I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Sunday, October 30, 2005

"The Flintstones" (1960-1966)

"The Flintstones" remains one of the most popular cartoons among the many the duo of Hanna-Barbera produced. Look closely at it, and you'll see that it is an animated version of "The Honeymooners" set back in the pre-historic era.

The series follows the mishaps of one Fred Flinstone, an everyman who works in a quarry run by Mr. Slate. His long-suffering but understanding wife, Wilma, puts up with his schemes. Fred's partner in crime is next door neighbor Barney Rubble, a short guy who's never without a quip about Fred's weight or personality. Barney's wife is Betty, a woman with a bubbly giggle. Fred and Wilma eventually give birth to daughter Pebbles, a cute little girl who looked exactly like Wilma. Barney and Betty adopted Bam Bam, a powerful baby who had been left on their doorstep.

One of the series running gags was the use of animals to power things. Wilma would use a porcupine to clean the house, dinosaurs helped moved the rocks at Fred's job, a bird's long beak served as the needle on a record player. Sometimes, the animals would comment on their jobs.

Guest stars were put to good use on the show. One of the series' most famous episodes features Ann-Margaret voicing a character named "Ann-Margrock" whom Fred and Barney mistake for a nanny. They put her to work babysitting Pebbles. Singer James Darren voiced a character similar to himself in another episode that also featured the popular 1960s group The Beau Brummels singing their hit "Laugh, Laugh".

Episodes also made comments on things that were happening in the pop culture of the day. Fred was turned into a rock star by a southern gent who kept making references to a "Georgia boy" he had as a former client. Obviously it was a funny made a the expense of Col. Tom Parker, who was managing Elvis Presley. In a nod to the spy craze of the day, Fred and Barney found themselves embroiled in a James Bond-type adventure, which their wives did not believe. The Flintstones and the Rubbles ended up with a set of weird neighbors called the Gruesomes, who were similar to "The Addams Family", who were also on TV at that time.

One of the low points of the series in my opinion was the set of episodes that featured the Great Gazoo, an alien who appeared to Fred and Barney (Pebbles and Bam Bam could see him, too). Maybe the series were trying to keep up with other series that featured magic and otherwordly things (i.e. "Bewitched", "I Dream Of Jeannie"), but it didn't add anything to the show.

After its initial run, "The Flinstones" like "Scooby Doo", continued on TV in various forms including "Flinstones Kids" which featured the main characters as grade schoolers, and "The Pebbles and Bam Bam Show" which followed the teenaged antics of Fred and Barney's kids. There was even a movie, The Man Called Flinstone in 1964.

The First Wives Club (1996)

The wronged wives are joined in revenge when a friend of theirs (Stockard Channing) commits suicide when her husband dumps her for a younger woman. The husband even has the gall to show up at the funeral with his young chickie (played by Elizabeth Berkley of TV's "Saved By The Bell"). Diane Keaton's husband keeps lying to her, Bette Midler's husband runs off with another woman, and Goldie Hawn's aging actress character is trying to get herself together.

I was expecting more of a revenge plot, and a lot more laughs. The movie is sort of strung together like a series of TV comedy skits, and things are tied up a little too neatly and quickly at the end. Some of the ways the philandering husbands are given their paybacks are kind of amusing, but not deep enough.

Heather Lockyler ("TJ Hooker", "Melrose Place") appears in the film, but is not listed in the credits.

What Women Want (2000)

Mel Gibson stars as Nick, an arrogant ad exec who has always been catered to by women from the time he was a kid. Guy never learned that the world doesn't work like that, nor revolve around him. It looks like he's on the rise at work, until Darcy (Helen Hunt) is hired for the position he wanted to be promoted into. One night, Nick has an accident in his apartment. When he wakes up, he discovers to his horror that he can read the thoughts of women. Once Nick gets over being freaked out, he figures he can use his new skill to his advantage. He sets out to make Darcy look incompetant, but that becomes harder to do once he finds himself falling for her.

Not a bad comedy, but they could have taken it in so many directions. Nick does learn something about women due to his mind-reading, but the writers don't go much further than making him a little more sympathetic to women's feelings. A subplot has him coming to the rescue of a depressed co-worker who doesn't feel valued at the job or elsewhere. Another side story has him trying to save his teenaged daughter's honor before she gives it up at the prom.

The soundtrack is killer, Rat Pack retro, including cuts from Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bobby Darin.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Enter The Dragon (1973)

No one, and I mean no one, not Jackie Chan, not Chuck Norris, not Jean Claude VanDamme, could beat people up on film and make it look pretty. Only one man could do that, and that man was Bruce Lee.

The story follows three men who have been invited to a remote island in Asia to take place in a tournament. Each has his own reasons for being there (the other two men are John Saxon and Jim Kelly). Lee wants to come face to face with the host, a crime lord who is responsible for the death of his sister.

Lee is not the only martial artist in the film. Jackie Chan appears in an early scene. Jim Kelly was an American martial arts star who had done a few films where he was the star. The main draw was Lee, a man who developed his own style of fighting long before Hollywood came calling. The man moved like a cat; no movement was wasted. There is a huge fight sequence where it appears that 50 guys decided to jump Lee at once. Lee is only armed with his natural abilities and a pair of nunchunk sticks. When the dust settles, the men are laid out on the floor. Lee walks through the bodies with an attitude that seemed to say, "Just took care of my light work!"

Eventually, Lee comes has a showdown with his nemesis, in an unique fight sequence that has yet to be matched. It involves a room of mirrors and the unleashing of a lot of pent up rage.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lee did not see the success of what turned out to be the defining moment of his career. Before the film opened, Lee had passed away. The film increased his popularity, which has continued to increase, even to this day.

"Clutch Cargo" (1959)

I was delighted to find this old cartoon on DVD, so I brought a copy. It chronicles the adventures of Clutch, a blond manly man, and his pals, a little boy named Spinner, and a dog named Paddlefoot. They travel around the world, getting caught up in mystery and intrigue. The fun is in watching the animation.

The way the cartoon was put together is very flat. The characters don't move very much, but their mouths do. A technology was used called Syncro-Vox. Actual human lips spoke the lines, and then were superimposed on the drawings. The cartoon was done very cheaply. Many times when characters are talking, you only see the backs of their heads. The same frames were used a lot to show the characters expressing shock, surprise, or terror.

The stories, which are serialized, are actually not bad. Clutch and his pals were always left in some extremely bad situation at the end of each chapter. Miraculously, they would survive the situation--plane going down, ship sinking, boulders bearing down on them, etc.--at the beginning of the following episode. I remember one episode I watched when I was about six years old where a hooded figure was tipping up on Clutch, Spinner, and Paddlefoot while they were in some old building. Of course, they didn't see the person, who appeared to be set to do them harm. Suddenly, the announcer booms in with the old "Will they make it? Tune in next time!" I found that to be scary at the time.

Like so many of those old cartoons, they are seldom rerun on TV (if at all) because of the politically incorrect images contained. Asians are seen as evil, Africans as violent and backwards, and so on. Wouldn't fly today.

Madea's Family Reunion (2005)

The first time I saw this stage play was on a tape I borrowed from one of my aunts. I had heard about the character of Madea, but had no idea how outrageous she was until I saw this and a previous tape entitled I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Madea was more of a supporting player in that one, but in Madea's Family Reunion, she takes center court. I had to buy the official DVD.

Madea, as played by actor/playwright/director Tyler Perry, is a senior citizen who says exactly what's on her mind and carries a gun in her purse. She is part of a large extended family, including her next door neighbors, the Browns. When the story opens, the family is returning from the funeral of Madea's sister, a woman whom she obviously had no use for. One of her daughters admonishes her for causing a commotion during the service with her remarks. When the pastor stops by, Madea has no respect, as she continues to make snide remarks about the service. The funeral behind them, Madea's daughters turn their mind to preparing for the wedding of one of Madea's granddaughters.

Madea's granddaughter is marrying a guy who is financially successful, but her heart still belongs to another guy who makes a living as Madea observes, "a country mechanic." He is aware she has feelings for him, because he still has feelings for her. The mechanic is upset when he finds out about the upcoming nuptials, and tells her that they are not over.

The bride's sister is a drug addict with a baby, whom she constantly leaves on Madea and her mother to take care of. Another granddaughter is married to a former criminal who has had a hard time finding a job for the past two years. Things get hot when the drug addict claims her cousin's husband has made a pass at her. It is also discovered that the future bride's fiancee has a bad temper--and he likes to use his hands on his future wife. In the middle of the messes, Madea puts her two cents in.

This show has a strong Christian bent, and the songs sung by some of the characters reflect this. That's not to say there isn't some sexual innuendo, as well as some harsh subjects presented, such as domestic abuse and child molestation.

One of my favorite scenes is when the drug addicted granddaughter totally goes off on everybody. She makes the mistake of telling her grandmother that she "looks like a bag of Skittles." Madea quietly goes into the house while family and friends hide in the backyard. The granddaughter unwisely chooses to stand her ground and mouth off. Madea rushes back out of the house snapping, "Taste the rainbow!" and fires off her gun several times at her granddaugher, who runs like hell was behind her.


Monday, October 24, 2005

"Girlfriends" (2000-2008)

An African-American version of "Sex In The City", but with more of a vibe. Joan Clayton (Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of former Supremes member Diana Ross) began the series as a lawyer in a high-powered firm alongside friend William Dent (Reggie Hayes). Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks) was her assistant during the first couple of seasons. Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones) is Joan's self-absorbed best friend, and Lynn Searcy (Persia White), a career grad school student who flits from one thing to another. During the first season, viewers were treated to Joan's inner dialogue, a plot device which gratefully, was dropped.

Of the four women, only girl-from-the-'hood Maya was happily married to Darnell (first played by Flex Alexander, and later by Khalil Kane). Joan was constantly angling to be married, and suffered through a succession of boyfriends. One turned out to be a sex addict, one was an actor who carried the baggage of an ex-girlfriend with a baby. The closest she came to marriage was with an Hollywood agent (Malik Yoba, of "New York Undercover"), but all was dashed when he told her he wished to remain childfree. She then embarked on a relationship with long-time friend William, but it appears they weren't meant to be soul mates after all.

Sharon Upton Farley (Anne-Marie Johnson of "In Living Color"), a bitchy woman who joined the firm as a partner, gave Joan hell on her job for a minute. This development caused William to quit, because he felt he should have been promoted. William eventually came back and was made partner. Joan on the other hand, grew tired of the law game, and left the firm to open a restaurant, with financial help from William.

William, who is somewhat of a geek, came close to wedding bells too, when he proposed to Yvonne Blackwell (Cee Cee Michaels), a policewoman. However, she felt that "Big Willie" was trying to change her into something she was not, and she left him at the altar. He rebounded and dated Monica Charles Brooks (Keesha Sharp), a hateful wench who pushed William to climb the career ladder even higher. Toni, Joan, Maya, and Lynn couldn't stand her, and the feeling was mutual. William ended up married to Monica, but the marriage was shaky.

Maya's marriage to blue collar Darnell fell apart when she entered into an emotional--but not sexual--relationship with Stan Wright (Don Franklin, who by the way, is a buddy of mine from high school). Darnell overheard a voice mail message which busted his wife, and kicked her out of the house. They divorced, which had a negative effect on their son Jabari (Tanner Scott Richards). Darnell was engaged to marry someone else, when he admitted he still loved Maya. They remarried in Vegas and rekindled their love.

Lynn, the wild child and champion moocher, went through a string of men including a celibate spoken word artist, and a Jamaican. Lynn finally found her birth parents, a manic depressive and a working man (played by Demond Wilson of "Sanford and Son"). She was floored by the news that her mother's parents paid her father to go away because they disapproved of the fact that he was a man of color (Lynn's birth mom is white). Her adoptive parents, tired of supporting her through her various adventures, forced her to pay back the money they paid for her numerous grad school degrees. She ended up getting a job in an office, which she hated with a passion. Didn't last long before she was out. Lynn became the landlord of the building where Darnell and Maya reside.

Toni began the series dating hot but poor artist Greg Sparks (Chuma Hunter-Gault), but she accepted a sudden proposal from a doctor (Greg Morris). Joan let it slip to Greg that Toni was engaged, and she ended up losing both men. It caused a serious rift in her and Joan's friendship--at one point, Toni slapped the hell out of Joan, and had to be pulled off of her. Realizing that she did need help in cleaning up her messes, Toni tried church, and then saw a psychiatrist, whom she proceeding to drive crazy. She also opened her own real estate firm, with William as her attorney. After a Botox injection went wrong, Toni saw plastic surgeon, a Jewish guy named Todd Garrett (Jason Pace), who quickly fell in love with her. They got married, but Toni's selfish, gold digging ways put a strain on the couple. They separated, then Toni discovered she was pregnant. Throughout the pregnancy, Toni and Todd struggled to make their marriage work. Unfortunately, after their daughter was born, the couple decided to call it quits.

As with all sitcoms after a few years, "Girlfriends" showed its age. I would have liked to see more of Lynn navigating the relationship with her birth father, her half-brother, and her birth father's shrewish wife. Joan's revolving boyfriends and her constant whining about being over thirty and unmarried was getting tired. The sitcom "jumped the shark" when Toni broke off her friendship with Joan and moved to NYC (Jill Marie Jones had left the show due to a contract dispute).  There was an attempt to fit the Monica character in with the other women, but Monica remained too abrasive for that to happen.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

"Gaither Homecoming"

Bill and Gloria Gaither are superstars in the world of Christian music. Their style of Southern Gospel has been showcased in many specials that are syndicated on Christian television.

The shows are truncated versions of longer specials that may be brought on DVD. If you watch enough of the specials, you'll notice that commercials hawking the specials are ran constantly. Doesn't take away from the shows, which are highly entertaining. They are usually filled with members of the "Homecoming" family, performers such as the Gaither Vocal Band, Jeff and Sherry Easter and Jessie Dixon. There is a lot of clean humor mixed in as well. Much of the laughs were provided by Mark Lowry, a dough faced singer/comic who used to be a member of the Gaither Vocal Band.

It is sad to watch some of the older specials that feature singers who are no longer with us. The Gaithers have produced specials that focus on the gone but not forgotten performers such as "The Queen of Gospel" Vestal Goodman, and Jake Hess. J.D. Southern, who also sang backup behind Elvis Presley, was also featured prominently in earlier specials.

The specials, since they are Christian themed, also include a bit of sermonizing, although it is not done in a hit them over the head with Bible way.

"Dynasty" (1981-1989)

"Dynasty" was ABC's answer to "Dallas", which was on CBS. The show exemplified the attitude of the go-go 1980s, with a heavy focus on glamour.

Just like the Ewings on "Dallas", the Carringtons had made their money in oil. They were based in Denver, Colorado. Blake Carrington was basically a decent man, although early episodes presented Blake as a rat. During the first season, he married his secretary, a former farm girl named Krystal, who had a good heart. Blake had two adult children--Fallon, who was a spoiled party girl, and Steven, who was gay. Blake also treated Jeff Colby, the son of a business rival named Cecil, like a son. Jeff eventually married Fallon.

Blake really had a problem with Steven being gay during the first few seasons of the show. An arguement took place between Blake and Steven's lover, and the lover ended up dead. It was an accident, but the prosecution was looking to take Blake down. During the last episode of the 1981 season, a mysterious veiled woman entered the court as a surprise witness for the prosecution. The following season, the audience learned that the woman was Blake's first wife, a spiteful, vengeful creature named Alexis. The addition of her scheming character was a big boost for the show. Blake didn't have to do jail time, but Alexis was an albatross he and Krystal would have to contend with for the rest of the series.

Unlike "Dallas", "Dynasty" didn't get much into the business problems faced by Blake and Cecil. The plots were steamier, focusing on the private lives of the super-rich characters. Some of the most memorable moments were between Alexis and Krystal. Their fist fights were legendary. There was another moment when Alexis was in bed with Cecil, when the man had a heart attack. She slapped him over and over, demanding that he not die on her. Later, she married him while he lay in the hospital. Alexis inherited his company after he died, and became a major business rival to Blake. Alexis did everything to ruin Blake, hiding the fact that deep down inside, she still loved him.

Another plot development saw the appearance of the son that had been kidnapped from Alexis and Blake years ago. Adam joined the business, and proved to be as ruthless as Alexis. Adam and Jeff had their differences. Later, it was revealed that Adam wasn't actually Alexis and Blake's son, but Blake adopted him anyway. Alexis dropped a surprise on Blake when Amanda showed up. Turns out that she was Blake's daughter, conceived right before the time he divorced Alexis after she cheated on him. Alexis never told Blake she was pregnant. Amanda married a prince in one of the most lavish weddings on the show, but it was short lived. A military coup took place on the day of the nuptials, and a lot of people ended up dead. Amanda and the prince survived to run back to America, but their wedding fizzled not long afterwards.

Blake discovered he had a half-Black sister, Dominique, an illegitimate daughter of his dad, who arrived with her own set of problems. Alexis' sister, Caress, whom she railroaded into jail, showed up for some revenge, along with Blake's evil brother, Ben, who had an eye on the oil empire. Jeff and Fallon's marriage had numerous ups and downs, while Steven, confused about his sexuality at one point, was married to trampy Sammy Jo. Sammy Jo's dad turned out to be a old--and very rich--flame of Krystal's, and some drama flared up out of that situation. Alexis kept hooking up with men who assisted her with trying to bring Blake down, with the exception of Dex, who begged Alexis to stop her revenge campaign.

The last episode of the series ended on a cliffhanger, which found Fallon and little Krystina (Blake and Krystal's daughter) trapped in a mine shaft, Alexis and her husband Dex falling over a balcony during a scuffle, Krystal struggling with a deadly medical condidtion, and Blake in a shootout with a crooked cop. A TV reunion movie that aired years later had Blake coming out of prison after serving two years for killing the cop, Dex having expired after breaking Alexis' fall, Fallon and Krystina rescued from being buried alive and Krystal back to full health. Fallon was also caught in the middle of a love triangle with her now ex-husband Jeff, and his cousin Miles.

"Dynasty" had a short-lived spinoff called "The Colbys" (1985-1987), that followed the tribulations of Jason Colby--Jeff's uncle--and his family.

Alexis Carrington, as played by British actress Joan Collins, was one of the bitchiest characters on TV, as well as one of the sharpest dressed women on a TV series. Linda Evans, who played Krystal, had been a cast member on a western called "The Big Valley" along with Lee Majors ("The Six Million Dollar Man") back in the 1960's. She also had a guest role on "Bachelor Father", a sitcom that starred John Forsythe, who played Blake Carrington. Forsythe was also the voice of Charlie on the detective show, "Charlie's Angels". Emma Samms was a popular daytime soap actress who was the second actress to play Fallon Carrington. Pamela Sue Martin, who had been a girl sleuth on "The Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries", played Fallon first. Heather Lockyler was bad girl Sammy Jo. During the same time she had a role on "T.J. Hooker" with William Shatner. Lockyler was also a bad girl on another nighttime soap, "Melrose Place."

"Dallas" (1978-1991)

"Dallas" began as a limited run series in 1977. It's success led CBS to air this weekly soap opera on Friday nights.

J.R. Ewing has to be one of the most evil, low down characters ever paraded across American TV. He was the oldest son of a rich Texas family who had made its fortune in the oil business. J.R.'s wife was Sue Ellen, a former beauty queen, whom he cheated on constantly. They had a son, John Ross. J.R. was a master of dirty tricks. He would stoop to the lowest levels to protect and promote the family business and to push his own agendas.

J.R.'s main enemy was a lawyer named Cliff Barnes. Barnes couldn't stand the very ground the Ewings walked on. Decades ago, Cliff's dad, Digger, was partners with Jock and Jason Ewing, J.R.'s dad and uncle, in the oil game. Jason had a falling out with Jock and never spoke to him again. Jock cut Digger out of the partnership and got rich, while Digger became an alcoholic. Digger and J.R.'s mom, Miss Ellie, were a couple until Jock came along. Cliff also hated the fact that his sister, Pam, was married to Bobby, J.R.'s upstanding younger brother. J.R. didn't like the idea either, because he was always interfering in their marriage.

J.R. had did a lot of dirt to everyone at the end of the 1979-1980 season. Someone was angry enough to tip up to his office after hours and put a few bullets in him. That cliffhanger set off a world wide phenomenom. All summer long, people wanted to know "Who shot J.R.?" The cast was badgered for answers, in some cases, being offered big money to divulge the answer. Finally, in November of 1980, it was revealed that Kristin Shephard, Sue Ellen's vengeful sister, had fired the gun. Kristin also had another bomb to drop--she was pregnant, and the baby was J.R.'s! Kristin never spent a day in jail, but she did leave town. A few seasons later, she was found dead in the pool on Southfork, the huge ranch owned by the Ewing family. Cliff found the body and assumed J.R. did it, but it turns out Kristin overdosed on drugs. Her baby was found out not to be J.R.'s but the son of one of Kristin's old boyfriends. Childless Bobby and Pam adopted the child.

The show went on for several seasons of scheming, secrets, blackmailing, corporate skullduggery, and murder, among many other staples of soap opera plotting. Characters were added to the mayhem, while other left for various reasons. One of the saddest moments was when Jock Ewing passed away. The actor who portrayed him, Jim Davis, had passed away in real life, so his character was written out. The writers made a big mistake, however, when they killed off Bobby Ewing. The following season limped along without moral Bobby there to counteract J.R.'s underhanded ways. Bobby appears in the shower near the end of that season, leaving viewers to wonder what was going on. When the 1986-1987 season opened, it was explained that Bobby hadn't died after all. Pam had dreamed the entire 1985-1986 season!

The final season found J.R. struggling to hold on to Ewing Oil, while Bobby, tired of the constant fighting, had sold his interest in the company. Sue Ellen and J.R. were divorced, and she had taken John Ross and went off to England to marry a film director. J.R.'s second wife Callie, had gotten tired of him mistreating her, and she had left and taken their baby with her. Ms. Ellie had remarried to oilman Clayton Farlow. Ellie was tired of J.R. and Bobby's bickering, and she and her husband took off to Europe. Bobby was licking his wounds--he and Pam had divorced, and his second wife, April, had been killed during a vacation. An angel appeared to a depressed J.R. and showed him what life would have been like if he had never been born. Turns out that the angel wasn't a representative from Heaven from from the other place, and he encouraged J.R. to committ suicide. Bobby came in the house and heard a gunshot. He ran upstairs, flung open a door, and gasped, "J.R.!" The credit rolled; end of the show.

Several years later, a couple of reunion movies confirmed that J.R. didn't die. In fact, he was back to his old tricks. There was even a pre-quel TV movie that explained how J.R.'s dad built the Ewing oil empire, and how Ellie tricked Jock into marrying her to save Southfork. "Dallas" also gave birth to a spinoff soap called "Knots Landing" (1979-1993) which followed J.R. and Bobby's brother, Gary, who was married to Valene, and their problems in a Southern California community.

J.R. Ewing was portrayed in excellent sliminess by Larry Hagman, who was the affable Major Tony Nelson on the 1960's sitcom, "I Dream Of Jeannie". Patrick Duffy, who played brother Bobby, had been in an earlier series called, "The Man From Atlantis". The late Barbara Bel Geddes, who played matriarch Miss Ellie, had appeared in several films including Vertigo with James Stewart, and the family charmer, I Remember Mama. The late George O. Petrie, who played the Ewing's lawyer, Harve Smithfield, had appeared as numerous characters on "The Honeymooners" back in the 1950's. The late Howard Keel, who played Miss Ellie's second husband, Clayton, was a song and dance man. He had a great baritone voice used to great effect in the movie musicals, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Kiss Me Kate.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Only kids with no discerning tastes could like this low budget, cheesy film. The Martians kidnap Santa and two Earth kids to solve some problems with their own kids on Mars.

It runs a little over an hours and is full of bad special effects and wooden dialogue. I saw this movie as part of an all night movie marathon at Northwestern University around Halloween several years ago. The college guys kept yelling out their devotion to Pia Zadora, who appears as one of the Martian kids. She looks to be about seven years old in this film. Ned Wertimer, who later appeared as the conniving doorman on the 1970's sitcom "The Jeffersons" appears as a reporter. Really silly song at the end of the film, with a bunch of kids singing "Santy Claus".

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"The Awakening"

There was a Christian soap opera called "The Awakening" which was syndicated to some local TV markets during the 1990's. In Chicago, it was shown on the local Christian station on Saturday nights. It was part of a program aired by the Liberty Temple, a huge church on the south side.

The main character was Marquita, who was played by a pretty young actress whose name escapes me at the moment. When the show began, Marquita was dating a drug dealer whom she had a child with. Her younger brother was also dealing drugs, and her mother was involved in some bad behavior. Her dad was absent. Her boyfriend and her brother were killed during a drug deal that went wrong. Marquita ended up having a falling out with her mom, and turned to prostitution. Things went from bad to worse, until Marquita hit rock bottom and accepted Christ as her Savior. However, as Marquita grew in her faith, her problems increased. While she was a hooker, she turned in her pimp, a guy named Q, who ended up being killed by the police. Marquita goes grocery shopping and is shocked to see who she thinks is Q, laughing at her. Turns out it was Q's twin brother, Antonio, a heartless drug kingpin, out for revenge.

Marquita's problems in trying to avoid Antonio's wrath was just one of the multiple storylines that featured her family, friends, and other characters. Topics covered included gangs, abortion, AIDS, pre-martial sex, and child abuse, all wrapped around a positive Christian message.

The characters were all played with sincerity by members of the Liberty Temple Church, which is headed by Apostle Clifford Turner. As far as I know, the church still has a show, but it only consists of the sermon that used to follow episodes of "The Awakening." The entire show can be brought on DVD via the church's store.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Worst Movie Of All Time

What is the worst movie of all time? Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is often thrown around, but what about Isthar (1987) or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)? There were people who loved those movies just as much as the people who praise The Godfather Trilogy or Citizen Kane. What exactly makes a bad movie?

Is it the production values? Bad dialogue? A plot that has been rehashed over and over again? No chemistry among the lead actors? Plodding direction? Poor acting? Too many special effects, car chases or gore?

Sometimes a movie that was judged to be bad upon its release is declared a classic years later. It happened to The Wizard Of Oz (1939). Then you see something that won multiple Academy Awards back in the day and wonder, "Why in the world did anyone think that was good?"

Are movies well done because the critics say so? Some movies that Roger Ebert gave thumbs up to, I thumbed my nose at.

Are American movies better than foreign films? If a movie is animated, does that mean it is automatically not better than a live-action film?

Is it just a matter of audience members personal tastes?

"The Vicar of Dibley"

A gentle minded British sitcom about a small country hamlet that is taken aback when a woman is sent to pastor their small church. No sooner than Geraldine arrives in town to replace the former vicar who passed away during a Sunday service, she is met with hostility by David, who is the head of the church board. A woman leading the flock? He's doesn't buy it, and tries every dirty trick in the book to send her packing. The others in the town warm up to her, and David is foiled.

The following episodes follow Geraldine's interactions with the townspeople, most of whom are decidedly eccentric. Alice, her assistant, is as addled-brained as they come. Hugo, David's wimpy son, is madly in love with her, but takes a long time to get up the courage to express his feelings. Jim, a member of the church board stutters a lot, says "no" when he means "yes", and comes out of left field with comments. Owen, a farmer, always picks the wrong time to bring up something that happened on his job, like dealing with a constipated animal.

I liked Geraldine because while she was woman of the cloth, she was also very human. She had an addiction to chocolate, had a nip of something strong once in awhile, and lusted over Mel Gibson. One episode even had her hot and heavy with a love interest.

"Absolutely Fabulous"

Edwina (Eddy) and Patsy have been friends since they were wild British teenagers. Physically, they got older, but their attitudes didn't. Despite constant drinking, drugging and partying, Eddy became a successful PR person, and Patsy got a job as the editor of a top fashion magazine. Well, Eddy is not liked by most of her clients, and Patsy slept her way into a job that she seldom shows up at, but that doesn't matter. For these ladies, it is more important to look good, and hang around the beautiful people.

Along the way, Eddy got married a couple of times. Once to a guy named Jason, who turned out to be gay later on. She had a child, a sensible if someone wound tightly girl named Saffron (Saffy). Saffy was very conservative and couldn't stand her mother's self-absorbed way or Patsy. Patsy always regarded Saffy as being an obstacle in the way of her and Eddy's friendship. "When your mother was pregnant, I told her to abort!" Patsy screams at Saffy in one episode. Eddy was married to another guy, with whom she had a son. The son doesn't keep much in contact with either mom or dad (although we learn later that Saffy has always known where her brother was, and that her brother was also gay). Dad, a Hollywood player, visits his ex on and off, always with an American bimbo in tow. Rounding out Eddy and Patsy's world are Eddy's daffy mom, who seems to understand more than she lets on, and Bubbles, Eddy's dumber than rocks assistant.

This sitcom, penned by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, was one of the best TV shows to come out of the United Kingdom.

"The Monkees" (1966-1968)

Let me start off by saying that my mother absolutely hated this show. My siblings and I were not allowed to watch it during its original run simply because she didn't want to see "four ugly boys who can't sing". When the show was rerun on Saturday mornings, Mom couldn't stop us from watching it because we owned the TV for those few hours.

There never really was a rock/pop group called "The Monkees" if you really want to get technical. They were manufactured for TV. The producers put an ad in the paper saying they were looking for young men, and many hopefuls stood in line including Stephen Stills of the 1960's group Crosby, Stills and Nash, and (gulp) future serial killer Charles Manson. The idea was to do something along the lines of The Beatles first movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964).

The pilot show features the screen tests of two of the guys--Michael Nesmith and David Jones--who were eventually choosen. Unfortunately, NBC executives were less than thrilled with what they saw, and the show nearly didn't see light of day. Some changes were made, tempers were soothed, and the show debuted in September of 1966. It was an instant hit, earning an Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series the first year it was on.

The shows were nothing but craziness, populated with characters like mad scientists, gangsters, snooty rich people, mean kid show hosts, and other nuts, with the four guys--Nesmith, Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork--in the middle. It could be said that "The Monkees" were the first to have the modern day forerunners of music videos. They were called "romps" that had the guys doing anything from clowing around to running from bad guys. One of their songs would play while madness would ensue. When the shows were rerun during the summer, the songs that were originally in the episodes were replaced with their current hits on the chart. Being one of those kids who read the end credits, I always wondered why the songs listed didn't match the ones I heard.

There was a demand from fans to see the group in concert, but there was a big problem -- the only true musician in the group was Nesmith. After a rush to learn some chords and notes, the guys were sent out on the road in-between the first and second season of the sitcom. The girls in the audience screamed so loud that it didn't matter whether they knew how to play music because they could hardly be heard. There is an episode of the show that shows the frenzy surrounding those early concerts. Because of that success, the guys demanded to take control of the material they sang from the producers. When the second season started, their sound reflected more of the psychedelic times they lived in rather than bubblegum pop.

Not only was there a change in the music, but the second season episodes took on a little more of an edge, as well. During a Christmas themed episode that features Butch Patrick (who played Eddie on "The Munsters"), Micky and Davy sing "Deck The Halls". They make a limp-wristed gesture during the lyric "now we don our gay apparel", and put extra emphasis on the word "gay". How they got that past the NBC censors, I'll never know! Numerous drug references were sprinkled throughout the scripts, too.

The show ended, despite being extremely popular, because the producers expected the guys to do a third season of the same old crazy Marx Brothers-type plots. The four were tired of that and wanted more input into the scripts. The producers denied their requests, and the foursome walked. Not even thousands of letters from their fans could bring "The Monkees" back to the air.

Nesmith was the first to bolt from the group after a movie they did, Head (1968), and a TV special (which aired opposite the Academy Awards) failed miserably. He went on to be a successful music producer, epecially lauded for his work in music videos. The group tried to go on as a trio, but didn't find much success. Tork left the group next; he still performs in clubs with his own band. Dolenz and Jones soldiered on, putting out an album called "Changes" that went nowhere. Dolenz became a TV director, his biggest successes being in the United Kingdom. Jones continued performing as a solo, also appearing in theater, the medium that brought him to the States from England initially.

House Party (1990)

One of the earliest and best films starring rapppers follows a common teenage theme: wanting to go to a party that one has been forbidden to attend.

Kid (Christopher Reid) gets in trouble at school when another student insults his late mother. He throws food at the offender which misses him. His dad tells him that there is no way he's going to a party which is being thrown by Play (Christopher Martin). Kid can't miss that party! Play's parents are going to be out of town, and the music is going to be hot. On top of that, two of the most popular girls in school are going to be there (Tisha Campbell and A.J. Johnson). Kid sneaks out while his dad is asleep, and naturally, gets into trouble involving bullies, nosy neighbors, angry parents, the police, and one very dangerous looking alley rat.

This movie is energy and fun from beginning to end. One of the highlights is a rap battle between Kid and Play, which feels like a freestyle session. Kid "disses" Play very cleverly during one moment that brought "ooh, damn!" from the audience I saw this movie with years ago. John Witherspoon, who was a regular on the sitcom, "The Wayans Brothers" plays an adult disturbed by the noise of the party. Funk superstar George Clinton has a small role, and so does the director, Reginald Hudlin and his brother, Warren. Members of the R&B group Full Force are the meanies who harrass Kid through out the movie. Martin Lawrence is the dj at the party. Lawrence and Campbell would go on to star in the 1990's sitcom "Martin". Robin Harris was an incredibly funny comedian who played Kid's dad in this movie. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be one of his last films. He passed away from a heart attack several months later.

Kid N' Play appeared in two more House Party films that were not as nearly as good as the first. The duo had a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon, but their biggest success were with hits like, "Rollin' With Kid N'Play". Play reportedly left show business after turning to religion. Kid still had his hand in the game. He composed the theme music for Bill Maher's talk show on HBO.