Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 4: Where’re we headed?

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Logan’s Moving Pictures heads into man-crush territory and a discussion of a little-seen film (in FULL SCREEN GLORY); Hellcab!

Most of my brother’s DVD/Blu-Ray collection is housed in two decent-sized bookshelves. They close in on themselves, making it easy to dismiss them as just decorative units, or even mistake them for speakers since they sit on either side of the television. My process, so far, for picking which movie of his to watch for this column has been to open one of them and take the first thing that grabs my attention.

The Fifth Element did so because of our differing opinions, while Short Circuit 2 got me with its immediate spark of nostalgia. When I went to return it to its home I decided to go ahead and pick the next film, and it took all of about thirty seconds. As I slid Johnny 5’s DVD adventure back into place I saw a movie next to it that I’d never heard of before, Hellcab.

I pulled it off the shelf to look at the box art (if you were a Blockbuster kid, you know that’s ultimately the deciding factor in any movie choice) and saw that it featured Gillian Anderson, Laurie Metcalf, and Julianne Moore, and while those three ladies would certainly spark my interest in a film I didn’t know existed, I know they wouldn’t exactly do the same for my brother. No, his sole decision for purchasing this movie (even though it proudly boasted a FULLSCREEN declaration at the top of the art) was in the fourth “lead,” one Mr. John Cusack.

Now, I’ve talked about a few of my brother’s female crushes in the short history of this column, and mentioned his appreciation for a few male actors, but here’s where those two roads meet. Not only did Ryan absolutely appreciate John Cusack as an actor, I think he’d be pretty supportive of me saying that he had a total man-crush on the guy.

I’ll talk about the film in itself in a bit, but post-viewing all I wanted to talk to Ryan about was Cusack. Specifically, why him?

I don’t hate the guy, I think he’s extremely talented and probably underrated and overlooked altogether after the early ‘00s. But I wouldn’t throw him out there as an actor whose filmography I’d actively seek out. So, for this week at least, the discussion I most want to have with my brother is “Why do you love John Cusack so much?”

Is it the sarcastic, quirky charm he has? The smugness of his wit? The way he seems to be both a blue-collar everyman and erudite elitist? Is it because he’s a rich man’s Matthew Broderick? Is it because we’re two decades into the 21st century and the dude can still pull off that trench coat look? 

Again I really enjoy a lot of Cusack’s work. From Better Off Dead to Con Air to Love & Mercy, I think he can be stellar, even in extremely bad films. He’s certainly an underrated talent these days, relegated to mostly B-movies that you find when you get to the end of your Netflix recommendations. He deserves better. And I don’t think anyone on the planet believed that more than my brother. 

But I’m still left wondering, why John Cusack?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s let the Man who, as Logan accurately described, can play “both a blue-collar everyman and erudite elitist” explain his career himself…

The answer to that question isn’t coming, and knowing that brings this bizarre sadness with it. One where I start to think about all of the other questions, important or trivial, that I’ll never get to ask him. 

What did you think about the Atlanta Falcons trading Julio Jones? How are Luke and Owen Wilson both killing it on comic book television shows? Why can’t the Braves put a consistent team on the baseball field (Writer’s Note: When I wrote this the Braves weren’t even being looked at as possible contenders, and wound up winning it all!), and Why is Batwoman SO BAD? When are we going to finally plan that trip to New York? And, yes, what’s with the John Cusack love in your movie collection?

My brother and his daughter repping The A. He loved his Georgia sports teams.

It’s weird the things that bring on those waves of grief, and weirder still the thoughts and questions those waves can sometimes inspire. It makes Hellcab an oddly perfect film for this kind of discussion.

There’s nothing inherently outstanding about it, although the box art belies what kind of film you’re settling in for, should you decide to watch it. With its “Do You Dare Pay the Fare?” questioning on the front and a dark and foreboding summary on the back, it sounded like Taxi Driver meets Judgement Night and instead plays out like an unaired episode of Taxicab Confessions.

Based on a stage play, the film is actually listed as Chicago Cab on IMDb, which I think is a more apropos title, as it follows a cab driver on the longest and coldest night of the year in the Windy City. He sees all manner of insanity and weirdness, but I imagine that’s par for the course being a cab driver, especially one in the late ‘80/early ‘90s.

What plays out are a bunch of half-stories and conversations, which in a movie is more frustrating than fascinating. Generally, we want our stories to have a narrative through-line, even if it’s one that’s interrupted on occasion, or even somewhat out of order (Thanks Quentin!). There’s a lack of consistency to it as well, even in the main performance. Paul Dillon plays the driver, and while he does his best with what’s there, it seems like most of the time he doesn’t know what his motivation is, and neither do we.

Gillian Anderson, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Ironside, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Michael Shannon, and John Cusack of course, round out the cast. Each one giving it their all to be weird, dramatic, aloof, or quirky (sometimes all four), to varying degrees of success.

There is one particularly heartbreaking moment where Dillon beats himself down for not being more helpful to a distraught passenger earlier in the film. It’s a very end-of-Schindler’s-List kind of thing, and as goofy as the movie is, it rings pretty true and definitely sparked some thought in me.

There’s an idea Ryan and I used to discuss often, not one original to us, for certain, but one that we were mildly obsessed with. The idea that at some point in time, everyone is the bad guy in someone else’s story. No matter your intentions, no matter your relation, or even your knowledge of the events. You are the bad guy for someone, and probably far often than any of us ever want to hear or admit.

But if that’s true, then the opposite must also be true. And that’s not something we ever talked about.

Sometimes, no matter our intentions, our restraint, our selfishness, our desire to keep our heads down and just make it to our own beds, we’re the good guy in someone’s story. And why is that an infinitely harder idea to accept than imagining we’re the bad guy? At least, I know it is for me, and I’m certain it would have been for Ryan. 

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks …

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