[Movie Review] Vanilla Sky

Vanilla SkyStarring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Timothy Spall
Director: Cameron Crowe
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

When a movie like “Vanilla Sky” hits the screens, you can imagine that it is going to divide the critics and the public like a knife through butter. And so it has. Cameron Crowe (director of “Jerry Maguire”, “Singles”, “Say Anything”, “Almost Famous”) puts the Hollywood spin on 1997 Spanish thriller, “Abre Los Ojos”, involving heavyweights like Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell and, as it turns out, rather intriguingly, Penelope Cruz. This is of course the movie set where Cruise and Cruz met and started the relationship which ended one of Hollywood’s most enduring marriages.

So what’s it all about? I’m not sure I know yet!

Cruise gets it on with Cameron (Diaz, not Crowe)But lets try and explain as much as we can without spoiling the whole thing. David Aames (Cruise – “Mission Impossible”, “Magnolia”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Jerry Maguire”) is a hot-shot New York businessman who lives in the fast lane – big apartment, best clothes, best looking women and not a care in the world. He is sleeping with ‘friend’, Julie Gianni (Diaz – “Any Given Sunday”, “Shrek”, “Charlies Angels”) who unknown to Aames has fallen in love with him. When his best friend, Brian (Lee – “Mallrats”, “Dogma”, “Chasing Amy”), introduces his new girlfriend, Sofia (Cruz – “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, “Blow”), there is an instant attraction between she and David, and for the first time Aames feels love in his life. However, Julie is not taking the news too well and in an insane rage she drives herself and David off a bridge in a horrible car wreck. Julie dies in the crash, but David survives and is horribly disfigured. Now the playboy millionaire must try and get through life without his looks and with his confidence shattered.

We cannot say too much more without spoiling this labryinth of a plot. The movie opens with a masked David talking to his lawyer (Russell – “Breakdown”, “Soldier”, “Executive Decision”, “Tombstone”) and using flashbacks we piece together the story of how he found himself behind bars. As we come up to “present day”, things move forward and the last fourty miniutes or so are lost in a rather curious science-fiction rabble that will either float your boat or not. As it happens it worked very well for me, and by the end we find the answers that are more than satisfactory, assuming you are willing to lose some clarity and use some suspension of belief.

Cruise is surprisingly adept at portraying the swinging fortunes of David Aames. Lets face it he is a walking playboy Art imitating lifeanyway and his suave personality combined with his ample six-pack means it is a tailor-made role. It is when he plays the broken, angry and disfigured Aames that we see Cruise at arguably his career best. Cameron Diaz plays the psychotic jealous lover perfectly. She probably won’t be mentioned for a supporting actress lawyer, but a few more turns like this and the beautiful young lady could find herself in one of those five squares on our TV screen very soon. While Russell and Lee also put in enjoyable and believable performances as Aames closest male countenance, Penelope Cruz is somewhat unbearable as latin lover, Sofia.

Cameron Crowe should receive plaudits for handling the less than conventional story in as conventional way as he possibly could. Although for a lot of the movie various scenarios will play out in your head, the unorthodox conclusion should leave you satisfied. It certainly ended up being a thrilling and intriguing experience for me. This should be one of the movies of the year.



[Movie Review] Shrek

ShrekStarring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow, Cameron Diaz
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Genre: Comedy
Cert: G
Released: 2001

When you hear a Scottish accent in a movie, who is the first man you think of? Sean Connery? Maybe, Ewan McGregor? Well I reckon the most prolific Scottish accent in movies these days is from a Canadian. In “Shrek”, Mike Myers once again utilises the highland twang that he has used in numerous projects such as “Saturday Night Live”, “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and “Austin Powers 2”.

Myers is one of the major stars enlisted to voice characters in the smash-hit animated movie. He plays Scottish ogre, Shrek, an unlikely hero recruited by Lord Farquaad (Lithgow), to rescue imprisoned Princess Fiona (Diaz) from an evil dragon. Farquaad intends to marry Fiona, so that he can become King. Along with a motor-mouth donkey (Murphy) Shrek recovers the Princess and on the long trek back to Farquaad, all three learn a lot about friendship and love.

Despite the seeming straight-forward story, and the fact that this is ?merely’ an animated movie, there is more depth to “Shrek” than you might think. Although the first thirty minutes is a somewhat lame collection of irritating jokes, it soon becomes a hugely enjoyable romp full of genuinely funny lines and situations. But it is the main characters individual self-discovery, their understanding of their place in the grand scheme of things and what love is really about, that will outlast the jokes.

Myers and Murphy trade verbals throughout most of the movie, and the results are mixed. Overall I found Myers to be hugely annoying, his Scottish accent totally out of place with the character he played. Murphy surprisingly wasn’t as bad, but still I couldn’t warm to his portrayal of the worlds most excitable mule. Diaz and Lithgow deliver well, Lithgow particularly suited to playing the ignorant Lord Farquaad, Diaz’s real-life beauty a perfect match for her animated alter-ego!

There are numerous lines that will go above the average child’s head such as the constant references to what the sub-five foot Farquaad might be compensating for by having a big castle. Indeed. There are other examples of toilet humour, and while I don’t normally like that sort of thing, it didn’t turn me off. There are numerous stabs at Disney too, but since I’m not exactly a Disney aficionado, I didn’t get them.

“Shrek” is enjoyable for what it is, and while it doesn’t match the hype, it’s a charming way to spend an hour and a half.


[Movie Review] Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday Starring: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine
Director: Oliver Stone
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 1999

I suppose watching an American Football movie for most of us Europeans is akin to your average American Confederate sitting back with a bag of popcorn and enjoying “When Saturday Comes” with Sean Bean and Emily Lloyd. Ok, so that’s probably a little less likely. As far as realism goes, “Any Given Sunday” looks to be a fairly authentic representation of the pressures and politics behind one of the US biggest sides, the Miami Sharks, which sounds rather like a ficticious name.

Tony D’Amato (Pacino – “Heat”, “Scent of a Woman”, “The Insider”, “Devils Advocate”) is head coach of the Sharks and after a losing streak that reaches four games, finds himself under intense pressure, not least from owner Christina Paginacci. Christina has a hidden agenda – getting rid of the ageing D’Amato, moving the team to New York and improving on the legacy of her predecessor – her father. On the field, quarterback and best friend Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Quaid – “Frequency”, “Traffic”, “Dragonheart”, “Wyatt Earp”) is seriously injured and it is left to young rookie Willie Beamen (Foxx – “The Great White Hype”, “Truth About Cats and Dogs”, TVs “In Living Colour”) to carry the team out of their slump.

Beamen leads the team to a run of victories and into the lucrative play-offs, but he rubs everyone up the wrong way by changing D’Amatos plays in the huddle and succumbing to the inevitable media scramble that surrounds him. Team spirit is being torn apart and D’Armato feels powerless to stop it as Beamen is man-of-the-moment and the bigwigs at the Sharks insist that he plays on. With victory in the play-offs crucial to the team and indeed to D’Amato in his final season as head coach, he must make a decision whether to trust his instincts or give in to pressures from the board.

In fairness, the actual football scenes are pretty gripping and full of action. I’m no fan of American football but this stuff is good to watch. Stone gets the camera right in the thick of things and uses disconcerting swings and slow-motion shots to add a bit of tension when required. But “Any Given Sunday” is slow-paced and overall lacks much interest from a storyline perspective. The characterisations are stereotyped as you can get – the washed up coach, the head-strong female in charge, corrupt doctor who works closely with the keen junior. You know what to expect, and there are no surprises.

The most interesting facet of the storyline is the study of Willie Beamens rise to fame. When the youngster comes to prominence, he uses the opportunity to get across his controversial political views in the press and also cashes in with numerous promotional activities and even a rap video. Stone captures the character of Beamen from the raw rookie (he vomits on the field during his first game) to high-living socialite (he dumps his long-term girlfriend and dismisses D’Amato’s influence on his career).

But that’s about all there is to look forward to. The movie is about 30 minutes too long and frankly speaking it’s a chore to watch for the most part. In fact you start to wonder why you are still watching for the last hour or so. It’s stylish but lacks substance. The opposite of the game it portrays as it happens.