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Scorcese directs DiCaprio in ‘The Aviator’; Bill Murray in Wes Anderson’s ‘Steve Zissou’
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
The great director Martin Scorsese and the famed actor Leonardo DiCaprio have joined together to give us one of
this year’s well-publicized holiday films in The Aviator.
Older viewers who remember the lonely Howard Hughes locked in hotel rooms in Nevada and Vancouver may well wonder,
why make a movie about such a sad and pitiable character? But the exciting younger life of Hughes captures the times when
movies were a nation’s passion in the ’20s and ’30s and airplane travel was rare and exciting.
Howard Hughes (DiCaprio) begins the movie as a young boy being bathed by his Mom, which tries to connect Hughes’s
inner demons such as his obsessive-compulsive syndrome with events in his childhood. But from there we go into his lavish
production of 1927’s Hell’s Angels, which combines his love of airplanes with his search for meaning in glimmering
Hughes in his 20s seems to have the world on a string as he goes against the studios to produce a popular film. The
scenes with Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) are nothing but wonderful. She is willing to take him on, care for him and
use him – just as Hughes is willing to move on to the next more popular or younger star. Throughout the Hollywood sequence
there are overtones of Citizen Kane.
Scorsese gives us rich art deco interpretations of the Hollywood night life and premiere extravaganzas. But power
and fame always seem to have a dark side. The increasing mental issues of OCD and losing a hold on reality are there as
Hughes takes on the development of new planes and buys his own airline in TWA to take on Pan Am and the governmental
regulatory agencies in its pocket. In fact, I think DiCaprio appears stronger as an actor in the later part of the film
where he, as an older man, fearlessly takes on Senator Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) in Washington D.C. during McCarthy-like
Some colorful sections of 20th century history are powerfully told by Scorsese. The daredevil guts of early flight
pilots and the dynamic vision of a person so determined to fly the infamous “Spruce Goose” give this film the movement it
needs to hold your attention.
It is hard to tell a story of such a colorful figure who has such a sad ending in real life and didn’t seem to know
redemption. But DiCaprio and Scorsese do as good a job as possible. The movie, just short of three hours in length, seemed
closer to two to me.
Hughes’s kind deed to Katherine Hepburn, in buying all the pictures that would have been used to destroy her
relationship to Spencer Tracy, shows a certain goodness for his friends.
If you like history, aviation, movie-making or the rise to power by a young Texan who always seemed a little over
his head in whatever new dream he tried, you will enjoy the new film The Aviator.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates The Aviator PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned. There are
sexual scenes, language, nudity, and a strong crash sequence. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for
Film and Broadcasting rates The Aviator A-III – adults.
Director Wes Anderson is known for quirky movies that attempt to tell us something about the human condition,
particularly within families. His new film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, is definitely off kilter, filled
with small laughs, beautifully filmed in rich colors in a rather old-fashioned, slow way. For the right person who is
looking for something a little different, The Life Aquatic is a very enjoyable film. If you enjoy a rather dead-pan
Bill Murray who is in almost every scene of the movie then this unique film is for you.
Steve Zissou (Murray) is an oceanic explorer in the tradition of the famed Frenchman Jacques Cousteau. He has
organized his family and a motley crew into an exploration group that films every moment of their adventures.
The film opens at a beautiful Italian theater when the latest Zissou documentary is being screened. In the film we
learn that his closest friend (Seymour Cassel) has been eaten by a rare and mysterious shark. Zissou vows to seek out the
killer shark and extract some sense of revenge. This causes groups and fans to organize to protect the shark.
At the reception after the film, Zissou runs into a pilot from Kentucky Airlines named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson).
Ned reveals that his mother recently died. But before her death she revealed that Ned was the son of Zissou. This knowledge
eventually leads to Zissou asking the young man, who may be his son, to become a member of his next expedition. So
throughout the story the issue of the relationship of father and son becomes crucial.
There are lots of unusual members of the expeditionary crew. Anjelica Huston plays Steve’s cold and calculating
wife who refuses to go on the upcoming expedition. She seems drawn to her ex-husband Alastair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) who
is a rival of Zisssou.
The plot includes a pirate attack. A reporter (Cate Blanchett) is present to do a magazine article on the
expedition. The pop music of David Bowie is a constant presence in the film, often sung in Brazilian Portuguese by Seu
Jorge, who appears everywhere throughout the film.
Personally, I liked the straight-on filming of each scene that often contains lots of activity or things to look at
in the background. In so many films today where the color is washed out it is wonderful to see warm and bright colors. The
animated aquatic life of the sea is beautiful.
In the end, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach have written an unusual story that grapples with human foibles and the
dysfunctional family in an ironic and thought-provoking way.
When all is said and done, you may not be sure what The Life Aquatic was all about, but it has a haunting
quality that stays with you.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is rated R – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian – by
the Motion Picture Association of America. There is some partial nudity, swearing, and bloodshed.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bsihops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Life Aquatic
A-III — for adults.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of
Spokane. His reviews appear frequently in the Cheney Free Press.)
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