Thursday, May 30, 2002

An update in the middle of the week? One not prompted by the viewing of a new movie or DVD release? What, in a very real and lovely sense, gives? Well, if truth be told, I have a day off from work and rather than go in on overtime, I've actually taken it - Any of my friends now reading this are probably spitting out some kind of beverage at their PC screen and swooning in something approaching abject amazement and bewilderment, for I am always the guy who goes into work on overtime when asked.

And it isn't as though I like earning the extra cash, because you can guarantee that anything that I earn on this sojourn into management appeasal will be wiped out by taxes - An intolerable woe which unrelentingly besets all singleton fellows - and that I'm only being asked to come in because there's a boatload of work on the way and nobody with any sense is going to show up to help stem the remorseless tide of junk mail, hilariously oversized catalogues and awkwardly-shaped parcels which will descend, en masse, on any day that I'm due in overtime.

So, when requested to show up on my day off today, by one of the office bosses yesterday, I made an unlikely stand and duly faced down my manager. Armed only with my most intense, Wolverine in "X-Men" stare, and fervently determined not to buckle down to any desperate entreaties and pleading cajoling techniques on display, I refused his offer of pots of cash and felt pretty good about myself. Which didn't make a damn bit of difference, because he asked me again later on, upping the pleading and building upon the "You'll really be helping us out" line of thinking which he included at his first pass on securing my apparently essential services.

A lie-in later and after a glance at Channel Four's remarkably piss-poor "BB" replacement, "RI:SE", I find myself in town and at an unfamiliar keyboard, in a different cybercafe to the one that I usually use, typing in this record of another inordinately ordinary morning spent doing not much in an unforgiveably generic town. And hoping that someone will find it interesting enough to read.

Failing that noble goal, has anyone out there heard the Box Car Racer album yet?

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Dear God, "Vanilla Sky"[Paramount Home Video, Rated 'R', Region One DVD import] , is confusing.

Take a sprinkle of Phillip K. Dick identity confusion SF, a more substantial serving of director Cameron Crowe's trademarked brand of urbane romantic comedy and tons of oblique and obvious pop culture references, and you have the kind of odd cinematic meal which comes along from time to time and seeks to confuse the hell out of 90% of your intended audience.

One can only imagine what the vast majority of Cruise's fanbase made of this film, as it isn't really in keeping with the likes of "M:I-2" or "A Few Good Men", playing more like a particularly vivid fever dream or the work of a kindler, less determinedly askew David Lynch. That's not to say that this picture is a dark and moody kind of viewing experience - It's directed by the soft-centred auteur who last brought you "Almost Famous", the film which made the sex, drugs and abandon of the mid-70s rock scene look almost completely wholesome- but that it does veer into more eccentric territory than may be comfortable for a lot of the pint-sized movie icon's more uncritical fans.

Cruise plays dictionary definition playboy, David Aames, who publishes a 'Maxim'-like men's magazine and presides over a literary empire founded by his late father (What is it with Cruise heroes and their absent Dads?), much to the disgust of his company board who regard him as a lightweight, flying by the seat of his well-tailored pants. His life is one of absolute priviledge, with the most beautiful women in New York, including Cameron Diaz's luminous singer-songwriter Julie Gianni, just queueing around the block to hop into Aames tastefully furnished bedroom and willingly assist in his aimless life of grinning, palling around with mates like Jason Lee, driving classic cars and having celebrity-ridden birthday parties (Look! It's Steven Spielberg!).

Into every perfect existance, some rain must fall, however, and Aames soons finds his budding romance with dancer Sofia (Penelope Cruz) rather swiftly curtailed by an ill-advised car ride with a distraught Julie, who is finally heart-sick of playing second-fiddle to David's desire to gaddabout with most of Manhattan's model agencies and duly crashes her clunky car off a bridge and into a brick wall, killing herself and disfiguring Aames forever.

Where most films of this type would then spend a good hour or two allowing their A-list star to don mildly-disguising prosthetic make-up and emote furiously in the hope that the Academy are watching intently, Cameron Crowe's latest film is a more experimental kind of movie star vanity project, which remakes the original Spanish flick from Alejandro Amenabar, "Open Your Eyes", in tempo with Crowe's love for the last thirty or so years of American pop culture, going as far as to have First Season's favourite cinematographer, John Toll, recreate the album cover of "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" just to underline the romantic afterglow of a perfect evening spent between new lovers David and Sofia. And then there's the utterly mentalist diversions into SF which mark this remake out as being a tad more ambitious than the other studio movies which cluttered up multiplexes this January.

The performances are quite fine, with Cruise being quite appealingly bewildered once his 'cocky bastard' schtick is out of the way, Cruz quite charming in a reprise of her role in the Amenabar original and Diaz remarkably sad and heartbroken as the inexplicably rejected Julie. Kurt Russell also pops up as a genial shrink - Sadly the script doesn't call for him to sneer in full Snake Plissken mode, but he's still a fine, magnetic on-screen presence.

The look is wonderful, too, with lots of trippy camera-work, subliminal editing and subtle, painterly useage of digital compositing. Also exemplary is the sound design, which makes the most of both Crowe's typically well-chosen score and some crashing, bashing effects placement - Check out the near-miss car crash at the beginning and the hallucinatory club scene for some great seperation of dialogue, classic stadium dance tracks (Underworld's "Rez", anyone?) and spot FX. Send your neighbours to the pub and turn up your subwoofer, fans of arty Dolby 5.1 mixology. Tons of extras, too.

In consideration, "Vanilla Sky" isn't the best Crowe/Cruise movie that we've seen - You get the sense that Crowe is more comfortable with the picturebook romance aspects of the Sofia/David romance and is still finding his feet in the second half of the picture, which more brings to mind David Fincher's stomping ground of blurred identities and urban paranoia. And it's true that the movie's structure is a problem, with the pace slowing to an almost funereal rate after Aames' accident and faltering, appearance-blighted recovery, but picks up remarkably in the race towards a "What's real? What's fake? Is that really the face that Cameron Diaz makes whilst faking an orgasm? Dude, she looks goofy!" climax of the film, when it becomes more akin to a remake of "The Matrix" for an audience which doesn't dig liberal doses of Yuen Woo-Ping choreographed Wire-Fu or the arch-caterwauling of Marilyn "Brian" Manson on the soundtrack. "Vanilla Sky" is by no means a classic, but well worth a view if you can wait until it becomes available for rental in the UK this September. Yes, that's September, with a retail release in November (Is it any wonder that people get their DVD players multi-region adjusted?).

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