By Dan Skip Allen
The '80s and '90s were full of campy comic book movies. Filmmakers and studios still hadn't figured out how to make great comic book movies yet. Yes, there was the occasional Batman, The Crow, or Blade to speak of, but mostly these films were overcooked with campiness and colors or just plain darkness and shadows. They overcompensated on the actual comics themselves.
Dick Tracy is meant to be a campy, colorful movie. It's based on the comic strip of the same name and later animated TV show. It's full of colorful characters like Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman), Flattop (William Forsythe), Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino), Prune Face, and The Brow. The streets and buildings are also very colorful and fit this movie. Even though it's set in a world full of gangsters and guns in the 1950s, it is all a big exaggeration. It's not meant to be taken too seriously. All of this adds to the overall feel of this campy comic strip turned big-budget summer blockbuster.
Warren Beatty has made a big name for himself over the decades. He's been nominated for Oscars and won one for directing Reds. He dabbled a bit in this genre before with Bonnie & Clyde in 1967. So he was right at home starring and directing in the period piece based on the famous comic strip of the same name. He is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the cast goes. He assembled an all-star cast that includes cameos by James Caan, Dick Van Dyke, Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, and Michael Pollard. This entire cast is terrific in the film. It's really cool to pick out all these great actors from scene to scene.
Madonna, of course, is not only known as one of the greatest pop singers of her generation but of all time. She is in a long line of singers-turned-actors over the decades. She might have been perfectly cast though as Breathless Mahoney. She has an aloof nature to her character. She's a woman who has a dark side to her. She the classic femme fatale we have seen in plenty of Hollywood films in the past — the perfect character for this kind of film. Dick is a man torn between his job and the lady he loves, but Breathless doesn't make his life any easier with her advances on him. She's dressed beautifully as well. Along with all the other actors in the film, her outfits were made by costumer Milena Canonero. Madonna also performed the original song "Sooner or Later" that won William Sondheim an Oscar for Best Original Song. He did all the musical numbers in the film.
Even though the sets and costumes are all colorful and bright, it doesn't mean the story is all light and fluffy. It's not! It's like plenty of gangster films before. It has a great script helped by the creator of the comic strip Chester Could, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. There is a lot of violence, explosions, and death in the film. It has a classic film noir nature to it. The story had some great twists and turns in it. Everything is in place to make a fun summer blockbuster. And that's what Dick Tracy was.
There were so many great pieces that came together to make Dick Tracy a memorable film. Even thirty years later it still stands up. The time it came out has nothing on the time it was set. Warren Beatty put all the pieces together to go back in time to this fictional world set in reality. WB knew what they had and ran with it. The acting and everything else was terrific. This film really played homage to the classic comic strip and to the movie of the time it came in 1990. I still love this film thirty years later.
By Sarah Williams
It's not that LGBT stories have been completely absent from film history, but they're often buried or have gone without restoration. Whether censored by their home countries and subsequently lost as so many in Germany were, or censored before production like many in the United States to become merely subtext, it's a struggle to piece together an accurate early queer cinematic landscape. In recent years as interest has risen, many of these films have slowly returned to public consciousness, letting film history fill in the gaps of what the so-called ideals of decency tried their best to hide. Now available through virtual cinemas, Kino Lorber presents three "Pioneers of Queer Cinema", three new restorations of should-be classics are packaged
Carl Theodor Dreyer's Michael came in a particularly prolific era for the renowned filmmaker. Unlike later years when the auteur was creating a film for every ten years, the early part of the roaring twenties was a time of frequent releases. 1924's Michael is one thought to have been lost for years, and the new restoration is stunning. The silent gay romance isn't any less sweeping than it would be in sound, and it's eerie to see an explicitly gay film this early on but with so little reputation to its name, especially with the silent era having been filmmaking at it's most innovative technically, while only the beginning of narrative innovation. An artist falls for his model, but the young man posing falls in love with a woman, and the artist struggles to fight how he feels. While it does fall into the vein of melodrama, it's as balanced as a later Sirkian melodrama, letting its ambiguous ending gently send off the characters while still feeling real for the time. Male homosexuality was criminalized instead of ignored or looked upon as insanity due to men being seen as the sole active sexual being, and though the power dynamic is clearly unbalanced by their places in society, Dreyer is searingly honest in showing how passion fights against loneliness and later wanes, and his depiction of a gay man shut off from society never feels less than truthful.
Mädchen in Uniform comes as a first for lesbian film, a first to distinctly show romance between two women. Like all firsts, it sets a precedent for tropes prevailing in lesbian cinema, specifically the outline of the boarding school film. Produced in Germany during the rise of Nazism, it's a miracle the 1931 film still exists past censorship to be spoken of today, and even besides its radical existence as a piece of representation, it maintains a fantastic film. The intimacy between the leads in the story of a young woman in boarding school struggling to adjust to discipline as she falls in love with a teacher is wonderfully performed, and the tenderness between the characters is stunningly realized in Leontine Sagan's gentle forbidden romance. Like any love between women, this romance is forbidden, and the threat of being forced to leave the school is palpable, yet never feels overly cruel. The later American remake is far more chaste, and shies away from much of the love aspect, but the 1931 original is groundbreaking, especially as the start of the tropes of the school girl romance and the age gap that have been prevalent in lesbian cinema since.
Unlike the other two that fit more neatly into easy definition as LGBT cinema, Victor and Victoria blurs both sexuality and gender boundaries. The lightest of the three, and the weakest for the lack of emotional weight, this gender-bending comedy twists its characters enough times that it covers nearly all the ground for decency code-breaking. Reinhold Schünzel's 1933 story of a woman in disguise as a man, and the man she plays who must disguise himself as a woman to take her place is an outlandish one, and though being hard to believe at times, has enough heart for the cross-dressing humor to land. The two on drag as one another are cleverly disguised, and while the audience can clearly see the woman in masculine clothes, which is played for comedy, it's a wonderful early idea that gender roles are a set of performances one puts on. For years, largely in Hollywood, gay representation was largely indicated as subtext, and the common way to do so was through wearing the opposite gender's clothing as to indicate the idea of being "improper" for one's sex. Here this trope is played as the plot, and though it never gets as clearly gay as many expect of the Weimar Germany era, the play on gender tropes is more than enough of an established "queerness" for early cinema.
Kino's Pioneers of Queer Cinema collection is now streaming online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.
By Adam Donato
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a child’s masterpiece, literally. Robert Rodriguez wrote this movie based on the story from his son, Racer Rodriguez. The main character is named Max, which is Racer’s middle name, and follows his adventure through the dream world with the help of his two favorite superheroes. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was a flop at the box office (maybe due to the fact that it was competing against Madagascar and Revenge of the Sith) and was absolutely panned by critics. Why is such an innocent movie made by a father for his son so reviled?
The father on trial for making this movie is Robert Rodriguez, as he appears a whopping fourteen times in the credits. He was the writer, director, producer, visual effects supervisor, director of photography, editor, camera operator, composer, and performer. Who says the days of the auteur are over? The big gripes with this movie are about the story and the special effects, which is honestly surprising. The story was written by a child and it really feels that way. As a kid, this movie feels extremely genuine. A child would have crazy dreams with an overactive imagination where he defeats his bully with his superhero friends while eating cookies along the way. It’s pure pre-adolescence and if you can’t enjoy that as an adult, then sorry, but The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is not the movie for you, obviously.
Self-awareness is critical for a movie and Sharkboy and Lavagirl has it in abundance. It recognizes how juvenile the concept is and how ridiculous literally everything in this movie is. The movie really thinks it’s cute as it's packed to the brim with obvious metaphors for Max’s life in the dream world. Also, in case you didn’t know the movie is about dreams, the word “dream” is said 188 times in the movie. The themes are likewise very obvious; so much so that the film starts with a quote saying “Everything that is or was, began with a dream…” which is of course from Lavagirl. Dreams are good and it’s important to be selfless.
The best part of the movie is the cast and they really go for it in this movie. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley play Sharkboy and Lavagirl, respectively. All of the stunts done by Lautner in the movie were improvised as he grew up as a martial arts expert apparently. His musical number, affectionately titled “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream (Dream, Dream)” is an absolute bop. He plays the role with so much intensity, which would feel out of place in the movie if he didn’t randomly do a superhero pose every five minutes. Dooley is absolutely insane in this movie. The amount of close-ups of her creepily smiling is sure to give kids nightmares. She’s still the most badass of the group as she has the coolest hero shots. Cayden Boyd plays Max, the protagonist, and is easily hateable in this movie. It evens out as he’s constantly being hit in the nuts and zapped with electricity.
Max’s parents, played by David Arquette and Kristin Davis, are weird. They’re very clearly going through a divorce, which might explain Max’s overactive imagination as a coping device. Arquette plays an out-of-work writer, which if this movie is about Rodriguez’s kid, then way to paint yourself in such a negative light. He’s played as childish and sometimes pathetic, which just comes across as sad. There’s a scene where Max is complaining to his mom about how he doesn’t want to go to school because he gets bullied and his mom responds by telling him that his parents are not compatible. As if to say “Don’t worry about getting bullied, your father and I are getting a divorce.” At the end of the movie, they realize how much they need each other when they both get sucked away by tornadoes. Of course this is resolved by Sharkboy and Lavagirl saving them.
George Lopez plays one of the greatest villains of all time. Mr. Electric has so many quotable one-liners and more bad puns than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. The decision to make him a robot ball with just a close up of his face is gold. Anyone who grew up with Lopez’s sitcom knows that the size of his head is a comedic target. He also has a daughter who is a nerd like Max, but when Max tries to befriend her, Mr. Electricidad gets upset because that’s his daughter. It’s as if he is upset because he thinks Max’s intentions with her are romantic, which is weird because Max is ten. If George Lopez is Darth Vader in this movie, then Jacob Davich is basically The Emperor. Davich’s character of Linus is like if Draco Malfoy could actually get things done. Linus does so much more than tatle on the Max. He actively runs the most effective bullying syndicate in the school. Max gets bullied from the exact moment he steps on the school campus. The scene where he directs the bullies to surround Max on the playground really shows the true might of his ruthless dictatorship. Not to mention, the scene where Mr. Electricidad calls the bully “Minus” instead of Linus is true poetry in action.
The backstory for Sharkboy and Lavagirl is absolutely insane, which fits the tone very well. Seeing the CGI shark talk in that deep voice is nightmare fuel, but it’s immediately counteracted by seeing Sharkboy feel his new gills, which are very clearly not real. While the movie goes in-depth with Sharkboy’s backstory, Lavagirl just shows up, while Sharkboy is swimming in the shower (you read that right). Their stories are wrapped up in equally as insane fashion. Sharkboy searches the depths of the ocean for his father, while Lavagirl realizes that she is light? There’s a robot named “Tobor”, which is just “Robot” spelled backward, that’s also voiced by George Lopez for some reason. If one was to pick apart the story of this movie, they wouldn’t be understanding the point.
The CGI is terrible... or is it? Obviously, it doesn’t look realistic, but was it trying to be? It’s a ridiculous children’s movie. It’s fair to say that it was going for a cartoonish feel. If one was to complain about the color of the movie, that’s more of an issue with the 3-D, which is a whole different thing. If you’re fortunate enough to own this movie on DVD and have a couple of pairs of custom Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D glasses, then you’re in for a treat. Not only are they stylish, but the movie directs the audience when to wear the glasses. The scenes in the real world are in 2-D, while the scenes on Planet Drool are in this disgusting 3-D that turns everything kind of grey. It’s worth it as the 3-D gags in this movie are top-notch. Move over Avatar, this is the real cinematic experience.
It’s very fair to say this movie is dumb and cast it into the pit of obscurity. It’s a mid-2000s flop that relied on the cheap 3-D trend. There is a small cult following for this movie as it’s ridiculousness puts it up there with the likes of The Room when it comes to movies that are so bad it’s good. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is the type of movie you watch late at night with a group of friends and make fun of how crazy it is. Call it nostalgia, but watching a young Jacob from Twilight fight the guy from the show that plays the “Low Rider” song is true bliss. Would a child watching this movie for the first time enjoy it? Yes, it’s filled with imagination and characters with personality. Remember how Will Smith made After Earth just so his son could star in a big summer blockbuster? This is the less cynical version of that. This may be a minus of a movie, but it was a child’s dream, so just enjoy the innocent insanity.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.