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Case in point, I fell in love with the BBC series "Hustle" about the same time I found TV.com (http://www.tv.com, so not only did I work hard to become the Editor for the series, I even went so far as to create the banner image too! :) Recently I've become fond of another UK show, "The IT Crowd" and once again, I had to become the Editor for that show as well. Luckily, I don't strive to be an Editor for every television show I enjoy, otherwise I'd never have time for anything else!
Speaking of which, my other interests include most forms of technology, most especially Palm OS handhelds, as well as bicycle touring, movies and cooking, just to name a few. If you'd like to learn more about me, please visit my weblog at http://www.mashby.com.
About a Boy (2002)
It's Hugh Grant's best work to date. It's based on a hugely successful book and it's funny as hell. What's not to like?
I first saw this movie while on a business trip to Chattanooga. I needed to finish up some work on a presentation I was making the next day and there was nothing on TV, so I decided to splurge and rent an On-Demand movie. Most of the movies I had either seen, or had no interest in seeing and just as I was about to turn it off, I came across About A Boy. I hadn't heard much buzz about the movie and I'm not a fan of Hugh Grant, but for reasons unknown to me, I rented it.
I was expecting another one of Hugh Grant's saccharine romantic comedies where he plays a charming befuddling fop as he's done ad nauseam since Four Weddings And A Funereal. Granted, I liked Four Weddings immensely, but by Notting Hill I'd had my fill. Much to my surprise, Grant was playing a completely different character and was clearly attempting to break his mold. He'd done that once before in Bridget Jones' Diary, where he played a jerk, but now he was taking it in another direction entirely. It's a refreshing and more importantly interesting change.
But this movie isn't all about Hugh Grant's character Will. His co-star is new comer Nicholas Hoult, who plays the boy Marcus and he carries his own. Ultimately, the movie is about both of them, and so Hoult has the responsibility of carrying half the weight of the movie and he does a splendid job. Rounding out the cast is Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz, each do an excellent job as well. Suffice to say that the casting for this movie is brilliant. Each character is fully developed and rich with complexity and emotion. I bought each and every one of them. Not once did I feel that there was a weak link in the bunch. That's also surprising because this type of movie is hard to pull off.
So what kind of movie is this? At it's heart, this movie is a comedy. That being said, with subject matter such as suicide, it is most definitely a drama as well. That's a fine line to walk in a film but Weitz Brothers deftly manage to pull it off. Granted their movie is based on the Hornby book by the same name, so they had a rich palette to begin with, but the brothers clearly rose to the challenge and created a fantastic movie. There have been plenty of good books that have been butchered at the box office and Boy is a rare exception. There's no cliche' choices made by the characters and the director's did a great job at staying true to the tone of the book. Chris and Paul also stretched themselves with their camera work and it pays off. If you're into `film' there's a lot to chew on between the use of jump cuts, depth of focus and swing shots. None of this gets in the way of the movie. If anything these camera techniques add to the performances and help tell the story.
Interweaving it's way throughout the movie and in some cases almost playing a role in the film, is the music and it is spot on. All the music was written by Badly Drawn Boy specifically for this movie. I was not familiar with the artist prior to seeing the film, but the director's couldn't have made a better choice. Although each song stands on it's own on the soundtrack, each song also easily blends into the scene and lends a hand in creating just the right tone for the movie. After listening to the soundtrack, I could imagine it as simply a regular artist release, so it stands on it's own. Yet when it's worked into the movie it's pure gold.
So why do I like it so much? I'd like to think that I'm not alone in this, but it's because I can relate to the movie on so many levels. There are so many scenes that I could describe, but in the end I would be retelling the entire movie. Every scene has something in it that is worth watching again and again. I can relate to Marcus as he's picked on in school, tries to cope with his mother's depression and ultimately knowingly faces complete and utter embarrassment as a last ditch effort to make his mother happy. The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, but I've been there. Then there's Will who has to finally face his demons and his father's legacy in order to join the human race and be a part of other peoples lives. Although not an exact context, I've been there in one way shape or form.
Surprisingly, I caught myself watching it again the other day on DVD and it struck me that this movie is now in my Top 10, or dare I say Top 5 movie list. I maybe be borrowing from another fantastic Hornby book/movie High Fidelity, but it's true. It's not Citizen Kane, but it is one of the best movies that takes a funny look at becoming a man through two different people. In trying to describe this movies to others, I've called it `A guy's romantic comedy.' That doesn't really nail it on the head, but I'd like to think that About A Boy, IS a guy's movie. The subject matter may not have Rambo's, or Rocky's, but any guy who can think about something other than sports, or monster trucks should get something from this movie. It's Hugh Grant's best work to date. It's based on a hugely successful book and it's funny as hell. What's not to like?
I give it a 5 out of 5 stars.
The Matrix (1999)
The movie that started it all...
The movie that started it all. The Matrix came completely out of the blue. No one had ever heard of the directors, the Wachowski brothers. Their only other movie directorial effort was Bound, which no one ever saw. (Turns out, Bound was simply an audition to prove to the studios that they knew how to direct and could handle the project that was The Matrix). The actors were a mixed bag of good actors (Laurence Fishburne, Joe Pantoliano), bad actors (Keanu Reeves) and then unknown actors (Carrie-Ann Moss and Hugo Weaving). The previews gave nothing away. You were simply left with the question `What Is The Matrix?' and a few images of some very cool action. The only thing I knew at the time was that I HAD to go see the movie the night it was released.
Before I go any further, I need to make a confession. I am the target demographic for this movie. As such, my opinion of this movie is biased from the word go. I love video games, I like kung fu, I like science fiction, I like comic books, and I like technology. The one overwhelming mantra of The Matrix is that the Wachowski brothers use everything, pop culture, religion, video games, you name it and blend it all together to make something new. Since they used all the things that I like already, the movie was a wicked cocktail that hooked me from the instant I tasted it. I loved the story, the action, the cinematography, even the acting.
Fishburne and Joey Pants are great character actors and I tend to love their work regardless of the film their in. Keanu Reeves is a different story. Other than the Bill & Ted movies, Keanu's acting hasn't been all that good. Johnny Mnemonic was a bomb in no small part thanks to Keanu's lack of skill as an actor. He's stiff, doesn't convey a lot of emotion and his delivery is stilted. His main redeeming quality is that he looks good. All his negatives became positives in the Wachowski's hands. The character of Neo is one where you need someone stiff and emotionless, but looks good as he's kicking butt. Keanu more than fits the bill. This was the role he was meant to play.
The story was good, but the storytelling was the hallmark for me. For many people the cinematography was all new to them. Some people had never seen camera angles like they found in the Matrix, but I had in comic books and in Japanese Animation aka anime. In comic books, the method of storytelling is done through still images. Although that may sound somewhat stilted, it can actually give some freedom because each frame and show you more detail, slow things down, or speed things up. If anything it gives you a wide latitude with perspective. Anime takes a similar approach because much of anime is done on such a small budget. For example, one trick that anime uses is to take a still image and have the `camera' move from left to right. This gives the impression of movement, but it's really just a single still image. These tricks created an entire style that anime still uses today even though the budget may be bigger.
The Wachowski's came from a comic book background, and one of the things that they were trying to do was bring some of the storytelling style from comic books and anime to the silver screen. Trinity's jump, bullet time, and the fight between Neo and Agent Smith in the subway are all examples of 2d comic book and Japanese anime style that was realized in film. Motion pictures, comic books and animation are all simply mediums to tell a story. The Wachowski brothers blended the styles and blurred the lines between the mediums.
The techniques that the director's used in the Matrix changed film as we know it. Hardly any action movie today doesn't use kung fu wire work. Charlie's Angels, The Rundown, and even Le Pacte des Loups all used the fighting style made popular in The Matrix. Star Wars may have been a landmark movie because it changed how science fiction was done, but The Matrix did that and more. The ripple effect of this movie has left it's mark on so many filmakers that it's hard to watch any action or science fiction film and not see touches of The Matrix in them.
In 1999 the Wachowski brothers released a landmark film that changed film, and to some extent our culture, forever. It came out of the blue and blew us all away. It would be four years before their story could continue, but it was all worth the wait.
The Animatrix (2003)
You don't know the whole story if you haven't seen this DVD.
The Matrix had a lot of firsts in it. The first movie to use bullet time, the first movie to bring comic book and anime storytelling to live action, etc. On it's own The Matrix is a landmark film and had the Wachowski brothers left it at that, it would have been enough. Little did we know in 1999 (the year the Matrix was released) that the brothers had much more in store for us.
While doing a press junket in Japan, the Wachowski brothers took the opportunity to meet some of the directors of their favorite anime series and movies. On the plane ride back they hatched the idea that they would go beyond just the next two films that were planned to finish the trilogy. They decided to include anime and video games as additional mediums to tell their story. To my knowledge, no director has ever done this and this marks yet another first in the history of film.
The Animatrix is a collection of short stories all told through animation. Most of the directors come from Japanese animation, or anime as it is typically called. For many viewers, this was their first introduction to anime. Titles such as Cowboy BeBop, Ghost In The Shell and Blue Submarine No. 6 may be completely foreign to most American audiences, but with the Animatrix, they were being introduced to some of the best anime directors in the world.
Of the 9 segments contained in the Animatrix, only 4 of them were actually written by the Wachowski brothers. The other six were written by the Directors themselves. That being said, the Brothers did produce all of the segments to ensure that they other writers stayed true to the mythos of The Matrix. What the Wachowski brothers didn't do however was direct any of the segments. They actually turned over the reigns to the anime directors themselves. Not many directors would have been this collaborative, but it just goes to show what huge fans of anime the two brothers are.
Now you might be thinking, "Well, this is just a cartoon, so what does it really matter?" Given the fact that they didn't direct them and only wrote 4 of the 9 segments, the Animatrix, it might appear that this is just some marketing ploy, or some fanciful project that doesn't relate to The Matrix Trilogy at all. That is not the case. The Animatrix contains stories that not only relate to the Matrix, but actually include story arcs that tie directly into the movies.
Besides the 9 segments themselves, the DVD is jam packed with bonus materials. There are director commentaries for 4 segments as well as a history of Anime and a "making-of" documentary as well. If you like bonus materials on a DVD, you won't be disappointed in this one. There is also a package that includes a soundtrack to the Animatrix as well. The soundtrack is very good an includes some great techno music.
All in all, if you're a fan of the Matrix, then this is a must have in your collection. Even if you're not a huge fan of the Matrix it's still worth a watch. The fact that the story for the Matrix Saga weaves excellently through the Animatrix, you don't know the whole story if you haven't seen this DVD. There are references to it in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. You're enjoyment of the movies will be that much more heightened as a result of it.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
If you love Italy then go see this movie. If you like real and intelligent characters then go see this movie. If you hate romantic comedies then go see this movie.
I am not a huge fan of the romantic comedy genre. More often than not, a romantic comedy is nothing more than a few good looking people thrown together and saddled with a lousy script. That's not to say that there aren't notable exceptions, but for the most part they suck. Based on the previews for this movie, I didn't have high hopes, however I did receive a free pass to watch a sneak preview for the movie, so how could I say no?
Having not read the book, I really didn't know what to expect. Let me tell you it was a pleasant surprise. For starters, Diane Lane was the perfect choice for the lead character Frances Mayes. She brings a natural reality to the character, instead of the saccharin sweet typically found in a romantic comedy. Diane instantly makes you feel like you know this woman. She's your neighbor, or someone you work with. In the scene after she learns of her husband's infidelities, she looks horrible - exactly like you'd expect like a woman would look after traumatic news. Of course Diane Lane is a very beautiful woman and as the movie progresses that becomes more and more apparent. Luckily Diane is more than just a pretty face and her performance is stellar. The movie as a whole is understated, letting things play out instead of spelling everything out and Diane provides a wonderful tapestry for you to see what is happening to her. Her reactions tell you more than pithy dialog ever could and as a result you end up taking the journey with her.
As much as I loved Diane Lane in this movie, she is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast. Sandra Oh, as the best friend, delivers an authentic performance. Instead of the typical `funny sidekick' so often played by those in the role of best friend, she's down to earth and real. Raoul Bova plays the Italian lover and should make most women weak in the knees, but I found Vincent Riotta, the real estate agent, to be a much richer character. And speaking of rich characters, Lindsay Duncan plays a wonderful eccentric as Katherine who almost serves as a fairy godmother.
Although the acting is surpurb, what brings it all together are the talents of Audrey Wells who serves as the screenplay writer, director and producer. Most of Audrey's background has been in writing. This is only her second film as a director, yet you wouldn't know it by watching the film. Clearly Ms. Wells has a love of Italy and a love of the novel and all of that shows on the screen. She filmed in the cities that are represented and she hired actors that are the nationality in which they play and the age in which they should be. The entire films shines with authenticity and coupled with wonderful performances and directing, Audrey has redefined the romantic comedy.
This movie was refreshing, witty, poetic, dramatic and rich with characters that you not only like, but identify with. It was such a breath of fresh air that I'm ready to see it again and again. This film is definitely going into my DVD collection.
Enter the Matrix (2003)
This is not for gamers, but for movie fans.
All the reviews I've read say that the game sucks, so why buy it? One reason and one reason only - there's over and hour of DVD quality video in the game. This video isn't just snippets from the three films either. When the Wachowski's shot footage for the video game as they were shooting The Matrix Reloaded and
Do you have to play the video game in order to see the movies. No, just like The Animatrix, you don't have to have played the game in order to enjoy the movie. Yet, there are some very interesting story lines and back stories that you miss if you haven't played it. This content enriches your movie experience. I equate it to watching your favorite television show. Take "Friends" for example. You can sit down and watch any episode of Friends and know what's going on and have a good time watching it. Yet a lot of the enjoyment of the show is the fact that you know about Ross and Rachel's past, or the fact that Monica used to be fat. When you know these back stories, things that happen in current episodes are more enjoyable. "We were on a break!" doesn't mean anything to you if you haven't seen the previous episodes.
The first segment involves going to the post office to collect the package. The second segment involves going to the airport to call all the other captains for the meeting that appears at the start of The Matrix Reloaded. I was very surprised to learn how the captains use the Matrix to leave messages for each other and there is some very funny dialog. While at the airport, you are called upon to save a fellow crew, which greatly expands the level. The third segment involves the meeting of the captains and the subsequent escape after the agents show up. In The Matrix Reloaded, we see Neo fight the agents, but we don't see what happens with the rest of the characters. It's a bit more expanded in the video game. After this third segment, I would recommend that you stop here and watch The Matrix Reloaded. Or at a minimum, watch The Matrix Reloaded, then play the game and then watch The Matrix Revolutions
Throughout the game you're presented with the following elements:
1. Cinematics - through the use of DVD quality video, you see the story unfold with all the main characters from the Matrix Trilogy. They take a few short cuts with the special effects in places, but otherwise it's the same quality of footage as the movies.
2. Animatics - to help transition you from the movie to the game, often times a cinematic with change into an animatic. This simply means that the story unfolds in an animated version using the game engine to render the characters. These cut scenes are just as engaging as the video because they use the actual actor's voices.
3. Game Play - you do actually get to play the game as well. As either Niobe, or Ghost, you navigate your way through the game unfolding the story as you play.
It was no surprise to learn that the game play sucks. As a game, Enter The Matrix is dead on arrival. No matter how powerful your computer is, the game play is going to bog down to a crawl whenever there are a lot of enemies on the screen. The limited ability to save your games is going to cause you to scream more than once. Last but not least, the game play is simply not that engaging. It's very linear and thus you're really only going from point A to point B, press a button, or open a door and the level is over. I'll be honest, as a game, it's a turd.
But that's not the point. The reason for this game is not for you to play it over and over like Quake III, or Medal Of Honor Allied Assault. The purpose for this game is to tell a story. I don't know that a video game is the best medium for telling a story, but I have to give the Wachowski brothers credit for the attempt. To show you that the Brothers simply want you to get to the end, if you get to a point where you can rest, your health will automatically increase. Not just a little at a time, but in 20 seconds you can go from 2% to 100% if you simply stand still (and no one is shooting at you).
Other than the 1 hour of DVD quality video (have I said that enough yet?), the only saving grace is the audio in the game. Dane Davis, the sound designer for the Matrix Trilogies used the exact sounds from the movies. So when you're in bullet time and hearing the guns go off, it's just like you're there. It's weird when the sound effects are the most notable aspects of a game, but they are that good.
The music is also excellent. Don Davis, the composer for the Matrix Trilogies, composed music for the game as well. In addition, there are tracks from Juno Reactor, Chris Vrenna, Fluke, Rob D and others, that add a certain bit of adrenaline to the game play. Great songs to kick butt to.
If you're a die-hard Matrix fan, then I'd recommend buying the game if you can find it on sale. However, you don't have to be a gamer to play this game. Simple button mashing will get you through the game and through all of the stories - which is the point of the whole game anyway. Even if you're not a die-hard fan, the story arcs are good and worth slugging through the game to watch them.
This movie is a crime.
There is a curse in the movie industry. It's name - the sequel. For some reason, trying to follow up a hit movie with a sequel is very difficult for most studios because most sequels suck eggs. I forgot about this curse when I rented Legally Blonde 2 - Red, With & Blonde recently. It's not that the first movie, Legally Blonde, was a masterpiece or anything, but it was good for what it was. It was a happy, shiny movie where you dismissed a little reality and just went with the story. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) may be a silly character, but you go with it just to watch the character grow and mature. In addition, there were a nice assortment of memorable characters peppered throughout the story that really "kicked it up a notch".
Since Legally Blonde was a big hit, you'd think that the producers wouldn't mess with the formula that made it such a success. Haven't we learned anything from New Coke? ;) Unfortunately all the elements that made the first movie such a fun guilty pleasure are absent from the sequel and all you're left with is a bitter taste in your mouth making you feel wrong for liking the first movie.
The biggest problem with the movie is the script. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and this script was dead on arrival. Instead of using the original writers, Karen McCullah Lutz the studio chose Ahlert, Drake and Kondell. Again, why miss with a winning combination? Anyway, the opening sequence is a scrapbook that the friends Margot (Jessica Cauffiel) and Serena (Alanna Ubach) are looking through. The device is meant to catch the viewer up on what's been happening to Elle. This works nicely for those that didn't see the first movie and for those of us that have, it works to set us back in place in the Elle timeline. At the end of the first movie, they said that Elle married Emmett Richmond (Luke Wilson). At the start of the second film, they explain that the wedding hasn't happened yet and is scheduled to happen soon. This choppy style of storytelling works well when used in this manner, unfortunately the entire movie is told in this manner.
Instead of creating story arcs for the characters that can grow and lead us through the story, we're presented with chunky segments. It's almost as if you're watching "bits" from SNL or something. I can just see the writers pitching these ideas back and forth, "Hey, how about Elle goes to Washington? Yeah! And there's this mean lady that runs the office. Yeah! And the door man is really cool and helps her. Yeah! And her fiancee comes to visit. Yeah! And then she's on CSPAN. Yeah!" It was just scene after scene that didn't develop anything. The comedy was forced and it felt as if everyone was just walking through their scenes.
Think I'm just being mean? Well, let's look at the plot and then you can tell me. "Elle is getting married and she decides that she wants her dog, Bruiser, to have his parents at the wedding. She learns that Bruiser's mother is being used for animal testing so she goes to Washington to pass a bill to outlaw animal testing." That's it. I'm not kidding. That's really the plot. I know, who would have green lighted this kind of project?
As I saw the story unfold like someone dropping a sack of potatoes, I held out for the hope that the supporting characters would help redeem this movie. No such luck. Emmett the fiancee was reduced to a caricature of his former self. In the first movie Emmett helped ground the movie in reality. He wasn't a doe eyed goof, he was the smart, sensible legal hero that sees Elle as a "diamond in the rough" and what potential she holds. In this movie, he's nothing but a sycophant who does nothing more than say "Yes dear." and mug for the camera. To add insult to injury, Paulette Bonafont (Jennifer Coolidge) the lovable manicurist who is befriended by Elle in the first film, is reduced to nothing but the eccentric goofball sidekick who makes one stupid comment after another. Even Bob Newheart couldn't keep this ship afloat. All of the actors are credible in their field and are capable of doing so much more than this. The crime in all of this is that the script shackles them down to the point where they have no room to do what they do best - act.
I loved the first Legally Blonde movie. It was silly and somewhat of a farce, but the story and the characters made you just "go with it" and enjoy yourself. It wasn't high film, it was just a good time. Legally Blonde 2 is such a disaster it makes you sorry you enjoyed the first one altogether. By the end of the film, all the affection you had for the characters is gone. You just don't care about Elle anymore and you don't care where she goes from there. She gives a knowing wink to the camera at the end of the film to imply that there could be a 3rd film and I my only hope is that the studio doesn't get paroled to make it.
Double Jeopardy (1999)
Predictable, shallow and without any flavor.
That is how I would characterize this movie. You've seen it before and you know what's coming throughout the entire movie. I feel like a patrol cop telling the crowd "keep moving, there's nothing to see here."
Ashley Judd gives another lackluster performance as a well-to-do wife who gets sent to prison for 6 years. You'd think she was sent to the time out corner instead. Judd portrays the same character leaving prison as she DOES when she enters. Wait, I take that back. Her character does do some sit ups to prove that she's tough now. Please .
And you'd think this was another in the Fugitive series like US Marshalls was. Tommy Lee Jones needs to watch out that he doesn't make another movie where he's chasing a convict, or that's all he's going to be known for. Jones is a great character actor, and I love his work, but nothing he can do can help this lame duck of a script.
The final nail in the coffin for me was the finale, which is shot in New Orleans. I'm from Louisiana, so perhaps I'm more sensitive than most, but few movies get the accents right. One of the few movies that come to mind that does get it right is Heaven's Prisoners. Suffice to say that Double Jeopardy butchers the accent. Not to mention the fact that everything is set in the French Quarter, as if that's the only thing IN New Orleans.
Overall, this film is nothing but a series of cliches and cop outs. None of the characters have any depth. They are simply cardboard cutouts set against a paper thin story. If you're looking for a movie to pass the time, or if you need to pacify a teenager for an hour and a half, then this is your movie.
City of Ghosts (2002)
I really wanted to like this movie, but it just falls flat.
I had the opportunity to view this at a pre-screening in New York. Palm, Inc. was sponsoring the event and I was lucky enough to be invited. Given the pre-party and the potential for celebrities to attend (there were none), I was pretty hyped. Loving movies like I do, this was the one of the best of all possible worlds in which to see this movie - it didn't help.
"City of Ghosts" is Matt Dillion's first shot at directing and writing a film and it shows. The main character, Jimmy Cremming, is supposed to be this un-trusting scam artist that's been trained in it all his life. That may sound good on paper, but you have to demonstrate it on the screen and Dillion simply refused to show his character as un-sympathetic. If the character has grown up grifiting and scamming then there should be some evidence of it in his demeanor at least and there just isn't. As a result, the main character has no story arc. Although he is supposedly going through a transformation, there is no evidence of it.
None of the major characters have any depth or range to them either. James Cann walked through this role, Stellan Skarsgard does nothing but play a drunk and Natascha McElhone was nothing but eye candy. A lot of good talent that was simply wasted. There were two notable exceptions. Two actors were able to brake out of the bad script enough to create a character that you could actually care for. G?rard Depardieu plays a very funny inn keeper/bartender. His role could have been almost forgotten, yet instead Depardieu instilled such humor and compassion in his role that it's one of the more memorable. The other actor was Kem Sereyvuth, who plays Sok, the local rickshaw operator who takes a liking to Jimmy Cremming and vice versa. Sereyvuth may have been type casted a bit in his role, I don't know much about him, but his portrayal is honest and sincere. You get the feeling that they found the actor pulling a rickshaw and gave him a job. I'm sure that's not the case, but it's a testimony to his acting ability.
There is one facet of the movie that I greatly enjoyed and that was the portrayal of Cambodia. I have traveled some, but I've never been to Cambodia. Having said that, I got the feeling that I had truly traveled there. The use of music and the almost documentary style of the cinematography in the early portions of the movie transports you into another place. Hats off to Jim Denault for giving the film a distinct visual feel that gives the viewer something to chew on.
Overall, this film is a movie lover's feast. A feast full of rich a delectable tastes. Dig in.
This movie is not for the faint of heart. I made the mistake of starting this movie at 10:30pm thinking that it'd be the usual 1.5 hour movie. I should have looked at the sleeve more closely, this movie is over 3 hours long. Not to mention the fact that Anderson pushes the boundaries of storytelling by interweaving a multitude of characters to tell one story, or message. This is a "thinking man's" movie and not something to just flip through like so many movies released today.
The script is great, but Anderson has also put together a fantastic cast to bring it to life. John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Baker Hall are some of the best character actors around and they just light up the screen. Tom Cruise who gives a stand out performance as Frank T.J. Mackey (host of an infomercial called "Seduce and Destroy"), Julianne Moore, William H. Macy round out the cast and bring a little star power along with them. But there are a ton of more actors in this ensemble piece, such as Jason Robards, but the list is simply too long to list.
It's so hard to review this film, simply because it is told in such a unique way. All of the characters are connected to one another in some way shape and form and Anderson uses a variety of styles to tell the story. In fact, at one point, it's almost a music video as all of the major characters lip sync to one of the cuts from the soundtrack. This movie is funny, sad, poignant, and absurd. It's simply one of those films that you'll be talking about days after seeing it, still trying to put all the pieces together.
John Q (2002)
Unfortunately, John Q goes for the easy cliche almost every time.
I delayed watching this movie from the simple fact that the previews gave me the impression that this was a "squashed squirrel." There are two ways to elicit emotion: 1) provide a cliche device, such as a squashed squirrel (who won't go "awwww" when seeing a small animal hurt?), or 2) earn your audience emotions by providing them with honest writing and believable situations. Unfortunately, John Q goes for the easy cliche almost every time.
Denzel Washington is an excellent actor and try as he might, he simply can't escape from the script. At every turn he's handed another maudlin easy out. And that's really a shame because the topic addresses some fairly tough questions. There was real opportunity to provide a rich story filled with interesting dialog regarding the U.S healthcare system. Instead we're presented with stereotypes of the "rich doctor," the "mean hospital administrator" and the "gung ho cop." Been there, done that and I didn't care to see it the first time.
Major talent is wasted as well. Robert Duvall's character, Lt. Frank Grimes, doesn't have enough material to even be effective as cast member. At the end of the movie, I was left wondering why we even needed his character - he had no arc and provided no real insight to the drama. Duvall is a fantastic character actor and he's given nothing to work with.
The rest of the cast is mostly a mixed bag of good and bad. All Kimberly Elise can do is play anger as Denise Archibald, John's wife. Her performance was disappointing since her character had the most to work with. James Woods and Anne Heche can likewise do little in their roles than play the stereotypes that they've been given. However Eddie Griffin did standout as one of the more honest characters as Lester Matthews, one of the hostages. Granted, his role didn't require much of a stretch, but it was a breath of fresh air and one of the few redeeming elements of the movie.
The bottom line is that James Kearns, the writer and co-producer, simply provided nothing but a sow's ear to the cast and no amount of magic was going to turn it into a silk purse. Kearns' work may have been appropriate for "Jake and the Fatman", or "Highway to Heaven", (he wrote for both TV series), but it simply wasn't up to snuff for the cadre of talent on the playbill.