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Eddie Murphy (#110 of 13)

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Mr. Church

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Mr. Church

Darren Michaels

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Mr. Church

Bruce Beresford’s Mr. Church is remarkable for how it manages to indulge so many offensive and shopworn clichés at once. A risible example of the magical negro trope, Henry Church (Eddie Murphy) appears in the lives of Marie (Natascha McElhone) and her daughter, Charlotte (played as a girl by Natalie Coughlin, then as a teenager and adult by Britt Robertson) as if out of the ether. Marie has been given six months to live from breast cancer and Henry, it turns out, has been hired by the woman’s deceased ex-lover to be the mother and daughter’s personal cook. But Marie hangs on, with six months becoming six years, which is enough time for this true renaissance man to become a surrogate father to Charlotte, encouraging her to read more and a become a writer (an ambition that she puts on hold after an unexpected pregnancy), as well as a painter and jazz pianist.

Summer of ‘88: Coming to America

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Coming to America</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Coming to America</em>

One of my most memorable and, in a way, profound early movie-watching experiences happened the first time I saw Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. By that point, the film was almost a decade old (I wasn’t even born when it opened in June 1988), part of the Golden Age of Murphy’s Hollywood career that included works such as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop. Directed by John Landis and based on a story conceived by Murphy himself, it had a simple but brilliantly executed plot: Pampered African prince, Akeem, travels to Queens, New York, where he disguises his royal identity in order to find a bride who will, as he explains, “stimulate my mind, as well as my loins.”

Up until this point in the ’80s, Murphy’s on-screen roles were largely street-wise cops or grifters prone to witty one-liners, often pairing him with uptight Caucasian straight-men. Here, he was entering entirely new territory. Instead of a cop or a con man he was prince; he was the straight man, and for the first time, he was also the romantic lead. The role marked another important turning point in Murphy’s genesis as a comedic actor: It was the first time that he really began to experiment with makeup and prosthetics in the creation of multiple personae on screen. Randy Watson, lead singer of Sexual Chocolate, and Saul and Clarence, barbershop regulars, were all the progenitors of the kinds of characters we would come to know, for better or worse, in comedies including the successful remake of The Nutty Professor and the less warmly received Bowfinger and Norbit.

Summer of ‘88: Red Heat

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Red Heat</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Red Heat</em>

What the hell are film critics actually talking about when they speak of “craftsmanship”? Walter Hill’s relatively recent status as an auteur may have been stymied by his unwillingness to take on sprawling, pretentious, or overstuffed shots or edits; for him, the somewhat anonymous vocabulary of the studio picture was one well enough worth perfecting. The gains of 48 Hrs., Hill’s biggest hit by a substantial margin, were lost almost immediately on his follow-up, the post-apocalyptic doo-wop musical tent-pole Streets of Fire. The film’s financial loss was profound; in career terms it scaled the writer-director right back down to where he was before, directing lower-budget studio actioners and comedies for the rest of the ’80s.

Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Hill was tasked with writing and directing Red Heat on the basis of his legendary pairing of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, it’s not hard to imagine the limitless possibilities that the bigwigs at Carolco—Schwarzenegger’s financiers of choice—saw for the superstar’s first-ever comedy. In both form and content, the film is lopsidedly, irrevocably dictated by his participation; the opening 15 minutes are exclusively in Russian, introducing Schwarzenegger’s Captain Ivan Danko as an impenetrably stiff juggernaut, nakedly infiltrating a sleazy cocaine ring encamped in a traditional Russian bathhouse. The scene’s dominant textures—buttressed by composer James Horner’s radiant, ominous synthesizer keys—are stone, flesh, smoke, steam, and ultimately snow, as the inevitable brawl between Danko and the Georgian mobsters explodes through a window out into the frozen hillside. Hill’s Moscow is nothing if not tough.

The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

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The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis
The Indelicate Delinquent in Manic Winter: An Evening with Jerry Lewis

On the occasion of his 86th birthday last Friday night, Jerry Lewis was in his element: water. He was drooling it onto his feet, wrapping his lips around the rim of a glass, and drinking from a pitcher. Abetted by his on-stage interviewer, comedian and TV cop Richard Belzer, the legendary nightclub performer, jack-of-all-film-trades, and philanthropic veteran of the Muscular Dystrophy Association met the expectations of fans who packed 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Auditorium on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by cutting loose with the brand of shameless clowning that has kept him rich and famous since the Truman Administration. Casually crossing his legs and sending a shoe flying into the first row, musically cutting off a Belzer follow-up question with “Was I throoooough?”, and fixing the perpetrator of a solitary laugh with a cartoonish, sneering turn of the head that dates back to his white-hot dual act with Dean Martin, Lewis was primed to give his audience a good time, and what was billed as a tribute by the fraternal comedians’ group The Friars Club morphed into a two-hour reciprocal love-in between childlike idol and uncritical idolators. “I’m nine, and I’ve always been nine,” Lewis self-diagnosed during a breather from his antic agenda. “The beauty of nine is that it’s not complicated.”

A Movie a Day, Day 73: The Box

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A Movie a Day, Day 73: <em>The Box</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 73: <em>The Box</em>

Springsteen’s song about 57 channels and nothing to watch was playing in my head last night as I rounded through my favorites on the remote control. Not that there wasn’t anything good to watch—the season premiere of Mad Men and the latest episode of True Blood, my favorite soap, were waiting in the DVR queue, and when they were done I stumbled on the second half of the always awesome Clueless. But when I searched for a movie to watch from the start, the best I came up with was The Box, a long shot that didn’t pay off.