ITunes

A Graffiti Bridge to Nowhere

It has been seven hours and way too many days since Jehovah’s sexiest witness left us with a major case of the sads. The world is a whole lot less interesting, Minnesota in particular, because now all we have left are 10,000 lakes any of which I would gladly give up if we could get the little guy back. (Not Lake Minnetonka though, we gotta keep that one for obvious reasons.) Prince was of course much more than just a genius musician he was also a bonafide MOVIE STAR. At one point in 1984 he had not only the number one album (Purple Rain), but the single and movie to go along with it. Like everyone else on the planet in 1984 with a heartbeat, five bucks and a driver’s license I saw Purple Rain at the time but had not seen it all the way through since. So in honor of the late, great Purple Yoda I decided to go on a Prince-a-thon to revisit and recap his cinematic career from best to well, let’s just be kind and say less best.

1.) Purple Rain: I loved this when it came out. I loved it because it was filmed at the club where I spent my formative years (thanks to a real fake ID), it starred the most famous music dude in town and the songs were amaze-balls. I am pretty sure that even with the purple-tinted sunglasses (Oakley of course) I had on at the time I knew it wasn’t exactly a Casablanca or Segei Eisenstein’s Potemkin level of celluloid greatness before me (I was a film minor FFS) but I did not care then or now. The electrifying musical performances more than made up for any of the gaping plot holes, the ridiculous amount of misogyny and the fact that Steve McClellan was somehow no longer the manager of First Avenue but had been replaced by some guy from Detroit named Billy. Whatever Prince. (iTunes, and some theaters)

 

2.) Under the Cherry Moon:  I did not see this movie when it came out and sadly I was not alone in my indifference. UTCM was both a commercial and critical flop, winning a whopping five Golden Raspberry Awards and beating out the completely ridiculous Howard the Duck for worst movie of 1986. (Interestingly enough that movie also starred a Minnesotan, Lea Thompson.) But now that I have seen it twice I can honestly say those golden raspberries were completely undeserved and I am not alone in that assessment.

Prince and The Time’s mirror man Jerome Benton play cousins who spend their days and nights on the French Riviera scamming rich ladies trying to earn enough dough to get back to Miami. Kristin Scott Thomas (in her film debut) plays their latest and richest mark yet who is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than their usual suspects. Originally shot in color, it was switched to black and white prior to its release which was a great call  because UTCM is drop-dead gorgeous to look at.

Prince dances, prances and lays the doe eyes on extra thick but he and Benton have great on-screen chemistry and their silly screwball routine about going to the wecka stow is classic. Between the clothes (Chanel, pre-Kunty Karl), the scenery (Nice) and the songs (Kiss, Sometimes it Snows in April, Mountains),  UTCM is more than worth spending three bucks and some of your extra time on. (iTunes, Amazon)

 

3.) Graffiti Bridge: I am not gonna lie, Graffiti Bridge is pretty bad. So bad that I was regretting not having my iPad with me so I could surf the web during the dull parts and there were lots of dull parts. Ostensibly a sequel to Purple Rain it has absolutely none of the charm, hit songs or performance magic of its predecessor. According to the plot line, fake First Avenue owner/manager Billy has gone to the great nightclub in the sky and left another club called Glam Slam (also RIP) to the Kid (Prince) and Morris Day. I do not know who got First Avenue (Apollonia, perhaps?) or how Glam Slam got moved to Seven Corners (WTF?) but at least fake dead Billy had a will. Just let that one sink in for a minute.

Even though money-grubbing Morris allegedly owns half of Glam Slam he somehow wants to destroy it which makes no sense but neither does this movie so there you go. I think Prince hit peak Prince-ness with Graffiti Bridge (he wrote, directed and starred) but seemed utterly bored by the entire process. Mostly shot on a sound stage at Paisley Park his ennui shines through loud and clear. It’s a bloody mess but it could have been much, much worse. According to one-time Prince dancer extraordinaire Cat Glover, Madonna was supposed to play the Angel role that ultimately went to Ingrid Chavez. Watch it if only to say that you have seen it and then go rewatch Purple Rain any of the awesome performances that have cropped up on YouTube while you can. (iTunes, Amazon)

 

4.) New Girl Prince episode: Here is your chance to see Prince show Zoey Deschanel just how adorkable is done. I probably should rate this television appearance above Graffiti Bridge but New Girl is only 20 plus minutes long minus commercials and Prince is not in all the scenes so demerits must be given. On the plus side you hear a snippet of one of my all-time-favorite Prince songs When You Were Mine, there are pancakes involved and he made the producers remove all traces of a certain reality show family that were set to appear. Prince was the sensei of shade and man am I going to miss his not-at-all-subtle ways with the side-eye. (Season 3, episode 14, Netflix)

 

If you still need more Prince in your life (and who doesn’t?), check out this fantastic podcast with André Cymon. Recorded a couple of years back after Cymon released his first album in about a hundred years this interview offers great insight into the makings of the Minneapolis sound.. Cymon and Prince were childhood friends and lived together for years after Prince moved in with Cymon’s family. André was also Prince’s bassist during the pre-Revolution days and was known for his uncanny ability to pull off wearing clear pants and not looking like a total try-hard twat. He recorded a few albums in the 80’s but then went on to became more known as a songwriter and producer. Cymon is a great story teller and you won’t be bored for an instant which is good because this podcast clocks in at over two hours, something I wish I’d known when I started listening at 11:30 on a school night.

http://podcastjuice.net/the-prince-podcast-andre-cymone/

 

 

 

A river runs through it

Even though it is not particularly wintry yet in these parts it still gets dark before the local news comes on so the time is right for parking yourself in front of the old tv machine and watching something other than Masters of None (no slam). I loves me some Tom Haverford/Aziz Ansari but I’m figuring you have already binged yourself silly on that one and there are plenty of other shows equally deserving of your precious time.

River: The latest collab between the BBC and our besties at Netflix is one of those shows you should schedule some quality time with real soon. Starring Stellan Skarsgård as John River (Alexander’s dad) and Nicola Walker (Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson here, but forever known as MI-5’s Ruth Evershed). The two play a couple of police detectives but the similarities to all other cop buddy shows ends there. Like the little boy in the Sixth Sense John River sees dead people but unlike Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear, River also talks to them, gets into fisticuffs with them and even buys them banana milkshakes at the drive-thru. River is unabashedly weird, even weirder than that “friendship” between the tiger and the goat that was supposed to be his dinner only way less creepy than that because eating your friends is just plain wrong, except perhaps if your plane crashes in the Andes or you get stuck in a blizzard on the Oregon Trail.

Stevie is a major karaoke fan and the song I Love to Love* figures prominently throughout the series. Now Ruth Evershed/Stevie has a lovely voice, but anyone who has had the aural misfortune of seeing (and hearing) the film version of Mama Mia knows that is not the case with Stellan, or Colin Firth, or Pierce Brosnan for that matter. Thankfully Stellan doesn’t spend too much time crooning as he spends all six episodes acting his pants off, not literally of course, but he really impresses here. After a pretty shocking reveal about mid-way through episode one I was hooked. I don’t want to say too much more lest I ruin this cleverer than average show. #nospoilersforyou (Netflix)

Iris: ” You’re not pretty, you’ll never be pretty but you have style”, says the not-so-very-nice owner of Loehmann’s to a young Iris Apfel. No matter how backhanded of a compliment that was, Iris more than took it to heart. True style is something very few people have and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean couture as we see Ms. Apfel collects both designer and flea market finds with equal zeal. Prior to this movie I knew very little about Iris other than her obvious love of Mr. Magoo inspired eyewear but you don’t even need to know that to enjoy this documentary. In addition to being a fashion icon Iris was also a very successful interior designer who along with her husband Carl decorated homes around the world, including the White House for nine presidents. Not too shabby.

Iris is the last movie from Albert Maysles, best known (along with his brother David) for bringing the world the greatest documentary ever made Grey Gardens and for that we will forever be in their debt. In Iris, Maysles found his staunchest, chicest character since Little Edie wore a skirt upside down (mainly because it didn’t fit the regular way) and slapped a sweater on her head with a lovely brooch because after all, accessories do make the outfit. (Netflix, iTunes)

Getting On: is one of the best shows on HBO that you have probably never heard of. I had not until recently and it’s already in its third (and possibly its last) season. Consider it the John Kasich of premium cable, stuck at the kids table while Game of Thrones and Girls hang out at the adult table sucking up all the attention à la someone we all know that I refuse to acknowledge exists. Uncomfortably funny in the British Office sense (not at all surprising since it is based on a BBC series with the very same name), Getting On stars Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as self-centered head of medicine Dr. Jenna James, Niecy Nash (Reno 911) as the sweet and kind nurse Didi Ortley and Alex Borstein (MADtv’s Miss Swan) as her nut-cake boss and fellow nurse Dawn Forchette.

Getting On is set in a geriatric extended care facility called Billy Barnes and anyone who has ever spent an iota of time in such a place will be able to practically smell the hand sanitizer through the screen. Just like in real life, Billy Barnes tries to alleviate its medical industrial state institutionality with therapy dogs, music and water features. Now I like all three of those things but no amount of puppy love, Duran Duran or even a spectacular waterfall could ever make an extended stay in a care facility seem appealing. This show sucked me in though and I binged watched all three seasons in two nights. Much less impressive than it sounds since there are only six episodes a season (and there is one more left of the current season) but still, squad goals people. (HBO, Amazon, Hulu)

* Iceland’s favorite pixie scream queen Bjork got her first recording contract covering this alleged disco classic. The world makes no sense sometimes.

 

When Irish eyes are smiling it’s probably because they watched at least one of these awesome movies

As an Irish-American I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with St. Patrick’s Day. On the one hand it’s lovely to celebrate the man who removed snakes from Ireland even if it is completely untrue because snakes were never there in the first place but we celebrate people in America who don’t really do anything all the time, in fact we have an entire network devoted to such people (E!), so why let a little thing like a big fat lie stop people from getting their drink on? St. Patrick’s Day had always been more of religious holiday in the old country, that is until Ireland had its big economic boom in the 90’s and then the piety gave way to the party and it’s been that way ever since. This year Ireland’s Brian Williams/Bill O’Reilly* celebration day will be on Tuesday so instead of bellying up to a bar why not grab some colcannon (gross) and a Guinness (super gross) and park your keester in front of the TV machine for some good time/feel good Irish movies? It will be loads cheaper and you will feel much better come hump day, promise.

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Into the West: Do you remember back in the 90’s when Gabriel Byrne was married to Ellen Barkin? Trust me he was, and they even have two children to prove it. Anyway, back when they were still married they made this incredibly sweet and quite touching movie about two little boys named Tito and Ossie and their love of a mysterious white horse called Tír na nÓg. The boys are travelers (aka: tinkers) only their father has taken them to live in a depressing tower block in the city after his wife (not played by Ellen Barkin) died giving birth to Ossie and now Papa (Byrne) has become the worst Irish stereotype of them all, a drunk, and the one that bugs me the most. One day the boys maternal grandfather (David Kelly) comes to town with a gorgeous white horse no one can touch except Ossie and Tito and next thing you know said white horse is living in a high-rise apartment and riding in elevators like a normal person much to the horror of some of the neighbors. I can’t even imagine what the pet deposit fee would be for an equine, but I am guessing pretty steep even in 1990’s prices.

In the Irish language nothing is quite like it seems and you can pretty much ignore half of the consonants and even some of the vowels in their words. It’s beautiful and makes zero sense which is precisely why I love it even though I can’t speak it to save my life. Tír na nÓg is pronounced like Turning Oak which is fairly accurate Irish/English translation but most of the words are more like Dún Laoghaire which is pronounced Dun Leary and you’re like what about the o and the g and h, why are they there if they are not going to do anything? Why Gaelic word lords, why?

Of course the boys get busted by the cops for keeping a horse in an apartment (there’s always a snitch in every bunch) and the fleeing horse and its running ability catches the eye of a rich bad man who only wants Turning Oak for his own evil purposes and it does not even matter what they are because he is EVIL and we don’t like him one little bit. So Tito and Ossie steal him back and go on their incredible journey into the west, one they are really not in charge of. Papa is so sad that he finally stops drinking and goes in search of his boys with the help of his fellow travelers including a psychic gypsy lady not named Miss Cleo but Kathleen (played by Ellen Barkin and her wonderfully non-Hollywood standard looks).

The little boys are both super cute but the one who plays Ossie is extra cute and his sweet little pixie face will practically make your ovaries explode. Gabriel Byrne was at the height of his movie star hotness so depending on how you rate that there could be other parts of you exploding as well, especially if you like leather dusters. Between the music and the scenery, Into the West will make you want to seriously consider booking  trip to the land of my forefathers, stat. (Netflix)

Waking Ned Devine: What would you do if you won a lottery, say an almost seven million dollar windfall? I probably wouldn’t die from the shock myself (mostly because I never remember to buy a ticket so winning would be a bit tricky), but Ned Devine did, right there in his living room in his favorite chair with a big ol’ grin on his face. Problem is, while you might not need to be present to win the Irish lottery, you do have to be alive, and that is the premise of this charming 1998 movie. Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen, who died accidentally shortly after this film was shot) and his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly once again) know that they did not win but they know someone in their tiny village of Tullymoor (population 52) did.

Jackie finally figures out that the winner is the reclusive Ned and when he goes to visit him finds out that the shock of becoming an instant millionaire has killed him. Later that night in a dream Ned tells him he wants the money to be evenly split among the villagers and Jackie comes up with a cunning plan to impersonate Ned to fulfill the prophecy. But the big city lottery man with allergies comes a bit early and poor Michael, a man who has never told a lie in his whole life, has to play Ned instead of Jackie and all sorts of hijinks ensue.

Tullymoor is filled with characters including Maggie, a single mother/greeting card writer, Finn, a pig farmer who no matter what fruity soap Jackie gives him can’t seem to eliminate his swine-y scent enough for them to have any sort of future together, Maggie’s son Morris, who may or may not be Finn’s, a temporary priest (the return of the permanent one from his pilgrimage to Lourdes is a key plot element) and the town’s cranky old cat lady on a scooter, Lizzie Quinn. Everyone in Tullymoor has to go along with the scheme for the money to be split between all 52 of them but Lizzie refuses to agree and threatens to scuttle the whole thing by turning the others into the lottery officials in Dublin for a bigger share of the winnings because just like in real-life socialism, there is always one person who has to screw it up for everyone else. If this movie does not make you laugh, between the naked motorcycle ride by the skinniest old man in Ireland (Kelly), or the sneeze that launched a phone box into the ocean, than I don’t know what will. (Amazon Instant, iTunes)

Killing Bono: bad title although there probably have been a few people over the years who have thought about doing away with U2’s fearless leader at one time or another because he kind of became that guy. You know the one who talks a good talk but then turns right around and becomes a tax dodger because he apparently isn’t rich enoughBut this movie isn’t about the rich tax cheat Bono, this movie is about the high school rock-star wannabe Bono and his similarly inclined classmate Neil McCormick and how the dream came true, for one of them.

Baby Bono, before the tax scheme

Baby Bono, pre tax scheme

Back in the 1980’s Bono was my original dream man, cute, smart (or so it seemed at the time) and most importantly in a band, the accent was an added bonus. Not to sound all braggy but I did see U2 for the very first time in the 7th Street Entry, a venue that is about the size of a cracker box if said cracker box was painted entirely in black and the inside temperature was kept at a balmy 120 degrees at all times. The Entry was a great place to see up and coming bands, like U2, but there was only one bathroom and to say it wasn’t very nice is like saying Tom Cotton isn’t very smart so ipso/facto we know that bathroom was DISGUSTING and (despite his Ivy-league education) Representative Cotton from the great state of Walmart is DUMB as a proverbial box of rocks.

Killing Bono stars Ben Barnes (from those Narnia movies) as Neil and the cuter-than-cute Robert Sheehan (Misfits and The Mortal Instruments, which should have made him famous but didn’t) as Ivan who had the chance to be in U2 (then known as The Hype) but Neil did not bother to tell his little brother that info because he was so sure his/their band was going to be bigger. For the next decade or so U2 continued on their meteoric rise to the top of the rock pile while Neil and Ivan’s various attempts went nowhere. Bono and Neil stayed friends and it was Bono who suggested the idea that the two were cosmic doppelgänger and if he died Neil would get all his good luck back and perhaps someday write a Broadway musical about a superhero, or not.

Killing Bono does a very good job of showing what the 1980’s music scene in Dublin was like even if they had to film the movie in Belfast because Dublin got too-rich-too-quick in the 1990’s (before Bono and the boys shipped all their tax money off to the Netherlands) and lost much of its grittiness. Killing Bono is funny, the music is really good (Barnes and Sheehan sing for reals) and it’s St. Patrick’s Day for pity’s sake. While rock stardom was ultimately denied him, Neil did become a rock critic for the Daily Telegraph and in ironies of all ironies, ghost-wrote the best-selling autobiography U2 by U2. (Netflix)

The Matchmaker: Not going to lie, I love this movie and even though it is probably not technically Irish it does take place in Ireland (mostly) so close enough. Janeane Garofalo plays Marcy Tizard an aide to a Massachusetts senator with a flailing re-election campaign. To rectify this potentially disastrous situation, Denis Leary (playing Garofalo’s boss Nick), sends Marcy to Ireland to find some of Senator McGlory’s long-lost relatives who Nick thinks the senator can use for some Irish-American votes. Cynical, career gal (where have I seen that plot device before, besides just about everywhere?) Marcy lands just in time for the annual matchmaking festival in Ballinagra and soon has not one but two matchmaking professionals vying to be the one to hook her up with a life partner. Dermot O’Brien (the wonderful Milo O’Shea and his fabulous eyebrows) and his rival Millie O’Dowd are sure they can find the one for Marcy but a local barman/caveman named Sean (David O’Hara) just might have his own ideas about that.  This movie is as the old timey critics used to call “delightful” and anyone who says otherwise should not be allowed to celebrate the fake snake remover holiday ever again.

While the town that Marcy gets sent to is completely fictional (filmed on the gorgeous Aran Islands, aka the land of chunky cable knit sweaters) the matchmaking festival is 100% actual and has been going on for over 150 years, something eHarmony and Match.com can only dream about in their combined digital heads. The only bad thing about this movie is how incredibly difficult The Matchmaker is to find because you can’t stream this little gem anywhere and believe me I have checked everywhere, even the free movies section of On Demand where lo-and-behold there it was only it wasn’t, just a different movie with the same name and I hated Comcast all over again for the millionth time.

Janeane Garofalo has said many times that this was her favorite movie to make and it just makes you wonder whatever happened to her film career. She was hands down the best thing in so many movies in the nineties, from Reality Bites, to Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion to The Truth About Cats and Dogs (where she was definitely the hotter one, sorry Uma) but despite her being totally adorable and talented her movie career kind of fizzled out. There are rumors that the impossible beauty standards of Hollywood really took their toll on her and when you look at what happened to Margaret Cho at roughly the same time period (too fat and not Asian enough to play herself in her own sitcom) to what just happened to Amy Schumer (again too fat to play herself in a movie she wrote) and you can kinda understand why Garofalo got out.

No St. Patrick’s Day celebration can be complete without a little Dropkick Murphys because of this:

@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any<br /><br /><br /><br />
way...we literally hate you !!! Love, Dropkick Murphys

 

and this:

 * both known as major Fibber McGees but at least St. Patrick did not spread the lie about the snakes himself unlike the other two.

Finding Vivian Maier and some good popcorn to boot

Award season is the time of year when I try to get super serious and catch up on all the movies that I wanted to see but somehow missed for one lame reason or another. Thankfully it occurs in the winter when any excuse NOT to leave my house comes in super handy. About the only category that I usually see all the movies from is the documentary one, with maybe a couple of the foreign language flicks thrown in for good measure. I generally don’t see a lot of the movies that the average Oscar voter likes as they have terrible taste and I am still pissed off about Crash winning best picture in 2005 because it was like a bad ABC Afterschool Special from my childhood, only worse. Seriously, it has been ten years and I still have not forgiven them. While I love being able to watch movies at home at will, there is something missing, besides the annoying person who keeps checking their Facebook status every fifteen minutes and distracting everyone with their screen light (usually not a youngster by the way, more like an oldster who should know better).

What is missing, other than not showing Strax before every movie viewing, is popcorn, the quintessential movie treat. Luckily I have found a movie theater replacement version that is not only quick and easy, but also a much healthier option, it’s called Quinn Popcorn. I quit eating microwave popcorn in the 90s, that stuff stinks (hospitals wisely banned its use years ago) and it probably has more chemicals in it than the Gulf of Mexico thanks to BP and their incredible safety record by which of course I mean the opposite of that. You can make popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stove, but if you are watching movies the modern way why make popcorn the retro way?

Makes every night movie night

Makes every night movie night

Quinn Popcorn comes in compostable wax paper bags and in my microwave takes about 90 seconds tops to pop. Toss in the flavoring, shake the bag and voila, movie theater taste with way less calories and absolutely no petroleum by-products. It’s a victory for home theater movie watching. I have tried almost all their flavor options and am pretty loyal to the butter and sea salt one. It used to be more of a co-op/Whole Foods kind of product but I see it now in local grocery stores like Lund’s and Byerly’s. You can also order it here.

Finding Vivian Maier is one of those movies that I really wanted to see for a lot of reasons, one being that I am a proud documentary nerd and have been since I first saw Michael Apted’s wonderful Up Series in high school and totally fell in love with it. I have continued to see each installment as they have been released since then and if you have not yet seen these movies than you should do so right now before the next one comes out in 2019. I think that gives you plenty of time.

I also wanted to see it because I was fascinated by the story of a nanny who was such a prolific street photographer and yet no one knew about it. Nowadays street photographers are practically a dime a dozen and run the gamut from Humans of New York to Advanced Style, and of course the most famous reindeer of all, Bill Cunningham New York (another movie by the way you should add to your documentary viewing schedule somewhere between 7 Up and 56 Up).

You won’t learn a whole lot about Vivian Maier the woman in this movie but you will learn a lot about Vivian Maier the photographer. She was a nanny, mostly in the Chicago area and even spent a few months working for Phil Donahue (yeah that guy who used to have a talk show that everyone’s mom watched before Oprah, not sure who the moms watch now, Ellen?). If not for the filmmaker John Maloof buying a bunch of her negatives at an auction her work might not have ever seen the light of day let alone become a worldwide story. Two years after Maloof purchased the negatives and after posting some of the scanned images on Flickr he tries to track her down only to find out she had died two weeks earlier. Following up on leads from the obituary notice he tries to find out as much as he can about her.

A lot of the interviews are with former employers and their now grown-up children, although interestingly enough not the three boys she took care of the longest who in return took care of her by paying her rent and burying her. She was born in New York, but spoke with a French accent courtesy of her French-born mother who took Vivian to live for years at a time in her tiny home village in the Alps. Some of the people interviewed in the film seem shocked that a woman of such obvious artistic talents would waste her life being a nanny which is more than a little bit condescending, as if one necessarily excludes the other. Vivian believed very strongly in the idea of free-range children* and being a nanny offered her and the kids she took care of the opportunity to get out of the suburbs and into the city and explore what the world had to offer. Even if sometimes the parents were less than thrilled about where she took their children.

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Vivian was a feminist, a Socialist and as the dude from the New York public records office tells us a “spinster”, like that’s a bad thing (FYI beardy, I  wear my spinster badge proudly). Vivian’s photography definitely shows an empathy towards the poor and less fortunate like the work of Dorothea Lange. There are shades of Diane Arbus in some of her portraits and a bit of Weegee in her street scenes (she had a fascination with crime) but her style was very much her own which is incredible when you learn that out of the 120,000 plus negatives found she printed very few of her images.

This movie has its flaws, some of the interviews lead nowhere, like the linguistics guy who doubted her accent, or the Southampton lady (aka The Official Preppy Handbook real life doll probably named Muffy) but overall it just made me want to find out a whole lot more about Vivian Maier, which is what all good documentaries should do. This one is definitely on the short list to win this year’s best documentary entry and is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and is currently airing on Showtime.

Vivian Maier, Chicago

Vivian Maier, Chicago

*free-range, it’s not just for chickens anymore. Really, it isn’t.