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, October 29, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Lily (Dakota Fanning) carries around a heavy burden.  One night years ago, her mother Deborah (Hilarie Burton) attempted to leave her dad T. Ray (Paul Bettany).  Deborah pulled a gun, which was knocked out of her hand by T. Ray.  Lily, who was a toddler then, picked up the gun.  It went off, killing Deborah.

It's the summer of 1964, and Lily shares a home with her sullen, distant dad.  Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) is the housekeeper along with being Lily's friend.  Rosaleen has a run-in with the town's bigots when they attempt to stop her from registering to vote.  Lily takes one too many punishments from her dad.  Lily sneaks Rosaleen out of the hospital -- where she's being held after being beaten by the bigots -- and they run out of town.  Lily has a memento of her mother's with the name of a town on it.  Upon arriving there, Lily is drawn to the house of three sisters who run a honey-making business. 

August (Queen Latifah) is the oldest, and she along with sister May (Sophie Okenado) agree to take Lily and Rosaleen in.  Their sister June (Alicia Keys), a music teacher with a pursuant suitor named Neil (Nate Parker), doesn't think it's a good idea.  Both Lily and Rosaleen find peace at the sisters' home.  Lily makes a friend in Zach (Tristan Wilds), a young man who helps out in the honey business.  But outside forces -- prevalent racism, changing racial politics, family secrets -- intrude on the peace. 

Dakota Fanning is a fantastic actress.  So is Sophie Okenado, who plays the child-like, sensitive May.  The film is based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd.  It was written and directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, who wrote the screenplay for Love and Basketball (2000).

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The Great Debaters (2007)

Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) arrives at Wiley College, an all-Black institution of learning, and immediately puts out a call for students to audition for the debate team. Henry (Nate Parker), Samantha (Jurnee Smollet), James Jr., (Denzel Whitaker) and Hamilton (Jermaine Williams) pass the professor's tough process and make it in.  Under Tolson's guidance, the team challenges other college debators, and begin to rack up wins.

But all is not well.  It is 1935, and as the students work towards an education, they are constantly put down by a culture who does not respect them as human beings.  When they are invited to an Oklahoma college to debate, the team has to do so at a location away from the campus.  While traveling to and from the various debates, they have to watch the roads for lynch mobs.  Tolson leads a double life as a union organizer, which puts more heat on the team. Despite the hardships, the debate team carries on until they get an invite to a debate at prestigious Harvard University.

This is a well-built story about an unknown piece of American history.  The extras on the DVD go further behind the story, as the real-life people the characters were based on tell their stories about their struggles and triumphs. 

Ms. Smollett come from a family of kids who act.  She and her siblings had a TV show called, "On Our Own" (1994-1995).  She was also in the film Eve's Bayou (1997).  Nate Parker was Alicia Keys' love interest in The Secret Life of Bees (2008).  Forest Whitaker, who appears as the father of one of the team members, is an Oscar winner for his performance in The Last King of Scotland (2006).

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The Untouchables" (1959-1963)

During the 1920's and early 1930's, the city of Chicago was overrun with mob activity.  A group of Federal agents, led by Eliot Ness (Robert Stack), worked hard to smash the gangsters' influence.  The agents were dubbed The Untouchables because they were thought of as being unable to be bought by the gangsters they sought to take down. 

The TV series was based on a book written by Ness, but not everything presented was historically accurate.  There was a disclaimer at the end of the episodes explaining that some things had been fictionalized.  Regardless, the series was a big hit, due to the tough talking bad and good guys, and constant shoot-outs and murders.  The first few seasons were very violent by late 1950's and early 1960's standards. 

It's fun to watch this show and spot actors appearing in early roles.  Elizabeth Montgomery and David White were in an episode; both later were co-stars on "Bewitched".  Rip Torn ("The Larry Sanders Show"), Jack Klugman ("The Odd Couple"), Robert Redford (The Way We Were), Frank Gorshin ("Batman"), Michael Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Gavin MacLeod ("The Love Boat"), Telly Savalas ("Kojak"), Ed Asner ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), Carroll O'Connor ("All In The Family"), Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou), Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man), Martin Landau ("Mission: Impossible"), and Peter Falk ("Columbo"), were just a few of the famous faces who were featured on the show. 

During the last season, the famous theme song (by Nelson Riddle) was tweaked, and the violence was toned down a bit.  In some episodes, the Untouchables were in the background and other do-gooders were brought in.  For example, veteran actress Barbara Stanwyck portrayed a lieutenant from the Bureau of Missing Persons, and most of the action was centered on her. 

Jerry Paris appeared as one of Ness' men, a guy named Flaherty, in early episodes.  He went on to be the Petrie's neighbor on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and later, Paris switched from acting to directing.  Quinn Martin supervised early episodes of the series, and went on to head shows including "The FBI"  "The Fugitive", and "Cannon".

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Good Hair (2009)

After hanging around with a white classmate of hers, one of Chris Rock's daughters asked him, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"  Taken aback by this, Rock decided to delve into the unique relationship that African-American women have with their hair. 

Rock interviews various African-American women, including actress Nia Long, about hair issues.  He also visits a hair product company, and goes all the way to India to learn about the hair that is used by beauticians who do weaves.  The documentary is bookended by a major hair show competition that is filled with elaborate costumes, sets and hair styles. 

Good Hair is amusing at times, but doesn't go deep enough into the history of African-American hair issues.  Discussions about African-American women being accused of being ashamed of their natural hair by adopting "European" looks, and discrimination against African-Americans in the workplace because of hairstyles are brought up, but not explored completely.  Overall, the film is not a bad effort, but a little more would have made it more interesting.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Whip It (2009)

Bliss (Ellen Page) has been entered in one beauty pageant after another since she was a kid.  Her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) sees the pageants as a way for Bliss to get ahead.  While out shopping with her mother and little sister, Shania (Eulala Scheel), Bliss is intrigued by a trio of roller derby girls who come into the store.  Bliss attends a roller derby game with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat).  She meets Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), a derby girl who invites her to try out for the team.  Bliss, tired of trying to live up to her mother's expectations, shows up at a tryout and gets on the team. 

The team she plays for, The Hurl Scouts, hasn't won a game in a long, long, time. Their coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson), is at his wits end with the women.  But Bliss becomes their ace in the hole.  However, she hides her derby involvement from her mother and her easy-going father, Earl (Daniel Stern).  Also, she deals with the wrath of Iron Maiden (Juliette Lewis), who is the queen bee of the Scouts' main rivals, The Holy Rollers. 

This is a slice of life movie, directed by Drew Barrymore, who also plays Smashley Simpson, one of Bliss' teammates.  It nicely shows the comaraderie among derby girls, and highlights the desperation of young people wanting to get out of a small town.  For those who are unfamiliar with the sport of roller derby, the rules of the game are nicely explained in the script. 

Ms. Barrymore has been an actress since she was a child.  One of her best known roles was Gertie in the classic film ET (1982).  Ms. Page was the lead in the film Juno (2008).  Jimmy Fallon, who was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" (1975-present), appears here as an announcer.  Eve, who is better known as a rapper, plays another one of Bliss' teammates.  Ms. Lewis was in Natural Born Killers (1994).

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