Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Christopher: I ain’t afraid of shit!

Tricky: You afraid of bats?

[Both look up]

Christopher & Tricky: BATS!

This is one of many bizarre moments in Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s follow-up to Purple Rain. We’re far away from the smoky Minneapolis nightclubs and wooded forests, to a dreamy French Riviera with wealthy heiresses, schmoozing gigolos, and people named Tricky.

The story is mostly predictable: a young hustler (Prince as Christopher Tracy) and his brother (Jerome Benton as Tricky) stumble upon a young woman (newcomer Kristin Scott Thomas as Mary) as she’s about to come of age and inherit millions. They both go after her for her money, but then love comes after and obviously a triangle ensues. Her wealthy parents disapprove of the match, then the truth comes out, yadda yadda yadda.

But you don’t go to Prince movies for the story. You go for the music, and to see how “Prince” things can get. Well you’ve come to the right place.

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Similar to his role as The Kid in Purple Rain, Prince is kind of a jerk but still manages to win girls over. He doesn’t take no for an answer: he pesters Mary as she’s on the phone with her real boyfriend, kidnaps her as she’s about to board a plane to New York, and even continues liaisons with other women despite being supposedly smitten by Mary. Prince comes to us from another dimension altogether, but even in this idyllic French Riviera world I don’t get why Mary went for him.

Mary herself isn’t that great though, and is a total cliché as an “heiress gone wild.” Kristin Scott Thomas does the best she can given what she was asked to do, but the otherwise enjoyable song “Girls and Boys” has been permanently seared by the image of her goofy dancing. (Skip ahead to 0:18.)

But despite its cliches, flaws, and overall silliness – something about Under the Cherry Moon works. I like the bizarre world the action goes down in. A very interesting, and not obvious, decisions was made for this to be more of a straight romantic film, not a musical. Furthermore, Prince as first-time director makes some ambitious choices: in one shot at a café, the camera is set on a tripod in the middle of the room, and does a full 1 1/2 rotations around through one continuous shot, and each table of restaurant patrons is a two-step vignette. Without spoiling, the film ends on a bittersweet note – not the happy ending you’d expect from a romantic (mostly) comedy.

And, best of all, as you’re grappling with an antitraditional ending, the camera pans up to reveal Prince and the Revolution literally floating up in the sky performing the knockout “Mountains,” featuring a driving beat, catchy horns riff, and hypnotic dance moves by Tricky and the boys.

Like Prince himself, Under the Cherry Moon defies logic and the laws of physics – but this gloppy mess somehow fits together in a dreamy universe that is creatively defined and musically resonant.

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Weekly Round-Up: May 29 – June 04, 2016

My Memorial Day weekend was pretty packed, so not as much movie time as usual – managed to squeeze in some good ones though:

  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – This film’s intriguing premise (Oscar Isaac as a millennia-old mega-mutant who’s been awakened and must be stopped!) is slowed down by silly dialogue and the cliche “catching up on where everybody is, before bringing them all together.” We find out how Professor Xavier becomes bald, though! NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Night and Fog (1955) – It’s hard to say you “like” this kind of movie, but this mid-twentieth century nonfiction film (not quite a documentary) is undeniably powerful for its horrifying imagery and introspective narration. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Immortal Story (1966) – Unbearably long (at less than an hour) take of a wealthy older man who becomes obsessed with living out an urban legend, by recruiting a young sailor and providing a woman for him to couple with. Everything about this film felt stagnant, from the lifeless dialogue to Orson Welles, at possibly his biggest, perched within his throne. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Blue Velvet (1986) – Arguably David Lynch’s breakout film, finding his auteur voice as a balance between classic film sensibilities and unsettling surrealism. This loaded crime mystery is hypnotic, dreamy, and sublimely beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Valley of the Dolls (1967) – Another delightful “so-bad-it’s-good” flick, about three young women in the 1960s who succumb to booze and pills. I got to see this in theaters with an enthusiastic audience, cheering for key moments (wig-pulling) and outrageous dialogue (“You know how bitchy f**s can be”). Not for everyone, but if you love camp this one is REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?

A COT with a View: Optimism in Edwardian England and Central Florida

Steven Johnson

“Don’t you agree that, on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?”

“For the first time in history, all of us can have a say about the kind of world we want to live in. The choices we have made for the past 30,000 years have been inventing the future one day at a time. And now, it’s your turn.”

The first quote is from the 1985 film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View – spoken by a young British woman, Lucy Honeychurch, lamenting about her living quarters while staying in a Florentine pensione. She is assigned a room below expectations (without a view), but quickly finds herself in a position to trade her rooms with two other travelers, whose rooms do have a view. An opportunity for something better arises, and she takes it.

The second quote is from the current incarnation…

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