Week Ending February 20, 2004 Last week I took a look at four different DVD titles that I chose as top picks. This week, I'm going to ease back and make it easy on myself and all of you. I picked two films that I believe are worth your hard dollar purchase. Runaway Jury The sad current state of cinematic affairs is that we are running out of great actors. If you mean to tell me that future film legacy will depend on the likes of Ben Affleck, The Rock and Adam Sandler, then we should all be very afraid to ever go to the movies again. The most enjoyable part of watching Runaway Jury has nothing to do with its storyline (which is quite good), but rather the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. It's such a pleasure to watch these two men grace the screen and remind us just what true Box Office talent is all about. From the best-selling novel of John Grisham (who also gave us The Rainmaker and The Firm) comes this court-room thriller about a trial too important for the jury to decide -- it's a high-profile lawsuit against the gun manufacturing industry. In the one corner is attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), who is representing the wife of a husband killed in a rampant shooting spree. Rohr is very confident that his case will win on its own merits, opening the gun industry to future suits. In the other corner stands Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman), representing the gun industry, who thinks nothing of manipulating everything concerning this trial from selection of the jury to underhandedly swaying their opinions in his direction. Nothing could prepare these men for Nick Easter (John Cusack), a juror with his own agenda. With the help of his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), Easter puts the entire jury up for sale, with the verdict pending on who offers the best price. Runaway Jury certainly shows our legal system in such fictional light that its sure to raise an eyebrow, but that's the fun of watching this highly unethical thriller unfold before your eyes. Gene Hackman's performance is especially good here, playing one of the meanest S.O.B. characters of his career. Though both Hackman and Hoffman filmed most of this film separately, a special "bathroom scene" was written at the last minute just to throw these two men together. That scene becomes the focus of most of the supplemental material included on this disc. Transfer quality is fairly decent, though because of the lighting conditions used in the film this doesn't come off as being one of Fox's better efforts. Surround use is kept at a minimal (except for outdoor scenes), as most of the film is dialogue driven. Runaway Jury succeeds as a cat-and-mouse thriller that makes for a highly entertaining evening. Pickup on South Street Pickup on South Street explores a few days in the life of Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) a crook who spends much of his time above and below the streets of New York as a pick-pocket. He may be a three-time loser, but Skip has managed to masterfully skill the art of his craft. The film opens aboard a Subway train where we find Skip's fingers silently rummaging through the pocketbook of an unsuspecting female named Candy (Jean Peters). Not before long, Skip has wallet in hand. What Skip doesn't realize is that within this wallet lies film of classified government secrets. From hereon, Skip gets caught in the middle between Federal agents and Communists who will stop at nothing to get this film back in their hands. For a film out of the early 1950's, I was shocked at how brutal of a movie this was. There's a riveting scene of Jean Peters (Candy) getting assaulted that had me a little unnerved. I am sort of wondering how people at that time had dealt with this issue being portrayed so vividly on screen. On a brighter note, I fell in love with Thelma Ritter's character. Her bedroom scene can certainly be considered one of the most memorable moments in classic film. I was trying to figure out where I had seen her before.....then it dawned on me... she was alongside Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Doing a little research on this film, I discovered that Pickup on South Street was initially intended as a film about drug pushers. However, since this was filmed during the infamous McCarthy era, the filmmakers chose to take it in a new direction most appropriate for its time. The transfer is exceptional, though I wouldn't consider anything less from the efforts of THE CRITERION LIBRARY. The print is in immaculate condition with narely a sign of any film scratches or other assorted debris. This transfer ranks up with some of the best you would find from the Warner Bros. camp. Pickup On South Street is just excellent film noir featuring a memorable performance from one of my newest tough-guy favorites, Richard Widmark. Do yourself a favor and watch this! That's it for this week. See you next week!