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+

Swept Away

(UK / Italy 2002)

Guy Ritchie’s remake of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, a film that looks like it would be Blue Lagoon but is far from it, was universally panned when it came out. I never saw it, and probably never would have bothered but for my recent discovery of Wertmüller’s work. A two-hour flight from Chicago to New York City and back seemed like the perfect time to get both of them out of the way.

I planned to watch Wertmüller’s original first because…well, that makes sense. Unfortunately, I didn’t start it early enough — the original is 25 minutes longer, and by the time I pulled out my iPad I didn’t have enough time for it. So, I had to settle for backward and watch Ritchie’s version first.

He sticks pretty close to the storyline of the original. Initially, I found Swept Away kind of boring but not offensively awful. Only after seeing Wertmüller’s version did it become painfully clear how lame this remake is; it’s utterly impotent by comparison.

Ritchie retains the critical plot elements of class tension and anticapitalist sentiment that color much of Wertmüller’s work, but here they don’t read the same way; they’re off. Trite, even. Ritchie injects dribs and drabs of his loutish brand of humor into his version, and I found that to be a plus. However, he turns Swept Away into a flaccid, neutered romantic dramedy that the original is not. His version is kinder, gentler, and softer. It has no edge to it whatsoever, which is unusual for him. Yawn.

Stiff and hollow, Madonna’s acting is par for the course. Her character, Amber, is suited to her image. She could’ve had fun with the role. Too bad she seriously overdoes the rich bitch bit and comes off as nasty, hateful, and angry. Not fun. Adriano Giannini, the son of Giancarlo Giannini who played the same role in the original, is nice to look at. That’s it, though; his character, Giuseppe, or as Amber calls him “Pee Pee,” is a turnoff — what a wimp!

The most interesting thing about Swept Away is that David Thornton, Cyndi Lauper’s husband, has a fairly substantial part. I wonder if that was awkward?

With Bruce Greenwood, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Beattie, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Yorgo Voyagis, Ricardo Perna, George Yiasoumi, Beatrice Luzzi, Lorenzo Ciompi, Patrizio Rispo, Francis Pardeilhan, Rosa Pianeta, Andrea Ragatzu

Production: CODI SpA, Ska Films

Distribution: Screen Gems (USA), Columbia TriStar Films (UK), Medusa Distribuzione (Italy)

89 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) D

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/sweptaway/

The Birdcage

(USA 1996)

“It’s aspirin with the ‘A’ and the ‘S’ scraped off.”

— Agador

Mark Caro’s latest presentation in his “Is It Still Funny?” series, The Birdcage, is director Mike Nichols’s 1996 Americanized remake of Jean Poiret’s classic 1979 French farce La Cage aux Folles. I’m not sure it was intentional, but this presentation coincides with National Drag Day, something I didn’t know existed.

I left the theater with three impressions: one, things have changed quite a bit in two decades; two, The Birdcage is still funny even if it is silly and dated; and three, Robin Williams could do anything well.

Armand Goldman (Williams) owns and operates a drag nightclub, the Birdcage, in South Beach. His flamboyant husband, Albert (Nathan Lane), is the club’s star attraction. Armand’s son, Val (Dan Futterman), announces his engagement to Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of right wing Republican senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). The kids want to — and should — introduce their parents to each other, but the problem is Barbara’s father, who no doubt will not approve.

Val has a solution: Armand can fake being straight — and married to his biological mother, Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), who didn’t have much to do with him growing up but maybe will do him this one solid. And the Keeleys will be no worse not knowing the truth.

Albert, who’s a gay giveaway, can’t be part of it. He can’t even be around. This puts Armand — and the entire household — in a tricky situation. Albert is delicate at the moment, and this will hurt him. Little does anyone know how important he’ll prove to be in pulling off the ruse.

It’s easy to dismiss The Birdcage as fluff. The whole thing — plot, setting, characters, that dinner — is really, really silly. The humor relies heavily on stereotypes — histrionic Albert, house “boy” Agador (Hank Azaria), and conservative Kevin are the most obvious examples. Madonna dancers Luis Camacho and Kevin Stea have bit parts as…dancers, big shock. There’s a lot of camp and physical humor here, which doesn’t make for sophisticated comedy.

Nonetheless, the actors bring it, particularly Lane, who imbues his role with unexpected tenderness. Elaine May updates and punches up the screenplay with political jabs and cultural witticisms. At the center of the insanity is Williams, who despite a few glimmers of his wacky old self (“You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!”), plays the Straight Man — that might sound contradictory considering his character here, but I’m not referring to his orientation. And he does it well. The result is a guilty pleasure.

With Dianne Wiest, Tom McGowan, Grant Heslov, James Lally, Luca Tommassini, André Fuentes, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Lamar Henderson, Scott Kaske, Tim Kelleher, Ann Cusack, Stanley DeSantis, J. Roy Helland, Anthony Giaimo, Lee Delano, David Sage, Michael Kinsley, Tony Snow, Dorothy Constantine

Production: United Artists Pictures

Distribution: United Artists (USA), United International Pictures (UIP), Filmes Lusomundo (Portugal)

117 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

http://www.mgm.com/#/our-titles/187/The-Birdcage/

Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me

(USA 2017)

“He was way ahead of his time. Just the way we do now with selfies and Snapchat and Facebook — he would have put the little Instagram kids to shame!”

— Amber Valletta

 

“Kevyn’s biggest motivation to succeed was his abandonment issues. He had this thought that, if I work with you and you become my friend, and I make you pretty, then you won’t abandon me. I absolutely think he was looking for a mother figure in the people that he worked with.”

— Eric Sakas

Superstar makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin lived an enviable life. He was successful doing what he loved — his work was on runways, in music videos, on award shows, and on magazine covers, at one point nine consecutive issues of Vogue. He wrote books and started a line of cosmetics.

On top of that, he hung out with models, legends, and his own idols: Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Paulina Porizkova, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, Liza Minnelli, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Cher, and Jennifer Lopez to name a few. Some of them were actual friends (I can only imagine Liza leaving voicemail for me).

Judging from the fact that they all let Aucoin record him with them backstage — on videotape, and not always made up — they must have felt something for him. An affinity? Safety? A debt? Whatever it was, it endeared him. Even in his home videos, he made them look good.

So it’s odd and downright tragic that someone who brought so much beauty to the world, never felt beautiful himself. Perhaps it had to do with his birth mother, Nelda Mae Williams, giving him up for adoption, or all the bullying he got as a teenager. He didn’t like his physical features, which were exaggerated by a condition that went undiagnosed for most of his life: acromegaly, a tumour on the pituitary gland that keeps the brain secreting growth hormones. It’s a painful condition that causes headaches and joint pain, and it got Aucoin addicted to prescription drugs.

A trove of home videos found after his death in 2002 forms the basis for Lori Kaye’s documentary, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me. He recorded everything — the aforementioned videos with celebrities, with family members and boyfriends, and even when he was alone. Kaye interviews different people from Aucoin’s life to tell his story, and the interviews range from funny (Andie MacDowell) to sad (ex boyfriend Eric Sakas discusses Aucoin’s downward spiral) to eyeroll-inducing (Williams claims Aucoin would not have been gay had she raised him).

His adoptive parents, Isidore and Thelma Aucoin, accepted him and even dropped out of their church because of its stance on homosexuality. He moved to New York City, and the rest is history.

The celebrity interviews are fun, and some are gushy. Some of the interviewees even cry. They all provide insight into the kind of guy Aucoin was. What Kaye has that makes her documentary special, though, is Aucoin’s tapes, and she incorporates footage from them into the project in a way that lets him tell his own story. It’s an often amusing one with a sad undertone. It also serves, as Cindy Crawford points out, as a time capsule — a really good one. I confess, a few scenes gave me chills.

With Andie MacDowell, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Paulina Porizkova, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amber Valletta, Isidore Aucoin, Nelda Mae Williams, Jed Root, Eric Sakas, Tina Turner, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson

Production: Putti Media

Distribution: Logo Documentary Films (USA), Dogwoof (International)

World Premiere

Screening introduced by director Lori Kaye

90 minutes
Not rated

(Directors Guild of America) B-

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

https://www.kevynaucoindocumentary.com

Body of Evidence

(USA 1993)

“That’s what I do. I fuck. And it made me eight million dollars.”

—Rebecca Carlson

As true blue a Madonna fan as I am, I haven’t bothered to see a considerable number of her movies. Uli Edel’s Body of Evidence is one of them (she has top billing here, so yes, it’s a Madonna movie). On a ridiculously cold and rainy Saturday night, I decided to change that when I saw it showing on cable. Now that I’ve seen it, what surprised me most about Body of Evidence is that it’s actually not that bad. To be clear, it’s not good—it’s fluffy erotic fromage designed to be “provocative,” a sort of lame Basic Instinct (as if that’s a good movie)—but it’s not quite the disaster I expected.

Madonna is Rebecca Carlson, a femme fatale accused of slipping cocaine into her older lover’s nasal spray and “fucking him to death”—i.e., arousing him to the point of inducing a fatal heart attack. Willem Dafoe is her defense attorney. Of course, he gets involved with her despite his happy marriage to Julianne Moore.

Brad Mirman’s writing is pretty basic; his script feels a lot like a Law & Order episode, skipping through real life things like discovery and motions in limine to get right to the court stuff. I half-expected to hear that clang sound between scenes. His dialogue is often silly and, as demonstrated above, at times cringeworthy.

The promotional poster for Body of Evidence promises to make Fatal Attraction and the aforementioned Basic Instinct “look like Romper Room;” it doesn’t. The candle wax scene is kinda hot, but that’s it. The cast is impressive, but sadly no one gives a remarkable performance. Moore’s role, one of her first in a major studio release, is so small it’s background. Madonna pretty much plays Dita, her alterego from her Erotica album and Sex book, both of which came out just a few months before Body of Evidence. Her acting isn’t good, but somehow she comes off slightly less wooden than any character from her earlier movies, even A League of Their Own. Her look is exactly the same as in the video for “Bad Girl.” I’m not sure what Dafoe or Joe Mantegna, both good actors, saw in this project.

Body of Evidence is ultimately a forgettable snooze of a film. If it’s offensive at all, it’s because it’s boring.

With Anne Archer, Lillian Lehman, Stan Shaw, Charles Hallahan, Mark Rolston, Jürgen Prochnow, Frank Langella

Production: Dino De Laurentiis Communications, Neue Constantin Films

Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (USA), Guild Film Distribution (UK)

99 minutes
Rated R

(Impact) D+

Storytelling

(USA 2001)

 

“I just thought Marcus would be different. I mean, he’s got C.P.”

—Vi

I get why Todd Solondz doesn’t appeal to everyone: his outlook isn’t warm and fuzzy, his characters aren’t heroic or even admirable, and his blunt, unflattering and brutal honesty is easy to misinterpret as cruel or tasteless. To all that, I shrug; his films don’t put the viewer at ease, and that’s exactly what draws me to him. A master of the uncomfortable, he shines a light on subjects that are hard to discuss in mixed company if not off limits altogether. And he’s not moralistic about it—he leaves it to the viewer to arrive at his or her own conclusions. His moral ambiguity is perhaps the strongest characteristic of his work, and I suspect it more than anything makes people cringe because, well, it’s confusing. They don’t know what to think.

So be it. Barring one scene in Happiness that scarred me forever, Solondz’s fourth film, Storytelling, is probably his most uncomfortable—it opens with Vi (Selma Blair) riding Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick, who played Telly in Kids), a classmate crippled from cerebral palsy. Comprised of two unconnected storylines, “Fiction” and “Non Fiction,” Solondz pulls out a broad range of societal taboos—American ones, anyway. I won’t go through them here like a grocery list, but they all involve sex and/or abuse of power.

Side note: Censorship is an unintended subject—a big red block obscures one scene in the U.S. release. It wasn’t planned that way, but rather came about by contract (http://www.indiewire.com/2002/01/interview-the-sad-comedy-solondz-discusses-storytelling-80562/ ) (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/toddsolond355306.html). My DVD doesn’t have the red block—the scene is graphic, but not pornographic. Concealing it wasn’t worth the effort or the P.R.

The first and shorter story, “Fiction,” is about the aforementioned Vi, a wannabe writer who probably doesn’t belong in the writing class she’s taking. The class is taught by Pulitzer Prize winning Gary Scott (Robert Wisdom), an imposing egomaniac author who’s also a black man. His critiques of his students’ work is harsh—except when it comes to Catherine (Aleksa Palladino), a bookish pseudointellectual who looks like she’s into S&M. Guess what happens when Vi finds herself in a bar with Scott, and an opportunity to go home with him presents itself? You’ll have to read the book—or in this case the writing assignment, as Vi does what any writer would: she writes about the experience.

The second—and longer—story, “Non Fiction,” is about unsuccessful schlub Toby Oxman (Paul Giamati), a floundering self-proclaimed documentary filmmaker, as he sets out to make an exposé on the everyday American teenager. The problem is, he can’t find a subject. Enter slackerish pothead Scooby Livingston (Steven Weber) and his dysfunctional family led by father Marty (John Goodman). A series of unplanned mishaps threatens to derail the whole project, until one morbid event turns the whole thing around. Belle and Sebastian proves a nice choice for the music.

Storytelling is not quite as intriguing as Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness, but it’s still quintessential Solondz. The lines here are quotable gold—particularly the exchanges between Scooby’s youngest brother, Mikey (Jonathan Osser), and the Livingstons’ housekeeper, Consuela (Lupe Ontiveros), which are nothing short of awesome. I love that Solondz calls out his critics—it’s the film equivalent of Madonna’s “Human Nature.” “Fiction” is definitely the more impactful of the two segments, but that’s because “Non Fiction” is just too long and meandering for its own good; it peters out around two-thirds of the way through. Storytelling doesn’t immediately come to mind when Solondz’s name comes up, but parts of it will definitely haunt you. Unlike his other films, I’m not sure what to make of this one.

A third scene, “Autobiography,” was shot but left out of the final product (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling_(film) ) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0250081/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv ). It starred James Van Der Beek as a closeted high school football player and featured a gay sex scene with Steve Rosen. I don’t know about the sex scene, but I think a third story would have added impact.

With Maria Thayer, Steve Rosen, Julie Hagerty, Noah Fleiss, Conan O’Brien

Production: Good Machine, Killer Films, New Line Cinema

Distribution: Fine Line Features

87 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B

http://www.toddsolondz.com

Who’s That Girl

(USA 1987)

“You gotta see me spend money to really appreciate me.”

—Nikki Finn

“¿Quién es esa niña?” asks the buoyant but trite title song, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for a week during the summer of 1987. We all know the answer: it’s Madonna, of course. Perhaps a better question is, what happened with this movie?

Madonna is Nikki Finn, a playful gumcracking ex-con who just got out of jail serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. She’s rough around the edges but dead serious about her mission: she’s determined to find out who framed her for the murder of her boyfriend, Johnny.

Enter uptight humorless yuppie tax attorney Loudon Trott (Griffin Dunne), who works for Manhattan mogul Simon Worthington (John McMartin) and is about to marry his daughter, Wendy (Haviland Morris). Louden is charged with the task of picking up Nikki from the pen and making sure she gets on a bus to Philadelphia. Surprise: it’s not that easy with someone like darling Nikki, which becomes abundantly clear to Louden over the next 24 hours. Talk about causing a commotion.

Originally titled Slammer, Who’s That Girl is an homage of sorts to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. It’s a total “summer movie.” Written by Andrew Smith and Ken Finkleman, and directed by James Foley, it shows glimpses of some okay ideas. It’s supposed to be fun, and to a degree it is. Madonna and Dunne concoct a believable chemistry, I’ll give them that. Dunne is a great straight guy, on par with his performance in After Hours. The problem is, Who’s That Girl just isn’t very funny. The jokes are lame, the laughs are far and few between, and the plot is predictable. The whole thing loses steam about halfway through. Murray the cougar (Murray) is a pointless gimmick that, sadly, doesn’t add anything.

The animated opening sequence is cool (and parts of it ended up in the music video for “Who’s That Girl”). The soundtrack is better than the film. Overall, though, Who’s That Girl is a pretty uninspired work. I love Madonna and I ran to the theater when this came out. I was underwhelmed then; after waiting almost 30 years to see it again, I’m underwhelmed now. Fun fact, though: Stanley Tucci and Mike Starr both have minor roles as dockworkers.

With Coati Mundi, Dennis Burkley, James Dietz, Bibi Besch, John Mills, Robert Swan, Drew Pillsbury, Liz Sheridan

Production: Guber-Peters Company

Distribution: Warner Brothers

92 minutes
Rated PG

(iTunes purchase) D+

 

Julieta

(Spain 2016)

Pedro Almodóvar has his own voice and his own vision, and he’s stayed true to both from the beginnning of his career. He’s an incredible story teller with no shortage of stories to tell; in fact, he once said that he “can make a thousand different movies about the same subject” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/pedroalmod587571.html). His frank treatment of sexuality is as bold as his visual style, and his characters are all memorable. His plots are intricate, loaded with twists and turns and weird things that throw in a wrench that takes the whole thing somewhere you never saw coming. He’s a master of exaggeration—it works just as well in his comedy as it does in his melodrama.

Julieta, Almodóvar’s current film—his twentieth feature—is no exception. Like most of his movies, particularly his post-millennial work, this one centers on women. Inspired by three short stories (“Chance”, “Soon,” and “Silence”) from from Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway, Julieta is, in simplest terms, the story of one woman’s search for her estranged daughter. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and Almodóvar slowly reveals it all, layer by layer.

Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). They’re packing to move to Portugal. Julieta has a secret: she has a daughter, Antiá, who checked out of her life more than a decade ago. She happens to run into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of Antiá, on the street. Beatriz gives Julieta some small information about Antiá, prompting Julieta to drop all plans in the hope of her daughter returning. She begins writing a journal, which turns into a flashback that tells us what happened.

Some 30 years before, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets scruffy fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. He’s married, but his wife is in a coma. He knocks up Julieta, who receives a letter from him and visits him at his home in a small Spanish fishing town. They decide to raise Antiá together there. When Antiá (Priscilla Delgado) is a teen and away at camp, Julieta and Xoan have a fight that leads to disaster. Julieta doesn’t tell Antiá everything, and it comes back to bite her.

Nothing by Almodóvar ever sucks, but I’ve found his work to be up and down after All About My Mother. It’s to be expected from an artist with a long career, Madonna being a good example. His last project, 2013’s I’m So Excited, was fun but certainly not his most compelling. Julieta, however, is solid—I say it’s his finest hour and a half since Volver. It’s not a light film—it’s an elegant, emotional slow burner that deals with regret, omission, and forgiveness. Ugarte and Grao are both hot, and they have a palpable chemistry. Casting Rossy De Palma as Xoan’s longtime passive-aggressive housekeeper is a nice touch.

With Inma Cuesta, Blanca Parés, Pilar Castro, Tomás del Estal

Production: El Deseo

Distribution: Warner Brothers (Spain), Pathé, 20th Century Fox

99 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) B+

http://sonyclassics.com/julieta/

Silence

(USA 2016)

“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

—Fr. Rodrigues

Just as main character Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is conflicted about his faith, I’m conflicted about Martin Scorsese’s current project, Silence. This film is clearly a labor of love and something extremely personal, both of which I greatly respect. Its genesis dates back nearly 30 years to the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ—can there be a more fitting starting point?—when Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s novel (the title is the same as the movie) about Jesuit missionaries and Catholicism in Japan in the 17th Century (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/martin-scorsese-silence-theology-art-jesuits/510827/ ). Having a Jesuit education myself, the nuance of what drives the characters (i.e., the service-oriented “men for others” philosophy of the Society of Jesus and the desire to make the right decisions and find answers) is not lost on me.

Momentary diversion: I was simultaneously amused and wowed by the number of nuns and priests in attendance at the pre-opening screening that I attended. I say “amused” because the audience looked like a Catholic J. Crew catalog; and I say “wowed” because the turnout served as a testament to the weight of this film. I felt it, and it was heavy. Credible. Plus, what does it say that a lapsed Catholic like me shows up for the pre-opening screening of a religious film as if it were a release party for a new Madonna album? More conflict.

But I digress. Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests—the aforementioned Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver)—on their search to find their spiritual teacher and mentor, Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing in Japan. The Japanese state has banned Christianity: those who practice it are hunted down by a committee, tortured, and killed. There’s an easy way out, weird as it is, that involves stepping on Catholic icons. Unsettling rumors have come to light concerning Fr. Ferreira, the most troubling of which is that he renounced Catholicism.

Silence is a gorgeous film—Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is breathtaking. I can feel every fly and bead of sweat I see on the screen. The idea of pushing “What Would Jesus Do?” to its mindfucking extreme is absolutely brilliant. The acting is generally flawless, but Issei Ogata easily shines lightyears beyond everyone else as the surprisingly unarresting, pragmatic, and understanding Inquisitor. Scorcese does a beautiful job demonstrating two timely ideas: tolerance is crucial for any civilized society, and doubt is totally normal. Can I get an amen? All that said, however, Silence is gratuitous in length, tedious, and exhausting. Painfully boring at points, even. The narration drove me crazy after awhile, as did the subpar Portugese accents. The ending is emotionally brutal; it’s ultimately satisfying, but you have to look closely and you have to be thinking. Normally, this wouldn’t be something worth mentioning; but at the end of such an energy zapper as Silence, it’s just not what I was prepared to do. I love what Scorcese gets at here; he does it artfully for sure, but I wish he had gone about it in a more direct and interesting way.

Also starring Ciarán Hinds, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and Yôsuke Kubozuka.

Produced by Sharpsword Films, AI Film, CatchPlay, IM Global, Verdi Productions, YLK Sikella, and Fábrica de Cine

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

161 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C+

http://www.silencemovie.com