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

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

(USA 1996)

“My only love sprung from my only hate.”

—Juliet Capulet

I don’t usually read reviews when I write my entries here, but sometimes I can’t resist checking what critics had to say about older movies when they first hit theaters back in the day. Roger Ebert did not like this one, which he called “a mess” and “a very bad idea” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/romeo-and-juliet-1996). I respectfully disagree; Baz Luhrmann’s overblown and over the top take on Shakespeare’s (probably) best known play is, in a word, awesome—even with 20 years’ wear.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet definitely is not your lit teacher’s Shakespeare: set in hyper-paced, decaying fictitious Verona Beach on the verge of the Millennium, Luhrmann reimagines the feuding Montagues and Capulets as two family corporate empires embrolied in a turf war. They act like cartels: Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Dash Mihok) and Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo) brawl at a gas station, wrecking havok in the city. Instead of knives, their weapons are guns with brand names “Dagger” and “Sword” embossed on them. Chief of Police Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall) warns family heads Ted Montague (Brian Dennehy) and Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) to get their boys under control, or there will be hell to pay.

That evening, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), Benvolio, and Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) take ecstasy and crash a costume party at the Capulet mansion, where prima donna Mrs. Capulet (Diane Venora) has arranged an introduction between Juliet (Claire Danes, who you oughta know emulates Alanis Morissette) and governor’s son Dave Paris (Paul Rudd dressed as an astronaut). Drawn to a blacklit aquarium in the bathroom, rolling Romeo, literally a knight in shining armor, sees Juliet in angel wings on the other side. Thus begins the fateful downfall of the star-crossed lovers, aided by Fr. Laurence (Pete Postlewaite).

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet injects new life into a classic. Laying the groundwork for 2000’s Moulin Rouge!, everything about it is bold and flamboyant—especially the choice to stick mostly with the play’s original prose. Luhrmann mixes a headspinning cocktail of English literature, Alexander McQueen, Quentin Tarantino, and MTV to create an apocalyptic assault on the senses. He combines outrageous sets (including a crumbling movie theater on the beach that provides the perfect stage for some of the action), religious imagery, sexy thugs, car chases, a drag performance, newscasts, and hip tunage into a whirl of color, noise, and poetry. Donald M. McAlpine’s cinematography is downright decadent. The soundtrack is strong: it boasts, among other acts, Radiohead, Everclear, Garbage, Butthole Surfers, and of course the Cardigans with their only U.S. chart hit, “Lovefool.”

I can see why purists and old fogies will pass on this adaptation. I, however, love it. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet isn’t perfect, but it’s wickedly clever, fun, and never dull.

120 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+