"John Q" -- Denzel Washington, fresh from his "Training Day" triumph, plays John Q. Archibald, a devoted family man who becomes a desperate father facing harsh realities of the medical insurance situation. It's a suspenseful message movie that makes its point with a sledgehammer. John is a Chicago factory worker whose job has been downsized to 20 hours a week and is having trouble making ends meet. The bottom drops when his young son falls ill and must have a heart transplant to survive. Then comes his second shock: with his reduced hours and his company's HMO rules, he doesn't have nearly enough insurance. And, the hospital calmly advises him it needs a $75,000 down payment now -- or no operation. Exhausting every possibility to raise money, John veers to the extreme: grabbing a gun, he takes the hospital emergency room hostage until doctors will agree to operate. A highly implausible scenario but one that probably speaks to the fantasies of anyone who has felt oppressed by nameless, faceless insurance bureaucrats. Nick Cassavetes (son of John) directed an impressive cast that also included Robert Duvall, James Woods, Ray Liotta and Anne Heche. 2002. 118 minutes. New Line Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13 (violence, language, intense thematic elements.)
"Amelie" -- In this delightful French concoction, Amelie (Audrey Tautou) is a charming, wide-eyed waif with an impish I've-got-a-secret smile. She manages to override a sad childhood that stretches into her young adult life with a newfound desire to help make people happy. Her methods often are unorthodox, to say the least, and usually carried out anonymously. It all began with the discovery of a box of mememos belonging to a boy who lived in her apartment 30 years earlier. Tracking him down, she sees to it he finds the box again, a simple act of bringing happiness to someone else that changes her life and sparks a series of similar, pleasing acts. And, along the way she runs into Nino (actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz), a lonely young man who may be the love of her life if she can just get up the nerve to speak to him. Tauou makes the perfect Parisian pixie. 2001. 115 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Miramax Home Entertainment. Rated R (sexual content),
"Mean Machine" -- A disgraced soccer star is imprisoned after throwing a match and forced by the warden, a compulsive gambler, to stage a soccer game between fellow convicts and the guards. As you probably notice right off, this is the British version of Robert Aldridge's 1974 flick "The Longest Yard," in which Burt Reynolds did the same, American football style. In this one, Granite-jawed Vinnie Jones, a real life soccer star, plays Danny Meehan, the celebrity soccer player who's hated at first by the other prisoners because he threw away what they all had dreamed about. But when the prison boss (David Hemmings), eager to use him to win some hefty bets, orders him to train the guards' semi-pro team he balks, offering instead to mold a team from among the convicts to take on the guards. Now, he's got the backing of his fellow cons but there's a lot of training ahead for this ragamuffin mob. Mainly, it's a fun movie that works well. 2001. 99 minutes. Paramount Home Entertainment. Rated R (language, some violence).
"Pinero" -- In a breakthrough role, Benjamin Bratt gives a bravura performance as Miguel Pinero, the impassioned but self-destructive Puerto Rican poet and playwright. A volatile mixture of jailbird junkie and talented, charismatic artist, Pinero gave voice to downtrodden New York Puerto Ricans and their rich heritage with his writing, best remembered for his stark, Tony-nominated prison play "Short Eyes." But he died young -- at 41 -- after a life of drug abuse that he showed no signs of trying to change. "I have to keep doing bad to keep the writing good," he once said. A compelling film from writer-director Leon Ichaso. 2001. 90 minutes. Miramax Home Entertainment. Rated R (drug use, strong language, sexuality).
Coming up next: "The Time Machine," "Crossroads" and "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist"... The Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind" is the new No. 1 in video rentals and sales across the land this week...
New on DVD: After "Dr. No" introduced the moviegoing public to James Bond in 1962 (has it been 40 years?), spy fantasies were in. Most were relatively weak spoofs but in 1965 along came Flint. Fox's "Our Man Flint" starred James Coburn as the cool, suave American spy Derek Flint, one smooth operator, and the baddies, who in this case want to control the weather, never had a chance. Bond did it better but Flint is still fun to watch...
Image Entertainment really reaches back, to the 1920s, for a double-feature DVD starring the handsome lad who caused women's hearts to flutter like none other, Rudolph Valentino. The two silent films are 1921's "The Sheik," which helped create the Valentino legend, and the 1926 sequel "Son of the Sheik." Hokey but entertaining...
When Columbia TriStar releases "Panic Room" on Sept, 17, the Jody Foster thriller will get the Superbit treatment, in which the film is remastered in high-definition and transferred to disc at about twice the normal rate. That enhances sight and sound though most of the disc space is used up, leaving little room for extras.