Prince

Prince-purple-Rain

A week before Prince Rogers Nelson left this place (hopefully by now he’s already been checked in and comfortably accommodated in the only place he deserves to move onto–I think they call it Paradise) I watched a DVD of The T.A.M.I. Show, a 1964 showcase of some truly amazing musical talent that was conceived with the now outdated idea of filming artists actually performing live versions of their hits with musicians actually playing real instruments in real time. The lineup featured artists both black and white performing before an auditorium of integrated Santa Monica teens basically having the time of their young lives. James Brown’s astonishing, athletic and otherworldly performance is the one history correctly lauds as the film’s highlight, but everyone–artists, back-up dancers, kids–is fantastic.

The night of the day Prince died, I switched on VH-1 and caught the tail end of Purple Rain, a low-budget, not-always-good movie from 1984 that almost immediately turned into a box office smash because, well, because it’s packed full of some of the greatest pop songs ever written. The movie ends with a concert scene featuring an enormously talented band comprised of musicians of many different and mixed races playing to a wildly enthusiastic crowd made up of people flashing every shade of skin under the sun. The leader of this band gives an astonishing, athletic and otherworldly performance that justifiably launched him into the very highest reaches of popular culture. He never, ever, came down.

2016 has unleashed upon the American people a grotesque parade of tiny, petty, vainglorious creatures all vying for “control” of this country. These politicians (is there an uglier word in the English language these days?) are, all of them, “dividers.”

2016 has also brought us the deaths of people like Prince and David Bowie and Merle Haggard and Maurice White and even Abe freakin’ Vigoda, who were all, God bless them, “uniters.” It’s been a terrible year.

Prince. You know the man, you know the music–there is nothing I could hope to add to his legacy except to observe that we all lived through his reign TOGETHER, shaking our asses and smiling at each other in wonder at the incredible gifts he gave us.

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Blade Runner

blade-runner

This is the movie where the bartender from The Shining is the smartest man in the world, where the batshit crazy chick who tried to claw James Woods’s eyes out (in real life) is a reserved, icy beauty, where the famously taciturn leader of a Florida vice squad chatters away in a self-invented argot culled from six different languages. Where Han Solo isn’t so smug and flippant anymore as the rain incessantly pours down on his head.

In other words, nothing is as it seems, and no one knows that better than Rick Deckard, a replicant hunter who may be a replicant himself. This is as dark as film noir was ever going to get–and it’s a full color science fiction film, for Tyrell’s sake! It’s as dense and wondrous as a dwarf star. It’s art direction has left a legacy in its wake as wide and long as a comet’s tail, and its story gains more relevance with each passing year as A.I. slowly but surely slouches its way into reality.

So–who is Rick Deckard chasing? Well, they are children, really–not quite four years old. But these babies were born fully formed, two girls and two boys, who have only recently become aware that, by design, they really don’t have much more time to “live.”

The two female replicants are Darryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy, a pair of terrifying amazons still possessing enough charm and beauty to make having one’s head crushed to a pulp a demise one might actually look forward to–as long as it were done between those two amazingly athletic thighs.

Brion James is one of those character actors who never gets to play anyone pleasant, so he was certainly qualified to portray Leon Kowalski-a surly sumbitch clinging to what’s left of his existence with dangerously powerful paws.

Which leaves the fourth replicant. If you ask any regular person off the street who Rutger Hauer is, you just might hear a reply along the lines of “Isn’t he that guy Rocky Balboa fought in Rocky IV?”

A good guess, but no. Rutger Hauer is Roy Batty and he’s perfect. Perfect to look at, perfect in the role, and the perfect foil to Rick Deckard’s resigned torpor. He’s the unstoppable engine in a movie that does its very best to avoid any type of kineticism, the hero of a film that doesn’t really have one. The mostly ad-libbed words he speaks at the end to the man who’s been trying to kill him (and whose life he’s just saved) IS what it seems–probably the greatest parting speech in cinematic history:

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”

Eddie Murphy

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I recently read an online article that ranked every cast member of Saturday Night Live and it took me all of about five seconds to crown my personal choice for #1. The list itself was pretty fun to scroll through, and at the bottom, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that the writer had oh-so-predictably picked John Belushi as the “best” SNL cast member ever. John Belushi is one of those sacred cows of comedy who is long overdue to be butchered and served up as a bunch of tasty burgers for some protein-deficient Appalachian kids. He’s barely an SNL top ten. A funny guy at times, but completely overrated. That’s what happens when you die at 33. Were the “Samurai Ford Pinto Salesman” and “Immigrant Cheeseburger Man” really that funny? I don’t think so. (That being said, I would have loved to see his impersonation of Lena Dunham.)

What’s all this got to do with one Edward Regan Murphy? Well, in my eyes he’s the most talented and brilliant cast member SNL has ever had. From Gumby to to “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” to Buckwheat to “Kill My Landlord,” he absolutely, well, killed. But Eddie was so much more than just a player on some dumb late night TV show. He pretty much owned the decade. I didn’t even like him that much back then–I thought he was “too popular” or whatever, but to watch his 80s body of work now, without the distortion of whatever warped “underground-only” sensibilities I possessed back then–is to watch someone barely out of his teens pretty much taking over the world.

Here we had an unapologetically profane BLACK man (and, Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson be damned, let’s not pretend White America was all into cuddling up with black people back then, especially dudes in hot red leather pants who talked a lot about their dicks) who fashioned himself into the most popular celebrity in America. This doesn’t happen “because it’s time.” It takes raw talent, hard work and a whole heapin’ help of that hard to quantify element called charisma. Eddie had all that and more. There really wasn’t any branch of entertainment he didn’t make his own. It went something like this:

Television: the aforementioned SNL, several HBO specials that helped put that young network on the map, and of course his unforgettable role as a randy “walker” on that very special two-part episode of The Golden Girls.

Movies: If you had to make a basketball team out of 5 movies, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Trading Places and Coming To America would be like a starting five of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Dr. J and Hakeem the Dream.

Music: Surely you remember “Party All The Time?”

Fashion: 5 trillion Mumford Phys. Ed. Dept. T-shirts sold!

Things have been, how shall we say, “uneven” ever since. But what major star has ever avoided this? Unless you go and run your Porsche 550 Spyder into a big old Ford coupe or die freebasing in some rented West Hollywood chateau, it’s all part of the celebrity arc. Nobody stays #1 box office champ forever. Still, the man remains capable of raking in hundred of millions of dollars for his studio–things like Shrek and The Nutty Professor practically minted money–as well as delivering critically-acclaimed work in films like Dreamgirls and Bowfinger. He’s also been involved in a lot of truly abysmal efforts moviegoers avoided like you would a bum relieving himself into a San Francisco Examiner box. But he’s still around, and I believe he has some good work left in him. Time will tell. But the 80s, man–the guy was untouchable.

Porky’s

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Porky’s was a phenomenon that a lot of people wanted to do something about but couldn’t. It was a box office smash. The teens loved it, the critics hated it, parents either foamed at the mouth about it or shrugged their shoulders knowing full well that they had been kids once, too. But nobody could stop its raunchy momentum as it rolled through the spring and summer of ’82 sweeping up dollars like so many green-backed butterflies.

Those who denounced this movie as sexist somehow failed to notice that the guys get naked more than the girls. Speaking of which, given its reputation, I re-watched this the other day thinking it was 90 minutes of wall-to-wall T and A, but in fact, there is exactly one scene with female nudity. That being said, Porky’s “shower scene” remains as famous as D-Day (the historic event, not the mustachioed frat brother in Animal House) and it’s a long one, showcasing plenty of that currently out-of-fashion body accessory known as pubic hair.

There’s another thing I learned about this movie after 30 years away. It’s not very funny at all. It tries to be, it tries really hard, in fact, but only ever manages to rise to the level of mildly amusing. And yet, it is fun to watch–very enjoyable, in fact. What it’s really about–and what the critics way back when were too scandalized by 45 seconds of full-frontal bush to notice, is that it’s a movie about friendship. Friendship between buddies, teammates, siblings, teachers and students, cops and kids, and yes, males and females (the girls razz the guys just as much as they get razzed and both genders seem to actually respect each other). Believe it or not, Porky’s–everybody’s perceived poster child for sexploitation cinema, actually has a good heart.

So when everybody in Angel Beach pulls together to humiliate that scum-sucking pig Porky and his rotten henchman just across the county line, it’s like watching your favorite team defeat its biggest rival. And then PeeWee loses his cherry and all is right with the world.

The Warriors

the warriors

I’m going to cheat a little here, because this movie was actually released in 1979, but I may not have seen it until 1980 when it was broadcast on HBO. Or maybe it was “late ’79” when I saw it. But let’s not split hairs over such technicalities–it’s going to be a fun entry, I promise!

If you were a teen or pre-teen or even an adult with a love for mayhem back then, seeing the trailer for this movie was a form of torture, because you wanted to see it right that very moment, and not three months or so in the future. It was tantalizing stuff. All those different gangs! Chasing after one gang! Across the five boroughs of New York! All in one epic night!

Thankfully, the movie lived up to those lofty expectations, and then some. Every single gang was cool as shit, some more than others. I’d say the dudes in overalls and roller skates were the least coolest and the Baseball Furies the coolest, although man, those pinstriped greasepaint fanatics were just about the worst brawlers ever. You guys have BATS fer Chrissake! The military-like ruthlessness of the Gramercy Riffs was downright scary while the Turnbull AC’s looked like the entire CBGB’s Sunday afternoon hardcore matinee had just hijacked a school bus with “trouble on their mind.” Each gang had its own personality and mythology–it was like The Lord of The Rings for kids who would never tolerate those kind of effete fairy tales. (For the record, I loved both.)

I used to have dreams about being asked, nay, demanded, to hang out with The Lizzies (who thought that name up–the scriptwriter’s 11 year-old son?) at their clubhouse just like The Warriors did and you can pretty much guess how those dreams invariably ended–with some very untidy tighty whities!

The Warriors themselves, what with the tight jeans and leather vests over bare chests, looked like their home turf should have been Christopher Street instead of Coney Island, but I guess those issues were being addressed that same year by Al Pacino over in Cruising. In any case, they managed to be some pretty likeable guys. You rooted for them, even though they weren’t exactly pillars of society.

And who, exactly, were you rooting against? Well, the actor had three names–just like a serial killer–and his character’s name was Luther. David Patrick Kelley put the “scum” in Scumbag for this one, and his demented, finger bottle-playing, sing-song “baiting call” is still quoted to this day by people as diverse as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bubba Watson. And when the Riffs slice him up into chum, you stand up and cheer.

The influence of this movie is very real and lasts to this day. I once ventured out to Sheepshead Bay in hopes of saving $50 on a Marin hybrid bicycle I had my eyes on. I was in enemy territory, although I didn’t know it at first. I found out pretty quickly when a football, zipped in a tightly thrown spiral, smacked me right in the temple. It was off the arm of the leader of a gang called the Football Elis, a modern-day knock-off of the aforementioned Baseball Furies. They wore shoulder pads over their wife beaters, baggy jeans and Breathe-Right strips on their noses. I quickly scurried back to the Q train, dazed and frightened, and bought my damn bike in Manhattan. It cost a bit more, but at least I was back among the safety of my own “home gang”–the Soho Ciprianis. Our clubhouse is on West Broadway near Broome–stop by sometime and have a Bellini!

Rob Lowe

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If you were a guy in the 80s, you hated Rob Lowe at first sight. Because you had seen him. If you fancied yourself a good-looker, a real Don Juan of the rollerskating rink, so to speak, you were humbled. If you weren’t good-looking and knew it but had finally come to somehow accept it, laying eyes on Rob was still alarming. It was like God was “rubbing it in.” It was like our Creator saying, “See what I can create when I actually try? See how lazy I was the day I decided to fling you together out of spoiled cold cuts and a bunch of old wire hangers I had sitting around? See?”

Because the guy was downright perfect-looking. As Jim Belushi says to him in …About Last Night: “The best thing that could happen to you is an industrial accident.”

Well, that didn’t happen but a different kind of tragedy did. After impressing Francis Ford Coppola enough to cast him as Sodapop Curtis in The Outsiders–a movie that was basically the giving tree of 80s child actors–Rob, more so than any of them, and that includes Tom Cruise, seemed destined for major stardom. For a short while, he thrived, playing cocky, handsome rakes and smug assholes. Something happened in the late 80s, though, a certain pioneering incident involving a sex tape that sent his career off course for quite a while. Perhaps people really were outraged about his hotel room tape at the time, but now the footage looks as innocent as a Davey and Goliath cartoon compared to the clips that have followed. America seemed to realize this, and Rob slowly worked his way back into the public’s good graces, almost primarily working on television.

A lot of his comeback, I think, had to do with his own good nature. If he had come across like an off-screen dick the way, say, Judd Nelson always had, he may very well have been shunned forever. He hasn’t made any significant forays back onto the big screen yet, and perhaps he never will, but I don’t think he cares. He does television series (I think several at the same time at points, or maybe it just seems that way), made for TV movies (including a highly entertaining one about white trash hottie/murderess Casey Anthony) and even DirecTV ads. In these he plays himself opposite a bizarro world alter-ego, but this latter is one role he doesn’t quite pull off–even in full “super creep” make-up, you can see the sweet, grounded guy behind the mask.

The Outsiders

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It’s as heavy-handed as someone trying to text with boxing gloves, the script could have been a lot better given the source material, and it really drags in parts, but nevertheless, if you are of a certain age, there is no way you cannot like this movie. Coppola was such a huge talent–it’s incredible, mind-blowing, even, to think that this is the last truly great film he ever directed.

The real story of this story, however, is the number of careers it launched. Francis and his casting director reeled in enough young talent to fill a “short bus.”

In the display case of Posterity, Ralph Macchio is pinned down forever in the elegant pose of The Crane, but he does a decent enough job playing a dirty-faced wastrel here. Still, let’s face it, he’s the Karate Kid now and forever, everything else he’s done is irrelevant.

Patrick Swayze prowls around the Curtis household like an agitated panther, and on rumble night gets to show off the physical skills he’d later use to great effect as Johnny Castle, executing a nice half turn handstand and dismount off the top of a chain link fence with the ease of someone tying their damn shoe.

I remember re-watching this not long ago and thinking C. Thomas Howell is fourteen? Could’ve fooled me, he looks like he should be hanging out with the college-aged crazies of Less Than Zero. Except that the joke was on me because he was fourteen when they filmed it. No wonder I never win a plush animal at the “Guess My Age” booth at the county fair!

Emilio Estavez brings such awe-inspiring levels of EKG-flatlining stupidity to his role you’d swear he was channeling his half-brother Charlie.

As a real life drug-addicted jerk-off playing a drunk preppy asshole, it’s not surprising that Leif Garret nails his role so well that when he gives his life for the Soc cause you want to not only cheer but stroll over and give his madras-draped carcass a kick or two.

“DO IT FOR JOHNNY, MAN!!!!” Matt Dillon and only Matt Dillon could get away with a line reading like that, punctuating things even further by stabbing a big hole in a perfectly good hospital bed for good measure. The truth is, he does well enough in this movie that when the Tulsa cops lay waste to him, you really do feel sad.

Rob Lowe looks just like Ash from Pokemon in this!

Last but not least, this movie provides a rare (and perhaps only) opportunity to see Tom Cruise bare his natural born choppers on the big screen. The effect is staggering–he looks like some Okie Nosferatu. No surprise that he took his check from this film and fixed that shit up real quick!

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot–my God, Diane Lane looks too beautiful in this film to even look at, let alone speak to. I mean, really, where did those greasers get the nerve!

The only thing missing is a James Spader cameo–can’t you just picture him playing the older brother of one of the Socs, arriving right before the rumble starts, having driven all the way up from SMU in his Lancia Fulvia for the sole purpose of making some sneering remarks at Darry and crew? He would never actually fight, of course, but observe the proceedings whilst slouching against the fender of his car puffing on a Dunhill.

Even without that, The Outsiders is a movie worth seeing!