Seen at the Movies: There seems to be a vague feeling of dissatisfaction over both the quality and box-office performance of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, which opened last week. Some of it undoubtedly relates to anti-Tom Cruise sentiments in the air, and some to the dopey, almost parodistically Spielbergian conclusion to the film. But for most of its way, I found War of the Worlds to be a frightening, spectacularly well made vision of science-fiction mayhem, one that resonates with real-world terrors. Nobody stages and edits this sort of movie better than Spielberg; there is none of the choppy, incoherent action dominated by digital work that afflicts so many films (the most recent example being Batman Begins). The visual effects, supervised by Dennis Muren at ILM, are for the most part seamlessly integrated into the everyday fabric of the film. DP Janusz Kaminski’s lighting is more subdued than usual, but his camerawork is sensational—scenes of ILM’s alien tripods wreaking havoc on the streets of Bayonne are captured in long tracking and handheld movements that both put you in the midst of the destruction and give a thrilling perspective on it. Production designer Rick Carter and costume designer Joanna Johnston get to both provide the story with a convincing working-class milieu and detail its systematic ripping apart. That coda is a real stinker, however.
There is none of the sense of comforting family togetherness that Spielberg can’t resist supplying to be found in Dark Water, Walter Salles’ American remake of a Japanese supernatural thriller written and directed by Hideo Nakata (also the mastermind behind the original version of The Ring). Jennifer Connelly plays an unstable, recently separated woman who moves with her six-year-old daughter to a creepy apartment building on Roosevelt Island, in the middle of New York’s East River. The substance of the title soon starts permeating their new home, followed by Nakata’s stock-in-trade, a little-girl ghost. There really isn’t much to this tale—certainly nothing surprising or insightful to sustain a feature-length film. It has tons of atmosphere, however. Cinematographer Affonso Beato, making the most of the bleach bypass process, seems to have painted the images with ink, and the ever-present rain increases the feeling of oppressiveness. Thérèse DePrez’s apartment house set is masterful—it perfectly captures the location’s prevalent 1970s-era, concrete “brutalist” style, distressed by decades of neglect. If nothing else, Dark Water makes you resolve never to seek out housing on Roosevelt Island.--John Calhoun