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

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Doctor Detroit (1983)

I have always liked Dan Aykroyd, ever since his days as a cast member during the first five years of "Saturday Night Live" (1975-present). He's not only funny, but he is a fine dramatic actor, having been nominated for an Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1990 for the film Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Doctor Detroit was released a couple of years after Neighbors (1981), a film he had done with his late buddy, John Belushi.

The movie could have been funnier in a lot of spots, but it's not horrible. Clifford Skirdlow (Aykroyd) is a conservative and somewhat eccentric college professor who finds himself in the position of protecting four hookers (Donna Dixon, Lydia Lei, Fran Drescher, Lynn Whitfield) after their pimp, Diavolo (T.K. Carter), gets in trouble with a crime boss known as Mom (Kate Murtaugh). Diavolo makes up a story to Mom that he's been intimidated by a guy named Doctor Detroit. Clifford has to pull many a ruse to keep the girls out of trouble, including taking on the Doctor Detroit persona.

There's a scene where Thelma (Lynn Whitfield) is hauled into court for streetwalking. Clifford peeks in and notices the judge (Parley Baer) is a Southern good old boy. Clifford gets a white suit and pretends that he's a country lawyer, gets on the judge's good side, and convinces him to let Thelma go. The judge then sees Thelma, who is brought into the room after the charges has been dropped. As Clifford hustles her out, the prejudiced judge protests, "That girl is colored!" Thelma snapped back, "Ain't nobody took no crayon to me!"

Aykroyd's younger brother, Peter, has a small role. Ms. Drescher had her own TV series, "The Nanny"(1993-1998) and she was in the film This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Ms. Whitfield was in "The Josephine Baker Story" (1991) and won an Emmy for her portrayal of the famous performer. The late James Brown performs in this movie, and Ms. Dixon married Aykroyd in real life.

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Performances In The Sand

When James Brown passed away recently, I thought about his appearance in a beach movie entitled Ski Party (1965). Brown and his band at the time, The Famous Flames, show up at the lodge with another character whom they had rescued from the snow. Frankie Avalon and several of the college co-eds pipe up with, "Gee, Mr. Brown, can you sing a song for us?" Immediately, Brown goes into "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and caps it off with one of his signature splits, done in the snow at that. Brown's stint in that film is different from his appearances in The Blues Brothers (1980), Doctor Detroit (1983), and Rocky IV (1985). In those films, Brown's presence is treated as a special treat with an air of respect for his talent. In The Blues Brothers, his role is integral to the plot. Not so much in Ski Party, where it feels as if the producers just threw him and his band in just because they could.

It feels the same when I see other popular rock and soul acts in other beach movies from the 1960's. In fact, you could take their scenes out and not delete anything from the plots, such as they were. The Supremes show up in Beach Ball (1965), singing their one and only surf rock song, "Surfer Boy". They seem to appear out of nowhere, then disappear as soon as the song ends, never to be referred to again in the movie.

Is it me, or did Eric Burdon look very bored in the movie, It's A Bikini World (1967)? He and his group The Animals are shown singing "House of The Rising Son", a hard hitting bluesy rock song that seems out of place in the silly boy vs. girl plot.

The Righteous Brothers show up near the end of A Swingin' Summer (1965). I believe they sang "Justine". They just appear at an impromptu party, where Racquel Welch sheds the prim girl image her character had throughout the movie and dances. An appreciative James Stacy just smiles at her and shakes his head.

Stevie Wonder appeared in a few beach movies which lead me to wonder -- what parent would let their pre-teen kid perform in clubs where college-age kids hang out? After all, he was known as "Little" Steve Wonder at the time, and all of twelve and thirteen years old. At least he would have more than one performance, usually. He'd been seen in the middle of the movie, then at the end while the end credits ran.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dreamgirls (2006)

A trio of singing hopefuls -- Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorell (Anika Noni Rose) -- lose a Detroit talent contest, but gain a manager in ambitious car salesman Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx). Their first professional gig is singing backup to soul singer James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy). The singer is managed by Marty (Danny Glover). Early has a wife (Dawnn Lewis, who was a regular on TV's "A Different World"), but he starts a long affair with Lorell. Taylor takes a liking to Effie.

When the Dreamettes get a chance to headline on their own, Taylor changes their name to the Dreams. He also decides that Deena should be lead singer instead of Effie, to make the group more palatable to white audiences. Taylor promises zaftig, outspoken, hot-tempered Effie that it will be temporary, but the change is anything but. Tensions rise, and Effie shows up for rehearsal one day to find that she has been replaced by Michelle (Sharon Leal). Everyone turns in her, including her songwriting brother C.C. (Keith Robinson), but they find out soon enough that the cost of fame is very dear.

Jennifer Hudson was a contestant on the TV competition series "American Idol", where judge Simon Cowell mistakenly dismissed her talent. She steals the movie with her powerhouse vocals, which are evident during the song, "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going". She had big shoes to fill -- Jennifer Holiday did the showstopping tune in the Broadway version -- and she did well. That's not to say that Beyonce half-steps. The former lead of the group Destiny's Child does a nice acting job, and her big number is "Listen", a song written specificially for the film. I always knew Eddie Murphy could do more than be funny, and he channels Wilson Pickett and James Brown nicely for his character. Danny Glover does not have a lot of screen time, but he plays the old school values of his character very well.

The film moves along at fast pace, using racism in the entertainment industry, the turbulence of the 1960's, and the disco era of the 1970's as backdrops. Other familiar faces in the film include: Jameel White, who was the annoying Steve Urkel on the ABC sitcom "Family Matters"; Eddie Mekka, who was Carmine on "Laverne and Shirley"; comedian Bobby Slayton; Hinton Battle, who originated the role of the Scarecrow in the Broadway musical, The Wiz; John Lithgow of "Third Rock From The Sun" and Loretta Devine, who played the Lorell character in the Broadway version of this musical.

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