Musical Fantasy

Under The Cherry Moon

1986

Warner Bros.

Directed by Prince

Produced by Robert Cavallo, Stephen Fargnoli and Joseph Ruffalo

Written by Becky Johnston

As long as UNDER THE CHERRY MOON stays with being a playful, goofy romantic musical set in the south of France and doesn’t take itself seriously at all, it’s actually a fun movie to watch. Sure, the acting of Prince and Kristin Scott Thomas is atrocious (she has disavowed this movie totally) and the whole thing is obviously a vanity project for Prince as I don’t recall offhand any movie where the leading man is prettier and has more costume changes than any of the women in the same movie. Prince took over directing the movie from Mary Lambert, who had distinguished herself directing music videos for Madonna, Janet Jackson, Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston, Tom Tom Club and many other artists. This was his first and as far as I know his only directing effort. Let’s just say that as a director and actor, Prince is a brilliant musician. He so obviously was attempting to do a Fellini flavored French comedy and I give him points for his ambition. And there are scenes in UNDER THE CHERRY MOON where you can see that there’s a really good movie trying to fight it’s way past Prince’s ego and be seen. Unfortunately  somewhere along the way Prince decided that what he really was doing was A Tragic Love Poem About Doomed Lovers and that’s where the movie nose dives into oblivion.

Christopher Tracy (Prince) and his sidekick/wingman/cousin Tricky (Jerome Benton) are professional gigolos swindling money out of wealthy French women. Just from their wardrobe I’d say they’re obviously highly successful at it. By day Christopher Tracy plays piano at a posh restaurant while Tricky lines up his victims for the night, including Mrs. Wellington (Francesca Annis) who seems to have honest feelings for Christopher.

Tricky sees a big payday in Mary Sharon, heiress to a shipping empire owned by her father Isaac (Steven Berkoff) who is also sleeping with Mrs. Wellington. Mary will inherit $50 million on her 21st birthday and so Christopher sets out to seduce and marry her. Naturally this does not set too well with Isaac or even Tricky who discovers that he has feelings for Mary himself. The situation is further complicated by Christopher forgetting what he’s supposed to be doing and hopelessly falls in love with Mary.

There are scenes early on in UNDER THE CHERRY MOON that truly make me smile, such as Mary’s 21st birthday party where she shows off her birthday suit. The “Wrecka Stow” scene which actually is an inspired comedy bit. The scene where Christopher sings and dances on top of a piano and has an entire restaurant jamming to “Girls & Boys” and reminds us of why when this movie was made there wasn’t a musical artist working (no, not even Michael Jackson) who could touch Prince.

And the absolute best thing about this movie? Jerome Benton, of course, who along with Morris Day in “Purple Rain” provides the two best reasons to watch that classic movie. I’d bet next month’s rent that Prince cast Jerome as his sidekick in this movie hoping that together they’d have the same magic. They don’t. But that doesn’t mean that Jerome isn’t his usual hilarious self and he makes every scene he’s in better. It also tickles the hell out of me that he and Kristin Scott Thomas have far better chemistry than she does with Prince.

I also like how the movie exists in its own fantasy/fairy tale universe where people dress like it’s the 1920’s, talk like it’s the 1940’s, with the exception of Christopher and Tricky who speak in 1980’s vernacular and drive cars from the 1950’s/’60’s.

What else can I recommend about UNDER THE CHERRY MOON? The terrific Prince soundtrack, of course. Except for “Girls & Boys” and “Mountains” which he performs with The Revolution during the movie’s end credits, Prince does not perform any musical numbers and the songs are used as background music. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” and “Do U Lie” are delightfully playful and light, excellent fitting the tone of the early parts of the movie and Prince is helped tremendously having Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman singing backup. “Under The Cherry Moon” is appropriately dreamy and romantic. “Girls & Boys” and “Mountains” are both jazzy, funky numbers that are just plain flat out fun. And do I need to say anything about “Kiss” you don’t already know?

But an hour into the movie that all changes and as I said earlier, the movie turns into A Tragic Love Poem About Doomed Lovers that has an ending that comes outta nowhere and just would really spoil the whole thing if we didn’t have an epilogue with the dependable Jerome Benton to leave us with a smile on our face.

So should you see UNDER THE CHERRY MOON? Absolutely. Is it a good movie? Hell, no. In terms of acting it’s downright laughable. And the sudden shift in tone is jarring and confusing. It shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath with the masterpiece that is “Purple Rain” and it’s an insult to compare it with “Graffiti Bridge,” a movie that is truly horrendous and deserves to be forgotten.  But not UNDER THE CHERRY MOON. It is an awfully goofy movie that you can watch with fellow Prince fans on a Friday or Saturday night and have a good time with its unashamed silliness. And here’s a drinking game to go along with it: everybody takes a shot every time the name ‘Tricky’ is said as it seems as if every other character in the movie is afraid that we’ll forget his name, they use it so much and so often. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Enjoy.

98 minutes

PG-13

De-Lovely

2004

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Produced and Directed by Irwin Winkler

Written by Jay Cocks

DE-LOVELY is a good example of the way musicals are made nowadays.  Audiences have to have a ‘reason’ for why the people in the movie suddenly break out in song and dance.  I myself have spoken with many people who hate musicals because as they put it: “Why are the people singing?  Where’s the music coming from?”  Well, where does the music come from in a comedy or an action movie?  It’s not real, people.  None of it.  It’s the movies.  Musicals is a genre where you take it on faith that they’re set in an alternate universe where people express their feelings by singing and dancing to music that comes out of thin air. Jeezly. Pay your money and check your sense of reality at the door.

In DE-LOVELY, the conceit is that a man named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who may be a guardian angel is taking the old, crippled Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) on a trip back through his life before he dies.  Naturally, Cole’s life is shown to him and us as a stage musical.  Gabe occasionally goes up on stage to give direction to the various characters in Cole’s life, including his wife Linda (Ashley Judd)

The story here in DE-LOVELY is quite simple.  The movie mainly concerns itself with Cole Porter’s amazing music and his complicated relationship with Linda.  Cole Porter is bi-sexual.  Linda had an abusive first marriage that left her uninterested in sex.  She’s content to be the wife of the world famous songwriter and composer.  And it doesn’t hurt Cole’s career that she’s wealthy and socially connected.  As well as willing to ignore Cole’s relationships with other men and women.

The movie depicts the emotional love between him and Linda as real and genuine but physical love between them isn’t all that important.  They sleep in separate bedrooms, only occasionally coming together such as when Cole gets a sudden urge to be a father.  Linda seems to be satisfied with being Cole’s muse and helping direct his career.  It’s Linda who persuades Irving Berlin to come to Venice to offer Cole a job.  The Porters then move to New York where Cole Porter’s Broadway shows are huge smash hits.  It’s Linda who talks Cole into moving to Hollywood where he goes to work for MGM and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) But the move to Hollywood backfires on Linda when Cole gets pulled deeper into the gay subculture and they end up being blackmailed.

DE-LOVELY quickly settles into a routine:  there’s a musical number.  Then we get a scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with women.  Then we get another musical number.  Then we get another scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with men.  And then we get a musical number.  Then we get another…oh, never mind.  I think you get the point by now.

If there’s any reason for you to see the movie it has to be the musical numbers.  Cole Porter wrote some of the greatest songs ever.  “Anything Goes” is one my Ten All Time Favorite Songs and the gimmick in this movie that many contemporary artists appear in the movie in some really terrific numbers singing his songs.  Robbie Williams tears up “It’s De-Lovely” which is sung at the wedding of Cole and Linda.  Elvis Costello performs “Let’s Misbehave” and I really loved the hell out of Alanis Morrisette’s version of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”

“Torchwood” fans will get a real charge out of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) singing “Night And Day” and while I appreciated Caroline O’Conner’s version of “Anything Goes” where she appears to be channeling Ethel Merman it doesn’t match up to the lavish Kate Capshaw version in “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom”  There’s also Sheryl Crow doing a really magical version of “Begin The Beguine”, Vivian Green tearing the raw emotion out of “Love For Sale” and many other wonderful performers including Natalie Cole.

I’ve never been impressed with Ashley Judd as an actress.  Remember back in the 90’s when she was doing suspense thrillers and it seemed like she was remaking the same movie every year?  But here she’s not bad.  She’s a contemporary actresses who looks like she could have been a 30’s/40’s actress and she wear the clothes of the period well.  She inhabits the world of the 30’s/40’s as though born to it.  It’s not an Academy Award performance at all but it is an interesting one.  She goes through some remarkable character development during the film and I appreciated what she was doing while she was doing it.

Kevin Kline is…well, he’s Kevin Kline.  The guy looks like he was born in a tuxedo and I’m convinced he had to have lived a previous life in the 1930’s.  He just looks so comfortable and classy inhabiting that world.  It’s an effortless performance that brought a smile to my face.  But Kevin Kline has that effect on me.  He’s just such a good actor I’d watch him in anything.  I’ve seen him in better movies than this but it’s hard for me to say anything bad about an actor who obviously has so much fun doing what he’s good at.  His huge “Be A Clown” number is in the best tradition of classic movie musical numbers.  And what is really interesting is this:  Even though he’s an excellent singer, Mr. Kline deliberately does not sing as well as he normally does since the real Cole Porter wasn’t that good of a singer.

So should you see DE-LOVELY?  It’s not a movie I say you absolutely have to see.  But it’s very interesting in that it’s less of an examination of the life of Cole Porter and more the story of a woman married to a man who prefers anonymous sex with strangers than with her.   But if you’re a fan of Kevin Kline or Cole Porter music it’s most definitely worth a viewing.  And as a further temptation there are those really great musical numbers.  It’s an okay movie if you’re in the mood for a musical.  Enjoy.

PG-13

123 Minutes

Tommy

1975
Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ken Russell
Produced by Ken Russell and Robert Stigwood
Screenplay by Ken Russell and Pete Townsend

TOMMY is absolutely nuts. There’s no other way to describe this movie, which might best be seen as a cultural exercise if nothing else. After all, it’s nothing more than a bunch of MTV (before there was an MTV) videos strung together in a loose story based the classic rock opera album performed by The Who. Everything in the movie serves the overwhelming theme of organized religion gone wrong and Ken Russell sacrifices everything to beat us over the head with this theme relentlessly. However the movie does have Ann-Margaret masturbating with a pillow to orgasm in a sea of baked beans and any movie that has that scene in it can’t be all bad, can it?

TOMMY tells the story of a young British lad named Tommy Walker (Barry Winch) whose father (Robert Powell) is a decorated World War II bomber pilot who is lost during a mission and presumed dead. Tommy’s mother Nora (Ann-Margret) is starved for attention and while visiting Tommy at summer camp falls in lust with Frank Hobbs (Oliver Reed) one of the camp’s supervisors. Frank returns home with Tommy and Nora. It isn’t long before Frank and Nora are spending their days boozing it up and fornicating like crazy.  Not that that’s such a bad thing. Who wouldn’t want to spend all day fornicating and boozing it up with Ann-Margret?

Things start to go really wrong when Captain Walker returns home unexpectedly. Turns out he was shot down, held prisoner and it took him all this time to get back home. He interrupts Frank and Nora while they’re having boozy sex and in the following argument, Frank accidentally kills Captain Walker just as Tommy, awakened by the yelling of the adults walks in on them. Nora and Frank sit Tommy down and repeatedly sing to him; “It never happened. You didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it, and you’ll never say a word.” Tommy takes them literally: from that moment on he’s struck deaf, dumb and blind.

Tommy grows up to become Roger Daltrey while being sexually, psychologically and physically abused by Frank’s relatives, Uncle Ernie (Keith Moon) and Cousin Kevin (Paul Nicholas).  Even Frank gets in on the fun by taking Tommy to The Acid Queen (Tina Turner) who attempts to bring Tommy out of his catatonia by means of sex and a metal sarcophagus studded with hypodermic needles.

Nora puts her trust in The Specialist (Jack Nicholson) to cure her son but it’s all to no avail as he just takes her money, flirts with her and doesn’t cure her son. And then one day Tommy wanders into a junkyard and finds a pinball machine. Which he plays with a supernatural skill that soon propels him into worldwide fame and fortune that climaxes in a showdown with The Pinball Wizard (Elton John) that snaps Tommy out of his catatonia. From then on he promotes a religion based on playing pinball while simulating being deaf, dumb and blind: (“Put in your earplugs, put on your shades….you know where to put the cork!”) Nora and Frank exploit the commercial side of Tommy, selling Tommy T-shirts, pinball playing kits, and even opening up an expensive resort where you can pay through the nose to play pinball like Tommy and find spiritual enlightenment. Eventually, the suckers realize they’re being suckered and they revolt in an apocalyptic orgy of murder and violence that changes Tommy’s fate forever.

I’m going to go on record as saying that I’m not really overwhelmed by the music of The Who or their impact on rock and roll. I remember seeing TOMMY in the theaters as I was in High School when the movie originally came out and the crowd I hung around with wanted to see the movie.  And I’ve seen bits and pieces of it over the years and most recently watched it twice on Turner Classic Movies all the way through. And I’m still not all that impressed.

It’s actually a pretty dull movie unless you happen to love Ann-Margret like I do. I can watch her in anything (“Viva Las Vegas” in which she co-starred with Elvis Presley is one of my Favorite All Time Movies) and she looks amazingly hot like no other woman can when she’s sweaty. This is the movie where she’s watching Tommy on television as he beats The Pinball Wizard and she hurls a bottle of champagne through the screen. The screen erupts in an explosion of soap bubbles that fills the room which then turns into baked beans and chocolate. Ann-Margret swims around in that mess and masturbates on top of an oversize penis-shaped pillow until she orgasms. You have to see it to believe it but I don’t think you’re gonna have much of a problem. I know I didn’t.

As for the music…quite frankly most of it I found it kinda bland. The movie is a rock opera that means that everything is sung and there’s no spoken dialog. But unlike say, “Jesus Christ, Superstar” most of the songs struck me as remarkably pretentious and boring and do nothing to further the story or the characters. However, the gorgeous Ann-Margaret is absolutely wonderful all throughout the movie. She not only can sing but she can act while she’s singing and that goes a long way. And amazingly enough both Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson pull off their singing duties with professional respectability. They’re not singers by any stretch but they do a better job of it than you would think.

The main show piece of the movie for me was Elton John singing “Pinball Wizard” which he does was wearing these really goofy ten foot tall combat boots and sparkly glasses that look as if they were made especially for him at ‘Geeks R Us’.  Roger Daltrey makes the most of “See Me, Feel Me” “I’m Free” and “Listening To You” especially at the end of the movie where he survives the slaughter of the pinball camp and climbs to the top of a mountain in a blatantly symbolic act that had me rolling my eyes in exasperation.

So should you see TOMMY? Ah, it’s up to you. I suspect that if you’re a fan of The Who you own the multiple versions of the album and have seen the movie already so nothing I say will make a difference. If you’re a fan of Ann-Margaret it’s most definitely worth seeing as it’s a movie where she really has a chance to go nuts.   And I liked Oliver Reed in this one as well. But Oliver Reed is one of my favorite actors and I think he never got the respect he deserved. He starred in one of my favorite movies; “The Assassination Bureau” and he was outstanding as Athos in both “The Three Musketeers” and ‘The Four Musketeers” directed by Richard Lester. I think your best bet would be to wait for TOMMY to show up on Turner Classic Movies and go about your household chores and just take a break when there’s a song you like.

111 minutes
Rated PG