I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

My Photo
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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

After another stint in jail, Elwood Blues (Dan Ackroyd) is released from jail. He waits patiently outside of the prison for his brother Jake to pick him up. A prison official notices he has been standing out there for hours, and goes out to break the bad news: Jake passed away while Elwood was locked up.

It doesn't take Elwood long before trouble finds him. After agreeing to help Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) raise funds for a children's hospital, he runs afoul of Russian gangsters, a militia, and of course, the police. Elwood has to reunite the band--who are just as reluctant to team up again as they were in the previous movie--to win a New Orleans battle of bands contest to get the money. During the beginning of his quest, he teams up with Mighty Mac (John Goodman), a bartender who can sing. Elwood also takes an orphan (J. Evan Bonifant) under his wing.

This film sorely misses John Belushi, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. Goodman does his best to fit in, but he's no substitute for the Jake Blues character. Aretha Franklin, who had a show-stopping scene in the first movie, does a version of "Respect" that seems oddly toned down. The plot is a retread of the earlier movie as well, but it does have it's moments. Singer Erykah Badu and bandleader Paul Shaffer are featured on a rousing version of "Funky Nassau", Wilson Pickett shows up for an entertaining version of "634-5789", and numerous other musicians (B.B. King, John Popper, Johnny Lang, Steve Winwood, Gary U.S. Bonds, etc.) make appearances.

If you stick around after the end credits, James Brown does his stuff in a segment, begging a woman, "Please, Please, Please" don't go!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

A bluesy, moody slice of life piece about a pair of siblings who decide to spice up their tired lounge act by hiring a singer. Frank Baker (Beau Bridges) has been content with the mundaness and steadiness of the act for a long time. However, his brother Jack (Jeff Bridges), who appears to be more talented musicially, has been dissatified with their professional life for a long time. When his older brother is not looking, Jack slips off to play jazz in small dives. He gets offers to come and sit in with other musicians, but Jack feels some loyalty to Frank.

When the gigs become hard to come by, the brothers hold auditions for a singer. They end up with Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), who nearly misses out because she shows up late to try out. She is better than the others they've heard that day. Soon, gigs are plentiful and the money is rolling in. Complications ensue when Jack and Susie develop an attraction to each other, which brings out long-held resentments between the brothers.

Ms. Pfeiffer shows an appropriate world-weariness in her portrayal of Susie, a woman who has seen a lot and is cautious because of it. The Bridges brothers worked so well off of each other that audiences believed they might have real-life sibling rivalry, especially during an intense scene where the Baker brothers have a rough fist fight. Jeff explained that he accidently hurt his older brother Beau's hand during the scene. His brother yelled at him to stop bending his hand, and Jeff thought Beau was doing an excellent acting job.

Michelle Pfeiffer has appeared in numerous films including Married to the Mob (1988) and Scarface (1983), opposite Al Pacino. Jeff and Beau's dad was the late Lloyd Bridges. Jeff was nominated for an Oscar for his roles in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1975) and Starman (1985). Beau is generally considered as one of those actors who should get more credit than he does. He has won Emmy Awards, including for the TV films "Without Warning: The James Brady Story" (1992) and "The Second Civil War" (1997).

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Roots of Reality Television

People complain about the reality shows that have invaded TV like tribbles on the Starship Enterprise. However, these types of shows have been around for years.

"Real People" (1979-1984) covered unusual, heartwarming, etc. doings of regular folks around the USA. Much was made of the fact that Byron Allen, a host on the show, was only 18 years old, barely out of high school. Fred Willard of "Fernwood Tonight" fame was also a host, as was child actor Peter Billingsley (A Christmas Story). The show sometimes made fun of its subjects, but it was in a goofy, non-sarcastic way.

"That's Incredible" (1980-1984) was about amazing feats of both humans and animals alike. Cathy Lee Crosby, John Davidson, and football player Fran Tarkenton were the hosts.

"Battle of the Network Stars" was a series of specials that ran from the mid-1970's to the mid 1980's. Picture the Olympics with stars of popular TV series, divided into teams based on what network their shows appeared on, and you will have an idea of what this show was about. Tempers often flared between the stars over rules and whether or not someone was being an effective team player.

"An American Family" (1973) was a PBS documentary series that followed the Loud family, and caught all of their highs and lows on film. A couple of highlights were when the wife demanded a divorce from her husband, and one of the kids came out of the closet.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

A totally wild comedy from the war years about a small town girl named Trudy (Betty Hutton), who wakes up after partying with soldiers to find that she married someone she can't remember. Things get worse when she finds out she's pregnant. She doesn't dare tell her grouch of a dad (William Demarest), who has a habit of kicking people when he gets mad at them. Enter Norval (Eddie Bracken), a nerd who didn't make it into the military, but has always loved Trudy. Norval is willing to help Trudy, despite the fact that she appears not to notice what a nice guy he is. Trudy eventually falls for Norval, as they go through a series of mishaps to recify her problem.

The plot is a little risque for it's time, considering how Trudy got in a family way after drinking way too much during a night out. As the movie goes on, you begin to feel a lot of sympathy for Norval, who has been given a golden opportunity to pursue the girl of his dreams. William Demarest later appeared on TV on the sitcom "My Three Sons".

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency" (2006-present)

I was prepared to dislike Ms. Dickenson. The few times I saw "America's Top Model" where she was a panelist, she always came off as someone who is extremely hard to be around for long periods of time. Then I saw her interviewed on Tyra Banks' talk show, and got an insight as to why she's the way she is. She recounted a tale of having been not only a survivor of substance abuse, but one of child abuse as well. Ms. Dickenson was very open about everything, and I found respect for her.

In this reality show, the diva has opened her own modeling agency, and episodes follow her struggle to find suitable models to work with as well as clients who will help her agency grow. Ms. Dickenson is very direct about what she wants and what she doesn't like. "Why are you walking like you have a stick up your ass?" she'll bark at a model, but in the next minute, she'll sooth the feelings of a model who was turned down for a job. "I've been there," she'll tell them, "but you have to keep going." Janice Dickenson's outbursts are amusing, but you find yourself cringing in sympathy for the person she's berating. "Holla back, bitch!" she yelled at a media store manager whom she felt was not on point about planning a runway show. "I'll take my models out of here, and you won't have a show!"

The show also goes a little into the supermodel's home life, and shows her relationship with her college-aged son and her young daughter. She is just as hard on them, however, as she is on the models at her agency. However, it is clear that she loves the both of them with all of her heart. As she told Peter, who would become her business partner, "I'm doing this for them."

"America's Top Model" focused on what it took to be a model, but Dickenson's show is fascinating because it goes into the business of modeling and what it takes to make deals and land repeat clients.

"The Contender" (2005-2007)

I grew up during the heyday of Muhammad Ali, "Smokin" Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Sonny Liston. Boxing matches were as regular on TV then as were the big three sports of baseball, football and basketball. Unfortunately these days, boxing has been banished to cable, and is seldom covered in the newspapers and major sports magazines. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and former champ Sugar Ray Leonard attempted to change that scenario with their reality/competition show which began its life on NBC. Stallone is an actor, but had much respect because of his Rocky Balboa character, and the boxers idolized him and Sugar Ray.

Sixteen welterweight boxers competed for a chance to win a champion match during the last episode and a boxing contract. The boxers were divided into two camps, a blue team and a yellow team, and during the first season, the teams competed against each other during challenges that gave them one up on each other in terms of priviledges. They also did regular training in a spacious gym, under the eye of several trainers including Tommy, an old school trainer straight out of a 1940's boxing movie. Jackie Kallen, one of the first female boxing managers, was also on hand, but her role in the series was limited. She appeared to be more of a house mother, someone the guys could whine to when things weren't going their way.

While the competitions, which some said had nothing to do with actual boxing were cut out after the first season, the backstories about the boxers and their families remained. Scenes featuring family members encouraging their boxers, along with their tears, fears, and hopes were a staple of the show.

Each episode ended with a match. The matches were cut in an quick, music video fashion that made them more intense and exciting. The winner advanced further towards the big championship bout. The loser hung up his gloves up in the darkened gym, and takes a long walk into the night on his way home and out of the show. It's was a sad moment, especially when the boxer has previously expressed that the show may be his last chance to get a shot at becoming popular, and being able to make life better for his family.

Even though the show brought in decent ratings for NBC, the network canceled it. ESPN picked it up for the second season. Stallone no longer appeared on the show, but he remained an executive producer. Jackie Kallen left the show, but Sugar Ray and Tommy remained on board.  In later seasons, the series jumped to yet another network, Versus (now Spike TV).  Tony Danza ("Taxi"), a former boxer himself, took over as host.  The final season featured MMA fighters instead of boxers.

Labels: , , ,