quick flicks 

"Catch Me If You Can", "Chicago", "Gangs of New York", "Drumline", "About Schmidt"

As the erstwhile Frank Abagnale Jr., who under assumed names passed himself off as a doctor, a lawyer, a professor and, incredibly, an airline pilot, Leonardo di Caprio does more than play a role. He becomes this twinkly, likable rascal who wins the day through playful mischief — much to the chagrin of FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty. Tom Hanks is more than up to the task of turning Hanratty into Frank's Captain Hook-type nemesis, whose sole purpose in life becomes tracking down and arresting him. Steven, Leo and Tom are plainly having the time of their lives, and it spills over into the audience. ****

"Chicago" — Not since "Cabaret" has there been a big-screen musical as whip-smart and exciting as this one. The choreography by director Rob Marshall and Cynthia Onrubia is nothing short of inspired. And kudos to screenwriter Bill Condon, who has cleverly re-imagined the musical as a dreamy film noir playing out in the mind of wannabe star Roxie Hart. While Renee Zellweger's terrific as the determined Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones is coolly assured and sexy as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival performer. Richard Gere rounds out this deadly trio as the slick shyster Billy Flynn. Full of love, lust, intrigue and sultry song-and-dance numbers, "Chicago" is a sensual sensory feast. ****

"Gangs of New York" — Master filmmaker Martin Scorsese's long-anticipated vision of a Civil War-era Lower Manhattan percolates with the dregs of humanity. And among these murderers, whores and thieves, Daniel Day-Lewis transforms himself into one of the nastiest of those denizens — Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Squaring off against the villainous, mustachioed meat cutter is Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), the now-grown son of a man killed by Bill in a turf war between Bill's gang of native-born Americans and a rabble of Irish immigrants. Cameron Diaz is thrown into the mix as the pickpocket who loves them both. Scorsese does his best to breathe new life into this oft-told tale of a son's revenge deferred. But as sprawling as this epic is, it needs more room to let the characters breathe and develop. A glorious near-miss, it's still a dazzling blur of fact and fiction, love and hate. ****

"Drumline" — This upbeat, infectious tale set in the little-known world of marching bands at historically black colleges is the feel-good sleeper of the holiday season. Nick Cannon plays Devon, a snare-drum prodigy on a full scholarship who tends to showboat when he should be blending in. Which, naturally, irks both the erudite band director (Orlando Jones) and the upperclassman (Leonard Roberts) who leads the prestigious drumline. Not surprisingly, a life-lesson style showdown ensues. Predictable? Oh yeah, but it's the "Drumline" setting, not story, that wins us over. Directed by Charles Stone III, "Drumline" unabashedly celebrates the music as well as the discipline and hard work necessary to create it. ****

"About Schmidt" — Jack Nicholson gives a master's class in the fine art of understatement in this character-driven tale of one man's reawakening, rekindling and reassessment of his life. Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, a newly retired insurance executive who embarks upon a cross-country trip. His destination is Denver, where his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) is about to marry a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney, sporting a hilarious "mullet") who aspires to mediocrity. Although the movie (by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) moves as slowly and plainly as its Midwestern setting, there are powerful emotions roiling and boiling just below the surface. And Nicholson delivers one of the most powerful — yet subtle — performances of his career. If you doubt such a thing possible, you don't know Jack!

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