2012年3月26日星期一

REVIEW: Open Your Eyes vs. Vanilla Sky

Open Your Eyes (Abre los ojos)
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Year 1997

Today I'll be reviewing two movies, Open Your Eyes and its American Remake, Vanilla Sky. Both have many similarities yet there are slight differences and small nuances to the characters that change the story and make them two entirely different beasts. First up, Open Your Eyes.

Open Your Eyes is a 1997 Spanish film that features a mash up of genres and ideas. Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, this film meshes a sleek idea and blends it with an intriguing story mechanic as it skips back and forth from future to past and from reality to dreams. It really is a beautiful film, visually and conceptually, but let's get to the meat and potatoes of the story.

The film starts out with our main character Cesar, played by Eduardo Noriega, waking up in his bed and getting ready to start his day. From the look of his apartment, he is living the good life and doesn't seem to have a care in the world. He gets into his sports car and takes to the streets of Madrid, but something is not right. There isn't a person in sight and the roads are clear of traffic. He drives on but finally gets out of his car and begins running down the middle of the empty street. Suddenly he wakes up and we are shown that it was all just a dream.

Cesar is running down a dream.

Once Cesar has woken from his dream, he goes through the same routine that we previously had watched him go through except now there is a woman in his bed. This woman is Nuria, played by Najwa Nimri, and she will eventually set Cesar's life into a frenzy of doubt, destruction, self loathing, and utter despair, but for now she is Cesar's play thing. Nuria is just someone who Cesar has short sporadic flings with and he never considers her as a candidate for starting a relationship with. This choice of not committing to Nuria will propel Cesar forward and put the wheels in motion to start his long journey into finding himself and finding meaning in his self-centered life.

You self-centered bastard!

After leaving Nuria laying in his bed, Cesar gets into his sports car and again takes to the streets of Madrid. This time the streets are filled with people and the city is bustling. He picks up his friend Pelayo, played by Fele Martinez, and they both go to play a few games of tennis as Cesar talks about his latest fling with Nuria. Pelayo, who is not much of a ladies man, is both jealous of Cesars escapades and in awe. Later that night Pelayo arrives at a party at Cesar's apartment and brings along with him a beautiful woman named Sofia played by the amazingly talented Penelope Cruz. Cesar is awestruck by her and sneaks her away to a private room in order to win her favor. The two interact well and you can see that they are hitting it off quite well, but then you remember that poor Pelayo is being cock-blocked and you kind of feel bad for the guy. He shows up drunk as a skunk and kind of pissed off at Cesar, but he eventually shrugs it off and leaves the party, leaving both Cesar and Sofia to get to know each other better.

Sofia and Pelayo, minutes before Cesar's epic cock-block.

Cesar goes back to Sofia's place and as she puts her stuff away in another room, Cesar browses through all the pictures and clown figurines that are scattered throughout her apartment. You can tell that he is really falling in love with her life and her personality. His smile seems to grow as he goes from one picture to the next. She comes back and they hang out for a bit. While watching a TV program about a dog coming back to life after being frozen, they decide to draw caricatures of each other. Sofia draws an unflattering picture of Cesar as a rich kid with money swirling about while Cesar draws a beautiful portrait of Sofia. This just solidifies that this guy is head over heels for this girl and by his expressions, this isn't just another no strings attached kind of fling like he has with Nuria. He really seems to want to turn over a new leaf with Sofia and it's a really poignant moment for Cesar's character. He's at a literal and metaphorical crossroad in his life and he must choose which path to follow.

What are you two so happy about?

Unfortunately for Cesar he makes the wrong choice, because as he is leaving Sofia's apartment the next morning, Nuria pulls up in her car and offers Cesar a ride. Whether he was feeling sorry for Nuria because she had to witness him with another woman or if he just wanted another quick sexual fix is never really spelled out for us, but he gets in the car and they drive off together. Now as we soon find out, Nuria is kind of unstable at the moment. She's on some kind of narcotic and is not paying to much attention to the road. What she is paying attention to is Cesar and she's acting like a person that has nothing left to live for. That's not a good thing for our Cesar. She basically believes that if she can't have Cesar then no one can, so she puts the pedal to the metal and steers right off the road, propelling the car down a hillside until it crashes with bone crunching force into a dilapidated stone wall. This entire first portion of the film plays out like a soap opera drama on the television station Telemundo and after this point, the film skips from one genre to the next, sometimes blending them together into something new entirely.

Terror struck as the Geico gecko was pinned between
a wall and an out of control car. Hope he had insurance.

Cesar wakes from a pleasant dream about Sofia and into a nightmare real world where his face is gruesomely disfigured. He falls into a deep depression and silently stalks Sofia around the city, as she performs as a mime, which by the way is the most creepiest mime that I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. The image of her standing on that park bench frozen in that pose haunts me to this very day. 

Penelope Cruz can play a damn good creepy ass mime.

It's almost like the film slipped into Phantom of the Opera mode or the Hunchback of Notre Dame mode because here we are with a disfigured man who is now an outcast of normal society, pining over a beautiful woman. This is where we move from soap opera to horror and it's a jarring jump, but one that needs to be. It's amazing how Cesar's simple choice of getting into Nuria's car could have such dire and devastating consequences.

Don't look at me Jerry, I'm hideous!

It's at this point of the film that we are thrust into the future. Cesar is in a psycho ward like prison wearing a creepy mask and is talking to Antonio his therapist played by Chete Lera, in one of the most sympathizing roles of the film. He cares so much about Cesar's well being and he tries so hard to understand his actions that he really comes off as a father figure to the fatherless Cesar.

Cesar is reciting all the things that has happened to him since the accident, and piece by piece we start to figure out why he's in prison and why he's wearing that strange mask. He talks about how his doctors told him that they could never fully repair his face and that the mask was an alternative to surgery. He remembers meeting up with Sofia at her dance class and asking her out to a club. We are then brought to that very night at the club and Cesar shows up with mask and all. Sofia doesn't come alone to the club. She brings Pelayo along for the ride and seeing him ticks off Cesar. He becomes paranoid that Sofia doesn't want to be alone with him and he storms off to the bar after she goes to the ladies room. He proceeds to get shit faced and the night then turns into a blur. He stumbles out onto the dancefloor and gets lost in the crowd of ravers.

A beautifully obscure shot of Cesar on the dancefloor.

Later that night he eventually corners Sofia and he reminisces on their first meeting, reenacting their first interaction. You can tell that she is uncomfortable with this but she allows him to continue. As the night ends and they leave the club, Sofia says she has to go on her own and she leaves Pelayo and Cesar to talk amongst themselves. After a few minutes Pelayo comes up with his own excuse and runs off in the direction that Sofia had left. Cesar, pained by jealous visions, chases after the two thinking that they are secretly together and fooling around behind his back. He makes it only a few blocks before crashing to the ground, spilling his mask out onto the pavement. He passes out and remains there until morning.

A stylistic shot of one night as a drunk.

When he wakes up he finds Sofia looking down at him smiling. She helps him up and tells him that they are going to get through this. They walk off under the sunny afternoon sky and all seems well in Cesar's world. Then we are transported back to Cesar's prison cell as he continues his conversation with his therapist. Antonio asks him about the name Elli. Cesar had called out the name in his sleep the night before, but he doesn't know anyone by that name. Mysterious. Antonio then asks him why he still wears a mask, because the doctors were eventually able to fix him. Then Cesar tells Antonio about how the doctors called him up telling him about a miraculous new procedure that could repair his face to it's former state. It was all like something out of a fantasy, but they did indeed do it, yet Cesar insists that it didn't stay fixed for long so we're given yet another mystery. What happened to undo his face?

Cesar and Antonio try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

We're introduced to another flashback scene of happiness where Cesar and Sofia are having dinner at a restaurant with Peyalo. Everything seems to be going perfect and Peyalo is taking snapshots of the happy couple with his new camera. Once Sofia gets up from the table and leaves Cesar and Peyalo alone, Cesar starts noticing a strange man at the bar looking in his direction. Cesar shrugs it off and continues talking to Peyalo, but for the audience that was a small hint that will help unravel this seemingly perfect existence that Cesar is experiencing. This will not be the last time that this man will pop up unannounced.

The happy couple in a kodak moment.

After dinner we are shifted to the happy couple in bed and Cesar wakes up and walks to the bathroom. He turns on the light and is shocked to see that his face is disfigured. He falls backward and turns to hear Sofia screaming at the top of her lungs in horror at his twisted face. The scream rises to a pitch and then we cut to Cesar waking up in his bed. It was only a dream, or was it. He follows the same path from his dream and makes his way to the bathroom. He turns on the light, but this time his face is intact. He pours a drink of water from the faucet and then climbs back into bed. Cesar pulls the covers over himself and snuggles close to Sofia, but instead of seeing her face, he is met with Nuria's and all hell breaks loose. 

Cesar begins freaking out, demanding to know what she has done with Sofia. She keeps claiming that she is Sofia, over and over, but he won't hear any of it. He pushes her down and ties her to the bed post and quickly calls the police. We are then thrust again to the police station where they give him a warning for abusing a woman they call Sofia, but she looks like Nuria. Cesar is flabbergasted and tells the men that her name is Nuria and they assure him that she is in-fact Sofia. 

At this point Cesar is at his wits end, confused, and worried sick over what happened to Sofia. He attempts to leave the police station but is stopped by an angry Peyalo in the hallway. He demands to know why Cesar beat up Sofia and Cesar tries to explain that it wasn't her, but Peyalo said that he talked with Sofia and she was all bruised up. The plot thickens and we start to believe that maybe Cesar is a little unbalanced and out of his mind. 

He storms out of the police station and breaks into Sofia's apartment, but to his horror, all the pictures that were scattered throughout the apartment now have Nuria's face in all of them. He searches furiously for some shred of Sofia's true existence but is then cracked over the head by pseudo Sofia in Nuria's skin. She apologizes, thinking that he was a burglar and goes to fetch him some water, but when she comes back she is in the image of the true Sofia and Cesar is stupefied. This entire sequence of scenes is a real mind fuck and you literally feel like you're going crazy with Cesar. You really start to sympathize for the guy. He had his whole life taken away in the accident and just when he thought his life had finally gotten back together, he starts losing it by seeing things that aren't there. Or is he?

Hello Clarice. Cesar struggles to remember the awful truth.

We still haven't gotten to the reason why Cesar is in jail telling this twisted little tale. He begins to tell us about the last night he was a free man. Sofia and Cesar are making love when Sofia pulls another switch a roo move in mid grinding. Either she is some kind of wizard or something is seriously wrong with Cesar's mind. He freaks out once again, but this time it proves to be deadly. He puts a pillow over her face and smothers her to death. He flees the apartment and runs into a mirror on the staircase only to see that his face is horribly disfigured again and this is what leaves us to believe how he got in jail and why he is still wearing the mask. It's tricky story telling, but effective and engaging for the audience.

Antonio tells him that he doesn't really have a case and that he can't see how a conspiracy theory would explain all that happened to him in his story. He sadly leaves and tells Cesar that this is their last meeting. Later on that night Cesar is watching TV in the mess hall when he runs across a program that is talking about a project called L.E. Life Extension. He finally puts it together that maybe this company has something to do with why he called out the name Elli in his sleep.

Cesar wants answers and he wants them now!

Antonio then takes him to L.E. headquarters to get some answers. They arrive at a tall high-rise building and reach the reception desk where they tell the two about how the company can suspend bodies or freeze them as the mind is free to continue on as if nothing happened to them. After a few key phrases that Cesar remembers, he is convinced that this has something to do with why his life has fallen apart. He bursts out of the office and out of the building grabbing a gun from one of his armed guards. He begins to shoot his way out and Antonio pleads for him to stop.

Here is something you can't understand, how Cesar just killed a man.

A cop fires upon Cesar but Antonio jumps in front of the bullet and falls onto Cesar. When they get up everyone has vanished and they are now all alone in the buildings expansive courtyard. Antonio doesn't know what just happened, but Cesar has a strange inkling to head to the roof of the building. When he gets there he is met by the very same stranger that was watching him in the restaurant that one night with Sofia and Peyalo. He tells him that he is indeed a participant of Life Extension and that everything since his fall outside the dance club has been a dream of sorts. A dream that he has fabricated. He tells him that everyone is just a part of his mind, but Antonio still proclaims to be real and that this is indeed a conspiracy against Cesar. This last scene is very mind blowing and you really feel sorry for Antonio as he grapples with his very existence. The sci-fi element is a very pleasurable touch to the conclusion and one that was right out of left field.

Cesar's dream girl Sofia appears to say goodbye.


Cesar asks if he can see Sofia one last time before he is woken up from his Lucid Dream. He thinks of her and she appears. He says his goodbyes and then approaches the ledge where he is told if he jumps from the building, the shock will bring him back.

The key members in Cesar's life watch as he attempts to wake up from his lucid dream.

Cesar takes one last look back at the group of friends that have helped him through this trouble dream of suspended stasis and then takes the plunge. He falls at a tremendous pace and just as he reaches the ground the shot goes to black and we hear a voice say, "Open Your Eyes". The ending is put together beautifully and it leaves you thinking over all of what happened and makes you reflect on your own life and what you would do in that situation. Would you stay and make things work even though it would never be truly real or would you face the world and all the consequences that come with it? Such amazing reflections come only from spectacular stories and this is one of those ones that make you think.

Cesar decides to go back to reality.

There is really just one word that I can use to describe this movie and that is Haunting. After the screen goes black and you hear that voice utter those last words, "Open Your Eyes" you feel like you've just went through all of what the main character has gone through. You've experienced the bad decisions, the mind plays, the loss of love and the tender remembrance of the times that you did have with those special people. This is a very human story that is at the center of all the genre blending. It harkens back to the stories of morality and choice that is given to all people. Love, and risk the chance of loss but risk to lose love another day. I just love this film and it is definitely in my top ten because I really feel like it has become a part of my life, it is just that effective.

I could go on and on about this film and bring up all of the many amazing factors that come into play to make it the masterpiece that it is, but I have another movie to review. That movie being the 2001 remake of Open Your Eyes entitled Vanilla Sky.

Vanilla Sky
Director: Cameron Crowe
Year 2001

Now I'm just going to go over the gist of this film since it follows so closely to the original, but I'm going to give some comparisons on the story and how the characters are handled between the two flicks.

Vanilla Sky is directed by Cameron Crowe, who has done a magnificent job with the material from the original. This version is a lot more vibrant in color and style but doesn't stray from the elements of the story that made Open Your Eyes such a great film. Instead it elaborates on some of the theories that the original brought to light and even switches some of those ideas to make its own statement about the meaning of the film.

Tom Cruise wakes up to find that he is still, Tom Cruise.

Now I know that Tom Cruise gets a lot of flack for being the whack job that he is, but he has done what I think is the impossible in this film. He takes a total douche bag, rich kid, cock-blocker in the form of David Aames, and turns him into a sympathizing every-man just looking for his piece of love in the world. How he does it is beyond me, but I remember when I first sat in the theaters to watch this film I wondered how I was going to be able to relate to such a tool as the character was first portrayed in the beginning moments of the movie. Boy was I pleasantly surprised when I started to really relate to the character once he started falling into his downward spiral of a nightmare.

A beautiful shot of an empty Times Square.

Here, Cameron Crowe opts to make David Aemes a publisher of a magazine, who inherited all his wealth from his well to do parents. He's far more cocky then Alejandro's Cesar and actually kind of funny when things start getting messed up in his life. I attribute that funny part to Cruise's out of control acting throughout the film, that really showcases his loose cannon persona yet it works so well for this movie. Cameron Diaz also surprised the hell out of me as Julie Gianni, the other woman used by Cruise's character. She played the horrible Nuria like character perfectly and gave her a personality that sets the character apart from her original counterpart. Last but definitely not least of the new cast is Jason Lee who plays Brian Shelby, David's best friend, taking the role of Peyalo from Open Your Eyes.

Another epic cock-block, this time performed by Tom Cruise.

Penelope Cruz comes back to the role that first made her a star in my eyes as Sofia. Just like in the first film, she nails her part and brings such magic to the cast that I really don't think that an Open Your Eyes film or even a remake could be made without her. There is something special that she brings to this story, and I really consider both Vanilla Sky and Open Your Eyes as Penelope Cruz vehicles.

Snuggle time, but where are the Snuggies?

Now I am torn between which couple I think is the best between the two films. I think that the relationship between Cruise's character and Sofia is much more fleshed out and I feel that they had more of a special connection between each other. I mean David Aames is head over heels for the girl. He vows to change his whole life after just one meeting. He's inspired by her in such a way that it's hard not to root for the guy because we've all been there before, high on love and ready to take on the world. It was just great to see that up on the screen and put it in the old memory bank, so I have to go with the Cruise man on this one.

Damn!

I also feel that Cameron Diaz's character gets a lot more back-story and exposition then her Nuria counterpart. I really feel the hurt in Cameron's dialogue and for the sheer fact that her character is not on drugs and she's acting like this on her own makes it even that more compelling when she totally loses it. It's all natural raw feelings thrown right there on the screen and in your face. I was scared as hell for Cruise in that scene. I really felt like I was riding with him to my doom. Also there was something in Cameron's eyes that just said bat shit crazy when she asks him if he believes in god. Gives me a shiver just thinking about it.

She looks like the saddest girl in the world to ever not hold a martini.

One of the things that I prefer in the original is the music. I'm a sucker for original music and in Vanilla Sky we are handed too many pop tracks for my taste. I know that's Crowe's M.O. but I really prefer something that makes a movie feel like it's in its own world and not plucked from some song that I have a memory of already and thus takes me out of the movie. But I'll never think of Joan Osborne's "What if God Was One of Us" without thinking of Tom Cruise all doped up on a gurney, singing at the top of his lungs. Now that's some funny and entertaining shit.

"Dude, fix your fucking face." One of the more memorable quotes from Vanilla Sky.

Cruise really gives us a great portrayal of a guy who is down on his luck and at the brink of suicide. After his accident the man is a shell of his former self. Now I'm not just talking about his face. It's his attitude, mannerisms, and personality. The accident seemed to take away everything that made him, him. He wasn't just another ugly face, but an entirely different person all together. He was erratic and would lose his cool at the drop of a hat, as displayed throughout the dance club scene.

Cruise doing his best Michael Myers impression.

Cruise's portrayal of David Aames was sometimes as wacky as the wildest moments in American Psycho. I see glimpses of Christian Bale in Cruise at times when he says those smart ass remarks to the doctors when their showing him the facial mask or when he's walking backwards outside the club with the mask on the back of his head, telling Jason Lee's character he's sorry. Some hilarious stuff and it's definitely a different approach from Open Your Eyes.

Taking a play from the playbook of the original Open Your Eyes.

Cameron does take the reigns in on select shots, staying close to the same composition that the original provided. For example, the shot of our down and out drunk character outside the dance club as he lays next to his fallen mask. Some of these are shot for shot and I don't fault Cameron for staying close to the material. You can't really perfect on perfection, but he does do enough straying that he makes it his own without taking away from the overall quality of the film.

Cameron can sure make a pretty picture.

The color choices have been bumped up for this remake. We are treated to a colorful palette that pushes past the original and treats the post lucid dream sequences like an oil painting. Cameron covers his canvas with enough eye catching colors that there is never a boring shot and you're always pleased to see what's around the next corner.

Kurt Russell proves once again that he is the man.

Another amazing casting choice is the role of the prison therapist played by Kurt Russell. I'd have to say that this is one of Kurt's best performances that he's ever given. He puts so much of himself into the father figure and sells it so well that you're automatically hooked each time he comes up on the screen. His final scene where he tries to convince David that he is real, is heart wrenching. To see him doubt his very existence, and to sell that doubt by just a few facial expressions, is a feat that any actor should be proud of. He gave his character the heart and soul that it needed to push David Aames' story along from past to the future.

To many couch jumping escapades get Tom Cruise locked up in the slammer.

One of the big differences that separates Vanilla Sky from Open Your Eyes is the fact that in Vanilla Sky, David Aames character is actually being televised to a future world. At the end of the film we are told that everything that has been going on inside his lucid dream has been televised to an audience to present as almost a morality play. It's a very interesting concept and one that leaves a lot of intriguing questions like, did David sign a specific contract that said they could do that to him while he slept. I would think that he would be against something like that, but he was pretty messed up when he signed up for the Lucid Dream in the first place so he probably just skimmed the contract and said what the hell.

Sofia representing the light at the end of his journey.

I do like how they kept the original ending fairly intact in pace and tone. We weren't given a hollywood final battle between good and evil, but a reflective wrap-up that dealt with the emotions the characters were going through. I felt, like I do with the original, that it is far more interesting watching the characters wrestle with the understanding of their true reality rather then seeing another cliched battle to the death. Cameron gets big points for keeping the spirit of the original at the heart of the story and I think that's what makes both films so enduring. They reach into the heart of you and harken back to those days when you believed or still believe in a higher love, a better future, and a world where anything is possible if you follow your heart.

Eye see you.

Well that about wraps up my lengthy review on two wonderful films. I really can't pick a favorite over the other. Their both done so well and with such love for the source material, that I'm happy to keep them both on the same playing level of my collection and my top 10 list. These films are an experience in themselves and they take you through one man's journey as he searches to find his true self and it is a most enjoyable ride. With ups and downs and twists and turns, there is never a dull moment as you ride the quest for redemption.

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