The Aviator is a good film. It is the kind of film that has epic qualities…large scope, vast landscapes, array of characters, historical, romance, action, drama…things that Lawrence of Arabia and more recently, Braveheart have. But, an epic by Martin Scorsese is guaranteed to have at least one other thing…quality. Basically a biopic of billionaire Howard Hughes in his early movie-making and piloting days, Scorsese choose Leonardo DiCaprio to play his Hughes…and even though my feelings are highly mixed on DiCaprio (basically, I don’t like him as an actor), I admire how Scorsese uses DiCaprio in this film and the chances the actor takes with the role. Though DiCaprio is good, what makes this film a grand epic is the way Scorsese shot it. When Hughes is working on his Hell’s Angels film, Scorsese is able to capture both of determination of Hughes and the danger of the stunts on the screen. Yet, when Hughes’s character retreats into himself and shows the first stages of the recluse he will become in later years, Scorsese also captures that using his camera…the inner pain and turmoil of Howard jumps out at the audience, even though often there is no dialogue to indicate that. In recent years, Scorsese has steered away from making personal films about New York and/or Italian-Americans, such as his earlier works like Raging Bull, Mean Streets, and Goodfellas. Even 2002’s The Gangs of New York, though about his hometown, felt less personal and more epic in scope. The Aviator might not be Scorsese at his best, but I would take his “epic” films any day of the week over some other films out there.

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In the tradition of Once Upon a Time in America or even The Godfather, this film is one of the finest crime sagas I’ve ever seen. From start to finish, I was captivated by both the stories of the criminal and the cop. And, unlike some other crime films of yesterday that had “saga”-like feels to them, this one is based in reality. Yes, it’s violent, but I have a feeling that the violence here is grounded in truth. This very possibly might have been how Frank Lucas’ Harlem streets were back in the 1970s. Lucas is a black man in the white business of heroin… “white” meaning, at the time, only Italian…as in the Mob. Lucas becomes bigger than any mob figure…he owns the Harlem streets. He has Mafiosi begging to work with his organization. Enter cop and wanna-be lawyer Richie Roberts, who makes it his job bring down Lucas and his entire network. The acting really puts this movie over the top…the screenplay and direction are stellar, but the performances make it a classic!

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Based on a true story, The Soloist is a strong film about two heroic characters and their unlikely friendship.

Set in Los Angeles, Robert Downey Jr. plays a fledgling Los Angeles Times columnist, desperate for that ONE story that will revitalize his career. He meets Jamie Foxx’s character, who is a homeless man playing a two-stringed violin. When Downey does some research, he finds Foxx was a young cello genius before mental illness forced him into the depths of homelessness and playing music on street corners for change.

I’m not a big Downey fan, but he is good here. Very much akin to the Tom Cruise role in Rainman, Downey has the so-called “easier” job of playing a “normal” guy. But, that is where the misconception comes in…for sometimes normalcy can require more skills than behavior that is perceived as “abnormal.” And, Downey is great in that “normal” role…you can feel his pain as he travels the rocky road with Foxx.

But, Foxx really does deservedly steal the show here. Once again, Foxx proves he is a highly talented actor who is capable of playing pretty much any type of role. We buy completely into Foxx as a homeless cello prodigy. We feel for him, understand him, cry for him, and long for him to be mentally stable. This could not have been an easy role for Foxx…it is quite obvious he is actually playing the cello. It’s also the kind of role that can really flop quite spectacularly if done wrong. Thankfully, that is not the case here.

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The “wrong man” (or “wronged”) man has always been a running theme in Alfred Hitchcock’s films. From 1935’s classic The 39 Steps right up to Frenzy in 1972, Hitchcock had been thrilling audiences as they follow along a story about a man accused of something he didn’t do. In 1956, Hitchcock made the ultimate “wronged man” movie…giving it a very appropriate title and look. The look was that of a documentary…black and white (but that was still pretty common in the mid-50s), dark, humorless (which none of Hitchcock’s prior films had been), cameo-less (no Hitchcock peeking around a corner in this one), and lacking the fast-pacing of most of Hitchcock’s films up to that point. The director chooses everyman Henry Fonda to play his hero—the “wrong man—this time around. Fonda is perfect in this role since he’s adapt at morphing into any type of persona. Cary Grant, a Hitchcock regular, would have been way to sleek for this role. Jimmy Stewart, even, would have lacked the ability to enter the character with his tall, imposing stance. Fonda has the right look and build to play someone that just might look like the other guy…someone who is the ideal husband and father but could also look slightly sinister in the right light. The film starts off by showing Fonda’s routine…work as a musician in a nightclub until early morning then home where wife (also perfectly played by Vera Miles) is already sleeping…discussion with wife about money problems in morning…etc. Once Fonda finds himself in a mistaken identity mess when he is spotted in an insurance office as a former robber and arrested, Hitchcock mixes the plot with quite a bit of police procedures which offer insight into not only what criminals go through but also how law enforcement officers handle the daily grind. If you want to watch the quintessential Hitchcock film, rent North by Northwest, another “wronged” man film and much more typical of The Master of Suspense’s technique. If you want to watch a good film where Hitchcock experimented with the art of cinema and his own style, watch this one!

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