Tragic Synch

New Line Cinema’s decision to move the release date of Tony Scott’s Domino from 11.23 back to mid-August (which is when the film was originally scheduled to open for several months) may look like an exploitation of a tragedy to some…but apparently it’s not.
I was shocked to learn Tuesday that 35 year-old Domino Harvey, the former model-turned-bounty hunter portrayed by Keira Knightley in Scott’s action thriller, was found dead in a bathtub in her West Hollywood home on Monday night.

Edgar Ramirez, Mickey Rourke, Kera Knightley in Tony Scott’s Domino.

The daughter of late actor Laurence Harvey was facing jail time over drug-dealing charges after feds busted her a month ago. She was charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs (i.e., amphetamines), possession, trafficking and racketeering, and was apparently looking at a possible long sentence.
Domino, based on a sharply written script by Richard Kelly and costarring Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken, is a partly fictionalized story about Harvey’s giving up modeling in the early ’90s to become a bounty hunter.
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New Line bumped the film from its 8.19 date to late November sometime around 5.25, which was about six days after the news of Harvey’s drug arrest hit the papers.
The reason New Line is now looking to push it back to a mid-August release, I’m told, is because another Keira Knightley film, Pride and Prejudice (Focus Features), is moving its opening date to November 11 from a previous opening date of September 23, and such a conflict would only hurt both films.
There’s also some mucky-muck about Knightley’s busy schedule (she’s currently shooting the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel) and her consequent availability for p.r. duties being a factor in pushing up the Domino release date.
Kelly talked to me earlier today about Harvey, whom he spoke with last year “for a couple of hours” during research for his script. “I know she was very troubled,” he said. He called her recent drug bust and death (which looks like a suicide, although no official ruling has come down) “a very sad situation as Tony was close with her.”

Kera Knightley in studio-issed still from Domino.

He said he last saw Harvey during filming of Domino last fall in Las Vegas. Her head was shaved, he said, and she looked a little worse for wear.
“She has a cameo in the Vegas sequence of the film…actually she is in the final image,” he said. He called the footage of her “very haunting, especially now that she is gone, as the themes of life and death and the precarious/arbitrary nature of both are huge themes in the story.”
A New Line spokesperson said nothing would be changed in the film as it’s “pretty much locked.”
Scott, who knew Harvey on a personal basis, said in a statement that she “never failed to surprise or inspire me over the last 12 years. She was a free spirit like no other I have ever known.”
Domino producer Sammy Hadida said, “We were enormously saddened to hear of Domino’s untimely passing. She and I had been conferring about her music to be used in the film only weeks ago.
“Although our film is not intended as a biographical piece, hers was the dynamic personality and indomitable spirit that spawned an exciting adventure, not just on screen but in real life.”


War of the Worlds is, on a certain level, a close-to-great, sonically haunting, occasionally scary summer superflick…and anyone who dismisses it by saying things like “it doesn’t suck but it’s not very good either” is being disingenuous, really and truly.
There is no way this film won’t deliver most of what you’re expecting, even after reading this sentence, and I realize how presumptuous this sounds but I’m not wrong.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) carrying daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) as his emotionally and intellectually-challenged teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwick) glares at the world and wonders how to make his mark in his own way…get ’em, Robbie!

The film is not without problems — it has four, to be exact, including a stinkbomb of a finale that people will be talking about all across the country for the next five days — but it delivers your money’s worth and then some, and anyone who tries to tell you differently isn’t talking about what this film literally and actually is. Don’t listen to them.
War of the Worlds is surprisingly scary here and there. I thought I was CG’ed and FX’ed out and couldn’t be affected by another grotesquely expensive, broad-assed alien-invaders film…but I was wrong.
It’s not cold or savage or unembroidered enough, but even with its various weaknesses WOTW is the new standard-setter for what it takes to arouse a cynical, distracted audience with I-Pods and Blackberrys in their pockets into going yeah, wow…whoa!!…and sit up and stare and forget about going to the bathroom.
At times it is halfway between being merely visually “impressive” and a genuinely fearful thing to sit through, and that’s no small feat. Everyone’s taken note of the 9/11 recreations (there are several, but the most vivid for me is the powdery gray dust covering Tom Cruise’s head after the first alien attack), and this is certainly part of what the film summons.

Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning

But it’s the sheer flattening force of what the alien invaders do to everything and everybody (and especially the sound of all this carnage) that counts. Make sure you see War of the Worlds in a theatre with a fortified Tyrannosaurus Rex sound system.
Forget all that David Poland stuff about the lack of thematic elements or the metaphor not making it or the narrative threads failing to fuse together and make WOTW into something more than what it is. He’s partly right but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t get it.
I know I’ve hated films that eschew the delicate interior stuff in favor of gross physicality, but this is one of those occasions in which the exteriors are good enough that it’s easy to let the absence of interior values slide. Trust me, this film is as good as this sort of thing can reasonably be expected to be.
Except for four bad things: one mildly bad thing, one puzzlingly bad thing, one irritatingly bad thing and only breathtakingly awful thing.
There’s an opening and closing narration sequence — taken straight from the H.G. Wells novel and spoken by Morgan Freeman — that should have been cut. There are times when paying respect to the original author or the original film is a mistake, and this is one of them.

The narration was passable when Sir Cedric Hardwicke read it in the 1953 George Pal War of the Worlds, but Freeman’s reading sounds too storybooky and “once upon a time”-ish. (People began to snicker almost immediately at the screening I attended.)
I appreciate the urge to have H.G. Wells’ opening line digested, but literary tributes are fairly off-track in a film of this sort. The visuals say it all. We’re living in an age of sub-literacy and as nuts as this sounds, sometimes it’s best for filmmakers to just go with the sub-literate flow.
There’s a very queer idea in this film about the alien tripods not coming down from the heavens but buried and waiting under the earth’s surface for a long time and being activated by lighting bolts carrying aliens or alien vessels or whatever.
This is obviously nonsensical…unless, of course, one throws out credibility and just accepts it as metaphor. We are being destroyed by elements from within. This doesn’t add up, but …what?…malignancies in our systems, ourselves, our souls…waiting to be cut loose by time or fate or some built-in trigger?
Why do the aliens have to come from inside the ground? I suspect it’s because Spielberg fell in love with the idea of a tripod bursting its way out of a Hoboken street (it’s a fantastic thing visually, I have to admit) and said to screenwriter David Koepp, “Make it work.”
I ignored it, waved it away…but it bothered me later. People weren’t buying it outside the Zeigfeld theatre on Monday night, I can tell you. One guy was saying, “What the hell was that about?”

The son of Cruise’s Ray Ferrier, called Robbie and played by Justin Chatwin, should have been killed early on and stayed that way.
Chatwin is a good actor caught playing a badly written role. Robbie is a total dumbass. He’s feeling lots of anger and resentment about his irresponsible dad, see…but this emotional posture is unaffected by a smidgen of practical caution or strategic intelligence when the aliens start attacking. But he is sure is emotional!
Robbie and Ray and sister Rachel (Dakota Fanning) are driving through the carnage with one of the world’s last remaining working autos. (The others have had their batteries neutralized by an electro-magnetic pulse.) Ray asks Robbie to take the wheel but tells him to stick to the back roads and avoid crowds for obvious reasons. What does Robbie do while Ray is catching some z’s? You have to guess?
That settled it. Like Frankie Pantegelli barking at Michael Corleone about the hated Rosotto brothers in The Godfather, Part II, I was telepathically text-messaging the same message over and over…”I want this kid dead…mort!”
Then Robbie makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to join the National Guard while they’re trying to stop the aliens from advancing on the populace. Utterly ridiculous, of course, but at least the fucker is gone, I was telling myself. He’s been zapped to death, turned into dust…great!
And then…no, I can’t say it.

Spielberg’s alien tripods aren’t that different from this comic-book depiction from at least 50 years ago, if not further back than that.

The final scene of War of the Worlds is beyond bad. It is so diseased it will send you into grief spasms. There’s a sense of quiet jaw-dropping horror at what Spielberg is choosing to show us and the way he’s gotten dp Janusz Kaminski to shoot it (it’s almost as treacly as the fantasy scene when Anne Baxter waltzes down the steps to meet Montgomery Clift in I Confess) and the actors he’s chosen to cast in this scene.
This is the kind of terrible, terrible finale that only Steven Spielberg is capable of. Jett said as we were leaving the theatre, “Why did he do that? He almost had it!”
Why can’t Spielberg restrain himself on this sentimental shit? If WOTW had been a bit tougher and colder and had excised the emotional cushioning it could have been brilliant. But no…Spielberg has to be Spielberg. He has to pick up that shotgun, he has to put the shells in the chamber, he has to aim it at his left foot and blamm!
I shared this reaction with a director friend yesterday, and he said, “Well, of course…this is Spielberg, the most egregiously sentimental and pandering filmmaker anywhere except for George Lucas.”
This guy, who’s been around for 30 years and knows everyone and all the stories, said that Spielberg is actually a very cold and manipulative guy deep down (Julia Phillips used to say this too), and that he injects sentimentality into his films because he thinks it sells, and he’s right most of the time, but that’s not who he really is.

I don’t know how to go from loathing the last scene back to a sincere admiration of the whole, but that’s what this movie is. As bad as the shitty stuff is, it doesn’t get in the way of the portions that are stunning. I can’t emphasize enough that I was knocked flat and awestruck throughout most of it.
Cruise the Scientology meltdown nutter was out the window and gone in a matter of seconds. The 9/11 references seemed superfluous and unintegrated to me, and it was obvious WOTW would have been better off not referencing it so strenuously.
War of the Worlds could have been 20% better…it could have been staggering if Spielberg had pruned the crap and the sentiment out. It could have been scarier still if Spielberg had tried for a chillier tone and more of a “take it or leave it, life is hard and alien invasions are really hard and brutal…deal with it” type of thing.
But that’s not Spielberg and it never will be. The man is his own worst enemy.