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Capone nuzzles lovingly with Scarlett, Penelope, Javier, Woody, and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. In the last nine months or so, I've been fortunate enough to interview both Javier Bardem and Woody Allen--Bardem for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and Allen earlier this year for CASSANDRA'S DREAM. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of both interviews is that the two men had already shot a movie together called VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, and when I asked them whether the film was a comedy or drama, Bardem said he wasn't sure and that it depended on how Allen edited the film. Allen effectively told me it was neither and both. But it wasn't until I saw the film a couple weeks ago that I understood why both men were hard pressed to categorize this sensuous and amusing tale of frustrated romances and just how difficult changing your mind can truly be. The other eye-opening aspect of the film is that Allen has once again made a major discovery in relative unknown Rebecca Hall (who plays Vicky), who had a role in the Christopher Nolan film THE PRESTIGE. She is not only a vision to watch, but she is a classic neurotic Allen heroine who has a stable life with her boring rich husband-to-be, and meets a slightly reckless Spaniard (Bardem) who awakens the realization in her that maybe her life is unfulfilled. Vicky and her best friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson in her third and best appearance in a Woody Allen movie) decide to spend the summer in Barcelona before Vicky gets married, when they are approached by local artist Juan Antonio to go on a spontaneous trip to a nearby island to eat, drink, sightsee and make love. Vicky is appalled by his forwardness; the free-spirited Cristina is curious. This is the jumping-off point for a story that has both women sleeping with Juan Antonio, one of them entering into a serious relationship with the man, and the return of Juan Antonio's passionate—some may say insane—ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz, who, between this film and next week's ELEGY with Ben Kingsley, is having her greatest year in English-language films). VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA is not meant to be a film with big laughs, nor is it trying to make any grand, sweeping statements about marriage or relationships. It almost feels like Allen is attempting to let the characters decide the next step in their lives rather than being forced through a plot the way Cassandra's Dream maneuvered through its story. There's a very organic, easy-going feel to this film, partially brought on by the gorgeous settings and possibly the best-looking collection of actors Allen has ever assembled (Patricia Clarkson also puts in an appearance here, and she's never looked more beautiful). Allen has spent a great deal of time in his comedies and drama having his characters talk about sex and relationships, but I can't remember a film that jumped headfirst into the sensual experience like this (although Match Point comes a close second). Every performance is top notch, but I have to give special accolades to Cruz, who throws a torch right in the heart of this movie. Maria Elena is both bat-shit crazy and extremely insightful in her observations about her ex-husband's behaviors, motivations and weaknesses. She's introduced late in the film, but once she appears, the film lacks something whenever she's not on screen. Ever since her tour-de-force work in Almodovar's VOLVER a couple of years ago, Cruz has been unstoppable. She's an acting firestorm that moves through whatever films she's in and devastates everything in her path. An easy explanation is that she and Bardem are dating in real life, and that does explain some of their chemistry in Allen's movie. But her acting power goes far beyond that in recent years, and it goes beyond her looks. Especially in this film, she uses her whole body to act, which sounds like overacting, I know, but it doesn't come off that way. She's brilliant, and that's a word I never use. What VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA proves above all else is that Allen is still a relevant, viable force in his own right as a director and writer, especially when it comes to this more mature material he's been stepping into lately. In a weird way, it disappoints me that his next film (which he's already filmed and edited), WHATEVER WORKS, starring Larry David, was shot entirely in New York City. His "European experiment"—three films in England, one in Spain—was largely a success (if you take the dopey Scoop out of the mix) and marked a revitalization with Allen getting to interact with performers he might never have otherwise. I don't know what his location plans are from this point forward, but even if he spends the rest of his days working in and around New York, I'll look back on this period as a highlight of his career. By all means, check his latest out. -- Capone

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