Sunday, September 27, 2009

Being John Cusack

Watching Say Anything the other night, I was reminded how much I like John Cusack. Never a method actor, or a big personality, he always seemed just a cut above average, not too smart, not too handsome, skinny, but funny and cool, maybe a bit nerdy but with some charm – a nice guy; me and my friends wanted to be him because we weren't actually that far away from being him (NB: he's my exact height). He gave us hope. His weren't the unobtainable looks of Tom Cruise or Robert Redford, the personality of Jack Nicholson or the method and madness of Robert De Niro. Cusack was just a normal guy – but with an edge. And he was always into cool music. And when he scores with a beautiful woman it's partly down to his charm but mainly due to luck and good timing – like it was with most of us.

He was a few years older, but it felt like we watched him grow up with us. His first role in the otherwise dreadful Class (1983) has him flick a cigarette around into his mouth when a school teacher approaches; when she leaves he flicks it back out again. It's the only scene I remember in the film. He was supporting cast in a few films – including Brat Pack classic Sixteen Candles (1984) and Stand By Me (1986) – before finding his stride with The Sure Thing (1985), Better off Dead (1985), Tapeheads (1988) and Say Anything (1989). The following year, with The Grifters (1990), he grew up.

But if I could take any two Cusack films to a desert island, it would be two which hark back to his nerdy high school days: Grosse Point Blank (1997) and High Fidelity (2000). Both films could be unofficial parallel universe sequels to Say Anything: one of its themes is what Cusack's character is going to do with his life post-high school. Well, he could quite easily ended up the list-obsessed record store manager in High Fidelity (in Say Anything he never takes off his The Clash T-shirt). Or, his other option, with his father in the army and wanting his son to follow, he could have joined up then gone freelance as professional killer (Grosse Point Blank). And the music's good in both of them too.

He's appeared in a few blockbusters (Con Air, Pushing Tin), a few by great directors (Allen (twice, though that doesn't mean much nowadays; look at Scarlett Johansson), Malick, Eastwood), horror films (1408) and dreadful films (America's Sweethearts) but I must admit I haven't seen him in much since Being John Malkovich (still the loser trying to get lucky with a beautiful woman) and High Fidelity. That's almost a decade ago. Maybe I've grown up too. Or just waiting for him to do another high school movie.

His best films feel like family affairs – both sister Joan and close friend Jeremy Piven (no, I have no idea who he is either) have acted in ten films alongside him; another more famous friend, Tim Robbins, has been in six with him. In his best films it's like he's given free reign – to have the music he likes on the soundtrack (he was music supervisor on High Fidelity and performed on Tapeheads), and wear what he wants, act with who he wants. His best films feel like home movies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 10 Bruce Springsteen Albums

Since The Guardian has officially declared Bruce Springsteen cool, I can now come out and admit I've liked him since the 1980s. I'm probably not a true fan: I like his first album and the Seegar Sessions albums too much (apparently not liked that much by diehards), and aren't that bothered about the E-street band ("the best pub band in the world"). Anyway, here's my top ten:

1. Born to Run (1975)
2. Nebraska (1982)
3. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
4. Born in the USA (1984)
5. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973)
6. The River (1980)
7. Seeger Sessions (2006)
8. the Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)
9. Live Hammersmith Odeon 1975 (2006)
10. Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

We went to see him in concert for the first time a few years back. At the end of every song it sounded like everyone was shouting 'Boo!' We were embarrassed for him; I mean, he wasn't that bad. It wasn't until later we realised they were actually shouting 'Bru–ce!' We think.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Homeless Movies on YouTube


"All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl"
*
– Jean-Luc Godard

* Godard: You need a camera too.

Most of my old films and videos are now up on YouTube, from Red Lipstick to Desire, Hope and Bourbon, and beyond. The DVD, as always, is coming soon. The Homeless Movies page of barnflakes.com has had a bit of a facelift, and you can watch some of the movies there too – the bonus being you can also look at the posters at the same time.

Gullible Travels to buy on lulu.com

Gullible Travels is now available to buy direct from lulu.com, as well as from gullible-travels.com. The advantage of buying through lulu is it accepts credit or debit cards as well as PayPal (payment through gullible-travels is PayPal only). Oh, and you may even save a pound or two buying it at lulu!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Straight Outta Imber


Poor Imber. The village, mentioned in the Domesday Book and located in the middle of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was requisitioned by the military during World War II for training purposes. The military said they'd give it back after the war, but didn't. The inhabitants were given a month to move out, never to return. The ghost village – not marked on any modern map – is still used to this day for army training. Most of the original buildings have been destroyed; only the church, a pub and one or two others survive. The village now comprises of mainly purpose-built skeleton houses for the army to use.

The road to Imber, from Warminster, started pleasantly and peaceful enough with no traffic on the small road, rolling hills and birds singing in the sky. In fact, it's not until we drove past a wrecked, rusty old tank, and then another, that things started to feel like a war zone. Soon the whole landscape resembled a tank graveyard. Dotted on either side of the road are scaring signs declaring 'DANGER UNEXPLODED MILITARY DEBRIS – DO NOT LEAVE THE CARRIAGEWAY'. We didn't.

There are mixed feelings about the army being on Salisbury Plain (and owning land the size of the Isle of Wight). My partner thinks it's good for the countryside and wildlife – as no development is permitted. My opinion is it scares the hell out of me.

(I've written previously about Imber and the army on Salisbury Plain here.)

Imber village is open to the public a few times a year; usually around Easter, Christmas and the month of August. In the first weekend in September the church, St Giles, is open for services.