December 31, 2004

The Aviator

Yeah, I said I wasn't reviewing any more movies this year, and your point is?

A Beautiful Mind

The Aviator posterThe Aviator
Starring: A Cast of Thousands! Howard Hughes by Jacob Davich (as a boy) and Leonardo DiCaprio (as a boy); Kate Hepburn by Cate Blanchett; Ava Gardner by acclaimed actress Kate Beckinsale; Errol Flynn by Jude Law; Jean Harlow by Gwen Stefani; and shadowy Spencer Tracy by Kevin O'Rourke; with quite excellent performances from John C. Reilly as the accountant guy; Matt Ross as the engineer guy; Alec Baldwin as the evil Pan Am guy; Alan Alda as the eviller senator guy; Brent Spiner as that airplane guy; Willem Dafoe as that reporter guy; and Bilbo Baggins as the professor guy. Also featuring at least two black people not portraying waiters, porters, or club entertainers, and blame Amy Sloan as the mother. Aparently Jane Lynch played Amelia Earhart, but I didn't see her. Maybe her scenes were, you know, lost.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan
Score by: Howard Shore, who more or less develops the theme this time
MPAA says: Rated PG-13, possibly for Kate Hepburn's bare back, or just because those Hollywood types are so, you know, wanton.
Running time: 169 minutes
Release date: December, 2004
Seen at: National Amusements City Center 15 (see previous comments). The concessions staff appeared to be stoned, but, seeing as it's New Year's Eve, I won't hold it against them. Except, of course, to make fun of them.

Midnight Plane to Hollywood
No Lord of the Rings movie this year, so midnight was spent at The Aviator.

I'm of the age where my first memory of Howard Hughes is of hearing about a crazed recluse with wild long hair and dirty long nails, locked in a room, emaciated and obsessively rewatching the same film over and over (which I suspect is going to be my eventual fate). This was also my first encounter with the concept of mental illness, and even as a tiny child, I wondered why no one had tried harder to help the strange man. A little bit later, I would wonder that about Elvis, too. Ah, the innocence of childhood.

Leonardo the GreatThe writer of The Aviator has diagnosed his Hughes with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, sticking him in terrible loops of repeating the same phrase over and over, setting him into face-twisting tailspins of panic over different types of food touching on the plate. A dirty doorknob becomes an insurmountable obstacle. Even water for washing may be full of germs and disease. Paranoia makes social interaction almost impossible, particularly when Hughes cannot clearly hear what the people around him are saying. The expected irony: This compulsive attention to every minute detail may have fueled his genius as well.

Don't Trust Anyone Over . . . Never Mind
Thirty-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio screws up his face and pretends to look older than fourteen as he takes Hughes from young film director to famous aviator to infamous playboy. Don't get me wrong: DiCaprio is a phenomenal actor. I'm thinking of adding a page with photos of my personal acting pantheon just to acknowledge him and Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett and Don Cheadle and a few others at the very top of their craft here in the first decade of the century. DiCaprio's Hughes is sympathetic and despicable at the same time; fascinating and repulsive; hopeful and hopeless. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of a few actors who might yet get me to see an epic-film version of the life Alexander the Great, in spite of my heartbreak over not growing up to produce an epic-film version of the life of Alexander the Great. Oh dear, pardon me, I have to go cry in a corner for a while. Okay, I'm back now.

Am I Blue?
I don't know whether this was meant as a cinematic effect or was just this theatre's print, but there was no green throughout the 1920s—blue golfcourse grass and cobalt peas. Howard Hughes meets Katharine Hepburn, and the late '30s and '40s explode into Technicolor as he temporarily thrives in her presence. Cate Blanchett does a convincing Hepburn, moreso when, in the interior scenes in Hughes' mansion, she is lit and filmed in a manner reminiscent of Hepburn's films of the era. Blanchett sustains the illusion all the way through. She may not exactly be the Kate, but she is this Kate. A large contribution to why the audience can like Howard is because Kate likes him. Howard the maverick aviator and maverick film producer is interesting in a distant way. Howard the troubled individual human is much more engaging, and once we see him as Kate sees him, he becomes important to us, too.

Cavalcade of Stars Other star turns as stars are not in the film long enough to make a huge impression. Stanley DeSantis is easily recognisable as the easily recognisable Louis B. Mayer, legendary head of MGM Studios (and a legendary Canadian! did you know that? I think I didn't know that). Jude Law gets only a cameo as Errol Flynn, but who better at the moment to portray him? Kevin O'Rourke mostly sticks to the shadows as an unconvincing Spencer Tracy, and acclaimed actress Kate Beckinsale is convincingly 1940s as Ava Gardner, an actress who in spite of her starlet status I've never found particularly identifiable. Gardner, I mean, not Beckinsale. All right, Beckinsale too.

Sir Ian Holm plays the significantly less famous Professor Fitz with scene-stealing aplomb, and John C. Reilly as Hughes' devoted accountant deserves the sort of high praise "character actors" don't get nearly enough of.

The Aviator posterLift and Separate
After designing a push-up bra for Jane Russell's famous cleavage, Hughes goes on to design sleek, fast, high-flying aircraft, and demand eccentrically forward-thinking designs from his engineers, as well as simply eccentric designs. At the same time he was becoming increasingly reclusive and apart from the world, and the movie portrays this in fits and starts that sputter along as his own life must have felt to him. In the end, any hope of and thrill from his triumphs turn simply into a lingering sadness. The successes are tinted by his illness, and there will be no happy ending.

In case you were wondering, the opening and several flashbacks along the way remind us: It's always the mother's fault. Gee, that was simple. Thanks for the psychological simplification, movie.

Lint Picking
There are far too many sloppy shot-to-shot continuity glitches for a production this slick. These are little things the editor and continuity personnel should be thwapped on the back of the hand for, along the lines of: Her spoon is raised; cut to next shot, and she raises her spoon again. Her head is turned; cut to next shot, she is just now turning her head. He is smiling; next shot from a different angle, he is not smiling. Such little details are jolting in a movie about how tiny details can be jolting. This might have been an interesting effect if intended as a way to show Hughes' overconnectedness with the minutiae around him, but it certainly does not come across that way. Other than highlighting the little bit of OCD in me, it distracts the viewer from the illusion of the film's reality.

To See or Not to See: Nitpicking aside, this is Recommended. At a running length approaching three hours (we went to the 10:10pm show and left the theatre around 1:15am), it's good value for the ticket price—Outside Food Critic is exceedingly happy films are trending back toward longer playing times now. It's a biopic, so it isn't forced into some sort of standard story arc, and the audience has to take Hughes' life as it happened (or, as it happened in Scorsese and scriptwriter John Logan's movie-land). It is so well-acted and steadily paced, the time flies by. As a legacy for Hughes, I'm glad Scorsese and DiCaprio have supplanted the image of that weird old longhaired recluse with this complicated young man.

Sitting through the credits so you don't have to: Stay and listen to the 1940 recording of a song about Howard and Kate.


Hitch. Another take on the Mystical Black Man stars "date doctor" Will Smith, who Queer-Eyes a mensch trying to win the heart (or whatever) of a skinny blonde chick. Now the date doctor is in lurv himself, and hilarity ensues. Opens February 2005, so, whatever.

The Interpreter. Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, and half the plot points of this thriller about an overheard UN assassination plot are set up in the trailer. No doubt well acted, but not a trailer that inspires me to give up $10. Spicoli looks old, dude. Like, a grown up.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A minimalist trailer, but don't panic—you probably already know whether or not you're running out on opening weekend to see what's been done to this. I will miss David Dixon and the Ford Prefect outfits My Friend Alice and I so painstakingly recreated from the 1980s miniseries version. Come to think of it, I've never dressed quite normally after that.

The New World. Virginia, 1607. Colin Farrell. I'm sure I saw Wes Studi, but if I did, why isn't he credited in the trailer, hmm? Much like The Aviator, it makes me sad, because we know where this story is ultimately going.

Hostage. That guy who was in that Law & Order episode, you know, the one where the guy from Just Shoot Me has a gay son and there's a trial at the end? That guy. Holding people hostage. Bruce Willis headlines as a small-town maverick-cop Die Hard blah blah. Home Alone with ducts.

Outside Food: A bottle of the bubbly, of course! But I forgot the corkscrew, so all I could do was stare at it longingly while gnawing on my inside-food pizza slice.

Images © 2004 Miramax Films.

P.S.: A Word from Pinocchio
I only reached about half the target of fifty reviews in a year that would have made me a for-real critic in some eyes. If anyone has connections and can help your humble Outside Food Critic score some free movie tickets in 2005 for theatres in and around Manhattan, please let me know.

Posted by OutsideFood at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

posterCuriously Sour

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Starring: Jim Carrey (boo! hiss!), Billy Connolly, Meryl Streep, Timothy Spall, various persons of indeterminate gender, and Jude Law, now officially in every movie, ever. And the extremely unfortunate Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, and Kara & Shelby Hoffman.
Directed by: Brad Silberling
Written by: Robert Gordon, based on the books by the author currently known as Lemony Snicket
MPAA says: Rated PG, because heaven forbid kids ever face anything scary or disturbing.
Running time: 108 minutes
Release date: December 17, 2004
Seen at: Loews Cineplex Lincoln Square

In short: The best possible role for Jim Carrey, an actor I don't like at all, so therefore I loved him as the detestable villain in this. A world spun of bits and pieces of Victoriana, and Addams-family scraps and snippets, and Twentieth-century odds and ends in Brazil-like "world of the future as seen from 1948" fashion, it's like stepping into a watercolour-tinted Gorey painting while holding hands with Tim Burton. Good work from actors old and young and infant, even if overall the movie is not nearly as deliciously dark as one might hope.

I might feel moved to write up a few more comments. We shall see.

Outside Food: Lemony scones, curiously strong Lemony Altoid Sours, Lemony Ade, and a big bag of popcorn.

Posted by OutsideFood at 04:07 PM | Comments (20)

Hotel Rwanda

posterEver Again

Review to come when I recover from New Year's Eve. In short: Don Cheadle should win a Best Actor Oscar (trademark yadda yadda), even though, of course, he won't.

Posted by OutsideFood at 04:05 PM | Comments (23)

December 16, 2004

Earthsea (SciFi Channel)

I wasn't going to say anything. I was going to pretend it didn't exist.

Shipwrecked in Earthsea

Lookit, the castThe Legend of Earthsea (SciFi Channel original miniseries)
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Isabella Rossellini, Kristin Kreuk, Danny Glover, Isabella Rossellini (again, because I love her name—say it with me, "Isabella Rossellini"), Denmark, Norway, and the Swedish Bikini Team.
Directed by: Robert Lieberman
Written by: Gavin Scott, based on a passing knowledge of the books by Ursula K. LeGuin.
MPAA says: Don't look at us, this was made for TV
Running time: Not sure it ever ends
Release date: December, 2004
Seen at: Home, with the remote within reach.

Whitewashing the world

I wasn't going to say anything—being the Critic Formerly Known as Outside Food Critic, and all that. But last night I was speaking with a nice-lookin' guy at a book reading at KGB bar. At a wild, completely uninformed guess, I'd say there's a chance the very fair-complexioned nice-lookin' guy is originally from India. (This is somewhat relevant to the topic at hand, even though I always dislike it when people look at me and say "Are you from India? Of course you're from India. You don't know it, but your family came from India." Uhm, no.) His take on The Legend of Earthsea, the miniseries that aired this week on the SciFi Channel, was, coming from the perspective of his own job in marketing, you can't have a darkskinned hero on a cable channel movie, because you'll lose 90% of your caucasian viewers, and there goes your advertising. Most of the characters in the novels are non-caucasian, but from his industry perspective, it's not a matter of "colorblind casting." It's a matter of your target audience, those non-readers, the television viewership—or, that viewership as perceived through the minds of television producers and their marketing department.

Everything is darker if you squintI countered that, in science fiction and fantasy, for which viewers look to the SciFi channel to be the television flagship, your audience must be accustomed to everything from aliens to dragons as sympathetic heroes. And if they're incapable of empathising with a fellow human, how can they comprehend the genre at all? He argued that advertising and marketing precepts teach him that people will only empathise with people who are very similar to themselves, like with like. Then (I countered), I suppose Outside Food Critic is meant to empathise with nothing at all, what with being an alien hybrid mix and all. He did not invite me to accompany him to his post-reading stop at the ramen place down the street.

Ursula K. LeGuin, author of the Earthsea books and many other novels (including one I groused about in the entry Read the Book), counters with this column in Slate. An excerpt: "I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being 'colorblind.' Nobody else does."

Aside from the casting, how was the miniseries?

A shipwreck.

Read the book.

Next week: I subject readers to 800 years of my wild and wacky family tree. Or maybe not.

Posted by OutsideFood at 01:23 PM | Comments (5)

December 13, 2004

No News is No News (in Neverland)

No new reviews, as you will have noticed. Outside Food Critic's life now consists of "commute, work, commute, sleep" during the week and "sleep, sleep, run a few errands with meagre pennies, sleep" on the weekends. Plus there was that whole Alexander debacle, which has not improved Outside Food Critic's outlook. Outside Food Critic might be able to retire in about 35 or 40 years, whereupon there might be more reviews, so be sure to check back in.

One Last Gasp

Outside Food Critic did manage to see Finding Neverland in previews, ages ago, which was small and quiet and once again shows that Johnny Depp can do just about anything. Essential viewing for adults who love Peter Pan, but a little slow for young kids.

Then I saw that Japanese horror-movie remake with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and things jumped out of dark places, and water slopped about, and nasty murders occurred, and this passes for scary.

And that's about it for the next few decades.

Posted by OutsideFood at 09:33 AM | Comments (1)