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, December 29, 2006

"Ugly Betty" (2006-2009)

Betty Suarez (America Ferrara) is a thoughtful, smart young woman who plans to run her own magazine one day. She is hired to be the assistant of Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), an editor at Mode, a top fashion magazine. The main reason she was choosen to work with Daniel is because she's a plain Jane. Daniel has a reputation for having affairs with the other women in the office, who are all as pretty as the models on the covers of the magazine.

Mode Magazine is like being in high school all over again for Betty. She is constantly disrespected and insulted by the other employees. Their nastiness shows up how ugly the beautiful people are in constrast to Betty, who they deem ugly on the outside, but has a beautiful personality inside. Amanda (Becki Newton) particularly enjoys picking on her, as does Marc St. James (Michael Urie), the assistant to bitchy creative director Wilhemina Slater (Vanessa Williams). Luckily, Betty has a good support system at home: her proud dad Ignacio (Tony Plana), her older sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz), and her fashion conscious nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato).

Soap opera elements including the mystery of the death of the CEO's wife, Wihemina's schemes to wrest Mode magazine away from the Meades and Betty's various romances were mixed in with drama and heart.
Betty was a classic underdog, and you're were always rooting for her to win. I also liked that the lead character was a Latina, and her heritage was not diluted. Ms. Williams is perfect as ice-cold, conniving Wilhemina, especially when she is showing the dents in her character's armor.

Ms. Ferrera was the lead in the movie Real Women Have Curves (2002). Ms. Williams was crowned Miss America years ago, and has a recording career along with her acting career.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Madea Goes To Jail (2005)

Feisty, outspoken Mabel Simmons, or Madea (Tyler Perry) as she's better known as, is up to her hi-jinks again in this DVD version of the stage play. Actually, she doesn't stay in jail long, and that portion -- she's picked up for not paying the tab at a gas station -- takes place early in the show. It's long enough for Madea to meet two women, one in jail for protecting her daughter from her dad, a pimp, and the second, locked up for various offenses.

More drama is going on at Madea's home, where her grandson, a guard at the jail, and his wife are staying temporarily until the wife gets her masters' degree. The grandson is working double shifts to pay for his wife's college education, but she is not appreciative. Plus, she's cheating on him with his boss. Madea also has to dole out tough love to the daughter of the first prisoner she met while in the lockup. Madea agreed to be a foster parent to the smart-attitude teenager.

As usual with the Madea plays, there is a strong Christian message, lots of gospel music, tributes to old school R&B, plenty of humor and heavy doses of common sense wisdom. Perry doesn't mind breaking character at certain points, and the cast has plenty of moments where they are trying hard not to break out laughing. If you've seen the movie version of Madea's Family Reunion, you will notice a few of the plot points in this play were used in that film. LaVan Davis and Cassi Davis, who appeared on Perry's TV sitcom "House of Payne" (2006) are featured in the cast.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gaslight (1944)

Paula (Ingrid Bergman) attempts to start her life over after the strangulation murder of her aunt, who was a famous opera singer. While in Italy to study to be a singer, she falls in love with her music teacher's pianist, George (Charles Boyer). They marry and move into the house that her aunt owned -- the same one where her aunt was murdered.

It isn't long before strange things start happening -- the lights going up and down, small items coming up missing. George starts accusing Paula of being forgetful, then it escalates to her being accused of being mentally unstable. A detective (Joseph Cotton) takes an interest in Paula that is fueled by her aunt's unsolved murder. Meanwhile, Paula teeters on the edge of a mental breakdown.

A well-acted story, but the criminal was obvious early on to me. This film won Oscars, including a Best Actress statue for Ms. Bergman. George Cukor, who was known as a "woman's director" for how well he worked with actresses, directed the movie. This movie saw the debut of Angela Landsbury, who turned 18 years old during filming. She plays a maid named Nancy who seems to have many boyfriends and an attitude towards Ms. Bergman's character. Dame May Whitty is a nosy neighbor who live across the way.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Hanna and Barbera

This week saw the passing of Joe Barbera, one half of the successful duo of Hanna and Barbera. Barbera and William Hanna were responsible for a lot of my favorite childhood memories. They produced scores of cartoons, which in my opinion, are still some of the best ever made. They created Tom and Jerry, the cat and mouse duo featured in numerous shorts for MGM. MGM, just like Warner Brothers, eventually stopped making cartoon shorts, and the duo turned to TV.
Hanna and Barbera were responsible for TV's first prime-time cartoon show, "Huckleberry Hound" (1958-1962), about a hapless country canine who sang off-key. "The Flintstones" (1960-1966), "Jonny Quest" (1964-1965), "Where's Huddles?" (1970), and "Wait Until Your Father Gets Home" (1972-1974) were other prime-time fare they had on TV.

While well known for their popular series like "The Jetsons", "Scooby-Doo" and "The Smurfs", I fondly remember many of their other series that dominated Saturday mornings for years. Some of my favorites include:

"The Hillbilly Bears" (1965) - a family of backwoods bears, including Paw Rugg, who mumbled all the time. Here and there, you could catch a word and get the drift of what he was talking about.

"The Magilla Gorilla Show" (1964-1967) - a well meaning gorilla who lived in a pet shop often found himself in lots of trouble whenever he ventured into the outside world.

"The Secret Squirrel Show" (1965) - a take-off of the spy craze that was happening in the 1960s, followed the adventures of a courageous squirrel, and his sidekick, Morocco Mole, who sounded a lot like actor Peter Lorre. Also included were cartoon shorts featuring "Squiddly Diddly", a friendly octupus who lived at a Sea World-type attraction, and affable "Winsome Witch", who solved problems with her magic wand.

"Top Cat" (1961-1962) - Top Cat was the head of a gang of motely characters who forever irritated Officer Dibley with their constant schemes to make money. This series was a take-off of "Sgt. Bilko", a 1950s sitcom starring comedian Phil Silvers.

"Cattanooga Cats" (1969-1971) - about groovy felines who were members of a rock group. They wore the funkiest hats.

"The Funky Phantom" (1972) and "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" (1973-1975) - both variations on "Scooby-Doo", featuring teenagers solving crimes. "Phantom" had the ghost of a American Revolution patriot helping the young people, and "Goober" featured a dog that could turn invisible.

"Butch Cassidy" (1973-1974) and "Josie and the Pussycats" (1970-1972) -- both shows featured rock groups that traveled around the country and the world fighting crime.

"The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" (1968-1970) -- the live action segments featured a rock group made up of an elephant, a lion, a gorilla, and a dog who lived in an amusement part. Cartoon shorts liked "The Adventures of Gulliver" made up the rest of the show. Another live action segment was "Danger Island" which was directed by Richard Donner, who went on to make the Lethal Weapon movies.

Hanna and Barbera also did a few movies including The Man Called Flintstone (1966) and Hey, There, It's Yogi Bear (1964).

Rocky Balboa (2006)

"The Italian Stallion" is now a middle-aged man, settled into a quiet life away from the lights of the ringside. He runs a restaurant, named after his beloved wife Adrian, who is now deceased. The film opens with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian's surly brother Paulie (Burt Young) marking the day of Adrian's passing. Paulie accompanies Rocky around to the old haunts where Rocky used to hang out with Adrian. It's been a few years, but Rocky is still grieving, while Paulie is trying not to think about it. After a visit to the demolished ice rink where Rocky and Adrian had a date in the first film in this series, Paulie tells his brother-in-law, "I can't do this no more."

There is tension between the fighter and his son Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimilglia). The younger man feels like he's always been obscured by his famous dad's shadow. This is apparent when Rocky Jr. is chewed out by his boss for being late to work. "I don't care who your dad is," the boss snaps. Moments later when Rocky appears to talk with his son, the boss, like everyone else, wants to meet the champ and have a picture taken with him.

Rocky meets a barmaid (Geraldine Hughes) who has a troubled bi-racial son named Steps (James Francis Kelly III). Turns out the barmaid is Marie, a young girl to whom Rocky gave some advice to about staying out of trouble in the first film. Rocky helps her out with a new job at his restaurant, and acts as somewhat of a father figure to her son.

ESPN airs a computer fight between Rocky and the current champ, an arrogant sort named Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver). The computer shows Rocky winning. Dixon's manager, L.C. (A.J. Benza) and a promoter, Lou DiBella (playing himself) convince the champ that it would be good business to fight Rocky. Rocky is bitten by the fight bug as well, and he applies for a boxing license. Rocky's desire to put on the gloves again is met with derision by the media, but as he tells Paulie, he has some "stuff in the basement" that he needs to get out of his system.

I liked how this movie tied in with the first, showing flashbacks involving Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky's late trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and his late friend and rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). I also liked Rocky as an older man. He's basicially the same guy from the earlier films, wiser, a bit sadder, but still carrying around the belief that he can make it. Those who are boxing fans--like myself--will recognize familiar faces including the aforementioned Lou DiBella; boxing historian Burt Randolph Sugar; sports reporters Brian Kenny, Larry Merchant, Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman; referee Joe Cortez, and announcer Michael "Let's get ready to rumble!" Buffer. Even former champ Mike Tyson makes an appearance. Antonio Tarver is a professional boxer, and talks as much trash here in his role as he does in real life before matches. Milo Ventimilglia is one of the people with special powers on the NBC sci-fi series, "Heroes".

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Marty (1955)

Paddy Chayefsky wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for this film. Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a lonely, 34 year old Italian-American butcher. He lives at home with his mother Theresa (Esther Minciott), who laments that all her other children are married except for Marty. Marty explains to her that he is not the most attractive guy in the world, and doesn't possess whatever it is that attracts women to men. He spends most of his non-work time hanging out with aimless bachelors, including best friend Angie (Joe Martell) and ne'er do well Ralph (Frank Sutton).

After hearing her nephew Thomas (Jerry Paris) talk about a dance hall he used to go to, Theresa urges Marty to attend. Marty spies plain-looking Clara (Betsy Blair) being brushed off cruelly by her blind date. He dances with her, then they spend the rest of the evening walking and talking. The two take a liking to each other, but are extremely wary of being hurt again.

The work by all of the actors, especially Borgnine and Blair, is extremely good. Much is said just by their body language and facial expressions alone. I liked visiting the world of the working class, New York neighborhood people they inhabited as well. There is a sub-plot that appears not to fit into the story. Theresa is asked by her nephew and his wife (Karen Steele) to take in Catherine, (Augusta Ciolli) the nephew's mom, an irritable sort who is causing trouble in their household and marriage. However, the sub-plot makes sense after Theresa meets Clara, and Catherine's influence causes her to change her mind about Marty's romantic interest in Clara.

Mr. Borgnine won an Oscar for his work in this film. He can play tough guys very well, as displayed in the movie Here To Eternity (1953), but he displays much warmth and tenderness as Marty. He also was the lead on the TV sitcom "McHale's Navy" (1964-1966). Jerry Paris was Rob and Laura Petrie's next door neighbor on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1962-1966), and he was also a TV director. Frank Sutton was Sgt. Carter on the sitcom "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (1964-1969). Actor Burt Lanchester produced the film. Ed Sullivan, who had a long running variety show on CBS, appears in some footage on a TV in one scene.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Specials

Having already reviewed "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965), I will mention some of the other Christmas specials that flickered across TV screens in the past. "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (1964) was one of many kid/family shows produced by Rankin-Bass in the 1960's and 1970's. It followed the lyrics of the famous song, but also added a snow monster, an island of misfit toys, and a romance for Rudolph for extra drama. Folk singer Burl Ives narrated the tale. It's an hour long, but moves along quickly.

"Frosty The Snowman" premiered in 1969, with comedian Jackie Verson supplying the voice of the affable snowman. Comedian/singer Jimmy Durante narrated the sentimental tale which has a magician (voiced by Billy DeWolfe) attempting to steal the hat that makes Frosty come alive. June Foray, a legend in the voice talent business (she's Natasha on "The Bullwinkle Show"), did the voice of Karen, the plucky little girl who journeys to the North Pole with Frosty. The story is surprisingly sentimental.

"The Year Without Santa Claus" (1974), had actors Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth providing the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Due to illness, Santa decides to take a vacation from his Christmas duties, much to the dismay of all around him. Rooney also played Santa in an earlier special "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (1970), where a mailman (Fred Astaire) explains how Santa got his job delivering toys.

"The Littlest Angel" (1969) was a live action special about Michael (Johnny Whitaker), a shepherd boy who perishes after an accident, and finds himself in Heaven right before the Savior is born. The boy doesn't quite understand that he has died and can't return home, and is assigned a mature angel (Fred Gwynne) to look after him. Cab Calloway has a nice scene as the angel Gabriel, and Tony Randall appears as a philosophical angel.

"JT" (1969), another live action special, centered on a poor, trouble prone kid (Kevin Hooks) in a New York ghetto who takes in a one-eyed cat as a pet. He has to hide the pet from his mom (Jan'et DuBois), a single parent who can ill afford allowing her son to have a pet. The cat gives JT something positive to focus his energies on.

"How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966) was directed by Chuck Jones, who was responsible for many excellent Looney Tunes shorts. Based on the Dr. Seuss story, it tells the tale of a mean creature who robs a small town of all its Christmas trimmings simply because he doesn't like the holiday and wants them to be as miserable as he is. It is narrated by actor Boris Karloff, and features the great insult song, "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962) had the nearsighted cartoon character (voiced by Jim Backus) in the title role of Scrooge. A very well done version of the popular Christmas tale.

A friend of mine bemoaned the fact that musical variety Christmas specials of today aren't as well done as those of the past. "Mariah Carey having a concert is not a Christmas special, it's just her standing on stage and singing," he sniffed. Numerous comedy sketches, dance numbers and songs, both secular and non-secular, were staples of musical Christmas specials that ran during pre-1980. Singers Andy Williams, Perry Como and Bing Crosby could be counted on to have a Christmas show on every December. Regular weekly variety shows, such as "The Red Skelton Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show" would include a Christmas themed show around the holidays. Guest stars were in great abundance, and even the ones who couldn't sing well would make an effort to get out a tune or two.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)

This animated Christmas special first aired on CBS on December 4, 1965. I've been watching every year since. As the story begins, Charlie Brown is not feeling the holiday season. He hasn't received any holiday cards, his sister Sally wants him to write out a long gift list to Santa, and Snoopy competes in a best Christmas decorations concent. Charlie knows something is missing, but can't figure out what. Charlie goes to Lucy Van Pelt for advice, and she suggests he take on the project of directing the school Christmas play. Directing is more frustration than fun, as Charlie's other schoolmates ignore his orders, and some grumble about their parts (Shermy complains that he's always playing a shephard every year). Then Lucy decides she's going to add a Christmas Queen character to the play, which is actually about the Nativity.

Charlie takes a break from directing, and he and Linus go out to get a Christmas tree to brighten up the play. The other kids aren't shy about insulting Charlie when he and Linus return with a forlorn, small tree that sheds. Charlie is fed up and yells, "Can anyone tell me what the true meaning of Christmas is?" A helpful Linus quotes Luke 2:8-12, and puts everything into perspective.

I'm always surprised at the religious message in this special. In these days of political correctness, as well as ongoing TV broadcast standards, that was very bold to have such a strong Christian message included in the show. It is handled very well, not beating the audience over the head with it, but posing it as food for thought. This is a charming holiday special that has held up well over the past four decades.