Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)

“She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk.”

Truth Dare Poster

Synopsis:
Director Alek Keshishian documents Madonna’s grueling Blonde Ambition tour.

Genres:

  • Documentary
  • Musicians
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Review:
This behind-the-scenes documentary about the world’s most reinvented pop music star is primarily notorious for its depiction of Madonna’s no-holds-barred attitude towards sex — most notably, her infamous “bottle blow job” (see still below). Viewed sixteen years later, the film’s depiction of “sex” (there is none) seems decidedly tame, yet the documentary itself remains a welcome snapshot of Madonna at the peak of her power: she’s muscular, beautiful, domineering, driven, spiritual, and nurturing, and — while not exactly likable (she’s undeniably a Diva in her petulant demands and complaints) — it’s difficult not to admire the relentless energy and artistic ambition which brought her her fame and fortune.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be one of the most popular icons in the world — someone who struggles to think of a celebrity she hasn’t yet met — look no further: Madonna allows filmmaker Alex Keshishian unprecedented access to the minutiae of her life, both with and without makeup, in and out of bed, on and off stage. She’s not afraid to let us see her clear distaste for Kevin Costner (who refers to her show as “neat” — she turns around and gags), or to admit her enormous crush on Antonio Banderas (she’s distressed to learn he’s already married). With that said, as noted by Hal Hinson of the Washington Post (see review link below), “what we [ultimately] get is the mask beneath the mask”, with Madonna’s calculated voice-over (it should have been left out) ironically distancing us from what we’re seeing. Even as we watch Madonna visiting her mother’s grave, naming ex-husband Sean Penn as her one true love, or acting righteous over Toronto’s threat to throw her in jail for indecency, we get the sense she’s performing; indeed, how could it be otherwise?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fascinating portrayal of Madonna’s behind-the-scenes management
    Truth Dare Backstage
  • An eye-opening glimpse at the rigors of non-stop touring
    Truth Dare Tongue
  • Enjoyable snippets from her live performances
    Truth Dare Concert21
  • The infamous “bottle scene”
    Truth Dare Bottle

Why is This a Must See Film?

Links:

Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, The (1989)

“He’s dead. They stuffed him with pages torn from his favorite book. Could you cook him?”

CTWL Poster

Synopsis:
When a boorish restaurant owner (Michael Gambon) discovers that his wife (Helen Mirren) has been having an affair with a customer (Alan Howard), he seeks gruesome revenge — but Mirren strikes back, enlisting the help of the restaurant’s sympathetic chef (Richard Bohringer).

Genres:

  • Black Comedy
  • Cannabilism
  • Infidelity
  • Revenge

Review:
Peter Greenaway’s highly stylized, sexually explicit black comedy is not an easy movie to sit through, and will likely be a “once see” for most film fanatics. While clearly meant to be viewed symbolically rather than literally — most critics readily acknowledge the film as a political allegory for Margaret Thatcher’s corrupt, class-based government — the fact remains that the scenario played out on screen is deeply disturbing, as we watch a dangerous game of wills between domineering husband and cowed wife head inexorably towards its gruesome denouement. Fortunately, Greenaway’s lush, color-drenched visuals — and the remarkably sexy middle-aged Mirren — are enough to hold one’s attention most of the time, while the truly shocking final scene makes the remainder of this notorious film worth suffering through.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Helen Mirren as “the wife”
    CTWL Mirren
  • Michael Gambon as “the thief”
    CTWL Gambon
  • Marvelously detailed set designs
    CTWL Set Designs
  • Playful use of color schemes
    CTWL Red
  • The infamous final revenge scene
    CTWL Revenge

Why is This a Must See Film?

Links:

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

”Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind.”

Lilo Stitch Poster 2

Synopsis:
An orphaned Hawaiian girl named Lilo (Daveigh Chase) adopts a strange-looking “dog”, Stitch (Chris Sanders), from the pound, not realizing that he’s an alien experiment on the lam. Unfortunately, Stitch causes havoc wherever he goes, and makes life difficult for Lilo’s older sister Nani (Tia Carrere), who is trying desperately to convince social worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) that she is capable of raising Lilo on her own.

Genres:

  • Aliens
  • Animated Features
  • Character Arc
  • Fugitives
  • Misfits
  • Orphans
  • Pets
  • Raising Kids
  • Siblings

Review:
This most unusual Disney film has received its fair share of scathing reviews, with James Berardinelli of Reel Views calling it “easily Disney’s worst animated feature since before The Black Cauldron“, and Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle referring to it as “tiresome”. Others, however, agree with me that it’s a remarkably enjoyable, respectful fantasy — one which expertly mixes heartbreaking social drama with droll humor and far-out adventure. As noted by Roger Ebert, it’s “funny, sassy, startling, [and] original”, with “as much stuff in it for grown-ups as for kids.”

Lilo and Stitch’s most noticeable feature is its inspired setting — a Hawaiian island on which natural-looking locals (with brown skin, broad noses, and less-than-svelte bodies) eke out a living amongst overweight, sunburnt tourists (how often do we get to see Hawaii from this perspective?). Equally refreshing is screenwriter Chris Sanders’ no-holds-barred depiction of a “broken family”, with Lilo and Nani realistically demonstrating both love and exasperation with one another (I love when Lilo yells at Nani, “You rotten sister, your butt is crushing me! Why do you act so weird?!”). While some critics have labeled Lilo merely a spoiled brat (Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly refers to her as a “temperamental Hawaiian girl who’s the whiniest of whiny brats”), this designation fails to acknowledge Lilo’s difficult situation: what child wouldn’t react dramatically upon the sudden death of both parents? To this end, while Gleiberman complains that there’s no realistic connection between Lilo and Stitch, I think their relationship is perfectly realized: Lilo has finally come upon a creature more squirrelly than herself, and is — fortunately — able to sublimate her frustration into a noble attempt to “tame” Stitch.

Lilo and Stitch is full of countless memorable, true-to-life moments. One of my favorite small exchanges in the film takes place in the pound, when Lilo insists on paying the two dollars for Stitch herself; Nani — with quiet resignation — gives Lilo the money, only to take it right back from her and hand it to the clerk. Other scenes are more bizarre but equally humorous — such as Lilo’s repeated attempts to turn Stitch into a fellow Elvis-phile. While the sequences between Stitch’s alien captors (often parodying Men in Black) aren’t quite as brilliant, they nonetheless retain the film’s quirky edge, and are perfectly suited to the far-out story. Lilo and Stitch merits repeat viewings in order to notice and enjoy its many inspired qualities, and is certainly a modern “must see” for film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Believable rapport between the two sisters
    LAS Sisters
  • A refreshing story about a “broken”, non-white family doing its best to survive
    LAS Family
  • Nani’s initial encounter with Bubbles at her front door
    LAS Initial Encounter
  • Lilo insisting on paying the two dollars at the pound herself
    LAS Pound
  • Stitch creating and then destroying a model city of San Francisco in Lilo’s bedroom
    LAS San Francisco
  • Stitch trying in vain to create a sandcastle like Lilo’s
    LAS Sandcastle
  • Agent Pleakley’s misguided notion that mosquitoes are an endangered species on Earth
    LAS Mosquitoes
  • Lilo discovering that Stitch can act as a record player
    LAS Record Plahyer
  • Countless hilarious one-liners:
    • “Oh, good — my dog found the chainsaw!”
      LAS Chainsaw
    • “Thus far you have been adrift in the sheltered harbor of my patience…”
      LAS Bubbles
    • “No! That’s from my blue period!”
      LAS Blue Period
  • Lovely watercolor animation
    LAS Animation
  • Chris Sanders’ smart, respectful script
    LAS Script

Why is This a Must See Film?

Links: