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The Aviator (Two Disc Special Edition)

A movie directed by Martin Scorsese

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A modern-day, old-school epic!

  • Sep 22, 2005
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Reviews of THE AVIATOR seem to fall into three camps. Those who hate it because it rewrites history...I'll admit right here that I don't know enough about the "true" history of Hughes to comment on the accuracy of every detail. Others hate it because they find it boring or don't find Leonard DiCaprio credible as Howard Hughes. The third group likes the movie.

That's the group I'm happily in. It is by no means the greatest epic ever made, but for me it hearkens back to the glory days of the early Cinemascope, Technicolor Hollywood epic, but with better special effects. The sets and costumes are completely luscious. No expense has been spared. You feel glamorous just watching the darn thing. The acting, while very good all around, teeters close to going "over-the-top," which is just what this sort of film needs. It is not a subtle film. It is trying to tell the epic story of an epic American who achieved epic things and endured epic personal battles. A bit of bluster and scenery chewing is in order.

For example, everyone loved Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn(heck she won the Oscar). I admired her performance too...but when you watch it, you see that it is pretty unsubtle. Was Hepburn, even in quiet moments, really so full of PERSONALITY? But the film needs this to work.

Alan Alda was great...he plays slimy so well now. In my mind, he's going to totally shake off Hawkeye Pierce and emerge as a key player of political villany. In real life, he seems like a terrific, open, intelligent and easily amused person. Scary how just a tiny tweaking of those dials makes him creepy. Good stuff!! Kate Beckinsale, out of her league, does okay as Ava Gardner, but the role is generic. You never feel Ava Gardner...just some nameless starlet. Gwen Stefani got a lot of mileage out of dressing up like Jean Harlow, but she's hardly in the film. She looks great, though. Jude Law has a tiny part as Errol Flynn...how perfect that casting is!!

And finally, DiCaprio. Here's a huge role for him, one leaving him open to great failure. Yes, I know he still looks like young teenager. In GANGS OF NEW YORK, that worked against him...his anger in face of Daniel Day-Lewis was never threatening...heck, the guy could hardly grow a beard...how could he take on a master-thug? In CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, he uses that boyishness to perfection...a role he was made for naturally. In THE AVIATOR, they don't really try to make him seem older. DiCaprio is forced to make us believe he is Howard Hughes by force of his acting...not his impersonation of the man. At first, Hughes hits Hollywood with his wealth and boyish enthusiasm and starts making huge films. He's full of nervous energy and driven to succeed. That actually suits DiCaprio's natural look pretty well...so early on, we can see the boyish DiCaprio as the boyish Hughes. As Hughes ages, DiCaprio can't (and other than a few subtle lines, the makeup artists don't try to age him), but by this time, we already buy him in the role. His personality becomes more complex as his mental disorders become harder and harder for him to combat...and DiCaprio and Scorcese beautifully stage these scenes. One great moment has Hughes in a public restroom, having just obsessively washed his hands. Another patron askes Hughes to hand him a towel...but Hughes' problems simply won't let him. He knows there's no reason not to help the guy. We see DiCaprio's face racked with shame. He wants to get the towel, but can't. He groans out a "I Can't" over and over, as he's frozen in place. He can't even make himself run away...his horror at himself is too complete. This is pretty good stuff. Later, when Hughes has gone totally off the deep end, and locked himself into his offices, letting his hair grow and his hygiene become questionable (at best), his demons have totally evolved. So when he finally summons the strength to fight them down long enough to face a Senate committee (and the outcome will determine the survival of his airline), we root for him quite enthusiastically. And finally, there are the scenes where Hughes flies his experimental aircraft. First, he flies over a field and is forced to make a rough landing. His exhilaration, even as he must know at some level that he could die, is palpable. He's a kid in a candy shop...multiplied 100 fold. Later, he crashes into some fancy suburban homes. This scene is brilliantly staged, with great sound and editing, and we really feel we're in that crash with him. It's horrifying. And finally, the flight of the Spruce Goose is an emotionally climactic moment.

There's no doubt that Hughes was a "difficult" person...even without his madnesses. He wasn't much good at forging close personal relationships with women. But what Scorcese and DiCaprio have captured with THE AVIATOR is the spirit of a time in our history when great things could be done by great individuals with great ambition and drive. It's exhilarating.

To those who found the movie boring and cliché-ridden, I have no answer. People keep saying that THE AVIATOR "isn't TAXI DRIVER or RAGING BULL." So what? Spielberg's MINORITY REPORT ain't E.T. or JAWS, but each is a masterpiece on its own terms. Frankly, Jake LaMotta in RAGING BULL is so unlikeable, the film has always kept me at a bit of an emotional distance (great though it may be). At least in THE AVIATOR, I could root for Hughes and even sympathize with him. And DiCaprio, despite all his foolish, tabloid-baiting activities after TITANIC, is truly one of our most gifted actors. GILBERT GRAPE? CATCH ME IF YOU CAN? A BOY'S LIFE? And now, THE AVIATOR? He's the real deal.

Personally, I recommend this film VERY highly. It's the finest mix of old-Hollywood ambition with new-style technology.

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More The Aviator reviews
review by . April 16, 2009
Howard Hughes was a brilliant man who helped society more then we realize sometimes. Though he was known for making violent (and at times smutty) films, Hughes main contribution to society was for his aviation skills. Though he may have intended to make his living as a major Hollywood director, during the filming of his World War II epic "Hell's Angels" he needed to make the planes move faster for that epic feel he was going for. In a move of keen observation, Hughes ended up with the fastest plain …
review by . November 19, 2008
Howard Hughes, this is your life - and what a life it was. This movie vividly portrays the life and times of one of the quirkiest, most reclusive men ever to inhabit the earth, warts and all, and while it answers a lot of questions, it raises a few of its own.     Running a whopping 170 minutes - that's almost three hours! - it begins with a scene between Hughes as a child, and his mother, which ultimately leads to his developing a phobia about germs that would make Adrian Monk …
review by . November 05, 2008
The Aviator (Two Disc Special Edition)
'The Aviator' is a sweeping epic of a movie chronicling the earlier years of multi-millionaire and aviation genius Howard Hughes. Hughes was more than just a simply playboy millionaire, he was a risk-taker and a brilliantly gifted mind, but also a soul tortured by Obsessive-Compulsive disorders.     The movie starts with Hughes's movie project, 'Hell's Angel's', the most expensive movie of its time. Hughes was into the movie business along with the aircraft business, which would …
review by . October 08, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I'm not surprised that Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her supporting role, playing Katherine Hepburn, but I'm shocked that Leonardo DiCaprio did not win for his brilliant portrayal of Howard Hughes. With all Mr. Hughes's phobias and odd ways, portraying him must undoubtedly have been the ultimate challenge.     This movie was great! It was awesome seeing the genius of Director Martin Scorsese "pulling" the best from his actors and from each scene. Everyone pulled together to …
review by . April 11, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
What I expected from Aviator was "Gangs of New York" in the sky. What I received from Aviator was my imagination at full throttle.    I have been blessed to lead a life where I had parents who introduced me to the classics of Hollywood since I was just old enough to crawl. Growing up, it was nothing to see Katherine Hepburn or Mickey Rooney, Dorris Day, or the Little Rascals on my tv set. What an incredible honor to be a part of the "revival" movement of the classics going on …
review by . January 31, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett shine.      Cons: Too short.     The Bottom Line: At the end of The Aviator audience in our almost packed theater stood and clapped. There can be no higher complement.      As a child I remember the name Howard Hughes as this vague echo bouncing around the periphery of our household. I didn’t know much about the man only that he was larger then life, and then he was dead. He was one of the …
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR is a lavish spectacle of a motion picture that harks back to Hollywood's Golden Era in telling the story of Howard Hughes, one of 20th-century America's most pioneering and influential figures. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric billionaire, Scorsese's biopic concentrates on Hughes's life between the 1920s and '40s, when he made striking contributions to both the film and aviation industries. At only 25 years of age, Hughes directed the most expensive film ever made up to that point, HELL'S ANGELS (1930), which Scorsese gleefully recreates here in all its sprawling, audacious glory. At the same time, he became known as an unabashed playboy, bedding the likes of Jean Harlow (singer Gwen Stefani), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), and Katherine Hepburn (a brilliant Cate Blanchett). In the mid-'30s, he turned his attention to the aviation industry, where he quickly became world-renowned for shattering speed and distance records. He also continued to test the limits of fli...
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