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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Return of the Movie Review

Warning If you've never read The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, or just can't remember how it ends, and you plan to see the movie (my advice: donate the $15 ticket plus $875.43 for concessions to charity and rent it), then you may want to stop reading now. Plus there's a bit of sexual innuendo, which I think stems from the fact that movie critiquing inevitably leads to a discussion of the climax, which inspires 6th-grade thinking on my part (I still giggle when I say "Manassas"), along with the fact that with the July 4th weekend coming I'm looking forward to seeing my incredibly hot wife cavorting in the sunshine. My apologies.

Caught a late-night showing of War of the Worlds, which sure seemed like a good idea until the alarm clock rang this morning. If you know the original story, you understand the struggle Spielberg is up against, which is that it doesn't have a big, climactic, Independence Day ending, yet it's pitched as a come-see-the-awesome-special-effects movie. So it requires some appreciation for elegance, yet it's been constructed to attract teenagers who generally need the plot and scenes to hit them like a bat across the forehead in order to overcome a cultivated attention-deficit disorder and actually "get" the movie.

In general Americans of all ages like our big, climactic, wrap-up-the-loose-ends-get-the-bad-guy-win-the-girl-"you-had-me-at-hello" endings. They're an entitlement, like college educations, or trouble-free erections until you're 90, or nightly news with a weather fetish and no troubling stories about foreign events. So a movie where the indomitable evil beings die because they catch cold is a little off-putting to many, not the least of whom is the writer of this screen adaptation, because it puts more weight on dialogue and subplots. The writer fails to deliver, by the way, perhaps because with Spielberg's name on it, one can reasonably say: "Plots? We don't need no stinking plots!"

If they weren't going to devote energy to an intelligent script (and really, why bother any more, when you can remake Godzilla, miraculously rendering it even more dreadful than the original, and still earn $136 million?), then perhaps they could have dreamt up an edge-of-the-seat ending. Or at least an ending that isn't the cinematic equivalent of coitus-fall-asleepus.

So here's a thought: the invaders die because they all catch cold, right? So why not have the hero realize this fatal vulnerability, sparking a desperate race to destroy the factory where Tylenol manufactures its Cold & Flu medicine before the aliens can get there with a great big straw? Likewise, he'd have to torch the plant where they make those nasal strip thingies, which I never found helpful but which might have saved the aliens.

Basically I'm talking Bridge Over the River Kwai meets E.T. Or Die Hard meets Predator. Something like that.

Plot aside, here's a message to Hollywood: avoid the Sam Malone Moment. Most of my readers know exactly what I'm referring to: those dreadful minutes when Ted Danson marred the otherwise wonderful Saving Private Ryan. Nothing against Mr. Danson, but when you collect a paycheck for eleven years as the main character in one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, you become your character. There we all were, totally absorbed in one of the most gripping portrayals of D-Day ever portrayed, and suddenly a bartender with a bad hairpiece comes strutting across the screen.

Not good.

Likewise in War of the Worlds. Now personally, I think Tim Robbins as a crazed, paranoid survivalist isn't much of a stretch, especially if you've ever seen him holding forth on current events. But it's distracting to have his mug materialize on the screen. I found myself expecting Susan Sarandon to pop out from a closet, wearing a "No More BuSh" t-shirt.

There are other minor irritations: a commercial jet crashes right beside a house where the protagonists are holed up, with nearly all its debris concentrated in a space smaller than a city block, and yet somehow manages to miss their minivan in the driveway, while conveniently leaving an avenue for them to drive through. Likewise, only the hero has figured out the simple trick to get a car started after the aliens immobilize them. Fortunately, everyone else on the eastern seaboard finds their vehicles stalled in a formation that allows the hero to drive for dozens of miles without ever coming to an impasse.

And another thing: why are aliens always naked? And if they get to run around naked, why are they always in such a bad mood? My kids love that. So do I, come to think of it.

So to sum up, go see Cinderella Man instead. And have a safe Fourth of July. God bless America, and good night.

posted by Woodlief | link | (9) comments

Monday, June 27, 2005

On Being An International Criminal

I only have time to write a few words before I catch a truck to an undisclosed border crossing, where I will begin my new life as a fugitive from international justice. The jig is up, as a law professor at Michigan State University declared in her recent letter to The Atlantic Monthly:

Corporal punishment of children�regardless of how "moderate," and no matter by whom dispensed�is considered a violation of international human-rights law. The practice violates at least six human-rights treaties: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the American Convention on Human Rights; and the European Social Charter.

Moreover, a rapidly growing number of countries have outlawed all physical chastisement of children. As of this writing twelve nations�Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Sweden, and Ukraine�have banned spanking by law. Israel has done the same by a judicial decision of its highest court. . .

Crap, and Austria always topped my list of potential hide-outs, what with its Sound of Music scenery and fine tradition of economic thinking.

That's right, I'm a spanker. I haven't gotten around to gassing ethnic minorities or starving religious dissidents yet, but six human rights violations has got to be up there on the Crimes-Against-Humanity Scale. And as the author herself notes ("at least"), there may be more. Perhaps she'll send a follow-up letter once her research assistant has scoured the minutes of august bodies with names like the Transnational Union of Enlightened Academics and the International Quorum of the Internationally Minded.

And I'm ashamed to say that there's more than just the spanking. Sometimes I put the kids down for a nap when they aren't even sleepy. Who knows how many U.N.-divined rights are being transgressed as they lie there on their little beds, staring up at the ceiling?

I also make them eat all their salad, which surely is a violation of some international proclamation against forced ingestion, not to mention the purchase of non-union produce. Not letting them leave the table until they've finished, after all, is really no different than loading a bag of lettuce onto the end of a plunger and ramming it down their gullets, by the logic of the learned professor.

It's all becoming clear now. I thought I was being a good parent, but in reality I am the Butcher of Virginia. How benighted I have been!

And now I see the wretched but deserved future that awaits. Crouching in the hazy lobby of some nondescript South American hotel, playing chess with decrepit former SS guards and junk-bond traders, nervously watching the door for U.N. authorities on a righteous quest to bring me to justice for forcing my children to say "yes sir" and "excuse me." Oh, the humanity. How did I come to this? What pain and suffering might the world have been spared, if only I had secured a J.D. and an internship with the Public Interest Law Initiative!

Spankers of the world, disarm. Embrace the Time Out and the Positive Affirmation, the Disciplinary Hug and Television Deprivation (although if your kid wants to watch PBS, I think there's a U.N. Declaration somewhere that says you have to let him). Just turn back, before it's too late.

Otherwise I'll see you in Guatemala. Or Chile. Or Ecuador. Actually, I'm not at liberty to say where, but be sure to brush up on your Spanish, and your chess. I'll be the one in the dark glasses, clutching a copy of Chicken Soup for the Human Rights Violator.

posted by Woodlief | link | (18) comments