Sunday, May 29, 2005

Movie Review: "The Aviator"

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Alan Alda, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin.
Directed by Martin Scorsese

While it would seem to have the trappings of a straight forward biopic, Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" doesn't follow a familiar scripted path that would show the life of Howard Hughes from childhood to death. And that probably plays in the film's favor, as the script by John Logan focuses on a 20+ year span of the noted Texas billionaire's life, documenting his many loves, triumphs and failures.
Coaxing a strong performance out of Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese presents a visually outstanding film that manages to thrill, while generally avoiding the dryness that tends to bog down biopics in general.
Provided with a great supporting cast, led by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who portrays multi-Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn, the movie wastes no time in showing the passion and sometimes reckless bravado of Hughes. Personally financing the World War I aviation movie, "Hell's Angels," Hughes flies in the face of everything that is safe and expected in Hollywood.
His own love of aviation leads in subsequent years to becoming a test pilot for his own planes, embarking on risky speed trials and world travel. One particular test flight nearly killed him and is captured in a remarkable sequence that has his plane tearing through a Beverly Hills neighborhood.
By this point in the movie, Hughes owned the airline TWA and was locked in a bitter struggle to join Pan Am as the only other airline to offer flights around the world. This leads up to a congressional hearing showdown with Senator Ralph Owen Brewster (Oscar nominee Alan Alda) where the two men volley accusations and find both of their reputations dragged through the mud. It generally plays as the climax of the move, yet lingers a bit too long, thus watering down some of its effectiveness.
Prior to this movie, most people, myself included, only knew the Howard Hughes of the latter portion of his life – living as a recluse in Las Vegas, an apparent shell of the brash and bold young billionaire of the 1920's and 1930's.
"The Aviator" certainly does more than pay lip service to the demons that haunted Hughes, as a number of scenes show the emergence of his obsessive-compulsive behavior that would eventually cripple him. But wrapping up the movie in the 1950's, well before his later troubled years, Scorsese would seem to be trying to find a happy ending for a man's life that clearly didn't have one. Clocking in at a little under three hours, it would have been difficult for the film to have dramatized Hughes' later stages of life. Yet, while seemingly pulling very few punches in portraying his life, making no documented mention of his fate makes the final landing of "The Aviator" less than a smooth one.
Grade: A-
(Rated PG-13 for language, sexual content, nudity, thematic elements and a crash sequence.)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

It's a "Star Wars" world after all

After the very mixed critical and audience reactions to Episode I and II of the "Star Wars" prequels, a combination of trepidation and high expectations met Episode III in the weeks and days leading up to its worldwide premiere May 19. With a large decline in box-office grosses for 2002's "Attack of the Clones," it was uncertain what fate would befall "Revenge of the Sith," as not only was there the pressure of outgrossing its predecessors, but a desire from the movie industry, in general, to see it succeed.
Movie theater attendance has been in decline for years, and has been particularly lagging this year, with very little that could be considered a box-office hit. Notable exceptions have been "Hitch," with Will Smith, the computer-animated "Robots" and (God help us) "The Pacifier," with noted thespian Vin Diesel. All three went well past the $100 million mark, but their success may have been more notable for the lack of quality films out at the time of their release, rather than the impressiveness of their product. "Hitch," in particular, was probably a can't-miss formula (Will Smith + romantic comedy + Valentine's Day release date = lots of money).
So can "Star Wars" jump start an entire industry's performance and get audiences back into the seats? It certainly did its part opening weekend, earning $158 million between May 19-22 and more than $300 million worldwide. But it seems unlikely that that trend would continue over the course of the year, as the problems that people have with today's movie theaters (high ticket prices, talking customers, endless amounts of ads before the movie) are quite unlikely to subside. Meanwhile, the DVD market continues to soar, allowing consumers the chance to create their own home theater experience without any of the aforementioned annoyances.
Still, it's good to see that after domestic grosses of $451 million for Episode I and $311 for Episode II, the final installment of the prequels (and as unfortunate as it may seem, the "Star Wars" movies, in general) will send the series out with a bang, not a whimper, as it seems potentially headed towards a couple of years ago.
Balance in the galaxy has been restored once more.
- MC