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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Producers (2005)

Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is skewered in theater circles after his latest Broadway play, a musical based on Hamlet called Funny Boy, flops. A neurotic accountant named Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) shows up to do Max's books. Leo makes a comment that a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit. A light goes off over Max's head, and soon, the two are out to produce the worst musical ever and take the money and run.

This is a fun movie, done up in the style of film musicals from way back in the day. Broderick and Lane play well off of each other, and several of the other actors steal their scenes. Uma Thurman sings and dances her way into the producers lives, as a Swedish dish who ends up having a big effect on Leo. Gary Beach and Roger Bart are deliciously over the top as a gay director and his assistant. Will Ferrell is loony as a Nazi playwright, and Jon Lovitz is Leo's hard-hearted boss at the accounting firm. Richard Kind has a small role as a jury foreman, Michael McKean appears as a convict, and Andrea Martin is one of Max's elderly benefactors.

The Producers is the brainchild of Mel Brooks, based on the 1968 movie and 2001 Broadway musical of the same name. Brooks has been around in comedy for decades, responsible for such craziness as "The 2000 Year Old Man", "Get Smart", Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Eagle-eyed TV watchers will recognize Richard Kind from "Spin City", Andrea Martin from "SCTV", and Roger Bart from "Desperate Housewives". Michael McKean was in the rock documentary satire, This Is Spinal Tap, and he played hapless Lenny on "Laverne and Shirley".

3000 Miles To Graceland (2003)

I like both Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner. Unfortunately, this movie was not a good idea for either of them.

Costner can play a great bad guy, however. In this movie, he's the leader of a gang of criminals who pull off a daring robbery of a casino in Las Vegas. There's an Elvis Presley convention going on, and the gang dons jump suits and capes as part of their caper. Things go wrong from the moment they step inside the casino. A violent shootout takes place, and one of the thieves (Bokeem Woodbine) is mortally wounded.

It isn't long before there is a disagreement over how the spoils are to be divided. Costner ends up putting bullet holes in the other guys, but Russell escapes death, and ends up with the lion's share of the loot. During his quest to get as far away as possible, he comes across a larcenous woman (Courtney Cox) and her bratty son. Meanwhile, Costner is on the move, looking for him, and woe to whoever gets in his way.

Not much that is redeeming about this story, which comes off as a Quentin Tarrantino rip-off. There are a couple of interesting moments. The gang (including David Arquette and Christian Slater) debate about who would win in a fight between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley while on the way to rob the casino. When Sinatra is declared the winner, Costner's character pulls over the car and gets a major attitude. His character believes he is a child of the King of Rock N' Roll, and he doesn't appreciate their opinions. In another scene, Cox's son, kicks Russell's character in the shin and runs. This was a nod to a scene that Russell had with Elvis Presley in an earlier film called It Happened At The World's Fair. Russell had kicked Presley in the shins in that one.

Singer/songwriter Paul Anka ("Put Your Head On My Shoulder") has a small role. Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollack are cynical cops. Jon Lovitz also appears as a store owner who has an unpleasant encounter with Costner's character.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Don Diego (Tyrone Power) returns home from Spain to California, circa 1820, to find that the town he grew up in has been taken over by a dictator (J. Edward Bromberg) named Don Luis Quintero who is married to a social climber named Inez (Gale Sondergaard). The caballeros of the town, including Diego's dad (Montagu Love) are upset, but they are powerless against Quintero's army, which is run by Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Diego, who had been a soldier in Spain, decides to go undercover as Zorro, a champion of the poor and downtroddenl. While hiding from Quintero's army one night, Diego/Zorro meets Lolita (Linda Darnell), Quintero's niece. He is smitten, but cannot reveal his true identity. Eventually, he does let Fray Fellipe (Eugene Pallette), a monk, in on his secret.

Zorro vexes Quintero and Pasquale when darkness falls. During the day, Diego pretends that he is wimpy guy for whom Zorro "chills" his blood to think about. Quintero doesn't worry about Diego, but Pasquale suspects there is more to the young man than he presents. Diego is introduced to Lolita, who makes it clear that she thinks Zorro is more dashing. Inez, who has taken a liking to Diego, views her niece as a threat to auntie having a future affair with him. When Fray Fellipe is arrested because he will not give the church's gold to Pasquale, Diego realizes he has to step up his campaign to end the tyranny that has gripped the town.

This adventure film is a whole lot of fun, and boasts the best swordfighting scene ever placed on celluoid. Tyrone Power was an absolutely gorgeous man, and he and Linda Darnell have great chemistry. Eugene Pallette has a lot of good moments as the feisty monk. Basil Rathbone, who played detective Sherlock Holmes in a series of films, plays a good snobbish villian here.

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"Ally McBeal" (1997-2002)

In the first episode, Ally (Calista Flockhart), an attorney, is hired by a firm run by incompetant and insensitive Richard Fish (Greg Germann), and eccentric John Cage (Peter MacNichol). She is surprised to find that her old flame Billy (Gil Bellows) also works there, and disappointed to find he is married to Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith), who is also an employee. Ally and roommate Renee (Lisa Nicle Carson), a deputy District Attorney, moan about being being single.
In between romantic adventures, some crazier than others, Ally and her colleagues found themselves trying cases that all seemed to involve different aspects of human relationships. The attorneys dealt with clients' issues such as divorce, separation, broken promises within relationships, sexual harrassment, age discrimination, etc.

Some other characters in and around the firm included wild legal secretary Elaine (Jane Krakowski); sarcastic and wealthy Ling (Lucy Liu), who came in as a client, then ended up working a the firm; bitchy Neil (Portia de Rossi) who looked down on people whom she perceived were beneath her; Whipper (Dyan Cannon), a judge who dated Fish briefly; Seymour Walsh (Albert Hall), a stern judge who had no love for Fish & Cage attorneys; Larry Paul (Robert Downey, Jr.) who was in a relationship with Ally for a time; and singer Vonda Shepard (playing herself) who performed in the bar downstairs from the law firm.

The show invited controversy. Feminists had problems with a professional woman like Ally seeming to base all of her happiness on finding a man and getting married. Attorneys disdained the show, saying that there was no way that real lawyers would get involved in some of the odd situations that took place in the stories. TV watchdogs deplored the sexual situations that the characters found themselves in.

Near the end of this dramedy's run, plotlines became more implausible, and some characters were jettisoned. Billy developed a brain tumor which caused him to hire models to accompany him to the office. Fish became engaged to odd Liza Bump (Christina Ricci), who figured she would be better off getting into another relationship if her and Fish divorced later than as a woman who had never been married (like most of the other female attorneys). Ally discovered she had a daughter named Maddie (Hayden Panettiere), who was the product of an egg donation Ally had made to an infertility program years before. Ally's roommate Renee just disappeared after the 2001 season with no explaination.

Christina Ricci had appeared in The Addams Family films. Peter McNicol was also a film actor, having appeared alongside Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice. Gil Bellows played an ill-fated inmate in The Shawshank Redemption. Calista Flockhart played the fiance of Robin Williams's son in the film The Birdcage. Lisa Nicole Carson was in the movie Love Jones along with Larenz Tate. Taye Diggs (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) was a regular on "Ally McBea"l during 2001.

"The Royal Family" (1991-1992)

Al (Redd Foxx) and wife Victoria (Della Reese) plan to live their golden years in peace in this standard sitcom. Then daughter Elizabeth (Marianne Aalda) comes home with her kids, annoucing that she and her husband are divorcing. This doesn't sit well with cranky Al, but he lets them move in. It is not long before the kids--Hillary (Naya Rivera), Curtis (Larenz Tate) and Kim (Sylver Gregory)--get on his last nerve.

The show hadn't been on TV long before tragedy changed the makeup of the show. Comedian Redd Foxx had a massive heart attack during a rehearsal and passed away. Jackee was brought in as Victoria's half-sister Ruth, to help out. Unfortunately, very few shows can survive the death of a main character, and the show was gone after one season.

Larenz Tate went on to a film career, appearing in Why Do Fools Fall In Love, Love Jones, and Menace II Society. Della Reese, a singer as well an actress, was a cast member on the wildly popular drama, "Touched By An Angel". She had also appeared in an episode of "Sanford And Son", playing herself. Ms. Reese is also a pastor. Jackee was the materialistic Sondra on the sitcom, "227", and she was also on "Sister, Sister".

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Wiz (1978)

The all African-American musical version of The Wizard Of Oz starred Diana Ross as Dorothy. I remember there were a lot of complaints about Ms. Ross being cast over Stephanie Mills, the singer/actress who originated the role on stage. There was also flak over Ms. Ross playing a twenty-something when, in real life, she was much older. Unfortunately, Ms. Mills was not the big name, and Ms. Ross was.

The plot is essentially the same: girl and dog get swept into a strange world, and travels a road with some colorful characters to find a powerful wizard who can help her get home. There are some grand movie musical moments: The Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) and Dorothy dancing down the yellow brick road singing "Ease On Down The Road"; the Emerald City's residents changing the color of the moment at the Wizard's (Richard Pryor) whim; a jubilee dance after the Wicked Witch (Mabel King) has been defeated. Very colorful film.

The late Nipsey Russell was The Tin Man, Ted Ross was The Cowardly Lion. Quincy Jones appears as a piano player in one scene, and if you listen closely, you can hear the late Luther Vandross singing during "Can You Feel A Brand New Day". The late Mabel King was Roger and Dee's mom on the 1970's sitcom, "What's Happening?"

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Livin' Single" (1993-1998)

Funny sitcom about a group of African-American friends living in New York City. Khadijah James (Queen Latifah) was the publisher of a magazine called "Flavor". She shared an apartment with her daffy cousin Synclaire James (Kim Coles), who also worked as a receptionist at Khadijah's magazine, and materialistic Regine Hunter (Kim Fields). Regine worked at a fashion boutique. Maxine "Max" Shaw, a wild college friend of Khadijah who was a lawyer, hung out in their apartment constantly. Max was always exchanging insults with smooth financial planner Kyle Barker (T.C. Carson), who lived upstairs with roommate Overton Jones (John Henton), a handyman.

The friends were always involved in romantic entaglements, career issues, and other mishaps. Max ended up being booted out of the prestigious law firm she worked for after the advice she gave a client about getting a prenup before their wedding backfired. The firm rehired her, but when she found out they had demoted her, she quit and took a job with the Public Defender's office. Khadijah constantly fought battles to keep her magazine afloat and get good articles published. Synclaire and Overton became a couple which led to them getting married. Regine became the buyer at the boutique and had a romance with a rich guy (played by rapper Heavy D) who wasn't quite sophisticated enough for her.

The series had decent ratings, but it was up against NBC powerhouse "Seinfeld" (1990-1998) throughout most of its run. Unfortunately, during the last season, the FOX Network kept pre-empting episodes, then the show was yanked off the air. When Synclaire and Overton got married, they moved into their own apartment. Khadijah and Regine welcomed Ira Lee Williams III, or Tripp (Mel Jackson) as he was called, as a roommate. The dynamics weren't quite the same after that. Kyle and Max fell for each other despite of their mutual hostitlity towards each other. The craziest plot in the last season had Max pregnant after a visit to a sperm bank, only to discover the sperm had been donated by Kyle. Regine planned a party for a rich computer company owner (Don Franklin); he proposed to her, but their marriage was never shown. Her character disappeared from the show after she got engaged. Khadijah finally decided to get serious with old flame Terrence, otherwise known as Scooter (Cress Williams).

Queen Latifah--real name, Dana Owens--began her career as a rapper, with such hits as "Latifah's Had It Up To Here" and "U.N.I.T.Y.". Mel Jackson appeared as a slimy ex-boyfriend of Nia Long in the movie Soul Food. John Henton was later a regular on "The Hughleys".

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"The Facts Of Life" (1979-1988)

One of the most fondly remembered sitcoms of the 1980's followed four girls who attended a prestigious prep school. Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel) was the blond, haughty rich girl; Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey (Kim Fields) was the sunny, friendly one, and one of the few African-American students at Eastland; Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn) was the class clown; and Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon) was the tough girl from the Bronx.

When the series began, there were several girls to keep track of (including a young Molly Ringwald), but soon, the plots only focused on the four girls and Mrs. Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), who was the housemother. Mrs. Garrett had been Mr. Drummond's housekeeper on "Different Strokes", of which this show was a spin-off. The girls experienced enough pre-teen and teenage mishaps to keep Mrs. Garrett busy with advice and Kleenex. Even when Mrs. Garrett left Eastland to open her own gourmet shop (later a malt shop), the girls followed her along. Mrs. Garrett's character was gone for good after 1986, when she remarried and moved away. Her chatty sister Beverly Ann (Cloris Leachman) became the girls new "housemother".

The show continued for nearly ten years and followed the girls as they graduated, went on the college, and began to deal with being adults. There was an episode where Natalie went all the way with her boyfriend Snake (Robert Romanus), although it was not shown on camera. Blair was missing from that episode because actress Lisa Whelchel, a conservative Christian, did not want to endorse pre-martial sex.

A reunion TV movie several years later found Natalie had found sucess as a writer, Tootie had become an actress (and had a daughter), and Blair was having some martial problems. Jo sent her daughter to represent her at the reunion (Nancy McKeon had declined appearing in the film).

Charlotte Rae had a long career on TV, including playing the wife of Officer Schauser on "Car 54, Where Are You?" (1961-1963). Kim Fields was a child actress who had appeared in a series of adorable Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup commercials during the 1970s. She was also a regular on the 1990's sitcom "Livin' Single". Cloris Leachman is an excellent actress who has appeared in many films including, The Last Picture Show. Lisa Whelchel married a pastor, and is now an author of Christian books. George Clooney ("ER", Ocean's Eleven) appeared on the show for one season as handyman George Burnett. Geri Jewell, an comedian who has cerebral palsy, appeared as Blair's cousin for a few seasons.

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The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

As far as fantasy films go, "The Chronicles of Narnia" was okay. I am not familiar with the C.S. Lewis penned books that the film was based on. The "Narnia" story serves as Christian allegory, with various characters and situations mirroring Biblical events. For example, the lion Ashlan (voiced by Liam Neeson) represents Jesus Christ, particularly during a sequence where he makes a sacrifice in order to exonerate one of the human characters.

The story follows four English kids--Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy--who have been sent away to live in the countryside. It is World War II, and all the bombing the cities and suburbs have been suffering have made it too dangerous for children to remain there. During a game of hide and seek, Lucy hides in a wardrobe cabinet and stumbles into a strange world in the back of the cabinet. She meets Tumnus (James McAvoy), a fawn who explains that since the White Witch has been in control, it has been wintertime for 100 years. Tumnus had planned to kidnap Lucy, under orders from the White Witch, but instead, he helps her escape so she can get back home.

Her brothers and older sister do not believe her, of course, when she returns to tell about her adventures. Eventually, they all find out that Lucy was not imagining things. No sooner than they arrive, they discover they are marked for death by the White Witch. There is a prophecy that they will help free Narnia, and the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) does not want it to come to pass. She is especially upset when she also learns that Ashlan is back on the scene, and an army is being formed to bring her evil rule to an end.

The kids, all unknowns, are appropriate for their roles, especially Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy. There are amusing moments from a couple of beavers (voiced by Dawn French and Ray Winstone), who help the kids along the way.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Place In The Sun (1951)

A guy I used to work with had served in the military during the Korean War. He worked in the kitchen on the ship he was on, and Elizabeth Taylor paid a visit. He served her soup, and accidently spilled some of it on her. He apologized profusely, and she turned her violet eyes on him and smiled, "Oh, that's alright." He said he's been in love with her ever since. I can see why so many men were crazy about her. She was very luminous in this film. Ms. Taylor is the same age as my mom, so she had to have been 19 years old at the time this film was relased.

Montgomery Clift, no slouch in the looks department himself, plays a poor guy named George Eastman who gets a break. His rich uncle sets him up with a job in his company. George is told by his cousin not to play around with any of the women who work there. George starts eyeing Alice (Shelley Winters), and promptly forgets about the company rule. Around the same time, he meets Angela (played by Ms. Taylor), a beautiful rich girl.

George and Alice tip around, one thing leads to another, and Alice finds herself facing an unwed, unplanned pregnancy. George had told Alice he loved her, but he is totally head over heels with Angela, who feels the same way about him. Alice, correctly guessing that George has lost interest, demands that he does the right thing and marry her. Unfortunately, Alice represents the life-long poverty that George has been trying to escape. Angela is a part of the world he wants to be included in. George lives a double life, but can't keep it up. He makes a decision that leads to tragedy.

I've always liked Shelley Winters. She plays vulnerable so well. She can also play high-strung extremely well. There's a scene where she discovers that George had lied to her about his whereabouts during a time they were supposed to be getting married. "You better come down to the bus station and get me right now!" she snaps. "Or else, I'll come where you are and tell everybody everything!" When George shows up and acts funny about seeing her, she screeches, "I'm not leaving the station until you promise me!", meaning his promise to marry her. Unlike today, being pregnant out of wedlock was a major no-no, a big embarrassment to all who were involved. Her character's desperation is totally out there in the open.

Raymond Burr is also in this movie, portraying a tough district attorney. I couldn't help but compare his role to the later one he would have on TV as "Perry Mason".

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Bodyguard (1992)

Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston), an A-list actress and singer, is being stalked by someone. After the perpetrator plants a bomb that destroys her dressing room, her manager (Bill Cobbs) seeks the services of a reclusive bodyguard named Frank (Kevin Costner). Frank doesn't want to take the job because he doesn't like protecting celebrities. Rachel doesn't particularly want him in her house or around her. Frank is ready to walk, but Rachel's manager admits there is evidence that the stalker has been inside the house at least once.

Frank and Rachel rub each other wrong like sandpaper, as he goes about making her house more secure and putting restrictions on her moving about. One night, Frank watches one of Rachel's music videos and really sits up and takes notice of her. Rachel decides she's tired of being cooped up in the house and asks Frank to accompany her to dinner out. She's intrigued by Frank, who appears to be be very guarded about his life. He invites her to his house, one thing leads to another, and they spend the night together. The next morning, Frank announces that he's stopping the relationship before it gets too deep, because Rachel is a client. They are back to irritating and being irritated by each other. However, the stalker is still out there, and Frank and Rachel will have to work together or end up dead.

This is not a bad film, although it is a variation on the damsel-in-distress helped by a strong, silent male that has been done over and over. I liked that the story didn't make too much of the fact that the main characters embarked on an interracial romance--they just were two people who were together. The stalker plot takes a surprising turn, but after a tragedy takes place, no comment is made about how Rachel feels about what she has learned.

This movie had been written about two decades before it came to the screen. It was intended as a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross, but the project languished. Costner hand-picked Houston, who had few acting credits, to appear alongside him in the film.

The soundtrack was extremely popular, picking up several music awards.

Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire (2005)

The new school year at Hogwart's brings the Tri-Wizard Competition. This brings in students from other wizarding schools to enter: some fashion plates from France and tough guys from Belgium. Only students 17 and older are allowed to compete. Then the Goblet of Fire gives up an unlikely name--14 year old Harry Potter.

It is suspected that Harry cheated to get his name in, but the magical goblet would not have allowed anyone under 17 years old to get near it. Harry finds he has bigger problems than worrying about whether his friends and other classmates think he's underhanded. The Tri-Wizard Games are very dangerous. A guy could get killed. What Harry doesn't realize is that is exactly what someone intends to happen. Harry's mortal enemy, Voldemort, is out to finish the young wizard off by any means necessary.

The special effects are nice, and the plot acknowledges that Harry, Hermoine and Ron are growing up. Harry and Ron fret over asking girls to a major dance, while Hermoine deals with an admirer of her own. The headmaster of the school, Dumbledore, and the teachers at the school are not as featured as much as they were in the previous films. The exception is Mad-Eye Moody, a paranoid sort who is the new Dark Arts teacher. Even bratty Malfoy, who is always picking on Harry and his friends, is not featured prominently. Miranda Richardson has fun playing a catty newspaper journalist who makes Harry uncomfortable.

"A Different World" (1987-1993)

This show was originally intended as a spin-off vehicle to spotlight Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet), one of the kids on "The Cosby Show". Denise had enrolled at fictional Hillman College, a predominately African-American school located somewhere in the south. The first season, Denise roomed with Maggie Lauren (Marisa Tomei), who appeared to be one of very few white students on campus. Her other roomate was Jaleesa Vinson (Dawnn Lewis), a 26 year old freshman who had already been married and divorced. The first season was rather slow. It was missing something. A promise of interesting times surfaced when Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) showed an interest in Denise.

The romance was cut off at the knees when the second season began and Denise was gone, having dropped out of school. Maggie disappeared as well. The plots then shifted to include other students, namely snooty Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy), would-be player Ron Johnson (Darryl Bell), pre-med student Kim Reese (Charnele Brown), bubbly Gina Devereaux (Ajai Sanders) and New Age flower child Winifred "Freddie" Brooks (Cree Summer). A few of the college staff were featured too, including Col. Clayton "Dr. War" Taylor (Glynn Turman); sports coach Walter Oakes (Sinbad), who had a relationship with Jaleesa; and Lettie Bostic (Mary Alice) and Stevie Rallen (Loretta Devine) who ran the girls' dorm. Vernon Gaines (Lou Myers) was the crusty old guy who ran The Pit, a fast food place where everyone hung out.

There were equal mixes of serious subjects along with the usual college antics. Date rape, AIDS/HIV, sexism, classism, and interracial romances were some of the topics covered. A couple of very somber episodes stick out in my mind. One story revolved around a friend of Dwayne's who was going into the military right on the cusp of what would turn into the Gulf War. Reactions to the friend ranged from respect to out and out hostility. Another episode involved Dwayne and Ron's run-in with a group of racists, which landed all a few hours in jail. Nothing was solved at the end. All of the guys involved were given community service sentences, and Ron discovered someone had painted a racial slur across his sports car.

Eventually, the students had to graduate, but the series continued to follow the new grads as they entered a "different world" of careers and other adult responsibilities. Some new students were introduced, including feisty Lena James (Jada Pinkett-Smith). However, the series couldn't keep putting one foot in the adult world while attempting to keep the student storylines going at the same time.

NBC gave audiences the impression that an episode that had math whiz Dwayne taking a job with a computer corporation in Japan, and his wife Whitley (they had married by this time) finding out she was expecting, would be the series' finale. Several more episodes ran focusing totally on the new students, but the magic was gone by the summer of 1993.

While the series was running, Jasmine Guy had a minor hit called "Try Me". Jada Pinkett-Smith went on to appear in movies and marry rapper/actor Will Smith ("The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"). Gary Dourdan, who played Shazza Zulu, a militant boyfriend of Freddie's, now appears on the crime series "CSI".