REVIEW: SWORD OF XANTEN

CAST
Benno Furman (Mutant Chronicles)
Kristanna Loken (Painkiller Jane)
Alicia Witt (Dune)
Julian sands (Gotham)
Samuel West (Van Helsing)
Max Von Sydow (game of Thrones)
Robert Pattinson (Twilight)
Ralf Moeller (The Bad pack)
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Part 1
The film is set around the time when many Europeans had changed their religion from paganism to Christianity. The film is split into three parts, and comprises the story of Siegfried from childhood to his death. The film opens with a young Siegfried awakening in the middle of an invasion of his parents’ castle by Saxons. The castle is soon overrun and all are slain except for Siegfried, whose mother has sent him down the river. In the morning he is picked up by a blacksmith, Eyvind, who raises him under the name Erik.
Twelve years later, Brunhild, the Queen of Iceland (still a pagan like Eyvind and Erik) follows her adviser’s runes that lead her to where Erik lives. The runes foretell that a star will fall from the sky and from its smoke a man will appear who will defeat her. Brunhild initially has doubts as no one has ever beaten her in a fight before. That night a meteor, a described announcement to a war between the gods called Ragnarök, hits the earth near the smithy and despite Eyvind’s warning, Erik goes to investigate. In the middle of the crater there are two rocks of a strange kind of metal. Wearing a cloak over her face, Brunhild arrives and Erik, believing she is a Saxon, attacks her. After a short battle he defeats her, and they instantly fall in love with each other, seeing their gathering as the will of the gods. After making love Erik promises to go to Iceland to meet Brunhild and they fall asleep. In the morning Erik wakes up alone after Brunhild has taken one of the rocks and left. Erik convinces Eyvind to let Erik go with him to Burgund (the kingdom of the Burgundians) and on their way down the river they see a town in flames.
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Once in Burgund the hawk Arminius, belonging to King Gunther’s brother Giselher, lands on Erik’s arm and there is a brief fight between Erik and some of the townspeople. Afterwards Eyvind presents his swords to Gunther, who reveals that the dragon Fafnir has awakened and is responsible for the burnt village. King Gunther and his best men, including army chief Hagen, leave to slay the dragon; Giselher befriends Erik and says that his sister Kriemhild is wanted by every man in the kingdom but she doesn’t want any of them. Eyvind leaves Erik to use the rock from the meteor to make a sword.
Gunther returns injured with Hagen; all the other knights have been killed. Erik promises to Kriemhild that Gunther and his men will be avenged. He enters Fafnir’s lair and, after a fierce battle, manages to slay the dragon while receiving only a scratch on his arm. Seeing that Fafnir’s blood has healed his scratch, Erik bathes in the blood, rendering his skin invulnerable (save for a single spot where an errant leaf had fallen upon his upper back, leaving that one spot untouched by the blood).
Part 2
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Erik explores the cave and finds a vast hall filled with treasure. He finds a ring, the Ring of the Nibelung, and is then confronted by ghosts of immortal twilight beings, the Nibelung. They warn him that taking any of the treasure will bring the curse down on him, but he does not listen and takes the ring and promises to come back for the rest. Outside he is attacked by an ex-Nibelung who lost his immortality for trying to take all the treasure, who happens to be Hagen’s father Alberich. Erik soon defeats Alberich and takes his tarn-helm, an item that lets him take the shape of anyone else. The Nibelung tell Siegfried again to return the treasure, and when Siegfried offers to return half to them they say it will not be sufficient. Erik returns to Burgund with Fafnir’s head and shows it to the people and Gunther proclaims he is a hero which makes Hagen jealous. That night, Erik dances and spends the evening with Kriemhild who wears a mask during the party, and tells her he is already in love with another woman (Brunhild). Meanwhile, the entire dragon’s hoard is moved to the Burgund treasury and fills it near to overflowing. The Saxons suddenly decide to invade Burgund to take the gold and Erik rides with the army to confront the twin Saxon kings, the men who slew his father. During a short fight Erik remembers who he is, then he declares the kingdom to be split between himself and King Gunther. He sadly remembers his father’s death, giving the two Saxons the choice to leave, but they attack again and are slain. It is also at this point that Eyvind (who tells Erik that he suspected his origin from the beginning) passes away from old age and Siegfried gives him a proper pagan funeral in his honor.
This film is a well crafted melding of the early Nordic Volsunga saga and the later high German tale of the Nibelungenlied. The amalgamation brings out a heroic myth with a universal appeal that is beautifully rendered by the film makers and the cast. A raven lands on his arm that delivers a message to Brunhild that Erik is actually Siegfried of Xanten, that he had found his real place and identity, and that he will visit her soon, planning to make her his wife as soon as possible, but warning it may take a little longer because he desires to take his treasure to Xanten for her. Having overheard Kriemhild and Erik at the party, Hagen’s father makes a potion that Kriemhild gives Erik that causes him to fall in love with her and forget Brunhild. A raven who would deliver this news to Brunhild is then shot down by Hagen.
Part 3
Siegfried, having forgotten about Brunhild, asks to marry Kriemhild but Hagen reminds Gunther that he must marry before any of his siblings. Gunther reveals he is pining for Brunhild, but he is not the best fighter and she challenges all her suitors to single combat and no-one has beaten her yet. Gunther promises Siegfried that he may marry Kriemhild if he uses the tarn-helm to look like Gunther and defeat Brunhild; Siegfried accepts this offer. On the ship to Iceland Giselher has stowed away and after support from Siegfried, Gunther lets him accompany them to Iceland. Once they arrive Brunhild is immensely happy that Siegfried has returned to her but is shocked to see that he doesn’t recognize her or is challenging her. Siegfried simply presents King Gunther to her, and explains he his the one who came here to ask her hand in marriage. Gunther his then challenged to single combat with double bladed axes on the condition that if he loses it will cost him his life. He agrees partially because it will be Siegfried fighting, not him.
The fight starts and unbeknown to everyone else Giselher sees the two Gunthers and becomes suspicious but tells no one. Brunhild loses the fight after the two fall off a waterfall and Siegfried saves her. She reluctantly and sadly returns to Burgund where she is devastated to find that Siegfried had found Kriemhild for lover. She then marries Gunther next to Siegfried and Kriemhild who are also marrying on the same day. Brunhild confronts Siegfried who (due to effects of the potion) claims he never loved her, which Brunhild ardently refuses to believe and tries to find reasons that would explain his actions, but Siegfried once again denies caring for her, and Brunhild declares she will not know joy until she forgets how much she loved him, or until he remembers. She is deeply hurt and upset. She takes her anger out by first challenging Siegfried to combat which he purposely loses to take away any thoughts that it was him who defeated Brunhild, then Brunhild ties Gunther up after revealing the power she possess comes from her pageant belt. And overpowering him, pointing out her doubts in the way Gunther defeated her back in Iceland by nearly accusing him to have cheated his victory, and leaves him tied up for the night greatly convinced she had been deceived. Gunther requests Siegfried use the tarn-helm again to get the belt away from Brunhild which he does after hesitation. He overpowers Brunhilde who is surprised to see that Gunther once again found his strength, she then offers herself to Siegfried as Gunther, who is briefly conflicted perhaps remembering of his old feelings towards Brunhild, but nonetheless retrieves himself from the room to get rid of the belt he has taken from her.
The real Gunther shortly returns to the room at his place and is spotted by Giselher who again sees two Gunthers and tells his girlfriend Lena what he saw in Iceland. Siegfried returns to his bedroom to see Kriemhild waiting for him, she convinces him to explain what has happened and he does, breaking his vow of secrecy towards Gunther. The next day outside the church Kriemhild is stopped because she cannot enter before Brunhild, Brunhild arrives quickly afterwards and Kriemhild reveals to her that it was Siegfried who defeated her both in Iceland and in her bedroom thereby publicly confronting and insulting Brunhild. She proves her says by showing Brunhild her belt around Kriemhild’s waist. This drives Brunhild over the edge. Hagen kills Alberich after not returning the tarn-helm to him and then serves of council to Gunther after the incident at the church. Hagen points out the betrayal of Siegfried on his vow and his threatening power that could well plot the downfall of Gunther knowing Siegfried also had a claim to the throne, being married to the king’s sister Kriemild. He tells Gunther that the people will not forget the way Siegfried had substituted for him both in Iceland and in the privacy of his room, he convinces Gunther that they may go as far has to Believe that any son of Gunther will be considered as the bastard son of Siegfried. Gunther then decides to send Siegfried back to Xanten and out of Burgundy, but is then stopped by Brunhilde who establishes that the punishment is far too light, and describing herself as disgraced and fooled, she asks for Siegfried’s death to Gunther who firstly refuses given his relationship with Siegfried but reluctantly accepts because Brunhild threatens to kill herself if the punishment is not carried out. Gunther is disillusioned but Hagen plans on Siegfried’s death the next day during the hunt as a simple accident. Siegfried confronts Kriemhild who breaks down after thinking about all she has done, Siegfried assures her that everything is all right, and that they are leaving to live in Xanten the next day after the hunt. The men leave for the hunt, where Gunther and Hagen plot to cause Siegfried’s death, but for a long time they are unable to. Kriemhild confronts Brunhild again and returns her belt, Brunhild reveals her troubled state of mind is because of Siegfried forgetting about their love.
Kriemhild realizing that Siegfried’s previous love was in fact Brunhild is devastated with guilt and confesses upon her use of the potion given to her by Hagen. Brunhild realizes that it was not Siegfried’s fault that he forgot her and that she has just sentenced him to death. On the hunt Hagen kills Siegfried by throwing a javelin through his weak spot (which Hagen found out about by eavesdropping on Siegfried and Gunther while going through a blood brother ritual). Siegfried remembers his love for Brunhild and says her name before death seizes him. His body is found by Giselher before they must go back to Burgund and it is wept over by Kriemhild. Gunther claims it was a Saxon ambush but she accuses him of murder by envy and guilt. She throws the Nibelung’s ring onto the ground (Siegfried gave it to her for an engagement ring) and Gunther and Hagen fight over it to Gunther’s death. Giselher then tries to kill Hagen but is easily overpowered. A vengeful Brunhild arrives and furiously kills the men who allied themselves with Hagen using the belt that Kriemhild returned to her earlier. Brunhild defeats and beheads Hagen and disappears.
Epilogue
Kriemhild places the ring on Siegfried’s hand as they give him a pagan funeral. Giselher wishes the Pagan gods would live again on his death but Lena tells him that the Pagan gods die with him. When the boat has burst into flames Brunhild appears from below Siegfried’s altar and kills herself with his sword. She collapses on top of Siegfried’s body, and the boat sinks into the river where the treasure hoard is shown having been thrown into the river.
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This film is a well crafted melding of the early Nordic Volsunga saga and the later high German tale of the Nibelungenlied. The amalgamation brings out a heroic myth with a universal appeal that is beautifully rendered by the film makers and the cast.

REVIEW: DUNE (1984)

CAST
Kyle MacLachlan (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Brad Dourif (Childs Play)
Linda Hunt (Dragonfly)
Virginia Madsen (Highlander II)
Francesca Annis (The Libertine)
Leonardo Cimino (Amityville II)
José Ferrer (Lawrence of Arabia)
Freddie Jones (Young Sherlock Holmes)
Richard Jordan (The Hunt For Red October)
Siân Phillips (Clash of The Titans 1981)
Jürgen Prochnow (Hitman: Agent 47)
Patrick Stewart (X-Men)
Sting (Brimstone & Treacle)
Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap)
Max von Sydow (Conan The Barbarian)
Alicia Witt (Two Weerks Notice)
Sean Young (Blade Runner)
In the distant future the known universe is ruled by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. The most important substance in the empire is the drug known as melange or “the spice”. It has many special properties, such as extending life and expanding consciousness. The most profitable and important of its properties is its ability to assist the Spacing Guild with folding space, which allows safe, instantaneous interstellar travel.
Sensing a potential threat to spice production, the Guild sends an emissary to demand an explanation from the Emperor, who confidentially shares his plans to destroy House Atreides. The popularity of Duke Leto Atreides has grown, and he is suspected to be amassing a secret army, making him a threat to the Emperor. Shaddam’s plan is to give the Atreides control of the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune), the only source of spice, and to have them ambushed there by their longtime archenemies, the Harkonnens. The Navigator commands the Emperor to kill the Duke’s son, Paul Atreides, a young man who dreams prophetic visions of his purpose. The order draws the attention of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, as Paul is tied to the centuries-long Bene Gesserit breeding program which seeks to produce the universe’s superbeing, the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. Paul is forced to place his hand in a box which subjects him to excruciating pain. He passes to Mohiam’s satisfaction.
Meanwhile, on the industrial world of Giedi Prime, the sadistic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen tells his nephews Glossu Rabban and Feyd-Rautha about his plan to eliminate the Atreides by manipulating someone into betraying the Duke. The Atreides leave Caladan for Arrakis, a barren desert planet populated by gigantic sandworms and the Fremen, a mysterious people who have long held a prophecy that a messiah would come to lead them to freedom. Upon arrival on Arrakis, Leto is informed by one of his right-hand men, Duncan Idaho, that the Fremen have been underestimated, as they exist in vast numbers and could prove to be powerful allies. Leto gains the trust of Fremen, but before the Duke can establish an alliance with them, the Harkonnens launch their attack.
While the Atreides had anticipated a trap, they are unable to withstand the attack, supported by the Emperor’s elite troops and aided by a traitor within House Atreides, Dr. Wellington Yueh. Captured, Leto dies in a failed attempt to assassinate the Baron Harkonnen using a poison gas capsule planted in his tooth by Dr. Yueh. Leto’s concubine Lady Jessica and his son Paul escape into the deep desert, where they join a band of Fremen, led by Stilgar. Paul emerges as Muad’Dib, the leader for whom the Fremen have been waiting. Paul teaches the Fremen to use the sonic weapons and targets mining production of spice. Within two years, spice production is effectively halted. The Spacing Guild warn the The Emperor of the situation on Arrakis. The Guild fears that Paul will consume the Water of Life. These fears are revealed to Paul in a prophetic dream; he drinks the Water of Life and enters into a trance. Awakening, he is transformed and gains control of the sandworms of Arrakis. He has discovered that water kept in huge caches by the Fremen can be used to destroy the spice. Paul has also seen into space and the future; the Emperor is amassing a huge invasion fleet above Arrakis to regain control of the planet and the spice.
Upon the Emperor’s arrival at Arrakis, he executes Rabban for failing to remedy the spice situation. Paul launches a final attack against the Harkonnens and the Emperor’s elite shock troops at the capital city of Arrakeen. His Fremen warriors defeat the Emperor’s legions, while Paul’s sister Alia kills Baron Harkonnen. Paul faces the defeated Emperor and relieves him of power, then engages Feyd-Rautha in a duel to the death. Paul demonstrates his newfound powers and fulfills the Fremen prophecy that he is the promised messiah by causing rain to fall on Arrakis for the first time ever, as Alia declares him the Kwisatz Haderach.
If you are curious about the film and are familiar with all the bad and discouraging press it has received over the years, yet remain a fan of exceptional fantasy or science fiction, do not be discouraged. You may find that it has elements that may just move you, bewilder you, or tantalise your imagination. You may come to agree, like a growing number of us, that it really is not so deserving of the excoriation that it has suffered at the hands – or pens – of its harshest critics. If you go into it with a forgiving mindset then you may be well rewarded. And then – if you haven’t already – read the saga itself. It is formidably great

REVIEW: TWO AND A HALF MEN – SEASON 6-8

 

MAIN CAST

Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots)
Jon Cryer (Superman 4)
Angus T. Jones (Bringing Down The House)
Marin Hinkle (I Am Sam)
Holland Taylor (D.E.B.S.)
Conchata Ferrell (Krampus)
Jennifer Taylor (Rumor Has It..)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Martin Mull (Sabrina: TTW)
Rena Sofer (Heroes)
Ryan Stiles (Hot Shots)
Alicia Witt (Two Weeks Notice)
Helena Mattsson (Iron Man 2)
Kelly Stables (The Exes)
Emilio Estevez (Mission Impossible)
James Earl Jones (Star Wars)
Carol Kane (Gotham)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Finder)
J.D. Walsh (Bones)
Melanie Lynskey (Up In The Air)
Meagen Fey (The Big Bang Theory)
Emmanuelle Vaugier (Human Target)
Joel Murray (Mad men)
Will Sasso (Movie 43)
Annie Potts (Ghostbusters)
Steve Hytner (Roswell)
Katy Mixon (Mike & Molly)
Verne Troyer (Austin Powers)
Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica)
Carl Reiner (The Cleveland Show)
Stacy Keach (The Simpsons)
Courtney Thorne-Smith (Melrose Place)
Graham Patrick Martin (Major Crimes)
Elizabeth Ho (Fifty Shades of Black)
Katherine Lanasa (Lie To me)
Ming Na (Agents of Shield)
Rachel Cannon (The Big Bang Theory)
Rebecca McFarland (Faking it)
Jodi Lyn O’ Keefe (The Vampire Diaries)
Missi Pyle (Dodgeball)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club)
Erinn Hayes (The Watch)
Liz Vassey (Tru Calling)

 

Season six is a busy season for Charlie, Alan, and Jake. There are several new developments, which include Charlie trying out a monogamous relationship again, Alan getting too involved with Judith and Herb, Jake and Evelyn bonding, and more. Along the way, there are plenty of laughs, as the cast continues to work very well together. The show also has excellent writing and plotlines that keep the content fresh.

The season begins with the episode “Taterhead Is Our Love Child”, which marks a new era for Charlie — he starts to think about people other than himself. In this episode, he runs into an old girlfriend. She has a kid named Chuck who is the spitting image of Charlie. Charlie contemplates the effectiveness of condoms, as well as having his own child. It is a fun way to start the season with lots of goofiness coming from the main characters. “A Jock Strap In Hell” is another episode that highlights Charlie’s growth and maturity as a human being. Back in season two, Charlie dated Jake’s 5th grade teacher Miss Pasternak. Unfortunately, after he dumped her, she went a little crazy. In a very awkward, yet comical moment, Charlie, Alan, and Jake run into her at the local drug store. Her life is a mess and she has gone from teacher to stripper. Charlie feels guilt and helps her regain part of her life back. Of course, the situation blows up on everyone. The end result is a riot!

Despite Charlie’s attempts to become a better person, he still hits a few kinks in the journey. One of them is Alan’s receptionist Melissa (Kelly Stables) in “The Flavin’ and the Mavin'”. He wins her over, but ends their relationship after a passionate weekend. Of course, it does not turn out well for Alan. Melissa comes back later in “Thank God for Scoliosis” as Alan’s love interest. They hit it off, but her weed smoking mother complicates things. Going back to Charlie, he makes a huge breakthrough in the romance department. “Pinocchio’s Mouth” introduces Chelsea (Jennifer Taylor), who has an on and off relationship with Charlie. They fight over trivial issues that only would bother Charlie. As the season progresses, Chelsea becomes more permanent and she slowly tames the wild beast.

Another big season development for the Harpers involves Judith and Herb. The married couple has a rocky patch in “It’s Always Nazi Week” and they patch things up in “Best H.O. Money Can Buy”. In the first episode, she kicks him out of the house when he takes some bad advice from Charlie. It is a fun development, as Herb tries to become like Charlie. Meanwhile, Judith fears being alone the rest of her life and puts the moves on Alan. Out of this situation, a sticky mess is made involving Judith, Alan, and Herb. It will be interesting to see what comes of it in season six.

As for the rest of the season, there are a lot of fun things happening for the cast. Some highlights include “Smelled The Ham, He Got Excited”, Evelyn makes a generous offer and the Harper boys pound their heads to find out why, “The Mooch At The Boo”, Alan is caught in his mom’s shoes (and dress) and Jake falls for the neighbor girl whose overprotective father Jerome (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a former NFL player, “The Devil’s Lube”, Charlie contemplates death after his friend dies and almost makes a dramatic life changing decision, “David Copperfield Slipped Me a Roofie”, Alan turns forty and no one really seems to care, “The Two Finger Rule”, Charlie, Alan, Herb, and Jerome hang out at the house–it is a real funfest, and “Above Exalted Cyclops”, Chelsea introduces Rose to the Harper boys. Overall, Two and a Half Men’s sixth season is an absolute riot. The series continues to dazzle and amaze with nonstop comedy.

When we last Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) he had managed to complete a season with a steady girlfriend, Chelsea (Jennifer Bini Taylor), and when we pick things back up, once again, wedding bells for Charlie are on the horizon.  Charlie wastes no time consciously and subconsciously sabotaging his relationship through the reappearance of his previous fiancé, Mia and his general proclivities towards adultery.

Charlie continues to exhibit deplorable behavior and his drinking problem reaches new lows, with the character at one point so hung-over he vomits into an occupied baby carriage. The writers in a turn of originality don’t go for the instant reconciliation of Charlie and Chelsea, nor do they close the door on the relationship. It allows for some character development for the character. Other highlights include some hilarious cameos from Annie Potts as the deranged mother of one of Alan’s girlfriends, and Stacy Keach as Chelsea’s newly out-of-the-closet, man’s man father. Eventually John Amos turns up as Keach’s boyfriend. Last but not least, the dependable supporting trio of Jake (Angus T. Jones), Alan’s now foul-mouthed teenage son, Evelyn (Holland Taylor), Alan and Charlie’s abusive, self-absorbed mother, and Berta (Conchata Ferrell), are always dependable. Season seven brings more laughs but Season 8 would bring an end to the Charlie Sheen era.

Season 8 was filmed at the time Charlie Sheen had his meltdown. What is interesting is that although the real-life Charlie now seems to be a lot like the onscreen Charlie, the onscreen Charlie is a lot happier, a lot more care-free, a comic rather than tragic figure. But enough of the psycho-analysis, what’s the show like, given that this is Charlie’s last season?

Alan and Charlie are of course the classic comedy duo – the uptight dweeb and the anarchic, cool, funny guy – and although it is played very broadly and superficially, they are presented as essentially good, likeable characters. Jake remains a bit-player throughout the season, never really given any room to shine, which is a shame, but well-judged and very funny cameos from Jane Lynch, Ryan Stiles and Judd Nelson help break up the at times repetitive and derivative interplay between the leads.

The season opener is a stand-alone, but after that a series of plots lines are introduced which play out over a number of episodes, which proves much more satisfying. Most enjoyable are the episodes that involve Alan’s developing relationship with Lyndsey, the mother of one of Jake’s class-mates. It is one of those situations that is not milked to death, but is allowed to become at times desperately painful and embarrassing, but also very funny and enjoyable. The season seems to end awfully abruptly with the collapse of Alan’s Ponzi scheme and the various loose ends of Charlie’s relationship with his stalker, this was due to the fireing of Charlie Sheen and paved the way for Season 9 with a new lead.

REVIEW: VANILLA SKY

CAST

Tom Cruise (Knight and Day)
Penelope Cruz (Grimsby)
Cameron Diaz (Bad TEacher)
Kurt Russell (Big Trouble In Little China)
Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl)
Noah Taylor (Game of Thrones)
Timothy Spall (Rock Star)
Tilda Swinton (Constantine)
Michael Shannon (Man of Steel)
Ivana Milicevic (Casino Rtoyale)
Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory)
W. Earl Brown (Bates Motel)
Alicia Witt (Two Weeks Notice)
Ken Leung (Lost)

Vanilla Sky didn’t really have it easy in the year of its release. On top of being a Hollywood remake of the critically-acclaimed Spanish film, it also had to contend with the debut of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and the wider distribution of Nolan’s Memento — both of which generated buzz by accomplishing similar things in superior ways — earlier that year. Therefore, the field was crowded in the psycho-puzzle subgenre, and the twisted story of David Aames’ conflict of romantic pursuits and amnesiac murder mystery wasn’t, in a literal sense, anything new.Crowe tweaks the narrative, though, by emphasizing the protagonist’s legacy as the heir to a publishing empire, accentuating his recklessness with the business end of things and a general self-awareness of the tools at his disposal: charisma, wealth, and appearance. That makes it all the more intriguing to watch his casual tryst with clingy actress Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) evolve beyond his control, and to see it all deconstructed by a beautiful but comparatively commonplace dancer, Sofia (Penelope Cruz), who immediately steals his heart.Cruise admirably embraces the understated commentary on his persona through his character’s carefree place of power and his thorny relationship with his father, with his easy charm and building anxiety driven by writer/director Crowe’s good-natured style of human interaction. An immediate spark ignites between his character and Sofia within, unsurprisingly, a cluttered celebration of the greatness of David on his birthday, and it stays credible throughout the film due to how Penelope Cruz’s down-to-earth wit and allure drags him out of the clouds, shaping into a poignant love story. The standout performance, however, emerges in Cameron Diaz with arguably the best turn of her career, encapsulating obsession and one-way affection in a beautiful shell that’s both sympathetic and unsettling, the cloud over David’s happiness.
Infusing ethereal tracks by composer (and wife) Nancy Wilson and Icelandic band Sigur Ros with classic and contemporary melancholy pop songs, director Crowe again uses his musical awareness to heighten the visual and dramatic tempo in Vanilla Sky. Instead of directly enveloping scenes in the feel of a time period or the clear emotional state of a character, however, his musical selection here transports the audience through the complicated space of David Aames’ mind, guiding the film in both similar and differing tonal directions to that of Amenabar’s original intents. Crowe’s attunement to sound mixes intriguingly with the growingly abstract nature of David’s telling of the events, embracing an attitude that’s somewhere between the earnest warmth of the director’s previous pictures and the disappearing grip on reality within David’s psychosis. Overt sentimentality does get in the way of establishing a consistent suspenseful mood, but that duality also becomes one of the film’s distinguishing attributes as the tone shifts between those margins.

Along the way, Cameron Crowe never lets the viewer forget that this is a narrative being spun by an imprisoned man in a latex mask, divulged to an inquisitive psychiatrist as he builds a case for David’s mental state surrounding a murder accusation. Paired with the evocative perspective of Braveheart and Almost Famous cinematographer John Toll, surreal cues emerge through the film’s visual language that suggest there’s more to everything than what we’re shown, where little details scattered about — photographs, drawings, even the mole on someone’s body — begin to play with the perspectives of both David and the audience’s trust level in him. It’s at this point where Vanilla Sky pulls the curtain back on what it’s really about, descending into the pandemonium of nightmares and unreliable narration through warped science-fiction that recalibrates just about everything that’s transpired thus far. Crowe doesn’t get carried away with it all, either, keeping a firm grip on what’s safe to be deduced and not as the film shapeshifts into a psychological thriller.

Vanilla Sky tumbles down that rabbit hole in a wild, slyly unsettling climax to the tragic mysteries of David’s life, both revealing the truth of what’s going on and inviting different interpretations to what it all means through layered clues, more flashes of images and whispers in the distance. It’s unsurprising that heavy emotion speaks louder than thematic lucidity in Crowe’s ending, the most divergent part of the film from the original; however, the bittersweet nature in how it feeds into the choice between moving on with one’s life or perpetuating an illusion says enough. Despite tiptoeing around some rather dark elements, it leaves the audience with a degree of cathartic optimism hanging in the air alongside swelling atmospheric music and painterly surroundings, yet there’s also the lingering sensation that everything hasn’t been, and won’t be, fully answered. Whether repeat viewings will bring that more into focus depends on the viewer, but thankfully experiencing the sweet and sour of David’s life is compelling enough to continue doing so anyway.