Daily Archives: December 20, 2002

Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielberg’s portrait of a 60s teenage con artist (a nimble performance by Leonardo DiCaprio) is based on the real-life exploits of Frank W. Abagnale but played more for myth than believability. Spielberg’s gripping patriarchal obsessionsseen in Abagnale’s relationship with his father (Christopher Walken) and the stolid FBI agent (Tom Hanks) pursuing himcarry this jaunty picture for its entire 140 minutes, and it’s nice to see him returning to a relatively light mode. In fact, the pacing is so agreeable you might not notice the blatant contempt for the women charactersall of whom turn out to be betrayers, whores, bimbos, or combinations of sameuntil after you leave the theater. Jeff Nathanson wrote the screenplay; with Nathalie Baye and Martin Sheen (2002). (JR)… Read more »

Works By Pawel Pawlikowski

Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort), who apparently specializes in Russian subjects, is clearly a filmmaker to watch, and he’ll appear at the festival to discuss these four English TV documentaries. From Moscow to Pietushki (1990, 45 min.), a portrait of writer Venedikt Yerofeyev, samples his work (especially the eponymous novel) in voice-over by Bernard Hill and shows how and why Yerefeyev became the patron saint of Russian alcoholics during the end of the Khrushchev era. A survivor of throat cancer, Yerefeyev needs mechanical assistance to speak, but his dry gallows humor survives intact. The hilarious Dostoevsky’s Travels (1991, 45 min.) trails the novelist’s great-grandson Dmitri, a tram driver from Saint Petersburg, as he travels around Germany hoping to find a Mercedes he can afford. He can’t speak or understand much German, and the people he encounters, though mostly friendly, seem as clueless about his ancestor as he is. (Explains one speaker at a meeting of the Dostoyevsky Society, Most people here are only familiar with Dostoyevsky through the film Anna Karenina.) Tripping With Zhirinovsky (1995, 40 min.) follows Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the self-absorbed leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, as he flies to New York trumpeting his xenophobic slogans and positions; I haven’t seen Serbian Epics (1992, 50 min.), about Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, but I assume it chronicles the same sort of buffoonery.… Read more »

An Angel In Krakow

The sound on the preview tape was so defective that I gave up watching, but I caught enough of this Polish feature’s striking visuals and wacky humor (both somewhat Felliniesque) to regret the loss. The goofy plot concerns an angel named Giordano (Krzysztof Globisz) who loves rock so much and spends so much time in purgatory with singers like Elvis that he gets banished to earth with instructions to perform one kind deed per day. In Krakow, where he remains in phone contact with the folks upstairs, he meets a single mother and street sausage vendor (Ewa Kaim). Artur Wiecek Baron directed and cowrote this feature, in Polish with subtitles. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Antwone Fisher

It’s hard to think of another movie named after its screenwriterAntwone Fisher giving us a version of his real-life story. Denzel Washington’s directorial debut reminds me of a 60s British movie called The Mark: it’s liberal minded, heartwarming, sincere, and consequently somewhat old-fashioned and stodgy. It’s the story of a black sailor (Derek Luke) with a violent temper who plumbs the depths of his bleak and abusive past aided by a sensitive psychiatrist (Washington). The sincerity and seeming authenticity of this effort carried and even moved me, though I’m not sure whether it taught me anything I didn’t already know. With Joy Bryant. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

About Schmidt

I was so offended by the cynicism and class condescension of Citizen Ruth, Alexander Payne’s first feature, that I’ve remained suspicious of his work even as he’s emerged as a more skillful director in Election and this still more ambitious and accomplished film. It’s a very free adaptation of a Louis Begley novel, transposed from Manhattan to Payne’s native Nebraska, in which Jack Nicholson has been asked to put on some weight and finally act his age. The problem is he’s still Jack Nicholson, exuding his know-it-all charisma even when playing a clueless asshole and not nearly as inventive as he was in a much less showy part in The Pledge. The contrivance here by which he bares his soulby mouthing letters to an African boy he’s helping to support from afaris bogus and forced, and even the more observant moments in this odyssey of a bored and boring widower can’t entirely escape the jeering tone that remains Payne’s stock-in-trade. Much more deserving of plaudits is the secondary castHope Davis as Schmidt’s resentful daughter, Dermot Mulroney as the water-bed salesman she’s engaged to, and, above all, Kathy Bates in a hilarious turn as the latter’s New Age mother. 124 min. (JR)… Read more »