Abre los Ojos

To watch, or not to watch this critically acclaimed Spanish picture? Especially now, three months away from the release of “Vanilla Sky”, Cameron Crowe’s remake of it starring Tom Cruise and the female lead of the original, Penelope Cruz. As a huge Crowe fan, I’m really, really looking forward to his latest, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the whole story before hand. Then again, I figured I’d rather discover whatever surprises to come while watching Alejandro Amenábar’s picture than reading about it somewhere on some internet gossip site.

Verdict? Whoa. Double whoa. Total whoa. And then some more whoa on top of it. See this movie, now. It’s out on wide-screen DVD, you should be able to pick up a copy somewhere. I mean, God! This is the kind of movie that, the second you’re done watching it, after only a few minutes to find your breath back, you just have to watch it again. I knew next to nothing about it, and that’s the way it should be. The film totally took me by surprise. Here I thought I was watching a good but unexceptional little melodrama about a handsome young man who steals away his best friend’s girl and, in a cruel, ironic twist of fate, is horribly disfigured in a car crash. But then… Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare go on. Just know that this is one trippy movie.

Yet… I *have* to write some more, just to free my mind of all the amazement and confusion I’m experiencing. I’ll avoid major spoilers, but I still urge you to see the movie ; you can always resume reading this later. Ok, where to start. Well, let’s get going with some general appreciation. This is an utterly superb movie, which not only looks and sounds gorgeous, but which is also cinematically twisted and inventive. The editing and camera angles all work to create various moods through the film, giving out an almost surreal impression. One of the major themes of the film is what is real? What isn’t? Where do dreams begin, where do they end? In that sense, the film has some similarities with movies as varied in tone as “Total Recall”, “Lost Highway”, “The Game”, “The Truman Show”, “Dark City”, “The Matrix” or, most recently, “Memento”. Amenábar is making the best kind of science-fiction, the kind where special effects are irrelevant but ideas are central. The film plays with concepts which could come true, things that could actually already be happening.

Another major theme is the importance or the futility of outside appearances. Now, you could think of “Darkman”, or of Mel Gibson in “The Man Without a Face”, or the godfather of all deformed souls, “The Phantom of the Opera”. So, this isn’t new material, but it’s interestingly and touchingly played out in the film. That’s another thing: for all the “out there” and complex stuff in his film, Amenarar the visionary is also apt to get down to the simpler but essential things, like writing characters we care for and good dialogue and getting strong performances out of his cast. Eduardo Noriega stars as Cesar, and he’s convincing though all the difficult phases his character goes through, from cocky playboy to desperate freak to raging madman. Penelope Cruz, who plays Sophia, has been getting some really bad reviews for her recent American work, but I personally think that she’s a more than decent actress, especially here, where she’s charming, moving and always believable. Her screwed up relationship with Cesar is very affecting; it’s like “Vertigo” on acid ! Actually, I’m sure that’s one of the things Amenarar was going for; there’s one shot in particular, where Cruz enters a room in a greenish glow, which is right out of Hitchcock’s picture.

I’ll stop now before I reveal anything. It basically comes down to this: see the freaking movie! The only question that remains is, what to make of “Vanilla Sky” now? It’s one thing to remake a flawed film, it’s another when the original is near-perfect. Then again, I think I can trust Cameron Crowe. He did, after all, direct “Say Anything”, which makes my Top 5 of all time, as well as “Almost Famous”, which was one of my very favorites from last year. And I have to admit that I’m curious to see what Hollywood actors, American pop music and locations will bring in term of tone and style. Anyways, that’s in December, and that’s another review. Today’s lesson is that “Abre Los Ojos” is a masterpiece, hear?

Requiem for a Dream

“Requiem for a Dream”… What an inappropriately drowsy title for such an explosive film. It makes it sound like some black & white melodrama about queer French poets or something. “Last Exit to Brooklyn”, the title of another novel by Hubert Selby Jr (who wrote the screenplay adapted from his own book) is already more on track, but my suggestion would have been “Fucking Up”, because that’s just what the movie is about. It takes four relatively happy and balanced individuals and it watches almost clinically as each one fucks up his existence through addiction. There’s a lot of hell brought by smack, coke and pills, but it actually all seem to start with the oh so addictive fake dreams sold to people by television.

Meet Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a widow living by herself in an apartment building older than herself in Brooklyn, by Coney Island. She’s terribly lonely, but she finds a little comfort in watching infomercials and game shows and fantasizing about being on TV herself, with millions of people watching her and, hopefully, liking her. Hence, when she’s contacted about being a possible contestant on her favorite quiz, she fills with joy. She can already see herself, in her golden shoes and the red dress she wore to her son’s graduation, the dress her late husband liked so much… If only she can fit in it. So that becomes her objective, losing enough weight to fit in the dress and look great on TV. She tries dieting, but that demands a lot of discipline, so she decides to go to her doctor and have him prescribe her diet pills. But if amphetamines make you lose your appetite and weight, they can also make you lose your mind, as they screw with your body chemistry and become so addictive that you start overusing them, and then it gets really ugly…

Meet Sara’s only son, Harold (Jared Leto). Bright, good looking. A bit of a slacker, but still a good kid. He does a little dope once in awhile, but hey, this is Brooklyn, who doesn’t, right ? He’s not a junkie or anything, he just likes to get high. So does his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), a beautiful, sweet young woman. They’re happy together, they party, they dream about the future… Marion likes to design dresses, and Harold wants to help her open her own boutique. With his best pal Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans), a streetwise African-American with connections, he schemes a perfect plan to make a big score. All they have to do is buy a big stash of smack, cut it to double their stock and sell it with profit. It’s that simple… or is it? Drug dealing is not the safest of occupations, and when you’re using a bit too much of your shit yourself, you’re well on your way to fucking up…

“Requiem for a Dream” is as powerful and intense as filmmaking gets. It was directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose only previous feature film was the critical hit “Pi” (I have yet to see it). Now they’re talking about handing him the Batman franchise, and if they do, man are we in for a wild ride! Judging by “Requiem”, Aronofsky really knows his craft. He’s one of those filmmakers who’s obviously passionate about every element, and therefore he works hard to make everything as good as possible. The lighting, the editing, the cinematography, the music, the acting… Everything is top notch. Yet it’s not all flash ; everything serves the dramatic progression of the story. The film is divided in three parts. Summer, when everything seems possible, every dream attainable. Fall, when they get hit by the dull reality of things, and must adjust to it or sink deeper. And finally Winter, when it’s too late to get out, hang on, it’s about to really get horrible. This structure mirrors the way it is with hard drugs. At first it’s fun, and seemingly harmless. Then it’s not all that fun anymore, it becomes a routine of abuse. And if you keep at it, you get to a point where it’s your only reason to live, if you can call that wretched existence of yours a life anymore. To communicate the distorted perception of his addicted characters, Aronofsky uses every trick in the post-MTV handbook, from split screen to sped up images, manic editing, point-of-view shots, slow motion and various other special effects. He also uses a series of close-ups shots in leitmotiv (a rolled up dollar bill, a syringe filling up, pills popped out, dilating pupils…), showing them over and over through the film to show how the people in the movie can’t help doing the same gestures again and again. That’s addiction, baby.

Besides being sustainedly visually dazzling, the film also sounds awesome. Aronofsky makes great use of surround sound technology, warping us in sound effects to make the experience even more intense. Add to that the best film score I’ve heard all year, and your ears are in for a treat. What I love is that not only is Clint Mansell’s score effective, laying down the notes and chords to underline the emotional core of key moments, heightening the drama through the film, but it’s also completely contemporary. Most movies still sound like they were made in 1940, but not this one. Scratching, sampling, beat-breaking, Mansell knows it and he uses it, to great effect. The rhythmic pounding provided by techno music really fits with the overall feel of the picture, which is increasingly jumpy and frenetic itself. Mansell also mixes in some traditional string quartet arrangements, and it all makes for an innovative, moving musical backdrop for what we see on screen.

So technically, the movie rules hell and earth, but if the performances weren’t up to it, the movie could have fell flat on its aesthetically stimulating face. No worry here, “Requiem for a Dream” features some of the best acting I’ve seen all year. And as far as Ellen Burstyn’s part goes, I’d stretch it to ever. She really went all out for this role, and it’s brutal to watch. You really see her deteriorate before your eyes. Going from Mommie Dearest to that wacked out old hag raving in the subway. Burstyn gets thin, then thinner, her hair dye gets uglier and uglier, her make-up messier. She herself grows more confused and confusing, always more obsessed with her stupid game show and her stupid red dress… And how lonely she is, poor old widow, and she’s only making it worse by popping uppers all day, she’s becoming even more alienated. Oh, I tell you, it gets hard to even watch her… But at the same time, you can’t look away. If Burstyn doesn’t get a Best Actress Oscar, the Academy is definitively out of it.

The other performances in the film don’t approach such heights of brilliance, but the rest of the cast is very strong nonetheless. Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly really take a huge drop through the film. In early scenes, when their drug consumption is relatively reasonable, I found myself thinking of how they made the most gorgeous couple in the world. I mean, they both look good, Leto with his babyface, Connelly and those big blue eyes, that sensual mouth… And they’re adorable together, so madly in love…. That makes it even more wrenching to then watch them go through a downward spiral of self-destruction, ending up ugly and pathetic… Leto all sweaty and shifty, his arm an infected wreck, Connelly a desperate girl ready to do anything or anyone for one more fix. A bit on the sides of this is Tyrone, the cool black dude who gradually loses his rap and his mojo, and becomes just… sad. Marlon Wayans does a very good job in the role, playing down the showiness and crooked comic talent he displayed last summer in “Scary Movie” in which he made us laugh as a goofy pothead. Well, I don’t think there’s any laugh here, there’s hardly enough air to breathe.

This movie is disturbing, horrifying… It’s an excruciating experience, really, but it’s also riveting, absolutely brilliant filmmaking that always keep you on the edge of your seat. I left the Imperial theatre all stirred up, pushing back tears, feeling drained and awfully sorry for these people I grew to care about. See this movie and you’ll never want to do hard drugs. Well, it might not be easy to see it, as this is a rather limited release, in great part because of the thick-headedness of the MPAA, which almost gave the film the kiss of death by slapping it with a NC-17 rating. Artisan decided to release it Unrated instead, but that still cut back its chances of being widely seen and discussed, which is really too bad. True, this is an extremely graphic film, so hardcore that it makes “Trainspotting” seem like an after-school special, but it has to be. Being hung up on smack isn’t PG-13, it’s NC-17 and then some. Things get ugly, and the movie is just being upfront in showing it. I hope that at least the voters of the Academy make the effort to see it and reward it for all its merits. So far this year, this movie has the Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Sound, Best Actress (Burstyn)… And when January comes along, it will surely hold a very high place on my Top Ten.


This is the best example of a film with awesome style but not much substance. On some levels, it’s like, the coolest flick ever. It’s all in that kick ass ’70s blaxploitation feel, from Isaac Hayes’ mesmerizing score to the funky clothes. And the hero! Richard Roundtree is as good as it gets as private dick whose a sex machine to all the chicks John Shaft. The plot is just okay, but hey… So you got the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about Shaft in his fly trenchcoat, strutting his afro all the way to his office, where two shady characters are awaiting him. They’re coming on behalf of Bumpy, a Harlem warlord who controls much of the underground business. It seems his daughter was kidnapped, maybe by Italian mobsters wanting to compete on his turf. So the man who will risk his neck for his brother man scouts the streets looking for clues, and with the help of a bunch of badass Negroes, he’ll bust the girl out.

Okay, not much thought in the story. They should have developed the script, ’cause the story is dull by moments. But you cannot not like all these unforgettable bits of black wisdom and the way Roundtree puts so much attitude in the already snappy dialogue. Imagine Sam Jackson, but even cooler (Jackson is actually shooting an update of the flick directed by John Sngleton). Many scenes are hilarious, and I dig all the gratuitous sex and excessive violence. Shaft, a complicated man who no one understands but his woman, keeps getting it on with anonymous babes he just met, and he sure kicks ass when it comes to getting back at punks. There are also a few nifty twists in the story, and the climactic showdown is as thrilling and satisfying as you can imagine. And even when the film drags, Isaac Hayes’ soulful music keeps it grooving. I hear this cat Shaft is a bad mother – shut ya mouth! But I’m talking about Shaft! And we can dig it….

Singin’ in the Rain

This truly is one of the all-time great feel-good movies. Musicals tend to be a lot of fun, but this Gene Kelly vehicle is particularly enjoyable. It’s full of memorable songs and impressive dance numbers, plus it’s clever, sweet and funny. Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, stars as Don Lockwood, a highly popular silent movie star in late ’20s Hollywood. Jean Hagen is Lina Lamont, his romantic partner on screen. The movie is about how the transition from silent film to talkies drew a panic in the studios. Tons of problems arise. People and cameras used to make a lot of noise on sets, with the director yelling indications to his actors, but now that sound is recorded, they have to adjust. And then there’s Lina, who has a horribly annoying voice and who can never remember to talk in the damn microphone!

So “Singin’ in the Rain” is insightful and well written but mostly, it showcases Gene Kelly’s amazing talent. You gotta see him tapdancing, singing and jumping around through the film! It’s absolutely impossible to take your eyes off him ! The movie is full of classic numbers, notably Good Morning, You Were Meant For Me (not the Jewel song!) and Broadway Melody, but the showstopping moment is of course Singin’ in the Rain, one of the most striking scenes in movie history. It’s just fascinating to watch a lovestruck Kelly not even bothered by the incessant rain, dancing with his umbrella and jumping in puddles! Kelly is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Hagen is very funny as the dumb starlet, and Debbie Reynolds matches Kelly’s charm and talent as his character’s love interest, the sassy dancer Kathy. I love their scenes together, from their meeting as they pretend to hate each other to their great love declarations through songs. And then there’s wisecracking sidekick Cosmo Brown, played by the hilarious Donald O’Connor, who shines with his “Make Em Laugh”.

What’s odd with a film like this, though, is that it’s immensely entertaining but hard to write about. Maybe because words can’t translate the joy that fills this timeless masterpiece. The best I can say is that I had a big grin on my face all the way. There is no way anyone anywhere won’t love “Singin’ in the Rain”!

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a need for South Park. But in our society fueled by hypocrisy, greed and intolerance a film like this is essential to remind us what freedom of speech is all about. It seems that only cartoons are able to satirize today’s world, because they’re cheaper and people feel less threatened by little animated characters. There’s still the occasional “Happiness” or “Election”, but for regular doses of unrestrained satire, you better turn to the animated shows of Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Mike Judge (King of the Hill) and, of course, Trey Parker. I truly believe that Parker is one of the most gifted new talents in movies, for he makes totally unique pictures. First there was “Cannibal: the Musical”, which blends “Oklahoma!”-style songs and gore, then came “Orgazmo”, about a Mormon porn star super-hero! Through all this, Parker and his pal Matt Stone created the cult TV show “South Park”, which got them the lead in David Zucker’s hilarious “BASEketball, and now the chance to take their show to the next level: the big screen!

The title is more than a nifty penis joke: this movie is indeed bigger, longer and uncut! The little kids of South Park Elementary go to places they’ve never been before, and their language is dirtier than ever! This movie ranks along “Scarface” and “Do the Right Thing” as one of those the most jam-packed with the F-word! It all starts out in the supposedly quiet, snow-covered little town of South Park, Colorado. We meet again with our cute but crude cardboard friends from TV. There’s Stan Marsh, who’s still love Wendy so much that he pukes every time he sees her, even though she has a thing with sophisticated British new kid Gregory. Then there’s Kyle Broflovky’s the little Jewish kid with an attitude, and poor Kenny McCormick with his coat over his face and a tendency to always die. Last but not least is Eric Cartman, one of the most hilarious characters ever. Man, is he a badass, filthy, sick, cruel son of a bitch. His voice (courtesy of Parker, who voices all the main characters with Stone) is absolutely unmistakable, and practically everything he says is a memorable one-liner. This fatass is only 8 or something, but man is he a screw up!

One of the things that’s cool with the film is that Parker didn’t just put three episodes together: this really a movie, and it goes further than the show since it has more time to develop a story. It all starts as Stan and his pals get into the R-Rated Terrance & Philip movie and are totally blown away by the filthy words they get to hear. Hence, they start going around spitting about f’ing donkey balls, f’ng shitface bitches and horse f**kers! No need to mention that their parents and teacher Mr.Garrison (and his fetish puppet Mr. Hat) freak out, but you won’t believe how far they go! Or maybe you will, which is the sad thing. Cause after all, what Parker and Stone do is take messed up things in our society and exaggerate them so they get funny and you can see how absurd people’s behavior can be. Led by Kyle’s mom, a raging, overbearing, totally insane bitch (immortalized in Cartman’s classic song “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch”), the people of South Park protest Terrance & Philip, whom they accuse of perverting America’s youth.

But it doesn’t stop there: they have President Clinton declaring war to Canada (T & P happen to be Canadian stars), sending armies after armies up North, putting Canucks in death camps and imprisoning the farting Terrance & Philip until they go on the electric chair! Parker (who wrote-produce-directed the film) is really determined to show how America can be sick sometimes. He makes fun of the government, parents associations, the MPAA, the army, as well as various pop culture stuff. But the movie is more than a caustic satire of overzealous moral righteousness: it’s also a full-fledged musical, as the characters regularly burst into very catchy songs composed by Parker such as “Mountain Town”, “Uncle Fucka”, “It’s easy M’kay”, “Up There”, “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”, “Blame Canada” and much more.

This is really a non-stop extravaganza, equal part song, satire and filthy humor. It’s always very entertaining, and some scenes are stand-outs: the movie-within-the movie “Asses of Fire”, the scene on Conan O’ Brien’s show, Big Gay Al’s variety show, the God-hating Mole and la Resistance, and the whole subplot revolving around the homosexual affair between Satan and Saddam Hussein! As for the animation, it’s a bit rough, but it’s colorful and original and some parts (like the hell scenes) feature eye-popping computer animation a la Spawn. “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” is a hella cool movie, as highly entertaining and delightfully subversive as it gets. Who would have thought that South Park would lead to one of the sharpest satirical movies of the ’90s as well as the best musical comedy in at least 20 years?

The Sound of Music

Somehow, I’d never seen this before. Of course, I knew most of the songs and was familiar with the classic moments from this Best Picture winner for 1966 which once was the highest grossing picture ever made. Yet I’d never actually sat down to watch. Until now, as I’ve spent nearly five hours perusing through the “Five Star Collection” DVD. I’ll get to the extras later, but what’s most important, naturally, is the movie itself. And what a wonderful movie it is ! It’s kind of a surprise how fun this one is, considering that it’s nearly three hours long and it revolves around a houseful of Austrian children. Not to be close-minded, but I guess this is why it took me so long to get around to see this. It looks so dull and, well, gay! What did me in, though, is the more or less recent revelation I had that musicals could be soooooo entertaining! I’d seen some of the staples of the genre through the years, but didn’t think too much of it, even though I loved most of them. But this year, with the release of two new musicals (“Moulin Rouge!” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) which are pretty much my favorites of 2001 so far, I’m getting to accept that I really, really dig musicals! Maybe I *am* gay (maybe not). Anyways, here I am finally, ready to review “The Sound of Music”!

The film opens with impressive helicopter shots of some gorgeous Austrian scenery. And then we swoon down on the equally gorgeous Julie Andrews as she sings out, “The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years.” What a perfect, iconic opening. Even though, for late comers like me, you can’t help but think of Ewan McGregor’s take on it from “Moulin Rouge!”. Oh well. Andrews eventually gets off the hills and goes back to the Abbey. Her character Maria is, as it turns out, a nun. She doesn’t really fit in ; she loves God and all, but she also loves dancing and singing and being funny, not so much dwelling in contemplation and reverence. Fortunately, her mother Abbess sends her off on an assignment in the world. She is to take care of the seven children of Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a navy officer who lost his wife to scarlet fever. He didn’t take it really well, as Maria will notice shortly. He runs his household like a military regiment, letting his children do nothing but march and learn discipline.

Obviously, Maria’s arrival will change everything, bringing joy and happiness to the kids with the sound of music, and maybe she’ll show the old captain how to love again. The end. Pretty predictable, eh ? Not so much, in fact. Yes, most of the movie is upbeat and musical, with the whole family even performing in parties and festivals as the Trapp Family Singers, but some complications ensue. First, there’s the shenanigans of the Baroness (what is this, GI Joe?!), a storybook evil stepmom who tries to wedge herself between Maria and the von Trapp. Second, and most upsetting, is the introduction of the Nazis. At the beginning, when a title card announced that this was set in 1930s Austria, it sounded like bad news to me, but it was still kind of shocking to see, after scenes with kids falling off rowboats, bright skies and blissful songs, to have men in uniforms march in and go “Heil Hitler”. Hence, the third act is marked by the birth of the third Reich and the invasion of Austria by the Germans, and the film becomes more tense and dramatic. While this remains a feel-good movie which doesn’t get down and dirty into World War II issues, you could compare the tone of some of it to that of “Casablanca”. I didn’t expect this, but I appreciated it. It cancelled any impression I might have had that this was a frivolous affair. This was further confirmed when, in exploring the extras, I learned that the movie is quite closely based on the real life of the von Trapp family.

Yet let’s not get too sombre now! This is “The Sound of Music” after all, not “Sophie’s Choice”. From fact to film, the story had to be laid down in a book by Maria von Trapp , then adapted as the 1956 German film “Die Trapp Familie”, which inspired famed composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to create a Broadway musical out if, which was then the base for the movie, which was written by Ernest Lehman and directed by Robert Wise, who’d previously worked together on “West Side Story”. The movie assembles a great cast, from the talented children to the radiant Andrews and the edgy, interesting Plummer. Wise’s direction is both playful and gracious, and the movie hardly ever loses its grip on the audience. I stated earlier that the 174 minute running time worried me, but this wasn’t an issue, the movie just flew by.

For all of its qualities, the greatest thing about the movie is the Rodgers and Hammerstein score. Besides the classic title track, well known ditties include “Do Re Mi” (you know, “doe, a deer, a female deer.”), as well as “My Favorite Things” and “So Long Farewell”, a pair of catchy little numbers which were used to affecting effect in Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark”, in which Björk and others participate in an amateur production of “The Sound of Music”. Plummer also gets to croon the nice “Edelweiss” and Charmian Carr, who plays Liesl, the oldest daughter, duets with a young man on “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, which has some kind of naughty subtext. All those memorable tunes, paired with the surprisingly strong script and direction, explain how “The Sound of Music” has endured as a timeless crowd-pleaser.

And now, with the DVD, which gives you much bang for your buck. On Disc One, besides a great transfer of the film in Anamorphic Widescreen and Dolby Surround, there’s a running commentary by Robert Wise which I didn’t really listen to. It’s one of those tracks where the speaker doesn’t say much, taking long pauses. Much more rewarding the supplements-filled Disc Two. On it, you’ll found tons of storyboards, audio bits, interviews, original trailers and TV spots. There’s also two documentaries. One is an hilariously dated and naïve behind the scenes featurette / Salzburg travelogue narrated by Carr, but the other is a comprehensive, feature length doc. It’s informative and interesting, as we get to learn a lot about the real von Trapp family, the Broadway play and the production of the film through tons of interviews from various involved parties.

Toy Story 2

You know what’s weird with movies? They can be so many things to so many people at the same time, you know, sometimes you don’t even know anymore. Let me clear this out. “Toy Story 2” is a wonderful movie that made me go through lots of shades of emotions, but at the same time I couldn’t quite get into it as much as I wanted to. Maybe that’s the over-hype syndrome. Subconsciously, when everyone’s saying nothing but nice things about a movie, my radar is up for any flaws. Lord knows that ain’t the right attitude to have to watch a movie. My bad. “Toy Story 2” doesn’t do anything particularly wrong; in fact, it does a lot of good, and it sometimes got right to me. But I didn’t fall for it like I fell for, say, “The Iron Giant”.

In 1995, John Lasseter and the dudes at Pixar dazzled the world with Toy Story, which wasn’t the richest movie ever storywise, but technically, you can’t deny the sheer achievement of it. Well, the sequel is even more impressive. Lasseter and cie take computer animation to a whole new level. It’s all so smooth, and so realistic! It must take forever to craft a movie like this. The reserve I sometimes have with films like that, though, is that time has proven that there will always be a more impressive flick down the pipe. I think the Pixar heads are aware of that, so they put a lot of stuff for everyone to enjoy in their movie. You won’t necessarily love it all, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a bunch of moments that make you laugh out loud and others that made you go ‘aaah!’

Tom Hanks is back again as Woody, the toy cowboy. I really love Hanks more and more. I like actors who reinvent themselves. Between Forrest Gump, Paul Edgecomb and Woody, there’s a whole world. The common thing with them is that they all have Hanks’ contagious charisma. I can’t believe a man can be as decent as this guy. Good for him. The sequel has him caught in a dilemna. On one hand, there’s statu quo, staying with his buddies in little Andy’s room, but knowing that someday his owner will outgrow him and leave him to dust. On the other hand, he can take the risk of leaving those he loves for a new family that might be more fulfilling. That whole questionning comes up when a geeky loser (voiced by Wayne “Newman” Knight) snatches the doll from Andy’s mom (voiced by Laurie Metcalf). Turns out Woody is a rare, collectable, near-mint piece of merchandising from a 50s puppet show, as he learns when the big fat geek stores him in a room where he meets other action figures inspired by the show. There’s Kelsey Grammer, very Sideshow Bobesque as Stinky the Prospector (!), and Joan Cusack who, for my money, totally steals the show with her oh so enthusiastic, oh so lovable performance!

Meanwhile, Woody’s former competitor-turned-buddy Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen and his very expressive and grandiloquent voice) gathers up the old gang to rescue him. There’s Mr Potato Head, who inherits from some of Don Rickles’ irreverence, and his Mrs, voiced by the hilariously nagging chick who played Estelle Costanza on Seinfeld, Slinky Dog, voiced by Ernest himself, Jim Varney, the big goofy dinosaur and maybe a few others I don’t recall at the moment. Add to that Buzz’ evil but sorta cool nemesis Zurg, and you got a satisfying adventure-packed extravaganza.

Valley Girl

Long after Romeo & Juliet, another pair of star-crossed lovers doomed from the start love as their peers try to call the whole thing off. And, hey, it’s 1983! Hence, everyone’s wearing odd hairdos and ridiculous clothes and high school life ain’t quite the same. One of the most representative kind of teenager is the Valley Girl. Julie and her friends are Vals, big time! These airheaded, shopping-obsessed, spoiled girls living in California’s San Fernando Valley are mostly known for the funny way they talk. Like, ohmigod! Fer sure, like, totally! Frank Zappa and his daughter immortalized the Valley Girl with a hit record, and this film does the same for cinema. The actresses really nail the character. It’s just hilarious! The title character is played by Deborah Foreman, who’s fun and cute. She’s all Val, yet she ain’t as dumb as her friends. She goes out with a popular stud named Tommy (Michael Bowen), but she’s kinda tired of his arrogant attitude.

Then, one day, she comes across a mysterious dude at the beach: Randy, a goofy-haired punker from the Hollywood Hills. She really digs him, and before long, they’re together. It might really be true love, but there’s a problem. Randy and Julie come from really different cliques. Julie hangs in the Valley, from the mall to a bunch of bright and clean parties, while Randy drives around more modest hoods and goes boozing in New Wave bars. Can they stick together despite their differences?

Okay, that’s a dopey, probably overseen plot. Still, it’s an enjoyable flick, and it’s often real funny. And man, I love the whole ’80s thing! On the filmmaking side, the film doesn’t have as much style and depth as the John Hughes movies, but it’s still better than those awful Troma teen sex romps. I also love the soundtrack, featuring music by Eddie Grant, Men At Work and many other one-hit wonders from the ’80s.

Yet, the coolest thing about the picture is that it’s the starring debut of the awesome Nicolas Cage. He’s so cool as Randy! It’s far from being his best film, but it’s still hysterical to see him with punk hair, New Wave clothes and, most of all, chest hair shaved in a weird little triangle. And man, ain’t he charming, cool and funny? You bet your fur! We can already see what a kick ass actor he is. So, if you’re looking for a light yet entertaining 80s teen flick but you’ve already seen the classics (“Fast Times”, “Breakfast Club”, “Say Anything”, etc.), well you should definitively check this one out.

When Harry met Sally…

It all begins as Harry Burns and Sally Albright meet each other. Both of them are moving to New York, so they go together, by car. During their 18 hour ride, they get to know each other, and they pretty much hate what they find out. Sally’s a cute, funny girl who enjoys life. Harry’s a depressed fellow who keeps making bitter yet really accurate observations about life. He has his own theories about everything. For example, he says that men and women can’t be friends, because sex always gets between them. Sally has difficulty believing that, but you have to admit that it’s damn true.

That’s one of the things that’s great about the film. It’s filled with really smart dialogue. It’s often funny, but it also contains a lot of truth. More than director Rob Reiner, you gotta credit the extraordinary Nora Ephron, one of the wittiest women in Hollywood (besides this gem, she wrote and directed “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”). She has a way of writing stories that are just so funny, insightful and poignant, all at the same time. The structure of her screenplay is really interesting. After their ride to New York, Harry and Sally drift apart and don’t see each other for 5 years, until they meet on a plane. They’re now both in relationships, and they part again for 5 more years. Then they meet again, right after they break up from their partners. This time, they become really good friends and they spend a lot of time together. But Harry’s theory about friendship between men and women might compromise all that… The story is richer than that, but I don’t want to give away everything. Most of my praise goes to Ephron, but Reiner still does a great job directing all this.. The movie is based on characters and dialogue, but Reiner makes it really dynamic and always finds the right tone.

The photography is very good and the music fits the piece very well, with tunes from Harry Connick Jr, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. What makes the material work even more is the wonderful performances from the leads. Billy Crystal is great as Harry. He’s hilarious, that’s no surprise, but he also proves to be a damn good actor. You think you should hate his character, but he remains likable. Sally is played by the excellent Meg Ryan, who’s jsut so beautiful and so sweet and so funny and so talented… Aah! “When Harry Met Sally…” is a wonderfully entertaining movie, but it’s much more than that. It’s never cheesy or unbelievable. You can understand why these people act like they do and why they love each other. I related a lot to the Harry character, and Sally reminded me of a girl I loved. This film is pure fun from start to end, and it made me want to be in love again.