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Catch Me If You Can
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Garner, Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken

by david    January 20, 2003

Like so many good movies these days, Catch Me If You Can has been marketed all wrong. It's like, the moment an advertising firm spots a plot which takes more than one sentence to explain, it freaks out and immediately boils the film down to the single plot element that is the most easily marketable. They then cut a trailer which shows only that narrow bit of the movie, and slap each other on the back in congratulations.

That's exactly what appears to have happened with Catch Me If You Can. It's been marketed as this frolicsome romp, wherein clever and funny Leo DiCaprio pulls a Pretender over and over again, all while taunting bumbling FBI Agent Tommy Hanks, who just can't match Leo's cleverness. Presumably, much hilarity ensues.

To be fair, that sort of thing does happen in this movie. And there is a lot of humor to be found here. But, that's not really what Catch Me If You Can is about, and I'd never describe it as "frolicsome." In truth, this is a mostly a very sad film, about a monumentally mixed-up kid who just desperately wants his father to love him, and does whatever he can think of to try to win his father's affection, and patch-up his parents' marriage. Because he's so young, and idolizes a father who raised him on a steady diet of optimistic deceit, the schemes he attempts are all elaborate lies, during which he commits millions of dollars in check fraud. In the end, nothing built on such a shifting foundation of lies can stand for long, and his marriage fails, his parental relationships disintegrate, and he is apprehended by French police, and turned over to the FBI. This whole thing is based upon a true story, which makes it all the more sad.

I really liked this film. DiCaprio does a bang-up job as Frank Abagnale. A lot of people dislike Leo as an actor, but I think he's a damn good one. He's just too intense and quirky (and, some would argue, androgynous) to play a romantic lead, which is the role in which he's often found, of late. Anyway, in this film he has a great handle on this kid who's been taught to extract his self-worth entirely from how much money he has, and how much his father (and others) show love to him. Hanks is good, as always, as the FBI agent who loves his (as other people see it) boring job. The supporting cast (especially Christopher Waulken, who kicks much ass as Frank's father) are strong as well. I can't think of any specific complaints about the writing and direction, which speaks well of them, I guess.

While not the best film of the year, certainly, this is a good, somewhat darker than expected, flick. Don't go to see it expecting what the previews promise, for you will surely be bewildered by what you find. Instead, prepare yourself for a sad story full of good acting, peppered some smartly funny moments.

starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Antonio Banderas

by david    January 20, 2003

Frida's major failing as a movie, for me, is that Salma Hayek, try as she might, is simply not a good enough actress to ever draw our attention away from the always magnificent Alfred Molina. Because of that one fact, Hayek's Frida can never be as interesting as Molina's Diego Rivera, even though Frida is the focus of this film, and Rivera a supporting (however large and important) character.

With Molina's overwhelming talent forgiven (oh, how I wish someone had to forgive me for that fault), Frida is a fine film about one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The script is engaging (it bogs down briefly just before the third act, but that is typical in bio pics), and the acting is very, very strong (the aforementioned Molina is stunning, and Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas and others are very good). Even Hayek, possessed of moderate acting talent, gives a fine performance. (She is more than a little bit too pretty to play Frida -- though she tries to disguise her beauty behind Frida's distinctive moustache and mono-brow, she remains extremely hot.) Taymor's direction is tight, even when she strays into surreal imagery, she somehow retains focus and forward motion in the film -- often a hard thing to accomplish in a biography picture.

In the end, Frida is a very good movie about an important historical figure. It's definitely worth seeing.

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