Based on H.G. Wells' classic 1898 novel this War is set in a contemporary world where the threat of terrorism looms around every corner. But not even the brains at Homeland Security can prepare the human race for this kind of an attack. After a series of mysterious and powerful lightning storms strike all over the world giant three-legged war machines long buried beneath the earth rise up and start incinerating everything--and everyone--in sight. Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) a divorced New Jersey dockworker horrifyingly witnesses the first strike in this catastrophic alien invasion. He is suddenly faced with protecting his estranged children--teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning)--after they are left with him for the weekend. Traveling across the ravaged countryside Ray takes them on a journey to reunite them with their mother and gets caught up in a desperate tide of refugees fleeing from a seemingly inexorable and merciless enemy. But are they really unstoppable? Ha! We'll see who has the last laugh you nasty old susceptible aliens.
As I watched Tom Cruise run and hide from the invading aliens I didn't once think about Scientology antidepressant drugs or Katie Holmes. Not once. That's because no matter what kind of personal issues Cruise has going on at the moment he is a consummate actor drawing you into his on-screen world without missing a beat. As deadbeat dad Ray Cruise aptly exhibits an apathy to his prodigy only to then turn into a courageous American hero fighting to protect the ones he loves without one clichéd speech or false moment. Quite a feat. Of course he also has a lot of support from his co-stars especially Dakota Fanning as his daughter in keeping things genuine. While either playing terrified with fervent screams or deadly still from shock the young actress' tearstained face gives the whole horrific experience a very human quality. Man imagine what's she's going to do once she's an adult. Chatwin (The Chumscrubber) also does a fine job as the rebellious teen whose growing need to join the fight has his dad torn up inside. Tim Robbins makes a memorable appearance as a refugee on the verge of madness holed up in a bombed-out basement and ready to single-handedly take the aliens down. And finally as a nice touch we hear Morgan Freeman's deep resonate voice open and close the film with very poignant passages from H.G. Wells' literary masterpiece.
Spielberg's back--and what a relief! A War of the Worlds update is just what he needed to rejuvenate himself especially after his latest slate of tepid movies (i.e. The Terminal A.I.). I mean it has been a long time since we've seen the passionate Spielberg--the special-effects driven director who challenges himself to make the most visually stunning movies ever (Jurassic Park Raiders of the Lost Ark) or the finely tuned director who can create the most incredibly intimate movies against a historical backdrop (Saving Private Ryan Schindler's List). And nothing on this earth inspires Spielberg more than aliens especially now that he has grown older and wiser since his kindler gentler E.T. days. Keeping to Wells' original source material and paying homage to both Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio play (both are set in New Jersey) and the original 1953 film (a marvel of special effects for its time) War is an absolute seat-gripping wonder to behold. From the beginning of the Tripod war machines' reigning terror disintegrating poor souls with their heat rays or snatching them up in the air with their tentacle extensions (to use for a very gruesome task indeed) it's shockingly realistic. The only small drawback is showing the actual aliens especially in this sophisticated day and age of Alien and Independence Day. It just isn't necessary and adds very little to the already mounting tension. But it's a small quibble. This War will give you nightmares for weeks.
If you've seen Heathers Clueless or Jawbreaker then you've seen Mean Girls. Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is the new girl having moved from Africa where she was raised (one of many comic head-scratchers that goes nowhere) and now trying to win
friends in a hostile new high school environment. On the verge of becoming--gasp!--friends with two geeks one gay and one Goth she is invited to join "The Plastics" (Rachel McAdams Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried) the coolest girls on campus. When she develops an unfortunate crush on the head Plastics' ex-boyfriend (Jonathan Bennett) the girls declare war on each other and all hell breaks loose. Saturday Night Live regulars Tina Fey Amy Poehler Tim Meadows and Ana Gasteyer fill in the adult roles and Fey wrote the script as well.
Lohan has star power in spades and enough going on behind the eyes to at least suggest the inner life and back story absent from the script. She conveys Cady's
sudden character changes with aplomb and her comic timing is excellent. McAdams makes the biggest impression with the showiest "Plastics" role and is certainly someone to watch for in the future. Her Regina George is one of the funniest nastiest high school girls since Election's Tracy Flick. Bennett is likeable in a one-note jock role and Daniel Franzese and Lizzy Caplan are similarly stereotyped as the Gay
and the Goth respectively. Of the adults Poehler
who is always funny stands out as Regina's alcoholic mini-skirted mother. Fey wisely and selflessly wrote herself a straight-man role as the calculus teacher. And Meadows as the principal quite simply has never
been funnier. Whether he has ever been funny before is another question.
To take on a project already burdened with two strikes--Teen Comedy and SNL Movie--is either a bold move or career suicide but director Mark S. Waters doesn't need to worry. He does a nice job of staying out of the way and tells the story simply without relying too heavily on fruit-flavored set design drowning every scene in music or ruining the witty laughs with too much slapstick. And it is a very witty script sharply observed and rich in detail. (The Halloween party scene showing every single girl wearing lingerie and a different set of animal ears stands out.) Fey adapted sociologist Rosalind Wiseman's nonfiction
best-seller Queen Bees & Wannabees and the interaction between the various species of teen is note perfect. That said Fey seems to have been given a lot of leeway due to her stature on SNL and it shows. One example: everyone has trouble pronouncing
Cady's name which wasn't funny the first time and still isn't 500 times later. The movie also attempts to impart a message of female solidarity but by building the characters on the same cookie-cutter stereotypes it denounces its girl power is undermined. Plus the movie seems cut to within an inch of its life. If it is possible for a comedy to move too quickly Mean Girls does as Waters furiously connects the dots without consideration for the characters or the audience. It's like watching schizophrenics at a track meet--but maybe that's the point.