13 Close-Up Facts About Grosse Pointe Blank

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For a generation of moviegoers, John Cusack was a sensitive heartthrob in '80s teen films like Better Off Dead, Say Anything..., and One Crazy Summer. In 1997, after several years in lower-profile roles, Cusack reemerged for the next generation as Martin Q. Blank, a depressed hitman who attends his high school reunion. Grosse Pointe Blank opened in 1997 and was a minor hit, earning $28 million (about twice that at 2017 ticket prices) before going on to become a cult favorite. It reintroduced John Cusack to the world, and it gave Dan Aykroyd his best role in several years, too. Let's relive the '80s for one night and dive deep into Grosse Pointe Blank.

1. THE SCREENWRITER WAS MOTIVATED BY PANIC OVER HIS OWN REUNION.

In 1991, Tom Jankiewicz got a letter about his 10-year reunion back at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. He was in L.A. by now, trying to become a screenwriter, supporting himself by working at Big Lots and as a substitute teacher. But he wasn't ready to see all those old friends again. His brother later said, "When the letter came, he wasn't where he wanted to be yet ... It freaked him out, but it made him productive. He sat down and got serious about [what would become] Grosse Pointe Blank."

2. SOME CHARACTERS ARE NAMED AFTER THE WRITER’S FORMER CLASSMATES.

Jankiewicz didn't actually go to his reunion, but he did use the names of former classmates for some of the characters in his screenplay. Jeremy Piven's character, Paul Spericki, for example, was named after Jankiewicz's best friend, and the movie's reunion announcement was a near-verbatim copy of the real one. He chose Grosse Pointe—"the Beverly Hills of Michigan"—over his own hometown because it sounded better, and he named Marcella (Joan Cusack) after his manager at Big Lots.

3. YOU MAY HAVE HEARD THAT IT'S BASED ON A REAL GROSSE POINTE STUDENT WHO BECAME A HITMAN. IT ISN'T.

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Jankiewicz reportedly loved that urban legend, but there's no truth to it. Jankiewicz just didn't think a movie about a cashier at Big Lots attending his 10-year reunion would be very interesting, and he used his fondness for crime fiction to come up with the hitman idea.

4. KIEFER SUTHERLAND WANTED TO BE IN IT AT ONE POINT.

Though several production companies liked the concept, it took a while for Jankiewicz to sell his script. Kiefer Sutherland wanted to make it (this would have been around 1992 or 1993), but, in the words of one columnist, "the mix of comedy and violence proved to be a tough sell."

5. JOHN CUSACK AND HIS FRIENDS PERSONALIZED IT.

Cusack had a company, New Crime Productions, that he'd formed with old Chicago friends Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, and with which another friend, Piven, was also involved. They found Jankiewicz's screenplay, optioned it, and set to work revising it to match Cusack's specific tastes and talents. Piven, Pink, and DeVincentis all have onscreen roles, as do Cusack's siblings Joan, Ann, and Bill. A journalist who went to high school with Cusack in Evanston, Illinois found allusions to their school in the finished movie, writing, "If I'm not mistaken, the heroine's last name, Newberry, belonged to a pair of cute, artistic Evanston sisters; and the bully is a thinly disguised (and inexplicably cruel) parody of another of my classmates, who I pray hasn't seen this movie."

6. THE DIRECTOR CLAIMS WRITING CREDIT, TOO.

George Armitage was a Roger Corman protégé who had written and/or directed a few blaxploitation films in the 1970s, including Hit Man and Darktown Strutters, plus the well-received 1990 crime film Miami Blues (starring Alec Baldwin). Grosse Pointe Blank was the first movie he directed that he didn't also write, but he said he could have had screenplay credit for this one, too. "I did as much as anyone did in terms of writing," he told an interviewer. "Because the Writers Guild is insane with the way they handle the credits, I decided that if I threw my name into the mix, the percentage would drop for everybody and they'd get screwed out of it."

7. SOMEWHERE THERE'S A TREASURE TROVE OF ALTERNATE TAKES AND DELETED SCENES.

Armitage said they "basically shot three movies simultaneously": one that stuck to the script, one that was "mildly understated," and one that went "completely over-the-top" in terms of improvisation and energy. It was usually the third version that got used, which means there are alternate versions of nearly every scene still out there somewhere. (So far, the film's DVD and Blu-ray releases haven't had any of them.)

8. THE KISS DEBI PLANTS ON MARTIN WAS IMPROVISED.

In one of those loose "third versions" of the scene where Martin walks into Debi's radio booth for the first time, Minnie Driver decided to let her character put all the cards on the table and just kiss him. Armitage said, "It was just wonderful, completely out of the blue. You should have seen the smile on Johnny's face afterwards."

9. CUSACK FOUGHT A WORLD-CHAMPION KICKBOXER, WHO ALSO HAPPENED TO BE HIS TEACHER.

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Benny "The Jet" Urquidez has nine black belts and was a competitive fighter in the 1960s and '70s before taking on some movie roles. In Grosse Pointe Blank, he plays Felix La PuBelle, the assassin who pursues Martin throughout the film, culminating in a fight to the death in the high school hallway. Urquidez got the job because he was already Cusack's kickboxing instructor; they met when Cusack had to learn "the sport of the future" for Say Anything... Urquidez continued to train Cusack for years afterward.

10. QUENTIN TARANTINO WAS A FAN, AND ALMOST HAD A CAMEO.

Quentin Tarantino, who'd just burst onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, was a fan of Armitage's work and somehow came to be personally acquainted with him. While filming the 7-Eleven shootout in Grosse Pointe Blank, Armitage added a nod to Tarantino with his help. "I called him and said, 'Could I use your lobby card of the Pulp Fiction cast?' Armitage recalled. "So we wired that with squibs and shot it up too." He said Tarantino wanted to make a cameo—"he wanted to be shot or blown up or something"—but it never materialized.

11. IT WAS FILMED ALMOST ENTIRELY ON LOCATION ... IN LOS ANGELES.

The crew spent only half a day in the real Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and most of that in a helicopter, getting aerial shots of the town. "I would have given anything if we could have made the movie there," Cusack said. "But it was all number crunching, so we spent it on the movie instead of the location." Doubling for Grosse Pointe High School was John Marshall High School, an L.A. institution that's been used in numerous films. Grosse Pointe's main drag was in nearby Monrovia, California.

12. CUSACK SAW IT AS A METAPHOR FOR THE REAGAN/BUSH YEARS.

"I grew up fascinated by people in the Reagan administration, their ethics, their mercenary values," he said in an interview. "People who plan wars and then go home to their wives and their kids ... How do they live? To me, Grosse Pointe Blank was a metaphor for the people in the Bush White House." Elsewhere, he described the movie as "a black comedy about the American Dream, that 'win at all costs' personality you see every day ... A tongue-in-cheek look at the American value system."

13. THE ORIGINAL SCREENWRITER DIED SUDDENLY AFTER A POST-SCREENING Q&A.

There's a sad postscript to Grosse Pointe Blank. The original writer, Tom Jankiewicz, continued to work in Hollywood as an uncredited (but not unpaid) script doctor, and as a journalist and copywriter. He was a shy, kind, tall man—six-foot-nine—who stayed out of the spotlight. In January 2013, on a whim, he accepted an invitation to a college professor's screening of Grosse Pointe Blank and treated the students to a Q&A afterward. During the discussion, Jankiewicz collapsed, and he died at the hospital later that night. It was a shock; he was only 49 and in good health. Family members speculated that his heart had been weakened by a case of bronchitis he'd had a few weeks earlier.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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