The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Of Story The Nostalgia From Loss and a Life Lived

The Grand Budapest Hotel

      Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors and this is my favorite film he has done…it’s either this or the “Royal Tenenbaums.” both capture drama, are full or rich and real humor and have an element of tragedy pervading through them. Both are also stories being read too, which I think is Wes Anderson in his element. I’llAb get into more of what i mean in the assessment. This is also my second time watching the film, as I saw it when it came out in theatres before I started the blog.

    “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was written, directed and produced by Wes Anderson with the other producers being Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales and Scott Rudin.

      The premise of the story begins with a girl at the monument of one of her nations heroes somewhere in Eastern Europe in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The hero was the man who wrote the novel only known as the Author (Tom Wilkinson as old author, Jude Law as the young author) the Novel is “The Royal Budapest Hotel.” The story begins with how the author met Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham old Zero, Tony Revolori as young Zero), the owner of the The Grand Budapest who tells the story of how he began there as a Bell Boy the drama he and the Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) are pulled into when one of his clients is murdered and  Gustave is blamed for it after getting “Boy with Apple” from her inheritance. Gustave H and Zero steal the picture, the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a story within a story and how it relates to the present is powerful…the fact that the story begins with a child reading the story and showing us that the author looking back on the past shows that things have changed over time, but the traditional music playing the cemetery shows an awareness of time too and how even as things change they stay the same.

The Cinematography – Wes Anderson uses a lot of physical sets and paintings and some actual beautiful locations. This gives the world a very lived in feel and Anderson’s masterful use of shooting a scene symmetrically gives so much charm as well as bringing about some great tension when it needs too.

The Script – The dialogue is witty, comedic and tragic, which is saying a lot since at time the Author is literally reading us what is happening. Though telling is going on it is shown in such a way that it doesn’t matter that we were told, it all fits into the overall narrative and lends weight to when the story stops and Mustafa shares where he is with the author and the losses he has experienced in his life.

The Characters – Wes Anderson has so many of his old crew in this film…from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, as well as countless others who make small to large appearances as intriguing characters. I’ll get more into the details but this and the story are the strongest parts of the film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Hotel is living history. We see when it has become more run down and modern with the usual clients who keep their solitude like “The Author” and the Hotel of the past where it was full of rich clients and tons of workers where legacy is huge and the Hotel is an institution. The Hotel itself is a living character in a film in a matter of speaking and a lot of the minor characters who don’t have names or have very small parts (Owen Wilson here during the military occupation when he is the Monsieur Chuck since Gustave is in hiding with Zero).

Madame D – Tilda Swinton plays the rich heiress who fears for her life for good reason and has a deep love for Gustave H. We learn she always loved him and The Grand Budapest Hotel and what scenes she is in she is amazing as she is the stress to Gustave’s calm. They also have great chemistry together. Her death sets everything in motion.

Dmitiri and Jopling – Dmitri (Adrien Brody) plays the son of Madame D (the one killed) who killed his mother in order to get her fortune. He is a fascist and has Gustave arrested and blamed for the murder of his mother. He is evil and goes to any means to get what he wants, largely using his enforcer Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Jopling is brutal, at one point killing the lawyer in charge of the will and killing the man who learned about the murder in order to keep it covered up. The two of them are also a sign of the encroaching war and fascism upon their nation that is going on too. They are priveldge with no awareness of people, the opposite of Gustave, Zero and Agatha.

The Prisoners – Gustave makes friends with the prisoners since through Zero he gets them cupcakes which later become their way to get tools from Agatha and Zero to break out. It’s a lot of fun and one of the prisoners dies in the escape before a taxi driver is killed the rest of the convicts showing how Gustave is not of that world…especially after he hurts Zero for being an immigrant and not doing everything perfect but apologizing when he’s so repulsed by his words and privilege. The scenes are so rich and the prison feels deadly and the escape means something and has a cost.

The Society of the Crossed Keys – The Society of the Crossed Keys is a group of Monsieurs  who help Gustave escape and find out where the butler of Madame D is hiding and help Zero and Mustafa get there. There is Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and others who play Monsiuers who have been in Anderson’s other work. It is a great scene and is callback to all the people who have made so many of Wes Anderson’s great movies possible.

The Chase – Zero and Gustave go undercover as monks to meet up with the Butler who confesses that Madame D was murdered and has the evidence but Jopling kills him. They chase Jopling which leads to Jopling falling to his death after Zero knocks him off the cliff. They than steal his motorcycle to get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel as Inspector Henckles pursues them.

Deputy Vilmos – Jeff Goldbloom does an awesome job as the Deputy who is in charge of the will and the finances from the Grand Budapest Hotel. He is taken out by Jopling when he refuses to submit to Dmitri. He has integrity and his resistance leads to Dmitri and Jopling eventually being defeated. He’s one of the good few.

Inspector Henckles – Edward Norton plays one of the good people. When some of his men are roughing up Gustave for defending Zero because he doesn’t have his paper he lets them go free and even later writes a card for Zero to travel freely through the country. He is one of the good ones just doing his job and he greatly admires Gustave which adds sadness that he has to hunt after the prison breakout. Luckily the document the butler hid leads to Gustave’s freedom and their relationship being good again.

Gustave H. – Ralph Fiennes plays one of my favorite characters  that Wes Anderson has done. He sleeps with old ladies, wears tons of perfume and has high standards for the Hotel. The Hotel is his life until he builds an actual brotherhood with Zero who all his money goes too since Gustave has no family and all we know was that he was at one point a Bell Boy like Zero and worked his way up. He is a major people person though and makes friends with prisoners, monks and is highly respected by the Society of the Crossed Keys. He is a great man who stands by Zero too against fascist thugs who oppress immigrants and in the end this costs him his life when he stands up for Zero after Zero and Agatha’s wedding. R.I.P. Gustave H. He even admits that when he was angry how horrible it was that he bashed Zero being an outsider and never does so again. Everything he has becomes Zero’s.

Agatha – Saoirse Ronan is the glue of the story and the person who keeps Zero going. They marry and both start out with having nothing but one another. This all changes when they support Gustave in his escape and help find out that Dmitri murdered his mother. After they marry and we see she is the clear headed one to Zero’s idealism. From this we get part of why Zero misses her so much. She died of an illness that was easily treated in the modern time of him telling his story and we learn Zero kept the Grand Budapest Hotel because he and Agatha had great memories there. She is also really smart as she hides tools in the cupcakes for Gustave’s prison break.

Zero Mustafa – Both Tony and Abraham do a great job as Zero in the different points in his life. Young Zero is idealistic and committed fully to the Hotel, while old Zero is lost in memories of his lost Agatha and that humanity is cruel and so many of the good people like Gustave H. are dead. His life is contrast. As Zero he had community, Agatha and Gustave but had lost his family in the war in his home country making him a refugee and outsider…and in the present he doesn’t have any of them but is one of the richest people in the country. His story is one of sadness but also human connection as he saw something in the Author. He is one of my favorite characters and I love his relationship with Gustave and Agatha.

The Message – The messages I found were that the past is always with us, and that as much as things change, elements stay the same. That you don’t need money to be happy and that there will be people who will stick with you through the toughest of times. Money as a corrupting influence was huge as so many people were wealthy while the nation was in extreme poverty both in the past and in the modern era.

The Ending – The Author relates how after the story was done that if the Hotel was kept for Gustave, and Zero says Gustave was a man outside of time but that he kept the hotel for Agatha, “We were happy here.” That’s why he sleeps in the servants quarter when he visits. It ends on a sad note where the story touches the heart of the little girl reading the book showing how even though this is all the past, it is still touching the present and is still relevant.

   I think this is my favorite Wes Anderson film. It has politics and war as well as family and human relationships and the sheer depths they can reach, as well as having a diverse, rich cast of characters and a point about how timeless stories are. As a writer this speaks directly to me. There are stories that are timeless whose themes stick with us for as long as we live and fully define what it means to be human. This movie is about our humanity and both the good and bad about what it means to be alive. Definitely my favorite movie of 2014.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect Wes Anderson film.

Rise of the Guardians (2012): The Power of Fun

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“Rise of the Guardians,” is a concept that was similar to one that my brother and I had as a child…though instead of Classic Fairy Tale Characters, ours were from children’s literature and some Disney films. So coming into this film, I was intrigued. A few days ago was my second time watching it, the first was on a flight and it impressed me. How did it fair with a second viewing? I’ll go into that with the assessment. The film was created by Dreamworks studios and was directed by Peter Ramsey while also being inspired by “The Guardians of Childhood,” book series by William Joyce.

The premise of “Rise of the Guardians,” is that the Man in the Moon chooses people to become Guardians to safeguard the children of the world from fear. The latest person the Man in the Moon chose is Jack Frost who is seeking his origins as well as working in a group, since he likes being alone and causing playful trouble. The arrival of the Boogeyman Man Pitch Black changes things as all of them are sustained by belief and he wishes to destroy the belief in the Guardians through his power of fear and nightmares. From here the story unfolds as Jack wrestles with himself, his role in the world and his relationship to the Guardians.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The idea – The idea is wonderful, again it was like what my little brother and I did when we were children and it’s what I’ve done with some of my themed Holiday stories that I’ve written. Seeing it through the eyes of a new Guardian in Jack Frost is brilliant too, given the others are already so well established (Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Sandman and Tooth Fairy).

Santa Claus – I love this character and Alec Baldwin does a good job with the Russian accent he makes for the guy. We see Santa Claus as the unofficial leader given it is his world device that first shows him Pitch Black is free. He also has an army of yetis who make toys and elves who are there mostly for comedic relief and so he can make them feel important. He is the most fun loving character besides Jack Frost in this and is the biggest mentor for Jack outside of his anti-mentor Pitch.

The Easter Bunny – This role would have been easy to mess up, but it plays on him being a bunny originally at one point and the fact that he is kangaroo size now and has an Australian accent. He is the but of most of the jokes but when it comes down to helping he is great, taking the heroes to his warren after Pitch’s attack on the Tooth Fairy’s kingdom. He has large eggs that protect the little eggs and the making of the eggs sentient fit the theme of the Tooth Fairy’s hummingbird fairies and Santa’s elves.

The World – The world in this fantastic! It starts out kind of dark with Jack drowning to death and being resurrected by the Man in the Moon. Yep, it starts with killing a teenager. We see how powerful the Guardians are through and why they need Jack when Pitch Black arrives given they’ve become complacent and outside of Sandman, never go out in the field, having their underlings do most of it.

Pitch Black – I almost put him as okay, but if a sequel happens he may be worthy of this spot again. Suffice to say the Man in the Moon messed up giving this guy power. Here is someone who is alone and wants to make everyone afraid and alone. We see him turning Sandman’s dreams into Nightmares and he even manages to destroy the Sandman, nearly destroy the Tooth Fairy, and stops Easter. My only issue with this character is we don’t get motivation. Was he good at one point? Fear doesn’t have to be a bad thing, a little caution can help. I like his attempts to corrupt Jack too since Jack Frost is already a pretty selfish character. Jude Law’s voice is what really does it. He feels it with such emotion that the character elicits sympathy…until he does horrible things.

Jack Frost – Jack Frost is the main protagonist and is played by Chris Pine. This is probably Pine’s least dickish character, even though Jack is always starting play fights and harassing the Guardians until he becomes part of the team and has to protect them. We see how he used fun to save his little sister and in the process drowned because of it. He uses this same tactic to defeat Pitch, giving children laughter and energy to fight the fear and darkness of Pitch. I liked his character arc, I just wish it hadn’t taken away from the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Pitch’s development as much as it did.

Okay/Good:  The animation – There are moments where the animation doesn’t look quite right…like you have super detail and after it looks like you can see clearly that it is computer animated. This is contrasted with the fact that there are some beautifully animated scenes too, such as the two resurrections and time in The Warren, North Pole and Tooth Fairy Kingdom.

Okay: The Tooth Fairy – She is energetic and obsessed with teeth, and probably has a crush on Jack like the rest of her fairies. I like her but she’s more defined by her relationship to the protagonist and her job…not like Bunny and Claus, who do a lot of action based on their personalities. We learn later she collects teeth because they hold childhood memories…but this is never used in regards to her. Who was she before she was the Tooth Fairy? What does she see in Jack? These were the questions I had.

The Sandman – It is is creative in that they made it gender neutral as a character and it talks through making symbols with sand, but Sandman has Tooth Fairy’s problem. Why does it give children dreams? Does it know the Guardians need the belief so it is giving them an energy source? How is he tied to Nightmares? Because Nightmares destroy him, but children’s laughter resurrects him. Again, I like the character, but can’t really list as a pro, though I’d like to. There isn’t enough there to like. The Sandman is a force of nature like the Man in the Moon almost. When everyone is strong, he is strong and can one-shot Pitch, when everyone is weak, Pitch can absorb him into his Nightmares.

The Final Fight – Pitch isn’t really a threat in the end, which is a fitting way to tackle nightmares, but we never see why the Man in the Moon created him or why he is suddenly so weak after owning nearly all the world but this one child. I think it falls a little into the savior trope with the kid and Jack Frost…which is a shame since when they fight him it is as a team with all the Guardians with a resurrected Sandman present. Pitch threatens to come back, but he is no longer a threat…I wish he’d still felt like one. Fears don’t just go away, and I’d expect a bit more out of the living embodiment of fear.

The Writing – The writing isn’t the best. It is no Pixar, it is alright, just isn’t great. It kind of falls into the comic book writing trap where it becomes cliche…but the voice actors and animators are able to elevate it thankfully.

In the end, “Rise of the Guardians,” was really good, but not great with a second watch. It doesn’t have the depth of the “How to Train Your Dragon” Franchise but is still one of Dreamworks better films. Jack is a good protagonist, even though he takes away from time with the rest of the Guardians…and his arc is a little predictable, but it is fun. His power and center of fun is really the theme of this movie and it achieves that. This film was a lot of fun, and I definitely recommend it. It was a pleasure to watch it again with a bunch of friends.

Final Score is 8.5 / 10

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): The Sociopaths Dance

The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley

“Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person. ”

-Tom Ripley

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a film that makes me want to read the book. It is hard to pin down what the director was going for with the film since so many of the character’s are unsympathetic…the film it reminds me of most is “American Psycho,” which is a film I really like but has a much clearer message. It is a critique of corporate America through the eyes of the main character and the superficial disconnect from that lifestyle in brief. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” on the other hand is much more vague on it’s point. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a character study of Ripley or a critique of the people around him. Well, it is time for the assessment.

Warning, this review does have Spoilers.

The Pros – The cast is fantastic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Davenport (Admiral Norrington from the “Pirates of the Caribbean Series”). All of them do well with what they are given in how the relate to one another and their relationships.

The Sociopaths – The main draw of the film is the relationship between Ripley (Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Law) in the first half and later Peter (Davenport) in the second half. These are the main people who use one another and are used (mostly by Ripley who is the master of it). It is worth watching just for them since that was where the script was most invested. None of them except Peter (Who is also gay and thankfully it isn’t presented as bad – He is there for those he loves (Ripley and Marge but uses everyone else) are good people. Dickie Greenleaf and Ripley are some of the more despicable characters in film and are ready to murder at the drop of a hat if they feel threatened as well as using, abusing and leaving their partners versus Peter who is more like Dexter, using his disconnect to protect Ripley his love. Also, an honorary mention to Philip Seymour Hoffman who was also clearly one of the sociopaths in the group (especially in relation to women and anyone outside of Dickie). He did great and his character actually had a fair amount of agency.

The Music – It is haunting and is good at adding tension. It adds to the scenes rather than just being background ambiance. The music was the glimpse into Ripley’s head when he didn’t have moments of honesty during his monologues.

Okay – The cinematography. It isn’t anything special. We don’t get any glimpses into the mind of Ripley from the cinematography…at least none that I found truly groundbreaking or worth noticing.

The Script – It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t anything special. Much of the dialogue, especially for the women could be said by either of the female leads and it would change absolutely nothing.

Cons – The female characters – They were props and they had no agency throughout the entire film. The actresses are fantastic and their charisma at least made their scenes interesting…they just weren’t given anything to do and were cast aside or taken on as Ripley or the guys in control needed. I wish Paltrow’s character Marge had gotten revenge against Ripley even if she would join the Sociopaths (since we saw echoes of her being that way, the director or script writer just couldn’t commit).

The Message – I didn’t know what it was. If it was a character study of Mr. Ripley than we don’t know what he wants except the quote at the beginning of this review about him being a somebody rather than a nobody…but so often he gives that up to adopt a new identity and use another person. The ending is desolate and empty which would have been more powerful if we saw more of that empty Ripley between the roles and the characters he chose to be. Because we didn’t..the message fell flat.

I would give this movie a recommend nonetheless. It was good, especially for seeing the different types of sociopathy and the darker side of humanity, and the music creates great tension. Matt Damon, Jude Law and Jack Davenport have a chance to shine as the sociopathic dancers dancing with one another. Their characters show the different reasons that people commit wrongs against other human beings and those two characters and the relationships around Ripley are the only things that make him interesting.

I would rate it as 7.5 / 10.