Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Much has been written about Sideways, a quirky movie with a stellar cast. Sideways is the story about two men in search of wine, women and, well, not song, but something perhaps more meaningful. I won't add to the hundreds of long reviews written about this little movie that made it big. I will urge you, though, to see it on DVD if you've managed to miss it.

The first of the two friends we meet is deceitful, steals from his mother, and seems terribly boring, and we gather all of this within the first few minutes of the film. He can't seem to gather enough enthusiasm for anything in his life, including his dying novel. The only time he lights up is when he pulls a wine glass to his nose and deeply inhales. When that happens, he's erudite, he has a brand new vocabulary, he's wise, and he can actually hold a conversation if you can speak the language.

Then we meet his friend Jack, who seems worse than deceitful. When Miles and Jack go to the California central coast in search of good wine and the celebration of the end of Jack's bachelorhood, Jack's only purpose is to screw his way past the grapes, throwing out fanciful tales, trying to make his life seem bolder and his friend's life interesting. Both Jack and Miles find two delicious women along the way who surely deserve more than these two men have to offer. But then, just when we're ready to write them both off, we see a better side, or at least a vulnerable side, of each of these men.

These are the roles of a lifetime for the lead actors. Paul Giamatti, who lately seems to be in a lot of quirky roles he makes his own, shows Miles' sadsack qualities and the ability to make human out of "quirky." Thomas Haden Church's most distinguished role is Dumb (think "Wings"). He is far better and shows it here. Virginia Madsen takes her small role and sails, and we lunge after her, wanting more.

I like this vintage, this wine. Good clarity, but with a little murkiness at the bottom. A bit bitter at first, but with fruity flavors and a definite sweetness at the end.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

War of the Worlds

A couple hundred people gathered in a movie theatre tonight to see a film at the bottom of their list. War of the Worlds has been out for, what, three weeks now? We ran out of other films to see, and we know it'll be gone soon. And none of us will be renting or buying the DVD, we're that sure it's going to be disappointing.

Tom Cruise didn't help the cause, what with his jumping on couches, giving out psychiatric advice, his face splashed on every magaine. He looked like a fool, a fool we don't like any more, and none of us in that theatre is a Cruise fan any more, which is why we waited so long.

However, we were all shocked. WofW grabs you by the lapel and pulls you into a whirlpool of terror and excitement for a full two hours. While the film takes about 15 minutes to explain the situation and characters in the beginning, no explanation is needed when we're assaulted by machines of unknown origin. This is what "terrorism" is all about.

Ray is a 40's-ish man without family or care. He makes a good living on the docks of New York, but obviously has nothing to show for it but a souped-up Mustang and spare parts lying around in the living room. We catch up with him one weekend when he's taking his teenaged son and grade school daughter because Mom is getting ready to give birth to a new child in her new family. It's evident from the first moment Ray greets his kids that he doesn't know them, can't connect with them, and that they have no respect for him. The next several hours in their three lives change everything.

But nothing changes easily. Ray probably undergoes the most change as his comfortable world is whipped out from under him, literally, when the streets erupt with massive tentacled machines. At that point, any intelligent father would figure that his job, and only job, is to protect his kids from harm, and that he needs a plan to do just that. It takes Ray quite a few minutes of stumbling into places he shouldn't be to figure this out. It takes longer than that to figure out who his kids are, that they have a voice and need to not only know what's going on but need to figure into his plans regarding this new danger. And we're along for this journey.

The most touching scene, the first that shows Ray's change, is when he has to let his son go. His son wants to fight the monsters, and all Ray can think of is, I can't let him go. He finally does, but holds on as long as possible to his son's waist, then his legs, then his feet. It's quite moving.

Those of us familiar with the original War of the Worlds know that we will never find out much about the invading crew, why they're really here and how they function. Spielberg actually gives us more than the original movie did so many years ago. In addition, we're delighted to see Gene Barry in one of the last scenes; Gene, of course, starred in the original in 1953.

We know that with Spielberg at the helm we're going to get a story laced with brilliant special effects. We didn't know what Cruise would bring to the party, if anything. What I didn't expect is that I would feel the earth move every time Spielberg wished it. I and every person in that theatre was along for that thrill-a-minute ride, feeling every bump, looking cautiously around every corner, reaching for our loved ones. And Tom Cruise helped us feel his emotions. We might be shaking our heads at his stupidity but we're all wondering, what would we do under the same terrible circumstances?

Thumb's up for War of the Worlds.