video/dvd
May '05

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All Reviews by Jason Aaron

The Assassination of Richard Nixon

The most interesting characters are the ones who try to do the right thing but simply can’t because of something in their nature, something even they themselves don’t fully understand.

The main character in the Assassination of Richard Nixon, Sam Bicke, is a perfect example of a flawed and pathetic yet sympathetic protagonist. Bicke struggles to hold down a steady job, still clinging to the dim hope of reconciling with his ex-wife and regaining the love of his children, yet he eventually finds it impossible to succeed as a salesman because he refuses to lie to the customers. Once he hits rock bottom, Bicke feels corrupted by the system yet finds himself still unable to succeed within it. Who does he blame? Who else but the man who turned out to be the biggest liar of them all, President Nixon.

Based on a true story, this debut film from director Niels Mueller mostly plays like Taxi Driver-lite. It’s the cast that elevates the movie to greatness. Don Cheadle, who plays Bicke’s only friend, is simply one of the best all-around actors working today, though he rarely gets the recognition he deserves. Naomi Watts, as the ex-wife, follows up her stellar role in 2003’s 21 Grams with another solid performance. And Sean Penn, as Bicke, once more proves he’s the most gifted actor of his generation. His Bicke is a shriveled, stammering mess who seems constantly on the verge of snapping, until he finally does.

Still, underneath it all, you can sense that Bicke is actually a good guy who just somehow slipped through the cracks of society. The violent, downbeat ending, while predictable, is still shocking and powerful, just like the film as a whole. (R) Rating: 4

Pocahontas

Once upon a time members of the militant American Indian Movement were considered dangerous radicals, even terrorists. One of their members, Leonard Peltier, still sits in Leavenworth Penitentiary (wrongly) convicted for the murder of two FBI agents in 1975. How far did the worm have to turn before AIM leader Russell Means could become a voice actor for Disney?

That’s just what happened in 1995 when Means lent his voice to Powhatan, father of Pocahontas and chief of their tribe. Means may have helped give Disney some credibility with Native Americans, but the film still failed to find an audience in part because it’s way more somber than the average animated yarn.

Available for the first time on DVD, this 10th Anniversary Edition features the usual mix of behind-the-scenes features, bland music videos and games for the kiddies. Though Pocahontas is unlikely to rival The Lion King or Aladdin as your child’s favorite Disney flick, it’s still far bolder than anything the Mouseketeers are attempting these days. (G) Rating: 3

The Aviator

This isn’t Martin Scorcese’s best film, not by a long shot, but The Aviator is the one that should have finally won him a long overdue Oscar for Best Director. Instead, Clint Eastwood took home the honor for the extravagantly overrated Million Dollar Baby. That’s two directing Oscars for Eastwood (he previously won, deservedly so, for Unforgiven). But none for Scorcese, the man who has produced classic films in three different decades: Taxi Driver in the ‘70s, Raging Bull in the ‘80s and Good Fellas in the ‘90s.

The Aviator never achieves classic status but it’s still a gorgeous, sprawling epic that boasts a pair of memorable performances. Cate Blanchett is amazing, given the impossible task of playing legendary actress Katharine Hepburn, and Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the most impressive performances of his career as Howard Hughes, the infamous aviator and movie mogul who descends into madness. Though the film is fragmented at times, The Aviator is maybe Scorcese’s best film since Good Fellas, but obviously that’s still not enough to earn an Oscar. (PG-13) Rating: 4

Kinsey

For a movie that deals extensively with sex, Kinsey is a pretty bland and boring experience.

This is the story of Alfred Kinsey, the first researcher to address human sexual behavior in a serious scientific manner. His findings, first published in 1948, sent massive shockwaves through post-war American culture. Kinsey addresses that controversy, as well as the various sexual shenanigans of Kinsey and his research team.

Writer/director Bill Condon casts a wide net in terms of subject matter and manages to produce some enjoyable scenes, but as a whole, the film seems to bite off more than it can chew and doesn’t do justice to its various characters, including Liam Neeson as Kinsey, Laura Linney as his wife and Chris O’Donnell as the young assistant who sleeps with them both.

Still, Condon does earn points for tackling the darker side of Kinsey’s research, including his interview with a professed pedophile. Overall, Kinsey is a memorable effort but not that memorable of a film. (R) Rating: 2

 


              
              
                 

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