Tag Archives: Eddie Murphy

TIFF19: Dolemite Is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore is a real-life man who made something of himself. He started from the bottom, begging people just to notice him, but eventually finds his niche, creating a character named Dolemite and telling jokes on stage and on comedy albums to very appreciative (mostly black) audiences. He’s a success by any measure, but after a lifetime of being told no, he sets his sights even higher, wanting to take his character to the big screen even though the studio system refuses to make room for him.

This is the role Eddie Murphy was born to play; he is truly at his very best here, more alive and in his skin than I’ve seen him in a long time. His joy is infectious. A long time passion project for Murphy, it’s clear all the cast has caught the bug as well. It truly feels as though everyone is proud to help bring this story to the screen, and to a new generation’s attention. The exceptional ensemble cast, including Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, and the lovely Da’Vine Joy Randolph, has a shared energy and passion making for a veritable party on the screen. It’s easy to join in and feel part of the fun.

Dolemite was a character just waiting to be born from years worth of cultural stories and jokes passed down generationally in the African-American community. Moore tapped into this consciousness, giving Dolemite back to his people, and director Craig Brewer ensures that he will not be forgotten. Watching Murphy as Moore find the groove of this Dolemite character is pure magic, a privilege to see. Moore achieved fame as a blaxploitation star in his own right and on is own terms, and he reached back, creating opportunities for others as well as himself, recognizing and picking up spare talent along the way. It’s a remarkable story and kind of an inspiration – in a weird way, a lot like Tommy Wiseau and The Disaster Artist.

But Dolemite is such a unique character and Murphy such a massive talent that this film is simply undeniable. Also rude, crude, and vulgar – not fit for a dog to see, as they say. The best kind of dirty. Dolemite is his name. Fucking up mother fuckers is his game. And for a time, it can be yours.

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Disney Movies Based on Rides

I am no fan of Johnny Depp, or Orlando Bloom, or stupid movies, so when Pirates of the Caribbean came out, I didn’t need another reason not to see it. But a movie based on a ride? What does that even mean? Of course, at the time, I’d never been to Disney World, so I didn’t understand to what lengths Disney goes to actually tell a story with its rides. This was not such a stretch. Nor was it the first of its kind. In fact, unknown to me, there were several movies based on rides coming out at the same time.

The Haunted Mansion is a much-loved ride at Disney. Sean remembers it from anigif_enhanced-5175-1444687916-5childhood, but the ride is even older than he is – it opened in 1969 in Disneyland, and 1971 in Disney World, and both are still operating today. You ride in a doom-buggy through a dark, spook-filled mansion. To this day, Sean is disappointed that his little sister ruined the ride for him – her little body occupying the space between Sean and his dad meant that they didn’t see the ghost in their cart, but two-person carts are treated to a spectral sight between them, among many other spooky tricks.

The movie The Haunted Mansion (2003) managed to come out to so little fanfare that I never knew it existed. Its story doesn’t really draw much inspiration from the ghosts that are known and loved for the WDW ride, but anyone who’s ridden it in Paris might find something more familiar. Eddie Murphy plays Jim Evers, a real estate agent who works alongside his wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason). He’s a mv5bnzc4nwyzzjctytm5os00odqylwfiyjetmdkyzgezndexnmrhl2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzq2odyxodq@._v1_workaholic and they’re supposed to be at the lake with their kids this weekend, but instead he can’t resist a detour to check out a potential listing – a cobwebbed, derelict mansion. Its “master” Gracey (Nathanial Parker) is reclusive and his butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp), is…protective. Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, and Dina Waters round out the the mansion’s creepy staff.

While the ride manages to mix horror with humour, the movie doesn’t quite manage either. In fact, I was constantly distracted by the memory of Eddie Murphy’s stand-up routine wherein he avowed that no black person would ever star in a haunted house horror movie because they would have sense enough to just leave the minute they saw anything supernatural. The Evers family does not leave. The audience feels very much like they have overstayed their welcome. Guillermo Del Toro was rumoured to be remaking this film, and I cannot overstate how very welcome that would be, but he has since parted ways with Disney so the film seems increasingly unlikely. Boo.

Country Bear Jamboree is a bunch of ursine animatronics who put on a country the-country-bear-bear-band-bears-now-in-high-definitionmusic spectacle, and have done so in Walt Disney World since 1971 – and they do to this day, in a slightly revamped version. I find it fascinating that park-goers in 2019 continue to be entertained satisfactorily by “technology” that was obsolete before most of them were born (if the popularity of the Millennial Pink Minnie mouse ears are any indicator of the park’s demographics). And yet the bears can still be found strumming banjos and talking to taxidermied heads in Frontierland.

The Country Bears  (2002) is beary disappointing. The bears are basically just people wearing dopey bear costumes, and the movie is live-action, with bears and humans mixing unreservedly. However, little Beary Barrington (voice: Haley Joel Osment) knows that he is different from his human brother and human parents. He’s detail.9e4f2ff3adopted. The only kinship he feels is toward The Country Bears, a defunct country-rock band made up of bears, who have since broken up. When Beary runs away from home to The Country Bears’ favourite venue, he finds it derelict, and about to be torn down. In a bid to save it, he tries to reunite the band for a fundraiser reunion concert. It’s a bafflingly bad film with zero laughs. I don’t know how it got made, I don’t know which 17 people went to a theatre to see it, and I don’t know how The Muppets got away with stealing this exact plot line 9 years later. And yes that’s Christopher Walken in the photo.

The Kid Who Loved Christmas

A troubled kid is adopted by a family at long last. The husand is a musician who checks in by phone when he’s on the road; his wife (Vanessa Williams, circa 1990) is a doting mother at home.  This could be little Reggie’s best Christmas ever.

But wait: tragedy strikes! Vanessa Williams dies in a vague car accident, which means the kid that just got a mommy now has a dead mommy. For a minute it untitled.pngfeels like her death is just an excuse to have Della Reese belt out Amazing Grace in a church, but have a little faith, folks: Eddie Murphy wouldn’t have produced just any Christmas TV movie. Her death is also an excuse for evil family services to swoop in and revoke the adoption (a single father is unstable!), which in turn allows us to see a little boy penning this heartfelt letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is my Daddy.

Love, Reggie

Daddy does everything in his power to win back the kid (with a little help from Sammy Davis Jr., true story) but it’s going to take a little bit of Christmas magic for this kid’s holiday wish to come true.

Don’t you just feel vicariously all warm and fuzzy inside?

 

 

Shrek

It’s funny how animated movies from this vintage have aged so badly compared to classically-drawn stuff like Snow White. Old Disney has a timeless feel whereas the dawning days of CGI just looks goofy and amateurish. But I can remember at the time thinking it looked slick as shit. Actually, as early as 1991, Steven Spielberg held the rights to this film and thought he’d do hand-drawn animation through Amblin studios, with Bill Murray as Shrek and Steve Martin as Donkey. Just imagine that.

Shrek came out in 2001. Animated movies took so long to make that voice actors were cast 12.pngyears in advance. Nicolas Cage was offered the part of Shrek but turned it down, not wanting to be drawn as an ugly ogre (he apparently missed the whole point of the movie, unsurprisingly). Chris Farley was then cast as Shrek but at his death in 1997, producers decided to recast the role and it went to SNL alum Mike Myers (you can hear Farley’s work here). Farley’s gone but not forgotten – if you look closely, you might just see a few of Shrek’s movements that were inspired by Farley, notably his use of “air quotes” just like a certain Farley character. And that’s a bit of a miracle, because when Mike Myers came on board, he demanded a complete re-write of the script, not wanting any of Farley’s influences to contaminate his own performances. Another result of Farley’s death was the dropping of Janeane Garofalo from the cast. She was supposed to play Fiona opposite Farley’s Shrek, but she was dropped like a hot potato after his death, no explanation given.

Janeane Garfalo wasn’t the film’s only disappearing act: Jimmy Fallon had recorded the tumblr_memaanhvik1qk381no1_r2_250dating game show portion as the Magic Mirror, but in the film that hit theatres (and your DVD shelf), it’s just storyboard artist Christopher Miller.

Like Farley, Myers recorded his role in his normal speaking voice. When he saw the movie with test audiences, he realized something crucial was missing, so he drew on the Scottish accent his mother would use when reading bedtime stories to re-record the lines. That little decision cost the studio $4 million dollars. Do you think it was worth it?  All the actors recorded separately, as was the custom at the time. John Lithgow (Lord Farquaad) lamented never being able to meet let alone work with Myers, Eddie Murphy (Donkey) or Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona).  Don’t feel too bad for them though – they’ve had several red carpets to schmooze each other since. Mike Myers did a lot of ad-libbing which comes as no surprise, but it seems that Cameron Diaz also added a lot to her role. Like her character, Diaz had studied kung fu (she was a Charlie’s Angel, after all) and recorded that part in full exertion (occasionally breaking out in Cantonese). Producers also scrambled to add Fiona’s burping scene after Diaz let one rip after drinking a Coke.

Because the film took so long to make (they started work in 1996), it features a lot of maxresdefault.jpgreferences that would have seemed fresh at the time (The Matrix, for example), and some that seemed almost immediately dated (the Macarena, and Riverdance, for example). It also gave the Dreamworks lawyers plenty of time to go over the film with a fine tooth comb: no one wanted to get sued by Disney for the many satirical pokes and jabs at their theme parks.

Of course we all know that Donkey is the best character in Shrek, and he was memorably voiced by Eddie Murphy, like no other could. In fact, Murphy received a BAFTA nomination for his voice-over performances, the first of its kind. Murphy knows it’s some of his best work, and firmly believes that when he does, the obit will run with a picture of a donkey beside it. “Donkey is a really positive character. He’s always looking at the bright side of everything, trying to work it out. A happy-go-lucky donkey.” How can you not love a sensitive, hyperactive donkey with a sweet tooth for waffles and parfait? And if you thinktumblr_n50847EJoc1smcbm7o1_500.gif he looks a little too cute and cuddly for a donkey, you’re right – although he’s modeled after a real-life miniature donkey named Perry who lives in Palo Alto, near DreamWorks, his movements mimic that of a dog rather than a hooved animal.

Shrek was released to enormous success. They immediately went to work on a second (which led to an ill-advised 3rd, and then a 4th that’s not much better). But in 2001, Shrek was animation gold. It was the first animated American film screened at Cannes since Peter Pan in 1953. It also won the inaugural Oscar for Best Animated Film when the Academy Award added it in 2001 (it beat out Pixar’s Monsters, Inc!). It was the 3rd highest grossing movie of the year, behind some Harry Potter and some other Lord of the Rings (and just edging out Monsters, Inc, in fact). So even if the animation looks a little busted today, it’s got a pretty solid spot in animated history.