Issue section: 

The Aviator - Napoleon Dynamite - Anatomy of Hell - Nine Songs - Mondovino

It's an open secret that Orson Welles based Citizen Kane on the megalomaniac Howard Hughes, who went to extraordinary lengths to try and get the film shelved. Martin Scorsese's The Aviator is a fitfully entertaining stab at chronicling the life of the mentally flawed figure. Alas the story is more in Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker mode; Hughes (Leonardo Di Caprio) as buccaneer maverick capitalist challenging his more corrupt staid rivals. Instead of offering an incisive comment of what wealth and power does to the mind we get a respectful homage to Hughes as creative entrepreneur. However, his fight against a rival airline's monopoly exposes venality and hypocrisy on both sides.

The Aviator soon becomes a simple glamorous catalogue of Hughes's life as he makes movies and takes physical risks flying his own planes. When he crashes into a suburban estate it really is a bravura piece of action filmmaking - the flight scenes allow some fine directorial flourishes.

The story then looks at Hughes's reputation as a romancer of famous actresses. His love affair with Katherine Hepburn - a sometimes strange, camp impersonation by Cate Blanchett - and Ava Gardner is more Heat magazine gossip than relevant to his life story. For a lesser mortal Hughes' severe mental decline would have resulted in being carted off to an asylum but he's given free rein to remain an active businessman. Somehow all the elements don't gel together into a towering portrait but anything by Scorsese is worth looking at.

A recent hot hit at the Sundance festival was the super nerd movie Napoleon Dynamite (dir: Jess Hared). Unfortunately it mostly falls flat in terms of comment and comedy. It is the tale of a lonely, gormless, slack-jawed geek Napoleon (Jon Heder) who befriends a similar Latino geek, Rico, at high school. We also see Napoleon's decidedly uncool brother Kip fantasising about his relationships online in chat rooms. Another grotesque played for easy laughs is Uncle Rico selling breast enlargement cream who's stuck in an 1980s time warp. Napoleon and buddies are morons we laugh at but not in the affectionate way we laughed at the boss in The Office. For the first half nothing much happens as we follow these clueless characters in banal situations. A semblance of a plot emerges when classmate Pedro decides he wants to be elected school president and things then pick up and truly amuse. If you're expecting anything like the more dark and dramatic Welcome to the Dollhouse by Todd Solondz you will be let down.

Many may find the experimental filmmaker and feminist Catherine Briellat's Anatomy of Hell a peculiar and ill-advised project. It centres on a highly metaphysical narrative about a woman saved from suicide by a gay man who she then asks to stay with her in a beach house and simply observe and have sex with her.

The heavy radical feminist symbolism plays out as Man's disgust and fear of the Woman's body. But what it only serves to do is to offer graphic misogynistic images because the story is so badly contextualised. At times, it reminded me of a Monty Python parody of French philosophical film. Michael Winterbottom's Nine Songs, which similarly had problems with the censor for sexually graphic content and is to be released next year, is a more interesting if uneven attempt at exploring sexual relationships in an explicit form.

Probably worth checking out this month is Mondovino, which does for the world's wine industry what Supersize Me did for Big Macs. Director Jonathan Rossiter says it's about what happens 'when there is an excessive concentratation of power in the hands of a few people'.

This is the kind of radical documentary that often gets shown at The Other Cinema, which is now facing closure because of a lack of government support.

For more information on its attempt to offer an alternative to the so-called 'choice' available at the multiplexes see