Weekly Round-Up: May 22-28, 2016

This week had limited viewings (I kept falling asleep!), but I managed to get through:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Dizzying (in a good way) trip through time as Wolverine is sent back to the 1970s to prevent Mystique from committing a political assassination. I’m not sure how all the timelines fit together (the events from the first set of X-Men movies don’t fit with what apparently went down in the 1970s) but it’s a decent enough popcorn flick. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) – This later “Elvis in Hawaii” film has weaker music, less joy, and feels deflated compared to the earlier Blue Hawaii (which I loved). Elvis pairs up with a buddy to start a helicopter charter business, but early-30s Elvis seems over the kooky escapades his character is forced into, delivering an unenthusiastic performance. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Troll 2 (1990) – This classic “so-bad-it’s-good” movie features a family on an exchange program to vacation in Nilbog (“Goblin” backwards!) as their son (who has visions of his late grandfather) tries to warn them of the impending danger before it’s too late. Troll 2 also boasts a wonderfully over-the-top performance of Deborah Reed as Creedence, “mother” of the trolls and part-time seductress. RECOMMENDED.

Also, honorable mention for Thank Your Lucky Stars (which I’ve seen before and adore) and Taste of Cherry, both of which I started and fell asleep during.

What did you see last week?

Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)

Madonna: Truth or Dare follows the Queen of Pop on an artistically groundbreaking tour at arguably the height of her popularity. But this film is not only a glimpse at one of the biggest stars in music, at possibly her most important moment; it is the ultimate rock documentary.

The film opens in media res: the Blond Ambition Tour is coming to a close, and Madonna feels mostly numb. She’s too emotionally drained to feel really anything. As the documentary goes back, it’s not hard to see why: between battling the rainy season in Japan for weeks on end, losing her voice, juggling family & friends both beloved & estranged, her relationship with Warren Beatty, plus the threat of criminal charges.

She comes under fire from the Toronto police department, the Vatican, and even her father for a her racy performance. Her updated take on “Like a Virgin” was a genuine controversy back in 1990, and it’s not hard to see why. (Even Miley Cyrus hasn’t pulled something like this!)

In one of the film’s best scenes, Madonna addresses these concerns head-on. She defends herself to the press:

My show is not a conventional rock show, but a theatrical presentation of my music. And, like theater, it asks questions, provokes thoughts, and takes you on an emotional journey: portraying good and bad, light and dark, joy and sorrow, redemption and salvation. I do not endorse a way of life, but describe one – and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.

This nugget is an important one: “I do not endorse a way of life, but describe one.” Many artists, back in 1990 and certainly today, present everything as part of their own brand. Their songs, performances, concerts, are representative and autobiographical of them in some way. Not to say that the Blond Ambition Tour doesn’t have autobiographical elements, but she clarifies that it describes a lifestyle rather than endorsing one, functioning as “a theatrical presentation of [her] music.”

It is often taken for granted that what a pop artist does and says represents them, rather than some persona or character; we do not allow them the artistic license we do a fictional author, a film director, even a traditional musical theater songwriter. This is likely where much of the controversy comes into play: we don’t see Madonna, onstage, as a fictional being within the constructs of her Blond Ambition universe; she is she, herself, which may be why the content is so nerve-rattling for some.

Of course, this is the central conflict of Truth or Dare. At times it is less a concert tour documentary and more an existentialist assessment of Madonna, or any rock star. Her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty comments “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk.” This isn’t hard to believe, given her numerous onstage & on-screen antics, though doesn’t quite fit with whispers about her later in the film: “Madonna does feel more in control when she doesn’t extend her personal emotion, her love, her exposure to sensitivity, too much.” “Madonna’s very difficult to reach. She’s put up many barriers.”

This disconnect is what makes Madonna: Truth or Dare so exciting. Not only do we play witness to two worlds – the grainy, black-and-white labyrinth of hotel rooms and backstage arenas, foiled with the electrifying technicolor concert footage – but multiple, conflicting personalities of Madonna. Like the Blond Ambition Tour, this film makes no clear statement. You don’t walk away feeling one way or the other, but are left with a series of impressions forming a complex image of a supremely talented yet deeply fractured individual.


Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)

Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is a colorful, pulpy, twisted love story, a modern take on Beauty and the Beast.

The main premise is a young man, just released from a mental institution, finds and takes his beloved, a former porno actress trying to go straight, hostage so she may fall in love with him. There are many effectively chilly moments of pursuit and capture between these two.

More complicated, though, and more difficult to understand are the love that grows between them. I’m not entirely sold on her Stockholm Syndrome 180-turn on him, falling in love with her captor. As much pain and violence he endures on her behalf, his courtship is hardly gentlemanly. Perhaps this is part of the greater underlying message, that her life has been so devoid of traditional romance that she’ll take what she can get. Whatever the reasons (love is hardly a rational impulse in the first place), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is not an easy film to understand.

It is, however, an incredibly easy film to watch. It is so beautifully shot, in lurid eye-popping technicolor at picturesque angles and scene composition. You could watch it muted and still be engrossed in the action. The story is also layered with such complexity; it relies on the audience to pay attention to fully track the action that transpires.

While it asks the audience to take some leaps of faith, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is a satisfying pulp satire on contemporary romance.

Metropolitan (1990)

Metropolitan is an entertaining, but emotionally distant, film about young Manhattan socialites, who define themselves not as “preppys” but as the bourgeois youth. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the setting is a timeless New York that sometimes looks like the late 1980s but could really be anytime.

We are presented with a fresh storyline, of sophisticated young adults doing and saying whatever they please. They operate within a kind of legitimate dishonesty; one character considers himself a scholar of literature despite having only read literary criticisms rather than the texts themselves, and another justifies his slander as having a “factual basis.”

The warped vision of morality these characters have is even more striking by how easily we the audience fall into it; in one scene, the excellent and sharp-witted character Tom is confronted for the lies he has spread about his social rival Rick, and we are (or, at least, I was) on his side; for all the manipulation Tom has conducted throughout the film, we shared in that juicy gossip and are just as guilty to be caught in his trap.

In addition to giving us fun dialogue and scenarios, the narrative moves in a believable and logical fashion, despite the somewhat hyperbolic nature of the characters. The group of friends feels tight for a few glorious days, but in the film’s second half, it disintegrates organically, as the “honeymoon” period ends and each follows his or her individual pursuits.

My one disappointment with this film is the lack of emotional engagement; I am a sucker for coming-of-age films and films about witty, sophisticated youth, so the fact that there was no emotional connection sets a ceiling for this film, in my book at least. Metropolitan is a very entertaining, believable, though a not exactly hard-hitting black comedy.