ARCHIVE REVIEW: Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe (adapted screenplay), Alejandro Amenábar & Mateo Gil (original screenplay),
Starring: Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Kurt Russell

The trouble with success is, you always have to follow it up with something.  In the case of Cameron Crowe, who was adorned the king of both rock music and the film world in 2000 with Almost Famous, follows it up with this surreal, weird, and ultimately unsatisfying trip through the perpetual abyss of love and loss.

Another perk of success, at least in Hollywood, is that it allows you to draw in A-list names to your cause.  In the case of Vanilla Sky, Crowe draws in the great (Penélope Cruz), the good (Tom Cruise) and Cameron Diaz.  This big-name ensemble, which is led by Cruise but scene-stolen by Cruz, follows silver-spoon publisher David Aames as his life spins in and out of reality after a car crash.

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TRAILER: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush

The third film never exactly left the franchise concluded and satisfied. With a small cliffhanger, another billion in the bank and a chance to make swords swing out at audiences in 3D, Disney brings back the beloved peculiar swashbuckling pirate saga with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Whether there is an audience demand or a creative reason to refuel the franchise or not is not a concern to the studio that is likely to pocket another billion for the fourth installment after worldwide box office gets boosted by 3D. Taking the title from a the 1988 Tim Powers’ novel which shares plot elements with the film, Disney plucks Rob Marshall to take over the Gore Verbinski directed franchise. After coming off of last year’s overhyped flop Nine, Marshall uses his expertise in stylization and glamour seen in Chicagoand Memoirs of Geisha to add a splash to the series. Continue reading

Our (Belated) Best Female Performances of the Decade

1. Bjork- Dancer in the Dark It was already a complicated role to step into; a lower class immigrant who must work in a factory to support her son and save up for his surgery to save him from the same blindness that was dooming her.  She then runs into serious threats when capitalist America comes into the picture. Add in musical fantasies, tension from the sadist Lars Von Trier and impossible songs written by Bjork herself, and the role of Selma is just as doomed as the character.  But Bjork takes this tragic story, gives it the proper life, glimmer for hope and our sympathy to prolong the inevitable as long as possible, making it even that much more difficult to take. It’s a pure work of devastation to watch Bjork melt right down into the role, with her far-off eyes, that reckoning, hopeless smile and perfectly broken down English that match every last theme in the movie. Key Scene- Selma is in a jail cell broken down and alone and once again turns to music to take her away. Moving to the ventilator, she begins singing Julie Andrews’ “Favorite Things” to calm herself from one of the lowest points in her life. It’s a sad setting but a bright song, and then it gets even more disturbing when Bjork throws in the deep lumps in the back of her throat and tears matched with her revealing smile and dancing around. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

2. Ellen Burstyn- Requiem for a Dream- Her role as an aging widow hooked on caffeine pills in an attempt to get on her favorite television show is also one of the most heart-wrenching performances you’re ever likely to see.  Burstyn may have lost the Oscar, but her performance will live on longer than any of the nominees from that year.  Key Scene Her monologue to her son Harry.  It’s here that her character’s drug use is humanized, tragically.  Burstyn doesn’t go full-on with her grief, she restrains herself to devastating effect.  The close-up shot catches every nuance of a performance with many dazzling ones.

3. Naomi Watts- Mulholland Drive– Watts’ performance(s) in David Lynch’s mind-boggling neo-noir catapulted her to the ranks of Hollywood’s finest young actresses.  Without her perky smile and willingness to bear her body and soul, Lynch’s vision would’ve been less convincing.  Key Scene– As Betty auditions for a part in a movie, Watts makes the audition seem like reality thanks to a close-up of the two actors and her smoldering intensity and eroticism.  It’s unlike anything you’ll see in any other movie. Continue reading

ARCHIVE REVIEW: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz

Woody Allen, in the earlier portion of his career, was always synonymous with the city of New York.  Like an ever-changing artist, lately he has been working to unravel that image, at least partway.  Allen’s European renaissance has given his work room to breath, and be more expressive.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona along with Match Point are two of his finest films, and the two best to come out of this overseas excursion.

While it may not be as revelatory as his iconic Annie Hall or as suspenseful and unique as Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has its own wily charm, and contains more swooning eroticism than either of the other two.  The film begins with two friends (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, both excellent) traveling to Spain for the summer.  The plot synopsis reads that they are both to fall in love with the same painter (Javier Bardem), which is true, but misleading.  It is worded in the most cliche of ways, but is anything but.  The love affair that Johansson’s Cristina shares with Bardem’s Juan Antonio is the defining element of the film, while Vicky’s is more of an afterthought.  The two differing personalities of the characters do not allow them to engage on love’s battlefield.  Vicky lusts in silence, and Cristina goes on a gender-bending sexual escapade.

Like many Allen films, a narrator offers biting commentary on the events.  Sometimes that voice is that of the main protagonist talking directly to the camera, here he simply does a Morgan Freeman interpretation.  Although it fills in many of the unspoken emotions of the characters, the film may have been more interesting without it.  This is only because the cast is so superb.

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