Like a nutritionist gorging on junk food, there are films I enjoy despite knowing that they’re empty calories. I would call these films “guilty pleasures” except that I’m unabashed in my enjoyment of these empty cinematic calories. I should know better than to like them but just don’t care.
Stepping back from the melodrama and clunky acting, Purple Rain works as a simple boy meets girl story. Set against a mythical Minnesota music scene, Prince stars as “The Kid,” a misunderstood artist (is there any other kind?) who channels the strife of his abusive, failed father into his powerful pop tunes. Despite “The Kid” being our protagonist, Prince keeps the viewer at a distance, trusting that the audience will sympathize with him for his situation rather than empathize with him. Often “The Kid” comes off as petty, especially when he mocks his band members with a hand puppet.
Add to this Morris Day. He’s supposed to be playing the heavy and comes off as conniving, yes, but damn can he dance! While Purple Rain might make viewers squirm with its raw emotions and Apollonia Kotero’s attempts at acting (“You think you scared me, but you didn’t.”), its story is solid enough to invest in. Above everything, it’s the music from Prince and Morris Day that drives Purple Rain from a Prince vanity (6) project cum record promotion to a movie that never fails to entertain. Oh, and I’ve got some bad news for you, that’s not Lake Minnetonka…
Computers can do anything. I learned that in the movies. Hackers doesn’t do anything to dissuade that notion. Hell, you can even reprogram your local TV channel to show what program you want if you’ve got the skyllz to be a righteous hacker. Hackers is the ‘90s answer to War Games with protagonist Johnnie Lee Miller doing his best Matthew Broderick impersonation. Throw in a motley crew of fellow computer geeks including the comely Angelina Jolie and spazz Mathew Lillard as they all square off against super computer baddies led by Fisher Stevens and you’ve got a candy-colored treat that moves to a techno beat.
In the year 2009 the world will be absolute crap. The environment sucks. Our rights are trashed. And, the rich commit murder and get away with it. It’s amazing just how close to the mark Geoff Murphy got with his 1992 flick Freejack. Losely based on Robert Sheckley’s Immortality, Inc., the movie plays with the common sci-fi trope of consciousness transference. This time around it’s Ian McCandless (Anthony Hopkins) wants to zap his thoughts into the brain of Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez). The twist comes when McCandless saves Furlong from a fiery death in the ‘90s to time travel the younger man to destitute 2009. From there Alex runs from one musical icon to the next – his best pal Brad is played by New York Dolls front man David Johansen while McCandless’s ace bounty hunter, Victor Vacendak, is none other than Mick Jagger. Hearing Jagger saying “Furlong” is half the fun of the film. The other comes from Estevez whose usual deer in the headlights acting style plays perfectly as a clueless time traveler.
I grew up watching The Road Warrior on cable so I was predisposed to enjoy this soggy rip off. I don’t care how much this movie cost to make. I don’t care if Kevin Costner digitally augmented his thinning hair. This movie all boils down to an anti-hero (Costner) squaring off against a crazed Dennis Hopper. If it’s on TV and I run across it, I leave it on. Guaranteed.
I’m fascinated by directors who once bet it all and never quite recovered from making their dream project. Michael Cimino has Heaven’s Gate, Francis Coppola had Apocalypse Now, and Richard Rush had The Stunt Man. Perhaps Cimino and Coppola recovered a little but Rush did not. He almost made the Mel Gibson/Robert Downey Jr. mess Air America and later ended up directing Color of Night, a psychological thriller with Bruce Willis and rising star Jane March (The Lover). The story of a color blind psychiatrist who takes over a group therapy gig for his murdered friend, Rush’s film is rife with character actors who devour the scenery. My favorites, Lesley Ann Warren, Lance Henriksen, Brad Dourif, and Kevin J. O’Connor gorge themselves on this overwhelming melodrama while ingénue March seals the fate of her career in this clunky but painfully enjoyable failure.
For 13 years Mike White published the magazine Cashiers du Cinemart, before the internet killed it in 2007, and he has just released the book, Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection. Often mistaken for ginger screenwriter/actor of the same name, White has been a frequent contributor to publications such as CinemaScope, Paracinema, Detroit’s Metro Times, WildSideCinema.com, and Detour-Mag.com. He’s served on the juries at the Slamdance, Cinekink, and MicroCineFest film festivals. Additionally, he’s been featured in the documentaries David Goodis: To a Pulp and The People vs. George Lucas.
Mike White brings his Impossibly Funky tour to Gallery 5 in Richmond, VA on Sunday, November 21 at 6 p.m. courtesy of Chop Suey Books and the James River Film Society. For all the details visit this page of the James River Film Society website. For an excellent review of Mike’s new book, Impossibly Funky: A Cashier du Cinemart Collection, read Peter Schilling’s recent James River Film Journal post, Impossibly Cool.