Monday, January 10, 2005

And this year I have already been watching…

Continuing the movie theme, we have started 2005 with a flurry of cinema-going, and have already witnessed three fine films:

The Aviator
I’ve never really liked Leonardo DiCaprio – he always seems to me to play the same whiny spoilt teenager – but he’s excellent in this as the obsessive-compulsive aviator/film-maker genius Howard Hughes. It’s also a return to form for Scorsese after Gangs of New York, which I found tedious and unconvincing.

This is not a perfect film – the opening scene giving a ‘Freudian’ explanation for Hughes’s fear of germs was unnecessary – but there’s a great deal to get your teeth into in this long but riveting movie. Hughes is visionary, a man utterly driven and determined, who never sees obstacles but only opportunities, and who always starts a new and even more impossible project the moment the last one is triumphantly completed. Sometimes in life you come across people with something of this visionary character, and while they are always impressive, charismatic and usually natural leaders, a lengthy acquaintance inevitably exposes accompanying flaws.

Hughes’s losing battle with his own mental illness forms the most compelling thread of The Aviator. Scorsese handles the obsessive-compulsive quirks cleverly: initially they are comic, and get laughs (the symmetrical arrangement of peas on his plate), then gradually they become unsettling (his traumas in the bathroom and phobia of germs, scrubbing his hands until they bleed; his compulsive repetition of phrases) and finally terrifying (hallucinations; overpowering dread of contaminated food and drink).

There are numerous great scenes. Hughes’s crash while test-piloting his XF-11 is particularly horrific. But perhaps the best scene is his visit to the family of his then-girlfriend Katherine Hepburn (nicely played by Cate Blanchett). The Hepburns are a bunch of awful champagne-socialist snobs, and Hughes suddenly sees Katherine in a new light as she effortlessly slips into their cliquey conversations.

It’s a sharp reminder that who you are can depend very much upon the company you’re in – and that you need to see someone in all their environments before you can truly claim to know them.

House of Flying Daggers
I’m not sure if there’s a name for this genre of Chinese films yet, where semi-superhuman martial arts experts leap impossibly around against stunning visual backdrops. Perhaps I should coin one: ‘kung-flew movies’?

This is even more visually stunning and jaw-dropping in its action sequences than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but lacks that movie’s emotional depth. The characters here are essentially spaghetti-western heroes and anti-heroes, and the romantic thread doesn’t really work. Well worth seeing though, especially on a big screen.

The Incredibles
Hollywood seems to save its best scripts, jokes and plots for CGI cartoons these days. This is another huge leap forward in terms of animation, and by far the most grown-up film of the genre.

The powers of this dysfunctional super-family forced to live as normal people are perfectly fitted to each character. The hyperactive boy is super-fast and uses it for mischief, and the awkward teenage girl makes herself invisible or builds protective forcefields. Mr Incredible’s brutal strength sees him expressing his frustration in destructive ways, while the frazzled mother uses her stretchy elastic limbs to literally hold the family together – breaking up fights while cooking the dinner and answering the phone etc.

The way the family comes together to use their powers for good is ingenious and curiously moving. I’d be surprised if there’s a more entertaining film out this year.

1 comment:

martpol said...

Fully agree on House of Flying Daggers - a feeling of 'not quite as stunning as Crouching Tiger' was roughly how I would sum it up. Also, we were pestered by idiots in the next row forward who had mobile phones and, sadly, mouths. Of course, I threw popcorn at strategic points on the walls around the theatre, which bounced off know the rest.

I believe the whole flying thing has been fairly common in Asian martial arts cinema for many years. I'm less sure about this whole fighting-in-snow business: since Tarantino used it in Kill Bill, I'm inclined to think that this, too, is a hallmark of the genre. Does anyone know for sure?