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Penelope Cruz Shines in Woody Allen's Latest

Penelope Cruz Saves Woody allen | Mike Tyson Wows Cannes, Disses Don King | Wanda Jackson: Guitar Hero | Brangelina: Twins Fraternal

Penelope Cruz Saves Woody Allen

It’s not quite a fair headline, but it got your attention. I don’t know if Penelope Cruz has actually saved Woody Allen, but the famed director of many classic films was very smart in his casting of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s sexy muse as a comically crazed ex-wife in his new film, “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”

Cruz, nominated for the best actress Oscar two years ago in “Volver,” is a lock for a best supporting nomination this time around as Maria Elena, the wacky gun-brandishing ex-wife of the ladies-man central character played by Javier Bardem in Allen’s new film.

Allen, taking a page from Almodovar, has taken two of that filmmaker’s biggest stars, added his own — Scarlett Johansson — and just enough New York-type Woody Allen references to keep everyone in the theater very alert. (There’s actually a character named Tabachnik, which is also a Kosher food brand. Hello, Woody!)

The result is Allen’s funniest movie since “Manhattan Murder Mystery” and “Bullets Over Broadway” in the mid 1990s. It’s simple, straightforward and hilarious, with all the actors working at their highest levels, no one mimicking Allen’s delivery and Cruz stealing the film when she enters almost half way through the picture.

What a pleasure to see Allen in this milieu. Of course, you could argue that the main plot point of the film has been the fantasy of his lead characters for years yet unattainable: a handsome man involved in a three-way love affair with two gorgeous women. If this had happened to Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” it would have blown his mind. Instead, Bardem’s Juan Antonio is so suave that he manages to talk Johansson and Cruz into it. And yes, the two women do share a sexy kiss that indicates they have had their own dalliance.

If anything, the triangle seemed like the updated, racier version of the Sam Waterston-Carrie Fisher-Dianne Wiest subplot from “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Waterston’s architect could never have suggested this get-together in 1986. But two decades later, Bardem doesn’t flinch at making the suggestion.

Only it’s a little more complicated than that: Cruz’s character (Christina) is not part of the original equation. Scarlett and her buddy, played by sensational newcomer Rebecca Hall (Vicky), are staying in Barcelona for the summer. (Hall is no relation to Annie, but the real life daughter of Sir Peter, the British director.) Vicky is engaged to be married and worried about settling for middle class life in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Christina aspires to be a sexyako adventurer who longs to avoid cliches. Their hostess is played by family friend Patricia Clarkson, ravishing and spot-on as always. Kudos to Chris Messina and Kevin Dunn in less-flashy, but important, roles.

It’s these two whom Bardem wants, but then the whole thing gets very complicated. And just when this math problem looks solved, into the picture storms Cruz. Allen has written an inside joke for her since the beautiful witty Cruz is known for feeling more comfortable speaking in Spanish onscreen rather than English.

She immediately sends herself up, and her chemistry with Bardem is off the charts. Allen is smart enough to see that, so he’s written Johansson a wise-beyond-her-years young woman who knows enough to get out of the way of this combustible couple. Even Hall’s fresh-scrubbed naif gets the clues right away. And that’s what makes “Vicky Christina Barcelona” so enjoyable: No one is stupid or out of the loop. There’s great respect for the characters and the audience. You can just sit back and enjoy a fun ride.

“Vicky Christina Barcelona” is not “Hannah and Her Sisters”; it’s not epic. In the Allen canon it falls into what I think of as the short story world of gems that includes “Radio Days,” “Small Time Crooks,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery” and “A Midnight Summer’s Sex Comedy.”

For Allen, who digressed with the near-perfect “Match Point” and has taken some other odd turns in the last decade, “VCB” feels like not a return to roots but maybe the leap forward he’s been searching for in comedy. It certainly bodes well for the New York-set romantic comedy he’s shooting now. Nicely, nicely done.

Mike Tyson Wows Cannes, Disses Don King

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson is a pussy cat despite his checkered career and stints in prison for crimes committed and otherwise.

That’s the premise of James Toback’s very moving documentary, called “Tyson,” which debuted at Cannes right after the Woody Allen press screening last night.

Tyson narrates his own film and turns out to be disarmingly eloquent and thoughtful. After a slow start, in which Tyson describes himself and boxing, the film kicks into high gear and never lets go as the boxer recounts the various public episodes of his life.

What’s absolutely stunning is that you can see how much Tyson trusted Toback, the famed screenwriter ("Bugsy"), director ("Fingers," "Black & White"), and raconteur (see Beatty, Warren). The trust was well placed. Something unexpectedly intimate happens in this combination. Tyson is substantially rehabilitated as a human being. Toback does the best work of his career.

Of course, Tyson is not an idiot. His recollections of marriage to Robin Givens, biting Evander Holyfield’s ear and doing business with Don King are unsparing. King loves publicity but probably won’t like Tyson calling him a piece of you know what, among other things. King only finished paying Tyson off a settlement of $14 million (last payment in 2006) after the boxer sued him for missing fees.

When this film is released, Tyson will do victory laps with the media all thanks to Toback. Perhaps confined to history as a boxing aberration, Tyson should now be able to fix himself a George Foreman-like place in the culture. And Fitzgerald said American lives have no second acts. If only he’d lived long enough to see this!

P.S. Both Tyson and Toback attended last night’s black tie premiere. Prior to the screening, popular festival artistic director Theirry Fremaux made some remarks in French. Toback, hearing his name, came charging down the aisle to the stage — he was that nervous. Fremaux laughed, and said, “Not yet, Jim,” sending Toback back to the wings.

When he finished, Fremaux called out, “Now you can come out!” Toback was so overcome by the crowd’s reaction to him, Tyson and the film that he choked up several times. Tyson was equally overwhelmed. He’s fought in front of huge crowds his whole life. But he said to the audience, “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

Wanda Jackson: Guitar Hero

Don't miss Showtime's amazing documentary about legendary rocker Wanda Jackson, The Sweet Lady with the Little Voice. Check local listings. Jackson isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so you know she's important!

Brangelina: Twins Fraternal

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s twin girls likely will be fraternal, not identical.

Jolie mentioned this to me on Thursday night at the Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks party for "Kung Fu Panda," in which she co-voices animated characters with Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black.

The stunning actress said "there was a line" on the sonogram that indicates her daughters are not going to be perfect copies of each other.

Click here to view photos of Jolie and Pitt at Cannes.

Jolie and Pitt are here in Cannes for many reasons, starting with her two movies in competition: "Panda," and Clint Eastwood’s "The Changeling" (the latter debuts on Tuesday night).

Just as they were here last year for her "A Mighty Heart," and his "Ocean’s Thirteen," the couple causes a sensation wherever they go in this small resort town.

The difference, though, is that last year they were stationed at the ultra-swanky Hotel du Cap. This year, they and their four kids are said to have taken up residence in the nearby private mansion of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It’s where they will stay until Jolie gives birth. And from the looks of things, that will be sooner rather than later.

Her double pregnancy has done nothing to diminish Jolie’s beauty. Indeed, almost to ratify her movie-star status, while her body has rounded out immensely, her face seems almost unchanged. It’s as if she’s only padded for film purposes.

At the party, I related to her how many people seemed to be needed when my twin nieces came home from the hospital eight years ago. Eight adults didn’t seem to be enough for all the diaper changes, burpings and feedings.

"Oh, my God," Jolie exclaimed, "and we haven’t even hired a baby nurse yet!"

Pitt, overhearing the conversation, chimed in: "We're doing it in reverse: have two adults and six kids!"

For the record, they also haven’t picked names yet. But since so far their kids’ name choices have been big hits — Maddox, Zahara, Pax and Shiloh — my guess is they’ve got an interesting list cooking somewhere in their minds.

Almost more importantly, we also talked about the couple’s charitable foundation, which this column was first to write about some months ago. Some celebrities simply make announcements. Pitt and Jolie have followed through with astounding donations equaling $8 million or so for various Third World causes, including an orphanage in Cambodia.

"You have to see it," Jolie implored me, her famous round eyes getting even bigger and more expressive. "It’s amazing."

And "Brangelina" is amazing. In person, they remain blindingly attractive, the last real movie stars. And while I disagreed with their birth adventure in Namibia a couple of years ago, Pitt and Jolie have surprised even this cynical reporter with their devotion to doing good works without any modus operandi.

They’re not pushing a religion, cult or scheme. They’re just trying to give something back to the world. That, dear fans, is what’s "amazing."