By George Rose
June 2, 2009
This thinking isn't often appreciated by critics, though I have met some friends that agree with me. Smart People is about, well, smart people. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a pretentious professor who is smart and knows it. He is a widower with two children, one of which is an equally intelligent high school senior daughter (Ellen Page) and the other a more free-wheeling college student son (Ashton Holmes). The drama starts when Lawrence's brother (Thomas Haden Church) shows up to live with the family and one of Lawrence's previous students pops up as his doctor-love-interest (Sarah Jessica Parker). Take these five characters, mix them up in awkward interactions and poof – you have a movie that revolves more around acting ability than the plot itself.
At times the film is slow and feels a bit forced but the actors all do a tremendous job. It is because of them that I saw this film so it was fitting that they were the main reason I enjoyed it. Smart People was a great follow up to Juno for Ellen Page; the more serious film needed on Sarah Jessica Parker's resume; the post-Spider-Man 3-disaster Thomas Haden Church needed to redeem himself; and a good role for Dennis Quaid to take on before gearing up for this summer's G.I. Joe. All are actors who have been in, and will be in, much bigger A-list roles, but Smart People was a smart independent choice for the interim. While not the success they were looking for, it was a great way to flex their acting chops.
The Cell (2000)
This choice is the complete opposite of Smart People. While Smart People was a film I saw because of the wonderful actors, despite only a moderately appealing plot, The Cell is a film I only saw because of the plot, despite actors I didn't appreciate. After all, what about Jennifer "Serial Fiance" Lopez am I supposed to get all hot and bothered about? She has commercial appeal but, seriously, the woman's only role of true value has been Selena. Throw her into the scary movie mix with known-comedian Vince Vaughn and you have yourself a hit horror movie? Surprisingly, yes.
Lopez stars as Catherine Deane, a psychotherapist who is part of a revolutionary new technological treatment that allows the doctor to enter the mind of her patients. While inside, she walks through their visual interpretation of life, problems and despair while trying to find the reasoning behind their madness. When a serial killer, known for abducting and hiding his victims, is found in an irreversible coma, it's up to Catherine to enter his mind and discover the missing girl's location before it's too late. Vince Vaughn (the funny man from Wedding Crashers and Old School) is there to help her out and actually does a great job. Who knew these two stars, known for other genres, could be a part of one of the best horror films of the new millennium?
More appealing than the plot or the stars are the films visuals, which are probably the main reason the movie is worth watching. The mind is a tricky thing that cannot be explained but the mind of a serial killer is most likely (and is for the sake of the film) twisted, horrifying and extravagant. The worlds that Lopez's Catherine finds herself in while in the minds of her patients are stunning, places that can only be made real by the hand of Hollywood. The costume designs and makeup artistry are on the quality-level of Pan's Labyrinth, which explains the Best Makeup Academy Award nomination the movie received. It's a beautiful film to watch, the only other movie (besides Selena) that I can watch starring Jennifer Lopez and one of few serious turns from Vince Vaughn that I can take seriously.