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Woody Allen
Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Christopher Evan Welch, Chris Messina, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn, Julio Perillán
Writing Credits:
Woody Allen

Life is the ultimate work of art.

Just as New York City was the backdrop in Woody Allen's Manhattan, the stunning city of Barcelona is the setting for the romantic adventures of Vicky and Cristina. These two young Americans spend a summer in Spain and meet a flamboyant artist (Javier Bardem) and his beautiful but insane ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is straight-laced and about to be married. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a sexually adventurous free spirit. When they all become amorously entangled, the results can only be described as chaotic.

Box Office:
$15.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$3.755 million on 692 screens.
Domestic Gross
$23.191 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 2/3/2009

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 16, 2009)

After a bit of a comeback with 2005’s Match Point, Woody Allen went right back into his form of art house obscurity. Sure, Point made only $23 million, but that’s a good figure for Allen’s work, and it sure looks better than the $10 million of 2006’s Scoop and the pathetic sub-$1 million take of 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream.

Allen mustered another semi-comeback with 2008’s well-received Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Like Match Point, it took in about $23 million, and it also earned good critical attention. It also continues Allen’s string of flicks set far from his usual Manhattan stomping grounds. As implied by the title, this one takes us to Spain, where pals Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) visit.

Why are they there? Vicky plans to complete a Masters degree, while Cristina is coming off a bad break-up and needs a change. Both view love in different ways. Vicky is the practical one and values nothing more than stability, while Cristina will accept pain as long as she can get real spark and passion.

At a gallery exhibition, they encounter artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), an apparently volatile man whose marriage to Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) ended due to violence. Later at a restaurant, Juan Antonio invites them to go away with him for the weekend. Vicky dismisses this concept, but the impulsive Cristina thinks they should go. Vicky resists but eventually goes along, partially to protect Cristina.

Initially matters go as expected. Juan Antonio woos Cristina, and they nearly culminate their lust, but Cristina’s ulcer acts up, so that puts the kibosh on romance. While Cristina remains in bed to recover, Juan Antonio and Vicky spend time together. Vicky discovers there’s more to the artist than she initially believed, and she starts to fall for him. Eventually the pair wind up making mad, passionate love.

Of course, they don’t tell Cristina about this, and when they all get back to Barcelona, she and Juan Antonio become a couple. Though haunted by the passion she felt with Juan Antonio, Vicky tries to move on with her life and she marries her fiancé Doug (Chris Messina). This doesn’t nip her feelings in the bud, however, and the film follows the love triangle.

Or quadrangle, since Doug is in the mix. Oh, let’s make it a pentangle, as Maria Elena comes into affairs as well. That’s a lot of romantic tangles for one movie, and Barcelona doesn’t handle them particularly well, partially because we just don’t care.

You can take Woody out of Manhattan, but you can’t take the Manhattan out of Woody. That fact becomes abundantly clear in Barcelona, as it comes populated with the usual crop of pretentious artistes abundant in most Allen flicks. I know they say to write what you know, and it’s clear that Allen lives in circles occupied by folks similar to those portrayed here – though probably considerably older than the twenty-and-thirty-somethings on display.

Still, Allen has explored the same artistic circles an awful lot over the last few decades, and he has nothing new to say, at least not in character-driven projects like Barcelona. It’s not a coincidence that his flicks seem considerably more interesting when they focus more heavily on stories. Sure, Match Point dealt with the well-to-do, but it boasted a strong plot and didn’t meander with its artsy fantasies.

That’s why Barcelona becomes such a dud. It doesn’t remotely bother with story; for better or for worse, it simply involves us in the lives of its characters. And it’s usually “for worse”, as the film’s self-absorbed participants offer little charm or insight.

Again, we’ve seen people like this throughout Allen’s films. He makes clear the contempt he feels for anyone who doesn’t embrace the bohemian artistic lifestyle, though of course, his heroes are well-off enough to follow their muses and not worry about money. There’s no indication Allen recognizes the hypocrisy inherent in these scenarios, so we’re stuck with self-absorbed characters who happily judge others less liberal and free-spirited than they.

This means plenty of groan-inducing dialogue and characters. For instance, we meet Juan Antonio’s father, a poet who refuses to publish his work. Why? He doesn’t think people deserve to witness his greatness because “after thousands of years of civilization, they still haven’t learned to love”. If you can hold down your lunch in the face of idiocy like that, I commend you.

Barcelona isn’t a total loss. Bardem proves surprisingly charming as Juan Antonio, and he may be the only participant who creates a character that rises above the level of cliché. He gets a poor introduction as the artistic lothario, but Bardem manages to produce some real depth in the role. We can certainly see why women swoon over him, but he allows Juan Antonio to become something more than just a stereotypical artist.

Plus we also get to see Cruz and Johansson kiss! In terms of strengths, that’s about all I can find in Barcelona. The movie wants to provide insights about people and life, but instead it simply meanders about without much purpose. It quickly grows tedious and often annoys much more than it entertains.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

Vicky Cristina Barcelona appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer had good moments but suffered from a few more flaws than expected.

Sharpness occasionally took a hit. With its abundance of daytime exteriors, the film often looked nicely sharp and detailed. However, other images tended to appear less distinctive. In particular, low-light interiors showed moderate softness. Most of the flick appeared acceptably crisp, but more than a few exceptions occurred. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. I also failed to discern any examples of source flaws.

Colors looked nice. The movie emphasized a sun-dappled golden glow that affected all of the other hues. Within those confines, the tones seemed full and well-developed. Blacks were deep and firm, but shadows tended to seem a bit dense. As mentioned, low-light shots were somewhat soft, and they looked a little opaque. Much of the flick looked very good, but the inconsistencies left this as a “B-“ transfer.

While the vast majority of Woody Allen movies featured monaural audio, Barcelona went with a Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack. Don’t expect a slam-bang affair, however, as the material remained pretty subdued. Music showed good stereo presence, and a few scenes featured moderately lively effects. The shots on the plane were the most impressive in that regard; they didn’t go crazy, but they used the various speakers in a convincing manner. Otherwise, the sides and surrounds stayed with minor ambience.

Audio quality satisfied. Speech remained consistently tight and crisp, while effects showed good clarity. During the louder plane sequences, the speakers featured nice range, with some fine low-end. Music sounded warm and full. Though not much happened here, I thought the track was worthy of a “B-“.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Hole in the Wall Camps, The Business, Cassandra’s Dream, and The Nanny Diaries. And that’s it for extras; as with virtually all Woody Allen DVDs, the disc includes no real supplements.

At his worst, Woody Allen can be pretentious and smug. That’s the Woodman on display in the rambling, condescending Vicky Cristina Barcelona. He creates a film without insight but heavy on arrogance and tedium. The DVD provides acceptable to good picture and audio but comes with no extras. Leave this clunker for the Allen obsessives.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2307 Stars Number of Votes: 13
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