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The Aviator

The Aviator

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Alan Alda, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 169 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence

The tagline proudly exclaims, “Some men dream of the future. He built it.” It is not a lie. The name Howard Hughes is one probably known best by older generations, but the new biopic from Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) may change all that. Clocking in at nearly three hours, not a minute is wasted as the admittedly quite amazing and very vivid life of Hughes is explored, both in the most public of his accomplishments and the most personal of his demons. Reminiscent of another famous biopic, Citizen Kane, it begins with Hughes as a boy, being warned of germs by his mother. His obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobia of germs would later take a much more central role in his life as he would grow.

Then, the story jumps right into the production of Hell’s Angels. Only 21, the already rich Hughes (his father was an inventor) is directing his first film, a World War I epic. At one point, in order to get the camera shots he wants, dozens of fighter planes are whisked off into the air, with Hughes in one. It is the first aerial sequence of the film, and as Hughes stands up with his portable camera in hand in his flying vintage plane, a love for both aviation and film-making is evident, and it is a great ode to not only Howard Hughes but to all those who will risk everything for what they love to do. It is also Scorsese winking at his own heroes, and perhaps his own generation, too.

The film spans from the roaring 20s to the war torn 40s, and each age is recounted in vivid detail. The 20s in are particularly amazing, as singers croon to vast crowds of bygone partiers and Hollywood elite. It is almost as if the film were an actual time-capsule, capturing images that are not only recreated but authentic. Still, the story never becomes bogged down by the huge budget or grand visuals, and Hughes life only becomes more complex as the film continues. It is only in the last hour, really, that the film stumbles at all, as The Aviator ventures into the already much traveled territory of a biopic: the court battle. Here, lead by an appropriately repulsive Alan Alda as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, Hughes is attacked by a corrupt system for, ironically, charges of corruption.

That’s not to say any interest is lost, though, and if the greatest complaint of a film is that it is only the best at something that has been done before rather than good at something startling new, then it is not too severe of a complaint at all. In fact, some of what transpires within these hearings is enough to inspire an urge to find the actual old news reels of the genuine Howard Hughes hearings and to see every last detail of what was actually said. That is a great strength of the film overall, as everything it shows is just enough to give depth to the human character of Hughes while also enough to beckon one to seek out more long after the film is over. Hughes is a fascinating person, really, framed by a fascinating movie.

Critic’s Conclusion: The Aviator is one of the best films of the year, as well as one of the best films in the long and varied career of director Martin Scorsese. Human but also epic, it is likely to be a contender at the Oscars this year. Thus, it should be around for a while, which is perfect as this is one not to miss.

The Aviator

Rating by Dan Russell: 4.5 stars
****1/2

Elektra

Elektra

Director: Rob Bowman
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout and Will Yun Lee
Runtime: 93 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for Action violence

Elektra: The Next Evolution in Mediocrity

I will freely admit that I did not expect much from a spin-off of a two year old Ben Affleck film. It’s a good thing, too, because otherwise I would have been really disappointed. Now, Elektra is not a true January film. By this, I mean that most films that come out in January, the worst month for films, are the ones the studios have no faith in. These are the films best left forgotten. However, Elektra is not terrible. Nor is it good. Rather, it is astoundingly mediocre. Everything about the production screams “average!”

The plot, which is mainly about Elektra and her bonding with a young girl who is not quite normal, is nothing new. Nor are the evil business henchmen with supernatural Kung-Fu powers who want a secret treasure. It’s pretty much a combination of Mortal Kombat and the killer 1994 thriller, The Professional. Of this mix, it is definitely the parts reminiscent of The Professional that hold the most weight. The super-natural elements simply become very hokey as the film progresses.

That’s not to say there weren’t moments of “coolness.” The imaginatively named “Tattoo” is probably the best villain, as the horde of animal-oriented artwork embedded in his chest take on physical forms that attack our ever-so-strong heroines at several points in the film. Unfortunately, most of his screen time is shown in the previews, but it’s still a neat concept.

Also, the second action set-piece is pretty nifty, taking place in a lush green forest where all the baddies can show off their special talents. Director Rob Bowman (The X-Files, Reign of Fire) loses focus near the end, though, as everything becomes a large mess of blurry fights in dark places. Any tension is lost, too, as it’s not as if there is any question to who is going to beat who.

The most surprising thing to me, though, is how this comic book adaptation takes on strong elements of your average Lifetime movie. Near the end especially, the soft music and sappy writing made me wonder if the last reel had been misplaced and a chick flick had been cut in by accident. I guess this could be considered the “heart” of the film, but it just comes off as way too forced.

Still, there were seldom moments where either a nap or yelling at the screen seemed more interesting alternatives. At points there were even hints of a better film, of a successful action film and drama fused in one. Yet, in the end, the simple fact is that after you leave the theater, barely anything will be remembered. The film is disposable, produced quickly to be an acceptable diversion for an hour and a half on a cold January day. It is just that, no more no less.

Critic’s Conclusion: An average action film with a little heart, though mostly sap, Elektra is exactly what it promises to be: a popcorn film. It is a little fun, a little boring, and completely forgettable.

Elektra

Rating by Dan Russell: 2.5 stars
**1/2

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13

Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Ja Rule, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Dennehy
Runtime: 109 minutes
CARA Rating: R for Strong violence and language throughout and for some drug content

Thirteen reasons why Assault on Precinct 13 is one remake worth the celluloid:

1. The Direction: From little known French director Richet, who did the 2001 film De L’amour. He creates a film that is actually gripping. From the more “indie” style jump cuts to the very big budget camera sweeps, the film follows in the trend of recent hits The Bourne Supremacy and Collateral by successfully mixing a rough, spontaneous low budget style into a mainstream studio film.

2. The Opening Scene: Jumping right into the film, before even the credits, the intensity is high in the first scene and the overall mood is reminiscent more of a film like Traffic than of a Hollywood remake. Although the outcome of this scene is not too surprising, the way it is crafted is, putting the viewer right into the action with jump cuts and hand-held effects.

3. The Acting: An all-star cast includes Ethan Hawke as a cop again (last outing 2001’s Training Day) and Laurence Fishburne as a brutal criminal. Such actors of course turn in solid performances, often immersing themselves into the action. Even rapper Ja Rule does a serviceable job that won’t lead most people to want to run out into the street screaming, though nobody will be mistaking him for the next Jamie Foxx any time soon.

4. The Look: The film’s snowy landscapes and claustrophobic prison halls all help add to the tension, creating a gritty and atmospheric environment.

5. The Script: Okay, some of the dialogue is lame and some of the plot twists are predictable. Still, there is enough intelligence to keep a smart audience engaged and the characters for the most part are interesting with a little bit of depth. The plot also builds tension nicely, and doesn’t become bogged down in unnecessary subplots.

6. The Adaptation: Overall, the film keeps the mood of the original 1976 John Carpenter version (which was itself basically a remake of the 1959 film Rio Bravo) while also changing enough ideas to warrant the purpose of a remake. Even Carpenter has admitted he is quite happy with the effort produced here.

7. The Action: Although not exclusively an action flick, the action here is exciting, interesting and well-done. Despite having a modest budget of 30 million dollars, none of it looks cheap.

8. The “Punch” of it all: This film doesn’t shy away from its violence, though it rarely becomes gratuitous. However, when the hits happen, they are shocking, especially when occurring to characters that have some emotional value.

9. The Morpheus Factor: Special credit has to go to Fishburne, perhaps best known as the character Morpheus from The Matrix trilogy. Although he is not as cool here as he was in that 1999 sci-fi smash, he still plays a great villain slash anti-hero (well almost, as cool as he is, he’s still a cop killer.) Not bad for a remake at all.

10. The Premise: It’s still a clever premise, too, ripe for interesting possibilities that are mostly explored.

11. The Opening Scene: The gritty beginning is so effective that it takes a cliche action sequence and makes it seem interesting again. That alone deserves at least two spots on this list.

12. The Quality of the Plot Holes: The film has some noticeable plot holes in it, but overall there are not too many dumb character actions or gaping errors that bring the entire film down. At least some thought was put into how everything would fit into the story.

13. The X-Factor: True, this film is no classic, but overall it’s a nifty experience that has a special something many films lack: some oomph.

Critic’s Conclusion: Fun and fairly brutal, this 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13 is a solid thriller and action film. While it may not be the most memorable film in the world, while you are in the theatre it will definitely hold your attention.

 

Assault on Precinct 13

Rating by Dan Russell: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Chimaira: The Dehumanizing Process

Chimaira - The Dehumanizing Process

On Saturday I received the assignment: make your way down to the Odeon for a top-secret viewing of the new Chimaira DVD. I was excited to get this job for a number of reasons and it lived up to my expectations.

Unfortunately for reviewing purposes I did not see the full package that comes with the DVD including Chimaira’s first album and some other goodies. What I did see however was the full-length movie entitled The Dehumanizing Process while sandwiched between two of its stars. When it was all over I had to admit to myself that these guys just made one hell of a band documentary.

The first thing that confronts you is some of the most foreboding and beautiful footage of Cleveland that I have ever seen. Todd Bell, Garrett Zunt and the rest of the crew infuse a great texture to the film, it really looks great. The next thing that becomes clear to me is this: love ’em or hate ’em, Chimaira ain’t going anywhere.

This film (and it definitely deserves the term) plunges the viewer headfirst into the inner workings of this band. For those of you looking for a concert film with the obligatory backstage antics and boob shots turn back now. Those things are all here mind you but to get to them you must first live the last year and a half with the band as they struggle to continue as a unit while uncertainty about their future constantly keeps you company.

Through recording, rehearsing, touring, partying, playing and LIVING with these guys during this time in their career you get to know that they want this so bad its almost palpable. For those of you out there that wish to be in a band for a living please go see this. You will have a much greater appreciation for the dedication and perseverance it takes to make it in a band.

Watch as singer Mark “Metal Moses” Hunter , wracked by nerves, throws up in a backstage toilet before a show. Watch guitarist Rob Arnold’s concentration as he writes a solo in his bedroom. Watch bassist Jim “Meatball” Lamarca get pissed off recording bass lines. Watch Matt “MFA” DeVries intensity while he consumes a beverage that was mixed with someone’s dirty finger.

Watch as the band both implodes and explodes following the news that drummer Andy Herrick is leaving the band. Watch the aftermath as another drummer is brought in to learn the whole band catalog in twelve days and ultimately doesn’t work out. Watch as a third drummer in a year joins the chaos that is Chimaira.

This film takes you right to the heart and soul of this band, offering the public a real feel for the ups and downs of being in a band in general but also focusing on this bands particular struggles and triumphs that are usually seen only by the band and their innermost circle

This is hands down the most intimate band film I have ever seen. Chimaira are leading what some people are referring to as the new wave of American heavy metal. Well bottom line, if by the end of this film you aren’t rooting for these guys to become the next Slayer, than you and I didn’t watch the same film.

 

Bile – When the Dead Come Home

Bile - When The Dead Come Home DVD cover

With Bile’s typical sledgehammer-to-the-skull style subtlety, “When the Dead Come Home” takes the viewer through the last ten year’s of Bile’s reign. With a nice mix of amateur (ie bootleg) footage from their shows breaking up the behind the scenes shots as well as a couple of music videos, this video has a much more rough, gritty feel and look to it than the average band-released video – which is exactly the way Bile likes it.

The tape opens with a brief intro (with the typical Bile creepiness) followed immediately by the “professional” video for “In League”. This sets the stage for what looks to be every other band’s home video anthology. It is then that the viewer gets punched in the face with the live stuff…

After two music videos we get to see Bile live and in the flesh prowling their home turf of NYC back in ’93, followed by live stuff from all over for the last ten years or so (including an appearance at The Blind Lemon – now the Hi-Fi – shot by our very own $Bill). Breaking this up we get some interviews with the band from the “Tecknowhore” era as well as some studio and behind-the-scenes footage. No one can take you behind the scenes quite like Bile. For Bile fans, this tape is not to be missed. For fans of industrial metal who don’t “get” the whole Bile scene this tape is still not to be missed, and that is the beauty of this tape: it’s a fun watch even for the uninitiated.

For more info, check out their website at www.bilestyle.com or Bilestyle Records.

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