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"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Directed by Woody Allen.
Written by Woody Allen.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  9/3/08


I'll give Woody Allen this much--if you want to write a story about Latin American and Spanish stereotypes about love and sex, you MUST cast people that fit the, a cast of Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and import Scarlett Johansson works wonders for a script loaded to the hilt with movie clichés about the Latin Lover mystique.

This is what eventually makes "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" so great--not the Johansson/Cruz kiss, which is worthless; not the beautiful scenery, which is lovely but does not a film make; not the assured delivery by Bardem as an artist tortured by flings with American tourists.  No, it's that these actors, along with Rebecca Hall from the great under-the-radar comedy "Starter for 10" from two years ago, make so much out of what to me was a very plain, pedestrian script that has enough direct, straight-forward talk about love, life's mistakes, sex and the occasional threesome to come off as explosive in the hands of the wrong director.

Allen is the right director, though, because he gets so much done so quietly in this film.  Rarely do I leave the theater impressed, in that I like when a director takes what he's got and tries to do almost nothing outside of what he's there to's hard to explain, but I actually respected this film more for not trying to go outside the lines.  Allen's got Bardem calmly talking his way into a long weekend with two beautiful women, and it seems completely natural; Bardem hugging his dad intimately, totally natural; Cruz shows up as a ridiculously-hot faux psychopath, but in her scenes, she seems totally natural...Johansson is asked to walk around Barcelona, looking pretty, and talking about her new paramour.  Totally natural.

In fact, that no one appears to even be acting in this film makes it better, in a way.  The narration bothered me extensively (this stems from my complete hatred for narration), and the "tell, don't show" nature of any lovemaking scenes is a very American approach to films, which is unfortunate given the international nature of the movie.  Something about "PG-13" and "regular threesomes with three of the hottest people on the planet" doesn't jibe with me, you know?  Also, painting Vicky's fiancé as a homer who only cares about other rich people was a silly way to make him appear even more like an asshole, when all that should matter is that he loves Vicky through and through, a fact that is suppressed until nearly the end of the film.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" accomplished a lot, though, in a short amount of time.  I always like these late summer romantic comedies IF they accomplish both sides of the deal, and this film is one that does that in spades.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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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