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36 reviews in total 
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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Huh?, 10 April 2009

Very bad. Very, very bad. As a fellow who aspires to make, be in or - at least - sniff the catering table at a movie set, I find it hard to criticize independents who actually got a movie of any sort made. However, this movie ... oh dear.

Realizing Frightworld doesn't aspire to anything more than crude exploitation (an honorable thing in itself) and to try to make it conform to more mainstream standards is a mistake. And to be fair, it is more entertaining than - say - Red Zone Cuba ... but not by much. So I won't try to critique, just let me ask throw out some observations.

1) If gore is the point of the movie, shouldn't you be able to see it?

2) If you have hire three sound men make sure at least one knows how to operate the equipment.

3) In a horror movie your lead maniac must be scarier than a smurf doll. Difficult I know but really...

4) There is a lot of talented videographers in the Buffalo/Rochester area, most you can hire really cheap. Get one who knows how to frame a scene.

5) Just because you have someone who knows how to use After Effects and other cool programs doesn't mean he should do so every two seconds.

6) Kudos for getting the girls to take off their tops but next time, get girls who's tops we want to see taken off.

7) Editing should help tell the story or set a mood. At the least in this sort of movie editing should sell the gore gags. A chainsaw suddenly appearing in a characters stomach is not scary, it's sloppy.

Some good things. Not all the acting was bad. Jack was pretty good and I liked Acid once she started fighting back. There was some neat imagery, unfortunately it was thrown up on the screen without rhyme or reason. "Acid Poptart" is a name that deserves a better movie. I like the moxie of Frightworld too. Next time, now that they have a movie of sorts under their belts, I hope all involve aspire to something better than Colman Francis. Upgrade at least Ed Wood.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A good gimmick undermined by bland follow-through., 14 January 2009

Ventriloquist dummies and horror movies were made for each other. Think about it. Rare is the dummy that doesn't have a malevolent air about it. In fact, the cuter they try to be, the more wantonly homicidal they seem. Mortimer Snerd resembles Ted Bundy's inner child and Waylon Flower's Madam is a visitation from your darkest nightmare. You would have to be the reincarnation of Ed Wood to make a killer dummy movie that wasn't at least a little creepy. While the makers of Dead Silence aren't that incompetent, they did succeed in making a movie so bland and formulaic you'd get more chills by watching an old Smurfs episode.

Young Jamie Ashen and his family are terrorized by the evil shade of ventriloquist Mary Shaw. Ashen and Mary share only the most tenuous of plot convenient connections but it's enough for the ghoul to unleash her wrath on the poor guy. To make matters worse the police suspect Ashen for Mary's bloody crimes. Ashen returns to his decaying home town to lay Mary's troublesome spirit to rest and, needless to say, she doesn't go quietly. Here you see Dead Silence's problem. The emphasis is not placed on the dummies but on the undead ventriloquist and Mary Shaw is simply not that scary. She's just a moldy old lady in a black dress. The dummies themselves spend most of the movie staring at people, which they do very well as you might expect. Every now and again one might turn its head. This action generates more creaking and groaning than a dozen clipper ships at full sail. Thus the ventriloquist dummy's potential for terror is squandered in a movie that seems hell bent on being as close a clone of Nightmare On Elm Street as possible without violating copy write laws.

Dead Silence's cast does nothing to relieve the movie's stale atmosphere. As Ashen, Ryan Kwanten is competent without being in any way interesting. He is a wispy chinned adolescent who hardly looks old enough to date let alone marry. None the less Laura Regan plays his wife. Regan is spunky and extremely likable and one wishes the movie followed her exploits rather than Kwanten's. Michael Fairman gives an effective and moving portrayal of an old undertaker traumatized by the supernatural weirdness surrounding him. As a result he seems to have walked in from another, better movie. The same can be said of Bob Gunton as Ashen's wheel chair bound father. The only actor to find the right tone is Donnie Wahlberg. He doesn't so much act the cop assigned to Ashen's case as embody all the quirks we've come to expect from cinematic law enforcement. I don't think we are supposed to believe this guy for a second. Instead we are supposed to be amused and that we are. The movie goes dead when Wahlberg isn't around.

Like most movies these days Dead Silence looks beautiful. In set design and cinematography it is everything anyone could want in a killer dummy movie. Weirdly, the only place where the design falters is in the look of Mary's dummies. Billy, the main dummy, looks almost charming. Considering the inherent creepiness of ventriloquist dummies, this took some work. Where was the fellow who carved Mortimer Snerd when they needed him? Dead Silence can't be completely disliked. It does try to inject some good old fashioned atmosphere into a modern horror flick and still keep up the gore factor. Unfortunately it misses both its marks by a wide margin. As it stands Dead Silence is a movie made to be ignored.

204 out of 303 people found the following review useful:
A shaggy dog story that goes enjoyably nowhere., 23 March 2007

There is a new genre infesting our nation's movie theaters. With apologies to Garrison Kellior, let's call it "guy noir". Films aimed directly at the young, hip male audience. Movies that are an unholy combination of old fashioned film noir and the modern action movie, as directed by the class clown. They offer fast paced entertainment, great character actors, twisty plot lines, explosions and more spent ordinance than used in a typical week in Baghdad. Even new genres breed clichés however and the original freshness heralded by Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is beginning to smell the slightest bit stale. This brings us to Smokin' Aces, a movie that isn't so smug as to be intolerable or so brilliant as to be ground breaking. Rather it is good, competent, workmanlike example of its genre, which is bad news for a movie that wants to be hip and edgy.

Smokin' Aces has the requisite twisty plot. Actually it has at least nine plots, all twisty. In fact it has so many plots the movie dissolves into a series of incidences strung together by a smattering of narrative glue. Aces, a card magician and mob nabob, turns federal stoolie and a dying Godfather posts a high dollar contract on him. Naturally every photogenic hit-man with the weekend free descends upon Ace's casino penthouse to do the job and collect the dough. Smokin' Aces tries hard and includes everything needed to qualify as guy noir. It even tries to incorporate the "Tarantino Digression". That is, extended expository flashbacks incorporated for no good reason except that they are fun to watch. Smoking Aces can't quite pull these off as they require a defter touch than the movie is capable of.

There aren't any real people in Smokin' Aces. All the characters are strictly stereotypes played for effect rather than reality. Jeremy Piven as Aces is the self loathing hop head, Alicia Keys and Georgia Sykes are the hot lesbian hit team, Ben Afleck is the hipster bounty hunter and so on. Everything you need to know about these guys you learn in the first split second they are on the screen. There is no star in Smokin' Aces. Afleck, the biggest name, has a relatively small part and is upstaged by his hat. You might remember Chris Pine, Kevin Durand and Maury Sterling as the Tremor brothers if only because they were the loudest, most violent bunch in a loud violent movie. The only actor who rises above caricature is Ray Liotta, who invests his FBI agent with quiet dignity and a touch of pathos and in doing so sticks out like a sore thumb. It takes a strange sort of movie for a review to criticize the one genuinely good performance in it but Liotta just doesn't fit.

Smokin' Aces manages to hold its whirly gig self together for the most part. There are a few problems. It goes on too long after the climatic blood bath wrapping up plot threads you probably didn't notice amongst the explosions. There is a denouement where a hero, brought in from way out in left field, makes an existential choice that is not nearly as agonizing as the movie thinks it is because we have no emotional investment in the fellow making it. Though the final plot twist is prepared for and makes as much sense as anything else in the film, still it feels flat and unsatisfying. Think of Smokin' Aces as a shaggy dog story. It's long, involved and fun to listen to but ultimately goes nowhere.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A poor documentary about a fascinating individual., 15 March 2007

Grizzly Man is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor and ex-drug addict who lived among Alaska's grizzly bear population every summer for over a decade. At the end of his thirteenth visit he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a rogue bear. Over the years Treadwell had shot hundreds of hours of video for a planned wildlife documentary. Much of this footage is extraordinary, on par with the best professional wild life videography. A significant fraction, however, is made up of Treadwell speaking directly to the camera. This footage shows a man descending into madness and obsession. Werner Herzog, famed German director and a fellow who knows something about obsessed madmen, edited together choice bits of Treadwell's footage, along with interviews of his friends and family, in an attempt to understand what drove Treadwell into the abyss. Herzog did not succeed.

Treadwell seems the most unlikely of naturalists. To look at him one wonders how he managed to survive ten minutes among the grizzly let alone thirteen years. While a self-taught expert on bear behavior he treated grizzlies not as the wild beasts they are but as (a ranger sourly notes) "people in bear costumes." Herzog flirts with the notion that Treadwell fantasizes friendship and love with the bears and nature as a replacement for normal human relationships. Over a close-up of one bear's impassive countenance, Herzog intones "…what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature…" It is, of course, precisely this lack of feedback that allowed Treadwell to build his fantasy relationships.

Treadwell was a good looking blond fellow but his ruggedness was severely undercut by a high pitched, infantile voice. He would seem more at home singing show tunes or baking brownies than roughing it in the Alaskan outback. This he did, however, and with conspicuous success until his growing insanity drove him to take fatal chances. In civilization he volunteered his time and knowledge to elementary and grade schools and set up a foundation to protect the Grizzly. Treadwell apparently financed his endeavors through Internet donations and a series of minimum wage jobs. He must have had emotional and entrepreneurial resources at total odds with what we see. All in all a fascinating character and one that doesn't interest Herzog in the least.

Herzog likes his madmen heroic and there is a certain way such men act. The problem for Herzog is that Treadwell was a fey, will-o-wisp of a man who didn't fit the heroic mold. The resulting conflict in tones often cuts close to comedy as when Herzog, responding to Treadwell's woozy romanticism, says "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder." This is followed closely by an ecstatic Treadwell declaiming "Oh my gosh! The bear, Miss Chocolate, has left me her poop! The sad thing is that Treadwell doesn't need the trappings of a fictional tragic figure, he's the real deal. He genuinely faced down adversity, found triumph and fame and was savagely undone by fate and his own mad hubris. Sophocles couldn't have done better. Perhaps Herzog should have made a fictionalized biography where the living man could have been reduced to the sum of his tragedy. As a documentarian, however, Herzog's dramatic inclinations lead him astray. We, in turn, are left staring at Treadwell's anything but impassive face with less understanding than we had before we slipped the DVD into the drive.

300 (2006)
11 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely the best venal movie since Birth Of A Nation, 14 March 2007

What can you say about 300, a movie that is one long and woozy love letter to the ancient, war loving Spartans? That pictures infanticide and extreme child abuse as an admirable form of social engineering? Where the light skinned and English accented heroes slaughter vast numbers of their dark and stupid foes? Where to be a woman is to proudly bear sons for the Fatherland and stand by your man as he swaggers off to suicidal carnage? Where to be old, sick, malformed or effeminate is to be evil? That proudly wears its fascistic heart on its national socialist sleeve? Well, what you could say is that it is one fantastically entertaining movie!

300 tells the story of the three hundred Spartans who held off the entire Persian army at Thermopylae. Sparta runs afoul of the Persians by refusing to submit to their rule. Treachery rears its ugly head and good King Leonidas is forbidden to use the Spartan legions to lay waste to the enemy. He sets out with three hundred doughy volunteers to hold the eastern horde off long enough for the Spartan senate to come to their senses. The eventual fate of Leonidas and his comrades is one of the most famous stories of ancient times and 300 more than does it justice.

There are no real stars in 300 though Gerard Butler has a star-making role as Leonidas. He handles spear, beefcake poses and faux-Shakespearian dialog with equal aplomb. Lena Headey is very good as Queen Gorgo but can't rise above the fact that she is a chick hanging out in a boy's club. Her role is primarily to look decorative and stoic in equal measures. Beyond these two and perhaps Dominic West as a dodgy member of the Spartan senate or Rodrigo Santoro as the ten foot tall and supremely swishy Xerxes, there isn't a member of the cast well known or forceful enough to stand out from the rest. Everyone involved delivers fine performances but the fact is their roles are subservient to the design, emotionality and heedless energy of the piece.

300 is another movie made on a virtual set. That is, with the exception of the actors, most of what you see isn't real, it's computer animated. While perhaps not as amazing as the similarly filmed Sin City or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 300's surreal copper and sepia-toned fever dream of ancient Greece is an achievement in its own right.

300 is being damned and praised by all sides of the political spectrum. The fact is 300 could be used as a motivational tool for just about any group in need of a testosterone fix. It's guaranteed to get your guys on their feet and ready to rumple. Make no mistake though, there have been few truly excellent movies made with such dodgy sentiments since Birth of a Nation. Judged solely on the merits of it's politics 300 brings certain words to mind, "venal" and "pestilent" being the most polite. Judged as adventurous entertainment however, 300 has few equals.

It would be easy to dissect 300 and lambaste its lack of historical veracity. After all the historical Spartans were sort of a bronze age Hell's Angels and were roundly hated by their long suffering neighbors. As to their vaunted militarism, even the effete Athenians were able to kick the tar out of them from time to time. This is all beside the point. 300 was not made for rational discussion. This is a movie made to bypass the frontal lobe and stir the Cro-Magnon id. It is supposed to get its audience frothing at the mouth. This 300 does with such dexterity and malevolent ingenuity as to render it an instant classic of its kind.

Zodiac (2007)
7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
A good police procedural but a poor psychological study, 13 March 2007

The Zodiac was a serial killer active in San Francisco during the early 1970's. Unlike others of his kind, the Zodiac loved publicity and courted it religiously. He sent letters and coded messages to newspapers and police. During one killing he wore a complicated hood and cloak costume with his zodiac symbol emblazoned on the front. Another murder was done simply for the press and to tweak the cops. Horribly he got away with all this. The Zodiac killer was never caught. Because of this Zodiac the movie combines a police procedural with a study of the psychological effects the fruitless search had on its participants.

Zodiac tries to concentrates on two individuals, Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the killer and David Toschi, one of the cops assigned to the case. To appreciate the psychological toll obsession takes you have to come to know its victims. Despite the movie's long running time we never get that close to Graysmith or Toschi. Part of this is the actors fault. As Graysmith Jake Gyllenhaal is a cipher. He never seems any more than an amiable young man and his inner life remains something to be guessed at. Mark Ruffalo, as Toschi, is a better actor than his compatriot but his part is written as standard TV cop fare. Toschi resembles an amusing Columbo clone rather than a real cop with twenty five years experience. Another hindrance in understanding these two is that we simply don't spend enough time with them. Zodiac must have a hundred speaking roles with an array of secondary characters that easily outshine the leads. Robert Downy plays Roger Avery, a reporter assigned to the Zodiac case, as a smart-alec hipster undone by the '70's drug culture. Brian Cox plays flamboyant criminal lawyer and part time actor Melvin Belli for all the parts worth, which is about every stick of scenery within his reach. As a suspect John Carroll Lynch seems normal but just creepy enough to give one pause. Charles Fleischer outdoes Lynch on the creepy scale as a source who may be more than he seems. These characters flit in an out as the case rises and falls, all drawing attention away from Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo. It becomes increasingly clear is that Zodiac isn't really interested in their characters. The movie would much rather dwell on the search for and identification of the Zodiac Killer.

It is as a police procedural that Zodiac shines. The facts of the case are clearly, almost lovingly delineated. Or, more accurately, Zodiac gives a very complete illusion of delineation. For Zodiac is compelled to give us the killer in a famously unsolved case. Yes, this is the suspect Graysmith and many of those involved with the case truly believe to be the killer and Zodiac is careful to point out the evidence presented is circumstantial. There can be, however, a huge gulf between what a movie pays lip service to and what it implies dramatically.

It must be remembered that Zodiac is based on a book by a man whose psychological health depended on finding the killer. A multi-million dollar movie also has a need for closure. A police procedural needs a conclusion to proceed to. Otherwise you leave your audience frustrated and a frustrated audience is a small, unprofitable audience. Bear that in mind as you watch Zodiac. As informative as the movie is, distrust its conclusions. The real Zodiac was never caught. No one was prosecuted. Everything else is, at best, informed conjecture. Keeps this thought close and you will find Zodiac fine, thought provoking entertainment.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Rider Has Yet To Shine, 3 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Ghost Rider is a super hero who never quite hit the big time. He has a great premise though. Motorcycle stunt man Johnny Blaze runs afoul of the Devil and is cursed to become the Rider, a demon who lusts only for vengeance. Clad in black leather, his head a blazing scull, sitting astride an infernal Harley, the Rider is truly an evocative image. He had his own comic, was canceled, resurrected, failed again and generally puttered in and around comic book limbo for years. Nevertheless he garnered a coterie of fans, one of whom was actor Nicholas Cage and so the Rider has been given a shot at shining on film as he never had in comics. Unfortunately he suffers the same fate in the theater as he did in print. Great concept. Great look. Mediocre follow through.

Like most comic book movies Ghost Rider is part origin story. We see Blaze make his pact and his first forays as the Rider. We learn the Devil creates him because he needs a hit man. There is more than one fallen angel out there and they are all gunning to take down the big man. In stark contrast to the supernatural power plays we also experience the touring stunt show milieu of Johnny Blaze, with his poker playing blue collar buddies, hick fans and motorcycle minutia. All this is great cinematic stuff yet Ghost Rider can't make it click.

The problems start with the acting. Ghost Rider may be Cage's baby but he is too old for the part. Fifteen years ago, perhaps, but now he's just too mature and weathered to believably play a guy named Johnny. Hampering matters further is Cage's habit of striking hokey Elvis poses, rendering Blaze ridiculous just at those moments we should care about him. Gorgeous Eva Mendes plays Blaze's girl. Though winning in Hitch, here Mendes exhibits little spark. She makes absolutely no connection with Cage romantic or otherwise. The Devil is blandly underplayed by Peter Fonda but his infernal rival's fair worse. When the lost angels fell to earth they passed through a trailer park and took the shape of the rednecks that dwelt there. In other words, the Princes of Hell are an unimpressive lot and the Rider earns little respect for his victories over them.

A movie like Ghost Rider can survive casting snafus but what it can't survive is the dimensioned of its premise. While the Rider is truly a wonder of CGI and everything his beleaguered fans could hope for, the movie takes this impressive creation and thrusts him into situations designed for humor rather than awe. As a consequence the Rider is never as terrifying as he should be. Finally, fatally, the poor Rider is not even the most impressive creature in his own movie! What could be more impressive than a flaming skeletal biker? How about a flaming skeletal cowboy riding a fiery horse? One played by Sam Elliott no less. This infernal cowboy is so striking and the casting so right that it further diminishes our interest in the nominal anti-hero.

In the end Ghost Rider is not a particularly bad film. It hangs together, has its fun moments and Mendes is very, very pretty. All of these are important considerations in a popcorn movie. Still if you are a fan of the Rider, or just have an affection for off-beat entertainment, you can't help but wonder if there weren't a better way to utilized such a cool concept.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Movie to Admire More Than To Love, 3 April 2005

Million Dollar Baby is not a boxing movie. It is a character study. Now Rocky was a boxing movie. A poor young kid with "heart" gets a shot at the title, becomes a contender and triumphs over all the odds. Rocky's journey to triumph was the whole point of the exercise and that is what makes the film a boxing movie. Baby on the other hand, while steeped in boxing and its milieu, doesn't care about winning or being a contender. What it cares about are the people who live with the sport and how this world affects them, their attitudes and their actions.

Frankie Dunn is a boxing promoter. He's a tough old geezer and one of the best in his field. His one flaw is a serious drawback in his line of work. He doesn't like to see his fighters get hurt. Frankie's life is an endless cycle of developing young fighters only to be abandoned when he refuses to take them to the next level out of fear for their safety. One day Maggie Fitzgerald wanders into his gym. She's a youngish woman who wants to be a boxer. No, she wants to be a winner and she is more than willing to do whatever it takes to become one. Despite his years, his experience and his distaste for training a "girly" Frankie is no match for Maggie's tenacity and soon finds himself with a determined protégé who begins her swift rise to the top. This is only part of the story however. Events occur that test these two in ways far crueler than the force of a heavyweight's punch.

It has to be said that neither Hilary Swank nor Morgan Freeman are overly believable in their roles. Of the three leads only Eastwood looks likes he could spend his days in a dingy old gym. The spindly Swank is unconvincing as a power puncher and Freeman comes across like a slumming PhD. This is an instance, however, where suspension of disbelief pays off in the long run. A little loss of feasibility buys you two great performances. Maggie is a woman whose tough exterior hides a tougher interior wrapped around a will of iron. This is both her triumph and her tragedy. Swank captures these qualities in a natural, loose jointed performance that manages to make this rough customer appealing. Morgan Freeman is an actor who can steal a scene with just a look or turn of phrase. Here he's called upon to act as narrator and observer of human tragedy. He does so with dry objectivity leavened with a hint of bemused sorrow. As Frankie Eastwood is excellent as a man whose job and background conspire against his compassionate nature. The rasp of his voice sounds like a soul tearing itself apart.

Million Dollar Baby is not an easy movie to like. It takes two people who are the sum of their experiences and needs and rubs them together under horrendously stressful situations. It is like a case study, showing a little human truth as the film makers see it. If you approach it on those terms you will find Baby a worthwhile investment. You will, however, find yourself admiring the accomplishment more than loving the experience.

0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
No Lutheran Vampires, darn it!, 16 March 2005

Watch enough horror movies and you can be forgiven for thinking that the Reformation never happened. Just once I'd like to see a Methodist demon though I'd settle for a Lutheran vampire or two. Unfortunately - or fortunately depending on your point of view - the new supernatural action film Constantine does nothing to further the protestant cause. It is firmly rooted in the gaudiest Catholic mythology with more Latin, holy water and crucifixes than in all the churches of Rome. None of it is taken seriously mind you. Thousands of years of tradition and belief are gleefully misused, misquoted and misconstrued in the service of a senselessly gory and violent movie. That it's a well made and entertaining slice of hokum probably won't cut much slack for Constantine's creators in the hereafter.

It seems that God and the Devil made a bet a millennia ago as to who could win the most souls to their cause. Points are taken off for direct supernatural meddling. All the rules allow is a spiritual nudge or an earthly temptation here and there, but someone is not playing by the rules! Demons are finding their way to earth and an ancient, incredibly holey artifact is about to fall into the very worst of hands. It's up to John Constantine, PI and freelance exorcist, to expose the demonic conspiracy. Unfortunately he has terminal lung cancer and is facing damnation due to a botched suicide attempt. It would be a short movie if it weren't for the pretty cop who seeks Constantine's help in solving the mystery of her sister's suicide. Further stirring the pot are various holy and unholy notables who make their agenda and themselves known as the plot progresses.

Constantine cries out for a tough guy lead. Like Bruce Willis say, or Samuel L. Jackson. Instead we have Keanu Reeves. In truth Reeves is not all that bad. He plays John Constantine strait, drawing humor and pathos from the character's jaundiced world view and hopeless position. Unfortunately Reeves lacks the charisma and physical presence a rough, world weary demon hunting PI might be expected to have. On the other hand Rachel Weisz is great as the conflicted cop. Emotional without being overly weepy and believably tough she seems entirely capable of handling her supernatural problems without Constantine's help. It's too bad her character devolves into a standard woman in distress. Pruitt Taylor Vince makes so much of his part as a slovenly priest we become more intrigued by him than we are with the main plot line. Tilda Swinton is righteous and more than a bit creepy as the angel Gabriel. Finally there is Peter Stormare as Satan. Funny, frightening, and truly alien, his is one of the best devils ever put on film.

Despite unholy cadres, heavenly hosts, visions of hell and all matter of supernatural jumbo jumbo Constantine feels more like a film noir than a supernatural melodrama. To John Constantine Satan is just another corrupt Mr. Big trying to muscle into town and God and His angels are an unreliable and suspect city hall. As the movie takes its tone from its hero's attitude it is more suspenseful than horrific. Constantine's pleasures derive from the way its detective movie roots collide with the supernatural overlay. The movie does a fine job treading this line without falling too far into parody. Park your brain at the door and enjoy.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Soars on Psychosis but Fails Elsewhere, 7 March 2005

The dichotomy of Howard Hughes' spectacular rise and epic fall has fueled sermons, books, plays and even an opera. Artists, academics and theologians have found all manner of signs and omens in his story. The Aviator chucks most of this in favor of a glamorous psychiatric case study. You could say The Aviator is A Beautiful Mind gone Hollywood without Mind's inspirational spine. In fact the greatest strength of The Aviator is the tale of Hughes epic struggle for his sanity. When the movie meanders to other concerns, such as his Hollywood dalliances or his business struggles, it loses focus.

The Aviator assumes the audience has a familiarity with Hughes and his world. If you don't know he died a wizened gargoyle after years of madness and seclusion much of the impact of the movie will be lost to you. The Aviator follows Hughes' life from the late 1920's to the 1940's from the start of his production career and ending with the first and only flight of the Spruce Goose. Director Martin Scorsese stops short of showing us the wreckage of Hughes' final years to let our collective knowledge add the requisite shadow over the glamorous proceedings of the film.

The Aviator is hampered by bad casting choices starting with Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes. DiCaprio is a gifted actor and he does a splendid job suggesting Hughes' genius and creeping madness. However DiCaprio cannot summon the weight or authority needed to play the ruthless tycoon Hughes becomes. His scenes in front of a Senate sub-committee are particularly bad. He comes across like a sophomore sassing the dean. Cate Blanchett, as Katharine Hepburn, fares worse. Her resemblance to Hepburn is minimal at best and she does not begin to approximate Hepburn's vocal rhythms. While Blanchett gets better towards the end when she all but drops Hepburn's mannerisms, in total her performance was distracting. The actors in less recognizable roles fare better. Particular standouts were John C. Reilly as Hughes' long suffering factotum and Ian Holm as a beleaguered meteorology professor.

Hughes' business rivals are portrayed as outright villains, which is indicative of the curious take the film has on Hughes' career. The Aviator posits the incredibly rich and autocratic Hughes as a proletarian rebel who takes on "The System" and beats it by being brilliant, brave and handsome. We even have a scene where Hughes, after spending millions like water, lectures Hepburn's eccentrically aristocratic family on the value of money to those who have none. While it strains credulity to hear the future darling of the Nixon administration wax Marxist, the shocked look on the horrible Hepburns is undeniably satisfying.

The Aviator is one of those films best appreciated on the big screen. It is an absolutely gorgeous movie. The flying scenes in particular are spectacular and the crashes horrific enough to make us understand their effect on the already unstable Hughes. While The Aviator may not be on par with the best of Scorsese, the power of Hughes' tragedy is exceptionally well delivered and serves to drive the movie through its occasional doldrums.

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