Slightly Worse Than I Expected

Publicity still from The Aviator w/ Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jude Law

The Aviator is brilliant and hypnotic for the first two thirds and has glimmers of brilliance even after that. John Logan’s script is full of great scenes and aches to unite the disparate T.E. Lawrence-like contradictions in the life of Howard Hughes. But while epic in scope, the movie never illuminates the inner mechanics of Hughes’ thinking, despite what are clearly the best efforts of Leonardo DiCaprio. When he has Cate Blanchett (playing Katherine Hepburn) deliciously over-acting at his side, we almost glimpse something warm and human in DiCaprio’s portrayal of the mad genius. But she soon departs and Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda are not equivalent foils. There will undoubtedly be some acting nominations, but I doubt any wins.

The movie is still well worth seeing. Scorsese has bounced back from Gangs of New York strong, if not at the level of a Goodfellas, a Taxi Driver or a Raging Bull. The Academy missed the boat on honoring him for those. Now, with Million Dollar Baby getting so much heat (caveat: haven’t seen it), it looks like for Scorsese the Oscar boat hath sailed forever.

Still, handsome old-Hollywood tributes and the most intense plane crash sequence ever filmed will probably make this film a strong contender for tech and fx awards.

Slightly Better Than I Expected

James L. Brooks is making the movie Spanglish with Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler

A domestic dramedy, Spanglish impressed me as a solid effort all around, with three especially well-drawn female parts: that of Tea Leoni’s frazzled career-woman, of Cloris Leachman as her drunk mother, and of the radiant Paz Vega as the warm-hearted immigrant domestic. This is an old-fashioned movie, though not so old-fashioned as As Good as It Gets, which can be traced back to the Greek New Comedy playwright Menander’s The Grouch.

I put Spanglish squarely in the branches of Roman comedy. With its running servants and madcap upperclass household, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is echoed faintly behind all the tears and speechifying. Because it is a movie about class and family at its heart, even some moments where James L. Brooks seems to be speaking directly through the characters didn’t mar it for me. This is great writing, directed and acted at a level that almost hits the perfect pitch that Sideways did. Perhaps with Sideways this movie will start a trend toward well-written humanist drama-comedies. I doubt it though.

Still Not Sure How I Feel About It

The Sea Inside was a fascinating, troubling film

I’m still not sure what to make of The Sea Inside. I know Javier Bardem will definitely be nominated for Best Actor and should probably win, considering both the difficulty of acting entirely with one’s face (he plays a quadriplegic) and the pureness of the performance (he holds a close-up like nobody’s business, the true measure of a movie star). On the other hand, the movie’s refusal to be uplifting and moral ambiguity have left me rather cold. I agree that Ramón Sampedro (Bardem) should have control over his life. But since his life doesn’t seem so very bad, and his family loves him dearly and would like him to stay around, why be a jerk about it? They say suicide is the most selfish act. Despite really liking Ramón, I can’t really support his stubborn selfishness.

In any case, Alejandro Amenábar (The Others), wearing the hats of director, editor and composer, creates a lovely if somber world that I didn’t want to leave. If his goal was to make us not want Ramon to die, he suceeds. When (spoiler, I guess) Ramon eventually does take his own life, I was quite disappointed.

Not that the movie as a whole is disappointing. The secondary perfs are all excellent, especially Lola Dueñas as a struggling single mother who is mysteriously drawn to a bed-bound old man. By refusing to be uplifting, the movie refuses to be categorised. This is the best exercise in audience introspection since I saw Birth.