Volume 75, Number 8 | July 13- 20, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“War of the Worlds” (-)
Queen Elizabeth referred to the year 1992, when Windsor Castle caught fire and the lives of her children were falling apart, as Annus Horribilis. I believe that term can be applied to the disappointing movies released this year with a few exceptions like “Crash,” “Cinderella Man,” and “Mat Hot Ballroom.” Intended blockbusters are usually released over the July 4th holiday. As often happens, they are disappointing. That is the case with the much anticipated Steven Spielberg film, “War of the Worlds.” It is a flop.

I am old enough to remember Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” in 1938, the setting of which was a small farm town twenty-two miles from Trenton, New Jersey. I was living with my family in Newark at the time, and many people listening to the broadcast thought it was true and fled the city for the safety of the nearby mountains. This film version, with its multimillion dollar special effects, is laughable, and I doubt that a single person in the theater felt threatened by the ridiculous-looking creatures arriving from another planet to connect with machines buried in our earth millions of years ago.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), who operates a large crane on the Brooklyn waterfront, is the divorced father of Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin). Cruise’s performance, although animated, is sometimes boring since his every move to protect his daughter from the aliens can be anticipated. Fanning, who is now 11 years old, has received terrific reviews for her recent films, but I was not impressed with her acting in this one. Chatwin, playing an alienated teenager, has a very small role here.

 Another character is an eccentric by the name of Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins). In the film “Mystic River,” Robbins brilliantly portrayed a man who had been sexually abused as a child. He won an Oscar for that performance, but in this film he is not very believable. Normally I would describe the plot in more detail, but in this case after mentioning the special effects, there is not much more to say other than it bored me.  

None of the major critics gave this movie a good review. Spielberg and Dreamworks fell apart on this production, but a first-rate film can restore them to their premier status. They have done it before.

“The Great Water” (-)
I don’t have a clue as to why the title. The story takes place after World War II in Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito who is mentioned once in the film. It also covers the time before Tito broke with Stalin. Its target of scrutiny is a large orphanage which houses some of the million orphans who roamed the streets of Yugoslavia after the war.

A young boy, Lem (Saso Kekenovski), is brought to the orphanage and is fascinated by another newly arrived orphan, Isak (Maja Stankovska). I learned from reading Dana Stevens’ review in The New York Times that Maja Stankovska is a young woman. She plays the role of the boy superbly, and I would never have guessed that she is a female. Why the producer/director felt the need to have a female play that role is another mystery. The people working at the orphanage are cruel to the children.

Stevens concludes her review by stating, “But what makes the film worth watching are the extraordinary performances by the more than 250 children cast as orphans. The young actors were trained by the renowned children’s acting coach Mykola Heyko (who worked with the 5-year-old hero of the Academy Award-winning Czech film “Koyla”). Like many films about the suffering of children in wartime (“The Tin Drum,” “Forbidden Games,” “Au Revoir les Enfants”), “The Great Water” is difficult to watch, and just as difficult to forget.”

I disagree with her conclusion. I found the film to be far too crude in technique, and I was not sufficiently engaged in the story or script. (In English and Macedonian, with English subtitles.)

- Ed Koch

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