• Film reviews

    #399 – Dick Tracy (1990)

    Dick Tracy (1990)

    Film review #399

    Director: Warren Beatty

    SYNOPSIS: Detective Dick Tracy is busy attempting to clean up the city of the criminals that are terrorising it. He rescues a homeless kid from a criminal, and ends up having to look after him along with his girlfriend Tess Trueheart. Meanwhile, Big Boy Caprice has united all of the city’s mobsters under his rule, and the only way Tracy can get him locked up is to convince Breathless Mahoney to testify against him, who seems to have her own agenda altogether…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISDick Tracy is a 1990 film based on the comic strips of the same name created by Chester Gould. The film starts out with Dick Tracy on the trail of criminal Lips, who turns up dead. Tracy suspects the work of Big Boy Caprice, but his evidence hinges on the testimony of Breathless Mahoney, who witnessed Lips being buried in cement (Tracy found one of her earrings at the scene of the crime). Tracy also manages to apprehend a nameless kid who is pick-pocketing and decides to have the kid stay with him. Meanwhile Big Boy Caprice has managed to unite all of the city’s criminals under his rule, and Tracy has to find a way to put a stop to them. The story is…well, there’s lots of it. On one hand, it adds in a lot of the characters and ideas from the comics, but on the other, it adds too many without exploring them in depth; it just throws the characters in with a bunch of others with no time to really develop them. The opening of the film basically throws the viewer into the deep end with Tracy trying to apprehend these criminals that he clearly has a history with, but we aren’t given much of an insight into it and why Tracy is so intent on pursuing these criminals at all costs. In one sense, in keeping with the comic strip origins, not everything needs to be explained, nor for a reader to read every single comic strip to understand what’s going on. In the case of a self-contained film, however, the motivations of the characters really need to be at least signposted through recaps, flashbacks or some other narrative device. The film is simple enough to follow, and doesn’t have too many interruptions to its flow, but there’s such an interesting setting and cast of characters that aren’t delved into that it is a little disappointing. At least the film sticks to the comic’s origins in the mobster-filled, crime-noir genre rather than going into the sci-fi stories involving aliens living on the Moon that the comic went into in the sixties. The only sci-fi element that shows up is the communicator watch that Tracy wears, and that doesn’t really stand out too much from the setting. A small problem I have with the ending is that Caprice ends up getting killed, which I think would have been better if instead he was arrested and sent to jail, as that’s what Tracy’s goal was throughout the whole film.

    The film’s biggest strength is by far its cinematography and style. I don’t think there is anything else like it (especially at the time it was released). The backgrounds and cityscape shots are large scale matte paintings done in a traditional comic perspective that are brought to life with amazing detail and colour. The colour on the whole is incredibly striking, with high contrast props, sets and costumes making individual elements stand out in shots. For example, Tracy’s distinctive cream coloured hat and coat are saturated and give him a commanding presence in the dark shots of the city at night. Every character too wears a similar high saturated colour, making them recognisable and visually appealing. In doing so, the film overcomes the paradox of having a crime-noir in full colour by replicating the high contrast of ‘noir’ through highly saturated colour. Not only this, but it also manages to pay homage to the typically flat colours associated with comic strips. All of this is a remarkable achievement that also doesn’t feel very dated. The other striking element of the film’s style is it’s use of prostheses and make-up to give the villain’s comic book proportions. For example, Pruneface has these huge wrinkles covering his face that make him look like a prune, Flattop has a…flat top of his head. It’s cartoony, but they all still have a menacing aura about them thanks to the exceptional work of the prosthesis. If you’re going to remember this film for anything, then it is its style and vision which will stay with you.

    The characters themselves definitely have plenty of personality, though as mentioned there could do with exploring in greater depth some of these interesting-looking people. Tracy, played by Warren Beatty, who also directed the film, feels like he’s channelling Harrison Ford (particularly Indiana Jones) in his performance. Sometimes he is straight-laced, sometimes he is quick-thinking and action-oriented. Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice has a commanding presence and the prostheses that fills out his body compliments that nicely. Breathless Mahoney is played by Madonna, who turns in an alluring performance as well as performing some original cabaret songs that hit the mark. The mixture of drama and comedy again is executed well, with a good amount of visual gags that are easy to miss given Tracy’s often straight-faced response. His interactions with the character Mumbles (who mumbles everything he says) is in particular a chance for the film to strike a humourous note.

     Overall, Dick Tracy offers a visual treat that manages to pull off the aesthetics of crime-noir and comic book drama with a striking use of colour and convincing make-up that situates every element of the film perfectly in the world it creates. The result is a memorable visual experience coupled with some dramatic and over-the-top performances. The story suffers from having too much going on and not enough depth to the most important elements, but on the whole it is still enjoyable enough to sit through.

  • Film reviews

    #340 – Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)

    Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)

    Film review #340

    dir. John De Bello

    SYNOPSIS: Detective Lance Boyle is investigating a murder when the police Chief suspects the work of killer tomatoes. Boyle is highly sceptical about it, and this is made worse when he has to work with tomatologist Kennedy Johnson. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen, the creator of the killer tomatoes, has a new scheme to conquer the world…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is a 1990 film and the third film in the “Killer Tomatoes” series. The series has always been a spoof or parody of the b-movie monster genre, and this film is no different. The film starts off with a murder parody of the “Halloween” films, which is pulled off pretty well. Then we get to see police detective Lance Boyle, a childish wild-card who doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, who is called to investigate the aforementioned murders. The chief of police believes that killer tomatoes involved, and has tomatologist Kennedy Johnson brought on the case to help Boyle, which he is less than pleased about, as he doubts there is even such a thing as killer tomatoes. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen, who created the killer tomatoes, is disguising himself as a talk show host called Jeronahew, and intends to brainwash everyone who watches his show. The story of the film is split between the two perspectives, with Boyle and Johnson fending off various tomato attacks, and Gangreen and his assistant Igor trying to fulfil their plan to conquer the world. In doing so, the film uses typical plot elements, with Boyle and Johnson starting off as antagonistic while eventually developing a romantic attraction, but as a parody film it has to use these tropes to mess around with them. Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! walks the line between making a genuine attempt at a film, while also undermining the tropes it relies on a lot more so than its predecessors, which played it mostly straight with treating the killer tomatoes as a genuine threat, which showed the ridiculousness of the genre. Without that straight-laced parody the whole concept seems a bit lost and muddled. here’s also not much progression with the plot, just a bunch of killer tomato attacks that are all the same and don’t really result in anything. This film doesn’t add anything to the “killer Tomatoes” mythos, but there’s not much mythos needed in the “killer tomatoes” series. That said, the series has developed a structured world and history given that it is based on killer vegetables.

    Boyle’s character is a bit all over the place: in the opening sequence we see him get out of bed and partake in a range of silly activities. There’s definitely a parody of Lethal Weapon between him and the other police officers, but nothing too specific: he’s just a laid back cop who likes to flout the rules and his partner and the Chief are a little more straight-laced. The most prominent character has to be Professor Gangreen, who is again played by John Astin, who gives such an over-the-top and dedicated performance that he really steals the show. It’s no surprise that the protagonist’s throught the series change or play minor roles, while Professor Gangreen and his assistant Igor are constantly driving the narrative. There’s not much to their plans other than to conquer the world or something similar, but there really doesn’t need to be.

    As mentioned, the comedy of the film focuses on a fair amount of parody and satire, but it tries to work in other methods of humour too, such as the fourth-wall breaking, which I think worked better in the previous film. There’s definitely some inspiration that’s taken from the Naked Gun film series too, with incidental mishaps that are taking place in the background that provide some slapstick, physical humour. Overall the humour is fairly hit and miss, but there’s a few laughs to be had. This is the first film in the series that gave the the killer tomatoes themselves faces, rather than having them be just actual tomatoes. They look qute expressive and well made, so no complaints there.

    Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is more of the same comedy and parody as in the revious films. It attempts to make itself more relevant by spoofing scenes and tropes from more contemporary films such as Halloween and Lethal Weapon. While some of the jokes land and flow well, others just don’t have enough of an edge. Some of the humour is reliant on the time that the film was released, and so it will be easy to miss some of it if youre not familiar with it. The film is about what you would expect from the franchise though: it is not meant to be polished or serious, it’s just a bit of fun, but the lack of direction does impact that enjoyment a little.