War of the Worlds – A Movie Review

In my book, Steven Spielberg rarely goes wrong.  I’m happy to announce that his latest film, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds, is no different.

This film had me on the edge of my seat from about twenty minutes in until it ended.  Non-stop action, total suspense, very frightening moments (both with the invaders and with how humans can devolve so savagely when challenged), along with spectacular special effects make this movie worth the price of admission.

I’ll be honest, I was sort of expecting an Independence Day type of film.  Thankfully, we didn’t’ get one (don’t get me wrong, I liked Independence Day, I just didn’t want to see a rehash, and yes, I realize the irony in such a statement considering most alien invasion films are byproducts of Wells’ novel).  Instead, the film held truer to the actual novel.  I won’t offer any more spoilers than that, but please keep in mind the novel was published in 1898, so obvious modernizing is essential to capture the contemporary audience’s attention. 

I suppose that the greatest surprise of the film for me was the fact that no matter how much Tom Cruise has fallen, in my opinion, of late, he really did give a pretty good performance in this film.  Most movies I see with Cruise, I feel as though I’m watching Tom Cruise in a movie, not a character that Tom Cruise is playing.  In War of the Worlds, this was not totally the case.  He had some Tom Cruise moments, but overall, I felt as though he was Ray, the character he was playing (not the singer).  Cruise plays a man who is not an especially heroic person, not an especially honest or moral person, and a father who pretty much stinks at the job.  It was nice to see him playing an everyman, a reluctant hero.  In fact, I wouldn’t even call his character a hero.  Protagonist would be more appropriate, I believe. 

All in all, see this film.  I’ll say it again, Spielberg always produces gold when he directs, Cruise plays a convincing character, the little girl did not irritate me like I thought she would (I even kind of enjoyed her performance, but don’t tell anyone), and it was a fun thrill ride.  Oh, and those special effects won’t be done justice on the small screen, so don’t wait to rent.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – A Book Review

A few weeks ago I was looking around for some new books to read and ran across The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I’ll admit, the title kind of turned me off.  I liked the time travel part, but the wife part made me think that it might be a bit too sappy for my taste.  So, I read some reviews of the book, I read the back cover, and I finally gave in.  What the heck, I love The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and I love Back to the Future; in other words, I love time travel stories.  How bad could this one be?

The answer to that question is-the book is not bad at all.  In fact, I honestly would call it one of the most unpretentious and terribly complicated plots that I have ever read.  Our male lead character, Henry DeTamble, suffers from an extremely rare disease that causes him to bounce around in time whenever stressed.  Nothing can travel with him other than those things that are naturally a part of his body.  You do the math.  Henry has been doing this ever since he was a child, and as an adult he is quite adept at picking locks, hand-to-hand combat, and theft.  He must be good at these things if he wants to survive.  I’d like you to imagine yourself appearing in the middle of a city completely naked on a January night at three in the morning.  Get the idea?  Oh, and Henry’s occupation when he’s not traveling through time-a librarian.

Very quickly into the book we witness the first time that Clare meets Henry.  She is but a young child and he is well into his third decade.  In fact, it is the first time that Clare meets Henry because Henry has been married to an adult Clare for some time now.  Yes, that’s right.  He visits his wife when she is only six years old and then continues to do so until she is eighteen!  It boggles the mind, does it not?  Many philosophical questions spring to mind and I’ll leave it to you to decipher them on you own.

Henry first meets Clare, in turn, when he is twenty-eight and she is twenty.  By that time, Clare had known him for most of her life, but it was the very first time that he had ever seen her.  Well, he nearly instantly falls for her and eventually they get married.  Of course, like most married couples, they begin to attempt conceiving a child.  Imagine a child that inherits a time traveling gene that may activate whenever stressed.  Yes, a whole new premise in the story that bewilders.

Well, of course, I won’t tell you how it ends, and although it seems I’ve told you quite a bit already, I promise that I’ve spoiled nothing.  The book is roughly five hundred pages and it is written in an effective manner in which the perspective regularly shifts from Clare to Henry.  The setting also shifts quite often and Niffenegger is always careful to tell us the date and year of each new shift.  We move all the way from the late sixties to 2053 rather haphazardly.  It gives you quite a mental workout.

I highly recommend this book to both men and women.  Niffenegger has accomplished an enchanting and multifaceted novel with such success that it makes the rest of us writers feel quite inadequate.  Just like real life, Henry and Clare enjoy laughs, tears, births, deaths, pain, joy, terror, and euphoria.  With only one hundred and fifty pages left in the novel, you will not be able to put this book down.  Trust me, I was up until two-thirty in the morning finishing it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volumes I and II – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m one of those people who saw the film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen long before I ever read the comic books. I once thought the film was awesome, but after having the read the original stories, I now realize the movie could have been so much more! What’s so extraordinary about this league? I’m glad you asked…

Let me catch you up to speed if you’re not familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The stories take place in England in the late 1890’s. The characters are icons of literature such as the Invisible Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, and Alan Quartermain. The government of England assembles them to battle extraordinary circumstances within its borders. The first volume deals with a famous villain who shall remain nameless, and the second volume deals with a Martian invasion, ala the famous tale by H.G. Wells. Both volumes are rife with literary allusions, so an old literature nerd like myself was flying high throughout.

The author of these volumes is the eccentric but highly respected creator by the name of Alan Moore. He’s brought us many classics, but he is most widely known for his masterpiece, the mid-eighties magnum opus known as the Watchmen, which is largely responsible for moving comics out of the “comics are for kiddies” paradigm. He is obviously a connoisseur of the literary classics, for he has so many references to works of literature throughout these volumes that two companion pieces have been produced explaining the dozens of nuances found within (think of it like Breaking the Da Vinci Code for Dan Brown’s ultra-popular novel). Although his writing is at times disturbing, Moore is an expert at what he does and his stories are always captivating. The further characterization of such classical characters and bringing them together in such odd situations and having them interact, well, it’s completely delightful.

The artist is a man named Kevin O’Neill, and I was largely unfamiliar with any of his previous work. However, his style is perfect for this type of story, and his careful attention to nineteenth century architecture and dress is phenomenal. Again, like the author, some of his drawings are quite provoking, but they are all magnetic in their execution.

I would completely recommend these two volumes for a reader wishing to break into only the best of comics in their trade paperback form. Be mindful, however, these comics were not released as mainstream works, so they don’t play by mainstream rules. Very gory scenes, matched with the first and only actual sex scene I’ve ever seen in a comic book, requires an open-minded and tolerant reader. You won’t be disappointed in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I’m quite certain of that.