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+

 

Ed Wood

(USA 1994)

“You’re wasting your lives making shit. Nobody cares. These movies are terrible!”

—Dolores Fuller

 

“How do you do it? How do you get all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?”

—Bunny Breckinridge

 

“Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood, Jr?”

—Criswell

 

“Confidentially, I even paratrooped wearing a brassier and panties. I wasn’t afraid of being killed, but I was terrified of being wounded and having the medics discover my secret.”

—Ed Wood

Edward D. Wood, Jr., or simply Ed Wood, is widely regarded as the worst director of all time. In fact, he received posthumous recognition—the Golden Turkey Award—designating him as such (http://www.legacy.com/news/celebrity-deaths/article/ed-wood-the-best-of-the-worst). His silly low-budget DIY pulp/science fiction/horror flicks from the 1950s—low on plot, technique, and talent—are beloved by many because they’re so bad. Monumentally bad. Okay, maybe ridiculous is a better word. You decide from this trailer:

Based on Rudolph Grey’s book Nightmare of Ecstasy and adapted for the screen by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Tim Burton’s labor of love, Ed Wood, is a period-piece biopic about the eccentric angora-loving filmmaker responsible for such gems as Jail Bait, Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and of course Plan 9 from Outer Space—Wood’s Citizen Kane (as Burton likens it here). This film rocks; I never get sick of it. Not ever. And for a few reasons.

The characters and performances are fantastic. Leading man Ed Wood is one of Johnny Depp’s most endearing roles; he plays Wood with an affectionate and demonstrative earnestness he’s never quite duplicated. Burton has always held sympathetic misfits in high regard—Edward Scissorhands, also played by Depp, immediately comes to mind. Here, he has a field day, bringing in an entire cast of warm and colorful weirdos that flock to Wood. Consider: best bud Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), a boozy grand queen with a penchant for drama and glitter. “The Amazing Criswell” (Jeffrey Jones), an androgynous self-proclaimed psychic/horse shit artist. Max (Max Casella), the president of Wood’s fan club—and his errand boy. Overzealous, chatty crew member Conrad (Brent Hinkley). Later, Vampira (Lisa Marie), a gothic midnight movie hostess with lots of bosom, and TV wrestler Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele) become regulars in Wood’s films.

The most important relationship, though, is the one between Wood and has-been Dracula star Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), whom he meets in a coffin store. Lugosi’s life is far from glamorous: he lives alone in obscurity in a tiny tract house in a nondescript suburban neighborhood. He’s also a junkie. Wood moves from starstruck fan to employer to custodian and confidant. Landau gives a flawless performance; he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for it. Every scene is inspired, but one of my favorites is his dramatic reading of that hackneyed “home” speech; it is, to use Wood’s word, “perfect.” Their friendship gives Ed Wood much of its warmth and humanity.

Despite the laughably amateur quality of Wood’s films—and his unorthodox way of shooting them—he gets them made. And no matter how poorly received they are, he doesn’t give up. In this sense, Ed Wood is uplifting and inspiring. He embraces his flaws, sticks to his guns, and believes in himself. Orson Welles himself (Vincent D’Onofrio) backs him up in one great scene at a bar.

Some might find the pace a bit slow. I don’t—the whole film is fun and jammed with quotable material that keeps it moving. Line after line is memorable—I could string together a bunch of quotes I know by heart and leave it at that (I’ve seen this film quite a few times). From a technical standpoint, Ed Wood is exceedingly well done. Filmed in shimmering black and white, Stefan Czapsky’s camerawork is beautiful. The cleverly composed, shadowy shots of Lugosi “fixing” in the bathroom and later tied to a bed in rehab, and Wood and future wife Kathy (Patricia Arquette) inside the carnival ride are especially remarkable. Howard Shore’s score—a rich mix of jazz, Cuban orchestration that wouldn’t sound out of place on I Love Lucy, and monster madness—is awesome.

Burton easily could have made this a snarkfest. Instead, he shows his idol in a respectful and positive light. His spirited take makes Ed Wood exceptional.

With Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Starr, Juliet Landau, Stanley Desantis, Ned Bellamy, Norman Alden, G.D. Spradlin

Produced by Touchstone Pictures

Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

127 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes purchase) A