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 has 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

Madonna: Innocence Lost

(USA / Canada 1994)

“I take what I need and I move on. And if people can’t move with me, well then I’m sorry.”

— Madonna

Wow, I completely forgot about this tawdry exposé made for TV — American TV, which is even worse — chronicling Madonna’s early years in New York City. It aired on Fox in the mid-nineties, and it’s actually amazing only for how awful it is. All the stops are pulled out, and it’s a trainwreck: the overriding theme is that Madonna is an ambitious whore. OK, National Enquirer.

Based on Christopher Andersen’s 1991 biography — totally unauthorized, I add — Michael J. Murray’s script is just plain sad. Some of it is remarkably accurate, but some of it…not so much. I recognize every single interview where he culled material to tell the Material Girl’s story — in Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Interview, and a few other magazines. He doesn’t just lift background, he lifts dialogue. Verbatim. That opening monologue is straight from a letter to Stephen Jon Lewicki in which she begs to appear in his softcore film A Certain Sacrifice. The characters are all real people even if their names are changed: her donut shop manager (Kenner Ames), Dan Gilroy (Jeff Yagher), Camille Barbone (Wendie Malick), Mark Kamins (Mitch Roth), Seymour Stein (Don Francks), frequent collaborator Steve Bray (Ephraim Hylton), and last but not least her father, Silvio Ciccone (Dean Stockwell).

I’m mildly impressed that her mother (Jenny Parsons), shown entirely in black and white flashbacks, even comes up. And the many guys she slept with, some of them with a purpose. And that gumcracking? Brilliant!

Terumi Matthews plays a young Madonna, and to her credit she nails the megastar’s ideosynchrocies perfectly! I’ll give her that. However, the vignettes and Catholic imagery stolen straight from the video for “Oh Father” are so lame that I feel like I should say a rosary after seeing this. So should you. Don’t even get me started on where this story starts — the first MTV Video Music Awards? Really? She was already on her second album by then.

Anyway…Madonna: Innocence Lost is not flattering, but it’s still a hoot. It plays on Madonna’s bad side, like “Blond Ambition” is a bad thing. The problem is, this approach fails when you’re dealing with someone who used that very name for one of her biggest tours. Shocking? Fuck no.

With Diana Leblanc, Nigel Bennett, Dominique Briand, Tom Melissis , Christian Vidosa, Dino Bellisario, Kelly Fiddick, Gil Filar, Maia Filar, Diego Fuentes, Matthew Godfrey, Evon Murphy, Stephane Scalia, Chandra West

Production: Fox Television Studios, Jaffe/Braunstein Films

Distribution: Fox Network, RTL Entertainment (Netherlands), True Entertainment (UK)

90 minutes
Rated TV-14

(YouTube) D+

Strike a Pose

(Belgium/Netherlands 2016)

It’s no secret that Madonna’s Truth or Dare occupies a special place in my heart (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/truth-or-dare-in-bed-with-madonna/ ). As ladies with an attitude or fellas that were in the mood, the dancers are a big reason why; all seven young guys proved to be more than incidental eye candy, each adding considerable spirit not just to the film but to the tour—and arguably Madonna’s persona. Strike a Pose shows where they are now, which isn’t necessarily pretty but certainly isn’t all that bad.

Directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan get into the past and even dig up a little dirt, like the lawsuits some of the dancers filed after Truth or Dare came out. Thankfully, they don’t spend a lot of time on either. Instead, they focus on what exactly working with Madonna during such a pivotal time in her career brought to each of their lives, for better or for worse. What each dancer ultimately ended up doing isn’t as interesting as the subtext, which suggests that it was all an illusion.

As one might expect, some of the dancers at least on the surface have done better than others. Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, Luis Camacho, and Kevin Stea are working choreographers (Stea also got into deejaying and recently even recorded an album). Carlton Wilborn, the only one who toured with Madonna again after Blond Ambition, published a biography and is now a life coach. Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza lives with his mother in her apartment in New York. Oliver Crumes is married and possibly disabled—it’s not entirely clear, but that’s what I deduced. Sadly, Gabriel Trupin died in 1995 (which I already knew). His mother, Sue, has a lot to say about his role in Truth or Dare.

As a huge Madonna fan, Strike a Pose did not reveal much that I didn’t already know. That said, one thing that blew me away was that three of the dancers knew they were HIV-positive during the tour, yet none of them said anything about it. I’m not judging—anyone who made it through the “crisis years” of AIDS understands why. Still, it’s sad that not even someone as big and unfazed as Madonna, who gave a poignant speech about Keith Haring and featured a gay kiss in her tour documentary, was capable of creating a safe space then. Things have changed.

It’s easy to write off Strike a Pose as a lame attempt by minor players to milk their 15 minutes of fame, but I didn’t find them to come off that way. Not at all. Each seems sincerely okay with where he is, which is great. None of them plug any current projects. If anything, the focus is on what one does after the lights dim. Each of them has faced demons—drugs, disease, career obstacles. In fact, Camacho suggests that they are all responsible in one way or another for forcing Madonna to back away from them.

None of the dancers are as fierce as they were 25 years ago; this didn’t bother me because frankly I’m not, either. Watching Strike a Pose feels like meeting up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time. If there’s one thing I learned from this documentary, it’s that Truth or Dare touched a lot more people than I thought. The one thing that would’ve been nice: Madonna showing up.

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Carlton Wilborn.

83 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.strikeaposefilm.com