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This week:
War of the Worlds

Filthy says:
"Tom Cruise's teeth are scary."

You know what I did for the long Fourth of July weekend? Hardly a god damn thing. Honestly, not a damn thing. At one point, I laid my head on the cool linoleum in the kitchen and then it was four hours later and I still hadn't gotten Mrs. Filthy's enchiladas out to thaw. I fell asleep under the coffee table and didn't wake up until 14 hours later when I wet myself. And this is exactly the way the crafters of the Declaration of Independence would have wanted it. Just like our biological parents, the fathers of our country busted their humps so we wouldn't have to. I haven't read the whole thing because it's kind of long, the writing is small and there aren't any pictures, but I'm pretty sure the Declaration of Independence says something about the freedom to take it easy and for the English to just get off our backs, man. God bless the freedom to watch a hurricane marathon on the Weather Channel and not remember a God damn thing about it.

On to the movie, though. Here is what brings families together: Really bad shit, like giant space aliens with lasers that vaporize anything in their paths. Fuck all that self-help bullshit that Dr. Phil shovels up our asses like burning coals. Just put a family in the path of tragedy and watch them come together to overcome, and in the process erase all their bitter memories. They go in full of hate and they come out with a new appreciation for their blood relatives. That's the way it is in Steven Spielberg movies like War of the Worlds, anyway. That's what major catastrophes are for: to bring fake families together. I know that in my personal life there is no possible scenario that could make me forget my sisters forcing me to wear a red wig to school and pretend to be a girl every day for a year. Only beer number 14 every night gets me past that.

War of the Worlds is incredibly loud, and fancy looking. It smells as much like a summer blockbuster as the alley behind the Attitude Lounge does like burning hair. That is, it reeks of it. But it ain't that good of a movie. Well, not for for those of us who like beginnings, middle and ends.

Tom Cruise plays a blue-collar dock worker with a disassembled Ford V-8 in his kitchen. As the story opens, his ex-wife and her rich, cold husband drop his kids off for the weekend. Cruise tries to get his alienated teen boy to play catch in the yard, and he throws like a fucking girl. So much for the man's manliness Cruise is trying to project. He might as well squeal with every toss.

Spielberg mechanically establishes the emotional distance between the father and son and the daughter's (Dakota Fanning) mothering attitude toward her macho dad. The characters and scenarios are as perfectly and unnaturally positioned as the magazines on my mother's coffee table. That is, everything is neatly arranged but in no way reflect the way things really are. In reality, the magazines at my mother's house are more likely to be waterlogged in a sink, used to prop up a table or stuffed up someone's ass. Think about that before you pick up a copy of that 1993 issue of Bass Angler.

Once the family mechanics are established, the sky opens up with massive lightning storms that wipe out cars and electronics. But worse, the lightning transports some slimy little aliens into the ground who erect gigantic, three-legged killing machines. Much destruction ensues. Houses, cars, and tons of other shit are set on fire or busted up worse than Dave Dravecky's arm. The tripods march about without much in mind except tearing things to shit. So, I guess this movie can be seen as a parable about teen boys.

War of the Worlds is one of those movies where pretty much everyone in sight gets blown to bits, except the hero and his family. Cruise and his children always just barely miss getting the shit blown out of them like confetti from a party popper, but nobody else avoids that fate. The deaths of others are how the movie tells us that this is some serious-ass shit going down. That Cruise keeps escaping is the movie's way of telling us we're supposed to give a rat's ass about him.

Cruise and his kids drive around in a van apparently powered by his teeth because it can go for hours and hours through wasteland without running out. Eventually, Cruise has a bullshit emotional showdown with his son. The son wants to separate from his father and get closer to the alien destruction (I have no fucking clue why). He makes a speech of such stupendous cinematic corniness that Cruise can't say no. They part and shortly after this, we see a huge explosion where the boy would have been. In a Spielberg movie, there is no more sure sign that the kid survives than that he is believed to have died off screen. Headed toward Boston to reunite with his ex-wife, Cruise and the daughter end up in the basement of Tim Robbins' house who is, it appears, playing himself; a delusional crackpot who thinks he's a lot smarter than he is. The middle of the movie is a hell of a lot like my weekdays: a lot of time wasted in a basement. Robbins, Cruise and Fanning go through a lot of nonsense that feels more like filler than meat, simply there to connect the destruction at the beginning with the destruction at the end.

Finally, Cruise and Fanning are back to running from the monsters. It turns out that these monsters came to harvest humans and use us as fertilizer. I know a few ripe candidates here in Arvada so full of shit it's coming out their ears. This plot point is consistent with the H. G. Wells novel from which this movie is taken. It's a really stupid place to be faithful. I mean, so long as you butcher the rest of the book and turn it into a dopey story of one man learning to love his kids, why stick so closely to the source material on such a silly point? Stupider still is that the movie ends the same as the book: the monsters all get the sniffles and die. See, they never developed immunity to all our crazy bacteria. That's pretty funny in the book, which has much grander ambitions than a dumb little family story.

In a movie so focused on one asshole and his asshole kids, that this ending a total letdown. The movie simply craps out. The movie builds and builds, focused on the question of how do you stop indestructible aliens and how will Cruise prove himself. Then, the monsters just fall over dead and among the very few who survive are everyone important to Cruise. Spielberg never bothers to explain how the son escapes death, or makes it to Boston ahead of Cruise. I guess we're just supposed to be happy to see that yet another teen who drives without a license is still alive to fuck shit up. Pbbbbbbt! That's pussy coward moviemaking. For God's sake, have the balls to kill the heros just once.

But Spielberg deals in pat, easy emotions. For every feeling set up early in the movie, there is an easy answer. And every character flaw is fixed through their reactions to catastrophic events. Hey Spielberg, I got news for you: some people who are assholes before a tragedy are assholes after them too. I know I would be.

I know it's popular right now to pile on Tom Cruise, and I don't just mean for gay men. I mean to make fun of and ridicule him because of his religious views and bizarro behavior. Still, he is weird. He's a terrible actor because he never even seems like a person acting. He's more like some tightly wound inorganic matter pretending to be a person acting. He doesn't seem to have a reserve of genuine emotion to tap into. Fanning is the same way; she's preternaturally creepy, like Haley Joel Osment because she is unusually bright for her age, but also not childlike at all.

Two cool things about War of the Worlds: Spieberg gives it the look of a bad 50's sci-fi movie. Some scenes are intentionally lit as though they are taking place on Hollywood sound studios of the time. There are scenes of terrorized crowds scrambling down streets as monsters loom overhead. The monsters themselves are intentionally retro too, and maybe it's because the makers know how outdated the story is. The other cool thing is that through its middle he is somewhat unflinching in showing the self-preservation instinct in people and how they will trample strangers to protect themselves.

Two Fingers for War of the Worlds. Fake in good ways, fake in bad ways, but totally fake.

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Tony Toscano of "Talking Pictures"

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Filthy's Reading
Tom Shales - Live From New York

Listening to
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


SCTV Volume 3