Dick Tracy

(USA 1990)

“You better get over here fast. They’re gonna find out we’re not together.”

— Dispatcher (from Dick Tracy’s watch)

Dick, that’s an interesting name.

It took 15 years for Warren Beatty to achieve his vision of Dick Tracy, Chester Gould’s hard-boiled square-chin (and nose) comic strip detective in the hideous yellow trench coat (http://www.newsweek.com/tracymania-206276). I skipped over him in favor of lighter and friendlier (not to mention more current) stuff like Peanuts, Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, Marmaduke, The Far Side, Life in Hell, and later Calvin and Hobbes and, um, Crankshaft. Good times!

I remember the media blitz during the summer of 1990. It included Madonna — I’m Breathless, an album of music from and “inspired by” the film, and a landmark world tour (Blond Ambition). I guess it makes sense coming a year after Tim Burton’s mega successful Batman that the studio would push Dick Tracy to be the next big blockbuster. This one cost more and made less, but it still made a mark at the box office.

Dick Tracy (Beatty) is dying to bring down mob boss “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino), the city’s most notorious criminal. He may have found a way through femme fatale lounge singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), Big Boy’s new girlfriend. She knows a thing or three. Now, if only Dick can get her to talk. The problem is, she’s more interested in Dick.

Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., the screenplay is adequate: it doesn’t knock your socks off, but it certainly holds your interest. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the story is secondary.

Dick Tracy is a sensory feast. Rick Simpson’s sets are gorgeous and elegant art deco cityscapes punctuated with primary colors and Depression Era practicality. Makeup designers John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler concoct memorably grotesque prosthetics that define each villain — there are many — and actually help you keep track of who’s who. Vittorio Storaro’s camera work pulls the whole thing together like an Edward Hopper painting.

Finally, there’s the music. Danny Elfman’s score is cool, but throw in some Stephen Sondheim songs — three of which Madonna performs — and you’ve got a winner. In fact, “Sooner or Later” won the Oscar for Best Original Song (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1991). Bonus: Dick Tracy is the closest you’ll get, at least up to now, to seeing Madge perform “More,” an overlooked classic from her catalog that to my knowledge she’s never done live. Ever.

Dick Tracy isn’t perfect. A few moments teeter dangerously close to overboard on cuteness and camp, but fortunately Beatty knows when to pull back. This is not an essential film, but it’s an enjoyable one. I like it.

With Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R.G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, Lawrence Steven Meyers, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Robert Beecher, Mike Mazurki, Ian Wolfe

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures

105 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

Good Time

(USA 2017)

Good Time is not a film to see for the plot. Written by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, the storyline is not all that novel, complicated, or interesting — in itself. I can sum it up in a single sentence: Queens bad boy Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) spends a night fleeing cops while trying to get his mentally handicapped younger brother, Nick (Benny Safdie), out of the mess he put him in after a bank robbery they commit goes sideways. It sounds like a comedy, but it most definitely is not.

Good Time is a movie to see for the mood it creates — and man, is it intense! More or less a character study, this could have been a disaster in someone else’s hands. As it is, the whole thing soars thanks to the directing by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie and the acting, which is all around great. Pattinson is particularly terrific — forget Twilight. I’ve heard comparisons to Al Pacino’s best work in the ’70s, and I’ve got to agree; Pattinson conveys a natural nervous energy just under the surface so well that you feel it watching him. I found myself more and more jittery and paranoid with every move and bad decision Connie makes and every character he encounters. I noticed hints of Dog Day Afternoon, Cruising, The Godfather, and even The Graduate in Pattinson’s performance.

Taking place almost entirely at night, the settings are familiar but eerie: a hospital, the crammed TV-lit apartment of a Jamaican immigrant (Gladys Mathon) and her weed smoking teenage granddaughter (Taliah Webster), an empty amusement park. Add a skittish techno score by Oneohtrix Point Never, a pallet of neon-colored light, and a nonstop chase, and you’ve got Good Time. Roller coaster ride or drug trip, take your pick — either way, this is a film that drags you along for the ride and zaps you, in a really satisfying way. I don’t know if Good Time is Oscar material, but it’s definitely memorable.

I almost missed Good Time, which opened for what appeared to be a very short limited run in Chicago. I made my own bad decision to see it Friday night after dinner with lots of cocktails. The film became a big blur that my drunk brain couldn’t handle. I went back for a Sunday matinee by myself. I left impressed, and actually pissed that I wasn’t present the first time I caught it.

With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Necro, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Saida Mansoor, Eric Paykert

Production: Elara Pictures, Rhea Films

Distribution: A24

99 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+


The Godfather

(USA 1972)

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

—Don Vito Corleone


“My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power. Like a president or a senator.”

—Michael Corleone


“And may their first child be a masculine child.”

—Luca Brasi


“Hey Mikey, why don’cha tell that nice girl you love her? ‘I love you with all a-my heart. If I don’t a-see you again a-soon, I’m a-gonna die!'”

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

—Peter Clemenza

Pretty much perfect, The Godfather was almost a different movie. Based on Mario Puzo’s insanely popular best selling 1969 novel, studio executives conceived a pulp gangster drama for its film adaptation. Good thing they wanted a “real” Italian-American to direct so it would be so authentic that moviegoers would “smell the spaghetti” (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/03/godfather200903). Several unsuccessful attempts were made to attract a director, including Warren Beatty. Paramount “settled for” unknown Francis Ford Coppola, who took it somewhere else.

The Godfather is universally held in high esteem as one of the greatest films of all time—as it should be. It’s a a movie showered in superlatives—like the bullets that shower, well, most of the characters. It’s impeccable. We caught an anniversary screening.

Coppola’s morality play is a masterpiece, more complex than it seems at first and full of contrast and contradiction. A solemn and ominous mob drama that centers on Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his family business, The Godfather boasts one riveting career-defining performance after another—Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda, to name a few. The characters are great, and the dialogue—perfect! Not a single second is wasted here, not even that long ass wedding scene.

The observations about human nature are astute, and the spin on assimilation and the American Dream is clever. The dramatic arc involving the descent of younger son Michael (Pacino) into a moral apocalypse is something you can’t shift your eyes away from. Black as its promotional poster, The Godfather leaves so much to chew on. This is what cinema is all about.

In 1990, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Godfather “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo, John Cazale, Rudy Bond, Al Martino , Morgana King, Lenny Montana, John Martino, Salvatore Corsitto, Richard Bright, Alex Rocco, Tony Giorgio, Vito Scotti, Tere Livrano, Victor Rendina, Jeannie Linero, Julie Gregg, Ardell Sheridan, Simonetta Stefanelli, Angelo Infanti, Corrado Gaipa, Franco Citti, Saro Urzì, Sofia Coppola

Production: Paramount Pictures, Alfran Productions

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (International)

175 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) A+

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