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Catch Me If You Can
Dreamworks DVD

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The two-disc release of Steven Spielberg’s caper film is quality stuff all the way. It’s not likely that anyone will confuse Catch Me If You Can with the director’s best work, but it has a wit and speed that’s been missing from his last few films.

Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenaged con-man who posed as a doctor, lawyer and airline pilot while kiting cheques worth over four million dollars, it rides on the proven charisma of Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who ran him to ground. Hanks could probably play the diminished authority figure in his sleep, while DiCaprio redeems a run of bad role choices with a nice turn as the crook you have to want to see escape.

Spielberg’s perennial theme of broken families and longing for home comes out again, handled with a relative lightness of touch. Everything surrounding it, however - the sets, the costumes, the assured camerawork - conspires to create the most perfect fantasy of the go-go Sixties seen on film in years, a Burt Bacharach and bouffant hair-do decade that got drowned out by the counterculture.

An extra disc of special features includes the usual “making of” featurette, along with a nice profile of Abagnale and the FBI’s take on his crimes. First of all, though, the graphic interface that leads you into the discs is worth noting - a slick, fun bit of retro styling that shows real, rare care in DVD packaging.

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I Am Curious (Yellow/Blue)
Criterion DVD

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The court cases that dogged the release of Vilgo Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) all over Europe and America whittled down much of the tacit film and artistic censorship that had kept frank depictions of sex off screen. It also opened the doors for the mainstream porn industry, and established Sweden as the Valhalla of free-thinking, swinging society, and created the myth of the Swedish girl - the pouty Lena Nyman in Sjoman’s film - as the shock troop of the Sexual Revolution.

The film at the centre of the controversy - actually two films, including I Am Curious (Blue), a parallel “documentary” feature made at the same time, packaged alongside director’s commentary, documentaries on the court battles and more - hasn’t aged well, however. Alternately tedious and purposely confounding, and never really titillating, it’s more politics than erotica, and ripe with the sort of scattershot leftist polemic that plays as deeply as a placard or a graffiti.

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The Hunt for Red October
Paramount DVD

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Patriot Games
Paramount DVD

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Clear and Present Danger
Paramount DVD

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The “collector’s edition” reissues of the first three Jack Ryan films - revisited last year with The Sum of All Fears, starring Ben Affleck as Ryan - are hardly deluxe packages, containing only a newly-made “making of” short with each film. So far, the first film, Hunt for Red October, with Alec Baldwin as Ryan, CIA analyst and reluctant hero, is still the best, though Baldwin is easily overshadowed by Sean Connery as a rogue Soviet submarine captain.

The next two films are decent post-Cold War thrillers, laced with sly nods to dark conspiracies and rogue factions, with Harrison Ford as a stern, humourless Ryan. Phillip Noyce’s solid if thudding direction of both films probably helped Ford pull the light and air from the films, creating a deadly sense of espionage as a joyless activity, making the Ryan franchise a sort of grim anti-Bond.

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Silk Stockings
Warner Bros. DVD

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The dance sequences featuring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Janis Paige in the widescreen, Technicolor 1957 musical Silk Stockings are beautifully presented in this top-notch DVD reissue of the film, a musical re-make of the Greta Garbo classic Ninotchka. Charisse plays Garbo’s role, a Soviet commissar sent to Paris to recall a composer and three other agents seduced by the charm of the City of Lights and decadent capitalism. The head-shaking daffiness of treating the Cold War as bright musical comedy fodder never really dissipates, but the Cole Porter score and the dancing go a long way to distracting you from the outlandishness of the film’s premise. Includes a documentary on Porter and two vintage musical short films.

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The Swimmer
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Burt Lancaster plays a troubled paragon of masculinity in this 1968 film about a man who decides to swim home to his Connecticut home through a “river” of neighborhood pools. He emotionally breaks down on his journey home, as his fantasy of a perfect life and family is worn down and destroyed by everyone he meets along the way. It’s an overripe bit of both script and filmmaking, full of loaded, confrontational dialogue and wildly shot sequences, built from slow-motion camerawork and a score that tries to emote more than the actors. It’s tempting to laugh, but Lancaster’s tragedy is relentlessly inscribed in every shot of the film - a compelling but troubled period piece. Spot a young Joan Rivers in a brief cameo - the DVD’s sole special feature.

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Extreme Ops
Paramount DVD

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A team of extreme sports athletes shooting a commercial in the Austrian Alps run afoul of a murderous Serbian war criminal and his gang. The politics of the film is less important than the product placement, but none of it comes close to the obligation to turn every other scene into a stunt showcase, each action sequence edited together with a breakneck, blaring aesthetic meant to blast over the improbabilities inherent in outracing an avalanche not once but twice, outrunning bullets and falling off cliffs with hardly a tear in your Gore-Tex. No special features.

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The Way Home
Paramount DVD

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A charming film about a spoiled little boy sent to live with his grandmother in the country, Jeong-Hyang Lee’s film was a massive hit in Korea. The inevitability of the little boy’s acceptance of his frail grandmother’s unconditional love is unquestionable, but the film’s real worth is in the early sequences, when the boy is moved to appalling, callous cruelty to the old woman in the face of the primitive life he’s forced to live. No attempt is made to render him cute - the old woman’s selfless adoration for the horrid brat is the whole of the film’s motivation, and Lee allows it to triumph with patience and skill. No special features.

click here for a longer review of this film.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.