Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Purple Rain

As most of you know, an icon has passed and there is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already by celebrities, friends, family, passers-by on the street, radio and TV personalities…it’s all been said and I’ve shared the same feelings and words, both internally and outwardly to whomever will listen.  Prince was part of my childhood; he was the epitome of the 80s for me, boldly representing that era during my teen years and I will never forget that time of my life. 

Back in 1981, I had never heard of Prince until I had started listening to dance music on the radio that year.  The two songs I do remember first hearing from him left me captivated and in awe just by the difference in sound he had from the rest of the bands and singers from that time.  I don’t know which I’d heard first, but it was “Do Me, Baby” and “Controversy” that had my ears pricking and listening with furtive attention.  The choice to sing in falsetto seemed so cool and the funk in the title track of that fourth album was addictive, it really changed my life from there on out.  At that time, I had become a Prince fan for life.

Being so young and sheltered made it impossible to acquire that album at that time, so I had to wait another year with the release of “1999” before I officially owned a Prince album.  During those years of the early 80s, cassettes were all the rage and that’s the media I had chosen to listen to his fifth album, and I wore out that tape with the constant playing, rewinding, playing, rewinding…I soon had to buy the vinyl record to appreciate the album all over again.

And it was a yearly event, with the exception of 1983, that you could count on Prince releasing an album.  1983, of course, was the year that Prince obviously prepared for his acting debut in the motion picture, Purple Rain, which is why he hadn’t released an album that year. 

It’s strange, especially after hearing the confirmation of his death a few days ago, but during the year of 1983, a rumor began swirling about his death and I believed it to be true, just for the fact that he hadn’t released his yearly album at that time.  Of course, seeing as there was no such thing as the internet to check whether or not it was true, my friends and I had to wait until the announcement of his upcoming album, “Purple Rain,” to breathe a sigh of relief.

And if I had called myself a Prince fan before the 1984 album and movie was released, I became a Prince extremist afterwards.  The two albums I’d owned were not enough, I went back and bought his first album—“For You,” his second—“Prince,” third—“Dirty Mind,” and the one that created my fanaticism for him and his music—“Controversy.”  It went that way for years, buying his album right when it was released, listening to them day-in and day-out, blasting his music in my bedroom and in my car’s stereo, searching for his extended versions and B-sides that he’d become known for…anything and everything I could get my hands on regarding Prince is how I’d lived my life.  I’d bought books on his life, reading any magazine that featured him on the cover, learning in awe about how he taught himself to master more than 20 instruments and how he played all the instruments on his first few albums…Prince became more and more amazing to me with every fact I’d read about him.

With all that said, this review may be a bit predisposed, but I’ll try to keep a neutral head and look at it in an impartial state of mind.  With that said…I present my view of…Purple Rain.

A young musician, The Kid (Prince), tormented by an abusive situation at home, must contend with a rival singer, a burgeoning romance, and his own dissatisfied band, as his star begins to rise.

I’ll never forget, seeing this flick for the first time, how the Warner Bros. logo appeared with the low, guttural synthesizer humming as a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen…The Revolution!” and that hum blended into the more melodic synthesizer of the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” with Prince preaching, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”  Never attending a Prince concert at that time, I felt a charge, an electric energy gathering in the crowd that pulsed through me as the screen lit up with Prince’s silhouette in the middle of the screen…I’ve never felt that way since, no matter what movie I’ve seen.  I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I’d never seen Prince in concert before this movie was released.  He did have a big tour that went through the Bay Area to support his “1999” album that I was dying to see—but my parents wouldn’t hear of me going.  Even after this movie was released, in 1985, the “Purple Rain Tour” travelled through again, breaking records of selling out six shows at the Cow Palace in four hours…I couldn’t go.  With each of those concerts, it was difficult to attend school the following days and see dozens of my classmates wearing Prince concert shirts, wishing I could’ve attended the shows.  So seeing Purple Rain for the first time?  It was like my first Prince concert…and it was wild!

Sorry for the digression.

Now, I can’t pretend that this movie is perfect or that it should’ve been a contender for Best Picture, nor can I say that any of the acting is above average.  But this movie defines the generation I’d grown up in and what my life had been about back then—the music of Prince!  However, to critique this film fairly, I need to put on my blinders, look at the movie from a reviewer’s perspective, so let’s do this…but I’ll still interject some Prince Fanboy points.

Before this movie was released, a lot of us Prince Fans knew of his beginnings, especially his time performing at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis.  So it was really fun to see that the actual club was used in the movie—both the interior and exterior.  As a teenager, I’d wished that I could visit that club and see all the larger-than-life musicians that frequented the venue.  Seeing where Prince had his start and getting a view into his life as the promising pop star he was becoming was fantastic to see as an adolescent.  All in all, I think it was a great choice to film most of the movie in Minnesota, which probably made Prince feel a hell of a lot more comfortable with the whole process of making this groundbreaking film.

The movie does feature two established actors—Olga Karlatos and Clarence Williams III—who play Prince’s parents in the film.  Both keep the film rooted when it comes to the drama, especially the miserable scenes between the two as they display the dysfunctional parents to the up-and-coming musician.  Some of the scenes are hard to watch as it displays some harsh domestic violence, but it lends to Prince’s performance as the son who witnesses the abuse his father inflicts upon his mother.  To this day, those scenes move me, especially the interaction of all three, and it stands out above all else in the movie.

Apollonia Kotero was also an accomplished actress, but back then—and even now—I feel her acting was a bit wooden in this flick.  Perhaps it was the direction she was given, maybe it’s what Prince wanted from her…I don’t know.  However, there did seem to be quite a chemistry between them throughout this film and it was felt from the moment their characters had met in the story.  And it was Apollonia who finally softens Prince up to show us a different side of him that we’d never seen before.  The playful, yet hilarious, interaction between them at the lake definitely sets the mood in bringing together their relationship.

The music!  What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the soundtrack to this film?  Each song is incredible and memorable, each fitting into the specific scenes and capturing the emotions of the characters during the course of the film.  Who can forget Prince’s “Darling Nikki” as he basically dishes out their dirty laundry in front of everybody, eliciting Apollonia to break down in tears and run out of the club?  And at the climax of the film, after everything that The Kid goes through—losing his love, his father attempting suicide, his musical career hanging by a thread—when he sings the hauntingly melodic “Purple Rain”…I choked up then and I choke up now when watching.  Even the music from the other bands were entertaining—especially from Morris Day and The Time—and had you dancing in your seat.

Speaking of Morris Day…he had quite a lot of weight on his shoulders.  In Purple Rain, he played the villain and comic relief…when the focus wasn’t on Prince’s character, all eyes were on Morris.  Just like Prince, this was Morris Day’s acting debut and he wasn’t all that bad.  Keeping his “cool” persona complete, he added the over-the-top character that the film needed.  With Jerome Benton, Morris’s right-hand man at his side to pick out dust from his jacket or to hold up his mirror, the two were a very funny comedic duo.  The film’s memorable scene where they make a plan for Morris to approach Apollonia at the club had the crowd in stitches when I’d first watched this and I remember cracking up as well.  Recalling the movie reviews back then, one critic compared that scene to Abbott & Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” skit and I kind of agree.  As Nicolas Cage would say, that’s high praise.

The film also gives most of Prince’s band supple screen time—some very little, some exceedingly so.  I’d been, and still am, surprised how fine a job Wendy Melvoin does in her scene where she confronts The Kid on whether or not he’d consider playing music her and keyboardist, Lisa Coleman, had composed.  The quip by keyboardist, Matt Fink (Dr. Fink), still makes me smile, although it’s very sexist.  Even the drummer, Bobby Z., gets a line.  It’s just poor Brown Mark, the bassist, who only gets to give subtle looks here and there.  Besides Prince’s band, a lot of his entourage and former band mate—not to mention Prince’s then bodyguard, Chick Huntsberry—get quite a bit of time in the film as well.

Looking back, now as an adult and seeing this movie objectively, I must say that Warner Bros. really took a chance with this film.  We all know Prince became a megastar because of Purple Rain, but he wasn’t that well-known beforehand and that was quite a gamble—one that paid off—for the studio to take.  Then again, he was making quite a bit of money for them in their music division of the company…but they definitely saw something special in Prince and their gamble paid off multifold.

Also, nowadays, I do see some problems with the story, especially the relationship between The Kid and Apollonia.  The violence portrayed, with a man hitting a woman, is very hard to watch in this day and age.  What’s worse is that there’s no direct consequence to The Kid’s actions as Apollonia apparently forgives him at the end of the movie, having her dance in the crowd and smiling as The Kid prevails.  Who knows?  Maybe the Kid went into anger management after the conclusion of “Baby, I’m a Star” or Apollonia told him she couldn’t forgive him, but that he put on a great show…we really don’t know.  But if this movie was released today, it’d be criticized for its message it sends out about domestic violence.  I realize it was showing that The Kid was following in his father’s footsteps, becoming the kind of man he despised his father to be, and finally realizing it at the end…but for today’s standards, there should’ve been a more substantial conclusion to their complex relationship.

Nevertheless, Purple Rain is monumental.  The film is an experience from start to finish and I, for one, am so thankful I had been able to see this—and see it multiple times—when it was first released in 1984.  It was a great decade to be a teenager, a fun time to watch movies, and a wonderful era to enjoy Prince’s catalogue of music.  Even though the film is over 30 years old and Prince has gone through an array of styles—both in hair and clothing—he will forever be remembered for his look in 1984.  Those long wavy locks, frilly clothing full of buttons, lace gloves and flair, and made-up face with pencil-thin mustache, will be reminisced until the end of time.

Yes, we’re all mourning the death of this legendary icon, but we should all be thankful that we had nearly 38 years of his music and will probably have more for years to come—Prince’s locked-away music enduring and hopefully released to the masses soon.

But my final “bit” on Purple Rain?

Prince fan or not, this movie is solid, although 80s-esque through-and-through, you’ll have a good time with the music, you’ll be moved by the drama, you’ll laugh at the humor…overall, you’re going to go through an array of emotions before the final credits roll.  If you’re a Prince fan like me, the ending of the film—with Prince turning to look straight into the camera as the film freezes—will have an emotional impact.  I’m not going to lie…when the movie ran recently on VH1, a lump in my throat formed and my eyes teared up. 

The world has lost an amazing man, a masterful musician, an artist, a singer who broke down musical barriers…we will truly never have another one like Prince…ever.

Prince Rogers Nelson
June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016

San Andreas

I’d first learned about the San Andreas Fault in California way back in 1978 when it was introduced as a plot device in Superman as Lex Luthor talked, at length, about what could theoretically happen if a missile were to detonate on a precise point of the fault.  When giving a definition of the fault, Christopher Reeve, as The Man of Steel, said it best: “It’s the joining together of two land masses.  The fault is unstable and shifting, which is why you get earthquakes in California from time to time.”  Living here, myself, I know it all to be too true.

I’ve felt many earthquakes in my time here and was living in Santa Clara when the Loma Prieta quake hit in 1989, not only interrupting the World Series as the Oakland Athletics were destroying—and continued to destroy in a four-game sweep—the San Francisco Giants, but interrupting life within the Bay Area.  Although most of the media coverage was on San Francisco and Oakland (due to the damage of the buildings and structures), the epicenter of the earthquake was only 18 miles away from where I’d lived.  So, seeing any movie about this subject matter really gives me a little bit of unease, which is what I’d felt when seeing the advertisements for San Andreas.

I’ve got to say, when first witnessing the trailers and TV spots, what came to mind, instantly, was the film, 2012.  The similarities are there—not only in the trailers, but the whole movie as well—so you can’t help but make that association.  However, seeing that the film had an adequate leading man right for this action piece, I’d started to think this film had a chance to be head and shoulders above that Roland Emmerich disaster flick.

Now, before getting into my thoughts of this flick, here’s a quick summary of the story.

In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), makes a dangerous journey with his ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), across the state in order to rescue his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

It was pretty obvious what most of this film was going to feature before I’d even watched it—I knew it was going to be a big disaster flick, with buildings falling, tidal waves jetting, crevices opening, cars crashing, people running…just complete chaos…so I knew I shouldn’t have gone into this movie
expecting a magnum opus.  See, if you go into the movie with your brain turned off, you’ll have a lot of fun with it.  With all the movies I’ve seen in my life—especially the crazy, yet great, movies of the 1980s—I’m pretty much a connoisseur of suspending disbelief before heading into a movie.  If you go into this with the desire to see accurate accounts of catastrophes or needing to have logical scenarios explained within the narrative, you won’t enjoy yourself.

I’m of the mind that if they want to show helicopters moving unrealistically in order to save someone from a car teetering over a cliff’s edge or having a boat just barely getting over the crest of a near 90 degree wave, I’ll be at the edge of my seat, chomping away at my popcorn with a big smile on my face.  I’ll even accept the gobbledygook and technobabble some scientific expert (Paul Giamatti as Dr. Lawrence Hayes) will spout out to explain how the earthquakes travel from Las Vegas through Southern California all the way up north to the Bay Area (yes, all that is given within the story’s exposition).  Just as I was enthusiastic about people outrunning freezing temps in The Day After Tomorrow, I was just as excited to see The Rock swerving in and out of the paths of falling buildings with his chopper.

So, yes, the plot is pretty threadbare here…but it’s not about the story in this, is it?  Nope.  It’s about the eye-candy you’ll see in the special effects department and it is pretty cool to behold. 

One scene I especially like in this film is something that brings a recollection of an account my father told me one time.  He was born and lived in the Azores as a child, coming to America in his twenties.  Being that the islands had a lot of volcanic activity throughout the years, they sometimes had earthquakes.  He told me about a time he was walking down the road when one hit, explaining that when he looked on into the distance, he said the land just rolled and shifted like a giant piece of paper blowing in the wind.  I’d always thought about that story and wondered how that actually would’ve appeared.  In one quick part in San Andreas, one such scene exists and it is breathtaking.

Although the cast don’t really have much to work with in regards to a story, they all are believable in their roles and complement each other well.  Johnson, especially, shines as the hero and I’m just glad he’s hasn’t been doing too many silly family films (although I see he’s rumored to star in Journey to the Center of the Earth 4).  I don’t know about most people, but I really feel Dwayne
Johnson has so much potential to be such a huge action star.  It seems like the right movie just hasn’t come along yet.  Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s had a great oeuvre of films, but I think there’s just something missing.  Maybe it’s because it’s been discreetly touted that he was to inherit the movie throne from Schwarzenegger and I base my expectations on that.  I guess I just want to see Johnson play a terminator…just give me that and I’ll finally accept him as a certified movie god.

So, my final “bit” on San Andreas?

It’s a fun movie to relax, zone out your mind, and just watch for the action and excitement of it.  It’s still titillating and thought-provoking (hey, I Googled “San Andreas” soon after watching this, wondering where it was, exactly, and how likely it could cause half of California to fall into the ocean), so it’s not boring…trust me on that.  It’s just a big, dumb disaster movie that you’ll enjoy.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Who would have thought, back in 1976, when the world was introduced to Sylvester Stallone in the movie, Rocky, that we would’ve had sequels to that film up until 2015?  After the abysmal Rocky V in 1990 (although I liked it), I didn’t think we’d ever see that character again.  Auspiciously, we do get another upshot of the Rocky saga, this time as a spinoff, making the son of Apollo Creed the centralized character of the story.

I’ve got to admit, when I’d first heard of this film being made, I thought it wouldn’t have seen the light of day, mainly because I didn’t think Stallone was going to be a part of the film.  Even when the movie was released, I really didn’t have any intention of going to see it, thinking that maybe Sly was going to make an appearance in the form of a cameo or that the story was just going to be a rehash of the first movie, only with the son of Apollo Creed as the boxing character.  I really can’t put my finger on why I decided to sit this movie out, but I can say, now, it was a mistake that I had.

As Oscar season had come around and the buzz surrounding the movie became prominent—not to mention the whole snubbing of black actors making headlines—I had become interested in seeing the film.  Not only had I paid attention to Stallone being nominated for his supporting role in the film, but I’d also kept tabs on the discussions encompassing the performance of Michael B. Jordan.  By the time the Academy Awards had come and gone, I really wanted to see Creed.

Finally, the film made its way onto the home media platform of DVD, so I placed it at the top of my Netflix queue and awaited its arrival (which was the other day).

Here’s the synopsis, with a little help from IMDb.com…

In Creed, the former World Heavyweight Champion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), serves as trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), who is the son of his late friend and former rival, Apollo Creed.  As Adonis tries to make a name for himself at first, he eventually takes on the name of his father when he’s given the chance to fight ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) for the belt of the Light Heavyweight Championship.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie at home (that isn’t a comic book movie) in which I’ve been enthralled from beginning to end.  I guess it helps that I’m a huge Rocky fan and have seen all the movies in the saga multiple times.  When I’d first watched the first two movies in my preteen years, I’d wanted to pursue boxing and couldn’t get enough of it, constructing makeshift boxing gloves from tisse-paper-padded socks and making my brother be my sparring partner.  I’d given our first family dog the name of “Rocky” back in 1981 which shows how much I’d loved the first two films.  With all that said, it’s not hard to believe that I’d enjoyed this movie entirely.

Now, I’d mentioned earlier that there was a lot of talk about Stallone’s performance as Balboa, but my attention was focused on Jordan’s take as the son of Creed.  Let’s face it, Sly has been this character for 40 years…it’s not a stretch to see him put on the fedora, bounce a rubber ball around, and speaking Philadelphia-street slang.  Seeing this outsider, Michael B. Jordan—who was born in 1987 and, like the character he plays here, after the character of Apollo Creed was killed off in Rocky IV—take on this role and did it so brilliantly, shows you what a wonderful actor Jordan can be.  I really take umbrage with the Academy to snub this individual, but I’ve never paid attention to the Oscars and feel it’s all a sham of a bunch of self-absorbed and out-of-touch people who hardly ever get it right, in my opinion.  One day Michael B. Jordan will be up on that stage, accepting an Oscar for some performance, I really can see that coming for him.

It’s good to return to the world we’d seen in the 1976 film—man, the streets of Philadelphia haven’t changed in all these years, huh?—so it feels like a Rocky movie through-and-through.  I know we’d kind of got that feel from the previous movie, Rocky Balboa, but that movie—as good as it was and I loved it—it was too much a downer as we saw it as a melancholy piece and the character’s goodbye to the franchise, but this film is a breath of fresh air as we can see this as a new saga to continue.

I like the story they tell here, although it’s a bit convenient to add the exposition that Apollo Creed had an extramarital affair before he died that produced a son of the right age for this film (the kids we’d seen in Rocky and Rocky II must be in their forties by now).  When I’d first heard about this film being made, it was said that the film was going to center around the grandson of Apollo Creed, so that might’ve been one of the earlier drafts they’d been looking into to solve the appropriate age problem of the main character.

If I’ve got any nits to pick, it would be the background of Adonis character.  It seemed like he wasn’t really that down-and-out when he arrives in Philly to start his career in boxing, looking like he could’ve returned to his life back in Los Angeles with his adopted mother, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), at any time…maybe even going back to his financial advisor job he’d previously quit to pursue boxing.  I never really thought he had anything to lose as we even see, in the beginning of the movie, how he travels to Mexico on the weekends to fight matches.  But that’s a minor observance and certainly has no bearing on the story as a whole.

The chemistry between Stallone and Jordan is great—and I mean GREAT—from the moment they meet and get to know one another.  I like how they bring the secret match between Balboa and Creed we’d seen at the end of Rocky III into their first encounter, which they finally give us an answer as to who’d won that fight.  Certainly, there are a lot of props given to Carl Weathers during this film—you really can’t have this movie without the character’s mention—and Stallone shows, both in character and probably in real life, his respect for the actor/character, Carl Weathers/Apollo Creed.

Like the previous movie, the movie brings in a real boxer, Tom Bellew, to play the part of the adversary, Ricky Conlan.  Unlike the previous movie, however, Bellew has some pretty good acting chops and you truly gain a hate for him, making you root for Jordan’s character to beat the shit out of him in their fight.  Yet, we really don’t see Bellew’s character all that much, and I feel that might be a detriment to the story, especially comparing it to the 1976 film where we see the personal side of the antagonist in that story.  It would’ve been nice to see a more three-dimensional representation of his character, giving us some insight into his anger issues he displays early on in the film, maybe showing us a closer look into his personal life.

The romance between Adonis and his neighbor-turned-girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson)—the local singer he discovers her to be when visiting the club where she performs—was a nice touch, letting us see Adonis is just not all about boxing.

And speaking of music, the film showcases some familiar nods, but goes into quite a few unique cues to help this movie establish itself as an original feature.

Lastly, I was very surprised to see that this movie wasn’t written by Stallone, but was penned—as well as directed by—by Ryan Coogler.  I’ve heard some good things about him, especially the docu-
drama, Fruitvale Station, which was the story of the young unarmed African-American who was shot and killed at a BART station a few years back.  Coogler is also set to direct the comic book movie, Black Panther, which is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I’m pretty excited about that one and to see where he goes from there.

So…my final “bit” on Creed?

A well-rounded film, Creed is full of nostalgia if you’re a Rocky fan and has enough to care about for the younger generation.  The camera work is phenomenal, putting you in the ring so close to the fighters you almost can smell their sweat, and it’s amazing that they performed many of the shots without any edits.   The film is packed with inspiration and is thoroughly entertaining.  The interaction Stallone and Jordan have with each other is reminiscent of the Stallone/Meredith chemistry within the earlier Rocky films.  The cast is superb…the interaction never feels contrived, but believable.  The film, as a whole, should not be missed…especially if you’re a diehard Rocky fan like me.

Thanks for reading!