Creepy Cruise Scares Even Aliens

article rex Creepy Cruise Scares Even AliensTom
Cruise is an alien. Think about it. That would explain just about everything.
Like the tripod invaders from outer space hell-bent on destroying planet Earth in War of the Worlds, this actor, scientific philosopher, deep-thinking morning-show pundit, public debater, Brooke Shields fan and self-appointed pharmacologist is off the radar. He wobbles, shrieks, jumps, rants, leaps up and down, waves his arms like a spastic penguin, and seems always on the verge of imploding. Just like the space invaders who want to take him away with them, back to Mars. He must be one of them already.

While
you peruse the possibilities—and if you can stand to read one more word about War of the Worlds—you might also ponder the answers to the film’s only important question: How much can $135 million buy? By today’s Hollywood
standards: enough special effects, digital animatronics, high-definition computer graphics, drawing boards and soundstages to keep an army of technology nerds and union extras employed, not to mention a lot of donations to Scientology.

All
of the things an escapist summer action-movie blockbuster with Tom Cruise could hope for, except one: It isn’t much fun. There’s stuff to make you go “Wow!”
but nothing you’ll remember the next day. Steven Spielberg has devoted his career to a teenage schoolboy obsession with science fiction. Now he shows us his nightmares. He’s Spielberg. He knows how to pull our strings. So the gimmicks are often skillful, inspired and worth talking about. But the human elements were written with invisible ink. And there’s nothing new here that H.
G. Wells’ original novel didn’t think of first, back in 1898. Orson Welles was a visionary who elaborated on the book in a famous radio broadcast that scared the living crap out of everybody in 1938, and the first 1953 movie version did its share of damage, too. But we’ve watched so many aliens come and go since then that it’s hard to suppress a yawn. So what is there to tell you about War of the Worlds? There is no plot, but here goes.

Tom
Cruise is a divorced blue-collar construction worker and neglectful father stuck with his two kids (Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning) for the weekend.
We
know he’s a surly, indifferent slob because when the kids ask what’s for dinner he tells them to order in, throws himself on the bed with his clothes on, and starts snoring. Finally, the movie begins. Apparently an army of Martians buried machines under the Earth eons ago which they now activate with bolts of lightning. Out of the ground pop the aliens in many forms. Some look like tripods, wobbling unsteadily on three steel rods. Others slither like snakes and squishy crawlies from Animal Planet. They are vile, nasty, and they have only one goal—to destroy our universe and every form of human life that inhabits it.
It’s a new kind of terrorism, but after 9/11 alien spooks no longer have the power to terrify. I find it hard to get worked up over blood-soaked killing machines that resemble boiled calamari covered with marinara sauce.

In
four minutes of violence and slaughter that is entirely too nauseating for children, the Cruise family goes through hell trying to survive while walking from New York to Boston. Things crash through holes in the concrete, turning city streets into earthquake faults. Highways are jammed with armed tanks.
The
most harrowing shots focus on mob panic, with hundreds of members of the Screen Extras Guild smashing windshields, trampling each other to death to confiscate a car, and searching for lost relatives while Tony Bennett sings “If I Ruled the World” over a loudspeaker as a train roars by with all of its cars on fire.
My favorite shot involves multitudes of refugees trying to storm a ferry to cross the Hudson River while the aliens capsize the boat, drowning everyone but the Cruise family. They miraculously survive everything, including a harrowing encounter in a deserted cellar with a demented ambulance driver named Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins). This is no war. This is an extermination. And so Mr.
Spielberg’s poetic license goes wild, with the aliens and their captives turning into metaphors for everything from the Holocaust to the American invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. I tell you, it’s a lot for Mr.
Spielberg to explain, but on every talk show I’ve seen with him and Tom Cruise, he never gets a chance to open his mouth. Instead of probing the matrix for science-fiction symbolism in American politics, the interviewers spend all of their time asking Tom Cruise questions about Katie Holmes. (Maybe it’s the same thing.)

The
actors in this movie have little to do beyond rolling their eyes and acting hysterical, but the real problem with War of the Worlds is not the one-dimensional people but the head-scratching, people-zapping space freaks.
It
is never clear what their motivation is, or what they hope to accomplish by total annihilation. The visiting aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind wanted to exchange ideas and learn something. The fang-dripping slime bags in the Alien pictures were much more horrifying. And the scariest aliens of all were in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, because we never saw them at all! Mr. Spielberg’s ghoulish machines just want to draw us all up in their suck holes and spit out oceans of guts and blood from indigestion. What do they want? Why are they here? And how stupid are their advisors to forget they can’t last on Earth because they’ve got the wrong immune systems? Steven Spielberg probably can’t make a dull movie, but he sure can make one that is utterly pointless.

Under
the circumstances, the acting in War of the Worlds is confined to the level of screaming and running berserk, accompanied by another glass-shattering John Williams score. Most of the screeching is done by poor little Dakota Fanning.
In one movie after another, this child has been stalked and abused by parents, kidnapped by terrorists, pursued by psychos, and otherwise generally mauled, tortured and traumatized in ways only a highly paid Hollywood child psychologist can fix. Things have changed since the days of Margaret O’
Brien,
and not for the better.

As
for Tom Cruise, he squints. He swaggers. He mumbles incoherently so the aliens can’t hear him. He flashes that phony plastic grin from ear to ear. By the time his dysfunctional family learns to bond, you worry about his kids. He acts crazier than the aliens. He also gets creepier in each successive movie, and the more money he makes, the weirder he gets. He leaves you worrying about things you shouldn’t even be thinking. Like, how did Nicole Kidman survive?
What’s his attraction to the Eiffel Tower? How do we keep him from Oprah? He obviously needs a prescription for Ritalin. I don’t know. Maybe he’s bipolar.

Picasso’s
Rival

The
opulence of Paris in 1919 is brought to life with panache in Modigliani, a passionate biopic about the infamous painter who drank absinthe all night and painted unique visions of the world by day. At first glance, a two-fisted and very contemporary Cuban like Andy Garcia hardly seems the ideal casting choice to play the decadent Italian muse of Montparnasse, and the Scottish director Mick Davis would not come to mind as the perfect director. But their curious collaboration has produced a film of vitality, with imagery as haunting and romantic as it is intense.

Amedeo
Modigliani had a debauched charisma that inspired envy, resentment and adulation, and in bringing him to life, Mr. Garcia gives a parboiled performance that is steamy and vibrant. Nicknamed Modi by his contemporaries (the word is a pun on the French word maudit, meaning “damned”), he harvested a wild reputation beyond sanity. His behavior was notorious in the artists’
quarter where he careened drunkenly through the streets in violent fights with his 19-year-old lover, Jeanne Hebuterne (played by the alluring Elsa Zylberstein, who stunned audiences opposite Christian Bale in Metroland).
Modigliani centers on their tumultuous relationship, his separation from their illegitimate child, his debilitating addictions to alcohol and opium, and his struggle with tuberculosis. As if that weren’t enough, there was Modi’s brooding and turbulent rivalry and friendship with Pablo Picasso, which plagued him throughout his life. Heartfelt flashbacks to his troubled childhood in Italy are interspersed with vignettes of his affair with Jeanne as the film gracefully builds toward a climax depicting a competitive painting exhibition that pits Modigliani against Picasso.

Washed
in melon-green hues the color of his mind-altering absinthe, this surreal and dreamlike film glows with the lush elegance of sumptuous cinematography by Emmanuell Kadosh and benefits greatly from Andy Garcia’s haunting performance of mad genius—sensually dancing on tabletops, desperately self-loathing as his demons overwhelm his chances of happiness and peace, then feverish with frenzy as he throws himself into the art world’s most punishing competition alongside Rivera, Soutine, Utrillo and Picasso. Jeanne’s father, a religious bigot, has punished his Catholic daughter for falling in love with a Jew by banishing their child to a remote convent, and the prize money is the only thing that can rescue the baby. For pure decadence, this tale might undo even Victor Hugo, yet it’s all true. And this epic film keeps you panting with suspense while providing Andy Garcia with his most formidable acting assignment. Is it great?
No, but neither is anything else on movie screens today, and god knows I’ve seen worse. As a constantly invigorating film in the tradition of Lust for Life and Frida, it fails to sustain much emotion. But at its best, Modigliani is a masterfully conceived, adrenaline-charged diary of delusional dementia in oil, often lending depth and dramatic resonance to the story of one of art history’s most misunderstood figures.

Bad
Press

In
the steamy, wrenching Crónicas, John Leguizamo gives a gripping performance as a corrupt Latino-American reporter named Manolo Bonilla, on assignment for a sleazy Hispanic TV tabloid show in Miami, who is covering a lurid story about a serial killer on the loose in a small village in Ecuador. After the raping, killing and burying of 12 boys and girls, the funeral of the psycho’s latest victim is interrupted when a truck driven by a Bible salesman accidentally runs over the victim’s surviving brother. The crowd goes wild, pours gasoline over the driver, and sets him on fire, while Manolo’s camera crew captures every grim detail. Miraculously, the man lives, badly burned and in custody for manslaughter. Using tragic events to further his career with “killer ratings,”
Manolo instigates a series of prison interviews which convince him the truck-driving Bible salesman, a respected citizen and family man, is the real serial murderer. Desperate to take sole credit for solving the crimes, Manolo stops at nothing to get the story that will lead to a job on network news, including bribery, blackmail and even grave-robbing. Gradually, he turns the mass-murdering pedophile into a media hero, refusing to inform the local authorities of his findings, and faces the ultimate decision: Should he admit he’s been using the power of the media to make himself a star? Or will he withhold the truth to save his reputation? We watch in horror as the callous journalist protects his own interests at an appalling cost. As the star reporter without scruples or conscience, Mr. Leguizamo gives a relentlessly chilling performance that is a giant leap forward from his solo comedy shows on Broadway. The ending is shattering.

With
Crónicas, a major new talent emerges in writer-director Sebastián Cordero.
Although the identity of the murderer is revealed early in the film, the tension builds with nail-biting fury from the first scene of mob violence to the painful, dramatic finale. This shocking thriller, produced by Mexico’s ace director Alfonso (Y Tu Mamá También) Cuarón, provides a fascinating look at Ecuador, an exotic country of white cemeteries, religious hysteria and picturesque ruins, and probes the duality of a monster who is also a kind and respectable husband and father. Crónicas is also a profound commentary on the irresponsibility of both America’s foreign policy and the media’s rapacious hunger for sensationalism at any cost. A sobering, unsettling and devastating experience.