From the desk of The Movie Snob:
War of the Worlds (B). The buzz I had heard was that this movie keeps you on the edge of your seat almost the entire time, and I have to say that it delivered. For about five minutes, things are perfectly normal. Tom Cruise plays Ray, a swaggering, divorced New Jersey dockworker. He is charged with taking care of his surly teenaged son and ten-year-old daughter for the weekend while his ex-wife and her wealthy new husband go to Boston. Weird storms simultaneously crop up all over the world, knocking out power and communications, and before you know it invincible alien tripods are marching through cities and across the countryside. Ray takes off with his children, and the film is at its best when it focuses on their flight from the alien marauders. To my mind, the film faltered when it slowed down and zeroed in on Ray’s conflicts with his children or other humans, like an unhinged Tim Robbins hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse. I was also surprised at how much Spielberg seemed to borrow from Independence Day, although perhaps that’s unfair since ID itself apparently lifted its plot straight from the same source—H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Overall, a perfectly decent thriller.
Howl’s Moving Castle (C). This was my first experience with Japanese anime, and it left me completely befuddled. The visuals were undeniably stunning, but the setting and plot were baffling. In the movie’s universe, from what I could tell, most people live in kingdoms that look like something out of Europe circa 1900, but wizards, witches, and magic are also accepted as facts of life. Howl himself is a wizard who lives in a fabulous moving castle that looks like a junkyard on giant mechanical chicken legs. The film’s protagonist, Sophie, is an ordinary young woman who attracts a witch’s attention for some reason and gets put under a spell that turns her into an old woman. She finds the moving castle and attaches herself to Howl’s small retinue as a cleaning woman, hoping to get her spell reversed. Lots of weird stuff happens, but danged if I could tell you why, and there’s a cute fire demon voiced by Billy Crystal too. Definitely a different sort of movie experience.
My Summer of Love (C). The reviewer for the local newspaper loved this British movie, calling it a “triumph” and a “gem.” I was less impressed, finding it pretty ordinary and predictable. The protagonist is Mona, a poor, plain, teenaged girl with no parents and few prospects. She’s having a loveless affair with a married man, and her older brother, Phil, has turned away from a life of petty crime and become a religious fanatic, leaving her even more alone. Then a beautiful rich girl named Tamsin (Emily Blunt, in the first movie I ever saw her in) moves into the mansion situated just outside of town, informing Mona that she was asked to leave her boarding school for being a bad influence on the other girls. Mona is quickly pulled into this exotic creature’s orbit, and over the summer the two girls experiment with various illicit activities and substances. As I say, I thought it was really pretty predictable. And average.