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"Vanilla Sky"

Directed by Cameron Crowe.
Written by Cameron Crowe.  Based on the 1997 film "Abre Los Ojos."
Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz.
Release Year:  2001
Review Date:  12/14/01 


You know what it is?  "Memento" is the best film of 2001...and, I am spending my holiday season looking for a film that can top it.

And, with only about two weeks to go, it isn't looking good that something will top it.  What made "Memento" so good?  I think I have finally figured it out.  It isn't the way that writer/director Christopher Nolan turns the narrative from back to front (although, it is very cool to do it that way).  It is the efficiency of the storytelling.  EVERY SINGLE SCENE matters in "Memento", and your reward for watching the film as intricately as possible is to be intrigued by following Guy Pearce through his mysterious situation.  I saw it in theaters twice, and for my money, it was the best two hours I have spent in a movie theater this year.

So, coming into "Vanilla Sky"--as with any December movie that has got a big hype machine--I was expecting something bordering on very good.  And, the film's set up is a good one--young gun rich guy David Aames (Tom Cruise) is sleeping with his friend Julie (Cameron Diaz) that he thinks is just some casual action, but SHE thinks is the beginning of something truly special.  But, when she figures out that David might just be in love with someone that he meets at his birthday party (Penelope Cruz), Julie decides to go over the edge and show him what true love really is.

Now, to give more away would be criminal, but it should be noted that all of the above takes place in the first, oh, 45 minutes of the film's running time.  The rest of the film is what you really don't know about from watching the ads on TV.  And, this is where the film really gets into trouble.

The biggest problem with this movie?  It tries to tackle too many issues in its 130 minutes.  Sure, there is the fact that you don't really know what is going on until the end, because they create all of it in the film's final two scenes.  (DON'T let anyone tell you that "they saw it coming" when you figure out why everything is happening; you have some feeling that you know, but you really could only know half of it because the filmmakers just make up the full explanation out of thin air.  Hate that!)  But, it's that you don't really care to know how this will all come out after a while, because director Cameron Crowe takes too long to tell us why...well, you'll see.  Similar to "Mulholland Drive" (a shocking winner of the Best Picture award with the New York Film Critics earlier this week) in this respect, the setup is very intriguing and "Vanilla Sky" gets its hooks into you very early on and keeps them there for a while.  But, the film overstays its welcome and runs too long for you to really care anymore.

And, this is not the fault of the actors, all of whom give great performances.  Naturally, the best of them is Jason Lee--a vet of all of Kevin Smith's Jersey films--as Cruise's best friend, who is given all the best lines and all of the funny ones.  Cruz is hot, Diaz is crazy, and Kurt Russell lends quality support as a psychologist that tries to help Cruise sort everything out.  Even Steven Spielberg shows up in a cameo.

Another interesting problem with "Vanilla Sky"--its first sequence is its best.  I believe that a film should never have its best scene first, but in this film, maybe they didn't think such a simple thing could be so interesting.  But, when Cruise's character stumbles upon a deserted Times Square in New York City, it almost shocks you into submission, because you quietly wonder how any film could force a shutdown of the most famous downtown area in the world.  And, the fact that no special effects are used makes it even more amazing.  I watched an interview with Cruise last week about that scene, and he talked about how weird it was standing in camera frame while looking around, and all you could hear was the whirring of electronic screens, 500-foot TVs and ticker boards.  That would freak me out!

"Vanilla Sky" creates some interesting just creates too many to address in the course of one movie.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09