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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    A Day at the Movies

    Gangs of New York

    “Gangs of New York” is an epic that aims to kill — with blanks.

    The long awaited Martin Scorsese tale of strife on the streets of New York never measures up to its potential.

    The film has a grim opening. In the gathering gloom of an underground dwelling, Catholic immigrants gather for battle, their faith contested. Here, seen through the eyes of a young boy, the story begins.

    A silent march toward death ensues when the Catholic immigrants clash with a horde of protestant natives in New York’s “Five Points.”

    The film is set in motion when Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) murders Priest Vallon, the boy’s father.


    Director: Martin Scorcese

    Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz

    Grade: B

    The Lowdown: The Daniel Day-Lewis Show

    What follows is a tale of revenge, redemption and contrived love. It’s a conventional formula — the kind of butter Hollywood always churns — but because of the sheer imaginative talent of Martin Scorsese the audience can turn a blind eye to the film’s flaws.

    Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the vengeful centerpiece of the film. As a young man haunted by his father’s murder, he’s more grit than glamour.

    Vallon is well represented by DiCaprio, yet Lewis steals the show and the suffering central character’s thunder. His portrayal of Bill the Butcher, a ruthless crime king who prowls the streets, is the most redeeming aspect of the film.

    Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), a charming, fiery-haired thief, stumbles into the film picking pockets and brandishing knives. She’s in league with several high rollers, namely Bill the Butcher and his subjects.

    “Gangs of New York” attempts to build political intrigue from its outset, but the initial editing is hurried at best. Scenes race through the crowded, elaborately decorated streets without a moment’s pause to consider the circumstances.

    Eventually, the film settles into a more leisurely pace, developing characters and drama with relative ease. An odd sense of rapport is established between the trio of leading cast members, but when pleasantries go sour, so does the film.

    Betrayal and murder are a catalyst for battle by film’s end. The finale, which looks to be a dazzling follow-up act to the film’s opening, proves to be sensationalized, as if a fitting end escaped screenwriter Jay Cocks.

    “Gangs of New York” is a work of tedious and tremendous effort.

    It can be seen in the reflections of blood that stain the faces of the dead, in the steady, peering gaze of Bill the Butcher’s glass eye, even in the disjointed romance that develops between Amsterdam Vallon and Jenny Everdeane.

    Unfortunately, the film’s merit suffers at the hands of a script laced with inconsistency that fails to build emotional intensity.


    A flash of thigh, a dash of murderous rage and society’s zeal for jazz during the depression era — that is “Chicago.”

    Director Rob Marshall has adapted the Broadway musical brilliantly, capturing the energy, glitz and glamour of the original act.

    In cinematic form, “Chicago” evokes memory of golden age musicals. It’s the kind of bold and engaging fare that Hollywood hasn’t produced since Bob Fosse’s “Caberet.”

    The film’s screenplay integrates the razzle-dazzle of stage performance with the suspense of lawlessness seamlessly, blending the dialogue of song and narrative with ease.

    The story is more focused than last year’s “Moulin Rouge,” which proved to be a meandering tale of love. Here, the script has a sharper sense of narrative focus, building drama amidst the suspense of political intrigue and murder.


    Director: Bob Fosse

    Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere

    Grade: A

    The Lowdown: Bob Fosse-rific

    The frenzied opening act of “Chicago” establishes a dynamic pace. Local jazz legend Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) sets the mood with a candid performance of “All That Jazz.”

    The musical acts that follow continue to up the ante, each piece complemented by gorgeous set design and frenetic cinematography.

    The story introduces a medley of audacious characters, the dashing darling Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) among them.

    She’s cute and unassuming until a civil dispute leads to the murder of an illicit lover. But she’s still a sweetheart in the slammer, her curly blonde tresses and rosy cheeks the envy of every jazz killer in Chicago.

    Matron “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah) enters the scene as the prison warden who holds all the cards, offering aid to inmates who can conjure up enough cash.

    She’s dirty and deceptive, but not so much as Chicago’s most ambitious lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). As the self-proclaimed genius who’s never lost a case in court, he’s the mouthpiece for Roxie’s acquittal.

    Zellweger shines at the film’s center, but Gere is the strength of the flashy ensemble. His brassy dance acts are juxtaposed with courtroom drama and overstated dialogue.

    It’s a self-involved portrayal, reminiscent of his past turn as Martin Vail in “Primal Fear,” yet steeped with musical flare.

    Forget serious. “Chicago” is all about the fun.

    Catch Me If You Can

    They called him the “Great Imposter.” They should have told him crime always pays.

    Frank Abagnale Jr. was a high school con-artist, famous for his escapades as a co-pilot, a doctor and a Louisiana state lawyer. As a sly, quick witted youth, Frank earned more than $4 million from forged checks, all the while eluding FBI agent Carl Hanratty.

    Director Steven Spielberg tells his remarkable story in the aptly titled “Catch Me If You Can,” a film that depicts the youthful and audacious Abagnale as the James Bond of high school students.

    Frank Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his down and out father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) have a modest lifestyle with modest ambitions.

    It’s made clear early in the film when Frank’s father charms a retail store owner, that he shares his son’s skill for deception.


    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken

    Grade: A-

    The Lowdown: Catch This If You Can.

    Walken plays an aging, despondent figure, and he plays the part to perfection. DiCaprio, meanwhile, portrays the brash, confident student-turned-drifter. He’s the ying to his father’s yang, the child who possesses the talent his father lacks.

    The film opens quietly, depicting Frank and his family in the routine of daily life, but a sudden divorce spills all
    the beans.

    Frank’s parents separate, and he skips town, shouldering the burden of guilt. Equipped with his father’s skill for words and a boyish charm, he decides to tour the country — as a fake pilot — and earn plenty of cash along the way.

    What results is a delightful four-year journey of forgery, womanizing and deceit.

    Frank manages to slip through the cracks as he goes, dodging Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) and a team of FBI forgery agents. He evades the law with crafty ease, his narrow escapes more harrowing by the frame.

    The screenplay is a sensationalized account of Frank’s pursuits, yet it never hinders the film. And the pacing, while slowing to a walk at points, never slows to a crawl. The film is rich with intimate scenes and genuine portrayals.

    John Williams contributes a subtle score, and the vocals of Frank Sinatra are incorporated at the right moments.

    “Catch Me If You Can” represents Spielberg’s first attempt at dramatic comedy. “1941,” his self-proclaimed largest embarrassment to date, a comedy set in the wake of Pearl Harbor, was low on laughs.

    His colorful depiction of Frank Abagnale Jr.’s lifestyle, however, is a wonderful and engaging account.

    Copyright Red and Black

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