John Cusack

Runaway Jury (2003) [DVD]

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I can’t think why I had a sudden urge to dig out this DVD, but I’m glad I did because it’s one of those classy quality films that Hollywood used to make and which now seem hard to find among the blockbusters, sequels and genre movies.

It’s based on a John Grisham legal thriller, with the twist for this one being its focus on seeing the US courts through the eyes of the jury as well as those in the defence and prosecution teams charged with analysing, interpreting, influencing and manipulating the jury to the ‘right’ decision for their respective sides. And in this trial, a third party calling herself Marlee (Rachel Weisz) comes into play who says that she can ‘sell’ the verdict to the highest bidder.

That’s the basis for a courtroom drama mixed with con and heist elements in which nothing is quite what it seems, with touches of action and conspiracy thrillers for good measure. Since the film is all about getting the jurors to fall into line there’s an uncommon focus on character drama as well, and there’s a terrific cast to bring the large number of dramatis personae to life: John Cusack is the star of the film as juror Nick Easter, with Cliff Curtis, Gerry Bamman, Jennifer Beal, Luis Guzmán and Rusty Schwimmer among those bringing the rest of the jury box to life. Read the rest of this entry »

2012 (Blu-ray)

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Director Roland Emmerich and his collaborator Harald Kloser are used to blowing up the world: they did it with aliens in Independence Day and the environment in The Day After Tomorrow, and along the way wrecked a fair portion of New York by unleashing Godzilla.

If you’ve seen any of those films, you’ll know just what to expect from 2012, which is global doomsday via Mayan prophecy (oh, alright then – by solar flares, if you will.)

Emmerich isn’t one for abandoning a tried and tested template, so you get the same sprawling cast, their initially disconnected lives eventually overlapping and linking up to form the narrative. And along the way, some eye-popping visual effects are unleashed as the world gets quite literally torn apart.

It’s basically standard B-movie stuff, but with a big budget. It’s very bit as clichéd and schmaltzy as its Emmerich forebears: remember how you cringed when President Bill Pullman gave his All-American rousing speech before the final battle? There’s a similar heart-tugging script beat here, too. It’s obvious who will live and who will die (and frankly, a little disturbingly so – it’s not good to be anything but a nice middle class American nuclear family in these films, so Indians and Russians have a very slim survival chance.) But the dog survives, as ever – it’s an Emmerich trope.

Also as is typical with these films, there’s some really great casting going on. John Cusack is always watchable whether in an indie film or a big budget blockbuster; Chiwetel Ejiofor is a new name and face to American audiences, but the young British actor is excellent and assured here, while Amanda Peet and Thandie Newton do well to bring life to the inevitable “supporting wife/girlfriend/daughter” roles. Add lovely turns from old stagers like Danny Glover, Oliver Platt and George Segal, and mix in a scene stealing Zlatko Buric as a Russian oligarch and you have a very agreeable mix.

All in all, then, it’s rather enjoyable as end-of-the-world stories go, and perfectly entertaining. It doesn’t try to do anything more, which puts it one ahead of the painfully worthy The Day After Tomorrow with its po-faced climate change message; and it much better done overall than the lazy, bloated Godzilla. It just about puts it into the three star category.

The Blu-ray disk on the other hand is something else. The film looks absolutely fantastic in high definition even on my relatively pokey 32″ screen, and the CGI sequences are so astonishingly well rendered with such level of detail that they’ll leave you well and truly eye-popped. And while I don’t have a sophisticated sound system, the way that the audio track threw an immersive, all-encompassing soundscape around me was really impressive and the best I think I’ve heard at home.

Not sure if I’d call it “reference quality” – I reserve that for Pixar releases, to be honest – but this Blu-ray still really surprised me by how good it was. It almost made me want to re-watch the film again just by how good it looked and sounded, the quality of the film itself almost irrelevant.