Sunday, February 28, 2010

When I Grow Up I Wanna Be: Clubber Lang

by Odienator
(for all posts, click here)

Once upon a time, I was a boxer. “I am just a poor boy, but my story’s seldom told,” and all that other jazz Simon and Garfunkel sang about in my favorite song of theirs. I wasn’t bad as a lightweight back in my skinnier days, and a middleweight once I started weight lifting. I managed not to be a tomato can, and considering all the abuse I took at the hands of the neighborhood kids growing up, I was very good at taking a punch. I remember two matches: The first time I was knocked out, and the first time I returned the favor. The latter was sweet; the guy kept hitting me in my prominent jaw, which was stupid and ineffective. He got frustrated and I hit him. WHAM! The former was my fault: I got snookered into dropping my hands for a split second. My opponent went for my temple. WHAM!

I think everybody should experience what it feels like to be, to quote Chris Tucker in Friday, “knocked da fuck out.” It’s really something, though if you do it too many times, you’ll wind up sounding like Rocky Balboa. Truth be told, I never understood what Rocky was saying in any of his six movies, besides “Yo, Adrian,” and even worse, I tend to like the Rocky movies nobody else did. I was never a big fan of the original, though it is not a bad movie by any means. I thought the second and fifth movies were garbage, and the fourth one is xenophobic propaganda and Carl Weathers’ most embarrassing movie (yes, I’ve seen Action Jackson, and you know I loved it). I made fun of the last film, Rocky Balboa, until I saw it and was surprised at how good it was. If I actually had shame, I’d hang my head as I tell you that Rocky III is my favorite Rocky movie. Two words: Clubber Lang.

On The Producers DVD documentary, Mel Brooks says “if you’re gonna go up to the bell, ring the bell.” That is, go all the way with whatever it is you’re doing. Apparently, Apollo Creed wasn’t enough Buck for the bang, so Stallone went all in, creating a character so stereotypical that he shamed Blaxploitation film makers. Before you dare mention Mike Tyson as an inspiration (and therefore negating the stereotypical characteristics of Clubber Lang), please note that Tyson made his debut in 1985. Rocky III was made in 1982. I doubt Sly inherited any of his mother’s psychic abilities, so Clubber had to come from where most movie Bucks come from: terrified White screenwriters. James Toback created the quintessential Black Buck in Fingers, which made his direction of the excellent documentary, Tyson, inevitable. Stallone gets runner-up credentials for Rocky III.

Not that I’m complaining. One of the Black stereotypes I purposely didn’t sing about in my Get to Know Your Movie Negroes series is the Buck. This is because, of the Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks that make up old Hollywood’s stereotypes and the title of Donald Bogle’s book, I like the Buck. He’s tough, angry, hypersexual, all brawn, and this is the most important part: he scares the fuck out of people. This is a stereotype I can get with, folks. Boxer or not, I’ve always been more brains than brawn. For once, I’d just like to show up somewhere and have everybody run in fear, as if I were Godzilla or P. Diddy at a club.

I have issues.

Mr. T was always a tough guy. He grew up on the South side of Chicago, is huge and muscular, and was a bodyguard for one of the toughest people who ever lived. No, not Muhammad Ali, though T did bodyguard duties for him. I’m talking about Diana Ross. Can you imagine her berating Mr. T, and him cowering in a corner saying “Yes, Miss Ross, sorry about the jibber-jabber, Miss Ross!?” In 1982, Mr. T wasn’t widely known, appearing in Penitentiary II and some NBC bodyguard reality program. Clubber Lang changed all that. With his trademark Mohawk, infinite gold chains and gravelly pit bull voice, Mr. T was instantly unforgettable. The bullied kid in me wanted to be him. He was so intimidating to Rocky Balboa that Rocky turned to another Negro, former enemy Apollo Creed, to help him figure out how to beat Clubber Lang. When you get into the ring with a big Buck, you need something old, something new, something borrowed and something Black. So Apollo Creed covers three of those by giving Rocky the boxing trunks that he famously wore in their battles. “Just make sure you wash those before you give them back,” Creed tells him.

Everywhere Rocky goes, Clubber follows. Clubber wants a match with the champion, the same way Rocky wanted a match with Apollo Creed two movies ago, but Rocky wants nothing to do with this guy. After attempting to appeal to Rocky’s sense of competition and failing, Clubber goes for the macho version of A Christmas Story’s Triple Dog Dare: Clubber gets fresh with Rocky’s woman.

Hey, Woman. Hey, Woman!” Clubber yells to Adrian (Talia Shire). “Listen here. Since your old man ain't got no heart, maybe you like to see a real man. I bet you stay up late every night dreamin' you had a real man, don't ya? I'll tell you what. Bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I'll show you a real man.

Rocky is suitably pissed, so he agrees to a match with Clubber Lang. The match is one-sided, with Clubber beating Rocky’s ass so bad that Survivor wrote a song about it. To pull audience sympathy to his side, Stallone has Mr. T inadvertently cause the death of Rocky’s beloved trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith). It’s the most clever screenplay device Stallone employed in the entire series, paving the way for Rocky to team with Apollo Creed and setting up the Good Negro vs. Bad Negro final act. After this pairing, rooting for Rocky was like rooting for Apollo Creed, something I’m sure a lot of little Black kids did during the first two movies. (Remember that a lot of the first Rocky’s success depended as much on Stallone’s well-written script as it did on the notion of the Great White Hope in boxing. This is why Rocky’s loss in the first movie won it the Best Picture Oscar.) Rocky III splits the deck; if you’ve been following the series, how can you not root for Rocky, and even if you couldn’t, how can you root against him now with Apollo in his corner?

Even at the young age I saw Rocky III, I knew Rocky would win the final match. I was fine with that, because Clubber Lang was such a deliciously hissable villain, played by an unrepentant Mr. T with such enjoyable venom that the ‘hood audience I was with cheered when Rocky gets his revenge. I love Mr. T, even to this day (he’s currently in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), because of this movie. I have to give Stallone more credit than most people will give him; he not only does a good job directing the boxing scenes, he allows himself to be completely upstaged. As a screenwriter, he gives Mr. T the line he still utters to this day: “I pity the fool!” Personally, I pity the fool who doesn’t like Rocky III. The prideful Negro in me should be all pissed off about just how stereotypical the movie is, with its Buck and its Sidekick Negro, but as the Bible says, “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.” There’s some good destruction in Rocky III.

Your Homework Assignment:

Pity fools like me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Warner Bros. Gangsta Movie

By Odienator
(for all posts, click here)

It was pre-ordained that the gov’ment would get Wesley Snipes for tax evasion. In 1991, Snipes played the Scarface-obsessed Nino Brown in Mario Van Peebles’ directorial debut, New Jack City. Ollie Stone and Brian De Palma’s 1983 ghetto favorite, which plays behind Brown during a pivotal scene, was based on Howard Hawks’ 1932 version of Scarface. That in turn was based on several events in the life of Al Capone. And what did the gov’ment get Al Capone for, dudes and chicks? All together now: TAX EVASION!

If we apply this logic elsewhere, Charlize Theron gonna kill somebody and Jake Gyllenhaal gonna have sex with your boyfriend. But let’s stick with New Jack City’s powers of destiny. Ice-T plays the New Jack City cop who wants to bring Nino down, and where is Ice-T now? Playing a cop on Law and Order: The Show That Won’t Die. And this is a man who isn’t choosy about the roles he plays. He played a kangaroo in Tank Girl. Yet he didn’t play another cop until Law and Order a decade later, so they didn’t cast him because he played cops in other movies. It’s the curse of New Jack City. Cop Killer my ass! Cop PLAYER is more like it.

New Jack City wants to be an anti-crack movie, and is at times heavy-handed in its message delivery, but I can see right through all that. This movie’s main objective is to turn gangster movie clichés into gangsta movie clichés. The anti-drug message is noble, but Mario and company weld it to a violent crowd pleaser with a hissable villain and an easy, recognizable line between good and evil. In a way, New Jack City is Scarface, Colorized.

Not that I’m complaining. I love this movie. I may be the only ‘hood denizen who thought Pacino’s Scarface was a piece of chit (I’m a Carlito’s Way kinda guy), and van Peebles’ tip of the hat to it is WAY too obvious. But as quiet as it’s kept, New Jack City has been almost as influential to hip-hop as Tony Montana. For example, Li’l Wayne’s last name may be Carter, but that’s not why he named his album Tha Carter. And Cash Money Records was started by two brothers, making them the Cash Money Brothers, the CMB in New Jack City’s dialogue.

The Scarface parallels are a small price to pay to see Wesley in the best role of his career. New Jack City allows him to play many aspects that Denzel would try (and fail) to play in American Gangster years later. As I said once before here at BMV, Snipes is not afraid to truly get dirty. Denzel can’t pull this off. As much as I liked Training Day, I didn’t buy the late-reel King Kong Ain’t Got Shit On Me Denzel. American Gangster’s Frank Lucas made me think of his Mo’ Better Blues co-star uttering his famous (and my favorite) line from that film: “That’s bullshit! Everything you just said is bullshit.” Snipes would have made a better Frank Lucas—Nino Brown is clearly influenced by him--but he was probably running from the gov’ment at the time.

One of the stars of New Jack City is crack. It gets more screen time than some of the actors, including Vanessa Williams (not THAT one!) and her fellow Williams, Christopher. Early in the film, a crack vial is given a loving close-up by van Peebles. Nino picks it up and, thanks to his partner and best buddy Gee Money (Allen Payne), decides that it will be the key to his success. “The world is mine” becomes Nino’s catchphrase, echoing both versions of Scarface’s The World Is Yours. Nino and Gee Money hatch a plan to take over The Carter Apartments, using it as a base for their crack making organization. It’s 1986, and crack is just becoming epidemic in the inner city. Nino and his CMB crew get in on the ground floor, just before things get ugly and profitable.

New Jack City opens with shots of New York City. As the camera finds our anti-hero on a bridge, Queen Latifah, Troop and Levert sing a version of the elder Levert’s classic, For the Love Of Money merged with Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City. On the bridge, Nino holds a man in debt to him over the East River, letting him go without a second thought. We then find our hero cop Scotty undercover, about to buy drugs from Chris Rock’s Pookie. Pookie robs Scotty, and takes off on a bicycle. As Scotty chases him on foot, to the strains of his portrayer’s rap song, New Jack Hustler, van Peebles’ camera follows along swiftly, switching between overhead and point of view shots. Pookie drives his bicycle down steps and flies in the air like Elliot with a duffel bag of money instead of E.T. Scotty winds up shooting Pookie in the leg. Money flies everywhere, and as people try to run off with it, Scotty identifies himself as a cop. On the street is Kareem Akbar (Christopher Williams), the computer programmer turned Nino Brown cohort.

Three years later, crack is everywhere, and Nino Brown has turned The Carter into a successful base for his organization. He’s intimidated or blown away his enemies and scared the inhabitants and/or made them customers. They have a computer setup thanks to Akbar, whom Nino refers to as “that pretty muthafucka,” and a system of manufacturing and delivering crack. He has Dun Dun Dun Man (a stuttering Bill Nunn) for muscle and numerous lookouts. Brown’s system is so tight that, had Whitney Houston brought product from him, he would have given her a receipt. Detective Stone (van Peebles) wants to get Nino Brown, but like Don King, nothing sticks to him. Stone hires Scotty, who knows the streets, to help him bring down CMB. He pairs him with a White cop named Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) who is, as the cliché must dictate, just as big a loose cannon as Scotty. Scotty takes one look at Peretti and it’s hate at first sight. Stone won’t recruit Scotty without Peretti, so Scotty acquiesces. Peretti celebrates by shooting a happy face shape in the wall.

Meanwhile, Pookie has become a crackhead. Chris Rock is pretty young in this picture, and his skinny frame works to the character’s advantage. When we see Pookie, he is on line waiting to get fed by Nino Brown’s food line outside. Brown buys turkeys for the homeless and gives little kids money, but he’s also enslaving the neighborhood with crack. Pookie is a beneficiary of both Brown’s humanitarian efforts and his misanthropy. Scotty sees him and follows him to a crackhouse, to find him beating up a crack ho over a piece of turkey. Perhaps feeling guilty for shooting him, Scotty drags Pookie into rehab.

Pookie’s rehabilitation is shown in a montage of scenes with him getting the monkey off his back. As soon as the movie does this, we know Pookie is doomed. Rock gives a very credible performance as a crack head, almost as good as Samuel L. Jackson’s in Jungle Fever. What happens next made me think of Sam, who once said that the second he got out of rehab for crack, Spike Lee cast him as Gator Purify in Wesley’s next picture. As soon as Pookie has kicked the crack habit, Scotty sends him undercover at The Carter. Wearing a camera belt and a wire, he gets hired as a lookout. Stone has doubts, but Pookie begs Scotty to give him something to do to get his mind off of crack. Unfortunately, Kareem Akbar promotes him to the crack manufacturing area. Handling all those little vials of crack proves too much for Pookie. He falls off the wagon big time, blows the investigation and gets caught by Gee Money wearing the surveillance equipment.

Scotty and company try to rescue Pookie, but they are too late. Gee Money has not only killed him but rigged him with a bomb to destroy all the evidence that wasn’t burned up in the fire Gee Money set at The Carter. Peretti and Scotty defuse the bomb, but no evidence is left to convict Nino Brown. As a result of numerous cop deaths that occurred in a prior bomb blast, Stone gets his ass chewed out, then passes on the savings to Peretti and Scotty. “It’s over,” he tells them.

Scotty’s guilt over Pookie gets the best of him, and during a drinking binge with Peretti, he expresses remorse. “I got Pookie killed,” he tells Peretti. Peretti responds by telling him he used to be “White trash Pookie,” a former drug addict. It’s a very good scene for Nelson, and like Snipes, this is probably his best role. He joins forces with Scotty to bring down CMB behind their superiors’ backs.

Nino and Gee Money were like brothers, but a woman comes between them. She’s Uniqua, whose name must have inspired The Backyardigans, and she’s played by She’s Gotta Have It’s Tracy Camilla Johns. Gee Money has a thing for her, but she’s attracted to the powerful Nino. Nino’s woman (Michael Michele) is tired of Nino’s womanizing, but he ignores her. Nino’s sloppiness with his personal relationships will come back to bite him numerous times, starting with that incident at The Carter. Nino was too busy with Uniqua (who gets a scene set to Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up) to pay attention to The Carter’s activities. As a result, they have to start over because of Pookie’s undercover work. Nino responds to this by treating Gee Money like shit and stabbing the pretty muthafucka in the hand with his pimp cane knife. Upset about his treatment, Gee Money turns into Pookie, that is, he starts smoking his product.

There are a lot of singers in New Jack City, and except for Ice-T, they’re all on the side of the drug dealer. Even Nick Ashford is on Nino’s payroll, and he’s a minister! The group Guy sings at Nino’s club, and whiny ass Keith Sweat whines his way through a song at a wedding paid for by Nino’s money. This wedding is a turning point in the film for the audience. Nino has been playing the Mafia for fools, and after humiliating one of their messengers, the Mafia takes revenge, turning the wedding into a bloodbath. Up until this point, the audience with whom I saw New Jack City was firmly on Nino’s side. Snipes changes their mind the second he pulls one of the flower girls in front of him as a shield once the Mafia starts shooting. She survives, but my audience wanted blood after that.

Scotty infiltrates Nino Brown’s organization, courtesy of an increasingly unstable Gee Money. Gee Money wants to cut a side deal so he can overtake Nino Brown once and for all. Scotty uses this to drive an even bigger wedge between the two while offering to get Nino enough drugs to kickstart his new venture. Scotty earns Nino’s trust by stopping Bill Cobbs from shooting him. Cobbs plays an old, Bible quoting man who lives in a crack-infested neighborhood courtesy of Nino Brown. Cobbs lectures Nino, who asks him what has he done for the community lately. Cobbs answers that by pulling a gun. You know how they say if a gun is introduced in the first act, it’s going to be fired in the third?

Peretti breaks into Nino’s safe and gets all the incriminating 3.5 inch disks from The Carter’s computers (I love how criminals always make this kind of computer boo-boo in the movies). Scotty is all ready to make the drug deal at the same location, with police officer Russell Wong pointing his camera in a hidden area, when Kareem finally remembers where he saw Scotty. And that he’s a cop. A shootout occurs, and Nino escapes.

What follows is the one scene in New Jack City I’ve always questioned. Brown and Gee Money meet one final time, and Snipes’ acting here is excellent and complex. Gee Money, high on crack, confronts Nino, reminding him of how they were brothers and how he felt betrayed. Brown responds by scolding Gee Money both for smoking crack and for letting Uniqua come between them. Gee Money asks if things can go back to the way they used to be. Brown hugs Gee Money, and Snipes sheds tears as he does so. Repeating a line from earlier in the film, Gee Money asks if Brown is his brother’s (that is, his) keeper. Brown answers yes, and shoots Gee Money. I was always conflicted about why Brown, his face streaming with tears, shoots him. Does he shoot him because he’s afraid he’ll turn snitch, or does he shoot him because Gee Money has become the one thing Brown knows has no future—a crackhead?

Screenwriters Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper give Snipes several speeches about why he does what he does, including a courtroom scene where Brown shows he’s as crafty with the law as he is with crime. One of Snipes’ speeches even helps Ice-T’s performance. Watch Ice-T’s face as he realizes the woman Nino Brown tells him he shot as part of a gang initiation was Scotty’s mother. He has to realize it, then play it off. Ice-T’s voice even shakes as he responds to the story, and it makes you itch for the moment when Scotty finally gets a crack at whipping Nino Brown’s ass.

"I wanna shoot you so bad, my dick's hard"

New Jack City ends with an audience satisfying fate for Nino Brown, a nice bow to wrap the film with and a nod to the Hays Code notion that criminals couldn’t get away with their crimes. But as in the far more horrendous Colors, the real truth lies in Ice-T’s theme song. At the end of New Jack Hustler, he raps “lock me up, it’s genocidal catastrophe/They’ll be another one after me, a hustler.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get To Know Your Movie Negroes Part III

by Odienator
(for all posts, click here)

Once again, it’s time for Get to Know Your Movie Negroes! As part of the No Caucasians Left Behind program, and my community service sentence, Big Media Vandalism is providing an educational, catchy tune about the permanently tanned people on your movie screen. Like last year, and the year before, Bob from Sesame Street is inadvertently helping me by providing the melody I sampled.

Sing along!

Ohhhhhhhh oh!
Who are the Negroes in your cinema?
In your cinema?
In your cinema?
Yes, who are the Negroes in your cinema?
They’re the people movies make us play!

Oh the Thug Negro, he pulls a gun!
He’ll shoot you if you try to run!
It’s a role only the dark skinned play.
He even made Clint Eastwood’s day.

Cuz the Thug is a Negro in your cinema.
In your cinema!
In your cinema!
Yes the thug is a Negro in your cinema!
He usually gets blown away.

(Let’s see: In 70’s mainstream cinema, so many Black actors had such award worthy roles as Thug #2, Robber #3 and Criminal #5. And that was just in The French Connection! Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Yaphet Kotto, and several other dark skinned brothers you can think of have spent time in this role. Usually when light-skinned guys get the job, they’re unconvincing and they suck. Why is that? Next verse!

Oh the Mack likes his fancy clothes.
He’s better dressed than all his hoes.
In Cadillacs, he rolls with flash.
Bitch, you better have all of his cash.

Cause the Mack is a Negro in your cinema,
In Your Cinema!
In Your Cinema!
The Mack’s a slappin’ Negro in your cinema.
He’ll sweet talk you, then make you pay.

(I have to make a distinction between a pimp and a Mack. Max Julien’s Goldie, in the 1973 Blaxploitation classic, The Mack, is the model. Dressed in the best bad clothing the 70’s can offer, wielding a cane, a hat with a big ass feather in it and enough fur to destroy PETA, the Mack is all strutting attitude. He’s an attention getter, a human peacock. Terrence Howard was NOT a Mack in Hustle and Flow—remember, his theme song is “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Antonio Fargas, on the other hand, has made a career out of playing Macks, even spoofing his roles for the Wayans. And let’s not forget my favorite, Willie Dynamite. He’s dressed like a Mack, but his life is pure pimp. He can’t get a break the entire picture. That wouldn’t happen to Goldie. Final verse!)

Now the Sassy Negro is a gurrr-url.
She always gives her neck a whirl.
While telling you about yourself,
Her head movement’s bad for her health.

Cuz the Sassy Chick’s a Negro In your cinema!
In all Black sitcoms!
and in your neighborhood!
And the Mack and Thug are Negroes in your cinema!
They’re the Negroes that you meet
When you’re in your theater seat.
They’re the Negroes Ho’wood makes us playyyyy!

Your Homework Assignment: The Odienator Kings of Comedy

by Odienator
(for all posts, click here)

I was watching TV this morning in my hotel room, and this couple was on talking about a special, romantic thing the husband did for the wife. He watched 30 Chick Flicks in 30 Days. I dropped the hot iron I was using on my dress shirt on my foot. This was news?! They got on TV for this shit? As the news lady interviewed him, he talked about the movies he watched and how they affected his relationship with the missus. Talk about perpetuating stereotypes! This was supposed to be hard for a man, watching a movie with women in it? Some of the films in this genre are pretty good, and even the ones that aren’t have attractive looking women in them. Your girlfriend might be weeping her eyes out, but you’re busy fantasizing about whether Kate Hudson’s nana tastes like Nutella.

Unless he watched Beaches 30 times, I can’t see how this man suffered while watching female oriented movies. Had he watched a Catherine Breillat film festival and survived, my props would have been given to him. Had he lived on the tampon aisle at ShopRite, curled up next to the maxi pads that have wings, while listening to women talk about PMS for 30 days, he would have earned a spot on morning TV. All he did was watch a bunch of movies with his wife, something you’re supposed to do when you’re married. They made it seem like he cured cancer. I’ve seen plenty of chick flicks in my time, and CBS isn’t banging on my door to be on their network. If CBS does bang on my door, it’ll be to sue the shit out of me for Sunday’s entry.

This bullshit gave me an idea: A homework assignment for you! Instead of a 30 movie marathon, though, you’ll only have to sit through three. Call it The Odienator Kings Of Comedy Marathon.

First up, watch the most honest 30 minutes in comedy. At the end of 1982's Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, Pryor discusses how he blew up while freebasing. He blames it on an exploding case of milk and cookies at first, but then he launches into a 27 minute discussion on drug addiction that’s startling. He tells us how his drug paraphernalia spoke to him, in eerie, comforting tones, imploring him to never put the pipe down. Jim Brown, Pryor’s idol, tries to talk some sense into him and fails. Pryor talks about how much weight he lost on drugs and how he didn’t even bathe. “Funk was my shadow,” he tells us. Then he blows up, and Pryor puts us on the street with him as he runs off into the night like a merger between the Olympic torch and the person carrying it. “When you’re on fire,” he says matter-of-factly, “people will get out of your way.”

Winos try to bum a light off him as he’s running down the street. Then, at the hospital, the emergency room doctor makes a reference to fried chicken after looking at his patient. Some guy comes in to try and get an autograph, and Richard’s rehabilitation involves a water-based immersion into the lowest depths of physical pain. Pryor caps it off with the funniest Richard Pryor on fire joke he didn’t write.

Cin-togger Haskell Wexler, who shot this picture, keeps Pryor in intimate closeness in the frame during much of Sunset Strip. Pryor tells his freebasing tale with such brutal honesty that Sunset Strip turns into a searing, dark comedy of addiction and recovery. He wants us to laugh at his self-deprecation, but he also wants us to understand the mindset of a man so in thrall to drugs that he can’t function without them. I first saw this film at 12, and it was like Scared Straight for me. The crackheads on my block put the final nail in the coffin of my desire to try drugs, but Pryor’s brilliant routine built that coffin for me.

Next, revisit Eddie Murphy’s HBO 1983 comedy special, Delirious. Murphy pays homage to his idol, Pryor, by wearing a red suit and sweating like crazy. I chose this instead of Eddie Murphy: Raw because ED:R, while funny, is a filmed record of Murphy having a nervous breakdown onstage for 90 minutes. Delirious is funnier. All the classic routines are here, from the Ice Cream man to Aunt Bunny’s love affair with Murphy’s stairs to Uncle Gus’ exploding grill burning up Charlie Murphy. Eddie’s Mom throws her shoe and GI Joe goes spelunking in the wrong cave. Delirious also serves as a time capsule of the more un-PC 80’s, with Murphy making comments about gays and AIDS that wouldn’t play today at all

On the 25th anniversary commentary, Murphy talks about the special with interviewer Byron Allen. If you miss Mr. Fuck You Man cussing like his old R-rated self, it behooves you to watch this special feature.

Lastly, catch Bill Cosby’s 1983 comedy film, Bill Cosby: Himself. You might ask yourself how I could put squeaky clean Bill Cosby in the mix with potty-mouthed Pryor and Murphy (Cosby’s concert is rated PG, for cripes’ sake). Cosby will answer this question for you when you watch the film. Five minutes into Bill Cosby: Himself, The Cos talks about drug use, then uses a word you probably didn’t think he had in his vocabulary.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the Cos cuss. On a cassette tape I have called Bill Cosby: For Adults Only, the Cos uses the word titties multiple times. Titties, if you’re interested, is the one curse word I was allowed to say as a kid, so perhaps we can give Bill a pass on that one. The word he uses in Bill Cosby: Himself—now that’s a curse word.

Eddie Murphy said that Pryor and Cosby were his biggest comedic inspirations growing up. These comedians have different styles, though I’d argue that Pryor has both Murphy’s penchant for profanity and the Cos’ storytelling ability. Murphy cast Pryor in Harlem Nights, and 12 years prior (no pun intended), the Cos and Richard appeared together in Neil Simon’s California Suite. I’m sure Cosby would have appeared somewhere with Murphy had the latter toned down his filth-flarn-filth. You can make them appear together by doing your homework.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When I Grow Up I Wanna Be: MARRRRRRCUS

by Odienator
(for all posts, click here)

"I got my best Mack Daddy Vibe going here!"

Marcus is a ho. As he walks into Lady Eloise Cosmetics company, he is met by a bevy of sexy, Black women. They all know his name, and a lot more than that, as he has slept with all these women at some point in his tenure. Marcus’ way with the ladies is the stuff of legend; mailroom guy Boney T (Chris Rock) idolizes not only Marcus’ high paying job but his whorishness. When Marcus makes his way to his office, he tells his secretary to send flowers to three or four different women. “With the usual note?” she asks. His secretary is probably one of two women Marcus hasn’t gone to bed with, along with the Lady Eloise whose company has taken over his. But the movie’s still young.

Boomerang attempts to cast Eddie Murphy as a ladies’ man. Perhaps it’s an apology for his misogynist piece of shit Harlem Nights, which would have been unwatchable had it not been for Redd Foxx, Della Reese, Sunshine and the costume department. That film, Coming to America, and this film form what I call Murphy’s Black Love trilogy. Black folks love these movies, and he definitely made them for us. After years of mainstream work, Murphy spent 1989-1992 connecting with the audience who loved Delirious and Raw. Coming to America scribes David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein put Eddie in what would be an old-fashioned office comedy if It weren’t so damn filthy. After greeting the ladies and chatting with Boney T, Murphy, and the audience, are visually assaulted by the second nastiest cosmetics commercial ever made.

Nelson (Tony winning choreographer and 7-Up man, Geoffrey Holder) makes commercials for Marcus’ marketing department. His latest commercial shows just what a pervert Nelson is. Just look at these shots and tell me if you know what this commercial is advertising.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a commercial for Bob Guccione’s Carvel store, where they sell Pussy Cookie instead of Cookie Puss. “It’s a little too overt,” says Marcus. “I like the orange, but you gotta get rid of the banana and the cherries.” He then tells Nelson he’s nasty, which is the pot calling the kettle African-American. It’s also foreshadowing. Nelson will be back later, with the nastiest cosmetics commercial ever made.

Marcus has two best buddies with whom he hangs out with after work. Tyler (Martin Lawrence) is a horny bachelor living vicariously through Marcus while pointing out that everything in the world is a conspiracy against Black people. Gerard (David Alan Grier) is the Ralph Bellamy of Boomerang, and not the Ralph Bellamy from Trading Places, either. Bellamy made his career back in the day by playing the sidekick who never got the girl. Gerard is a nice guy, but kinda nerdy and somewhat clueless around women. Gerard’s tendency to be high strung is a direct result of his parents. I like how Boomerang shows that men aren’t much different from women in the way they construct their cliques. A hot woman will usually surround herself by friends who are either not as hot as she is or downright busted. Neither will be a threat to her pursuit of ding-a-ling when the ladies go out. Marcus’ friends are not bad looking, but they are no match for his player skills. Marcus lectures them about how he is so successful, but Gerard and Tyler will never be Marcus.

Boomerang’s original title (and a song on the excellent Boomerang soundtrack) was The Reversal of A Dog. Marcus is indeed a dog (bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay) and it’s Boomerang’s intention to neuter him. The guys in the audience can marvel at Marcus’ conquests, while the women can watch one of their brethren use Marcus’ own tricks against him. Marcus is such a dog that he pretends to have lost an imaginary one so he can bed dog-lover Christie. Christie is smoking hot and a little childish (after Marcus cooks her dinner, she says “Gold star for Marcus!”). She is also played by Harlem Nights’ Sunshine (Lela Rochon). In Nights, Ms. Rochon may have had, to quote Della, “pussy so good that if you threw it up in the air, it would turn into sunshine,” but in Boomerang, she has Hammer Time In Her Shoes. Marcus has a thing for women’s feet (so does Murphy—hell, he’s got a thing for men’s feet too) and after getting another gold star for nailing Christie, he notices that her tootsies are slightly less beat up than mine. Marcus is so freaked out that he slips out of bed and sneaks home.

The only difference between a slut and a stud is the double standard. This is the first movie I can remember where a man, rather than a woman, tries to screw his way to the top of the corporate ladder. When Lady Eloise takes over the company, she immediately sets her sights on Marcus. His reputation precedes him, and Lady Eloise is into younger men. “Marrrrrrcus,” says Lady Eloise, in Eartha Kitt’s unmistakeable voice. “Meet me at Lavender Hill (her estate) tonight at 8.”

Marcus goes to Lavendar Hill, and Lady Eloise’s butler keeps looking at him and stifling laughter. After dinner, Lady E makes her move, and Eartha Kitt shows us that her body is still kinda banging despite her age. Marcus decides to grin and bear it, much like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd. After Lady Eloise uses the Clapper to make the room pitch dark, Marcus says “can you make it a little darker?”

Afterwards, Marcus thinks the big promotion is his. He meets another hottie named Jacqueline (Robin Givens), and she’s far from impressed with his lines. She practically tells him off, and he follows her to the same floor he works on, telling her that he’s the new head of Marketing. That’s funny to Jacqueline, as this is her first day as the new head of marketing.

When Marcus tells Jacqueline that Lady Eloise promised him the job, Jacqueline tells him that Lady Eloise has no power. She’s just the face on the makeup. Marcus got played by a horny old lady! “You should see the way she throws herself at younger men,” laughs Jacqueline two seconds before Eartha Kitt shows up and whispers a line I still say to my friend Danny (his middle name is Marcus).

“Marrrrcus! I’m not wearing pan-TEES!”

Jacqueline looks at Marcus and starts laughing. “Just cuz a person ain’t got drawers on doesn’t mean I hit that!” he protests. Jacqueline rolls her eyes.

The stage is set. Marcus sees Jacqueline as a challenge to get into bed, a challenge made more potent by the fact she’s his boss. Meanwhile, Jacqueline’s assistant, Angela (Halle Berry) develops a crush on Marcus. Angela is supposed to be homely, and while Halle can look like a hot mess (see her crackhead in Jungle Fever), she’s far from that in this picture. While Jacqueline toys with Marcus, he sets Angela up with Gerard. They have a nice date, but it’s apparent there’s no chemistry between them. Gerard is just too goofy around women, and he’s not Marcus. Still, he and Angela become friends. Gerard would like it to be more, but remember, he’s the Ralph Bellamy of Boomerang.

Jacqueline is Marcus’ equal. She’s a player too, and she knows Marcus’ every move. Marcus invites her to his house, and she spends more time watching the Bulls game than tending to him. She also meets Marcus’ scorned neighbor Yvonne (Tisha Campbell, who once again shows up with Lawrence before their TV show), a crazed, curlers-in-hair stalker whom Marcus screwed and dumped. When Christie is at Marcus’, Yvonne holds up signs telling her to beware of Marcus. She actually talks to Jacqueline, who finds her amusing. Yvonne would find Marcus’ date amusing too: Jacqueline gives more love to Jordan than to him. In fact, she puts him off until they take a trip to New Orleans. As Marcus pretends to fiddle with his door key, Jacqueline calls him over to her room for some Woman on Top oochie-coochie-la-la-la.

Marcus’ nose is open. Jacqueline has him sprung so badly that, when she stands him up for a date, he overreacts. He calls the airport to see if her flight has landed, and when it has, he calls the cops to see if she’s been in an accident. This is insult added to injury—this date was scheduled three weeks after their first encounter by Jacqueline’s male secretary. When she shows up at his super fly pad (and it’s super), with a rose and an apology, Marcus is mad as hell. “That’s my move,” he says to her. “I spent 200 dollars on those tickets!” He stays mad until Jacqueline reveals that under her coat she’s imitating that Adina Howard song that goes “with my T-shirt and my panties on!” Well, she’s wearing a bra and panties, both of which quickly go bye-bye.

Director Reginald Hudlin’s sex scene choreography gives Robin Givens the dominant role. She’s on top and in control, and while I’ve seen a lot of men faking orgasms in R-rated movies, I’ve never seen one where, at the point of rapture, the director aims his camera at the guy’s feet. To make sure we get the point that Murphy has changed roles with his victims, Hudlin cuts to Murphy post-orgasmically sucking his thumb.

“I gotta call my mother,” he tells Jacqueline.

To make the transformation complete, Jacqueline leaves in the middle of the night. After Marcus looks at her with puppy dog eyes and says “call me,” he notices something on the nightstand.

The condom wrapper is a nice touch. Practice safe sex y'all!

Jacqueline and Marcus are now, at least in his mind, an item. Both of them, along with Angela, have to deal with the new face of Lady Eloise, Strange. Strange (pronounced “Stran-JAY”) is one scary bitch, and she has to be—she’s played by Grace Jones. The old face of Lady Eloise walked off with all her scenes, and the new face intends to go her one better. Jones, as you’d expect, busts into Boomerang being pulled in a chariot by four muscular White men, whom she is beating with a whip. Lady Eloise wasn’t wearing any panties; Strange takes hers off and rubs them in the face of the guy designing the perfume she’ll be advertising. “This is what sexy smells like!” she says. Somehow, Nelson winds up with these panties, which he tucks into his breast pocket.

Marcus beds Lady E, but is committed to Jacqueline by the time Strange comes along. At a restaurant, when Jacqueline excuses herself, Strange makes her move. She asks Marcus “when are we going to FUUUUUCK?” Marcus is astonished. “Jack-oo-leen says you know how to move your ahss!” Strange says matter of factly. When Marcus turns her down, Strange asks him how he could turn down her goodies. Except she calls it her “poosey,” out loud for all the diners to hear. She then shows her poosey to the universe. When Marcus asks her to stop saying the offending word, Jones makes it her mantra. “Poosey poosey poosey pooooosey!” she yells. “What are you, gay?!!” a flabbergasted Strange then asks. “Yes, I’m gay!” says Marcus. Strange’s gaydar is better than that. She starts pointing out gay people all over the restaurant, outing them. “You’re not gay, you just don’t want to fuck me!!!” she yells before leaving.

"Will you stop showing your damn pussy?!" asks Marcus as he shields it from view

I remember on an episode of Siskel & Ebert, Siskel (I think) thought this scene was disgusting. No disrespect to Gene, but I can’t look at Grace Jones without thinking of Strange’s pubic public outburst and laughing my ass off.

Jacqueline asks Marcus what he did to set Strange off, and he starts bitching her out for telling her girlfriends about his sexual technique. Never mind that he’s been talking to Gerard and Tyler about the women he’s been screwing since day one. The shoe is on the other foot now, and that shoe’s got Hammer Time in it. This leads to a break-up outside, and as Jacqueline says goodbye to Marcus (after cussing out Strange), Hudlin has the lights of the Empire State Building go out behind Marcus.

The next day, we get the inverse of the opening scene. All of Marcus’ conquests are paying attention to him, but for all the wrong reasons. Jacqueline is in their midst, and from their barely contained laughter, it’s apparent she’s been telling them what an emotional punk he has turned into. Marcus is such a wreck that he tells Nelson to make whatever kind of commercial he wants. This is a bad idea, and Marcus’ neglect in not screening it before the board sees it is an even worse idea. Nelson’s commercial is the stuff of nightmares. Strange appears on screen, screaming and hollering before pulling a bottle of her perfume out of that body part I typed six times a few paragraphs ago. Even Lady Eloise is disgusted. Jacqueline saves Marcus’ job, but she demands he take some time off.

Angela drags Marcus out of his funk, down to the school where she volunteers. Murphy’s interaction with the kids, especially a young girl he mimics behind her back (she stares at him, and I don’t think her reaction was scripted), is Cosbyesque. The school sets the stage for Marcus to wind up in Angela’s bed, much to the chagrin of Gerard.

But first, Gerard has to suffer an even bigger indignity: his parents come to dinner at Marcus’. Marcus and Gerard have been friends since childhood, and he’s well known and loved by Mr. and Mrs. Jackson (John Witherspoon and Bebe Drake). The Jackson paternal units exist to embarrass the socially concerned Gerard. First, Mrs. Jackson brings a big ass bucket of chitlins to the dinner. Then Mr. Jackson reveals just how much he loves mushroom print clothing. Then he and Mrs. J. embarrass Gerard by asking repeatedly if he and Angela are an item. After Mr. Jackson turns his antics on Marcus, he and Mrs. Jackson disappear to screw in Marcus’ bathroom. Marcus is so shocked, he grabs Gerard and hugs him in a show of compassion.

"You gots to co-ordinate!"

"So Marcus, I heard you was pussy whupped."

"You got to whip that pussy! BANG BANG BANG!!"

When Gerard finds out Marcus and Angela are an item, he’s very angry. When Angela, who is now in love with Marcus, finds out he has gotten back into bed with her boss—using a celebration of the commercial Angela created as the opportunity—she’s even angrier. She slaps him and says the name of a whiny ass Toni Braxton song: “Love should have brought you home last night!”

Now that Marcus has been humbled—he is without his girl and his best friend—Boomerang wants you to feel sorry for him. I can’t say I did. After all, I was and am still jealous of all the ass he got. Tyler uses dinner at his house to get Gerard and Marcus talking. Marcus tells Gerard he’s sorry, and that he loves him (a line I’m glad Marcus said to his ‘boy). As soon as they make up and hug, Hudlin employs a sneaky symbolic gesture: the Empire State Building lights up.

Boomerang has a happy ending, at least for Marcus. He gets his ‘boys back and for some self-defeating reason, Halle Berry goes back to him, though her last line of dialogue shows she has grown a spine since their breakup.

Murphy is very good here, convincing as the ladies’ man brought low by his own habits. He’s sexy, charming and funny early on, and vulnerable and pathetic when the chips are down. It’s a shameless performance, and probably Murphy’s most complex role. Like Richard Pryor, Murphy can act, but unlike Richard, Murphy falls victim to his own vanity projects way too much (see Norbit, how YOU doin’?). The Nutty Professor showed that the vulnerable side displayed here wasn’t a fluke, and Dreamgirls reminded us just how good Eddie can be as an actor, but Boomerang got there first. Even though Marcus gets made a fool of for a good chunk of Boomerang, I wouldn’t mind being him. I could live with being punked by someone as hot as Robin Givens if I could live in that bad ass apartment of his with Halle Berry.

Your homework assignment:

Get your best Mack Daddy Vibe Going

One of these men is President of BET


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Pondering Odie

by Odienator
(click here for all posts)

As is custom here at Black History Mumf, I am entitled to make one political statement per series. I’ve decided to forego that statement this year, opting instead to make good on a promise I made during Black History Mumf 2008. In The Opening Shot, 2008, I mentioned that there would be an appearance from Black Andy Rooney. Rooney is the curmudgeon on 60 Minutes who asks questions like “you ever wonder why I’m still on TV?” I can’t come out here and say “ya ever wonder…” because CBS will sue me for copyright infringement, punishable by either having a giant titty fall on me, Jessica Fletcher murder me, or by having me be the meat in a Jon Cryer-Charlie Sheen sandwich. So I have to come up with another version. I have come up with

The Pondering Odie.

The Pondering Odie, hosted by Octo Rooney, asks questions that I’ve been thinking about every day. These are things to make you go “hmmmm,” which of course I can’t use because Arsenio and C&C Music Factory own that. But you get the idea. So, here’s Octo Rooney with today’s Pondering Odie.

1. Elton John said Jesus was gay. The Catholic League freaked out. Jesus’ sexual orientation concerns me far less than his skin color. Was Jesus Black, as so many older Black church women have told me? Let’s look at this idea: Jesus had to look like Nick Ashford because a lot of churches are called Solid Rock. Everybody He hung out with was broke. He turned water into wine. He got betrayed by one of His friends for money. He was extremely smooth with words. He made a ho into a housewife. AND they let a guilty White man with connections go free so they could hammer His innocent ass up in the guy's place. If Jesus wasn't a Negro, He damn sure at least earned a Ghetto Pass.

2. If there's a classified ads section for has-been Black stars, does it have a big section of job listings for psychics? It's the step before they take jobs in bootleg, ass-out, ghetto-fabulous gospel plays. Don't believe me on the psychic thing? Let me count the people who had something to do with psychic ads: Esther Rolle, Vivica A. Fox, Leslie Uggams, Gary Coleman, Isaac from the Love Boat, Billy Dee "Colt 45" Williams, and of course Nostrildamus, I mean Dionne Warwick.

3. Has Toni Braxton ever dated a good man? Every fucking record is "you did me wrong, wah-wah-wah!" I think she purposely turns down men with promise. "I can't get a miserable, whiny ass song out of you," she'd say.

4. Is Kirk Franklin the P. Diddy of gospel music? If they stripped him out of his records, like the South used to do to Lena Horne in her movies, would he even be missed? I'm trying to listen to the choir sing, andKirk's up there yelling out irrelevant stuff like "God cured my corns!" and "All my people say!"

5. If R. Kelly had gotten sentenced for peeing on that girl, what kind of community service would he have to do? Would he have to clean out urinals at O'Hare Airport? Maybe he'd have to be a urinal at O’Hare Airport. Imagine the song he could make about that!

6. What gameless player wrote Tiger Woods’ speech? And couldn’t Tiger at least have committed it to memory (or gotten an Obama-Prompter) before he showed up on my TV for 24 hours? He sounded like a constipated robot; perhaps the only time he was emotional was when he denied that his wife whipped his ass. Which means she probably did. Like Lorena Bobbitt, Elin must have loved her husband. Lorena could have dropped John Wayne Bobbit’s dick down the garbage disposal and turned it on. I would have done that. Instead, she threw it out the window and somebody found it. That’s love. Mrs. Tiger ALLEGEDLY (God I love that word—takes the blame off me) went upside his head with that club. Had it been me, I would have gone for his knees. You can’t swing a golf club if your knees have the consistency of cooked grits. This is why God gave me a penis; I’d be way too vindictive as a woman.

7. As a half-blind man, I take great offense to Futurama, a show that features a Cyclops played by Katey Segal. I’m also taking offense at the Klan for once having a position called the Exalted Cyclops (once held by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd). I’m taking offense at Dick Gregory calling his book, Nigger, because he must have been describing me. And I’m pissed at Rogaine because they are offending my bald sensibilities by promoting anti-baldness. Does all this sound incredibly stupid? I’m just doing what Tina Fey’s lookalike is doing over the use of the word “retard” and Family Guy’s Down Syndrome episode.

8. Is Barack Obama the perfect storm of usage of racial slurs? He’s half-Black, which means he can say nigga with impunity if he so desires. But he’s half-White too, so if he shows up on TV and calls the Tea Party “a buncha crazy crackers,” none of y’all can say shit. White folks can say “cracker” with impunity.

9. Will Tyler Perry’s next movie be in 3-D? And what would be the repercussions of Madea flying into the audience?

10. You know who should get reparations? Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and the Cream of Wheat man. Let’s face it, they’ve been representing products that sell millions a year. And what do they get? Hit with a whip for burnt pancakes, watery farina and soggy rice—and NO MONEY. They don’t see one red cent of the money they’ve made by smiling on the packages. Show them the money!