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

Top 10 Films of the last decade – MK

To celebrate in the interests of absolutely no one but myself, I’ve compiled a list of films that made an impact on me this last decade. Why? Good question, I have no idea honestly, I guess you could say I enjoy angering pseudo-film buffs, polarizing Will Ferrell fans, and just cranking my ego up a notch. I mean, this list is pretty damn definitive in my eyes.

First of all I’d just like to say that some of the films I see customers rent at my video store are beyond woeful, and that’s an understatement. How these “films” even gets made confounds me. Okay, so you want to relax and watch something light every once in a while, that’s fine, by all means do it, but not EVERYTIME you come in you damn zombie. So, in the spirit of educating some of the uncultured, and not wasting any more time ranting, here is the DEFINITIVE TOP 10 FILMS OF THE DECADE (WITH HONOURABLE MENTIONS).

Honorable Mention: Punch-Drunk Love, Goodbye Lenin!, Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Prophet, The New World

10)Royal Tenenbaums: Made way back in the ancient period of 2001 was The Royal Tenenbaums, a film that brought a whole new meaning to the term dysfunctional. It was a departure from the average dramady and general audiences found it difficult to adjust to the slow pace, but for fans of director Wes Anderson, it was purely vintage. The cast was nothing less than all-star, featuring Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, just to name a few. Anderson’s previous effort Rushmore had put him on the map as one of the more interesting and challenging directors of this era, and most of his films have followed a very particular style, one that’s loved and despised in equal measure. The Royal Tenenbaums is a culmination of his greatest assets. The acting, the cinematography, the music and the emotional weight that the script carries are all prominent making this one of the best films I saw this decade.

9) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring: Don’t think I didn’t hear all your collective hearts drop at the thought of reading subtitles, but you’ll have to in order to experience the incredible story that unfolds in the film Spring, Summer (2003) by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. The film depicts the various stages of a Buddhist monks life through the seasons. Each season is a different chapter in the man’s life, learning a number of lessons that lead to his inevitable spiritual awakening. If you haven’t already fallen asleep reading that last sentence, I’ll continue. The film takes place on a monastery floating in a lake, surrounded by dense forest that brims with life. It’s hard to talk much about the story with spoiling it. However, I can say that the film comes full circle in a number of ways. The methodical nature of the monk’s work is engrossing to watch. The sternness and beauty of his lessons feel cold at times, but ultimately realistic. I urge people to bare with it, because the ending makes a great film even more worthwhile.

8)The Assassination of Jesse James : Now, this film and my next film were nearly impossible to separate, both films exhibit incredible artistry and attention to detail. If it were up to me I would make them both even, but in following the rules of the TOP 10, I can’t allow it folks. Anyway, here is Australian director Andrew Dominik’s Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford *takes breath*. Andrew Dominik was responsible for the film Chopper, and if you haven’t heard of or seen Chopper then get the hell out from under your rock and rent it because it’s great. Assassination is a bigger film, much bigger. I don’t know what Dominik was on when he made this, but I doubt his ambitions were the only thing sky high. The best advice I can give before you hand over your three hours is prepare. Have a drink, have a bite, take a dump and get ready for this film to make you it’s bitch. It stars Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck who play Jesse James and Robert Ford respectively. It details his beginnings as a bandit and to eventually becoming the infamous outlaw that everyone loved to hate. There are so many elements that make Assassination great that it’s impossible to name them all off. The pacing, the performances, the setting, the music, everything here melds beautifully. I won’t say the three hours fly by, but it feels necessary to tell the story in this way. Casey Affleck’s excellent portrayal of a young, naive Robert Ford is unforgettable, and Brad Pitt is no slouch either. Oh, and did I mention Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did the music? Seriously, it’s win, win here folks.

7)There Will Be Blood : Yes, this and Assassination were the two best films I saw in ’07. Sorry to disappoint No Country fans. Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood was mind-blowing for so many reasons. The fact that this director also made Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia is a testament to his rare talent of going one-up on his previous efforts. Both films were already very good, so when I went to see TWBB in cinemas, I wasn’t expecting it to be his best. Man was I wrong. Hot damn. The film stars Daniel Day-Freaking-Awesome-Lewis as oil-man Daniel Plainview, seeking incredible wealth in the town of Little Boston during the early 19th century. The towns pastor Eli Sunday sees through Plainview’s schemes and attempts to prevent his violent plans from going ahead. To say Daniel Day Lewis eats this performance for breakfast is understating it greatly. The man means business, and his ruthlessness eventually shows through the complexities of his character. The film itself is equally as brilliant though, with nice touches of cinematography from Roger Deakins, and a great performance from Paul Dano, who is sure to be a star. It’s obvious P.T. draws influence from Stanley Kubrick, with lingering shots and a memorable soundtrack, the result is outstanding. It was one of the best films I saw at the cinema this decade, and definitely not one to miss.

6) Mulholland Drive: I dedicate this one to the shroomers. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is good, like, really good. Like The Assassination of Jesse James, you’ll need to prepare for this one, albeit in a different way. You will not understand this film on one viewing, in fact, you could watch this film everyday for the rest of your life and still have no idea what the hell it’s all about. So I’ll try and make this as concise and simple as possible. Mulholland Drive stars Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, an aspiring actress who moves to California to audition for a movie. While in her aunts apartment she meets and befriends a women suffering from amnesia. Betty now must finds this woman’s identity, whilst still being available to audition for the movie. Now, you shouldn’t really take that synopsis as the set-up for the entire film, because after about 20 minutes, Mulholland Drive takes you to another planet. I kid you not, things get weird, characters change names, vague clues arise, and hobo’s kill people by looking at them. No shit. If that doesn’t warrant a viewing, then I don’t know what does. Director David Lynch is probably my favorite living artist. The man makes films for his own personal satisfaction and I respect that. His understanding of mise-en-scene is select to only a few directors. There is something about Mulholland Drive, it’s a searing satire on our Hollywood system and yet everything is not quite what it seems, but when it comes to an end, it feels tangible in some respect. I urge you all to see it.

5) Inglourious Basterds: Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Any righteous purist would not have picked a film that was released so damn recently. Well I say screw the purists, this film was a goldmine. Inglourious Basterds takes us to Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, leads a group of Jewish-Americans through Germany to scalp and brutally mutilate Nazis, which in turn, scares numerous associates of the Third Reich. Meanwhile a Jewish refugee Shoshanna Dreyfuss escapes from the clutches of the “Jew-Hunter” (I’m not even kidding) Colonel Hans Landa exceptionally portrayed by Austrian actor Chrisophe Waltz. Saying anymore about the films plot will only dampen this truly electrifying film. I can’t talk about the film without first discussing Quentin Tarantino. Whilst I can’t say I love all of his work, Tarantino has managed to blur the line between mainstream cinema and cult to appeal to a wider range of audiences, all without sacrificing his vision. This is particularly evident with Pulp Fiction. I won’t sugar-coat anything here, I was somewhat reluctant heading into Inglourious Basterds. I wasn’t sure if Tarantino would bring us down the path of Death Proof, another exploitation flick showing us all his influences and little of his own flair. Oh how I was so very wrong. Inglourious encapsulates everything that is great about Tarantino. His enthusiasm, his dialogue, the music, the simmering tension. It’s just pure unadulterated cinema. Dare I say it’s probably his greatest achievement as a director. The only weakness I can draw from the film was Brad Pitt’s performance. Now, I’m not digging on Brad Pitt, I mean please, this is his second film on my list, but he really phoned this one in. That said, it hardly detracts from what it essentially an enormous triumph.

4) Lost in Translation: It’s no secret that Japan rules. I’ve never been there, but it’s without a doubt one of my dream destinations, and one film I owe that to is Lost in Translation. The film has a simple set-up. Actor Bob Harris, played by Bill Murray, is in Tokyo doing promotions and interviews for various networks. It’s obvious things aren’t sitting well with him, a sense of emptiness and isolation almost takes its toll before he meets neglected newlywed Charlotte played by Scarlett Johansson, and the two form an unlikely bond. Lost in Translation utilizes Tokyo’s culture and night-life to amazing effect. The film moves at a dreamy pace and features an array of wonderful and unforgettable moments. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are uniformly excellent, and their relationship feels authentic. It’s difficult to find a film nowadays that really stays true to human nature, we get a lot of flash with no bang. Here however, we see the aching, the longing and the flaws that exist, the ones that are purely in our nature. This is a film that needs to be experienced for it’s simple beauty. Every time I revisit it, it brings a new experience. See. This. Film.

3) Oldboy: I’ve been waiting to talk about this for some time. I really need to profess my love for this work of utter twisted genius. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, surely you can’t say that it’s unoriginal. One night a man gets taken to a police station. Drunken and disorderly he pleads his case and is let into the cold, rainy night to get home in time for his daughter’s birthday. In his drunken daze however, he is taken by an unknown captor and locked in a hotel room. For 15 years. He isn’t told why or who did it, so upon his release he seeks his revenge in a most grotesque and violent manner, and it doesn’t skimp on the violence. Oldboy is not a revenge flick in the traditional sense. Yes, it has a protagonist who is all kinds of badass, but he is also driven by powerful motives. Oh, and the ending has a twist you will never forget. The emotional impact is completely jarring and outrageous and boy does it raise many-a question. If you’re the kind of film-goer that wishes to test the limits of what’s really possible in this wonderful medium, then don’t miss it. This is definitely not for the faint of heart, or squeamish. I crave films that push my psychological boundaries, and Oldboy fits that mold perfectly.

2) Spirited Away: This list wouldn’t be complete without an animated film, and Hayao Miyazaki’s cake-topper is Spirited Away. The story is about a young girl named Chihiro who after moving to a new town, discovers an amazing world of strange and wild characters. That synopsis does the film a great injustice though, because the film is so rich with ideas that you can’t help but be completely blown away by the details on screen. Miyazaki is better known for making Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke, both of which are visionary genius. For my money though, it’s Spirited Away that trumps them completely. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen this film. You lose yourself in this world of bizarre characters and scenes and before too long the whole damn thing is over. The film recalls all the best parts of those Disney classics and expands on them. There aren’t too many films I consider magical, but this is just that.

1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Well, what can I say about this. Every once in a while you see a film that takes you completely by surprise. A film that assaults the senses and fires up those brain cells. A film that you want to tell you friends about so badly that you froth at the mouth and in turn, they look at you creepily for gushing so obscenely. Eternal Sunshine is one of those films. It’s impossible to categorize this work. It’s romance, it’s sci-fi, it’s drama, it’s comedy, it’s Jim Carrey, it’s Kate Winslet, and it’s just totally awesome. The film is a about a strange couple that undergo a procedure to erase their memories. They decide to do this after their relationship falls apart, but it’s only through the process of loss that they discover what wonderful times they had together to begin with. Let me tell you first that this film is soul shattering. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you down the rabbit hole. If the plot sounds confusing at first, don’t be alarmed. Yes, it’s difficult to understand the first time around, but Eternal Sunshine begs for repeat viewings. Even if you can’t understand the story, the relationship more than compensates with an emotional arc that has an impact every time. It’s written by Charlie Kaufman, well known for works like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The guy has obviously never heard of the word derivative and his pairing with director Michel Gondry, known for The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind and his inventive music videos, is a stroke of genius. I’m not sure what else to say, this film epitomizes everything that’s great about modern cinema, but still remains a timeless masterpiece in it’s incredible innovation and originality. If there is one movie this decade you have to see before you die, it’s this one.

Well, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed reading it. You’d better have. Just joking, but seriously, comments and feedback would be much appreciated! What’s your own top 10?

Michael Kiossev