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 Review: Lincoln [2012]

Lincoln [2012]

Lincoln [2012]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Tony Kushner (screenplay), Doris Kearns Goodwin (book)
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones and John Hawkes
Running Time: 150 minutes

Steven Spielberg is back, folks.

After a decade full of less-than-impressive efforts, Spielberg’s Lincoln delivers the goods. It doesn’t hurt to have one of the most stellar casts in recent memory, but there’s still quite a bit of substance in this historical biopic.

Lincoln [2012]

Rather than serve as a biography of Abraham Lincoln’s entire life, the film focuses on the President’s push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, an act which would formally abolish slavery in the entire country. Naturally, with a nation already divided due to the Civil War, passing this amendment is no easy feat. The Democrats are almost entirely against the idea of abolishing slavery, and the prospects of getting the 20 extra votes needed are dire. Yet Lincoln is a stubborn, but passionate, man who will not give up until his mission is complete, even against the wishes of his advisors.

This is such a critical moment in our nation’s history, and it’s remarkable to see this played out on screen. A tremendous amount of detail went into recreating this time period, with extra emphasis on the faithfully reconstructed costume design. The casting is also near perfection. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, has been on the receiving end of constant praise for his portrayal of Lincoln, and he deserves every accolade thrown his way. Soft-spoken, intelligent and charismatic, Day-Lewis embodies the 16th President in a way that makes it incredibly clear why he was so beloved. In a career loaded with memorable performances, this may very well be his best, and it would be shocking if he didn’t win the Oscar.

Lincoln [2012]

The rest of the cast is stacked, to put it mildly. Just take a look at some of the names involved: Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earl Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace, Jared Harris. This is basically character actor heaven. Field and Jones have both earned Oscar nods for their performances as Mary Todd Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens, respectively, and rightfully so. The trio of Hawkes, Spader and Nelson are especially entertaining as a group of chief negotiators who will go to any means necessary to sway/bribe the Democratic voters.

Lincoln isn’t a perfect film — Spielberg still has a habit of spelling things out for us (i.e. Mary Todd and others writing down notes such as “8 votes to win” just in case we didn’t know) — but it is a wholly engrossing one. With a heavy reliance on dialogue, the acting needs to be top-notch, and in this regard the film does not disappoint at all. Lincoln will likely clean up at the Oscars this year, and for once I will have little to complain about.

9/10

Movie Project #31: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Action/Adventure
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody
Runtime: 127 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom pretty much back-to-back, but over a year has passed since then. Perhaps my general disdain for Temple of Doom had something to do with it — after that subpar effort, I was skeptical that the third entry could achieve the greatness of the original. Little did I know that I would enjoy the hell out of the finale, which in some way even surpasses its legendary beginning.

Set in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), now teaching at Barnett College, is informed that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail. Knowing that his father must be in trouble, Indy travels to Venice, Italy to meet with a colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). After a thrilling trip through rat-infested catacombs, the duo learn that Mr. Jones was abducted by the Nazis and is now held in a castle near the Austrian-German border. This soon becomes a globe-trotting endeavor in which Indy races to find both his father and the Holy Grail, all while fending off those evil Nazi bastards.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

At this point, it’s Indiana Jones 101, but the Last Crusade is most enjoyable thanks to its near-perfect casting. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery have terrific chemistry, and they are a lot of fun to watch together. Although Connery is only twelve years older than Ford, he looks much older in the film, and he does a great job adding comic relief to the non-stop adventures on screen. I’ll take him over Short Round or Willie any day. Old favorites Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) make welcome returns, and the new love interest Elsa is enjoyable as the icy cool blonde.

The Last Crusade has a number of memorable moments as expected. Two obvious highlights are the aforementioned trip through the catacombs, and the epic tank chase en route to the Holy Grail. Also, who can forget the absolutely ridiculous (and awesome) cameo from Adolf Hitler? This is a film that revels in its over-the-top adventures and has a good time doing so.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

I feel I would need to revisit Raiders of the Lost Ark to determine which I liked more, but to say I enjoyed the Last Crusade would be an understatement. This film blew away my (admittedly reserved) expectations, and it’s one that I feel I may enjoy even more on subsequent viewings. Now, the question is, dare I risk tainting these memories by watching the fourth movie?

9/10

Movie Project #49 and #50: The Seventh Seal [1957] and Schindler’s List [1993]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Seventh Seal [1957, Ingmar Bergman]
The Seventh Seal [1957, Ingmar Bergman]
Starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot.

Before watching this, I was slightly apprehensive that I would not like The Seventh Seal. I had heard remarks from others that it was “boring”, “pretentious” and “too slow”. I shouldn’t have listened to these criticisms, especially since I rather enjoyed Wild Strawberries, an earlier Bergman film in my project. The Seventh Seal digs deep into religious and philosophical themes, but this is accomplished in a way that is also thoroughly entertaining.

The basic concept is that a medievil knight (von Sydow) plays a game of chess against Death (Ekerot) in order to save his life. While they play, the knight and his squire Jöns (Björnstrand) travel across the land as the Black Death causes thousands to die around them. Along the way, they meet a fun-loving acting troupe (who bring some much-welcomed comic relief), and this newfound group sets off to find their way to safety. The knight struggles with the impending death all around him, including his own life, and begins to ask questions regarding faith, religion and the existence of God. The subject matter is heavy, and this is easily one of the more thought-provoking films I have seen recently. I feel I am only scratching the surface of this film’s true value, as subsequent viewings should bring new meaning to some of the discussions presented. Don’t let the modern criticisms deter you from seeing The Seventh Seal — it is still a rewarding film today, even if it is a tad slow. 8.5/10

Schindler's List [1992, Steven Spielberg]
Schindler’s List [1993, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley.

There was a reason this was the last movie I watched for this project. As much as I knew I *needed* to see Schindler’s List, I wasn’t exactly eager to because of the horrific subject matter. It still blows my mind that the Holocaust happened just seventy years ago, and it’s hard to fathom that something like that could even happen. Schindler’s List shows the atrocities of all of this, never batting an eye to the random acts of murder and disgusting violence. This film is very hard to watch for this reason, even though it is superbly made.

I loved Spielberg’s decision to make this black & white, as it feels more natural to the time period. This move also gave him the ability to masterfully use the color red twice during the film to signify a deeper meaning, and to show color scenes at the very beginning and end. The trio of Neeson, Fiennes and Kingsley are all imminently rewarding in their roles, with Fiennes playing one of the most despicable men in all of history to perfection. It is impossible not to hate this man and his disgusting behavior. The three hour runtime is never a burden, and the movie certainly did not feel anywhere near that long. While Schindler’s List is not something I would ever want to watch again, it is an exceptionally well-made film that documents one of the worst time periods in history. 9/10

This completes the project! It has been a wild ride, and I will be doing an extended wrap-up of the project next week. Happy New Year!

Movie Review: Super 8 [2011]

Super 8 [2011]

Super 8 [2011]
Director: JJ Abrams
Genre: Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

As some sort of weird mash-up of the Goonies, E.T. and Cloverfield, Super 8 wears its influences on its sleeve. This JJ Abrams-directed and Steven Spielberg-produced summer blockbuster never really tries anything new; instead, it frequently relies on the tried-and-true tactics of old favorites to lead the way.

Set in the small fictional town of Lillian, Ohio in 1979, Super 8 follows a group of middle school-aged boys who are attempting to create their own zombie film. When they are filming a scene at the local train station, they witness a massive train crash caused by a truck that appeared to deliberately drive into the train’s path. This creates a *huge* explosion that sends pieces of the train flying everywhere, and the entire spectacle of it all is impressive — and LOUD. When the U.S. Air Force quickly shows up to clear out the area, it is obvious that this train was holding some very important cargo, something that the government does not want the public to know about.

The town of Lillian begins to experience some mysterious occurrences after the crash. Dogs are running away to other counties, people are missing and the power keeps flickering in and out. Naturally, the U.S. military has no intentions of cluing the villagers in on what’s going on, so it’s up to the kids to take matters into their own hands.

Super 8 [2011]

It’s at this point where the film started to lose me. The entire plot is pretty much basic paint-by-the-numbers stuff, and if you think something is going to happen then it will. It’s all very predictable, and the movie is full of hackneyed cliches that are more laughable than anything. The child protagonist, Joe (Joel Courtney, who reminds me a lot of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous), struggles to maintain a healthy relationship with his father, Sheriff Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), after losing his mother in a factory accident. At the same time, Joe is attempting to hide a blossoming romance with his friend Alice (Elle Fanning) since their fathers hate each other. Alice eventually becomes the de facto “damsel in distress” and I’m sure you can guess where the story goes from there.

The ending, which I won’t discuss for obvious reasons, is perhaps the guiltiest culprit of all. It is unbelievably cheesy, and in typical JJ Abrams fashion leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Throw in some ridiculous moments such as characters conveniently knowing where to go and how to escape certain predicaments and you have a thoroughly disappointing film. I will give some credit to the group of child actors in the movie — all of them performed admirably, especially Elle Fanning, even though their characters had little redeeming values. There’s an obligatory fat kid who gets harped on about his weight and has a habit of yelling “Mint!” every other minute. There’s a kid with braces who is a pyromaniac, and his backpack full of fireworks is always brought up in an attempt to get a cheap laugh or two. There’s also a kid who vomits profusely when the going gets rough. Outside of the main protagonist, I didn’t care about any of them.

Super 8 [2011]

Super 8 is essentially a retread/homage to the old Spielberg blockbusters. There are so many plot holes, cliches and moments where the audience’s intelligence is severely questioned that it never comes close to reaching the levels of its influences. Perhaps I am not in the target audience — which seems to be 1) kids and 2) adults who still have a soft spot for the 70s/80s Spielberg movies they grew up with — but I just didn’t care at all for Super 8. It has its moments, such as the impressive train-wreck and some of the shots from the kid’s zombie film, but for the most part this is a fairly lackluster summer title.

5/10