Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is one of his most underrated features, a visceral, borderline surreal take on 9/11 fears and bewilderment that repurposes the Cold War subtext of 1950s science fiction for the 21st century and the War on Terror. But there is one element of the film I cannot defend, and that is of course its coda. After pummeling its characters for two hours, capturing the sense of horror, loss and pandemonium of a sudden attack, Spielberg nearly undoes it all by awkwardly bringing back a character as good as dead without so much as a scratch on him. It undermines the power of the rest of the film, which, despite letting its handsome star survive ludicrous odds, does believably convey the sense of helplessness and vulnerability of a people being invaded. Spielberg is routinely criticized for his endings, and often unfairly (think the deceptively unsettling finales of Close Encounters, A.I. and Empire of the Sun), but here he might just prove his naysayers right. - Jake Cole
Minority Report (2002)
Steven Spielberg immediately immerses you in the futuristic world of Minority Report, as the opening scene sees Tom Cruise standing in front of a giant concave computer screen, watching as a murder unfolds in the very near future. As they raid the house where the murder is about to take place, the tension builds and builds, as Spielberg relays the clinical precision needed to be part of this pre-crime unit with his steady, gorgeous direction. It’s a blistering, mesmerizing start to a film loaded with evocative themes of morality, fate and privacy – themes that fall by the wayside as the latter portion of the film turns into a twist-loving exercise in sci-fi tedium. The breathtaking precision and nuance of the opening scene, of the choreography and the futuristic sets, are pushed to the background to make way for a messy, contrived plot, tedious set pieces, misplaced humor and careless gimmicks. It’s a case of putting too much on the surface and not trusting the audience to figure out the deeper meanings. Such heavy-handed pandering ruins what has the potential to be a subversive take on the sci-fi and crime film genres. - Kyle Fowle
Is there a film more poorly timed than Die Another Day, the first James Bond film to come out after 9/11? The answer is yes: Collateral Damage. But that’s not relevant to this discussion, because Ahnuld’s terrorism-themed action romp is mostly pretty crappy, and Die Another Day has an astounding opening where Bond is captured on a mission in North Korea, then imprisoned and tortured while a late-period Madonna song plays. For an entire year.
Bond emerges from captivity in a world that’s completely changed – one preoccupied with terrorism, not cartoonish supervillainy to be dealt with through agent 007′s usual brand of high-flying espionage, high-tech gimmickry and martini-soaked seduction. In the wake of a real-life terrorism attack changing the way we look at the world, the James Bond franchise had a chance to re-evaluate how they present the famous secret agent to the masses. Were we really going to accept more of the same Cold War-era international intrigue in the year 2002? Certainly the producers of the Bond franchise knew we needed something different now.
Because nothing on earth can be perfect, once Bond gets out of captivity, he engages in his usual brand of high-flying espionage, high-tech gimmickry and martini-soaked seduction to deal with cartoonish supervillainy in a plot that involves a giant laser or something. While the entirety of the franchise’s past justifies this kind of film, the set-up of Die Another Day promises a much more thoughtful exploration of James Bond as a man out of time, but instead wusses out in favor of a movie where a man surfs on a great big CGI tsunami. It was hard to be mad when they rebooted this one.- Danny Djeljosevic
Gone with the Wind (1939)
At some point in college, I decided I had to quit making excuses and finally tackle the cinematic behemoth that is Gone with the Wind. I had avoided it all through high school, despite my burgeoning interest in film. The Southern plantation setting never had any appeal for me and my perception was always that Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh were more annoying than charming. When I finally watched the 1939 epic, winner of 10 Academy Awards and placed in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 10 American movies of all time, I was pleasantly surprised, at least for the first half of the picture. The love/hate relationship between lead characters Scarlett and Rhett was full of fun and frustration. The lead up to the Civil War and the graphic depiction of the aftermath of the siege of Atlanta were epic. When Scarlett exclaims, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” I would probably celebrate it as a true work of art if the film had ended there. The second half, though, is a different story. The filmmakers, trying desperately to be faithful to the bestselling novel upon which the movie was based, packed a ridiculous number of melodramatic events into a short period of time. The first half moves with a leisurely, deliberate pace, but the second has the feel of a student trying to cram all his history notes into his head at the last minute before an exam. We get alcoholism, divorce, childbirth, child death and more tragedies within a period of only an hour. It’s so emotionally exhausting that by the end, when Rhett exclaims, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I can’t help but agree. – Jake Adams
How do you fuck up Die Hard? Here’s how- you forget what it’s about. Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh reworked an original script named Simon Says into an attempt at a Lethal Weapon sequel which fell through, so he decided to dump this on the franchise it was least likely to fit. Now, the movie opens strongly, with a moody and atmospheric shot of NYC traffic and Joe Cocker’s cover of “Summer in the City,” artistically interrupted by a courier van exploding. We find John McClane and he is tasked with a series of daunting labors that are initially clever, but by the end the movie’s slavishly attempted to tie into the first, with Jeremy Irons’ Simon “revealed” to be the brother of Hans Gruber, the German terrorist who’s making sulfur angels in hell.
Simon escapes, so McClane tracks him down to a cafe in Vienna as if he were James Fucking Bond, and the two exchange poor, forcibly terse dialogue, and hey, it turns out McClane arrives with a rocket launcher and the two play a game of “rocket chicken.” The appeal of the Die Hard movies is that McClane, through his street-smarts and resourcefulness, defeats the intellectual foreigner because America, etc., but this ending must’ve been something Hensleigh thought was SO FUCKING RAD that he couldn’t cut it from his shitty script. A terrible ending to an ultimately terrible film. – Rafael Gaitan