Friday, July 01, 2005

Woe of the worlds

Watched Spielberg’s War of the Worlds last night. Such a disappointment, mainly because it was shockingly ordinary. Even Spielberg’s biggest critics don’t expect that from him. When the great directors fail, they usually fail spectacularly. Even their lesser works provide glimpses of genius, of what could have been - you can sense that somewhere in the rubble there was a topnotch film waiting to be made. (I think of Scorsese’s New York, New York, of DePalma’s Snake Eyes, of Spielberg’s own Artificial Intelligence - thelast an underappreciated film anyway.)

But War of the Worlds is full of moments, in its "key scenes", that could have been directed by just about anyone given a mega-budget. I was particularly depressed by a sequence where the protagonists try to escape the prying electronic eyes of a snake-shaped alien scanner that has been sent into the basement where they’re hiding. This was hide-and-seek suspense of the cheapest, laziest variety and I had to keep reminding myself that it was done by the same man who gave us Jaws (and about whom Hitchcock, no less, once said, "The kid who made the fish film? - he’ll go very far.")

This isn’t a review - I want to get the movie out of my head as fast as possible - but I do want to rant about this creature named Dakota Fanning. She’s an 11-year-old actress who plays Tom Cruise’s little daughter and, well, she’s insufferable. I’d heard the name before but hadn’t seen any of her previous films; Shougat (sitting next to me and furiously scribbling notes by the light of his cellphone) tells me she’s one of Hollywood’s biggest child stars and an unbearably precocious brat. Well, that shows all right in this film, where she chews up the scenery in practically every frame. She acts around 30 years older than her age (no, make that 90 years older, because then at least she’d have senility as an excuse), gazes at the camera with intense, pellucid eyes and talks in a faux-adultlike tone. Everything about her is so horribly fake - the bored "I’m above all this" look, the preening, the posturing, the fox-tail fur she inexplicably has draped around her shoulders.

Worst of all, the camera seems obsessed with her; if you were an alien watching this film you’d never imagine that Tom Cruise was the bigger star. Some of this might have made a little sense if, say, in the final analysis, she was going to play a key role in the film - like the little girl in Shyamalan’s Signs. But no - little Ms Fanning is just your regular child star in danger, the problem being that she doesn’t seem to realise she’s a child. I was waiting for her to do something a normal 11-year-old girl might want to do: maybe spew green vomit at the camera and rasp, "I am Beezlebub", like this little lady here:




I have a big problem with forced precocity in children and with the fact that child celebrities are made to grow up too fast. (Remember those kids on Zee and Sony’s "talent shows" being forced to perform like monkeys while their mercenary parents/guardians look on fiercely from the sidelines? That’s matter for another post though.)

Back to the inappropriately acronymed WoW: Ms Fanning screams a lot too, and it’s far more grating than any of the sounds made by the alien tripods. Throw in that ham Tim Robbins playing yet another of his patented idiot savants and you have - a historic first, people - a movie where Tom Cruise actually seems understated and dignified. If that’s reason enough for you to see it, go.


35 comments:

  1. speilberg a GREAT director? umm..err..hmm...please do not speak of him in the same breath as Scorcese. he just panders to the masses....AI was underrated? it is one of the silliest movies i have ever seen and simply refused to end!

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  2. Umm...err...you're entitled to your opinion and I to mine *hums Bloggers' theme song*

    AI was awesome!

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  3. gah. is the movie really like that? wont see it, then. how sad.
    we should write the Bloggers theme song out in full.

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  4. We should. We really should. Then you can create a Bong version and we can do the wandering minstrels thing, carrying only banjo and laptop.

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  5. is blogger's theme song "i say, i say, therefore it is"? :P


    what was awesome about AI? it was mush, mush, mush with a sad puppy eyed boy staring at you all the time - creepy and maudlin.

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  6. Z: The theme song is "I say, you say and we all live peacefully together, yay yay" See, it even rhymes.

    PS "Creepy AND maudlin"? See, that's exactly why I like it so much. How many other films do you know that are both creepy and maudlin?

    (I like to think I'm a bit creepy and maudlin myself ;)

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  7. geez, too much peace and love in the blogger's world. THAT is creepy AND maudlin :P

    ET comes to mind for another sickeningly cute, creepy AND effusively sentimental mush.

    cmon, AI was one of the worst movies and i bet kubrick will smack speilberg (when they meet someday, i.e.)for ruining it so bad. here's a review that pretty much echoes my thoughts.

    why is AI creepy AND maudlin?

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  8. "bloggers' world"

    yeah, i eat, i shoot and i do not leave.

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  9. Umm, Jai, it's actually "Beelzebub" *yeah yeah yeah, now i HAVE arrived*

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  10. Jabberwock hangs his head in shame. This is the second time in a week that Jabberwock has been corrected by a commenter. Jabberwock will now stop imitating Putu.

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  11. Jai: Agree with you in your assessment of AI... disappointing, yet underappreciated. Though, in my opinion, the only thing to do to make it a good film would've been to chop off the last half hour or so.

    Z: Creepy & maudlin... you nailed it ji.

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  12. I will be watching it tomorrow.

    The best instance of precocious, insufferable children I have seen this year is the little girl in Black. She made hamming and diabolical leering a new competitive sport.

    Nothing can beat the Welles broadcast of the Wells book, though. : )

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  13. Sometimes it seems as if there is a definite correlation between hype and disappointment.

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  14. Hi,
    I must say that I was quite underwhelmed with War of the Worlds, however the first 45 minutes of the film I thought was totally riveting. But,as is often in films these days the effects seem to take priority over any sort of plot. Think about it, Why did the aliens bury their ships thousands of years ago - why not simply take over the world then? or more importantly why did they not die the first time they were here? The minute Tim Robbins arrives the film descends into sentimental drivel.
    The biggest problem I had was that it was like a 'greatest hits' compilation of Spielberg moving from one set piece to the next(enjoyable though some of them were) ticking off vatious items on his checklist. Actually, scratch that, the biggest problem I had was the third act( apparently it stays faithful to the book - I haven't read it so wouldn't know). The cloying conclusion totally spoilt it for me. I feel that recently Spielberg just doesn't know how to end a film and must always finish it on an uplifting note ( see catch me if you can or worse- Minority report, still haven't got over that yet)
    BTW I think your blog is great. Agree with most of the stuff. Keep up the good work
    Kevin

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  15. Thanks Kevin. Agreeing with each other isn't always required - in fact many of the most rewarding blog conversations are built on disagreement. But at last, a nice comment from an Anonymous - knew it would happen if I waited long enough.

    And that Tim Robbins...can't believe I once liked him. Add the obligatory ponderous Morgan Freeman voiceover and this film could have been called Shawshank Unredeemed.

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  16. For once, I'm smarter than the J'wock. I do NOT watch any films that feature Tom Cruise.

    (Or Shah Rukh Khan. Or Payal Rohatgi. Or Michael Jackson. Oh, those are music videos? Hard to tell the difference sometimes. But you get the picture. Or you don't ...)

    J.A.P.

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  17. After "The last Samurai", I swore I would never watch a Tom Cruise movie again. Atleast, that one had Watanabe, who was great. Here there isn't even a back up.

    And I thought AI was good too...but not executed too well. Minority report really had potential...but then it had Tom Cruise....there goes that movie.

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  18. hehe. what about cruise in "vanilla sky" :)) i watched it just to see how badly cruise can ruin the spanish original "open your eyes".

    sorry, j'wock, for digressing from your topic.

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  19. there...this will make you happy then... http://gofugyourself.typepad.com/go_fug_yourself/2005/06/war_of_the_fug.html

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  21. Tom Cruise has become some oddball parody of himself, hasn't he? I first thought that was partly the fault of directors, who never gave him any roles with bite. (No "Interview with the Vampire" jokes shall be made.) Then I saw "Collateral" - the role had as much bite and edge as anybody could ask for, but it was still Tom Cruise - admittedly with a bizarre case of excessive dandruff, but still Tom Cruise.

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  22. This debate about Tom Cruise...you know, I've always held him (and Kevin Costner to an extent) up as the notable exception to the rule that to make it really big in Hollywood you have to have basic acting ability. (Note: not including the action heroes here.) But I was discussing him with my friend Black Muddy Shamya a couple of months ago and it's quite remarkable how many top American directors he's worked with. Spielberg (sorry, Z!), Scorsese (albeit in a very marginal Scorsese film, The Colour of Money), Kubrick, Stone, DePalma, Paul Thomas Anderson if you want to include him. I'd include Michael Mann too. I can't offhand think of another lead actor who's worked so closely with all those luminaries. It can partly of course be explained by Cruise's attractiveness at the box-office but I can't help thinking there's more to it than that.

    Sunil: I thought Minority Report was an excellent film regardless of Cruise and the cop-out ending.

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  23. rule that to make it really big in Hollywood you have to have basic acting ability.

    since when ?? - unless you mean really, really, really basic things like you don't necessarily have to heave your chest up and down when showing anger and such :-)) sorry, was watching an ancient tamizh flick recently with padmini in the lead...

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  24. Hey, Padmini is a brilliant actress!

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  25. uh oh. a brilliant dancer maybe. actress? umm..errr all over again :) are we talking of the same padmini?

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  26. Uh, Z: I was being silly. Facetious, if you will. Allow me now to direct you to one of my previous posts, on The Humourless:

    http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2004/12/humourless.html

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  27. hey, hey..don't blame me. my instinctive reaction to that comment was "rrrright, and i am the queen of england" but then, then, it came from a guy who thinks spielberg is "GREAT" and so....:-)

    btw, your article on "The Humourless" could also be titled "The Presumptuous". *of course, this is a DOH line*

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  29. Hi, Aishwarya directed me to your blog. Just a fly-by comment to say: WORD on Dakota Fanning. *insert profound and righteous irritation here*

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  31. And many apologies for the multiposting. My virulence (and Internets) were not in happy alignment. Your blog looks wonderful, I'm going to read through it all properly as soon as I can. :)

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  32. Roswitha: Thanks much. Met Aishwarya today, btw.

    JAP: saar, you is always smarter than me.

    Z: can I call you Zonka? Pretty please?

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  33. you can, you can - but the question is whether you may or may not. (hehe, Mr.Hookes, I did pay attention).

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  34. Dakota Fanning did real good work in "Man On Fire". It was pretty amazing how a kid can perform so well.
    I agree with you that her performance in WOTW was not good.

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  35. Dakota Fanning...is there any bloody film in which she has not been kidnapped? Man on fire, War of the worlds, and that Charlize Theron-Kevin Bacon flick as well...someone ought to pull the plug on that neurotic little #$%^$&^%&^*&. I saw The Village today. I know all of Shyamalan's weaknesses and proclivities...and yet, I liked the film, with all its obvious Brothers Grimm-meet-Arthur Miller-and-Stephen King refs. His work is thoughtful, haunting and so goddamned BEAUTIFUL, no matter what.

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