Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Grace is Gone (2007)

Cusack Plays: Stanley Phillips whose solider wife dies in Iraq.

Another film, another dead wife. He's really not having much luck.

So if anyone ever says that Cusack isn't a great actor or that he plays the same role in every film, this is the one you bring out to show it ain't so. Gone is the sarky, sexy, witty Cusack and here emerges a different guy, playing the rather dowdy father of two girls whose mother is killed in Iraq. He can't bring himself to tell them so instead they take a road trip, where he struggles to connect with them and break the news.

It's simple stuff, with a thin plot and relying on the strong acting performaces (Cusack and the two young actresses are excellent). In fact its the kind of performance you get nominated for an Oscar for, but no such luck here. I don't think the timing of its release was great, and came at a time when people really didn't want to see another Iraq film, and it didn't even get a UK release - I remember waiting in vain at the time. It did get two Golden Globe nominations though - for the score, by the one and only Mr Clint Eastwood.

Sad, sweet, and yes there were a few tears by the end.

Boy does he look different with those glasses on.

While he was promoting this one he managing to get interviewed by this silly cow who got him mixed up with Kevin Spacey. Doh.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Contract (2006)

Tagline: Every Killer Meets His Equal.
Cusack Plays: Cop turned Gym Teacher Ray Keene

The plot - widower Cusack tries to bond with his wayward son Chris by taking him camping, but on their travels encounter assasin Morgan Freeman who has just busted out of a police car. He encourages them to leave him and move on, but Cusack instead decides to march them through the woods. Freemans hitman pals are following closely behind.

Despite the decent cast, The Contract is widely regarded as a pretty awful film, going straight to video in the US and Europe. Indeed for both Cusack and Morgan Freeman it's their most poorly rated film on Rotten Tomatoes (Currently on Imdb there are 4 other Cusack films which score lower - Grandview USA being the ultimate loser).

Thankfully Cusack has had a haircut since The Ice Harvest and is looking much better, and he gets to do a bit of action hero stuff and running about with a gun. I have a feeling his previous career as a cop was obviously just eluded to so that it wouldn't be utterly unbelieveable when he picks up a gun and manages to bring down a helicopter with it at one point. Only the big names and their charisma stop this being a total bust. There's plenty of bad dialogue and idiotic bits like not being able to get a phone signal to call 911 but others being able to go on the internet fine. Would have been way more fun had Cusack played the bad guy (but with redemptive qualities) in this one rather than the sad sack dad. Or if he reprised his role in Grosse Point Blank and was a hit man too.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Ice Harvest (2005)

Tagline: Thick Thieves. Thin Ice.
Cusack Plays: Mob Lawyer Charlie Arglist.

So After Must Love Dogs things can only get better. And they do, but only really marginally in this fairly mediocre black comedy. Charlie is a lawyer, who along with Billy Bob Thornton steals over $2 million from his mob clients on Christmas Eve. But things don't go so smoothly and soon hes scrambling around town without knowing who to trust.

The comedic elements work fairly well, with the icy weather preventing their quick escape and facilitating some falls, crashes and deaths, and the story does keep you guessing as to whats coming next. However, overall it just feels fairly thin and unsubstantial but if I watched it again, it would be mainly for Oliver Platt's drunken turn as Cusack's ex-wifes current husband. Apparently the book of the same name, set in 1979 is far superior.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Must Love Dogs (2005)

Tagline: The hardest trick is making them stay.
Cusack Plays: Jake, boat builder and recently divorced

So, this is the one I've been dreading, the one I felt like walking out of the cinema at. "If that dog jumps into the water, so help me god...." And I think I might have figured out why. Cusack must have had a tough 2004 becuase he seems to have aged considerably in this time. Or perhaps the film did not have good lighting (*grasps at straws*)

The story is that recently divorced Sarah (Diane Lane) is encouraged to start dating again by her big family, with her sister setting up an internet profile for her insisting potential dates "must love dogs". Through this she meets with fellow divorcee and boat builder (another one of those random movie careers), Jake whose friends are also encouraging him to get back out there.

Some problems I have with this film.
  • Talented actors, wasting themselves on a seriously sub par romantic comedy.
  • Sarah is a teacher so we get cute, no sorry, annoying children saying things like "Lord it's a gusher" when they get hit in the face in class.
  • A barrell of cheesy lines.
  • The cringeworthy scene where Sarah and Jake run all over town trying to find a shop selling condoms.
I just want to reach into the screen and drag Cusack away from all this. He sounds and looks fed up.

Can I find anything positive to say? Well it has an okay-ish soundtrack, and Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp!) and Stockard Channing (Rizzo/Abby Bartlett!) are in it. Also, the main character has a great name.

Now I'm off to pretend that this film does not exist.

For a slightly more benevolent review, visit my fellow Cusack Challengee

Friday, 3 September 2010

Runaway Jury (2003)

Tagline: Trials are too important to be decided by juries.
Cusack Plays: Juror Number 9, Nicholas Easter

Remember a time pre JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown? John Grisham was the big name in books and a bunch of his legal tales made their way onto the big screen, to varying success. In 2003 Runaway Jury was released and was deemed to be one of the better ones. Although the subject matter was shifted from a lawsuit against a tobacco company to a gun manufacturer, the general legal arguments and story remain in place.

The central premise of this film is that the jury in the case (wife sues gun makers for husbands death at hands of deranged gunman) has been infiltrated and will sell the verdict to either side for a hefty price. Both sides (especially the defence) are already spending huge amounts on consultants to analyse, select (and sometimes do other definitely illegal things to) the jury. Cusack is what initially seems to be a reluctant juror, but we quickly discover that's not the case. Jeremy Piven (him again) plays a consultant for the plaintiff.

Another rewatch where I could remember the basic plot and outcome but not all the details, this is a pretty decent thriller, bolstered by some solid performances from fine actors. Had totally forgotten the opposing sides in the case were Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, both great, and the first time in their long careers that the two H-Man's were on screen together.