Movie Project #16: Unbreakable [2000]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Unbreakable [2000]

Unbreakable [2000] 
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Sci-Fi
Starring: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark
Running Time: 106 minutes

Riding the wave of success from the massive box office hit, The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan immediately followed with Unbreakable, a superhero origin film that has become quite a cult favorite since. Many would argue that this is his best film, though that’s hardly a bold position given his recent output.

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Movie Project #15: Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]

Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988] 
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Gary K. Wolf (novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”), Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Animation/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy
Running Time: 104 minutes

Who Framed Roger Rabbit brought back a flood of memories for me, which is funny because I wasn’t 100% sure I had even watched the entire film growing up. Yet there I was remembering everything from the opening cartoon sequence to recognizing random moments and bits of dialogue here and there afterward.

An even better surprise was discovering just how well this 80s flick holds up today.

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Movie Project #14: A Prophet [2009]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

A Prophet [2009]

A Prophet [2007]
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Running Time: 155 minutes

In Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, prison is an intimidating and often brutal venue that is dominated by two groups: the Corsicans and the Muslims. If you aren’t affiliated with one of these groups (and thereby “protected”), you are entirely on your own, and this is not a desirable option.

The film’s main character, a 19-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent named Malik (Tahar Rahim), learns this firsthand. Sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer, Malik enters as a naive young man — a kid, really. He is quickly singled out by the Corsican mafia as someone they can take control of. Led by the old, gruff Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the Corsicans force a proposition on the new prisoner. They want him to kill a Muslim witness named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) who is passing through on his way to testify against them. If Malik doesn’t assassinate their target, he will be killed himself. If he does go through with it, he will be protected by the Corsicans through the remainder of his sentence. Truth be told, there is no decision to be made; Malik has to kill this man.

A Prophet [2009]

So it goes in A Prophet, a dog eat dog world. This is just the first test. Malik does a lot of growing in the film, eventually rising through the ranks in absolutely astonishing fashion. As the film goes on, we learn bits of his background. He dropped out of school at age 11, basically raised himself on the streets, and he never learned how to read. Knowing this background makes his ascension even more impressive. Despite his shortcomings, Malik is incredibly street smart, and he quickly adapts to the prison’s hierarchy system.

Malik’s Arab descent allows him to walk the line between both the Muslims and the Corsicans, and he takes full advantage of this. He becomes good friends with a Muslim, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him how to read and write. As Malik’s role within the Corsicans continues to grow, he also branches out into a separate business for himself with Ryad. Eventually, thanks to his good behavior he is granted occasional day leaves, allowing him to conduct business on the outside. It is clear that when/if he leaves prison, he is not going to be the same man.

A Prophet [2009]

Tahar Rahim doesn’t look the type who could succeed in prison, but his performance is entirely believable. We never really know quite what he’s thinking, and the film is stronger because of this. Even better is Niels Arestrup as Cesar, basically the epitome of a godfather-type mafioso. He often appears calm, but it’s clear from one look at him that he is not someone to mess with. The performances and setting are as authentic as it gets — Audiard even made it a point to hire former convicts as advisors and extras in the film.

A Prophet‘s tale is a complicated one, but its surprisingly non-violent payoff is immensely satisfying. The extended running time — all 2 1/2 hours of it — is certainly lengthy and even drags at times, but it’s worth it in the long haul. This is an ambitious drama that manages to combine both gangster epics and coming of age stories into one powerful and intelligent film. With its 13 Cesar nominations — and nine wins — it’s clear that many others feel the same way.

8/10

Movie Project #13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007] 
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writers: Cristian Mungiu, Razvan Radulescu (script consultant)
Country: Romania, Belgium
Genre: Drama
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu
Running Time: 113 minutes

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film about abortion, but it is one that looks at it from a rare unbiased perspective. Set in late 1980s Romania during the waning years of Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, Cristian Mungiu’s film is unflinching, to-the-point and downright unnerving.

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is a young college student who desires to have an abortion (illegal under Ceausescu’s rule). She enlists the aid of her dorm roommate, Otilia (the flawless Anamaria Marinca), to contact a black market abortionist and prepare a hotel room to arrange the operation.

There are numerous flaws with this plan from the get-go. The abortionist, a domineering middle-aged man named Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), provided a clear set of guidelines to follow before their meeting, nearly all of which Gabita failed to do. She did not place a reservation at his specified hotel, she sends Otilia to meet him first, and she even lies about the length of her pregnancy. This series of mistakes leads to an increasingly tense situation when all three of them are in the hotel room, raising the stakes to desperate levels.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

There is a sense of pervading dread during this meeting, and this feeling is only exacerbated as the film goes on. Nearly every scene uses just one shot, during many of which the camera sits stationary. These extended takes add a sense of realism to the proceedings, and they are incredibly effective at portraying the thoughts and emotions of those on screen.

There is one scene in particular that I will never forget. At one point in the film, Otilia takes a brief excursion to go to a dinner party hosted by her boyfriend’s family. Despite Otilia’s insistence that she has urgent plans of her own, the boyfriend, Adi (Alexandru Potocean), refuses to take no for an answer. When she arrives at the party, everyone there is lively, talking loudly, drinking and having a great time. As this happens, we watch Otilia sitting at the table, quiet and alone in her thoughts despite being surrounded by others. The static camera sits at the opposite end of the table, and for what feels like hours we sit there right along with her. To an outsider, this scene could appear tedious and boring. For the rest of us, it is an exercise in exhaustion. We know exactly what is going through Otilia’s mind. She is thinking about her friend alone in the hotel room, wondering if she is okay. She is remembering the abortion from just hours ago while also considering what she had to do to help her friend. These are difficult enough thoughts as is, and it doesn’t help that this is her first time meeting her boyfriend’s parents and family. This scene lasts for several minutes, and as it went on I began growing more and more restless. There is the sense that Otilia might snap at any moment, and it’s just a matter of waiting to see if it will happen or not.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

The entire film is set up like this, making for one of the most uncomfortable viewings I have had in some time. There is no score either, which adds even more to that on-edge feeling.

Although Gabita is the one getting the abortion, much of the film focuses on Otilia, and we see things primarily from her perspective. As such, Anamaria Marinca carries the brunt of the film on her shoulders, and she delivers a performance for the ages. There is never a moment where we don’t know what her character is thinking, even when she is there in silence.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2007 over many acclaimed films, including future Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men. Bafflingly, it did not pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. No matter; this is an extraordinary film that shines a light on a dark time in Romanian history, and it’s easily one of the strongest entries so far in this year’s project.

9/10

Movie Project #11: Road House [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Road House [1989]

Road House [1989]
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Writers: Hilary Henkin, David Lee Henry
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara
Running Time: 114 minutes

Pain don’t hurt.

Even though this year’s project is stacked with acclaimed films, I don’t know if there was anything I was looking forward to more than the incomparable Road House. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while now should know how much I love bad (or so bad they’re good) movies. There’s something to be said about shutting off your brain and just going with the flow, embracing cheesy acting and terrible dialogue as the delectable pieces of junk food they are. I’m happy to report that Road House is every bit as awesome (and awful) as I had heard.

Patrick Swayze, still riding the wave of success from Dirty Dancing, stars as a professional cooler (aka bouncer) named Dalton. He has built up a reputation as being the best in the business, and he is hired by businessman Frank Tilghman (Kevin Tighe) to clean up his bar called the Double Deuce. It’s an absolute pigsty of a nightclub, and it is home to many of the bottomfeeders of society. Its patrons are loud and short-tempered, and every other minute a huge bar fight breaks out. The poor house band even has to play behind a cage to avoid being hit with thrown beer bottles. The current wave of bouncers (including pro wrestler Terry Funk!) will throw out those who get particularly unruly, but they’re generally content with the unstable atmosphere.

Road House [1989]

Enter: Dalton. He immediately clears out the staff members that refuse to play by his rules (one of which is simply to be nice) and begins overhauling the business. Problems arise when Dalton fires a bartender who has ties to the local business mogul, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Wesley has his finger in seemingly every business in town, and he wants to keep things the way they are. He does his best to make Dalton’s life miserable, though Swayze plays him like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Along the way, Dalton gets a love interest, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch), and some backup support from his longtime buddy and veteran cooler, Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott). When Garrett shows up, the film gets more and more violent, lending itself to some wildly entertaining barfights. Naturally, there’s a huge showdown at the end that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie. It is here where Wesley’s top henchman, Jimmy (Marshall Teague), makes one of the most awkward threats imaginable (“I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”) before succumbing to Dalton’s wicked throat punch (it has to be seen to be believed). At this point, the film has its foot on the gas and culminates with an epic finale at Wesley’s personal mansion. To give you an idea of just how utterly ridiculous this becomes, take note that the last words mentioned in the film are “A polar bear fell on me.”

Road House [1989]

But this imbecility is what makes Road House so much fun. Swayze kicks a bunch of ass, Gazzara hams it up as the main villain, buildings get destroyed, characters find excuses to fight over anything, and Sam Elliott gets to show off his pubic hair. Wait… scratch that last part, that’s something I wish I did not see. Ditto for Patrick Swayze’s belly button (some things just cannot be unseen).

Is Road House great cinema? Not in the slightest. But it’s a damn fun film, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

8/10

Movie Project #8: The Insider [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Insider [1999]

The Insider [1999]
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann, Eric Roth
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 157 minutes

Whistleblowing reports are ripe for film adaptations, and Michael Mann’s The Insider turns one such true story into a gripping thriller. No action scenes are necessary here; instead, the film builds tension through the tumultuous work that is investigative journalism, and the extreme lengths large corporations will go to cover their asses.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist who decides to blow the whistle on the illegal behavior of his former employer, Brown & Williamson. Part of the triumvirate that is Big Tobacco, B&W had blatantly lied to Congress about the addictive nature of their cigarettes. Wigand is persuaded to spill the beans about these blatant perjuries by 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino).

There’s a lot on the line here. Wigand is breaking his confidentiality agreement, thereby risking jail, and he is receiving all sorts of legal pressure from his former company. He becomes paranoid, believing there to be threats on his life, and it begins to unravel his once-stable family. Bergman, determined to get this story out there, is fighting profusely with his superiors at CBS. They are worried about the possible financial repurcussions that could happen if they were to air an interview with Wigand. There’s a lot of back-and-forth drama going on, and the pressure takes its toll on both men. By the end of the film, both Wigand and Bergman look like they have been to hell and back. It’s an increasingly desperate battle between the evil corporation and those seeking to tell the truth.

The Insider [1999]

There is an equal emphasis on both men in this film. We grow to learn more about Wigand early on, as he battles with himself on whether or not to fully go through with his actions. Later, Bergman is the main focus as he fights tooth and nail to get the 60 Minutes interview with Wigand on the air and unedited. Even when things are looking absolutely dire, neither one gives up.

Both characters are well-written and given an ample amount of screen time, and Crowe and Pacino bring out the best in them. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more noticeable just how much of an uphill climb they have ahead of them. Crowe and Pacino are backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as the TV show’s top boss, and Diane Venora as Wigand’s distraught wife.

The Insider [1999]

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the running time. This is a captivating story, no doubt, but it feels a bit stretched too thin to warrant a running time of over two and a half hours. There are moments where the film drags, and a bit more editing would have been beneficial.

In the end, The Insider asks the question: is justice really worth fighting for? In this case, yes, it appears so. All of the hard work from these two men did pay off, as the Big Tobacco companies reached a massive settlement (over $200 billion) with all 50 states. Wigand and Bergman emerged as different men by the end of it all, but it can be argued their perseverance made them stronger than they ever were before.

8/10

Movie Project #7: About Schmidt [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

About Schmidt [2002]

About Schmidt [2002]
Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Kathy Bates
Running Time: 125 minutes

Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a man who has lost everything. At the age of 67, he has retired from his long-held position as an actuary at a prominent Omaha insurance company. Without work in his life, he has too much free time and doesn’t know what to do with it all. He starts to notice little things about his wife (June Squibb) of 42 years that bug him now more than ever — her incessant need to collect ceramic figurines, in particular, really gets under his skin. When he comes home to find her lying face down in the kitchen, dead, he seems oddly calm about it (at least on the outside).

Schmidt is also in the process of losing his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), who is engaged to be married to a waterbed salesman named Randall (Dermot Mulroney). Warren rarely sees her as it is (she lives several hours away in Denver, Colorado), and now he’s worried he will never get to spend any time with her. It’s as if everything is slipping through his grasp all at once.

About Schmidt [2002]

When his daughter turns down his idea of visiting weeks before her wedding, Warren decides to take a road trip in his newly-purchased RV instead. He visits places from his childhood, all within the Midwest, only to find that everything is different. With all of this change in his life, Schmidt’s only form of solace is writing letters to a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy whom he sponsors via the Plan USA foster program. Amusingly, Warren writes these letters as if he were speaking to an adult. In essence, they are a form of therapy for him. He rambles on about many different subjects, basically jotting down whatever thoughts are flowing through his head. These moments give us glimpses into his mindset, humanizing what on the outside appears to be just a grumpy old bastard.

It’s perfect then that Jack Nicholson breathes life into this emotionally-barren character. This isn’t the type of performance we would expect from Jack; he is not loud or wildly animated. In fact, he is rather subdued and he plays Warren with a certain amount of sadness. Schmidt is the perfect encapsulation of the company man, someone who has devoted their whole life to work when he is simply just a cog in the machine. When he retires, someone takes his place and things move on as if nothing changed. It’s depressing, really, but that’s how things go.

About Schmidt [2002]

Warren’s interactions with those he meets on his journey (and later, in Denver) are priceless. He befriends a married couple at an RV park, but that leads to disastrous results when he picks up the wrong kind of signal from the wife. When he arrives in Denver, he struggles to bond with the new in-laws. Randall’s mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates), is the exact opposite of Schmidt. Her freewheeling attitude and extroverted behavior makes him very uncomfortable, though at the same time it seems to bring him ever so slightly out of his shell.

There is humor in the film — mostly in the form of the eccentric people we meet along the way — but it would be erroneous to label this as strictly a comedy. Although Warren is a flawed man, by the end of the film we finally learn more about who he really is. About Schmidt proves that self-discovery is possible at any age, and it shows just how much fun (and emotional) this journey can be.

8/10

Movie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Catch Me If You Can [2002]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Stan Redding (book), Frank Abagnale (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Running Time: 141 minutes

I’m always a sucker for “truth is stranger than fiction” narratives, which is why I made Catch Me If You Can one of my first selections from this year’s project. An imposter movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, a possibly rejuvenated Steven Spielberg… it has all the ingredients for a fun, memorable adventure. For the most part it works, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels it could have.

The story, set in the 1960s, is certainly interesting enough. DiCaprio plays a fresh-faced teen named Frank Abagnale, a con man who manages to pose as a pilot, doctor and lawyer all while earning himself millions of dollars by the age of 19. Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, an FBI bank fraud agent who catches onto Frank’s scheme and pursues him endlessly throughout the decade. Both are broken, lonely men who have pushed themselves beyond the point of exhaustion with their cat-and-mouse game. No matter what Hanratty does, Abagnale seems to be one step ahead of him.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

It’s doubtful that Frank envisioned life as a con man, but his first taste of success pushes him farther and farther down the rabbit hole. If he could impersonate an airline pilot, gain access to their payroll system and even get invited into the cockpit on several flights — with minimal effort, mind you — why stop there? When Hanratty gets hot on his tail, Frank just shifts gears and becomes a doctor, somehow getting himself a supervisor gig at a hospital. At one point, Frank even pulls a fast one over Hanratty, escaping arrest by claiming to be a member of the Secret Service.

Watching Abagnale finagle his way out of tricky situations is always entertaining, though there are several moments that raise questions about just how true his claims really are. In particular, there is a scene near the end of the film in which he somehow manages to escape an airplane as it is landing — it’s as dubious as it sounds. As the film is based mostly on Abagnale’s own stories, it’s reasonable to assume he took some liberties in telling them. Perhaps in the end, he is still conning all of us watching his tale unfold on film.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

And yet as wild and crazy as this story is, Spielberg never quite lets it reach the next level. The film overall feels safe and never really finds its footing. At times, it comes across as a comical, light-hearted adventure, while other times it gets bogged down by the drama surrounding the two leads. It’s still a fun watch, to be sure, but I can’t help but imagine how this would play out with an edgier filmmaker.

At the very least, the film does have a stellar cast to fall back on. DiCaprio and Hanks, though neither are at their best, are both effortlessly compelling, and they make for a memorable duo. Amy Adams, in one of her earliest roles, is a real highlight, playing the sweet and naive love interest of Abagnale. Christopher Walken is also terrific as Frank’s father who has issues of his own with the IRS.

Even with its flaws, Catch Me If You Can is a likable film that manages to make its extended running time feel shorter than it truly is. It’s not the best film from anyone involved, but it’s fine for what it is.

7/10

Movie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Catch Me If You Can [2002]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Stan Redding (book), Frank Abagnale (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Running Time: 141 minutes

I’m always a sucker for “truth is stranger than fiction” narratives, which is why I made Catch Me If You Can one of my first selections from this year’s project. An imposter movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, a possibly rejuvenated Steven Spielberg… it has all the ingredients for a fun, memorable adventure. For the most part it works, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels it could have.

The story, set in the 1960s, is certainly interesting enough. DiCaprio plays a fresh-faced teen named Frank Abagnale, a con man who manages to pose as a pilot, doctor and lawyer all while earning himself millions of dollars by the age of 19. Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, an FBI bank fraud agent who catches onto Frank’s scheme and pursues him endlessly throughout the decade. Both are broken, lonely men who have pushed themselves beyond the point of exhaustion with their cat-and-mouse game. No matter what Hanratty does, Abagnale seems to be one step ahead of him.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

It’s doubtful that Frank envisioned life as a con man, but his first taste of success pushes him farther and farther down the rabbit hole. If he could impersonate an airline pilot, gain access to their payroll system and even get invited into the cockpit on several flights — with minimal effort, mind you — why stop there? When Hanratty gets hot on his tail, Frank just shifts gears and becomes a doctor, somehow getting himself a supervisor gig at a hospital. At one point, Frank even pulls a fast one over Hanratty, escaping arrest by claiming to be a member of the Secret Service.

Watching Abagnale finagle his way out of tricky situations is always entertaining, though there are several moments that raise questions about just how true his claims really are. In particular, there is a scene near the end of the film in which he somehow manages to escape an airplane as it is landing — it’s as dubious as it sounds. As the film is based mostly on Abagnale’s own stories, it’s reasonable to assume he took some liberties in telling them. Perhaps in the end, he is still conning all of us watching his tale unfold on film.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

And yet as wild and crazy as this story is, Spielberg never quite lets it reach the next level. The film overall feels safe and never really finds its footing. At times, it comes across as a comical, light-hearted adventure, while other times it gets bogged down by the drama surrounding the two leads. It’s still a fun watch, to be sure, but I can’t help but imagine how this would play out with an edgier filmmaker.

At the very least, the film does have a stellar cast to fall back on. DiCaprio and Hanks, though neither are at their best, are both effortlessly compelling, and they make for a memorable duo. Amy Adams, in one of her earliest roles, is a real highlight, playing the sweet and naive love interest of Abagnale. Christopher Walken is also terrific as Frank’s father who has issues of his own with the IRS.

Even with its flaws, Catch Me If You Can is a likable film that manages to make its extended running time feel shorter than it truly is. It’s not the best film from anyone involved, but it’s fine for what it is.

7/10

Movie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The King of Comedy [1982]

The King of Comedy [1982]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Running Time: 109 minutes

(This post contains possible spoilers.)

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

So says Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in his fame-making monologue near the end of The King of Comedy. In many ways, Pupkin is right. Many people would likely trade a life of unimportance for one night of fame and possible fortune. Rupert’s problem, however, is that he goes about his night as a “king” in about the most ridiculous way imaginable.

The 34-year-old Pupkin is a fame-seeking, wannabe comedian who worships the late night talk shows. His dream is to be the next Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the successful host of one such show. Rupert is determined to get his “big break” into showbiz, but he is completely devoid of a portfolio or any sort of real experience. He stays at home, seemingly in his mother’s basement, studies the talk shows and acts as if he is already a famous comedian.

The King of Comedy [1982]

Rather than start off doing small gigs while working his way up like a normal comedian, Pupkin decides he’s going to talk to Langford directly. While waiting outside of the TV studio, he manages to finagle his way into Jerry’s car and even get a ride from him. It’s an incredibly awkward encounter — Rupert just doesn’t know how to end a conversation — but Jerry is surprisingly tolerant. Their encounter ends with the talk show host vaguely suggesting he would check out Pupkin’s tape at a later point.

That’s all the incentive Rupert needs to keep bugging Jerry. He shows up at the TV studio, refusing to leave the waiting room until he gets to talk to Jerry. He shows up over and over again, as annoying as a mosquito that just won’t buzz off. Eventually, when Jerry’s secretary turns him down after finally listening to his recording, Rupert gets the hint. He’s not wanted there, so he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands. Together with the help of his friend, the equally deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard, playing another celebrity-obsessed fan), the two of them kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to be on the talk show.

The King of Comedy [1982]

As Pupkin continues to grow more and more desperate to get his big break, the film often verges into uncomfortable territory. Pupkin is just such a gauche individual (perfectly played by De Niro, by the way), and some of his interactions are just unbearable. There were times where I wished I could just reach in and pull him away before he could embarrass himself even more. The problem there, however, is that he simply has no shame. He is determined to the point of exasperation. Perhaps most amazing is that Rupert’s obnoxious behavior makes it easy to empathize with Jerry Langford, even though the host is pretty much a smug asshole.

It’s clear that Rupert is delusional and suffers from some type of mental illness (in addition to his extravagant narcissism). He is constantly drifting in and out of daydreams; some are obvious fantasies, whereas others could go either way. If taken in its literal form, The King of Comedy appears to be well ahead of its time. The film shows the depths that someone will go to get famous, and it offers an equally important glimpse at how our society is apt to reward criminal behavior. In the end, Pupkin got the fame he wanted, much like Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. And we, as a society, are eagerly there to soak it all up.

9/10