is the girl in question, she has drifted away from Brendan and has fallen into a dangerous crowd.  Her new boyfriend Dode is a low level sleazebag who belongs to a bigger group of shady characters.  Brendan fears for her safety and when she goes missing his search for answers leads him into the underground world of a young crime boss known only as the Pin (Lukas Haas).  With help from his only friend, The Brain, Brendan literally takes a number of beatings, mostly doled out by Tugger, to finally meet with the Pin himself.  The Pin is about 26 years old and has adopted the style of a 1970s godfather, although he operates in the basement of his oblivious mothers basement.  There are moments of ridiculous humor at the mothers expense that make the Pin a more rounded character.  Although it is best not to cross him as his calm demeanor can be a bit deceiving.

Rian Johnson has created a unique and interesting world with a language all its own.  The characters dialogue is peppered with its own slang giving it an authentic and gritty feel.  The structure and atmosphere of the film are right of a Dashell Hammett novel if adapted for younger crowd.  All of the regular conventions are present.  You have your innocent man, the dead girl, the kingpin, the enforcer, and of course the femme fatale.  Laura fills that role perfectly in "Brick".  She is rich, beautiful and could be the key player in finding what happen to Emily.

Driven to the point of physical and mental exhaustion Brendan's intensity and determination refuses to quit.  One by one he gathers clues and digs himself a big hole he can hopefully get out of.  When things disintegrate within the Pin's inner circle its everybody for themselves and everyone has a play.  In this chess match someone is going down hard and Brendan must be a step ahead of everyone to get out alive.

"Mysterious Skin" A Film by Gregg Araki

Mysterious Skin

This is the film that showed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has arrived as a serious and talented dramatic actor.  A daring and explicit film that not only shed his child actor status but shows great potential for years to come.  Directed by indie auteur Gregg Araki who always has something powerful and profound to say.  Never afraid to go there.

This is the story of two young boys who were sexually abused by their little league coach and the two different life paths it has taken them down.  The years of repression and coping mechanisms is wearing them down as they get older.  First we are introduced to Brian (Brady Corbet) who as an 8 year old blacked out for a period of time and woke up with a bloody nose.  Even as he gets older he is still convinced he was abducted by aliens that night as he still get those bloody noses.  After seeing a UFO program on television he seeks out a young woman who also believes she was abducted.  Brian is an emotional wreck in a desperate search for answers.  Neil (Gordon-Levitt) on the other hand is now about 18 or so and is a hustler, hanging out at parks and playgrounds selling his services to older men.  Neil hides behind a cocky, devil may care attitude, but you know he is scarred and hurting inside.  His best friend Wendy has been at his side from the beginning and is now going off to college in New York City.  Tired of his old routine back home Neil also moves to NYC, which proves to be more that he bargained for as he tries to make money like he did back home.

Brian's search for answers brings him to a small farm and he meets with Avalyn, the woman from
TV, who has problems of her own.  This whole alien abduction fantasy that they share is just way to escape their crippling physical and emotional problems and to find other such people to confide in.  Brian's emotional pressure cooker comes to a head with his own father who he blames for not being their for him.  His mother is also in a deep state of denial about what could have happen to him.  Also at about this point Neil has a run in with a brutally violent John that breaks him down physically as well as emotionally.

Back home on Christmas Eve Brian finally meets up with Neil and the whole truth comes flooding out.  It's obviously no secret that abuse at any age is life altering and the after affects last for years if not forever, but their is still hope at the end of the long dark tunnel.  This film is brutally honest and shies away from nothing in its depiction of its ugliness and how it affects its victims.  While at times hard to watch "Mysterious Skin"is definitely a film to see.

"Identity" Knows what a Good Horror Movie Should Be!


"Identity" combines a good script along with good execution to deliver a thrilling scare fest of a puzzle that entertains and surprises.  Although it did follow the trend of the super surprise "Sixth Sense" style twist ending, which pretty much makes the movie what is.  That being said it still doesn't take away from the enjoyment of it.

The story takes place at a desolate roadside motel during a monsoon like rainstorm.  The ensemble cast is led by Ed, played by John Cusack, who while driving through the storm accidently hits a woman on the side of the road.  The woman is a wife and mother of George and Lou.  They all go to the motel for help, but the phones are out as well as the cell phone service.  Getting back on the road Ed doesn't get that far as a few miles up the road he finds its flooded and heads back.  Various characters start showing up at the motel looking for a place out of the rain.  There's the bitchy actress, the young couple, the reformed prostitute, and the cop (Ray Liotta) who is transferring a dangerous prisoner.  They are all a little bit more than their stereo type indicates but nothing that will reinvent the horror genre.  While waiting out the storm one by one they start showing up dead and in pretty nasty ways.  The big mystery begins as to who is the killer? With each body that shows up they find a hotel room key counting down to number one.  Ed, who used to be a cop, and Rhodes the actual cop team up to find the killer and protect who's left, but the murders don't stop and accusation and anxieties run high.  Eventually they find out each of them has a connection to each other.  Is this just a strange coincidence or was the whole thing staged by some murdering psychopath?

All of the action happening at the hotel is framed by another story of a death row serial killer named Malcolm Rivers trying to get a last minute stay of execution.  Dr. Malik, played by Alfred Molina, has new information that could help Malcolm's cause and a late night meeting has been set up.  The connection to these two stories is made clear in the big reveal at the end.  People familiar with horror movies might see a lot of the twists and turns to come but the filmmakers do a good job trying to stay one step ahead.

With so many possible spoilers it's a little difficult to review a movie like "Identity" but it's easy to see that a lot of thought and care went in weaving such a story and to not get lost along the way.  The film has quite the amazing cast for a horror movie in Cusack, Liotta, Molina, Amanda Peet, and a yet to be discovered John Hawkes.  Its a fun movie that delivers all the thrills and chills it promises and that is a pretty rare thing.

"High Fidelity" is a Chart Topping hit!

High Fidelity

After watching the previously reviewed "Say Anything" you must follow that up with the 2000 film "High Fidelity".  Another John Cusack classic that's heavy on great music.  It's next to impossible not to like this movie.  It was directed by Stephen Frears and based on the book by Nick Hornby.  It co-stars Jack Black, Tim Robbins and Lili Taylor among others.

Cusack plays regular guy Rob Gordon who owns a record store called Championship Vinyl were he works with the crazy off the wall Barry, obviously played by Jack Black.  Barry is obnoxious and rude to customers but has a deep love for music and his friends.  Then there is the quiet and meek Dick, who looks like a cross between Michael Stipe and Moby.  It doesn't seem that Rob has changed much over the years and things are sort of at an impasse.  He is having one of those "What does it all mean?" things.

The story is structured as a sort of mix tape of romantic misery.  Rob talks directly into the camera and counts down his top 5 break ups of all time all while currently in the middle of another one.  His apartment is wall to wall records where he sits and wallows among the stacks upon stacks of vinyl.  He admits to being cursed in love and is determined to find out why.  "My guts have shit for brains".

His current soon to be ex-girlfriend Laura says she has outgrown him and moves out. Later we find out that she has shacked up with there upstairs neighbor Ian (Robbins), a new age hipster douche bag.  Rob is full of typical male insecurities and when problems come his way he is usually reluctant to do anything about it, but now he is determined to track down the top 5 women who broke his heart and find out what really happen and if he really is cursed.  He has the support of his sister Liz, who is John Cusack's real life sister Joan.  We also get some more top 5 lists and a short lived fling with a beautiful musician played by Lisa Bonet.  Rob regains his self confidence and realizes that he wants Laura back, but is it too late. This calls for the ultimate mix tape.  Their is a real honesty and truth to Rob's character and it shows on screen.  Its a fun movie to watch so don't let the words romantic comedy get in the way.

In the spirit of Rob here are my Top 5 movies starring John Cusack
1. Say Anything
2. High Fidelity.
3. Being John Malkovich
4. 1408
5. Identity

You Can "Say Anything" But see this Classic Movie!

Say Anything

This classic 80s teen romance was the debut feature from Cameron Crowe who also wrote the script.  It stars John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, a vision of what was going to hit Seattle in the early 90s, a sort of pre-grunge era.  Dobler's classic trench coat and laid back attitude sets the tone for this story of surprising honesty and originality.  Ione Skye co-stars as Diane Court, the school valedictorian and Lloyd's object of affection.  Lili Taylor and John Mahoney also give memorable supporting performance.

Its graduation day for Lloyd and he has no set plans for his future except for maybe kickboxing.  He is the ultimate underachiever who lives with his sister and nephew, his friends are mostly female, most notably the guitar playing Corey (Taylor). Conversely Diane lives with her dad and has won a prestigious fellowship to study in England in the fall.  She's had little time if any to socialize with her classmates and has few relationships beyond her father (Mahoney) who runs the nursing home where she works.  Lloyd decides to call Diane after seeing her at graduation and talks to her father, he takes a message and adds it to the pile.  She calls him back and she agrees to go out with him to a graduation party.  Lloyd is a mixed bag of nervous excitement when he picks her up.  They seem to be the perfect opposites attract couple.  Lloyd is a complex character as he is smart and sympathetic, but also impulsive and directionless.  He lives for the now with no regard for the future.  They have a great time at the party, Diane finally gets to let go and have some fun and feel accepted with people her own age.

Diane only has the summer to be with Lloyd before she leaves for England and must decide if Lloyd is worth risking her future for.  Her father is obviously opposed to their relationship.  Exactly how strong is their love anyway? Another interesting little distraction comes into play when the IRS come knocking and ask to see the books for nursing home.  Diane's father has always done everything he could to support his daughter even it meant breaking the law.  She is put in a tough position as she is finally told the truth about her father.  

Going against everthing she feels and looking towards the future Diane takes her fathers advice and breaks up with Lloyd.  She gives him a pen wanting him to write to her.  Lloyd will not let her go that easily as he puts his heart on the line to get her back, with one of the most iconic scenes in teen movie history.  Across the street from her bedroom window he hoists his boom box over is head and blasts their song Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes".  Of course this would only work in an 80s movie.  After she learns the truth about her father she seeks out Lloyd at the gym and they get back together.  Lloyd is going with Diane to England and will do what he does best, to support her and be their for her in what ever she does.