Reviews

Vanilla Sky

4

When the opening scene of Vanilla Sky features Tom Cruise driving into an eerily deserted Times Square, one thing becomes abundantly clear: this ain't your dad's Cameron Crowe movie. It's hard to imagine the amount of pressure that the director best known for heart-warming feelgooders was under while making his latest effort. Not only was he taking one of the riskiest gambles the Hollywood career casino has to offer - remaking a respected foreign film, Alejandro Amenábar's Spanish thriller Open Your Eyes - he would also be mangling the mush of America's most famous face (Tom Cruise) and striking out in a drastically new direction. Yes, Mr Crowe has tapped into his dark side. With critic-silencing results.

Oh, it all starts out recognisably enough. In fact, the first half hour could be titled The Adventures Of Jerry Maguire's More Arrogant Brother, with star Cruise bringing his trademark grinning winner to the screen once more. Drifting smugly through life, his character David Aames is a rich, women-want-him-men-wanna-be-him playboy with the world at his feet. He's got the requisite plush Manhattan pad, runs a huge publishing company inherited from his father and is the king of casual affairs. He's not even beyond half-inching a sexy girl (Penélope Cruz) from his best mate (Jason Lee). But David's carefree ways go seriously scare-shaped when his on-off bed partner, wannabe singer Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), decides to commit suicide by driving her car off a bridge - with him at her side.

David wakes up from a coma with a fractured phizog, and after that... Well, that would be telling. And we'd seriously advise stopping now and waiting until you've visited the cinema before reading on. To explain any further about the specific details would be to seriously curtail your enjoyment. Suffice to say the cinematic sleight-of-hand pulled off between the early scenes, which lull you into a false sense of security with Crowe's typically witty banter, and the mind-buzzing plot developments shortly thereafter, is a revelation. And the fact that the story segues so neatly from one to another is testament to the skilled approach taken to the remake, which retains the basic strong structure of the original while playing to Crowe's strengths. By adding his own personal touches - infusing the story with the sort of musical and cinematic pop culture references he's immersed in - he adds layers that only improve on Amenábar's story.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has a superb, on-form cast to bring it all so convincingly to life. In the capable hands of Cruise, David Aames runs the gamut of emotions, from his cocky introduction to the desperation and anguish of later events. As the script explores ever-darker avenues, so he unleashes Magnolia-esque levels of quality performance. Diaz's transformation from sexpot to psycho stalker, meanwhile, never feels false, and Cruz, who's reprising her Open Your Eyes role, is a beguiling beauty who radiates charm and intelligence. And keeping the leads on their toes is a dream supporting cast, including the likes of Almost Famous alumni Jason Lee and Noah Taylor, and even Mike Leigh regular Timothy Spall. Hell, there's even a stalwart turn from Kurt Russell, who banishes memories of cine-crud like Soldier and Escape From LA with a measured, understated appearance as a shrink.

True, there are one or two moments in which the pace slackens; the occasional New-Ageism grates; and the odd chunk of heavy exposition where people solemnly intone the film's themes does jar. But they're few and far between as Crowe's Oscar-scooping screenwriting ability shines through. So many directors would have concentrated on the complicated plotting, leaving the characters to resemble helpless puppets, yanked and manipulated merely to tell the story. Here everyone is a flawed, driven human being.

The ideal, intelligent antidote to some of Hollywood's recent vacuous plot boilers, Vanilla Sky offers the sort of edgy, dangerous psychodrama that'll resonate in your head, keeping you thinking and debating long after the final song has lapsed into deafening silence. Go, see and enjoy having your perceptions scrambled. The lasting impression you'll have is of Crowe taking a chance and coming up trumps - to use his own musical metaphor, this "cover version" of Amenábar's work is close to note-perfect.

Verdict:

Not your average schlockbuster: thrilling, thought provoking and determined to tie your brain in knots, it'll leave you spinning with exhilaration.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • vanillasky

      Sep 16th 2009, 0:19

      5

      I absolutely love this film and everything about it. The music by sigur ros, the confusion between dreams and reality and the extremely beautiful Penelope Cruz. By the way I have seen the original Abres Los Ojos and I thought that it was brilliant. The ending is excellent and remember Open Your Eyes.

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    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 16:41

      4

      www.unsungfilms.com, by Angeliki Coconi, David Aames (Tom Cruise) sits in a mental institution, wearing a prosthetic mask in the shape and mould of his own face. He’s talking to a psychiatrist while he draws frantically, sketching the memory of his love, Sofia (Penelope Cruz). The film starts where Aames’ story begins. The story begins with David as the young and wealthy owner of a large publishing firm in New York. He appears to have everything he desires in a life of excess and vanity. Waking up, he instinctively stares at himself in the mirror. After spotting his first white hair, he carefully plucks it from his head. He makes his way out of his apartment, getting into his car and onto the street. As he drives, it slowly becomes apparent that the entire city is completely deserted. He drives on, reaching a desolate and lifeless Times Square. David then wakes up again, this time realizing that he’d been dreaming. Getting out of bed, he looks in the mirror and for a second time, he carefully plucks his first white hair. It is said that the filming of the Times Square scene occurred before 10 am, while a large section of the square was closed off to traffic and pedestrians. The powerful and daunting image that the film’s director Cameron Crowe conjures up is that of utter loneliness, an unimaginable terror. The scene cleverly combines the young protagonist’s vanity with his fear of being alone. It is in this way that Crowe establishes a base upon which his film then develops. As the film unfolds, the viewer is taken to a party, where David meets the enchanting Sofia. They spend a night together, talking. The night passes, and Aames soon realizes that he is deeply and obsessively in love. Crowe has stated that the character of Sofia was not written, but stolen from Sofia’s actress, Penelope Cruz, also admitting that he doesn’t think he’s capable of writing a character as mystical and captivating as Sofia. Much of the character’s script is made up of fragments of the actress, her personality and her obscurity. In the film, she turns David’s life around, pulling him away from himself. For a man so wrapped up in his own life, it takes a woman like Sofia/Penelope Cruz to make his transformation in any way believable. The turning point of the film starts with a horrific accident. When David’s beautiful, but overly fixated ex-lover, played by Cameron Diaz, finds out about his recent infatuation, she attempts to kill herself in a car crash while David is in the car. While she succeeds in her own suicide, David survives, at the cost of a severely disfigured face. The injury forces him to wear a mask, while he attempts to come to terms with his recently acquired affliction. The turning point becomes clear on a night out he spends with Sofia. This night illuminates the sad truth that while the love is still very much alive, the injury has made it impossible for the love to develop into something more. In his drunken stupor, he collapses in the street. The next day, he is awoken by Sofia, in the same street, under a ‘vanilla sky’. As the film progresses, David Aames lives his life as normal. In time, he repairs his face, and gets together with Sofia. He finds himself immersed in a perfect life, a life which is no longer masked by vanity, but by love. From this point on, the viewer is exposed to life almost as it is, but not quite. The hazy, soft colours and autumnal scenery accompany a series of events that keep you wondering. Despite the development in the protagonist’s life, he starts to notice oddities and peculiarities. He looks at himself in the mirror, and his face appears as it did before his operation. He jumps back in horror. Gradually, the strangeness and warped reality starts to overwhelm his perceptions. One night, he watches Sofia transform into his ex-lover, Julie. Angered and afraid, he suffocates her with a pillow, which leads to his arrest and placement in a mental institution. The series of sessions that David sits through thereafter, supervised by a mysterious psychiatrist, slowly leads him to uncover the truth. Don’t let the fact that Tom Cruise stars in this movie put you off. I don’t like him either. David Aames is an entirely different experience. Vanilla sky is an erotic, psychological mind-game, intelligently highlighting the illusion, or possible existence of eternal life, and the feeling of infinite power that comes with youth. These ideas are magically cut down through David Aames, who is forced to come to terms with his own mortality, while finding something far more meaningful than his own narcissism. Angeliki Coconi at www.unsungfilms.com

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