Tag Archive: eddie murphy


coming_to_america

Debatably the most popular black film of all time, Coming to America is the story of Prince Akeem, who, in lieu of his arranged marriage as the Prince of Zumunda, elects to go to Queens in search of true love.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (cough, cough), it’s hard to imagine the biggest black movie star today (Will?) getting this movie greenlit and made the way it was made.  LOOK AT THIS CAST LIST:  Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Samuel L. Jackson, Eriq LaSalle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Garcelle Beauvis, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (you may not automatically remember who they were in the film, but trust me, they were all in there).  That cast list is symbolic of the one word I would use to describe this film: loaded.

Legacy:  Again, impossible to pick one thing.  People give The Nutty Professor credit for this, but every fan of this film knows Eddie originated his ‘playing multiple characters in one scene’ routine with the barbershop here.  I believe the Very Smart Brothas made this point before I did, but this is easily the most quotable black film of all time, if not the most popular.  “My name is Peaches, and I’m the best…”  You know the rest.  Does that even break the top 10 of the best lines from this film?

Craft:  Film geek time.  For the million and one jokes we could spend all day quoting back and forth, the reason this film endures (in my humble opinion) is because it is a genuinely good romantic comedy.  That’s the heart of it.  Without that, you’ve still got a really funny film but not an all time classic.  I know Shari Headley was one of my earliest crushes and started me on the path of favoring the cute girl with a head on her shoulders over the sexpot with wind blowing between the ears (and I know through conversation I wasn’t the only brotha who felt like that).  Even the throwaway ‘Trading Places’ joke was a very nice homage for Eddie Murphy fans (would they even let the joke slide in these days?  Everything is so corporate).  I’m getting off track but John Landis (also the director of Thriller) was/is a hell of a director.

Crossover:  I don’t know how to fully explain this to a generation who only knows Eddie Murphy through marginal family films, but he was THE MAN in the 80s.  The Man!  And a big part of that was because of Saturday Night Live; he was a massive crossover success before this film (and in fact certainly helped it get made).

Apollo:  Soul Glo and the jheri-curled stained couch?  A little.  “She’s your Queen to Be?”  Somewhat.  Me and those close to me live by a Code.  Among the rules of that Code is this: “Don’t make your homies look bad.”  But there are exceptions to the rule of course.  In our first year in L.A. me and my roommate at the time agreed that if we were on some studio lot, and Eriq LaSalle threw a milkshake on one of us and sped off in his luxury car, there would be no fault if the other cat fell out laughing.  That (in my humble opinion) is one of the best ‘Apollo’ moments in any movie (and some of you may not think that’s the best Apollo moment in this movie).

The top 5 films kicks off with a film that was as prestigious as it was popular.  Until then, this is Malik ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Aziz signing out.

“Sexual Chocolate.”

SEXUAL CHOCOLATE!!!! 

(dropping keyboard as I stare at the screen…)

(pointing at the screen and exiting stage left…)

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richard_pryor_live_on_sunset_strip

Richard Pryor is universally recognized as the black comedian who set the stage for the onslaught of African-American stand ups who followed him in the 80s, 90s, and present day.  An argument can be made that there are funnier stand up films by some of the comedians that came after him, but Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip set the standard for almost every black comic stand up film that came after it.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While he certainly wasn’t the ‘first’ (Redd Foxx also comes to mind as someone who made a dent in the mainstream), Richard Pryor is held in such high praise by comedians and entertainers alike that it’s hard to imagine someone hitting that level of reverence today, working mostly as a standup.    You don’t need to have an eagle eye to spot a young Jesse Jackson in the crowd during this show, so um, Rich was at the heart of the community to say the least…

Legacy:  Wow.  Where to begin?  On a superficial level, it’s probably not a coincidence that in his first big stand up film Delirious, Eddie Murphy rocks a bright red leather suit that mimics that bright red suit Rich wore in this film.  The way Rich prowls the stage when he delivers his jokes, it’s easy to see Chris Rock mimicing his movements.  Rich’s confession that he’ll stop using the N-word to tear down his people has echoes of the reason Chappelle said he quit his own mega popular show.  Rich’s comedic telling of his nearly life ending episode is definitely reminiscent of Martin talking about his notorious mental breakdown in his own stand up film.  And how about the whole going back to Africa bit that Jamie all but stole word for word for his best standup special from back in the day (though I’ll be the first to admit that bit is still hilarious)?  Safe to say, every black comedian worth his salt watched this film more than once…

Craft:  I make no claims to be a comedian, but watching this film you really appreciate how many different types of comedy Richard Pryor did really, really well.  There’s the straight silliness/the storyteller (the animals in the jungle), the black comedian (the bit about brothers in the pen), and the self-deprecating (the whole bit about lighting himself on fire).  Even the comedians of my generation can usually only master one or two of these skill sets.  Richard Pryor really was the Man.

Crossover:  It wasn’t just black people who loved Richard Pryor of course.  Sequences like his story about working for the Mafia illustrate how Rich’s comedy went well, well past being just a black thing.  He was just one really, really funny motherf—–.

Apollo:  

An all time classic comes in next at #9.  But now that we’re in the top 10 that wasn’t much of a hint was it?  Guess you’ll have to come back later to check it out…

key_art_saturday_night_live

Probably the most controversial choice of the television side of the countdown, Saturday Night Live has ran for over 30 years and has more than earned its reputation as one of America’s top comedic showcases.  Created by Lorne Michaels, the show itself is not African-American by definition, but there is usually one black castmember every season.  And at least two of those castmembers…

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  The show itself is not African-American in the traditional sense.  But because of its primetime NBC timeslot, SNL‘s reach gives it a much larger audience when it does do something with a racial undertone.  The first (and debatably most notorious) of these sketches took place when Richard Pryor was the guest host in one of the show’s first seasons.  Doing a job interview sketch with Chevy Chase, a game of word association quickly devolved into…well, go look it up if you’ve never seen it.

Legacy:  While Garrett Morris preceded him, few would argue that there was ever a more perfect storm than the emergence of teenage Eddie Murphy with the post-Belushi/Aykroyd SNL.  Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub, and of course Buckwheat…no single castmember, black or white, has ever done as much with that spotlight as Eddie.  But there have been others…

Craft:  Those who have tried it well tell you comedy is extremely hard to pull off (go and try to make everyone in your office laugh at the same joke if you disagree on this point).  A major reason SNL endures over time is in its ability to find the right comic notes with the present generation.  There’s always going to be juvenile humor since the show caters to a younger audience, but every once in a while (i.e. Sarah Palin), the jokes will have some teeth.  One lost but not quite forgotten skit was ‘The OverActing Negro Ensemble’, where Sinbad, Tim Meadows, Ellen Cleghorne and Chris Rock basically took every scene chewing move that black actors and writers use and threw it into a 2 minute skit.  Probably went over most people’s heads, but if you got the joke it was hilarious.

Crossover:  Um, yes.  I would even argue part of the humor of ‘Dick in a Box’ and “Lazy Sunday” is in seeing (square) white guys doing ‘black’ music.

Apollo: 

http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=278716

The top 10 begins later this month…

bhcop

Originally written for Sylvester Stallone (who would take parts of the original idea to make Cobra), Beverly Hills Cop is universally agreed to be the film that made Eddie Murphy a movie star.  Don’t need much more for the intro, on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  In terms of African-American ‘movie stars’ (which I’ll define as people who you can put the name on the top of the marquee and people will show up regardless of the film), that list is still pretty short more than 20 years later.  Denzel.  Will.  I’d argue those may be the only two who can do anything and everybody will show up.  And both of those brothers came along after Eddie Murphy.  Easy to forget now.

Legacy:  Essentially, every one of his starring vehicles after this, as well as every movie starring Chris Rock or Martin Lawrence to name two.  And those are just headliners.  Let’s not forgot about the Mike Epps’ and Bernie Macs who also benefitted. (As a sidenote, I know ALL these guys were inspired by Richard Pryor, but I would argue Rich’s legacy will always be as a stand up comedian who did a few movies.  Eddie was a FANTASTIC stand up comedian who completely stopped doing it once he became a movie star.)

Craft:  All reports indicate that this was one of those films where the script was just kind of ‘there’, and a lot of the best scenes and jokes were improvised by Eddie and the cast.  So does that make it better or worse from a craft point of view?  I could see either side…

Crossover:  Oh yeah…that’s why it’s ranked so high.  The highest grossing film of the year (narrowly beating out Ghostbusters I believe, you fact-checkers are welcome to correct me if I’m wrong on that point.)  It seems silly now, but in the 80s there were ‘three black celebrities’: Eddie, Michael, and Prince.  This film went a long way to putting Eddie in that company.

Apollo:  

The countdown continues later this month…

 

the_arsenio_hall_show

With all due respect to Johnny Carson (who in my opinion has no peer), it was The Arsenio Hall Show that really brought cool back to late night.  Running in the mid 90s, the late night show became the stop for many musicians and speakers who had NO chance to appear on The Tonight Show or Late Night. 

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  On a national level, Arsenio Hall was only known for one thing really: being Eddie Murphy’s sidekick in Coming to America.  But he was a decent comedian on his own right, which he got to show off every night in his monologues.  Did he ever have leading man ambitions?  Things that make you go hmm…

Legacy:  With all due respect to the Magic Hour, there hasn’t been a talk show since that catered so directly to the urban, hip hop audience.  As popular as hip hop has become in the mainstream, I still question if a show like this would be as marketable today.  It’s definitely part of this show’s legacy that the Roots can back Jimmy Fallon, and any mainstream rapper/actor can get onto the Tonight Show now.

Craft:  A talk show has something of an unfair disadvantage in this category.  But if this show was before your time, here’s a good example of the type of show it was.  Jean Claude Van Damme was promoting one of his movies, and Arsenio said “That’s great, let’s go to the clip.”  And they cut to the scene where Dolemite roundhouse kicks the two cops trying to arrest him.  Poor Jean-Claude was lost, but Arsenio (and everybody at home) fell out laughing…

Crossover:  Oh yeah.  At his peak, Arsenio dabbled in rapping (Chunky A), by all accounts he had Paula Abdul at her peak.  He was the Man for a good few years.  His show was so cool, a young Southern governor running for President sat in with the band right now to play sax.  That one PR move didn’t win the election, but it sure as hell didn’t hurt making him look cool to both young people AND black people.

Apollo:  Can’t pick one event here.  The nature of the show was pretty loose.  A lot is made of how Arsenio had Farrahkhan on his show, then a few months later the show was cancelled.  (It’s true, look it up).  I can pick out certain things (Shaq rapping with the Fu-Schnikens, the Dogg Pound and whatever caption they got that night), but the whole concept of a young black comedian hosting a talk show on one of the major networks is pretty ‘Apollo-ish’ to me.  Just my opinion as always.

 

 

af_films_logo_white

Lady In My Life is the feature I’ve spent the first quarter of the year writing.  Named after one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs, LIML tells the story of a young man (Jamal Ali), as seen through the eyes of of his mother (Tanya Washington), his wife (Gloria Ceballos), and his daughter (Aaliyah Ali).  A ‘family’ film in every sense of the word, it takes place in three different locations (rural Louisiana in the 70s, Kansas City in the 80s and 90s, and Los Angeles at the turn of the century), and covers two major religions (Christianity and Islam).  It is both the most epic and the most personal story I’ve written at this point in my evolution as an artist.  While it wasn’t a conscious choice, it’s also the first story I’ve written without cursing, and the sexual references are mostly implied (the most undeniable proof I’m getting old…fast).

I definitely wrote this with certain actresses (and a few actors) in mind for the major roles.  The businessman in me won’t reveal that info yet; honestly that’s way down the line from a business point of view.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  What I will say is this: I can remember vividly when a ‘black film’ was defined as having either Spike Lee or Eddie Murphy.  That was it.  It’s still not where I feel it should be personally, but there has been progress.  And as long as there are those with ambition and talent banging against wherever the ‘ceiling’ lies, progress will continue to be made.

If writing the feature represents the first step, the second step is the Prologue.  For those of you like me who are fanatics of The Wire, you’ll probably remember before Season 5 started, three short films were released.  Each was a Prologue, or origin story for one of the major characters of the Wire (Prop Joe, Omar, McNulty and Bunk).  In a similar vein, the Prologue for LIML takes place years before the ‘story’ of the feature film begins.  It revolves around the first (dating) anniversary of two of the main characters, Jamal and Gloria.  Their five year old daughter Aaliyah is one of the central characters of the feature: you do the math.  The Prologue is obviously related to the feature, but it’s truly a separate project.  I’ll definitely be providing updates as that piece of the puzzle progresses; if there’s a demand for it, I’ll write a separate post talking more specifically about my goals for that particular project.

So that’s a preview/review of my 09 plans.  More as the gears start turning…

boomerang

Boomerang is one of the enduring black films of the 90s.  On the surface it can be categorized as just ‘another Eddie Murphy movie,’ but really it’s so much more.  The story revolved around a player named Marcus Graham, who gets the tables turned on him.  Most of you probably know the story, so let’s get to the tale of the tape…

Relevance: Directed by House Party’s Reggie Hudlin, here’s a quick rundown of a few members of the cast: Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence, David Alan Grier, Tisha Campbell, Robin Givens, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, Lela Rochon, John Witherspoon…MAN!!!  I know there’s been talk of doing a black ‘Ocean’s 11,’ but I’d argue Boomerang was it!

Legacy:  Take your pick.  Allegedly after House Party and this movie, Martin decided to cast Tisha as Gina for his new sitcom, a little show called Martin.  There’s John Witherspoon taking it to the next level with his ‘coordination.’  There’s Halle Berry officially taking the crown of ‘woman every brother in America wants for a girlfriend/wife’.  (It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time long ago when Halle Berry wasn’t ‘Halle Berry’ yet.)

Craft:  Ahh, this was the ‘Golden Age’ when you were expected to be both technically sound and entertaining as a black film.  Good times.  Still a pretty watchable film today.

Crossover:  Do you remember the soundtrack?  Yeah that’s still a great album: ‘Love Should Have Brought You Home Last Night’ (the introduction of Toni Braxton), ‘Hot Sex’, ‘I’d Die Without You’, and one of the biggest songs ever, ‘End of the Road’ by Boyz II Men.  It’s actually a nice song again now, but if you were around that year and you heard it at least twice an hour for four months straight, it became unbearable.  But it is a nice song.

Apollo:  The Grace Jones perfume commercial?  The perfect feet?  The seduction scene with Eartha Kitt (and her butler)?  Again, with this much talent (comedic and otherwise), take your pick.

Alright, back next month with the next piece.