(WB, 2004) D: Martin Scorsese, w/ Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett. Rating: NNNN
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo di Caprio have it wrong. Howard Hughes's life isn't tragic in the dramatic sense. Real dramatic tragedy requires a character flaw, which is not the same thing as the brain disorder that afflicted Hughes. This is made clear in the brief doc on obsessive- compulsive disorder that is a small part of the solid extras package examining both The Aviator and Hughes's story. Succumbing to OCD, thus ending a brilliant, innovative career in aviation and cinema, would be a great misfortune in any life. But giving Hughes no flaw robs the movie of some forward motion and dramatic build, a serious problem in a two-hour-and-50-minute movie.
Yet Scorsese and DiCaprio, who generated the project, have put together a terrific entertainment that succeeds equally as spectacle and intimate character drama. DiCaprio brings conviction and nuance to all sides of Hughes's complex character. He's surrounded by outstanding performances large and small. Cate Blanchett deserves her Oscar as Katharine Hepburn, but Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda are equally effective as Hughes's foes.
Scorsese's direction is full of lively flourishes. Among the best are his use of musical numbers in nightclubs to set the tone of the town as the decades change.
EXTRAS - Disc one: Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker commentary. Wide-screen, English 5.1. French, English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: deleted scene, five making-of docs, three Howard Hughes docs, DiCaprio and Alda interview, stills gallery, music spot, singer Loudon Wainwright interview.
I, Robot: Special Edition
(Fox, 2004) D: Alex Proyas, w/ Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan. Rating: NN
The Day After Tomorrow: Special Edition
(Fox, 2004) D: Roland Emmerich, w/ Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal. Rating: NNN
Do we really need two-disc special editions of movies nobody much liked in the first place? I, Robot boasts four hours of extras; The Day After Tomorrow matches it. What've they got that's worth four hours of your life? Not much, and the best of it centres not on the respective movies but on the ideas that inspired them.
For TDAT, it's a one-hour doc on the science and politics of climate changes brought on by gobal warming. Agood primer, it makes no bones about being advocacy filmmaking. The doc urges viewers to get political and takes a bite out of the U.S. government. Pretty amazing for a product from a major studio.
For I, Robot, it's two half-hours, the first an appreciation of leading science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, whose stories were among the first to deal with robots, shaping them in the popular imagination. The second is a look at the real state of contemporary robotics. Again, it's a primer with simple ideas and fun visuals.
None of these items helps its respective movie. Nor do the hours of filmmaking trivia, unless you want yet another lesson on green screen or another look at a movie star having a laugh on the set.
You can hear all the good intentions in the world in I, Robot's director and writer commentary, but nothing can save the movie. Will Smith's character is as unbelievable as the CGI robots: one flouts any credible laws of motivation, the others the laws of gravity.
On TDAT, producer Mark Gordon comes off as a motormouth with nothing to say, which prevents director Roland Emmerich from talking at all. But that's probably okay, since Emmerich's job seems to consist of hiring effects companies and sitting on them till they produce the look he wants.
It's a great look. But it peaks in the first hour with the destruction of L.A. and N.Y. After that, the film becomes a perfectly acceptable, well-acted, routine adventure.
These alleged "special" editions are appearing more often. I'm thinking "cynical corporate cash grab" and suggest you save your money for the special editions of truly special movies.
EXTRAS - I, Robot, disc one: commentaries by the director and writer; production designer, editor and FX team; composer. Wide-screen, English 5.1. French, Spanish surround. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: production diaries, CGI and design docs, Asimov and robots docs, deleted scenes.
The Day After Tomorrow, disc one: commentaries by the director and producer; co-writer, DP, editor and designer. Wide-screen, English 5.1, French, Spanish surround. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: director, producer, writer conversation, making-of and global warming docs, deleted scenes, storyboard and concept art galleries, trailers.
(Fox, 1968) D: Gordon Douglas, w/ Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick. Rating: NNN
(Fox, 1967) D: Gordon Douglas, w/ Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John. Rating: N
Lady In Cement
(Fox, 1968) D: Gordon Douglas, w/ Frank Sinatra, Raquel Welch. Rating: N
These three were made back-to-back with the same star and director and much of the same cast and crew. Yet The Detective is a solid cop drama well worth checking out and the other two are crippled dogs, watchable only if you've a taste for the mind-bogglingly inept. In The Detective, Frank Sinatra plays a rising detective who gets involved in a high-profile homosexual panic murder and a civic corruption case as his marriage to a much-younger wife is unravelling. Unless it were a James Ellroy adaptation, which The Detective feels like, this kind of thing couldn't get made today. It has no big action scenes, no moral certainty and, in the end, no easy answers.
The view of the world, and of gays in particular, is harsh bordering on cruel. Sinatra's morally rigid detective is the only character who offers them any sympathy; it points up his inner contradictions. They're the core of Sinatra's performance. His voice and dialogue communicate certainty; his face and body convey doubt and confusion.
In Tony Rome and Lady In Cement, he gives almost the same performance, but he reads as tired and not really paying attention. The movies are third-rate private eye schlock with dialogue, acting and visuals so amateurish that they're incoherent. Even the obligatory leering at bikini'd babes is spiritless.
Which raises the question, why did he - or anyone - bother? As a 40s-style private eye in the swinging 60s, Sinatra looks out of place and hopelessly uncool, a middle-aged has-been who just doesn't get it. Beside these, Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies look good.
EXTRAS - All three films: trailers. Wide-screen, English stereo & mono, French, Spanish mono. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 31
(MGM, 2003) Well-received sports drama with Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush.
(Plexifilm, 2004) Doc on Robert Moog, the godfather of synth pop.
James Dean Collection
(WB): East Of Eden (1955), Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Giant (1956): the films that made Dean a legend.
(Sony, 2005) In case you want to know what Lucy Lawless is up to these days.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb