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

Monday, July 30, 2007

Talk To Me (2007)

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) has his own radio show, and he's good at it. Problem is, he's in prison while he's doing it. A fellow convict, Milo Hughes (Mike Epps), invites his brother Dewey (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to come up to the prison to hear Petey. Dewey is an executive at a Washington D.C. R&B/Soul radio station. Dewey is not impressed, even after he meets Petey in person. Due to a favor to the warden, Petey is released from stir early, and he goes to Dewey for a job.

Petey's first foray behind the mic is less than spectacular. The station manager, Mr. Sonderling (Martin Sheen), wonders if Dewey has lost his mind by bringing Petey in. Dewey wonders that himself, but he sees talent in Petey. Under Sonderling's nose, he gives Petey another chance, ruffling the feathers of Sunny Jim (Vondie Curtis Hall) the DJ whose spot Dewey gives to Petey. Positive audience response to Petey's "tell it like it is" attitude changes Sonderling's mind.

Cheadle (Ocean's 11, Hotel Rwanda) is a joy to watch as Greene, who in real life, was a beloved radio DJ and community activist in the 1960s and 1970s due to his "keeping it real" style. Ejiofor (Kinky Boots) does a great job as a seemingly button down exec who is lot closer to Greene's street background, than Greene believes. Taraji P. Hensen (Something New) is a hoot as Green's sassy girlfriend, Vernell, and she rocks a mean Angela Davis afro. Cedric The Entertainer (The Original Kings Of Comedy) is featured as a smooth talking "love" DJ. Martin Sheen, himself a long time activist, has many credits including TV's "The West Wing" and Apolcalypse Now (1979).

One of the best uses of a song I've ever heard in a film -- Sam Cooke's "A Change Goin' Come" has been used in other films including Malcolm X (1992). Here, it's used to represent a change in Petey's life when he leaves prison, and a song of hope after scenes depicting how Greene helped calm things in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1968 assassination.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Hairspray (2007)

Perky, plus-size teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) loves a local Baltimore dance show hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden). When one of the regular female dancers drops out, Tracy runs to the TV station to audition. Intially, she is rejected by Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), the mean TV station manager. Velma's main interest is in keeping her spoiled daughter Amber (Brittany Snow), who dances on the show, in the limelight. Tracy's dancing skills, some of which were picked up from Seaweed (Elijah Kelly) and his friends, catch the notice of Corny, and he puts her on the show. The station owner, Mr. Spritzer (Paul Dooley) is not happy about that, and neither is Velma. Velma schemes to kick Tracy off the show.

Seaweed and the other African-American students introduce Tracy and her best friend Penny (Amanda Byrne) to local personality Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Due to the racial politics of the time -- the movie is set in 1962 -- African-Americans are only allowed to dance on "The Corny Collins Show" once a month on "Negro Day". Motormouth Maybelle hosts the show on that day. When Tracy becomes involved in efforts to integrate the dance show, she further incurs the ire of Velma, who is a major bigot.

This movie is based on the Broadway play, as well as being an musical version of the original film that was released in 1988. The songs are practically non-stop, from Tracy greeting the day with "Good Morning Baltimore" to Tracy's parents doing a romantic number to Motormouth Maybelle doing a blues tune. The songs are pleasant, and they invoke the period the film is set in, but they are not very memorable. Audiences may be surprised to hear James Marsden and Christopher Walken (playing Tracy's dad) singing. However, Marsden had sang on an episode of "Ally McBeal", and Walken's performing background includes both singing and dancing. The plot, which tackles racial discrimination and fat acceptance, handles both subjects in a gentle and light manner.

John Travolta appears in drag, playing Tracy's zaftig mom Edna. He is no stranger to singing and dancing, as seen previously in Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977). Neither is Michelle Pfeiffer, who appeared in Grease 2 (1982) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Jerry Stiller, who appeared as Tracy's dad in the 1988 film, has a small role as the owner of full-figured clothes shop. John Walters, who helmed the earlier film, appears during the opening number. Look closely during the scenes at the end, and you'll see former talk show host Ricki Lake, who played Tracy in the 1988 film.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry (Daniel Radcliff) and his odious cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) are in the middle of an arguement in a playlot when suddenly, the sky darkens, the winds whip up, and the rain falls. Dudley is clueless about what really is going on, but Harry recognizes something sinister about the quick weather change as they run into a tunnel. The next moment, a pair of dementors show up to wreck havoc, and nearly take both Harry and Dudley out. It is another sign that Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) has regained power and is on the move.

Harry is at first in danger of being expelled from Hogwarts for using magic in front of a Muggle, but Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) successfully has the teen exonerated. More trouble abounds when Harry and friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to school. Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is a new teacher at the school who is quite power mad, and the three friends quickly get on her bad side. Meanwhile, the Order of the Phoenix, a group of which Harry's godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) is a part of, forms to stop Lord Voldermort. Harry soon discovers that he and Voldermort's ultimate fates are linked to each other. One cannot live while the other survives.

There were some plot points from the fifth book that were not included in the movie. People unfamilar with that book and the four before it can still catch on to what is going on. Some characters who were prominent in some of the earlier films like Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), have been regulated to the background, but their roles are important to the plot.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)

Rocky Barbella (Paul Newman) is a kid who just can't stay out of trouble. Everytime you look around, he's stealing, vandalizing and fighting. Finally, a judge gets tired of seeing him in court and sends him to reform school. Rocky gets into it with a guard, then ends up in the adult prison. While he's there, gym personnel recognize that he can fight very well. He trains there until he's released.

Freedom is still a dream for Rocky, because no sooner than he walks out of the gates of the prison, he finds himseld drafted into military service. Rocky's disrespect for authority gets him into trouble again, and he finds himself AWOL. On a tip from a friend, he goes into a gym and discovers he can get paid to spar with boxers. His talent catches the eye of the owner of the gym and a manager. As Rocky Graziano, he moves up in the ranks, but as success comes closer and closer, he finds his old life as a delinquent won't quite let him go.

Rocky Graziano was a champion boxer in real life, and the film is based on his life. Newman does a good job portraying a young man trying to go straight despite the odds. Sal Mineo (Rebel Without A Cause) plays one of Rocky's thug friends, and Steve McQueen can be seen in a small role as another neighborhood tough guy. Robert Loggia ("T.H.E. Cat", Independence Day) is the friend who hips Rocky to the gym. Eileen Heckart (The Bad Seed, "The Five Mrs Buchannans") plays Rocky's long suffering mom. If you've seen episodes of "The Monkees", you also recognize Arch Johnson (as a prison tough), and Len Lesser (as a reporter); they appeared in a few episodes of that series.

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