Saturday, July 23, 2005

Woe of the Woewolds

Sometimes I just want to ball up my fist and punch myself in the forehead a half-dozen times for being such a dope. I actually let the recent retarded rambling and antics of one Little Tommy Cruise, actor/Scientologist spokesperson/chimpboy, influence my decision to see Steven Spielberg's remake of The War of the Worlds or not.
Who's the chimpboy now?
I wasn't all that thrilled about this project to begin with. It had all the makings of a been there, done that experience, especially after Independence Day, which, with all its flaws (and they were legion), still delivered the goods of a terrific summer blockbuster. And Spielberg, while his output of the last ten years has been exemplary (especially A.I., to me one of his best), still hasn't really wowed us as an audience since Jurassic Park. When I finally saw the trailer for this extravaganza, all I could think was...feh. Usually, my gut instincts are correct: Bad trailer=Bad movie. The trailer for War of the Worlds wasn't bad, it was just unexceptional. You know. Feh.
Then there was the casting of Cruise, never one of my favorite actors and always pretty much of a goddamn annoyance as far as I was concerned. At best, I find him competent and at worst, insincere in his over-abundance of sincerity to the point that if he flashes those pearly whites in my direction, I'll smash 'em out with a swing from the nearest shovel. So the casting of one Jerome Maguire did not instill any added inducement for me. I think he's been excellent in sustaining an incredibly successful career for so long, putting in the top echelon of film actors. But there is one undeniable factoid about him:
Tom Cruise has never been cool nor will he ever be.
Then came the ill-fated publicity tour for this movie when Tommy Boy showed his ass on what seemed to be a daily basis. First he was proclaiming his love for some generic starlet (yes I know who Katie Holmes is. There's just no real reason she should appear on any of my radar screens. This applies to about 98% of this year's crop of young "talent".) Then Professor Cruise engaged noted poet laureate Matt Lauer in a Scientology v.s. psychology debate, leaving poor Brooke Shields' post partum depressed body in his wake. Oh, by the way...what was the name of that movie you were supposed to be promoting? If I were Spielberg, I would have put his star in a shark cage. "You go in the cage, cage goes in the water, shark's in the water...our shark.
Farewell and adieu, my dear crazy Tommy...."
The movie is finally released under a cloak of secrecy-certainly Tom didn't reveal anything about it while jumping up and down about his new, fiancee. And I had about had enough of this jerk that it actually made me wish that someone else starred in it so that my interest might be at least a little piqued. Anyone. Even, say, Elmer Fudd.
"The Woe of the Woewolds...Thewe's something awfuwwy scwewy going on awound heaw. Oh, hewwow, awiens. Huhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh..."
But no, it was Tom Frickin' Cruise and I'd have to put up with him...or just forget about it and move on.
Four weeks later, I gave it a reluctant shot and as Elmer's friend Bugs said, "What a maroon!"
War of the Worlds completely blew my socks off. Bar none, it is the best summer movie of this decade. Spielberg has never been in better form. His film is jolting, exciting, frightening and totally unforgettable. Wisely avoiding the rah-rah disaster movie antics of ID4, Spielberg instead concentrates his attention on one family's fight for survival-Cruise as an emotionally deadbeat dad and his two kids-the scarily talented Dakota Fanning and the underrated Justin Chatwind as his teenage son. The three of them attempt to escape the onslaught of the aliens from a specific "ground zero" and find there isn't anywhere to hide. While the story is simplistic by design, it allows the enormity of the aliens' attack to be so much more threatening in its scale. Spielberg has been a bit subversive in exploiting the fears we have in today's world for his story-but then again so did Wells and Welles-H.G. and Orson, respectively. There are only a few quibbles I have. First of all Tim Robbins' basement is too close to the main action, making it rather uncomfortably convenient and contrived. Then there is a mini-Spielbergian cornball moment at the end that he should have left on the set of Hook.
Finally the narration at the beginning and end, while necessary, are rather cliche. Those aside, everything else is so outstanding that if I ever met Spielberg, I will immediately apologize for ever doubting him. It's like the return of an old friend. Welcome back, maestro.
As for Cruise, all right, I'll say it. I never liked him any better than here. He is absolutely believable in this role, a weak man finding strength in crisis and discovering, well, both his heart and his balls.
War of the Worlds is one great movie. It deserves to be seen in a theater because it is so overwhelming, you should just surrender yourself for the maximum experience. You won't regret it.
As for the off-screen Tom, I don't know what to say. I think his actions have hurt the potential box office of this film, much in the same way that I think Russell Crowe's telephone pitching arm hurt Opie Cunningham's Cinderella Man.
So what should Tom do to remedy this?
Maybe he should get his head examined.
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