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, March 24, 2008

Meet The Browns (2008)

Brenda (Angela Bassett), a single mom in Chicago, has her share of problems. Right at the beginning of the film, she loses her low-paying job in a plant due to the place suddenly going out of business. She doesn't have money to pay the gruff babysitter (Irma P. Hall), who watches her youngest daughter. The father (Philip Edward Van Lear) of her son will not lift a finger to help her, and resents her asking him for anything. Then Brenda receives a letter that her dad, whom she never knew, has died. She never knew his side of the family, either. After much going back and forth, she decides to go to Georgia to attend his funeral.

No sooner than she gets off the bus with her three kids, she is greeted by Leroy Brown (David Mann) in all his loud-color glory. She meets Brown's other family members including his daughter Cora (Tamela Mann), and his older brother L.B. (Frankie Faison). All seem to welcome her except for Brown's sister, Vera (Jenifer Lewis), who has something smart to say about everything. There is confusion about why Brenda was invited to the funeral, until the bomb is dropped that she is the daughter of the deceased. L.B. was the person who wrote Brenda the letter.

If you've seen Tyler Perry's stage play in person or on DVD, you will recognize that several plot points were changed. In the stage version, it was Cora who "meets the Browns" for the first time after she learns her grandfather (Leroy's dad) has passed on. It was revealed in an earlier play, Madea's Class Reunion, that Leroy was Cora's dad, the result of one-night stand between Leroy and Madea. I can't say that all of the changes were effective.

Overall, this is a pleasant time-waster, but not on the level of Perry's earlier efforts. You know how things are going to turn out for Brenda early on, especially when she meets Harry (Rick Fox), a former basketball star who believes her son Michael (Lance Gross) has talent to make it in the pros. David Mann, who originated the part of Leroy Brown onstage, is funny, but his character is somewhat muted in favor of the Brenda character. I wish Vera had more screen time because she stole just about every one she was in.

Madea, Perry's most famous character, makes a brief appearance along with her brother Joe (also played by Perry). The scene was amusing, but did nothing to further the plot along.

Angela Bassett is an Oscar-nominated actress who has appeared in What's Love Got To Do With It (1993) and Waiting To Exhale (1995). Jenifer Lewis also appeared in What's Love Got To Do With It, and she sings as well. Lance Gross has a role on Perry's cable sitcom, "Meet The Paynes". Rick Fox was a pro basketball player in real life. He played for the Boston Celtics and later the LA Lakers. Margaret Avery (who plays L.B.'s wife) was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Color Purple (1985). Frankie Faison was in the TV series "True Colors" (1990-1991).

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

"The Love Boat" (1977-1986)

Aaron Spelling was one of the kings of TV during the 1970's and 1980's. "The Love Boat" was just another of the many series he produced. It was sort of a sea-going version of "Love, American Style" (1969-1974), in that the romance stories changed from week to week. Unlike that show, however, there was a regular cast that anchored the going-ons.

Capt. Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) helmed the cruise ship. He had a daughter, Vicky (Jill Whelan) from a past relationship. Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell) was the ship's doctor. Yeoman-Purser Burl "Gopher" Smith (Fred Grandy), Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes) and later, Judy McCoy (Pat Klous), the cruise directors, Ashley "Ace" Covington Evans (Ted McGinley), a photographer, and bartender Issac Washington (Ted Lange), made up the rest of the crew. They were often involved in the romantic troubles of the passengers who boarded the ship. Some situations were a bit spicy, leading a friend of mine to dub the series, "The Lust Boat".

Numerous guest stars paraded on board each episode, and the cruise ship went everywhere. The series was filmed on two real cruise ships, the Pacific Princess and the Island Princess. The show helped boost the public's interest in cruise vacations. Originally, this show began as a series of specials on ABC during the 1976-1977 season before becoming a full-blown series.

Gavin MacLeod had appeared on several series, including "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". Bernie Kopell was a regular on "That Girl" (1968-1971), and known as Maxwell Smart's nemesis, Siegfried on "Get Smart" (1965-1970). Ted McGinley was added to the cast of "Happy Days" during it's last few seasons, and he ended up on "The Love Boat" not long before that was cancelled. Ted Lange was Junior, one of the guys who hung around the barbershop on "That's My Mama". Fred Grandy is now a politician.


"Night Gallery" (1970-1973)

Rod Serling hosted this anthology series, and wrote some of the episodes. Originally, "Night Gallery" episodes rotated as part of a NBC series called "Four In One" that aired three other series including "McCloud" a detective show starring Dennis Weaver. Eventually the show was moved to its own time slot.

Each episode opened with Serling standing in an art gallery where bizzare paintings were displayed. Each painting represented an equally bizzare story. Some of the stories were quite scary. The pilot episode was a TV-movie that featured a tale of an underhanded nephew (Roddy McDowell) who hastened his uncle's death so he could get his fortune. The uncle was buried in a family plot just outside of the door of the house. A painting located on the stairwell seemed to show the uncle climbing out of his grave, walking up to the house and knocking on the door. The nephew thought he was imagining it, until he heard the knocks on the door. Other stories were short and amusing (but still bizarre), like the one where a vampire (Joseph Campanella) hires a babysitter to watch his son. The little boy turned out to be a werewolf.

The stories were hit or miss. I would say that the ones penned by Serling were better, but there were some others just as good as the ones he did. The series was not quite the same as "The Twlight Zone" (1959-1965), but it had its moments.


"Hogan's Heroes" (1966-1971)

A World War II prisoner-of-war camp seemed like an unlikely setting for a comedy, but this had a good run on CBS. Colonel Robert Hogan (Bob Crane) appeared to be just another prisoner in a camp in Germany, but actually, he and a group of men fed information to the Allied forces on the outside. They did this under the nose of Colonel Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer), who ran the camp, but was quite clueless and incompetant. It was easy for Hogan to manipulate Klink, whose pompous attitude and ego tripped him up, as well. Hogan and his men practically ran the camp, and their bunkers had the comforts of home.

Hogan's men -- LeBeau (Robert Clary), Newkirk (Richard Dawson), Sgt. Baker (Kenneth Washington), Sgt. Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon), and Sgt. Carter (Larry Hovis) -- had various skills which they used to fight the bad guys. They snuck in and out of the camp at will to complete their missions. Sometimes, Klink's sidekick, Sgt. Hans Schultz (John Banner) would walk in on the guys in the midst of their missions. But Schultz was a nervous type who was always afraid of being sent to the front, so he would ignore whatever he saw. "I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing!" was his catchphrase.

Every time I see reruns of this show, I can't help but think of the fate of actor Bob Crane. He was murdered in the mid-1970's, and to this date, the crime has never been solved. Crane appeared on "The Donna Reed Show" (1958-1966), and headlined one other series on his own, "The Bob Crane Show" (1975). Richard Dawson hosted the game show "Family Feud" for years, and appeared in the movie The Running Man with Arnold Swartzenegger. Ivan Dixon was featured in the movie Car Wash (1976).


Monday, March 03, 2008

Beyond The Sea (2004)

I remember singer Bobby Darin when I was a kid. TV networks used to regularly have "summer series" to offset the stream of reruns during that season. Darin had a summer series, and it was quite entertaining. He was a talented guy who could sing silly rock n' roll ditties like "Splish Splash", then swing a standard like "Up A Lazy River", then go folk on audiences with stuff like "If I Were A Carpenter".

Beyond The Sea follows Darin (Kevin Spacey) from being a sickly child in the Bronx to his stardom in nightclubs and in films. Darin is raised by an extended family which includes his sister Nina (Caroline Aaron), brother-in-law Charlie (Bob Hoskins), and mom Polly (Brenda Blethyn), who totally believe in his talent. Darin's talent, plus his cockiness and arrogance, propel him forward. Darin wants to live life to the fullest. He developed heart problems as a child, and was told he wouldn't live past age 15. He makes it past that age, but the specter of death follows him for the rest of his life.

Darin meets actress Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) on the set of a movie. They don't seem right for each other. She's a bit young and innocent, and he's brash. Then there's the matter of her stage mother, Mary (Greta Scacchi), controlling her daughter's moves. But love blossoms between the pair, and they get married. Darin keeps pushing along in his career, which eventually causes some tension between him and Dee, who wants him to spend more time with her and their son. But Bobby Darin can't stop. He's on a mission.

As what happens with careers that are red hot, at some point they cool down. Darin finds himself up against the changes in America during the 1960's, and his type of entertainment falls out of favor. Darin becomes politically aware and he even considers running for office. Then he gets some explosive news from his sister about his parentage which causes him to find out who he is and where he fits in.

The story is set up with Darin being led through events of his life by the younger version of himself (William Ulrich). That device, which has been used in some other films, doesn't work all the time. I would have liked it better if this story was told straightforward. Spacey (American Beauty, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil) does a great job evoking Darin's larger-than-life presence, and he does his own singing without overly apeing Darin's style.

John Goodman appears as Darin's manager; he was the title character's husband on "Rosanne" (1988-1997) and was in the cult classic The Big Lebowski (1998). Bob Hoskins was in Nixon (1995) and Mona Lisa (1986). Kate Bosworth was Lois Lane in Superman Returns (2006).

The real Bobby Darin gained an Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Captain Newman, M.D. (1963). "Beyond The Sea" is the name of a hit he had in 1960. Darin passed away in 1973, after open heart surgery. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.

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