Noted briefly: The Aviator and Distant

Mangled beyond the author’s recognition, these capsule reviews of The Aviator and Distant originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Tablet. They appear here as I wrote them.

aviatorIt’s often impossible to tell what tone was hoped for in Martin Scorsese’s debacle The Aviator. Chronicling a 20-year span in the life of Howard Hughes, The Aviator climaxes in a realistically gory plane wreck that leaves Hughes (played by Leo DiCaprio) bloodied and crushed after the XF-11 he’s piloting straddles the rooftops of three Beverly Hills homes, turning one of them into an inferno. Scorsese undermines his trademark apocalyptic excess with wide-eyed reaction shots of the people inside the demolished houses, slapstick cutaways that look lifted from Spielberg’s 1941.

As Hughes, DiCaprio speaks with a stage-Southern Texas twang (couldn’t Scorsese have found an adequate dialect coach?), which makes the screenwriter’s purple dialogue sound that much worse. (“Ah wonder whut gives a woe-mun lahk you plehzure.”) Like Natalie Portman in Closer, the charisma-free DiCaprio never comes across as anything but a small child playing dress-up. Cate Blanchett, as Katharine Hepburn, studiously apes the late actress’s eccentricities. The young Hepburn, however, was a striking beauty; the homely Blanchett merely looks struck in the face. In a cameo as Errol Flynn, Jude Law is as flamboyantly self-parodic as Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show. Only Alan Alda, cast against type as a Republican Senator, transcends the shambles.

distantWinner of the Grand Prix and Best Actor award at Cannes in 2003, the Turkish film Distant finally has its Seattle premiere this month. Writer-director-cinematographer Nuri Bilge Ceylan composes lovely, wide-angle long shots of Istanbul and the Marmara Sea in winter. The colors are fetchingly washed-out, as if the landscape and the figures in it have been drained of vitality. Ceylan’s scrutinizing camera captures two distant cousins who become roommates for a time: Mahmut, a sunken-faced sad sack who ekes out a bourgeois existence as a photographer, and Yusuf, a grotesque, disturbingly simple factory worker. The men have nothing in common, except an apparent passion for cigarettes. Ceylan’s images and his use of sound design perfectly delineate the banal wreckage of these lives—the mournful jazz trumpet that accompanies Mahmut’s solitary excursions to a bar, or the spectacular pan across a capsized freighter, a ship partially submerged at one end and chafing a snow-covered embankment at the other. – NPT

Distant screens at the Northwest Film Forum January 28 – February 3.