On my mind… Penelope Cruz

Born in Madrid in 1974, Penelope Cruz Sanchez made her acting debut aged 16, before receiving critical acclaim for her role in Jamon Jamon the following year in 1992.

Since then her career has gone from strength to strength. She’s the first Spanish actress to receive an Academy Award (the second ever to be nominated), and the first to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

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She’s also a bit of a force of nature. Think about her performances, each one immediately hooks you in. Screen presence, allure, seductive sex appeal… All that stuff.

In terms of her performances I consider my favourites, it’s a mixed bunch. There is a theme, though, and her work is defined by a level of intensity, conflict and inner fire. Simply put, she compels you to watch her.

Open Your Eyes (1997)
One of her first major roles. One which saw her receive critical acclaim for a film praised for its intelligence and complexity. It got the inevitable Hollywood remake, with Cruz reprising her role as the seductive Sofia.

Blow (2001)
Critically this film didn’t do that well. Cruz, too, suffered the wrath of the critics, receiving a Golden Raspberry Award for her performance. Perhaps a bit of a harsh assessment. Still, it led to bigger and better things.

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Reprising her role from Open Your Eyes, Cruz gave a solid, if unspectacular performance in this remake. Overall, the film perhaps suffered from being even more confusing than the original, thus dividing people’s opinions.

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Volver (2006)
A high point in her career, particularly in terms of working with acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. This film drew together many complex themes, all of which Cruz and Almodovar weaved together elegantly.

Elegy (2008)
A restrained, mature and utterly heartbreaking performance in this tale which had Cruz as the on/off cancer suffering girlfriend of Ben Kingsley’s misogynistic Professor. A surprise of a film and worth a watch if you get the chance.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
My pick of the bunch. A beautiful film and a hypnotic, wild performance from Penelope, opposite a cast that were far too sexy for their own good. This one won her an Academy Award (the first Spanish actress in history to achieve this).

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So what’s next for Penelope?

Well, rumours keep surfacing of her involvement in the next Bond film  – Sam Mendes’ follow up to Skyfall – as the new Bond girl. She’s also recently written, directed – and starred in – the latest Agent Provocateur advert. Nothing to do with film, but Bond girls are glamorous, sexy and exotic. And if this ad isn’t that, then I don’t know what is.

Either way, it’s nice to have Cruz maintain her presence on screen. whether it’s adverts or films or – dare I say it – TV shows. Here’s to whatever comes next in the world of Penelope.

Masks in movies: the weird, wacky and horrific

‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.’
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Masks are fascinating. We all wear masks – of a sort – every day. It’s rare to meet a completely open person. And in film, a mask is intriguing. It can serve a number of purposes. For example, they can be used to heighten or accentuate your personality, or give you a different one altogether. They can be used to hide or reveal, to confuse or mislead, and as armour in defence or offense (to coin an American phrase).

They come in many different shapes and sizes, some functional, some more flamboyant (as we’ll see from my list below). Here are some of my favourite masks, characters, and the actors who wore them.

Michael-Fassbender-as-Frank-p002Frank (2014) – Michael Fassbender
More a giant head but still a mask of sorts. Fassbender plays the enigmatic leading man of a band struggling to find their sound in this quirky yet tragic tale.

V for Vendetta (2005) – Hugo Weaving
Never once removing his mask, Weaving plays this anarchist crime fighter to the letter in this adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel.

The Mask (1994) – Jim Carrey
Transforming from sad sack Stanley Ipkiss into the God of Mischief each time he donned the mask, Carrey firmly put himself on Hollywood’s A-list with this exuberant performance.

The Skin I Live In (2011) – Elena Anaya
The-Skin-I-Live-In-Review-The-Film-Pilgrim-Anaya-BanderasWhilst the actress named above wears the mask, this film is undoubtedly Antonio Banderas’s in terms of performance, teaming up with Pedro Almodovar in this creepy tale.

Vanilla Sky (2001) – Tom Cruise
Disfigured after a car accident Cruise’s character spends a large part of the film hiding behind a weirdly androgynous mask designed to heal his scars. Or does he?

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – Tom Cruise
Hands up, who’s in a troubled marriage and wants to attend a high society sex party? Tom Cruise’s character does that’s who. Sneaking his way in with a black robe and handy mask.

Batman Begins (2005) – Cillian Murphy
Intelligent and intense yet wildly unhinged, Murphy’s portrayal of the Scarecrow in Nolan’s first Batman outing was mightily impressive and firmly ticked the creepy box.point-break-mask

Point Break (1991) – Patrick Swayze
Charismatic surfer cum bank robber Bodhi’s modus operandi when on a heist involved him and his team donning masks of ex-Presidents.

Watchmen (2009) – Jackie Earle Haley
Rorschach’s mask was unlike most others, in that it reflected his personality, the inky lines shifting and swirling with his mood.

Top ten performances of Tom Cruise

After being impressed with Cruise’s performance in Jack Reacher recently it got me thinking. Is Cruise one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood? He surely must be, given his output. Since his first credited role in Endless Love in 1981, I can only count seven instances in the last 31 years where he’s had more than a one-year break between jobs. Mostly he’s had at least one film out a year, 39 in total to date.

What’s most impressive is the range of films and quality of performances. I assume that’s why, for some people, he’s a divisive figure. A man at the top of his game and loving it. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to dispute his screen presence and charisma. Here’s my pick of his top ten performances:

  • lestat tom cruiseInterview with the Vampire – 1994
    Cruise wasn’t initially favoured by novelist Anne Rice, but won her and audiences over with his sublime, sadistic and graceful take on aristocratic vampire Lestat, constantly tormenting Brad Pitt’s troubled vampire Louis.
  • Vanilla Sky – 2001
    Described as ‘Jerry Maguire on an acid trip’ this sees Cruise play a publishing mogul who becomes facially disfigured following a car accident. What happens then is anyone’s guess as dream and reality blend together in Cameron Crowe’s twisted tale.
  • A Few Good Men – 1992
    Slugging it out with Jack Nicholson’s army general in a courtroom is no easy task. Cruise’s performance as idealistic navy lawyer was realistic and compelling, plus he gave us that iconic ‘you can’t handle the truth’ scene.
  • YouCompleteMe_JerryMaguireJerry Maguire – 1996
    Taking nothing away from the outstanding Zellweger, this film is anchored by Cruise’s raw, touching performance as sports agent Jerry, trying to rebuild a career and hang on to his marriage. A beautifully told, feel-good tale.
  • Minority Report – 2002
    Some may think this a Spielberg action tale, but it’s closer to a futuristic film noir. Cruise convincingly plays cop John Anderton whose life gets upended, accused of a crime and forced to clear his name whilst on the run.
  • Collateral – 2004
    Perhaps this was a nice warm up to play Reacher – here he played a cold, calculating and ruthless hitman, les-grossman-moviestuck in a cat-and-mouse game with Jamie Foxx’s average Joe-type cab driver.
  • Tropic Thunder – 2008
    With an ensemble cast of great comic actors, Cruise stands out as ruthless studio head Les Grossman – his tirades (I will massacre you!), his dancing, his menace. Fantastically funny and refreshing.
  • The Last Samurai – 2003
    As world-weary Captain Nathan Algren, his performance in Ed Zwick’s epic action tale is truly a masterclass in submitting wholeheartedly to the character. Compelling, heartfelt and affecting throughout.
  • Jack Reacher – 2012
    Ensuring the wrath of Lee Child fans worldwide, Cruise opted to play 6’5 man-mountain army detective Jack Reacher – a sort of modern Dirty Harry. Here he gives the character wit, intelligence and gravitas.
  • tom cruise Born on the Fourth of July 01Born on the Fourth of July – 1989
    Delivering arguably a career-best performance as wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Ron Kovich. This film came only a few years into his career ascendancy, but firmly cemented him as bona fide A-grade, talent.