Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Review: The Aviator

The Aviator staring Leonardo DiCaprio
Lately I have been inundated with television and movies streaming from my little Roku. Taking a break from that for a few days, my eyes wandered over to my IKEA Billy, full of row after row of DVDs, Blu-Rays and even a row of HD-DVDs. Though I'm sorry to report that I do not have any Laserdiscs or Betamax, I do have a handful of VHS tapes. My eyes flew straight to The Aviator, the Martin Scorsese directed bio-flick and one of the best films of 2004 and a film that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and took home 5 statues.

The Aviator is a film about Howard Hughes' life. Hughes was an eccentric American industrialist, film producer, director, and aviator (duh!). He produced big-budget films beginning in the 1920s, including the original Scarface in 1932 which was eventually remade with Al Pacino. He had many passions, but none seemed as important as flying. He set many air-speed records and even built airplanes. The most famous I'd hope most of you have at least heard of, the "Spruce Goose," and almost entirely wooden ship. Because of the building materials, being birch and not actually spruce, the ship was huge. So huge it is still the largest flying boat ever built and still has the largest wingspan of any ship in history. It is a behemoth and a sight to be seen. But enough about that, back to the movie.

The film spends most of its time on Hughes during his initial rise to fame to his later breakdown. With all the fame and fortune that Hughes had, his life was a wreck. He was a brilliant man, but had serious mental issues he had to cope with, most troublesome being the obsessive–compulsive disorder that crippled his social interaction later in life. His compulsiveness with dirt, milk, and urine that is presented in this film appears to be accurate. The reclusive character, Willard Whyte, from the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever is based (loosely) on Hughes. That James Bond film also used his Las Vegas hotel and casino for the filming of that movie because Hughes was a friend of producer Albert Broccoli. The man loved cinema.

Leonardo DiCaprio did a phenomenal job as Hughes, coming so far from the so-so acting I first saw him perform back in 1997's Titanic (the boat sinks). I'm beginning to think that what I thought was bad acting in Titanic was actually a fluke, since it's director, James Cameron ranks about one step above George Lucas in being an absolutely terrible "actor's director." Everything else I've seen DiCaprio shows a certain acting competence missing in that first role. I was sold on his Hughes.

However, was not as impressed with Cate Blanchett's over-acting as Katherine Hepburn. The surprise here is that Blanchett was the one who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in this film. Kate Beckinsale does a decent job as Ava Gardner. Jude Law does an okay job as Errol Flynn, though he's made to be a bit of a comical buffoon, though this may have been accurate as I didn't know the guy. In a surprise move, No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani does a competent job as Jean Harlow, considering her non-existent filmography before this.

The film was devised to look just like the way the color on the film would have looked in it's respective years. The film you see of the scenes set in the 1930s would look relatively close to the film stock of that day, and that same would go for the 40s, the 50s. That's quite an interesting and creative choice to make. I don't have the Blu-Ray version of this film, so I can only judge based off of my so-so copy of the DVD I own which does not produce the sharpness one would get from seeing this on film or on Blu-Ray.

Any film by Martin Scorsese is worth seeing, and The Aviator is no exception.

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