REVIEW: Finding Neverland (Marc Forster, 2004)

J.M. Barrie, a playwrite down on his luck, comes into something special when he befriends a widow and her three children. His imaginative adventures with the family become inspiration to pen one of the most famous theatrical works of all time. The true story of the author of Peter Pan unfolds with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet taking the lead.

Someone hit my snooze button. Ever since this movie got me snoring I haven't been able to dream up something creative enough to help me forget it. For nearly two hours we are listlessly bombarded with proper British accents and boring mellodrama. Jane Austen would scoff.

The film's progression is mechanical - it seems as though it were produced in a rusty factory, using scenes from former Oscar-winning films as ingredients. Barely anything can be hailed as original from the representations of thought to the typical score that reminded me of The Sims computer game.

The good? Dustin Hoffman. His performances are always deep and incredibly impressive, and here he is no different. His character is unique to his filmography, and proves even further that Hoffman is one of the greatest actors Hollywood has seen. The rest of the cast falters, however, as the two leads show us nothing of extensive merit, which is surprising for each of them, and the supporting roles such as the three boys are inhabited by incompetent, unmotivated excuses for child actors. In an era where children are constantly blowing audiences away with stellar, intuitive performances, these three boys seem to be reciting lines from their living room for their parents to clap for. Freddie Highmore is particularly laughable as he proceeds to destroy a small stage in what we are supposed to believe is a fervor, but appears more as puberty gone wrong.

In all honesty, the part of the film that elicited the best reaction from me was the end credits, because then I knew I would no longer be subject to the dull monotany. I did not know much about J.M. Barrie, and I still don't, but I can only assume he deserves better. For a film about the power of imagination, Finding Neverland is gravely unimaginative.


REVIEW: Open Range (Kevin Costner, 2003)

Two men with histories kept secret even from each other have been living by their own rules for ten years, away from developed society. Through a growing conflict spawned by a minor event, however, they will stand against a corrupt law enforcer to uphold justice in a small country town. Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner, who also directs, star in this unique take on the Western film.

This reserved yarn was a long anticipated treat. It starts slow with patient character introductions and beautifully captured pastoral landscapes, soon picking up into a quiet yet captivating battle for what is right.

The involvement of Kevin Costner in any film, particularly one he helms, is often a reason for hesitation going in. His good performances (Thirteen Days, 3000 Miles to Graceland) are few in number, while his lesser ones are abundant and often unbearable. He succeeds here, not being a distraction in any way, while also skillfully directing the piece.

Despite Costner's achievement, the true commander of the range is Duvall. He is consistently impressive and makes for a highly memorable, mature hero. The remainder of the cast holds up to standard featuring excellent shows from Annette Benning, Michael Gambon and the late, great Michael Jeter.

Reflecting the film's paced liftoff, it takes some time to appreciate the lead characters. For quite a while they spout cowboy colloquialisms and stubbornly involve themselves where there seems to be no reason to do so. Only when we come to learn more of their natures and intentions do we really come to follow them gladly along their paths.

If you are in the mood for a calm and original cowboy film, Open Range, with a considerable running time of 140 minutes, is perfect for you. It's not a must-see but a most certainly worthy selection that I, for one, greatly enjoyed.


REVIEW: Running Scared (Wayne Kramer, 2006)

Joey Gazelle works for the mafia, but you won't see him working any big shifts. His job is to dispose of "hot pieces" - guns used to commit a crime. An unwanted night of gun fights and chases is ahead when one piece is stolen by the kid next door, played by the always blander-than-all-get-out Cameron Bright. Wayne Kramer writes and directs.

If there's one thing I learned about Kramer from watching his most acclaimed film, The Cooler, it's that he knows how to develop evocative characters. Shelly Kaplow, played by Alec Baldwin in The Cooler, tops my list of most loathed film villians due to not only Baldwin's excellent performance but also Kramer's articulate development. In Running Scared that same development exists, creating a hero out of a pretty unlikeable guy and a bad guy we love to hate out of what could have easily been a mafia stereotype.

Paul Walker. The filmmakers were well aware that he is not the most reputable guy to lead a film, especially a gritty, street action film, but saw huge potential in meeting him to play this role to perfection. Just like the film, he takes no prisoners and is unrestrained in his authentic portrayal of Joey. He was definitely a surprise, coming off projects like The Fast and the Furious and Into the Blue and delivering a true performance here.

Having decent ingredients does not a great work make, however.
Unfortunately for Kramer, who is not trying to be deep here, the boundaries pushed by Running Scared do not include the boundary between a boring film and an exciting one. While the film has some enticing viscerals scattered throughout, none of them piece together to form a recommendable moviegoing experience. In the vein of Tony Scott, the jerky camera and unwarranted editing still don't amount to much. Man on Fire did it well once, now let's leave it be.

This appears, some critics have said, as a step backward for the director. I think his heart was in the right place - he wanted to make a fun movie for a change of pace. The fruit of his labor may be stale, but it does not dissuade me from anticipating his next outing.

REVIEW: THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

Perfect happiness and efficiency - These are the aspects of life that matter in the drug-controlled future, watched over by a disingenuous government. In this world, the downfalls of man such as rage and sloth have been seemingly abolished, but gone with them is also love. Characters THX and LUH must find a way to escape their environment where these newly discovered emotions are forbidden. Robert Duvall plays the reluctant title role in George Lucas' ambitious directorial debut.

Fresh out of the 60's, the era of French filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, come the beginnings of a famed American director. Lucas shows daring in his first feature-length film, doing away with any hint of exposition and throwing us head-first into a place we must come to understand on our own. What this place turns out to be is in fact a metaphor for the daily American life, with its obvious messages artfully shrouded in layers of complex symbolism.

Watching THX 1138 is an almost familiar experience, seeing as much of its content has been adapted into more recent incarnations such as Minority Report, The Island and even Æon Flux - the imagery and themes in THX seem to have inspired the filmmakers behind those projects and surely many others. Unfortunately, due to its slow pacing and quiet nature, the experience can sometimes be a rather trying one. While there is always a beautiful composition on screen that channels Samuel Beckett, flowing free of conventional format, the purposefully dull presence of the film finds us slipping occasionally from full attention.

Duvall and Maggie McOmie make falling in love look easy with their excellent, reserved performances. With a supporting cast including such talents as Sid Haig and Donald Pleasence, THX 1138's acting never fails.

I cannot comment on the special effects. Lucas has apparently never seen the Dead Head sticker on that Cadillac, because he's always looking back, always looking back. In the director's cut that I watched, the effects are what modern Lucas considered "improved upon" which of course means that they are now distracting CGI.

When contemplating the quality of a film, it is important to understand its intentions. Everything that can be construed through a conventional scope as poor about THX 1138 is in fact premeditated and deliberate. George Lucas has succeeded here in creating a highly unique and entirely artistic cinematic experience that presents a believable, though exaggerated, look into the future of humanity.


REVIEW: Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, 2004)

There exists a secret order in the Vatican, a crew of monks toiling daily to overcome the threat of macabre evildoers. Their primary hitman is none other than Van Helsing, a man whose memories of his origins have been erased. Helsing is sent to Transylvania to hunt down and kill Count Dracula and possibly learn his history. Hugh Jackman takes the lead with Kate Beckinsale in this gamy romp through Hollywood's creature features, written and directed by professed monster buff, Stephen Sommers.

I knew what I was getting into when I saw Sommers' name at the helm; I came prepared with soda and candy (Sour Patch Watermelons, one of my favorites for movie-watching!) Sommers' past includes The Mummy, which was exciting when I was younger, but his defining work is The Mummy Returns, which showcases just about everything that is bad about modern cinema, bordering on territory that Uwe Boll proudly calls home (House of the Dead, need I say more?)

Helsing traverses new grounds of audience-testing right off the bat (get it, bat?) when we are thrust into a laughable amusement park ride of an action scene between the title character and a poorly computer-animated take on Mr. Hyde, who looks like he could have been concept art for Shrek. The subsequent sequences follow suit, though not quite as offensively, providing us with awfully rendered creatures from irritating shrieks on wings calling themselves the brides of Dracula to hairy, buck-toothed werewolves on steroids. These reimaginings of classic movie monsters would be more accurately described as bastardizations. In fact, the only character retaining a worthy portion of its roots is Frankenstein's Monster, who displays qualities similar to even those of his literary origins.

Sommers' script presents a new level of simplicity so bewildering that you would think Captain Obvious himself, Legolas from the Lord of the Rings series, had penned it. Even when an entire wall goes through a computer-generated transmogrification and begins to reflect the characters in its new glass, Sommers still feels the need to have someone say, "A Mirror!" just incase anyone in the audience didn't catch on. The script's poor nature doesn't stop there, sadly, the exposition (cleverly avoided by more talented writers) is some of the most ill-fitted I have ever laid ears on.

There are miniscule glimmers of repute here and there, particularly some surprisingly good compositions and much-needed humor, but they miss their marks, having been aimed through the murky gauntlet that is Helsing. Not even the lead actors appear to have a grip on their material, if you can call it material, for the true heroism of Jackman and Beckinsale exists in our minds as opposed to actually being present on the screen.

If you simply must rent Van Helsing, do so without expectation of a great action movie, bring lots of popcorn and sugar and you may be happy. It also doesn't hurt to have a huge crush on either of the two lead talents.


REVIEW: 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Peter Hyams, 1984)

Nine years after the crew aboard the Discovery went missing near Jupiter following the appearance of a second Monolith, humans are venturing forth into our solar system once again to decipher the events. Russia is more than a year ahead of the United States in preparations, however, and the primary issue for many people is the pride of getting there first. While still harboring ill will that can potentially jeopardize the expedition, the two countries unite in their efforts (shades of Dr. Strangelove?). Peter Hyams directs this foretelling sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

It is no secret that I very strongly consider 2001 to be the greatest film ever made. As described in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived the idea and plot structure before parting ways to create separate works - the film and the book, respectively. The symbolic finale to the film ended up baffling many people, including Clarke himself, who admittedly did not immediately comprehend Kubrick's accomplishment. Clarke must have eventually embraced the finale, however, as his literary follow-up, 2010, suggests what could happen after such events. Rather than leaving the ambiguous prophecy for the prosperity of mankind be, he creates a story that explains the occurrences that brought the prophecy forth.

For the first half of the film, the only elements reminiscent of the original piece are certain sound effects, aspects of the score, and the occasionally reserved, wide-angle photography. Most everything else evades the perpetual omnipotence of the first Odyssey and resorts to temporary effectiveness. When we get to Jupiter, however, business really picks up. From literally stunning, new visuals to some great cues from 2001, it becomes a highly captivating film that pays off well.

In and of itself, 2010 is by no means a bad film - it's actually very good. Following the greatest film ever made is not an easy task, and Kubrick's shadow creates most of the reason 2010 catches flack. One might guess that Hyams knew there was no way possible to follow Kubrick and it is with this confidence that he goes forward to create a very satisfying experience. In fact, I think James Cameron took more than a few cues from this film when he made The Abyss. Fear not, this isn't another Son of Kong (although that one is admittedly very fun).


REVIEW: Hellboy (Guillermo Del Toro, 2004)

When Hitler becomes keen on the supernatural, he forms a new branch in his regime to open up a portal in space to summon a hibernating evil into the world. Something does slip through, but is intercepted by Hitler's opposition. It is an odd, red, demon-like creature... Hellboy. At least I think that's how it goes. Guillermo Del Toro directs a recurring actor in his films, Ron Perlman, in the title role of this comic book adaptation.

From opening to closing, I just could not get into Hellboy. What was I hoping for? I'm not sure... the only other Del Toro film I've seen is Blade II, which I love for what Del Toro did with it, but his efforts here fall dead quickly. It took me three sittings to get through the film in its entirety.

Nearly every performance is wooden, especially from Perlman. I can see where some of this was intended, but it goes too far and makes for a more boring experience a la Pirates of the Carribean, although at least Pirates' humor worked on most levels. The inclusion of Jeffrey Tambor, playing a staunch politician, distracts us from the potentially (the word 'potentially' is key) interesting things going on otherwise. In fact, the only performance I cared for came as a nice surprise. Selma Blair plays Hellboy's weak spot, a sweet girl important enough to him that he'll sneak out to see her, even if it means getting caught on camera, and she delivers a believable performance that makes for a nice beacon of goodness amongst the bland juggernauts.

I know that comic books can have far-fetched storylines, especially when it comes to the subject of outer space, but the plot that Hellboy follows is utterly ridiculous. I would imagine that only fans of the source material would find enjoyment in seeing their formerly still-life hero come to life on screen. Only people who are familiar with the characters could have found the primary villian ominous - to me he looked like a well-dressed bum. Furthermore, on top of entertaining a silly story, the film goes anticlimactically over the top with special effects from the creation of a leaden behemoth monster to the random burning of the moon.

Hellboy is a well-intentioned and relatively unique take on the superhero flick, but after the first Blade sequel, I expected more from Del Toro, especially considering he is ready to drop his name from the Halo video game adaptation (which would assuredly be exciting under his direction) in order to more quickly conjure Hellboy 2... Guillermo my man, let it wait! All things considered, however, I still have relatively high hopes for what Pan's Labyrinth could be.


REVIEW: Underworld: Evolution (Len Wiseman, 2006)

Three-hundred years ago, going unseen by human historians, the father of the werewolf race known as Lycans was imprisoned despite opposing pleas from his twin brother, the father of the vampire race. Now, the vampire progenitor has been awakened and seeks his confined brother to set him free, and only a select few are powerful and knowledgable enough to stop him. Kate Beckinsale leads the cast in this dark, action-packed adventure that picks up immediately after its predecessor left off.

What a great surprise!! I was extremely hesitant to see this sequel, and even bounced back and forth with the idea after I had sat down in the auditorium seat. Though the first one was very good considering what it was, I wasn't its biggest fan. I wasn't a big fan of Beckinsale either, and after all the piss-poor reviews for her second sky-eyed outing in tight leather it was really a matter of boredom that led me to Evolution, and man am I ever happy that I caught it in theaters!

We come in to some history that kicks off the surprisingly complex plot, featuring Bill Nighy as the first recognizable actor to reprise his role. I still can't look at him and not sing to myself, "I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes!" ... but he sets up well for us one of the few bad things about the movie - hackneyed performances. It would actually be a much shorter endeavor to list the bad about this movie than the good - and yes, I know how unbelievable that sounds. Another thing in the opening that prepares us for what is to come is the serious action. It is much better composed than most action films these days, and the choreography is great. Even better news is that while this opening rocks hard, it pales in comparison to the intense fight sequences that lay ahead.

The first Underworld impressed me in several ways, but mostly with its tendency to lean toward good physical effects over CGI. Evolution seems to have more computer graphics involved, but the good animatronics and on-camera effects are still very much in use.

I'm excited to feel how much I enjoyed this film. I'm no stranger to vampire media, in fact I'm happy to admit that I find the modern takes from Blade to Anne Rice extremely alluring. The style, the immortality, the blood, it's all quite intensely sexy. Is this movie for everyone? Clearly not, judging from the reviews. What is my recommendation? It's definitely worth a rent if anything, though I would suggest catching it before it leaves theaters for the intimate experience with the visuals, the surround sound and the powerful score.


REVIEW: Swimming Pool (François Ozon, 2003)

When Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling,) famed author of harlequin detective novels, takes a solitary retreat from her London home to her publisher's palatial French country estate, she expects peace and quiet to work on her next big seller. She does not expect to meet her publisher's daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier,) who is fed up with work and comes to the estate to satiate her appetite for easy times and promiscuous sex. Francois Ozon directs the multi-generational in this beautifully haunting loom of the creative process and our underlying desire for vice.

From the instant the opening credits began their delicate crawl, I was a leaf in Swimming Pool's breeze. The characters, uniquely developed under Ozon's careful eye, display a reality uncommon to other cinematic figures. Nearly every line of dialogue, every attitude and expression hints at a deeper intricacy - the subtle connections between things that may seem entirely parallel. Through these subtleties the most interesting aspects of the film arise.

I continued to be swept away into the film's world. Its variegated self-reflective nature and patient, almost Kubrick-esque cinematography kept me willingly in close attention. Rampling and Sagnier are unquestioned in their performances - they are Sarah and Julie and no one else. They lock and disjoint from one another as a shattered mirror being pieced together. We immediately connect with them in different fashions, and in allowing ourselves to set aside the penchant for nobility in cinematic portraits, the connection penetrates deeper levels.


ARTICLE: The Decay of Humanity

In the moment I write what follows, I can be found working five out of every seven suns caring for dogs at a veterinary clinic in Tampa, Florida. Also in this moment, one six-month old Doberman puppy with cosmetically clipped ears and docked tail has been boarding for three months, and he has another three ahead - a young man purchased him from a store with the knowledge he was soon moving to the Cayman Islands, a territory that he knows restricts dogs under a certain age in effort to prevent the Rabies disease. So the puppy, named “Capone,” is stuck living his developmental stages in a cage. All he knows of life is basic instinct. In effort to enhance these early life experiences, I let Capone out to play at least twice a day for as long as I can. He‘s a fun-loving, wild and disobedient dog. When he is finally sent to the Cayman Islands, I doubt the man who bought him will have much patience for such a creature and Capone will ultimately find himself in the limbo of confined life once again - either that or he will be put through training courses to quell his behavior and turn him subservient. This situation is not only a perfect example of where our society is today but also a decent analogy for how we live.

I’ll briefly state that I find it surreal we are so automatically accepting of the idea that we sell life over a counter - we think we are the precious center of the universe and everything revolves around us. I also find surreal our system of trade and value that represents worth through ownership and determines the extent to which one will experience life, but I digress. The mirror presented in Capone’s ordeal reflects our own lives in that we are, too, trapped in a proverbial cage of Capitalism and Western Civilization. The cage is, however, all we know life to be, and we openly accept it as such, often reveling in its alleged glory. Furthermore, through a humanly universal system of checks and balances, when one acts unconventionally, they are either locked away or submitted for behavior adjustments. It is quite fitting that the puppy’s name is Capone, after the 1920’s professional criminal, because in this analogy the puppy represents a human, most likely American, who finds ways to comfortably function in and around society.

Why is this how we operate? Human history is full of revolutionaries and visionaries who shaped this pattern of thoughts and actions. Those courageous people had magnificent intentions, but through an aftermath of lackluster commemoration and apathetic complacence with the ways of our illusory world-within-a-world their accomplishments have led to an unfortunate state in humanity.

Before our planet was too small to comfortably harbor its population, in the time we have religiously sanctioned as 359 BC, Philip II took the throne as ruler of Macedon. In Philip’s earlier years, he learned the way of war while held captive in Thebes. With the power to campaign against the known world, he developed the phalanx style of combat which involved rows upon rows of spear-wielding soldiers, the first row of which would extend their weapons forward to destroy the obstacles in opposition - after the first row fell, the next would lower their spears and continue their march. This was a nearly unrivaled formula for victory for centuries.

Philip was far too keen on decadence in celebration of his many victories, and allowed his eccentric nature to get the better of him. His illegitimate son, Alexander, saw him in a light of disgust - an innovative conqueror diminished to a mere drunkard. When Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, Alexander received the crown and took command of Philip’s armies. His dreams of conquest were beyond the known world - he wanted to unify all walks of man and live in educated, powerful harmony. What he knew was war, and with violent barbarian opposition in the unknown land, it was certainly what he would need to bring his dream into truth. Often times it is the one with the brawn who rules, for worse or better.

Alexander frequently drew, as did most ancients, upon the Greek mythological Gods such as Zeus for inspiration. His people believed in the stories of the Gods that today seem ridiculous. The stories gave the people reason to carry on without much further thought - they filled in all the blanks. This is exactly what religion has done throughout history, given people the answers they want and relieved them of the need to think for themselves. It’s instant gratification. Why worry when it’s all in a book?

As is the natural way of things, growth and decay continued in the world, and eventually our ancestors from Britain found themselves facing change. The industrial revolution was in sight, and many citizens were being extorted for their labor. There were still new lands to be discovered, and a group of British explorers sailed West to a new world - to live off the land and be free in a truer way. They unknowingly brought with them, however, a large part of our modern mentality. The humans already inhabiting the land they found were deeply in touch with the earth - they lived with an unheard beauty that defied possession and greed. Unfortunately, both tribes of men felt threatened by each other and through the curiosity of the natives and the aggressive caution of the Europeans, war broke out. Philip II of Macedon’s phalanx style was still in effect, but the Europeans, much like is the case with anything repeated subsequently through history, were lackadaisical in their efforts. They took for granted the impending success of their superior style. In battle very few fought as if the outcome meant anything more than comfort in the aftermath. This is not an example detailing worthy intentions, but an example nonetheless of the bastardization of procedure and the mentality that drives much of modern America.

Even when entrepreneurs of the modern world show extraordinary flare in their endeavors, their retirement brings in new minds that merely uphold the new standards as opposed to continuing the innovation. Howard Hughes, pioneer of aviation to whom money was never an issue, crafted with an eye beyond excellence different forms and uses for airplanes, one of man’s most fascinating inventions. Now, when looking at the airlines, like any other business they have become a mere consumer market that just happens to profess in transportation via sky.

Capone the puppy is but one of the many victims of corrupt and selfish America. Recently another puppy came to the hospital by way of a concerned citizen. It was a stray and had contracted a fatal, communicable disease that could have been cured. Instead, the doctors and managers decided to kill the dog because they did not want to afford the costs to save its life. Their supplemental excuse was that it could infect other local animals. Had the dog came to us from a paying client, there would have been no issue keeping a contagious dog in the facility. Far too often are we solely concerned with the outrageous monetary system - even when we are not fully aware of it we are stubbornly pleasing ourselves.

So where have our visionaries gone? Where is our Alexander? The myths that lead our impending generations are not grand pinnacles of humanity as they once were, instead they are colorfully animated and misleading creatures on television, spewing deception and greed. I say it is time we move beyond reliance on myth and take a step back to really look at what we have become and how we can rectify it.

Our current world does seem inevitable, considering our tendencies for rage, lust and sloth. On the surface, it’s a great world. If we look only at the media displays, it is often a glorious place. Yes, ignorance is bliss and yes, shit happens. I say we don’t accept it, and we may be on the verge of a mental revolution.

Maybe the so-called democracy we live in is indeed the best for our current condition, but I believe rather than emulating satisfaction with being governed, our species can find its answers from within - discover unity with our world and one another and in turn discover true fulfillment and happiness.


REVIEW: Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe, 2001)

There are a few of my favorite films that I have not officially reviewed because I never felt I could do them justice. Well, that and I am not typically in the habit of reviewing films that I haven't just seen for the first time. I feel now that finally, after nearly two years of loving it as my favorite film, I can give this the review it deserves. And yes, there will be SPOILERS abound, so reader beware.

It was December 14th, 2001. I was sixteen years old, and I had just seen The Royal Tenenbaums opening day at the Sunset AMC in Miami. As I was leaving, I saw a poster behind a standing display in the center of the lobby for another film that had just came out that very day. The artwork on show was the now highly recognizable shot of Tom Cruise against a background of beautiful blue sky, with the most interesting tagline below... "LoveHateDreamsLifeWorkPlayFriendshipSex." For some reason, a reason I still cannot quite pinpoint today, I was completely drawn in, and even before seeing the film itself I already felt a deep, personal connection to it. That poster never left my mind... but for some reason, maybe too much dreaming, I never went to see Vanilla Sky in theaters.

Two years later it was December again. I was 18 and working my probationary period at the Baptist Hospital in Miami for the environmental department, waiting to be promoted to audio/visual. My hours were 2:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, which left little time for anything but sleep inbetween. I happened to wake up relatively early one morning and catch a scene from an unknown film on HBO. There was a man in a nightclub with a familiar voice... he was wearing a pale mask and making funny gestures at Jason Lee, who was calling him an asshole. I was immediately drawn in, but alas, it was later than I had thought and I needed to run to work... yet again Vanilla Sky had evaded me, but it would be the last time.

Finally... March 8th, 2004. I was in my third month at what turned out to be a horrible excuse for a college, Full Sail, and I had started my downward spiral into the depressed shut-in that everything surrounding that schooling experience temporarily turned me into. I decided to cure my sorrows with my feel-good drug, DVDs. While perousing the shelves at Best Buy I came across a very good price for a very familiar looking film. After making it back to my apartment, I immediately doused the lights and put the disc in my player. For the next two hours I was on a proverbial roller coaster into a whirlpool of emotion that left me in wonderment, left me in euphoria and left me in tears. For some reason, yet another unrecognizable reason similar to my draw into the poster, I could see myself entirely in Tom Cruise's character, David Aames. Maybe it was because at the time, he was a lot like who I wanted to become. Maybe it was because Penelope Cruz' character, Sofia Serano, was a lot like the kind of girl I wanted to mutually fall in love with someday. Hell, maybe it was because it was just an incredibly involving film... however it worked, it was the most personal experience I've ever had watching a film (Magnolia being a distant second, but definitely up there,) and I could never foresee it being topped.

Vanilla Sky opens with what is one of the greatest scenes ever set to film, the hero of the story who relies on a plethora of yes-men and yes-oh-yes-women to verify his reality finds himself in one of the busiest places on earth, Times Square, New York City... but it is desolate... abandoned. The advertisements all around taunt him as he runs, scared, with promises of a better life. He soon awakes, however, to find that it was but a dream... a heavy theme that will recur throughout the film.

We follow David Aames through several days that involve talking with his best friend, Brian (Jason Lee,) the only person who tells him the truth, throwing a birthday gala for himself and ultimately meeting Sofia (Penelope Cruz,) the woman with whom a love will blossom overnight, and the woman who will change his life in a million different ways. There are so many nuances thrown in to the film during all of these scenes, some of them are of the kind that don't necessarily enhance the film's meaning, but really flesh it out as a whole experience, and others that exist as highly quotable, meaningful additions to the piece. As we continue to watch, David gets himself into a situation devestating to his character... detrimental to his reputation, yet also a huge reality check.

David is catapulted into a living dream, so it would seem... though he has no idea how true that assessment is - his "reality" check is torn asunder and replaced with confusion. Neither he nor we can tell what is real and what is not, and for a long time we are confused but captivated as to what could possibly be the truth of the situation. After seeing the movie once through and going through again, the experience is even more powerful. Most of story is framed by therapy sessions between David and Dr. McCabe (Kurt Russell,) who starts out as a psychiatrist hired by a court to investigate David's inner workings, but ends up being a great father figure to him.

Once everything came together in my first viewing, I was left with an unexplainable feeling that seemed like a mesh of love-sickness and inspiration. Everything from David's courage and his realization of what has become his reality and why to his last looks between the lovers who share the strongest spontaneous bond... I was right there, I was with them.

As for the technical aspects, Cameron Crowe directs with such a wonferful eye for beauty that is aided magnificently by his director of photography, John Toll, who captures it in an eternal scope. The film flows as if it were itself the best of dreams. The cast, members of which not already mentioned include the highly talented likes of Cameron Diaz, Tilda Swinton, Noah Taylor and Timothy Spall, does a spectacular job of portraying their characters and bringing the story to full life.

In 1997 Alejandro Amenabar wrote and directed Abres Los Ojos, also starring Penelope Cruz. That is where the original idea for Vanilla Sky came from. As Cameron Crowe states in the short documentary, Prelude to a Dream, which is perfectly placed before the "Play Film" selection on the Vanilla Sky DVD because it works as a great introduction to the film, he felt like when he watched Abres Los Ojos, he was involved in a beautiful conversation, and he wanted to be part of that conversation. To me the films are very individual pieces, and I happen to like the Crowe version much more.

This is such a thoughtful and well made film - everything means something on a hugely deep level - watching the film captivates me, listening to any song from the soundtrack sends me reeling into emotion and even writing this review is an extremely meaningful and emotional experience to me. I have trouble not regurgitating every quote from every scene because I am so enthusiastic about how amazing it all really is. Even these words like "enthusiastic" and "amazing" feel like monsterous understatements. I suppose I cannot at this moment find the proper words to describe the depth to which the film reaches within me, but I also know that I don't have to find them. I feel now like everything has come full circle with my journey through Vanilla Sky, though the aftermath will be forever ongoing.


REVIEW: Bubble (Stephen Soderbergh, 2006)

I was really wanting to like Bubble more than I did. A lot of the time I felt like it was very good, but also very unoriginal... but my mind was with thought processes going something like this, "I guess I expect too much from independent films, they can't all be entirely unique... but that's okay that this isn't, because most mainstream films that come out are copies of copies of copies... but that's not acceptable... so where do I stand on this?"

Bubble is the first of six films Steven Soderbergh is doing with HDNet with simlultaneous releases on all formats - Theatrical, home video (DVD, VHS, UHD etcetera,) Pay Per View and whatever else there may be. Not only is this an intriguing deal, Soderbergh is taking the opportunity to revive old ideas that would not before have been picked up, to experiment with new ways of making films and telling stories. As the first episode in the individually self-contained series of Americana, as Soderbergh puts it, Bubble will probably garner a higher appreciation once more films in this line are put out.

The production of the film is very respectable. Apparently the script was written in bare-bones fashion and the local actors were then allowed to find their way from beginning to middle to end through natural character progression. It's almost like a dramatic documentary when that aspect is considered. Some of the lines and shot choices also creatively present plot points - subtle character development and ultimately the main clues to the audience that our suspicions about of the characters are indeed truths.

So what will happen with the multiple format release? The film is still in its first week, so very soon it will be interesting to discover... Did more people take a night out to go see it on the big screen with a potentially disruptive audience and no special features? Did more choose to rent (like I did) or purchase? Did it even make any sort of impression? After all, it is a very low-profile film - possibly not the best way to get a reaction from moviegoers, but hey, what do I know about box office research? Maybe they're trying to go after more of the indepedent moviegoing crowd. Also, it is quite possible that as this six film series with HDNet continues, it will emerge into the public eye.

The story plays out as a simple murder case, from the characters meeting each other to the event itself and then finally to the conviction. In the progression, the philosophy of dishonesty shows itself, proving that even when hard evidence that leads to no other conclusion is considered, the killer still claims they have no idea why they are the ones taking the heat. This is not an extremely complex idea, so thankfully the film is short... but if it were longer, I would imagine there could have been a lot more done with it. Also, the doll factory did not seem to be used to its fullest extent. Sure, we saw a lot of eerie doll footage, particularly in the beginning and the end credits, but I felt there was a much deeper symbolism in the toil and just plain ol' creepiness of the dolls that could have been explored and related to the film's lukewarm examination of dishonesty - these dolls that are so easily made in such dank conditions often end up as treasured placeholders in childrens' lives.

The special features on the DVD are excellent, and provide not only a probing look into the creation of this film but also a great introduction to the idea of the six films. One of them, however, is an alternate ending to the film that shows us a complete departure from what I felt the rest of the film was going for... a medical personality disorder (where have I seen that before?) as opposed to denial.