Maps to the Stars

What a beautiful bummer.

Everything, and everyone, is bathed in bile in Bruce Wagner’s caustic dissection of lives lived poorly in Hollywood.

Toss in director David Cronenberg, a master at peeling back the skin of his characters (sometimes literally) and poking them until they squirm.

A rock-solid cast led by Julianne Moore and John Cusack burrow down deep into the fractured lives of Tinseltown lifers desperate for fame of any kind, but it’s Mia Wasikowska who burns brightest.

Her pale skin marred by terrible burns, she’s on a journey of redemption, sorta, her inner anguish searing everyone in her path.

Grosse Pointe Blank

Reunions can be brutal.

Especially if you’re a world-weary assassin mixing business with pleasure, as John Cusack does in this often-hilarious dark comedy.

Back at his old school, which he fled on Prom night, our hit man is stalking a target, while also reconnecting with his former girlfriend, played with great charm by Minnie Driver.

Forced to question his battle-hardened worldview, shaped by stints with the CIA and as a freelance contract killer, Cusack dodges bullets and commitment with equal aplomb.

Backed by a killer supporting cast, the conflicted antihero is light on his feet and lethal with the one-liners.

 

The Grifters

Everyone’s working an angle.

Boasting a truly black heart, this slam-bang neo-noir is brutally efficient, tracking the tangled webs woven by a group of con artists.

John Cusack, not that far removed from being the star of teen comedies, is the closest thing we have to a good guy, and he’s a fast-talking sharpie with his hand always in someone else’s pocket.

Problem is, he’s not as good at the game as the women in his life, and both mom (Angelica Huston) and girlfriend (Annette Bening) have no qualms about gutting him, body and soul.

This one leaves a mark.

Better Off Dead

“Everybody wants some!!”

On the day we lost Eddie Van Halen, the king of modern-day guitarists, we look back at his best moment on film – as part of a sentient Claymation hamburger.

This demented ’80s comedy classic features John Cusack in his prime, plus a relentless paperboy who is quick to inform everyone, “I want my two dollars!”, and 20,000 other surreal, hilarious characters.

But the cherry on top is when fast food hamburgers spring to life, Dr. Frankenstein-style, playing classic Eddie Van Halen guitar riffs and wailing one of his group’s biggest hits.

Rock on, Eddie, always.

 

Eight Men Out

Hardball heroes meet grungy gamblers, and a sport is changed forever.

Director John Sayles delivers one of the best sports films to grace the silver screen, using a note-perfect cast, topped by David Strathairn, John Cusack, and D.B. Sweeney, to tell the sordid, and sad, tale of the 1919 Chicago White Sox.

Forever tarred as the “Black Sox,” after some of their underpaid players (possibly) conspired to throw the World Series, they still loom in the background of the sport a century later.

A lot of sports films are bloopers that drop in.

This one is a homerun to dead center.