Sunday, December 26, 2004

films: The Phantom of the Opera and The Aviator

The Phantom of the Opera 2/5

Directed by Joel Schumacher, a successful, mainstream Hollywood director, the latest film incarnation of the The Phantom of the Opera should appeal to the masses, but it left me a bit cold.

Christine, (Emmy Rossum, a chorus girl, is coached into becoming an opera lead by a mysterious, unseen musical genius who lives in the opera house, taking away a job from the obnoxious diva, played by Minnie Driver.

Soon, Christine comes to the attention of the opera house’s dashing young patron, Raoul, who also happens to be a childhood friend. As the two fall in love, the Phantom, her unseen tutor, falls in love with her, as well, and descends into madness, terrorizing the opera house if they fail to follow his written instructions for artistic direction, etc. The Phantom wants her but realizes that he’s in a hopeless struggle for her love. He was a circus freak due to his facial deformities, but managed to escape to hide out in the opera house, thanks to another young actress who became the guardian of the orphaned Christine, years later.

At times, I wished more of the dialogue was spoken rather than sung.

The sets are beautiful, several of the songs are well-known and catchy (if not cheesy), the Phantom’s lair is creepy and elegant at the same time, and there is a sense of gothic style that you would expect from this period piece. Still, the film felt empty, despite dressing up all the emotion in such exquisite splendor and song. See it if you must but don't have expectations of greatness or anything Oscar-worthy like Chicago, a superior film.

The Aviator 4/5

Chronicling the most passionate side of the mentally disturbed businessman, Howard Hughes, The Aviator, focuses on his innovations and business developments as he becomes a powerful aviation impresario, couched with his lapses of mental anguish and its peculiarities.

At the beginning, we see a young boy who looks too old to be bathed by his mother, but nonetheless, that’s what we see. She cautions him on germs and how his safety is at stake. This message is imprinted on his soul and it shapes his life to the extent that his becomes a virtual prisoner of it.

We see Hughes push the envelope and dream up innovations to enable aircraft to travel faster and higher. That part of his legacy, if accurate, was mostly unknown to me. We also see the flip side of having access to a massive fortune and the power that it brings. He buys people left, right and centre. In one scene, he had his people bring a meteorologist from a nearby university to consult him on when and where the clouds would appear that were needed for his film, Hell’s Angels. Upon meeting the professor, he informs him that he’ll double the university’s salary and make him an employee.

Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Howard Hughes was something that I had to warm up to. When the film progressed to the point where he began to sport a mustache, I began to see a resemblance to the real Hughes that was missing. Leo’s voice, however, doesn’t have the proper timbre to mimic Hughes, even with the phony Texan accent. One wonders who else could have played the role.

Cate Blanchett plays Katherine Hepburn, then, an established star. Blanchett’s performance might be nominated for best support actress since she is so convincing.

Other actors who have small roles include Gwen Steffani, Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, and Kate Beckinsale.

Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner.

Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn.

And, we go get to see Hughes pilot the famed “Spruce Goose”, the largest aircraft ever built, as one of the highlights of the film and of his aviation career.

Spruce Goose floats in Los Angeles Harbor on October 29, 1980.

The film ends without taking us to the point where he died in 1976, leaving a few decades for another film, if the rest of his life was interesting enough to warrant another one.

The Aviator is a highly watchable film. At times, watching Hughes meltdown and endlessly repeat himself becomes a bit tiresome, but overall, this is a fine film about one of the most fascinating people from the 20th century.

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