John Cusack, what have you become?

Did anyone hear about John Cusack’s latest film? The thriller supposedly inspired by the real events surrounding a notorious Alaskan serial killer, even though there are really no similarities between the stories, co-starring Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter? No? First you’ve heard of it?

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I’m not surprised, because not only did this mediocre film go straight to DVD, it’s also completely formulaic – a thriller to the T. Although it’s got all the right pieces of the puzzle – big-name actors, a provocative premise, and all the twists you would expect from a thriller – when you put the puzzle together it produces a completely bland film that offers the viewer nothing new.

This is a great example of an easy trap to fall into for screenwriters. While you need to of course pay attention to the genre in which you are writing, it is possible to adhere too closely to accepted norms. In order for a film to have a real impact, it needs to go outside of the box in some way. Unfortunately, The Factory simply doesn’t do that.

Even worse, John Cusack’s performance is painfully underwhelming and shallow. Now, I love the classic Say Anything John Cusack as much as the next girl, but he’s really gone downhill now that he’s no longer that earnest and playfully endearing teenage underachiever. Somehow he doesn’t seem able to play the more mature roles now demanded of him, especially the protective father figure of The Factory. Many would argue that 2012, quickly followed by Hot Tub Time Machine, marked the beginning of the end for Cusack, but personally I rather enjoyed HTTM and didn’t find 2012 as atrocious as some. So I still had hope, until now.

What do you think about John Cusack’s career trajectory? Have you seen or heard of The Factory before now? Let me know what you thought of it!

‘The Factory’ Is Just Another Thriller Off the Assembly Line
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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With well-known actors and a provocative premise, it’s surprising to see a film like The Factory go straight to DVD (sans bonus features or scene selection options). It hits all the high notes: abduction, abuse, murder, and even fatherly heroics. But this film’s failure to make an impact is perhaps due to too strict an adherence to the thriller formula. In the end, The Factoryleaves you with nothing new, only a sense that you’ve somehow seen it before.

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‘The Following’: Makings of a Macabre Masterpiece

The macabre horror of The Following is perfectly set up by Marilyn Manson’s dark rendition of “Sweet Dreams,” an eerie tune that serves as the bookends for last night’s season premiere episode. James Purefoy menacing performance is superb as the charming professor and serial killer Joe Carroll, and Kevin Bacon’s controlled performance is believable as his counterpart, the utterly flawed ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy.

The mix of horror and romanticism in this show highlights the two different sides of Carroll, who can be utterly disarming and alluring in one moment, and frighteningly violent in the next. There are some truly terrifying sequences of stalking and murder that are more characteristic of cinema than television, but therefore bring a heightened intensity to the suspense of the show.

But it is Carroll’s intellect that brings sophistication to The Following. Similar to Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Carroll turns Hardy’s interrogations around, and it is the prisoner who reveals himself to be the one in control, the maestro conducting this symphony, with both his adversaries and his many followers–his cultists–mere instruments in his orchestra.

Check out this article on how the literary basis of Carroll’s obsessions translates into the format of the show, both in the sophistication of its premise and references, but also in its structure. What did you think of this much promoted series premiere?

Everybody’s Looking for Something in ‘The Following’
Liz Medendorp @ PopMatters

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The menacing tune of Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” cover sets the tone for The Following, a macabre story of murder, mystery, and vengeance. The much promoted premiere, airing 21 January, provides chills and thrills, but it is this series’ complexity, grounded in literary influences, that may lead to a long and exciting run.

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