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

Friday, November 25, 2005

"In Living Color" (1990-1994)

The brainchild of comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans, TV audiences were introduced to a group of bright comedians and comedic actors. It was "Saturday Night Live" in prime-time, with an African-American comic sensibility. In addition to the sketches, there was a DJ and a group of dancers called The Fly Girls.

Like any sketch show cast, certain pop culture figures got picked on constantly. Oprah Winfrey, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Arsenio Hall really used to catch it. They also had original characters that became big crowd pleasers such as Homey, the militant clown ("Homey don't play that!"), accident prone and accident causing Fire Marshall Bill ("Let me show you somethin'!"), and gay pals Blaine and Antoine who offered their opinions on everything via their "Men On. . ." cable access show. Much of the material was extremely edgy and pushed the limits of good taste, but they were hilarious.

One of my all-time favorite sketches was about a game show where contestants played "the dozens". "The dozens" involved two opponents topping each other with insults towards each other until one person can't come up with anything clever, or gets angry (example: "Your family is so poor, the welcome mat just reads, 'well'.). Rapper Biz Markie ("The Vapors") and Jamie Foxx were constant contestants. Nick Bekay ("Night After Night") was the host of the game show. Foxx's character beat out the others in one episode, only to face the top insulter, Ed O'Neill ("Married With Children).

The Wayans family (Keenan and siblings Kim, Shawn, Damon and Marlon) were heavily involved in the show for about the first three years. However, the cracks began showing early. Kim Coles was gone after 1990. In later years, she hinted that she may have been eased out in favor of making Kim Wayans more prominent in the cast. The success of the show prompted the FOX network to show reruns of episodes during the week along with the new episode. Keenan Ivory Wayans felt that this would hurt the show's chances later on in syndication, and he left the show in 1992. Damon began to appear occassionally in episodes, until eventually he was gone. By the time the show was canceled in 1994, the Wayans family had totally pulled out of the show.

Most of the cast members went on to larger success. Outside of the Wayans siblings projects (the Scary Movie series, I'm Gonna Get You Sucka), there was rubber faced Jim Carrey, who appeared to be fearless. Jamie Foxx, who joined the show in 1991, won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the movie Ray. Kim Coles was a cast member on the sitcom "Livin' Single". One of the Fly Girls, Jennifer Lopez, became not only an actress (Out Of Sight, Enough), but also a singer.

"The Banana Splits" (1969-1971)

Joe Hanna and William Barbera ("Huckelberry Hound", "Shazzan", "The Hillbilly Bears", etc.) did a mix of live action and animation in a show centered around an animal rock bank. Droopy (a lion), Fleegle (a beagle), Bingo (an ape), and Snork (an elephant) lived in their own clubhouse located within an amusement park. In between their hi-jinks and songs, they served as MCs for the other segments of the show.

I remember a couple of regular cartoon shorts: "The Three Musketeers" and "The Adventures of Gulliver" both based on the famous stories of the same name. In the latter cartoon, there was a particularly depressing character who always saw the bad side of every situation he and his companions were in. I remember my cousin Renee saying, "I can't stand that character. . .never has anything good to say!"

There was a mounted head of an animal on the wall in the clubhouse. When he said, "Uh-oh, Chongo!" that was a big hint that an episode of the live action serial "Danger Island" was about to begin. It was about some explorers who got lost on a tropical island and ran into trouble with natives and pirates alike. Chongo was a friendly native who helped the explorers. Actor Jan Michael Vincent was in the cast, and the serial was directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon).

Once the show was put in reruns, it was cut up into half-hours centered around a theme. Some episodes consisted of all cartoons, some focused on the Banana Splits, some were all "Danger Island". There were also half-hours that featured "The Adventures of Huckelberry Flynn". It had been a stand-alone show on its own. The show was loosely built on the Mark Twain novel, and it mixed live-action with animation.

"Wacky Races" (1968)

My mother would grumble every Saturday morning at 11:30 AM (CST) when this show came on: "This is the stupidest cartoon on TV." In a way, it was very silly because the plot never changed from week to week. Dick Dastardly (voiced by Paul Winchell) wanted to win every auto race he entered. Along with his dog sidekick, Muttley, they pulled dirty tricks on the other drivers in every episode.

Their opponents never changed. From sweet-as-pie Penelope Pitstop to a group of short gangsters called the Ant Hill Mob, the same drivers raced for the finish line. One of them would come out the victor. However, Dastardly never won, his schemes always backfiring on him.

This was another of Hanna and Barbera's many cartoon creations (including "Yogi Bear", "The Flinstones", "Birdman", etc.), and one of the least successful. This show only lasted one season. There was a spinoff show entitled, "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop", which had the heiress' life threatened each week by The Hooded Claw (voiced by Paul Lynde), who unbeknowest to her, was her uncle. The Ant Hill Mob saved her from danger.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Some Of The Best Lines

When Jack Lemmon reveals to a suitor at the end of Some Like It Hot (1959) that he's actually a man, and the suitor replies, "Well, nobody's perfect," that joke works on so many levels. I'm surprised that director Billy Wilder was allowed to get away with making that film.

Jane Greer, playing a typical scheming film noir dame in Out Of The Past (1947), tells Robert Mitchum, "I don't want to die!" He answers gruffly, "I don't want to die either baby, but if I die, I'm gonna be last."

A psychiatrist lets Maxwell Smart's friend Sid go, but detains the spy on "The Little Black Book" a very funny episode of "Get Smart" (1965-1970). "Mr. Smart, do you ever feel like you're being followed and hounded?" the psychiatrist asks. "Yes, I used to," Max replies, "but now I pay for everything with cash."

Rose says something particularly nutty on an episode of "The Golden Girls" (1985-1992), and Sophia tells a fellow housemate, "Blanche, you're closer to the knife drawer."

Cybill Shephard goes shopping with her stepdaughter in Married To It (1993), who doesn't like her. When Shephard asks the girl's opinion about a dress, the kid cracks, "My mom said that only whores like red dresses." Shephard replies quickly, "Then she'll like it."

One of the car wash employees calls out a pastor as being insincere in the movie Car Wash (1976). The crowd gasps as the pastor, played by Richard Pryor, fixes his eyes on the guy. "If I wasn't a Christian man, I'd be kickin' yo' ass!"

A guy responds to another guy who's threatening him while they spend time in a lockup during a scene in Diner (1982). The offender backs off after he's told by his would-be prey, "I'll hit you so hard, it'll kill your whole family."

Drew Barrymore beats down a crook in Charlie's Angels (2003) and informs him, "And that's called kicking your ass!"

Thelma Evans snaps on her husband Keith, who had made the mistake of slapping her during an episode of "Good Times" (1974-1979). "Is Everlast written across my face?" she yells.

Carlos and Gabby argue over the issue of having children during an episode of "Desperate Housewives" (2004-present). She curtly tells him, "My womb is not up for negotiation!"

Kevin Costner gives some wise advice to son Elijah Wood after the boy talks about getting revenge on kids who picked on him in The War (1994). "It only takes one moment to do something that you will regret for the rest of your life."

Costner gets off another good one in The Untouchables (1987) after a deadly rooftop fight with Billy Drago, who played gangster Frank Nitti. Costner has just thrown the guy off the top of the roof, and the crook falls through the roof of a car. Someone asks him where Nitti is at, and Costner answers, "In the car."

Norman Bates' mother is in control of her son again at the end of Psycho 2 (1983). She tells him to take care of the hotel. "Get down those stairs, boy! What do you think we live on--hope?"

Billy Dee Williams offers Diana Ross money in Lady Sings The Blues (1972). She hesitates, and he says, "You're gonna let my arm fall off?"

Tom Hanks comments about Parker Posey's character in You've Got Mail (1998): "She would make coffee nervous."

Carlton Banks admits to his cousin Will that he's a virgin on "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air" (1990-1996), and a groom overhears him. The digruntled groom has just found out that his bride is not pure, and he comments, "Glad to hear that someone still is!"

Della Reese, playing a madame in Harlem Nights (1989), defends her position to a cop. "I'm an honest 'ho!"

Whitney Houston's mom desperately tries to convince her daughter to stay with a man who, in reality, is no good for her in Waiting To Exhale (1995). "Then you fucking marry him!" Whitney snaps before banging the receiver down in her mother's ear.

Wanda, the Ugly Girl, tells her date that if she doesn't get a drink in her before midnight, she turns into a werewolf during a sketch on "In Lving Color" (1990-1994). "Then it must be a quarter to one," her date says.

Beau Bridges cracks on his mother-in-law, after she finds a boyfriend on an episode of "Harts Of The West" (1993-1994). His wife is concerned about the relationship. Bridges says drily, "Why shouldn't it work out. He's a man. . .she's a man."

"The Wonder Years" (1988-1993)

This great slice of nostalgia centered on Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), who as the series began, was 12 years old. The adult Kevin (Daniel Stern) narrated his memories of growing up and family life in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kevin's parents were Jack (Dan Lauria) and Norma (Alley Mills). Jack was a hard working blue collar guy, and Norma was the understanding stay-at-home mom. Wayne (Jason Hervey) was Kevin's oldest brother, who seldom missed a chance to bully his younger brother. Karen (Olivia d'Abo) was his older sister, who spent her time rebelling against their parents.

Kevin attended junior high and later high school with friends Paul (Josh Saviano) and Winnie (Danica McKellar). Kevin was crazy about the pretty Winnie, but often found himself in competition with other guys for her attention. Also seen regularly were macho gym teacher Coach Cutlip (Robert Picardo) and science teacher Mr. Cantwell (Ben Stein), who spoke in a droning monotone.

This show was very charming, and filled with recognizable situation people to which people could relate. Summer romances, rivalries with siblings, growing pains, misunderstandings with parents and understanding them. One of my favorite episodes had Kevin being forced into taking an unpopular, plain girl to a dance. All evening long, Kevin kept trying to duck the fact that he was her date, and generally ignoring her. The girl dropped something into a swimming pool on the property--I think it was a ring. Kevin showed disinterest in this, and the girl said, "You don't want to be with me!" She cried horribly, and I felt very sympathetic towards her. I was the same type of unpopular girl at one time. Realizing that his attitude had been wrong, Kevin dived into the pool to get the ring. Then he danced with her.

Unfortunately, the series didn't end with the same class it had up to that point. It felt like the writers rushed to end the story as quickly as they could. Kevin and Winnie ended up losing their innocence to each other, then there was a rundown of what happened to the characters later in their lives.

"Spiderman" (1967)

Peter Parker was a freelance photographer who worked for the meanest newspaper editor in town, a loudmouth named J. Jonah Jameison. Jamison couldn't stand Spiderman, a superhero in town whom he regarded as a menace. What Jamison didn't know was that Parker and Spiderman were the same person. Parker earned his keep by bringing back amazing photos of Spidey and the villians he fought. He (and Spiderman) had an ally in the office, Jamison's put upon secretary, Betty.

The episodes were actually very good, and followed the feel of the comic book at that time. Spidey was ready for action and had a load of smart cracks to make towards Jamison and the criminals he fought. There were usually two stories featured in one episode. Parker's Aunt May was seen on and off. The animation was limited, however. I recently watched some of the show on DVD. The animators tended to use the same scenes of Spiderman roping his way around town in every story.

This cartoon one of the coolest theme songs ever done for TV ("Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can!"). It was written by Paul Francis Webster, who was responsible for many songs including, "My Secret Love" which was recorded by Doris Day, and "The Twelfth of Never", which was recorded by Johnny Mathis.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Elwood Blues (Dan Ackroyd) arrives at Joliet State Pennitentary to pick up his brother Jake (John Belushi) who has just been released from jail. Jake is ticked that Elwood would come to get him in an old police car. Once Elwood explains that the car is built tough, all is forgiven.

They pay a visit to the orphanage they were raised in. The head nun explains that the place has fallen on hard times, and will be closed down unless $10, 000 is raised to keep it open. Jake and Elwood tell her that they have no problem getting the money, but the nun knows they mean to get it by stealing it. After she beats them down with a ruler, they run into the janitor (Cab Calloway), the guy who gave them their love of blues and soul music when they were kids. He suggests that they visit the church headed by Rev. Cleothus James. Jake balks at this, but he and Elwood eventually agree to go. The Rev. James (James Brown) gives a bang up service, and Jake is hit by the light. "The band!" he cries. "We've got to get the band back together!"

This movie gets crazier and more hillarious as it follows the brothers adventures in getting their old band back in gear to raise money for the orphanage. They run into many obstacles including neo-Nazis, the cops, and one very pissed off woman (Carrie Fisher) seeking to kill Jake for a promise he broke to her years earlier. The film is constant goofy fun from beginning to end. It is the best of the movies that have been made featuring characters featured on TV's "Saturday Night Live" (1975 to present). For weeks after seeing this film for the first time, every time I saw a Chicago police car, I would break out laughing. The crash ups and chases involving the cops were spectacular, especially in a scene that takes place in front of Chicago's City Hall.

Ackroyd and Belushi were great friends in real life. It was Ackroyd who turned Belushi on to the blues. He was amazed that his friend wasn't hip to the music. He reportedly told him, "You're from Chicago, and you don't know about the blues?" The two men had great chemistry, and they made one more film together, a dark comedy called Neighbors. Unfortunately, Belushi passed away from a drug overdose in 1982. Also no longer with us are some of the other stars in the film: Ray Charles, who plays a music store owner, John Candy ("SCTV"), Cab Calloway, and blues man John Lee Hooker. Carrie Fisher is an actress and writer, best known for playing Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars movies. Her mother is singer/actress Debbie Reynolds. Steven Williams appears in a small role as a state policeman; he also played a cop on the series "21 Jump Street" (1987-1990). Henry Gibson is seen as a nasty neo-Nazi; he was a cast member on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (1968-1973).

"The Bernie Mac Show" (2001-present)

I haven't seen this show lately, but judging from some episodes I saw last season, it appears to have morphed into something different. It seems like any other modern family sitcom that's on, now that it appears that Bernie and wife Wanda (Kelita Smith) have gotten used to Bernie's nieces and nephew, Vanessa (Camille Winbush), Bryanna (Dee Dee Davis), and Jordan (Jeremy Suarez).

The first season was the best. It began with Bernie, a successful comedian, having to travel back to his hometown of Chicago to take custody of his sister's kids. His sister has a drug problem, and fell down on her job of being a parent. Bernie and Wanda are childfree, so they had to make quite an adjustment, although Wanda seemed to deal with it better than Bernie. The kids live with them in their house in California. Bernie is from the old school of raising kids: spank and spank often. The kids really tried his patience in the beginning, especially oldest girl Vanessa, or Nessa, as Bernie calls her. That girl would try the patience of Job with her constant back talk and eye rolling. Jordan was no better. He had problems with peeing in public, and came across as a wimp who needed to take lessons on how to be tough. Bryanna, or Baby Girl, as Bernie calls her, generally doesn't cause trouble, but she is often egged on to act out by her older siblings. Bernie snapped at the kids that he was going to beat their heads open "until the white meat shows". The next thing he knew, he was explaining his comments to a child welfare worker whom the kids had called on the child abuse hotline.

Wanda is viewed as the "cool auntie" by the kids, who get their jollies by making life hard for Uncle Bernie every chance they get. There was one episode where they locked him out of his own house, then laughed at him while he yelled at them through the window to open the door. Another time, Bernie was a guest on a radio show, and made the mistake of making jokes about the kids and their mom on the air. Vanessa called in and repeated some unflattering remarks that Bernie had made about the physical appearance of one of the djs, a female. "At least I didn't talk about your mama," was the closest Bernie came to an apology to the dj. In order to combat some of the madness, Bernie talks directly to the audience in segments sprinkled throughout the story. "Now America, you know I'm right!" he'll say.

Some of the best moments come during the closing credits. Bernie and Wanda got into a disagreement when Bernie made a comment during an interview that he would get with actress Halle Berry, if he had a free pass to do so. Bernie had said, however, he would only run away with Halle if Wanda had passed away. During the end segment, Wanda is seen laying in a casket at a funeral home, while Bernie stands looking mournfully down on her. Halle Berry shows up at his side. "Come on baby, the plane is waiting!" When Bernie lingers a little more, Ms. Berry says, "I don't know why you married her anyway." Wanda raised up out of the coffin and says, "I'll tell you why he married me. Because I'm the (bleep)!" The women exchange words, and Ms. Berry says, "Then get your ass out then!" The two women prepare to fist fight, with Bernie in the middle. Then all three break character and fall out laughing.

The best episode I ever saw was a two parter where Bernie took the family back to Chicago to attend the funeral of his uncle. There he has to deal with a lazy cousin (played by Don Cheadle), who's constantly hitting him up for money. When Bernie finally snaps on him--in the middle of the funeral--it is one of the funniest moments in the series. The best moments are poignant ones. Vanessa is hurt because her mother, who is in rehab, makes a promise to see her but lets her down. Bernie cries with his niece as he comforts her. Then Bernie is hit with a major surprise on the plane ride home. He opens up a box of things left to him by his uncle and finds his birth certificate inside. His uncle's name is listed in the box for the dad's name. Bernie is floored by this revelation.

If you've seen the movie The Original Kings of Comedy, then you know that Mac's act is hard edged. Unlike comedians D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey, the censorship rules of TV have not toned down Mac's style. I just wish the series was more like it was during the first season.

Monday, November 14, 2005

"The Sifl & Olly Show" (1998)

Forget about "Beavis and Butthead". The funniest duo on MTV was a pair of sock puppets named Sifl and Olly, voiced by Matt Crocco and Liam Lynch. The premise was that these two were the stars of an offbeat variety show.

Like any variety show, there were regular segments, but these were out of the ordinary. Precious Roy would appear to sell useless (and mostly dangerous) items. Sifl and Olly would egg him on to give descriptions of the merchandise. Precious Roy would yell out "Suckers!" at the end of his spot. A Moment With Chester featured Sifl and Olly reacting to their friend Chester, who always seemed to be high on something. Chester once commented that he would show his love to a girl by taking her to the roller rink. There he would knock others down on purpose and "scar them up" to impress her.

Another bit had Sifl and Olly answering phone calls. What the callers didn't know is that the two characters could see them. All kinds of weird folks would call. There was the pesky telemarketer who was trying to sell legless dogs. Then two guys who sounded like they were from New Jersey called in to insult Sifl and Olly. The guys were dressed in porno-style leather and studs. When told they could be seen, they quickly ended the call.

Interviews were just as nutty. One of my favorites was when the hosts talked to an orgasm and the G spot, who came off like gangster rappers, complete with gold chains. Olly had the nerve to ask G Spot, "where can we find you?" The reply was, "Just hit me up on my pager."

Silf and Olly sang songs with titles such as "We Can't Party At Dude's House", and "Cresent Fresh" ("guy likety likes girl. . .they're so cresent fresh, super cres at best!"). Returns from commercials would find them in the middle of strange conversations that they would not finish once they realized they were back on the air (". . .about three o'clock in the morning, the rest of us finally made it out of the maze, but we don't know what happened to Joe. Huh? Oh, we're back from commercial!"). Total craziness in every episode.

MTV, which really doesn't play music videos anymore, decided to mess up the format by inserting videos in-between the comedy bits. It seemed to work on "Beavis and Butthead" but ruined the flow of "Sifl & Olly".

J.D.'s Revenge (1976)

A blacksplotation horror film if you will, that was another in the possession-by-something-evil genre, set off by The Exorcist (1973). In this one, a hard-working law student named Ike (Glynn Turman), goes to a hypnotist show and is put under. As a result, his soul gets opened to being taken over by long-dead gangster J.D. Walker (David McKnight). Walker was shot to death by a rival after he discovered his sister Betty Jo (Alice Juhert) murdered, her throat cut. Walker wants revenge on the person who killed her and him, and Ike is his vehicle to do so.

I wouldn't say that this was a truly scary film. It plays more like a drama. The best parts are watching Turman's character morph into the rough personality of the dead gangster. There is a scene where Ike, totally taken over by Walker, shows up at a club dressed head to toe in 1940's gear. Even his hair is conked, or permed, as we would say today. A woman comments, "I haven't seen a get-up like that in 25 years," and Ike puts on a hep cat laugh. Under Walker's control, Ike does a lot of mean stuff, including being very proficient with a razor blade. In another scene, Ike interupts a church service run by Bliss, who has become a popular pastor. When one of the deacons gets too close, he cuts him faster than the time it takes to let out a sneeze. Then he cooly wipes the blood off with a handkerchief, and deftly replaces it in his suit pocket, all in one motion.

Like in many blacksploitation films of the 1970s, this one is filled with liberal uses of the N-word, as well as disrespect of women. While controlled by Walker, Ike beats up his girlfriend, Christella (Joan Pringle). Of course, Ike doesn't remember doing that, but when the news reaches the ear of his best male buddy, the guy applauds his actions. He tells Ike that women expect their men to be rough sometimes. For shame.

Louis Gossett Jr. went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in the film, An Officer and A Gentleman (1982). Glynn Turman appeared in other films including, Cooley High (1975), and has a role on the 80s sitcom, "A Different World".

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Body and Soul (1947)

The film opens with Charlie Davis (John Garfield) waking up from a feverish sleep, crying out the name "Ben!" He gets in his car and heads towards the city. Several men in the house observe this, and one of them says, "What is the champ doing? He's got a fight tomorrow night!" His trainer, Quinn, looks as if he knows what's up and says he'll go get him.

Later, Charlie rests in his dressing room before a major title fight, moaning about how everything "has gone down the drain." The film then goes into flashback mode. We learn that Charlie was a good amateur boxer. During an appearance at a fundraiser for an alderman, Charlie meets Peg, a woman who will come to mean a great deal to him. She is studying to be an painter. Peg appears to be way out of Charlie's league because she is sophisticated, a world traveler, and educated. He tells her he likes her because she is different, and it is obvious that she likes something in his rough and tumble style.

Charlie's manager and friend, Shorty, sets up a meeting with big time trainer Quinn (William Conrad) who initially turns Charlie down. Charlie's mom is not happy that her son pursues boxing, and Charlie snaps that he doesn't want to be like his dad, scraping by in his candy store. Dad secretly gives Charlies money to buy boxing equipment, something he will need in order to work with Quinn. Moments later, gangsters throw a bomb at the speakeasy next door, which also damages the candy store. Charlie's dad dies, and the family falls on hard times. His mom finally has to resort to applying for charity, or what we would call welfare today. Charlie won't hear of it, and tells Shorty to make a deal with Quinn. He wants money and and he wants it fast.

It isn't long before Charlie is winning fights and living the good life. He gets a shot at a championship title and there enters Roberts, a shady promoter whom Charlie has to go through to get the fight. Shorty and Peg smell a rat, but Charlie plows forward. Unbeknowest to Charlie, his opponent, Ben (Canada Lee) should have never taken the fight. Ben has a blood clot in his brain due an earlier boxing injury, but Roberts promises Ben that it'll be an easy fight. Once the fight starts, Ben realizes too late that Roberts lied to him. Ben has to be rushed to the hospital, and Charlie is mortified. During the party celebrating Charlie's win, Shorty confronts Roberts about his practices then walks off. One of Roberts' thugs beats Shorty down outside the restaurant, and Charlie comes to his rescue. Shorty admonishes Charlie for dealing with Roberts and stalks away, right into the path of an oncoming car. After Shorty's demise, Peg tells Charlie she can't marry him as long as all he is focused on is the money.

Charlie continues to win bouts, while continuing to justify continuing dealing with both Quinn and Roberts. There comes a point when Charlie has to make a decision whether to keep dirtying his hands with his greed or stand up and do what he knows is right.

This is one of the best boxing movies ever made, and the fights are very realistic. It was said that when the film was first released, theater audiences would yell and scream during the fight scenes as if they were actually sitting ringside. Garfield, who like his character in the film, was raised poor and Jewish, is extremely believable as a boxer. William Conrad would go on to narrate episodes of "The Bullwinkle Show" and star in his own TV show, the 1970s detective drama "Cannon". Canada Lee was a childhood friend of politician Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and had actually been a boxer.

The Shootist (1976)

This is one of the best Westerns ever made, and one of the very best of the films John Wayne starred in. Wayne plays an aging gunslinger at the beginning of the 20th century. A visit to a doctor (Henry Morgan) reveals that the old man has terminal cancer. He decides to live his last days in peace and quiet.

The gunslinger takes a room in the house of a widow (Lauren Bacall) and her teenaged son (Ron Howard). It is not long before every young gun for miles around finds out the old man is nearby. They all want to say that they were the man that took out the legendary gunslinger. The old man is pushed into a situation where he has no choice but to rely on violence.

Despite of the guns blazing, this is a very quiet character study of man who's bound to his violent past, and out of step in a new era. I liked the mutual admiration between the gunslinger and the widow. There is a scene where he says goodbye to her and they both understand that it is for the last time. It was very well played. I also liked how he became a father figure of sorts to her son, who is taught a valuable lesson during a tragic moment.

This film is poignant because it was also Wayne's last film. He was actually dying of cancer in real life, and he passed away three years later.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Love & Basketball (2000)

Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) loves basketball with a passion. She plays on her high school girls' basketball team, and she is quite good. Her buddy who lives next door, Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) plays basketball on the boys' team and he has potential, too. His dad, Zeke (Dennis Haysbert) was a big-time basketball star back in the day. Monica and Quincy's skills help to get them into college, where their career paths split. Quincy is courted by professional basketball teams, and it appears that his future is all set. Monica's path is not so clear--she has to go to Europe in order to have a professional sports career because of the limited opportunities for women in the States. Also complicating things is the fact that she and Quincy do like each other a lot, but they can't seem to get it together.

Quincy gets his shot at the big time. Monica returns to the USA and seeing no other options, follows her dad (Harry J. Lennix) into the banking business. There is still something there between the two, but family drama/expectations, and a tragedy threaten to cool the relationship for good.

I appreciated that Monica's character was a tomboy, and that the story showed conflict between that and what others thought she should be. There is a showdown between Monica and her housewife mother (Alfre Woodard) that feeds into that. During another scene, a catty classmate comments on Monica's prom dress: "I didn't know Nike made dresses". I would have slapped that cow down, but Monica wisely played her off. The martial problems with Quincy's parents explained a lot of his slowness in recognizing what a jewel he had in Monica. The movie also does a good job on showing how hard it is, even in this day and time, to become a professional female athlete and get the respect.

Many familar faces in this film. In addition to the actors already mentioned, Shar Jackson ("Moesha"), Gabriella Union ("The Night Stalker"--the present TV series), Boris Kodjoe ("Soul Food"), Debbi Morgan ("All My Children"), Kyla Pratt ("One On One"), and Tyra Banks ("The Tyra Show") all have roles.

The Man With Three Wives (1993)

A true but tawdry tale spun out in this made-for-TV movie. Dr. Norman Grayson (Beau Bridges) was successful and well-liked. He was also juggling three wives, Robyn (Pam Dawber), Katy (Joanna Kerns), and Lillian (Kathleen Lloyd). The man made damn sure that none of the women knew they were part of bigamy. There was a scene where two of the wives met each other--with the doctor present--and they suspected nothing. He had guided the conversation carefully. Dr. Grayson had also told wife number two that he was divorced from wife number one. It was absolutely amazing what this guy did to hide his secret from everybody, and how long he got away with it. Eventually, his game begins to unravel and the you-know-what hits the fan.

Bridges plays the guy, not so much as a bad guy, but as someone who didn't know when to quit. I got the feeling that he really loved each of the wives, but couldn't get it through his head that what he was doing was wrong. If I was one of the wives, and found out what he was up to, I would have kicked his behind. Sadly, this kind of stuff goes on all the time. At the end of the movie, it was revealed that one wife was suing another wife over property that the bigamist had brought her during their "marriage".

J.T. (1969)

This Peabody Award winning special was first shown as part of a CBS series of hour long movies for children that was shown regularly on Saturday mornings entitled "The CBS Children's Movie". J.T. Gamble (Kevin Hooks) was a poor, shy kid who lived in Harlem. His mother, Rodeen (Ja'net DuBois) was a stuggling single parent. They lived in a tenament building where everyone had to use a community bathroom. Mrs. Hill (Helen Martin) was a mean lady who lived down the hall, and admonished J.T. for taking too much time in the bathroom.

J.T. is picked on a lot by older kids. He steals a transistor radio out of a car and is spotted by the kids, who chase him until he loses them. He comes across a one-eyed, injured alley cat days before Christmas. J.T. must hide the cat because his mother would have a fit if she found out--they can't afford a pet. J.T. nurse the cat back to health and learns responsibility.

Of all the movies I watched on that series when I was a little girl, this one remains intact in my memory. A very good Christmas-themed story. I found out recently that an educational company rents this film out, so it is being shown in schools to this day.

Kevin Hooks became a cast member on "The White Shadow" in the late 1970s, and now he directs. His father, Robert Hooks, is an actor. Ja'net Dubois was Wilona Wood on "Good Times". The late Helen Martin was a regular on "That's My Mama" and "227". The late Theresa Merritt was also in this movie; she was also a regular on "That's My Mama".

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"Tennesse Tuxedo and His Tales" (1963)

Tennessee was a penguin, and his pal Chumley was a walrus in this animated series. Tennessee was a know-it-all who refused to admit defeat. "Tennessee Tuxedo will never fail!" he would cry out in the face of unmistakeable disaster. Sooner or later, Tennessee and Chumley would leave the zoo where they lived to go see Mr. Phineas J. Whoopee, a smart man who would give them solutions to whatever problem they had. The show was educational, because Mr. Whoopee would actually give explainations as to how real things worked. In one episode, Tennessee had managed to break a town clock. The zoo keeper, Stanley Livingstone, told the penguin that he'd better fix it or else. Mr. Whoopee pulled out his magic blackboard and explained the working of a clock, which helped Tennessee and Chumley save the day.

There were other cartoons within the show including "The Adventures of Commander McBragg" about a veddy English adventurer who told tall tales, "The Hunter", a detective who was beset by a crook named the Fox, and hindered from his job by his bratty nephew, and "Tooter the Turtle", who was always wishing for things that Mr. Wizard glady granted, until Tooter figured out that one should always be careful of what one wishes for: "Help, Mr. Wizard!" Overall, a very cute cartoon.

The people behind "The Adventures of Underdog", another popular 1960s cartoon, were the creative minds on this one, too. The late Don Adams ("Get Smart") was the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo. His pal from New York, Larry Storch ("F Troop") voiced the character of Mr. Whoopee.

"South Central" (1994)

This series was sort of like "Good Times" but with a harder edge. The plot was about a single mom struggling with her kids, including a foster child so tramatized by his past that he would not speak, in South Central Los Angeles (back in the day, the area was known as Watts). I remember a scene where the mom, Joan (Tina Lifford) was walking down the street with her foster child, and they passed a homeless man begging for change. She softly turned down his request, stating, "I'm sorry, but I'm struggling too." It was hinted that her oldest son Andre (Larenz Tate) might have been flirting with gang membership. Sweets (Paula Kelly) was Joan's best friend.

This show was a little too real for the FOX Network. It didn't cutesy up any of the aspects of being poor and Black in America. Episodes often ended on a downbeat. The show started off in controversy and lasted less than a season.

Larenz Tate went on to appear in such film as "The Postman", "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?", and "Love Jones". The late Lamont Bentley also appeared in this show; he was also a regular on "Moesha". Jennifer Lopez also appeared on this series as Lucille.

Million Dollar Babies (1994)

The true story about the Dionne quintuplets. The girls were born in Canada in the 1930's to a poor rural couple. Their birth was shocking. During that time, there was no such thing as fertility drugs, so for a couple to have five kids at one time was very unusual indeed. Along comes the country doctor, Allan Roy Dafoe (Beau Bridges), who decides that the girls have to be taken away from their parents for safekeeping and observation. Instead of being nutured and cared for, the girls are paraded around like a side show.

This made-for-TV movie highlights the helplessness of the girls' parents in that situation, the isolation of the girls even within their own family, and Dr. Dafoe's greediness masked as concern for the kids. Bridges is good as the doctor who wants to be seen as a father figure to the quintuplets, but never can fill the shoes of their real parents. The scenes where the girls are being exploited are particularly heartbreaking.

"Werewolf" (1987)

Eric Cord (John J. York) gets some crazy news from his roommate. The guy claims he is a werewolf. Furthermore, he wants Eric to kill him with a silver bullet. Eric thinks it is yet another college joke, until his friend goes through changes during a full moon. Eric does shoot him, but not before he is bitten.

The adventure begins as Eric realizes he has to hunt down the head werewolf who transmitted the curse down the line. He has to stay one step ahead of Alamo Joe Rogan (Lance LeGault) who hates werewolves with a passion, and is dead set on gunning all of them down. Eric also finds it hard to control himself when the moon is full, and he is afraid of hurting innocent people.

The opening credits of this FOX Network show were great. A shot of a full moon in an otherwise clear sky. The camera panned down to a wooded area, getting deeper into the foilage, and suddenly, a werewolf would jump out and growl into the camera. TV often has a hard time getting horror right, but this was a good series. Unfortunately, horror series often don't last long on TV, either. "The Night Stalker" and "The Dark Room" come to mind.

Before the series was canceled, Eric found Janos Skorzeny (Chuck Connors), whom he believed was the top werewolf. After Skorzeny was dispatched, Eric was horrifed to find that his real quarry was Nicholas Remy (Brian Thompson), an even more dangerous werewolf, and more powerful thatn Skorzeny.

Chuck Connors had appeared in a creepy little horror film called Tourist Trap back in the 1970s. The late actor was also famous for his earlier TV work including the western, "The Rifleman".

"That's My Bush!" (2001)

This series, shown on Comedy Central, has the distinction of being the only TV series that parodied a U.S. President who happened to be sitting in the Oval Office at the time. I don't like the other series that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have--the crude cartoon "South Park", but I loved this nutty show.

President George Walker Bush (Timothy Bottoms) is an idiot who somehow made it into the White House. His wife Laura (Carrie Quinn Dolin) is smarter than him, but not by a whole lot. She's a bit of a witch, too. Karl Rove (Kurt Fuller) is an uptight guy with a lot of ugly secrets in his past. Princess Stevenson (Kristen Miller) is the President's dim bulb assistant. Larry O'Shea (John D'Aquino) is a wacky next door neighbor(!) who just pops in, seemingly without being stopped by Secret Service. The only one who seems to have any common sense is the maid, Maggie Hawley (Marcia Wallace), who insults Bush every chance she gets. It's easy to do, because he can't think quick enough to come back with something witty.

In addition to making fun of the President, the show was also a parody of old sitcoms. George would get himself into some trouble, like inviting his old frat buddies to stay at the White House, or taking drugs by mistake, and Laura would show him the errors of his ways at the end of each episode. One episode had George getting kicked out of his job by the Vice-President, then getting fired from a series of jobs until becoming a professional wrestler. Another episode found George being assaulted by a pro-choice advocate while the deformed result of an unsuccessful abortion looked on. Extremely crazy show.

It lasted less than a season. The official reason was that the show had become too expensive to produce, but I wonder. The stance of the real President was to ignore the show, but maybe pressure from his cronies led to the show's demise. Something to think about.

Timothy Bottoms resembles the current president a lot; a bit scary that was. Bottoms is best known for appearing in the classic film The Last Picture Show (1971). Marcia Wallace was the receptionist to Dr. Hartley on the 1970's sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show".

Return To Me (2000)

Bonnie Hunt ("The Bonnie Hunt Show", The Green Mile), directed this gentle romantic comedy. Set in Chicago, it tells the story of a doctor named Bob (David Duchovny) who's wife is killed in a horrible auto accident early on in the film. Months later, his friend Charlie (David Alan Grier) tells Bob he needs to get on with his life and start dating again. Reluctantly, Bob agrees to be set up on a date. His date jumps down the waitress' throat over having bottled water. The doctor spies the waitress exacting revenge by filling up a designer water bottle with good ol' tap water. They exchange smiles. Later, he finds out the waitress' name is Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver).

Grace's family, a mix of Italians and Irishmen, runs the restaurant/bar that she works in. Her grandfathers, Angelo (Robert Loggia) and Marty (Carroll O'Connor) hold court their regularly. Until recently, Grace had to deal with a bad heart condition. She finally had an operation to replace her old heart. What neither Grace nor Bob knows is that the new heart Grace has belonged to Bob's late wife. Through a series of circumstances, Grace eventually finds out, and their budding romance is thrown into a tailspin.

This movie has a very Chicago feel to it. Ms. Hunt is from the Windy City, and no doubt is familiar with families like those of Grace. The scenes with them bickering and fussing over each other felt very lifelike to me. There are some familar locations like Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park, but the heart of the story is set back in the neighborhoods.

Duchovny ("The X-Files") and Driver (Good Will Hunting) make a nice couple. Ms. Hunt appears in the film as a relative of Grace, with James Belushi ("According To Jim") playing her loveable slob of a husband. David Alan Grier was a cast member on "In Living Color". Robert Loggia had a popular 1960s adventure show called "T.H.E. Cat". The late Carroll O'Connor had a long career in both TV and film, most notably as bigoted Archie Bunker on "All In The Family."

The Girl Most Likely To. . .(1973)

A gem of a made-for-TV film, back when those types of movies were exceptionally good. Comedianne Joan Rivers shared a writing credit with Agnes Gallin on this darkly funny revenge tale.

Miriam Knight (Stockard Channing) is an ugly duckling college student who is shown no respect by anyone, including boyfriend Herman Anderson (Warren Berlinger). After being embarrassed by a heinous joke played on her, she tears off in her car, crying her eyes out. Unfortunately, she gets into a horrible car accident. Because of her injuries, she has to have extensive plastic surgery. When she emerges from the surgery, she is surprised to find she is now a beautiful swan. Miriam figures the time is right to get back at those who made her life miserable.

Her tormentors don't realize that the pretty woman they come in contact with is Miriam, and she relishes picking them off one by one. She causes a cheerleader to flip to her death, and uses a pool ball to get back at another enemy. A curious cop, Detective Varone (Ed Asner), notices there is a pattern to the murders, and he sniffs the trail.

I liked the scorned/picked on woman getting even theme, and the slick ways in which she exacts her revenge. The whole story is a hoot, right down to the last seene involving a crazy wedding. This film features many comedic actors in smaller roles including Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island"), Joe Flynn and Carl Ballantine ("McHale's Navy"),

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Message In A Bottle (1999)

This was the movie adaptation of a wildly popular romance novel by Nicholas Sparks. I read the book and found it to be very good. I even wrote the author a letter--which he responded to--to tell him how much I enjoyed it. I usually don't go for romantic novels, but that was one of the best. Unfortunately, as they say, the book was better than the movie.

The movie does follow the book, but only up to a point. A Chicago reporter named Theresa (Robin Wright Penn) finds a bottle with a message inside it while on vacation. The message is a beautiful love note to a woman named Catherine. Encouraged by her editor Charlie (Robbie Coltrane), she does some investigative work which leads her to North Carolina, and the writer of the note. Garret (Kevin Costner) she discovers, is a widower who has not gotten over the death of his wife. She gets to know Garret and his crusty dad (Paul Newman), but does not reveal her real reason for being.

Theresa, a divorcee, and Garret grow closer and begin a relationship, despite Garret not being able to give his heart fully. She invites him to Chicago, and after a romantic night, he finds the note he wrote to his late wife in Theresa's apartment by accident. This creates a rift between them. Will or will they not overcome the problem?

A subplot involving a grudge between Garret and his brother in law Johnny (John Savage) was not in the book. I kept wondering what purpose it served in the film. The ending was changed too, watering down the powerful impact it had in the book. Not as strong of a romantic film as it could have been.

Cooley High (1975)

It's Chicago, circa 1964, and Preach (Glynn Turman), Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and their buddies are mischievous teens navigating girls and schools. They play pranks on others, cut classes, hang out at parties, and conduct crap games in the boys' washrooms.

Preach has aspirations of being a writer. He and his friends come from working class and working poor backgrounds. Cooley High, which was an actual high school in Chicago, sits near the infamous Cabrini Green projects where most of the students live. The neighborhood is tough, and it'll take some tenacity to achieve dreams to get out.

The film captures a slice of life, a moment in time when teens were more carefree than they are now. Motown was reviving up, and the soundtrack is heavy with the hits from that era. The best song in the movie however, was "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" by G.C. Cameron. It is used during a funeral scene to great effect.

Turman, a good actor, went on to appear in many film and TV projects. Hilton-Jacobs later appeared as Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington, one of the Sweathogs on the TV series, "Welcome Back Kotter". Comedian Robert Townsend, who went on to make the film Hollywood Shuffle, is a Chicago native. He had a small role in Cooley High. Garrett Morris, a member of the first cast of TV's "Saturday Night Live", plays a no-nonsense teacher.

Soul Food (1997)

Set in Chicago, the plot centers on Mama Joe (Irma P. Hall), the matriarch of a family that includes her daughters lawyer Teri (Vanessa L. Williams), housewife Maxine (Vivica A. Fox), and beautician Bird (Nia Long). Every Sunday, Mama Joe cooks up a huge soul food dinner for the family.

Mama Joe's diabetes flares up, and she ends up hospitalized. With the core person who held the family together down and out, tensions flare, especially between Teri and Maxine. There is already a long simmering feud between the two: Kenny (Jeffrey D. Sams) dated Teri when they were teens, but cheated on her with Maxine. Kenny and Maxine later got married. Teri married Miles (Michael Beach), and their marriage is showing signs of wear and tear. Bird is newly married to Lem (Mekhi Phifer), an ex-offender trying to stay on the straight and narrow. Bird's ex, an odious sort named Simuel (Mel Jackson), attempts to interfere in their marriage. The sisters tussel with each other about how to handle Mama Joe's affairs.

Soul Food is a warm hearted look at middle class African-American life, a part of society that is sadly, still not shown enough on screen. There are many "Big Mamas" like Mama Joe in the African-American community who are the rocks of their family. Irma P. Hall's character is well aware of her daughters' disagreements and rivlaries, but she understands her girls as the individuals they are. Vanessa L. Williams is good here as a somewhat icy woman who doesn't realize her husband is growing away from her.

There is a long shot of a table loaded down with soul food staples: greens, cornbread, chicken, macaroni and cheese, etc. Made me hungry! I was looking for a soul food restaurant once I left the movie theater.