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When a new comic series comes along touting itself as being “like Wes Anderson remaking Reservoir Dogs,” I’m bound to be intrigued — if for no other reason than the fact that I absolutely despise Wes Anderson every bit as much as I love Quentin Tarantino. As a result, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Tyler Boss’ new five-parter from Black Mask Studios, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, had my attention from the outset — but was going to be on a very short leash. If it proved to be a fun, foul-mouthed crime caper with a ’70s exploitation vibe, then I’d be in for the duration. But if it played out like a self-consciously “quirky” story loaded down with bright primary colors and a nauseating “rich people are nothing but harmless ‘big kids’ who never grew up and pal around with deadpan mute sidekicks from the Indian subcontinent,” well — chances are I’d be cutting the cord pronto.

As it turns out, this comic is actually neither (at least going by the evidence offered in the first issue), and should probably stay away from playing the comparison game because it stands on its own two feet just fine, thank you very much.

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Our titular “4 Kids” are an immediately-identifiable cast of 12-year-old social outcasts nominally “lead” by the strong-willed and quick-witted Paige, whose house serves as “hangout central” for their D&D-style gaming — until a bunch of unknown ruffians show up and start hassling them for no apparent reason. Paige’s apparently-well-meaning single father scares the hoodlums off, but when they show up the next day at the kids’ school to egg them on again, our youthful protagonists decide a stakeout-style surveillance mission is in order to gather some intel on just who it is they’re up against, not to mention why . Their “recon” leads to more questions than answers, though, when they witness their antagonists meeting up with — well, that would be telling, but it makes for one heck of a cliffhanger.

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Needless to say, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank is a decidedly “indie” book with a look and feel about as far removed from “Big Two” superhero stuff as one can imagine, and around these parts that’s always appreciated. Boss’ superb artwork has a bit of a Chris Ware influence to it around the margins, but on the whole is singularly his own, while Rosenberg’s script deftly mixes agreeably crude humor, spot-on characterization, and wry, witty dialogue with just a dash of mystery in a manner that’s breathtakingly free of pretense or self-conscious homage. I certainly “get” why Black Mask is marketing this to the cinephile crowd (some of the variant covers even ape the look of famous movie posters, most notably the iconic ones for Chinatown and the aforementioned Reservoir Dogs), but again — it’s certainly in no way necessary, and one could even reasonably argue that, strictly speaking, it’s a bit misleading.

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Seriously, though — that’s it as far as gripes go, and it’s both a small one and one that’s strictly on the shoulders of the publisher of this book rather than its creators. Black Mask more than make up for this one tiny strike against them, though, by giving us 32 pages of cover-to-cover art and story with no ads on really nice paper between heavy, high-quality cardstock covers for the more than reasonable price of $3.99.Marvel could clearly take a lesson on offering value for money from these guys.

In all fairness, I still have no idea, one issue in, what happens when 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank — but I absolutely can’t wait to find out.

 

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Who are we kidding? You know damn well what the score is going into any flick called Navy Seals Vs. Zombies — it’s going to be a low-budget action/horror hybrid with as smattering of D-list “stars,” crummy effects, atrocious dialogue, poorly-staged fight sequences, risible acting, and no real point to it.

And to be sure, director Stanton Barrett’s straight-to-video 2015 might-as-well-be-an-Asylum-film has all of that —errrmmmm — going for it. But somehow it manages to pull off the seemingly- impossible task of being both exactly what you expect it to be, as well as something far worse.

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When I saw this one added to the horror movie queue on Netflix recently (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD from what I gather but, as I’m sure it goes without saying already, you needn’t bother) under its alternate title of Navy Seals : Battle For New Orleans (although it was filmed — and the script explicitly states that it takes place in — Baton Rouge), I figured I’d give it a go just — well, just because, you know? And since I was in the mood for some good, cheesy, brainless fun last night, it seemed an opportune time to give it look sooner rather than later. So I plunked down, hit play, and with an attitude of “come on, how bad could it really be?” in mind, figured I was bound to at least enjoy something about it somewhere along the way.

Big mistake. Barrett and his credited writers A.K. Waters (story) and Matthew Carpenter (screenplay) definitely have the “cheesy” part and the “brainless” part down no problem — but Navy Seals Vs. Zombies is no fun whatsoever.

Here’s the damn thing, though — by all rights, it should be. Think about it : the plot here revolves around an elite Navy SEAL team sent in to rescue the vice president of the United States (played by former NBA star Rick Fox) after he becomes stranded in New Or — err, Baton Rouge following a zombie outbreak. No less than Michael fucking Dudikoff is the leader SEAL leader. Most of the effects are of the practical rather than the CGI variety. There are guns blazing and heads bursting open all over the place. A flick like that is bound to be many things — none of them actually good — but come on, surely it can’t be boring, can it?

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Oh, yes it can. And oh, yes it is.

For one thing, Dudikoff’s only on screen for about ten minutes tops, with the supremely untalented Ed Quinn, playing the role of Lt. Pete Cunningham, hogging up most of the rest of the screen time. His team doesn’t exactly appear to be in prime physical condition, for the most part, and these zombies are far from the incompetent shamblers we’re used to, so the fights at least ought to be semi-interesting given that the odds are a bit more evenly balanced — but they’re not. Nor is the story once the basics have been laid out. Nor are any of the characters, who don’t even rise to the level of being bland, one-dimensional ciphers. Nor, frankly, are the “legions” (and by that I mean a few dozen) of the undead themselves, who look like they all spent about five minutes in the makeup trailer before being put to work in front of the camera. There’s just nothing and no one worth giving a shit about on offer here. And so, consequently, you don’t.

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From what I understand, Stanton Barrett — being a part-time stuntman and part-time NASCAR driver — is a man of many talents. Unfortunately, filmmaking just isn’t one of them. The lifeless and robotic manner in which he stages all of the scenes here (really, every last one of ’em!) seems indicative of a guy who’s worked on enough movies to think he knows how to make one himself, but really hasn’t learned much beyond a minimal grasp of “point-and-shoot” basics. Sure, he wasn’t given anything even pretending to be a decent script here, and Dudikoff and Fox probably ate up half his budget for the one day they were both in town, but seriously — I’ve reviewed any number of movies on this site that managed to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less thanks to not even inspired, but at least competent, direction. There’s plenty of blame to go around when something is as altogether unsuccessful in every single respect as Navy Seals Vs. Zombies is, but unfortunately I’m going to have to lay the lion’s share of the blame for this unholy debacle squarely at the feet of the director, because even a modest degree of vision and ability probably could have dragged this thing — kicking and screaming, if necessary — up to the level of being “stupid but at least watchable.” This is most definitely the former, but that’s about it.

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In a way, it must be kind of great to be in Chester Brown’s shoes. Not that I share his same set of apparently-narrowing interests, mind you, but it would just be nice to have the kind of career where you can make a living (or at least something of a living) out of pursuing your uniquely personal passions.  Not too many people in too many fields of artistic endeavor have been able to delineate their own frankly obsessive interests with little to no concern for the larger “public taste” and yet somehow find an audience for their work (Woody Allen and Russ Meyer come to mind immediately), but Brown has evolved into just such an artist over the years — the question now is, will his work continue to be of interest to anyone other than himself?

Brown’s gospel adaptations are one of the things I’ve missed most since he wrapped up his long-running series Yummy Fur, so it’s great to see him returning to that wellspring of inspiration for his latest extended-form work, Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus (subtitled “Prostitution  And Religious Obedience In The Bible”), but the cartoonist’s  many years of being a “john” (as related so matter-of-factly in his last graphic novel, Paying For It) have no doubt colored his take on the supposedly “good” book, to the point where he’s assembled this latest collection of Bible stories with a very definite thesis in mind — or rather, two of them. And that’s where things maybe get a little bit confusing.

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Beginning with the first story he chooses for this book, that of Cain and Abel, a reasonably clear “through-line” forms of Brown seeking to demonstrate for readers that God actually likes rebellious folks who blow off his laws and edicts in favor of doing their own thing. Fair enough, sounds like my kind of deity — although I have to wonder why he or she would bother laying out a bunch of commandments in the first place if the idea was for us not to follow them — but then with the stories of Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, his second major point comes to the fore, that being that the Bible is replete with stories that portray prostitution in a positive light. This becomes even more apparent when Brown posits that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was herself a prostitute and that Matthew, in his gospel, surreptitiously tried to slide that little bit of info in there without being too terribly explicit about it.

Now, I have no particular beef with this assertion myself — although I can imagine the conniption-fits it’ll give to “religious right” types — but I do have to wonder if this book might have been more successful split into two smaller “graphic novels,” each concerned with making only one of Brown’s points. It’s not that things here necessarily get all that muddled, but his two separate arguments do seem to be competing equally for the reader’s time and consideration, and that’s something of a drawback.

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One aspect of this book that will get nothing but praise from me, though, is the art. Brown employs a rectangular four-panel grid for these adaptations (apart from the story of Job, which is buried back in the appendices and footnotes — about which more in a moment) that I find far more visually satisfying than the eight-panel grid he used in Paying For It or even the six-panel grid he employed in Louis Riel —not least because the pictures are all larger, and his obsessively-detailed linework and cross-hatching really shines when shown at this more generous size. He must spend literally hours on many of these panels, and the attention to detail really comes through in this format. Nobody utilizes shadow and silhouette like Brown, either, and while his writing style is incredibly blunt and to-the-point, his evocative and moody illustrations communicate all the subtlety and nuance that his clinical dialogue purposefully avoids. This is a gorgeous little volume to look at, all told.

As any veteran reader of Brown’s work can tell you, though, the backmatter is where a lot of the action lies in these far-too-infrequently-published books of his, and here that’s cause for both commendation and concern. His afterword and footnotes, when taken together,  run to nearly 100 pages in Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus, and while they’re no doubt uniformly fascinating and illuminating throughout, the simple fact is that they make a much stronger case for both of his theses than do the comics themselves.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book without reading the backmatter, because while the “main” portion does a reasonably good job of letting you know what Brown is going on about here, you don’t have any real understanding of why until you get to the supplemental material. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but equally-footnote-heavy works like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell use “the stuff at the back of the book” to expand upon the material they’re referencing, while Brown is coming perilously close to doing just the opposite — writing and drawing comics to expand upon the points he’s making in his footnotes.

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That fairly major qualm aside, Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus is still an important and thought-provoking addition to one of the most iconoclastic cartoonists of his generation’s body of work. Brown certainly reveals himself to be a distinctly “new” type of Christian (one who doesn’t believe Jesus to literally be the son of God, for one thing, which makes me wonder why he wouldn’t be more comfortable self-identifying as a Jew, but hey — whatever works for him, I guess), and probably one that we could use more of — these dogmatic “do as we say or you’ll burn in everlasting hellfire!” sorts of people really work my last nerve, while our guy Chester appears to be more of the “find your own inner path to spiritual enlightenment and seek to develop a personal relationship with the divine” variety. That, at least, even a confirmed atheist like myself can respect.

Hmmm — could Chester Brown actually be a modern-day Gnostic? Spiritually and philosophically, he seems to be hewing pretty close to much of what they used to teach, whether by accident or intent. But maybe that’s a subject best explored in his next book.

 

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Long before Prince (way too) prematurely crossed the mythical Rainbow Bridge, he crossed another bridge — specifically, Graffiti Bridge. And while this 1990 sequel to Purple Rain isn’t remembered all that fondly by many and frankly showcases His Royal Badness at his most self-indulgent, it’s far from a bad flick, features plenty of well-staged, extremely-high-energy song and dance numbers, and provides an interesting glimpse into the spiritual awakening he was going through that would go on to inform so much of the rest of his life and career.

Originally conceived of by Prince (who wrote and directed it) as a co-starring vehicle for himself and then-girlfriend Kim Basinger, their break-up necessitated a quick bit of re-casting and, I’m guessing, resulted in a budget-and-resources trim-down from Warner Brothers, but who are we kidding — given the film’s navel-gazing premise and heavy focus on music over story it was probably never going to be getting much studio promotional muscle behind it, and there’s really not much actual need for anything beyond a few sound stages (which were set up at Paisley Park)  and a couple afternoons of location filming to get something like this “in the can.” Prince was a notorious perfectionist when it came to his live performances and as a director he obviously lavished much more care and attention on the “club” segments of this film than anything that took place outside of them, but all of it flows together reasonably well to create an admittedly simplistic “love is God and God is love” (to borrow some lyrics from “Anna Stesia”) message that, in a pinch, works as a sort of shorthand description of the Purple One’s spiritual outlook.

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First, though, he’s gotta go through the darkness to reach the light. At the start of the film, Prince (reprising his role as “The Kid”) is the successful owner of a club called Glam Slam, but the recent passing of his father sees him in a decidedly melancholy mood, brooding and writing letters to dear departed dad from under our titular graffiti bridge. His big rival from last time around (Morris Day reprising his role as — well, himself) is still a persistent thorn in his side, though , and runs a club of his own called Pandemonium (with the able assistance of ever-present sidekick Jerome Benton). Things finally boil to a head in a fairly bog-standard Prince-Day confrontation, and the two finally decide to settle their differences once and for all by seeing who can write the best song — the winner gets control of both clubs, the loser walks away with his tail between his legs.

Obviously, The Kid could use some inspiration at this point — and fortunately for him, a healthy dose of it comes his way when he meets a lovely young poet named Aura (Ingrid “where-is-she-now-anyway?” Chavez), who opens him up to the beauty of life, the truth of universal love, all that good stuff. Much of their romance is, in fairness, rather cringe-worthy in its one-dimensional simplicity, and both Prince and Chavez are less than polished actors, but there’s an earnestness to it all that’s reasonably charming even as it insults your intelligence.

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Threadbare as that plot admittedly is, it’s really not the reason you’re watching a film like this, anyway, though, and Prince wisely spends well over half his flick’s 90-minute runtime on infectious grooves. Most are courtesy of him and his own band, of course, but The Time are showcased for a couple of numbers, and Mavis Staples, George Clinton, and then-child-prodigy Tevin Campbell all get in on the act, as well. It probably won’t surprise you in the least to know that everyone’s terrific and that Graffiti Bridge is worth seeing at least once for the music alone. Heck, any movie that gave us “Thieves In The Temple” has at least something going for it, right?

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It can’t all be good times, though, and just when The Kid seems to be reaching some sort of zenith in the happiness department, Aura meets with a tragic and unexpected fate that a)shakes our hero to his core and plunges him back into somber introspection all over again, and b)relegates her entire character to being nothing more than a plot contrivance to get Prince from “Point A” to “Point B,” spiritually-speaking — oh, and to win him Morris Day’s nightclub.

This time, you see, his journey inward in different, because the love he and Aura shared showed him that the truth is one and all is truth and — shit, I dunno. But he channels his grief into an incredible song called “Still Stand For All Time,” which he uses to absolutely blow Morris out of the water in their little contest and essentially take over the entire Minneapolis music scene. The end.

Obviously, for a movie that fancied itself as being some sort of vessel for enlightenment and awakening, some of the messaging here is rather dubious, and its treatment of women is both shoddy and offensive. Prince was many things but subtle usually wasn’t one of them, and despite the fact that actual storytelling wasn’t terribly high on the agenda here, what little there is really is quite clunky and amateurish — as is a lot of the film’s overall look, which is maybe to be expected given that most of it was essentially filmed at the star’s own house/recording compound.

And yet, for all its obvious flaws, it’s impossible for me not to have a tremendous amount of warmth for this flick (which is out of print on DVD but can still be purchased rather cheaply and is available via instant streaming on Amazon — standard-definition only — for a couple bucks), simply because what it lacks in polish and professionalism it more than makes up for in sincerity. Sure, what dialogue there is tends to be ham-fisted and melodramatic, but it has a certain lyrical quality to it, and whether by accident or design the entire production has a sort of other-worldly vibe  that really can’t be faked and marks it as something that truly could have only come from one mind. Plus, as mentioned before (but it bears repeating), the musical performances are frequently beyond magnificent.

As a movie, Graffiti Bridge may leave a lot to be desired — but as a vanity project, it’s both surprisingly entertaining and absolutely fascinating.

 

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In recent days I’ve emerged from my funk by feeling the funk — leave it to Prince to have provided his fans with the one sure-fire way of getting over his death which is, of course, by getting into his music. He wouldn’t want us to feel too blue for too long, after all — he’d rather have us all feeling decidedly purple. And what better way to not only remember, but celebrate, his extraordinary life than by witnessing the magic he created at the very height of his powers?

Granted, one could argue that said “height” lasted for decades, but for my money the best filmed record of it came in 1987 with the release of his flat-out monumental concert movie, Sign “O” The Times, directed (with a considerable amount of flair and confidence, I might add) by Prince himself with uncredited assistance from his former manager/business partner (and the guy behind the camera on Purple Rain), Albert Magnoli. We all know, of course, that His Royal Badness was the most gifted musician of at least the last century, but his super-human skills in the studio were arguably eclipsed by his skills on the stage, and if there’s one area where Prince may actually be underappreciated, it’s as a showman. Indeed, one critic remarked that in this flick, he “makes Michael Jackson look like he’s nailed to the floor,” and if anything, that’s putting it mildly.

Sign “O” The Times showcases Prince in what anyone who’s seen him perform live would agree to be his natural element — in front of a rapturously transfixed audience (at the Rotterdam Music Hall in the Netherlands, to be precise) that he is in absolute command of from the start of the evening to the end. A recent Slate piece proclaimed this to be the single-greatest concert film of all time (narrowly beating out Talking Heads’ Jonathan Demme-directed Stop Making Sense), and it’s easy to see why  — the sheer energy that radiates from every frame ins’t just infectious, it’s downright transcendent, and the ease with which the star of the show is able to channel raw, cosmic power both into and through everything he’s doing is flat-out unnerving at times in its sheer brilliance.

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The double- LP (of the same name) that 11 of the 13 songs featured in this film originally appeared on is, of course, one of Prince’s very best (Spin ranked it as the second-best album of its decade), but was also one of his most intensely personal works in terms of its construction and execution, given that he not only wrote, arranged, and produced every song on it as was his custom, but played just about all of the instruments, as well. It’s about as “solo” as solo albums can get, in other words, but don’t think for a minute that the band he toured with to promote it wasn’t up to the task of translating that material in a stage setting, because damn — the assemblage of “A-list” talent that Prince had with him on this tour was a veritable “murderer’s row” of musicians, dancers, back-up vocalists, and rappers.

Roll call : Sheila E. Dr. Fink. Levi Seacer Jr. Atlanta Bliss. Cat Glover. Dr. Fink. Wally Safford. Eric Leeds. Boni Boyer. Miko Weaver. Gregory Allen Brooks. Sheen Easton even turns up in the video for “U Got The Look” that marks the film’s only “non-live” performance. All in all, a beyond- impressive list of names, to be sure, each supremely gifted in their own way.

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Let’s not kid ourselves, though : it’s my hometown’s favorite son who is front and center here at all times, a whirling dervish of hyper-kinetic dancing, singing, and guitar playing that fucking destroys everything in his path — most notably anyone’s will to resist. Prince’s stagecraft in Sign “O” The Times is something beyond merely “undeniable” or “arresting” — it’s well and truly magical. It’s not a “superstar” performance, it’s a supernova performance, and frankly you could stand inside of an industrial blast furnace and probably be exposed to less pure heat than you are here.

Perhaps the most amazing fact to consider about it all, though, is simply this : Prince did this sort of thing all the time. I was lucky enough to see him in concert four times over the course of my unworthy existence, and every show was literally mind-boggling in its scope. Not so much for its high production values — although they were always second-to-none — but for its jaw-dropping musical bravado and the incomparable power of the electricity coursing through the veins of both its performers (particularly the master of ceremonies, of course) and its stunned, transformed onlookers. Even the occasional mis-step (like the one in this film that sees Prince rip Cat’s skirt off in a manner more lecherous and perhaps even violent than it is overtly sexual) is quickly recovered from when the Purple One and his band were really “feeling it” — and damn if they’re not “feeling it” to the utmost in Sign “O” The Times. For that matter, damn if they weren’t “feeling it” almost every single time they performed.

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Unfortunately, this hour-and-a-half of concert movie super-perfection is pretty darn hard to come by these days. I was lucky enough to see it in the theater (the old Skyway in downtown Minneapolis, to be precise) when it came out and even luckier to score a used VHS copy for a buck from the second-hand thrift store I used to manage, but it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the US and from what I understand most of the various foreign Blus that are available go for pretty high prices. Let’s hope that this situation is corrected in the very near future, because Prince fans the world over — particularly those never fortunate enough to see him perform in person — absolutely deserve to be able to see this. Elvis may have been the “King of Rock” and MJ may have been the “King of Pop,” but Sign “O” The Times is proof positive that Prince was a higher class of musical royalty unto himself.

 

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We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life —

He certainly did more than “get through,” though, didn’t he? Equal parts icon and iconoclast, superstar and outsider, there was always a sense that Prince was something other than, or at the very least apart from, the rest of humanity. Mind-bogglingly talented on a level most of us can scarcely conceive of, watching him perform a guitar solo live is the closest thing many folks will ever have to a truly cosmic experience. Surely this virtuoso energy, creativity, and freeform mastery that was flowing through him came from some otherwordly, perhaps even extradimensional, source. I mean — how else to even explain it, right?

Unless you’re from here. His home town. Minneapolis. In which case, he’s not only the most impossibly gifted musician of his generation (as well as any number of those that preceded and followed it), he’s one of us. And that’s doubly true for an Uptown kid.

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Everybody’s going Uptown — that’s where I wanna be — Uptown — set your mind free.

There’s a line in Ang Lee’s generally-reviled Taking Woodstock that’s always stuck with me, melodramatic as it might be — when Liev Schreiber’s transgender character tells the film’s young protagonist, played by Demetri Martin, to go down to the concert and “see what the center of the universe feels like.” Been there, done that, thanks to Prince. I was about 12 years old at the height of his Purple Reign, and Minneapolis was ground zero for a new sound, new style, and new sensibility that was sweeping the nation. And ground double-zero was Uptown, well known as the burgeoning mega-star’s favorite neighborhood. It’s also where I grew up. And where waiting around for a chance to see our local royalty was not just a thing to do, but a bona fide way of life for a good couple of years there. Whether you were loitering at one of the tables they used to have in front of the McDonald’s on Lagoon and Hennepin, or standing in line for tickets for that evening’s midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which played every Friday and Saturday at the Uptown Theater to packed houses for at least a decade), one way or another you were on a Prince-sighting mission — and more often than not your efforts weren’t in vain, as he’d cruise by on his purple motorcycle, no entourage in tow, just taking in the sights and sounds of his city. Yeah, we all know he put First Avenue on the map — but when he wasn’t performing or practicing or writing or producing or acting he was Uptown. It’s where he wanted to be, after all. Was it really the center of the universe? Of course not, but it sure felt that way when you were an impressionable little kid and the star of the biggest movie in the country at the time who had a string of number one hit singles to his name hung out five minutes from your house almost every weekend.

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I guess I should’ve known, by the way you parked your car sideways, that it wouldn’t last.

Here’s the thing, though — it did. Prince didn’t just have a moment, he was the moment. Even when he was tanking his career on purpose to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers, or changing his name to a symbol, or directing movies when he had no business trying to, or going bankrupt — he never totally faded from view, and still commanded the attention of any and every room he entered. At his career’s lowest ebb, there was never any sense that he need a “comeback” so much as that he was biding his time waiting for another breakthrough — for the world to catch up to wherever he was at. From time to time it did and he’d be back at the top of the charts with a surprise multi-platinum single or album, and once Musicology cemented his place as the modern king of funk/dance/R and B/rock and roll all over again, he went from legend to “guy for whom legend is too small a word” and stayed there, on his self-made throne, arrived at in his own time via his own singular methodology, until today. He exists — and I suppose always will — as a genre unto himself. Someone whose name will immediately be linked with a sound that’s entirely his for as long as people have ears to listen with — and feet that can tap along to the beat. Go out and find me somebody who doesn’t like at least one Prince song. I dare you.

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Sometimes it snows in April.

It didn’t today, but the sentiment from that song, which Prince wrote for a dead friend, certainly applies, especially here in the Twin Cities. Hard-core fans are understandably in mourning, more casual fans are in disbelief, and even folks who hardly followed his career seem a little off. Minneapolis has a palpable sense of loss hanging over it that you can feel, and complete strangers are striking up conversation with each other about something they have in common — an event they can relate to — in a way I haven’t seen since the Twins first won the World Series back in 1987. Back then it was random high-fives and “yes!!!!!!!”s — today it’s a shared sense of sorrow that our greatest living vessel of civic pride is gone, and that maybe we didn’t even realize all he’d done for us until it was too late. Yes, his untimely passing at only 57 years of age (just a handful of weeks after the death of his former protege, Vanity) is front-page news the world over, but it takes on added weight and significance here. I met some of the most passionate Prince fans you’ll ever find anywhere when I saw him in concert in Melbourne, Australia in 2003, and I have no doubt that he’s got zealous adherents all over the globe who are devastated by today’s events, but we’re still, in many ways, a provincial backwater (“fly-over country” as a former football coach who went on to greener pastures once said of us), and nobody let the world know we were here the way he did. And while we’ll still be here tomorrow, our favorite son won’t — and that’s the most quietly seismic happening this community has arguably ever felt.

A world without Prince is really going to suck. But it’s going to suck even more for us former Uptown kids.

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I was pleasantly surprised (enough, at any rate) by Franck Khalfoun’s remake/”re-imagining” of Maniac that he landed on my entirely unofficial and even more entirely unwritten “directors to watch” list, but here’s the thing — the fact that said “list” doesn’t actually exist means that it takes no more effort to scrub a name off it than it does to add one to it, and guess what? Khalfoun’s latest writing and directing “effort,” 2015’s i-Lived, more or less guarantees that’s exactly what I’ll be doing with his. Let the interminable bitching begin —

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I barely use apps for shit, but I guess the young folks do, so who knows? Maybe for them, the idea of a flick about one of them that’s kinda/sorta haunted will have greater resonance. And maybe they won’t think this film’s protagonist, a twenty-something nitwit named — groan! — Josh (portrayed in truly cringe-worthy style by the apparently talent-free Jeremiah Watkins), who’s got a degree from fucking Stanford that he’s putting to “use” as an “app critic” on YouTube for no compensation whatsoever (speaking of cringe-worthy, the name of his “show” is “J-Tech Reviews”), is flat-out impossible to relate to. But I sincerely hope that’s not the case, because if there’s an entire generation of people who can empathize with this asshole on even any level, then our society is well and truly doomed.

Fortunately for us all, so is Josh — but sadly, it takes a long time for him to meet his richly-deserved demise. First he’s gotta download the “self-help” app called (as you’re no doubt already aware) “i-Lived” to his phone. Then he’s gotta follow its advice, which frankly seems to work for awhile. Using its timely tips he’s able to get himself a new girlfriend with money named Greta (the fetching Sarah Power), land a bunch of new subscribers for his half-assed channel, and score a deal with an online “network” to broadcast his show on their YouTube feed for big money. Sure, he’s being followed by a mysterious stranger in dark sunglasses who carries an umbrella with his at all times (Brian Breiter), but Josh, being an arrogant bastard and all (his mother is dying of cancer back home and he doesn’t even visit, just talks to her and his dad via Skype), doesn’t even register dude’s presence and thinks that the “success” he’s now having is entirely due to his own “hard work.”

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Can you predict what happens next? Of course you can. He deletes “i-Lived” from his iPhone on the advice of Greta and his best friend Bobby (Chris Mena) and in a matter of days his girl cheats on him, his “big deal” falls through, and mom — who had been on the mend for a minute there — is carted off to the hospice ward. So it’s back to “i-Lived,” and suddenly everything is good again, even if he’s essentially having to offer blood sacrifices to the app at this point to keep it “working.” Then bright boy finally holds the name “i-Lived” up to a mirror (actually, to his darkened computer screen) and begins to have some serious second thoughts.  He also bothers to read the fine print on the app’s acceptance screen for the first time and sees that he’s — contain your surprise, please! — signed away his immortal soul to the devil as part of the deal. He wants out at this point, but I guess not that badly, and so all his dreams come true but he hates every second of it and finally kills himself. The end.

Oh, shit — guess I should have said in advance that this review was loaded with “spoilers,” huh? Oh well, I warned you that I was a cultural dinosaur.

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That being said, I did watch this celluloid abortion via instant streaming on Hulu (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD but ,needless to say, I don’t recommend even renting, much less purchasing, it) and between Khalfoun’s bland and uninspired direction and uber-predictable script, Watkins’ constant and annoying awareness that he’s on camera, and the film’s complete lack of suspense, intrigue, or even logic (never mind that there’s barely even any blood or gore), the kindest thing I can say about i-Lived is that it’s a total waste of an hour and twenty-one minutes of your life. I have nothing against the tried-and-true, or even the downright cliched, but please, Franck Khalfoun, if by some slim chance you happen to be reading this  — next time you want to tell a story about someone’s life going down the proverbial drain, make sure it’s a life that we don’t want to see over with from the moment we’re introduced to it.