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, December 12, 2013

"Behind the Candelabra" (2013)

My late mother would always make snide remarks about Liberace.  She would refer to the late pianist as "funny", and Ma didn't mean humorous.  This made-for-cable movie addresses what many probably already knew:  that Liberace (Michael Douglas) was gay.  It covers a relationship the pianist had with Scott Thorsen (Matt Damon).

Thorsen is introduced to Liberace by Bob Black (Scott Bakula) after one of the pianist's concerts.  The man who drives Liberace onstage in a Rolls Royce is not happy, and he has good reason for that.  It isn't long before that man is moving out of Liberace's house, and Thorsen is moved in.  Liberace's houseboy is also sent packing after he tells Thorsen that Liberace will eventually grow tired of Thorsen.

Liberace spoils Thorsen with everything money can buy.  Thorsen is even talked into getting plastic surgery to look like Liberace.  There's talk of Liberace adopting Thorsen, and the young man is placed in his will.  Thorsen is satisfied until things become so comfortable that it feels more like a prison.  Liberace begins to accuse Thorsen of not being grateful for what has been done for him.  It does not help matters when Thorsen begins to use drugs behind the plastic surgery.  The relationship begins to fall apart.

Liberace is shown as a man loved by audiences but trapped by his private lifestyle.  His manager, Seymour Heller (Dan Ackroyd) knows the pianist's secret, and is devoted to hiding it behind a carefully planned public image.  Thorsen doesn't appear to be an opportunist here, but a wide-eyed young man swept up into a glamorous lifestyle without considering what was behind the curtain.  I liked how Douglas played Liberace, using the man's speech patterns and flamboyance without it being a usual stereotype or mocking him.

Michael Douglas is the son of actor Kirk Douglas.  Mr. Douglas won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his performance in Wall Street (1987).  Matt Damon co-wrote Good Will Hunting (1997) with his friend Ben Affleck; they won an Oscar for the screenplay.   Debbie Reynolds plays Liberace's mother; I didn't know it was her until I read the credits.  She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964).  Dan Ackroyd was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Are We There Yet?" (2010 - present)

Based on the 2005 movie of the same name, the series continues following a blended family and their adjustments to their situation. Nick Kingston-Persons (Terry Crews), an ex-athlete turned information technology guru and sports reporter married divorcee Suzanne (Essence Atkins), a party planner.  Suzanne has two children from her previous marriage -- smart-alecky Kevin (Cory Stevens) and typical teenager Lindsey (Teala Dunn).  Nick's widowed mom, Marilyn (Telma Hopkins) doesn't like being called "grandma" by Suzanne's kids, and she has friction with Suzanne from time-to-time.  Suzanne's assistant Gigi (Keesha Sharp) is a somewhat flighty and self-absorbed woman who loves the attention of men, and often gets it. Martin (Christian Finnegan) is Nick's best friend, and the guy who brought Nick's sports memorabilia shop.
Terrence (Ice Cube) is Suzanne's secretive brother who's in the paramilitary.

This is a standard sitcom with the usual plot devices:  misunderstandings between spouses, disagreements between in-laws, kids trying to trick their parents, antics of co-workers, bosses, neighbors, and friends, etc. The comedy is mildly amusing.  This is not the first time there's been a TV show about blended families, but it is interesting to watch Nick and Suzanne work out various issues relating to Nick being a first-time husband and step-dad, as well as Suzanne sometimes grappling with how much authority she should give Nick over the kids, in addition to how much freedom she should allow her kids to have.

Terry Crews is an ex-athlete in real life, having played football in the NFL.  Essence Atkins was one of the half-sisters on the series "Half N' Half".  Keesha Sharp was William's witchy wife Monica on "Girlfriends".  Telma Hopkins was a member of the group Tony Orlando and Dawn; her TV credits include "Bosom Buddies" and "Half N' Half" with Ms. Atkins.  Also, Darrell Hammond and Horatio Sanz, both former "Saturday Night Live" cast members, appeared as a colleague of Nick's and Nick's boss at the TV station where Nick worked.

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"Meet The Browns" (2009-2011)

"Meet The Browns" features two characters from the film of the same name as well as the "Madea" plays and movies.  Mr. Brown (David Anthony Mann) is an excitable, slow-witted janitor and school security guard who is the father of level-headed widow Cora (Tamela Mann), who is a school teacher.  Cora is the result of a one-night stand between Mr. Brown and Madea.  In the movie Meet The Browns, Mr. Brown was proven not to be Cora's father via "The Maury Povich Show".  But the TV series acted as if Cora was still Brown's daughter.  Also, in the plays, Cora had two adult daughters, but on the show, she was presented as being childless.

Mr. Brown and Cora share a house with Brown's nephew Will (Lamman Rucker), a doctor and Will's wife Sasha (Denise Boulte), a nurse.  Will and Sasha have a couple of foster kids, Brianna (Logan Browning) and Joaquin (Gunnar Washington) whom they care for very much.  The house is also a retirement home -- Colonel (Tony Vaughn), a military vet, Daisy LaRue (K Callan), a faded actress, and Edna (Juanita Jennings), a frisky, childless widow lived there.  London (Arielle Vanderburg) was a celebrity who was just "famous for being famous" who had to do community service at the retirement home after some DUI's.  Renee (Terry J. Vaughn) was a nurse at the hospital where Will and Sasha worked, and Reggie, a school sports coach (Maurice G. Smith), was Cora's virginal on-and-off boyfriend.

Just like Tyler Perry's other series "House of Payne", "Meet The Brown" was only amusing in spots.  The best moments were when the focus was on the antics of Mr. Brown, although Cora had her moments, too, especially when she displayed the same temper that her mother, Madea, has.  Will and Sasha's characters, along with the foster kids, were involved in most of the dramatic plots.

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"Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (2006-2012)

This comedy-drama centered on a family in Atlanta, GA -- grouchy fire fighter Curtis Payne (LeVan Davis), his sensible, religious wife Ella (Cassi Davis), and their son Calvin (Lance Gross).  Also in the mix were their nephew C.J. and his wife Janine (Allen Payne and Demetria McKinney), and their kids, Malik, Jazmine, Jayden, and Hayden; Calvin's wife Miranda (Keisha Knight Pulliam), the son they had together, and Calvin Jr., Calvin's son from a previous relationship with Tracy (Eve Marcelle).

Tyler Perry is talented, and has put out some funny stuff in movie theaters (Madea's Family Reunion, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, etc.), but "House of Payne" was very uneven.  The comedy wasn't that funny, and there seemed to be a huge reliance on the laugh track.  There was never a smooth transition to the heavy drama in most episodes, which covered issues such as gun violence, child support battles, and infidelity among other issues.

I did like the interaction between Curtis and Ella, although I sometimes wondered why she married him.  Other aspects of the plots could be confusing, however.  Miranda originally had conned Curtis and Calvin out of some items early in the series, but the subject was not brought up again after she became Calvin's wife.  One day, Malik was in high school, then suddenly, Malik was a college freshman.  C.J.'s character had been introduced as Curtis and Ella's son, then changed to being their nephew.  Then C.J.'s character disappeared for a good part of the show's 5th season.

The last episode ended on a cliffhanger.  Miranda and Calvin had numerous martial problems early on, but they were able to work them out.  But Miranda demanded a divorce from Calvin in the last episode.  Mr. Perry has hinted that he may want to bring the Payne family back at some point, but that remains to be seen.

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Rocky II (1979)

This film opens with the fight that was at the end of Rocky (1976).  Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his opponent, champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) are whisked off to the hospital afterwards to heal their injuries.  Rocky took the worst of the beating.  Once out of the hospital, Rocky marries Adrian (Talia Shire), and he promises her he will not box anymore.

However, life outside of the ring proves to be a major challenge.  Rocky is signed to do a commercial, but the project is scrapped when it is discovered that the boxer can't read the cue cards -- Rocky is illiterate.  A job comes up at a meat packing plant, but due to budget cuts, Rocky is laid off.  Without a high school diploma, opportunities for the former boxer are few.  There are bills due, and Adrian is pregnant.

Meanwhile, Apollo, embarrassed by how Rocky stood up to him during their fight, wants a rematch ASAP. Apollo, with the help of his coach (Tony Burton) and PR team, launch a campaign to lure Rocky back to the ring.  Mickey (Burgess Meredith) is willing to train Rocky again.  Pauly (Burt Young), Rocky's brother-in-law, is willing to support him.  But Adrian isn't happy about the idea, and it causes friction between her and her husband.  Also, Rocky has his doubts -- can he handle Apollo again, or was it just luck?

I love these characters, and the whole film has a realness about how these people interact with each other and live.  This is one of those rare movie sequels that lives up to the original film.  One of my favorite aspects of this movie as in the previous film is Burgess Meredith, who barks orders as Rocky's old school boxing coach.  I remember Meredith mostly from playing the Penguin on the old "Batman" TV series (1966-1968).  In other roles, Meredith was either playing mild-mannered guys, like the bank employee caught up in a nuclear war on a famous episode of "The Twilight Zone" (1959-1964) or sophisticated men.  Meredith does a great job playing a guy whose seen a lot in the boxing world.

The fight at the end is truly brutal.  Even though I knew the ending before I ever saw the movie, I still clapped and yelled as if I was watching a real match.

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