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 »

Blood on His Hands [GANGS OF NEW YORK]

From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 2002). — J.R.

Gangs of New York

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan

With Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, and David Hemmings.

For almost the first two-thirds of Martin Scorsese’s 168-minute Gangs of New York, I was entranced. I felt like I was watching a boys’ bloodthirsty adventure story — a blend of pirate saga, 19th-century revenge tale (three parts Dumas to one part Hugo), sword-and-sandal romp, and Viking epic poem, all laced with references to works ranging from Orson Welles’s claustrophobic Macbeth (the beginning of the prologue) to Pieter Brueghel’s spacious Slaughter of the Innocents (at the end of the prologue) and incorporating romantic touchstones from Potemkin (a stone lion), The Lusty Men (hidden possessions), Chimes at Midnight (thrusts and counterthrusts), and The Shanghai Gesture (prostitutes in hanging cages).

Scorsese once described his concept of the film as a western set on Mars, which adds two more playgrounds to the above list and helps explain the kind of historical fantasy he had in mind. I know little about New York’s early history, yet I was impressed by how thoroughly he wanted to steep me in its otherness.… Read more »