Soft Spot Cinema – Vanilla Sky

I think the first thing I should admit is that I haven’t seen the film Open Your Eyes, the original and acclaimed Spanish production that paved the way for the American remake.

I’ve seen Vanilla Sky twice. 

Surely a few have dismissed this article already, but I’m hoping you’ll bare with it, at least until you’ve heard my side of the story.  The second thing I need to admit is that, yes, I did actually enjoy the film. That said, there are very few fundamentally bad films that I actually like, which inspired me to write about this one.  The first time I saw it, I was about 13 years-old and my initial impression was repulsion. It was a film that really didn’t know what it wanted to be; Science-Fiction, Drama, Romance, Thriller, it had all these elements, but neither was better than the other, they were all merely average. Then there was the use of music. Cameron Crowe is well known for bombarding his films with culturally relevant music, and it worked for Almost Famous. Here however, it felt like a smug addition, an outlet for him to tell everyone just how relevant he is. It just didn’t gel though, and it struggles to develop any mood or tone from that point on.

Admittedly I still have those issues with the movie the second time around and it still has a plethora of other problems. Somehow though, out of the blue, came an ending that really moved me.

David Aames (Tom Cruise) has been taking his life for granted. Everything seemed to go right for him, his incredible wealth, the publishing company he just inherited from his deceased father, his good looks and his “friends with benefits” attitude to relationships. It all comes crashing down, literally, when close friend Julie Gianna (Cameron Diaz) struggles to form the relationship she wants with David and in a panic, drives them both over the side of a bridge, killing Julie and deforming David beyond recognition. What develops is a disturbing tale that delves deep into the human condition.

Few will doubt the performances in the film. Cruise is at the height of his power, coming straight off his amazing work in Eyes Wide Shut he doesn’t miss a beat here as the broken and mentally unstable David Aames. Cameron Diaz also delivers after her daring portrayal in Being John Malkovic. Penelope Cruz (who was in the original version playing Diaz’s part) is excellent as Sophia and adds a lot of emotional weight to the proceedings. Rounding out the other performances are Kurt Russell, Jason Lee and Tilda Swinton who are all amiable. Yet despite all this it’s Cruise who is at the centre of the film, and although the material is heavy, he triumphs with a great sense of gravitas.

Does this picture look familiar? It's a clue.

It’s a bizarre film, and many will be either disappointed or confused by the events that take place. Having seen it recently though, it still feels incredibly relevant. The twist ending does clear quite a few things up, probably too much for those that like to discuss the films afterwards, but it also leaves a lasting impression. The most important questions that need to be answered are left alone, and it’s the right call. It’s a poignant climax, complex but not without the right emotions. It’s a pity though, that the first two acts are so lopsided, as it could have made for a more potent story, and a potential classic, or maybe I should have just seen the original (I swear I will).

Love it or hate it, Vanilla Sky is a film that can be discussed, and that’s exactly what Cameron Crowe was going for here. It’s been dismissed at first glance as an overtly pretentious sci-fi romance, but it’s quite a bit more. With the right focus and intent this could have been a great film, instead, it’s an ambitious mess.

3/5

Soft Spot Cinema: Jumper

Yes that’s right, it’s time for another installment of Soft Spot Cinema, the feature where I attempt to defend the films everyone else loathes. Also, as an added incentive to readers, if you despise this film as much as I love it, send me a review (try not to make it too long) and I will post it on the site (unless it’s really good, in which case I will just pretend I never got it. Saves embarrassment).

This time I’ll be doing my best to defend the 2008 sci-fi adventure, Jumper.

Jumper follows the story of David Rice (played mostly by Hayden Christensen) a young lad who one day discovers that he has the ability to instantly transport himself anywhere in the world. Cue scenes of bank robberies and fantastic holidays. Lunch on The Sphynx and dinner in London. Of course, at some point the fun has to end, and that’s where we meet Roland (Samuel L. Jackson) a man dedicated to hunting down Rice and those like him. I could tell you more about the film, but I think to do so would spoil the fun (it could ruin the plot, but there isn’t much of that in the first place. Or is there too much?)

Jumper for me is an interesting film. Obviously for it to qualify for this segment I have to acknowledge that this film is bad. In this case, there is little getting around that fact. The scripting is relatively two dimensional, the plot line is somewhat confusing, with very little being explained. The film doesn’t really reveal where the conflict comes from, just that it is there, and the love interest seems to serve no purpose other than to be the love interest, a card board cut out is given more character depth.

So yes, on paper, this film is bad. But in reality, it’s exactly what I want from a mainstream sci-fi film. The first, and definitely most enticing factor is the concept. The ability to teleport to anywhere in the world, whenever you want? Yes please.

The film looks slick, with some fantastic scenery being used (Rice is seen surfing big waves in the morning, eating lunch atop the Sphynx and rounding out the day swinging from Big Ben in London), and despite majority opinion, I didn’t despise the acting at all. Christensen is generally considered to have a limited acting ability, however, I count myself in the minority that think he isn’t half bad, and I think he is actually quite well suited to this role. He is arrogant, yet still likeable, and also possesses the naivety of someone who has grown up without fully grasping the implications of his ability.

However, it is not Christensen, but Jackson that is the stand out for me in this film. I am unable to think of a film where I didn’t enjoy Jackson’s over the top acting. He is one actor that takes whatever character he is given and truly runs with it. Here we see Jackson as the self righteous Roland, who along with his cronies, has dedicated his life to hunting down “Jumpers”, a small group that Rice is now a part of.

At the end of the day, despite the mangled religious message (I’m still not entirely what the film was trying to get across in that regard), this is a film that is highly enjoyable as a non-thinking escape, something that many people seem to forget is a viable excuse for a film. It looks good, the acting is more than tolerable, the concept is enticing and there are some genuinely exciting moments in the film. This is not the sort of film you leave with thoughts about the directors interesting take on the modern social climate in regards to religious fascism, but rather, with the sole thought of “Man, what would you do if you had those powers?”

What did you think of Jumper? What films do you love that everyone else hates?

Soft spot cinema: 21

So in my time I have been known to like a fair few crap movies. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of good ones as well, but for some reason there seems to be a bank of crappy films that I can’t get enough.

So with that in mind, I introduce you to my newest segment, Soft spot cinema.

In this segment I will post reviews of some of these horrible films, and try to justify why they entertain me so.

In the inaugural segment I present to you: 21.

21 is the work of director Robert Luketic, a director with a less than stellar career to date (The Ugly Truth and Monster-In-Law were both helmed by Luketic), though I like to think that this film operates on a slightly higher level than his distinguished past pieces.

The film’s hero is young whiz kid Ben (Jim Sturgess), a senior at MIT who wants to go on to study at Harvard Med. The only problem? Ben ain’t too wealthy, and Harvard ain’t too cheap. There is a scholarship on offer, but even with his good grades, Ben hasn’t got anything that “dazzles”, he just doesn’t “jump off the page” as his interviewer puts it.

Then out of the blue (or not, I won’t deny the movie is a tad predictable) Ben is offered the chance of a life time, to join a professional card counting team helmed by one of Ben’s professors, the charming Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). It takes some coercing from the girl of Ben’s dreams, Jill (Kate Bosworth), who just so happens to be on the team as well.

From there we watch the usual trials and tribulations as Ben begins to change, things start to spiral. This movie, for all its standard formula’s, had me for two reasons. One, I actually quite liked the acting in it. It’s hard not to be a fan of Kevin Spacey, who always puts on a good show, and he is simply perfect as the cunning and dangerous Micky Rosa. When he turns up the menace, we believe that he truly is capable of untold things. Sturgess is well fitted to play been, the naive geek who gets pulled into a world he isn’t quite ready for. Bosworth was actually one of my least favourite actors in the film, I felt that for a major character, we hardly know anything about her at the end of the film, other than the fact the she is beautiful, the object of Ben’s affection, and has two different coloured eyes (at no point does the film point this out, but look closely, one is blue and one is brown). The secondary characters are all solid, especially my favourite, Choi (Aaron Yoo from Disturbia), though Fisher’s (Jacob Pitts) schtick wears thin pretty quickly.

The second reason why I find this film so enjoyable? I’m from The OC generation. I have no qualms admitting it. 21, for lack of a better description, is an extended OC episode with slightly altered plot. There are beautiful people. There is a very trendy soundtrack, there is an outsider who gets in, there is glitz, there is glamour.

This is not a movie I watch to think. It’s mindless self indulgence.

And I love it.

What do you think of 21? What are some films you love that no-one else does?