Ladies in Lavender (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Bruhl, dir. Charles Dance)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It seems like whenever they make one of these "let's put two legendary actors together on-screen" movies, they put all the faith in the actors and don't pay much attention to the script. There is a certain pleasure in watching Dench and Smith together on-screen, and if that's the only pleasure you're looking for, then you'll probably like this movie. The first half is dry and droll, but then it just kind of falls apart, and watching two great actors just wasn't enough for me. Opened limited Apr. 29; in Las Vegas this week
War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, dir. Steven Spielberg)
I have to admit: I am not much of a Spielberg fan. I have hazy memories of enjoying Jaws and E.T. and the Indiana Jones movies and even Hook when I was a kid, but I haven't seen any of those in a long time, and the Spielberg movies I've seen in more recent times have not done much for me. At best, they've offered some engaging escapism, but even Saving Private Ryan didn't do much to move me emotionally. I thought three of Spielberg's last four films (The Terminal, Minority Report, A.I.) were mediocre to bad, and although I liked Catch Me if You Can, it was certainly more on the mild escapist end of things.
The theme this week seems to be movies with strong first halves and weak follow-through; I thought the first hour of War of the Worlds was excellent, scary and exciting and genuinely breathtaking. Once Cruise and Fanning find themselves in a basement with Tim Robbins, though, the movie loses steam, and it never really picks its momentum back up. The ending, as widely noted in nearly every review, is a cop-out that undermines the darkness and seriousness of the rest of the film. Even so, this is the best big summer movie I've seen this year; the special effects are the best you will see anywhere and are used to augment the story, not overwhelm it. There are giant plot holes and motifs stolen from Signs and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but on the whole, this is one movie that's lived up to most of its hype. Wide release