This week:
Catch Me If You Can

Filthy says:
"Damn near perfect."

"Not so fucking bad."

I'm a healthy guy. I live a clean, healthy lifestyle. I'm not some extreme nut like those people with their fad diets of veggies and fruit, lean meats and grains, but I treat my body with respect. I drink in moderation, not nearly as much as winos and hobos. I can't remember the last time I drank so much I vomited blood and stomach lining. I might have last Thursday when I blacked out in the Tavern's men's room, but I can't be sure. Maybe that was someone else's vomit. I sleep right. When my Galaxie isn't running, I borrow the neighbor kid's bicycle to get around. Even riding up to the liquor store, I'm breathing heavily and feel like I'm going to pass out, so it must be good exercise. I don't take drugs, except for those prescribed to me or to people whose medicine cabinets I have access to.

The point is this: my body is a temple. The Hare Krishnas could hold services in my gut. So, with all the care and attention I pay to myself, why did I get laid so low by the fucking flu? I even had a flu shot. Not that nonsense the doctor's office tries to scam you for ten bucks; I made my own out of Chloraseptic, Robitussin, and Lawry's Taco Seasoning to add zest. I still got sick as a dog, puking and shitting out Christmas ham and cranberries back to 1994. When everyone else was eating leftovers and playing with toys, I was stuck in bed, shivering and wondering if the muffled laughter I heard through the wall was at my expense.

I still don't have much of an appetite. I break out in cold sweats at night, waking from fever dreams with texture and remembered smells and sounds. I dreamed the Ayatollah Khomeini looked like a centipede and was chasing me through a high school chemistry lab.

I'm better, though. Shaving doesn't hurt anymore, and I can eat yogurt, carrots and Gatorade. Why am I telling you about my illness? I don't have a clue, except that the dream about the Ayatollah is true, and that's pretty fucking weird. Also, I missed a week in my reviews and so I'm giving you my absentee note. I'm still not all that much better, but I haven't thrown up anything in a while. Well, at least not from illness.

Before I got sick I saw Adaptation, and after I saw Catch Me If You Can. The first was practically brilliant, the other was entertaining enough.

Adaptation was written by Charlie Kaufman, better known as the guy who wrote Being John Malkovich. This one's the same sort of mind-bending stuff, kind of. This Kaufman guy has a lot of great ideas, the kind you hear, then punch yourself in the forehead and ask "Why doesn't my brain work like that?" If only Kaufman could realize his ideas as full stories.

Adaptation is a movie that people in Starbucks would probably call "meta" something, without really knowing exactly what that means. Fuck knows I don't. In real life, Kaufman was hired by some grassfucking Hollywood studio nitwit to adapt the Susan Orleans's nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief" about a loony man in Florida who steals one of the world's rarest flowers from a nature preserve. The man is obsessed with orchids, but had previously been similarly obsessed with fish and other things. The book isn't really a story. As Kaufman says, it's "Great sprawling New Yorker shit," and it's full of ruminations on the nature of passion and obsession.

Kaufman probably took the job for the cash, and it most likely never occurred to the studio that just because he was a hot writer didn't mean he was best suited for the job. They probably thought they would get some sort of soft chick flick. Struggling with adapting the work, Kaufman wrote himself into the screenplay. He also wrote in a fictitious brother. The movie is barely about the Orchid Thief; it's mostly about Kaufman's (played by Nicolas Cage) struggle to adapt Orleans's text. He wants to preserve the beauty of the book while the studio wants a traditional narrative.

Hollywood wants to fuck with the characters to fit it into their conventions, but Kaufman respects the written word too much. He doubts his ability and talent, he hates himself, he thinks everyone thinks he's a fraud and failure. Meanwhile, his brother (also played by Cage) who has never written a screenplay moves to Los Angeles, takes a Robert McKee screenwriting seminar and decides to write a shitty thriller with a number in the title, a killer with multiple personality disorder and a twist ending. While Charlie is miserable because he has integrity and wants to approach "The Orchid Thief" in a new way, his brother sails right through his script because it never occurred to him to be innovative or original.

In the final third of the movie, the story of the Orchid Thief and Kaufman's difficulties collide, and it's one ugly fucking mess.

For the first two thirds of Adaptation, Kaufman's script defies the same old Hollywood bullshit simply by being lighter on its feet than an anorexic dwarf. It's one of the most introspective stories I've ever seen, and it's as funny as the Harelip chasing her bus. I mean, God damn, why can't I be this funny? Then I could be an asshole and feel justified. What makes "The Orchid Thief" an interesting book is clear, and Kaufman's desire to preserve it is understandable. So he cheats by not adapting it at all. Good for him, until the last third.

Cage is very good as the Kaufman Brothers. It helped me remember that before he started doing all the shitty action movies he was a loose-limbed goof. He used to do just about anything for the characters he played. Even better is Chris Cooper as the Orchid Thief, a loudmouth jerk missing his front teeth. He's so charismatic and passionate about whatever he is collecting that he makes Orleans (Meryl Streep) wish she could be that passionate about something, anything. He's an asshole, but a lovable asshole because he's so damn sure of himself and so disinterested in what anyone else thinks.

Brian Cox makes a cameo as asshole screenwriting instructor Robert McKee. McKee is a real person, one of those fuckers who makes a fortune telling wannabe writers that every movie must fit into the same mold, and the characters must all traverse arcs and come to enlightenment in the third act and all that other bullshit that makes Hollywood movies all feel like one long, grunty shit. Why the fuck does anybody think they can be a writer if they need an asshole like this to tell them how to do it. You need to have ideas and create your own style. Otherwise, you're just part of the problem with Hollywood. If you want to work on an assembly line, go to Detroit.

McKee's role in Adaptation is a big fuck you from Kaufman, and it would be pretty damn funny if the movie didnít devolve into cheap-ass convention for its ending. See, once Charlie has his brother Donald help, the story becomes the usual suspects: drugs, guns, car chases and man-eating alligators. See, it's Kaufman winking. He's mocking the conventions by using them. But that's pretty crummy. It's like saying "I'm going to make fun of the guy who always comes over and takes a shit on our coffee table by doing it myself. Maybe your crap is ironic, but it still stinks and made a mess. The conventional ending strips away all of the innovative work and robbed me of caring about the characters. They and their situations are no longer unique or unpredictable.

Actually, it's a clever idea for the movie to take this huge turn from introspective into theusual loud explosion bullshit. In theory, at least. Sitting through it for a half-hour, though, the idea doesn't feel so clever. I sat through the end of the movie thinkg "Yes, I see. I get the joke. That's clever... why is it still going on? How long does he need to drag this out?" the answer is a half hour. Sure, it sucks on purpose, but it still sucks. It's great idea, but not that great.

Until Kaufman unloads on the dining room table, though, Adaptation is one fucking great high-wire act. Four Fingers.

Catch Me If You Can has Steven Spielberg's grubby sentimental paw prints all over it. That's not really a compliment, but at least the man has a distinct style. He has taken the fascinating true story of a teenager who posed as a Pan Am pilot, flew all over the world and forged checks for millions of dollars and mangled it with way too much pathos and backstory. Frank Abagnale was a world class con man, and what interested me is how he got away with his crimes. What interests Spielberg is finding some pop psychology explanation for everything Abagnale ever did. He explains the crook's motives until he's supposed to be a good guy.

Leonardo diCaprio plays teen Abagnale, who runs away from home and poses as a Pan Am pilot in order to cash forged checks. Soon, he is flying all over the world, seducing stewardesses and suckling the teats of corporate America. On his trail is Tom Hanks as a hungry agent in the FBI's check fraud division. His division rarely gets a criminal as exciting as diCaprio, and he sinks his teeth into the case. Whenever he thinks he's close, diCaprio slips out a window or through an airport. Over the years, the two men develop a mutual respect; by the time diCaprio is caught, they're friends.

Can't anyone ever just be a rascal anymore? Why does everyone's crimes have to be the result of a broken home and a yearning to be loved? Spielberg spends half the movie working to get our sympathy for diCaprio by telling us that, really, he's a good and misunderstood kid. Fuck, I liked him for being so bold and I'm not opposed to rooting for the thief sometimes just because he's a good thief.

I wanted more chasing and crimes, to see how the kid did it. But Spielberg thinks a character can't sneeze without some corny backstory to explain it. He even tacks on a couple extra endings just to explain a little bit more and leave less for us. Christ, Spielberg, leave the viewer to unravel the moral ambiguities and decide for himself rather than make the movie look like a defense attorney's penalty-phase argument. Only Spielberg could make a movie about a grifter feel so fucking homey and cozy.

Catch Me If You Can has the perfect tone and look. It takes place in the early 60s when jet travel was exotic and sexy, unlike today's dingy airborne buses. Pilots were greatly admired and highly paid, and stewardesses were young, unmarried and really hot looking in those tight uniforms. Vietnam hadn't made everyone into a sourpuss, and convertibles still looked cool. DiCaprio is really pretty damn good. The movie is suited perfectly to his breezy style. Hanks is pretty damn corny, though, with a sloppy Massachusetts accent and his clothes doing more acting than him. At least he gets credit for driving a '63 Galaxie just like yours truly (except mine's a fastback and doesn't have as much paint).

It's still a pretty good movie, but it could have been a hell of a lot better in the hands of a more ruthless director. Three Fingers for Catch Me If You Can. Now, if you'll please excuse me, I have some yogurt, carrots and Mickey's Big Mouths to consume.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

Filthy's Reading
E. Nesbit - The Railway Kids

Listening to
Man or Astroman- What Remains Inside a Black Hole


Mr. Show

Bill Bregoli of Westwood One

The Wild Thornberrys is "Fast and furious fun!"

Two Weeks Notice
is "the season's must-see romantic comedy! Sweet, sexy, sassy fun! Sit back and watch the sparks fly!"


©2002 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All fucking rights Reserved