email 4 Sep 2008
I first saw Penélope Cruz in Blow (2001), the drug film starring Johnny Depp. Here’s a new rule: if it’s got Johnny Depp, see it. I don’t know that he’s made a bad film. Blow is very good if you want something with that subject matter, and Penélope Cruz emerges as a revelation in the film with her incredible beauty.
Then there was the whole Cruz – Cruise thing in the tabloid media when Tom Cruise was briefly enamored with her – from co-stints in Vanilla Sky, which I didn’t care a whole lot for when I saw it, but there is something about it that haunts me, from when I caught a bit on TV recently. So might be worth another look. Tom Cruise gets a disfigured face in this one, which morbidly interests me.
She also has a supporting role in Gothika, with Halle Berry, a movie which I’ve previously documented.
I’ve not seen most of her films – only two more, both within the last couple weeks. I saw Woody Allen’s latest film, the lamely titled Vicky Cristina Barcelona (there are two characters, Vicky and Cristina, who are essentially on vacation in Barcelona). Perhaps the title is supposed to suggest the frothiness of the plot that ensues, but that would assume a froth is developed – to me it was more like pond scum.
The single element that ruins the Vicky Cristina the most is the obtrusive and completely unnecessary narration. Narration is well suited to documentaries, but not generally fictional accounts – especially if by an anonymous third person. Narration can be used masterfully in some films, such as Peter MacNicol’s in Sophie’s Choice, but here it just makes a loose somewhat messy film all the worse. Luckily, the heavy use of the droning narration tapers out as the film rolls along.
Vicky Cristina has received a lot of critical praise, which as you can tell I disagree with. I suppose if you want a little light entertainment which doesn’t require any thinking, you could do worse. The performances are all good, and the early exchanges with Javier Bardem (transformed from the evil menace of No Country for Old Men) are engaging. Overall, this one reminds me a little of Blame It on Rio, with Michael Caine, which I recommend as a considerably better alternative. That brings to mind the even more comedic, farcical, and classic 10 with Dudley Moore.
I’ll write separately about Woody Allen films, as he has made some great ones which are among my favorites of all movies. Vicky Cristina I guess is trying to be a light comedy/romance, but I didn’t find anything about the story particularly compelling.
Onto a good movie. In Santa Fe, I saw Penélope Cruz as an object of affection by a college professor 30 years her senior played by the always great Ben Kingsley, in Elegy. This is a somber, quietly powerful study of such a relationship and the professor’s stark realization of how his age has come to, in a sense, cause him impotent.
The performances are excellent, and this is a strong film – highly recommended. But recommended only if you think you’re in the mood for it. A good idea to check out a preview first.
I think Penélope Cruz is a first-rate actress. I’d like to see more of her films, including her early Spanish-language ones. If so, I’ll report on those as well.
PS I mentioned Sophie’s Choice (1982). I’m sure we’ve all seen this one, if not it is a must see. Meryl Streep gives arguably the greatest perfornace by an actress in any film of all time. An exceptionally beautiful film, but not if you’re want something light. I won’t elaborate any more now, though there is much more to say.