Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New Jamie Foxx Sitcom

 It's called DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME! and it's on Netflix. Talented Jamie Foxx is one of those performers who starred in a sitcom and then went on to win an Oscar for performance in a dramatic film. Other actors in that group are Cloris Leachman, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Mo'Nique -- and let's include sitcom veteran Ron Howard. He won his Oscar for directing the 2001 drama, A BEAUTIFUL MIND which also took home the Oscar for Best Picture. After his Best Actor Oscar win for RAY, the 2004 biopic about singer/musician Ray Charles, Foxx went on to give other impressive dramatic performances. Most recently, there was 2019's JUST MERCY, based on a real-life court case. Well...Jamie Foxx still has his comedy chops -- even if the sitcom tries too hard to be funny.


 He's the single dad whose daughter comes to live with him after her mother dies. Dad is now a cosmetic brand owner and he's determined to be responsible despite the shapely younger women throwing themselves in his face like they're custard pies. Her grandfather is played by David Alan Grier, Jamie's former fellow castmate on the groundbreaking sketch comedy show in the 1990s, IN LIVING COLOR. As for DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME!, it's a very 2008 sitcom with a laugh track. Jamie Foxx and his daughter, Corinne, are executive producers. The show is loosely based on their relationship. Corinne is not in the show.  She works behind the cameras. I watched the first episode and what really floats it is Jamie Foxx's warmth coupled with his comedy skills.

It was quite nice to see Jamie Foxx and David Alan Grier doing comedy work together again. The first episode has dad and daughter in a therapy session to smooth over some of the bumps in their relationship. Kyla-Drew is charming as the daughter. The premiere episode is called "Black People Don't Go To Therapy."

Monday, April 12, 2021

On Ann Miller

My love for dancer, singer, actress Ann Miller began when I was in elementary school in Southern California. I was watching EASTER PARADE on local Los Angeles television one day and saw her do the "Shakin' the Blues Away" number. I gasped and said to myself "I want to be her when I grow up."


 I loved seeing her as a guest on talk shows and hearing colorful stories about her from friend and former co-workers. Back in the 1980s, when I was just starting my TV career as an entertainment reporter and celebrity interviewer, I worked on the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee. I got invited to participate in movie press junkets. Movie companies would fly press people into New York City or Los Angeles to see a movie and then interview some of those involved in making the movie -- actors, the director, the screenwriters and such. On those trips, I got acquainted with a Florida entertainment news reporter named Don Stoddard. Don was married to a former Broadway chorus dancer. A cherished highlight of her dance career was being in the chorus of MAME when Ann Miller had followed Angela Lansbury in the role for that hit Broadway musical version of AUNTIE MAME.. She loved Miller and, according to what Don said, the dancers loved kooky, down-to-earth Ann right back. His wife said that Ann had little gifts for the dancers come the holiday season. Don's wife kept the card -- because Ann had signed the cards "Love, Maim."

Here's a tip on an enjoyable, juicy and revealing celebrity memoir. Recently, I finished reading RITA MORENO: A MEMOIR.


What a hoot it was to read about an experience she had in her MGM contract days with Ann Miller. Rita wrote: "No one was leggier than Ann Miller. Her legs were so long that they were the reason panty hose were invented.

Rita and Ann were assigned to do a 4-day publicity trip in Palm Beach, Florida. There in Palm Beach, both of them gussied up to represent MGM glamour, Rita wrote that they encountered "a number of rich old roosters..." Rita adored Ann and was surprised to learn that Annie could cuss like a construction worker. The pages about them bonding, dodging the "rich old roosters" on the make, and the mischief they got into  snooping around some wealthy homes reads like a cross between episodes of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and THE GOLDEN GIRLS (when the girls were young.)

I still feel that Ann Miller's talents were under-utilized at MGM. It's rarely mentioned, but she was truly a triple threat star. She could dance, she could belt out a tune and she could act. She was a babe with a saucy personality. In the 1950s, when MGM was remaking some of it's earlier classics like THE WOMEN, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET and WATERLOO BRIDGE, it should've remade the 1933 Jean Harlow comedy, BOMBSHELL, as a musical starring Ann Miller as the overwhelmed Hollywood star trying to take care of her career and her freeloading, goofy relatives.

If you're up for a good celebrity memoir, remember to check out the one by Rita Moreno. Till next time, I leave you to enjoy some Ann Miller -- on tap. This is from MGM's 1953 movie, SMALL TOWN GIRL.



Sunday, April 11, 2021

LASSO'd AGAIN

 In between the time I posted my first two reviews of TED LASSO and now, Jason Sudeikis won another award for outstanding actor in a sitcom. He won the Screen Actors Guild award. I watched two more episodes of the show today -- and they reaffirmed to me why he won the awards he did. He's excellent as the steely optimist and so is the rest of the cast. It's truly an ensemble situation. TED LASSO boasts one of the best ensemble casts in one of the best-written sitcoms I've seen in a long time. In addition to the acting, what I've come to love a lot is the fact that the episodes are never afraid to tap into complicated, often wounded, emotions. It doesn't sacrifice them in order to go for a laugh. The show is funny, touching, surprising and compassionate.


This sitcom gives depth to the "fish out of water" angle. Ted coached college football in Kansas. Now he's in the United Kingdom coaching a struggling football team. However, in Great Britain, what they called "football," we Americans call soccer.

The first episode I watched began with Ted, alone, unhappily removing his wedding ring. Then Jamie (Phil Dunster), the vain and popular handsome member of the team, decides he cannot participate in practice because he's hurt. Ted's heart is broken but he still coaches with full gusto and optimism. His glacially poised and manipulative team-owner boss, Rebecca, is also handling a personal jolt. It's the anniversary of her divorce. He ex has a new, young girlfriend as reported in the tabloids. Her name is Rebecca too. So the tabloids refer to the ex-wife as "Old Rebecca." On top of all that, the team clubhouse may be cursed. The team comes together to remove the curse.

The episode of about moving on past the pain. During it, Ted receives papers from his wife's lawyer that he has to sign. The episode it's funny. It's also a little sad. Ted dearly loves his wife and their little boy back in America.

The next episode I saw had the team taking a road trip to Liverpool for a match. Because of his personal heartbreak, Ted loses his temper with Nate, the locker room attendant (Nick Mohammed). Nate had submitted notes on the team to Ted. Ted apologizes sincerely and compliments Nate on the notes. They're good. He has Nate deliver them verbally to the team and we see Nate's coach potential. 

Rebecca's best friend, whom she's not seen in six years, appears for a visit. Flo calls Rebecca "Stinky." We see more of Rebecca's icy exterior begin to defrost. Flo remembers when blonde, business-like Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) was "strong...but not cold."


This episode, too, was very funny -- nevertheless, I had tears in my eyes at the end of it. I was that touched by bruised and tender feelings that came forth. TED LASSO -- what a good sitcom and what a good lead performance by Jason Sudeikis.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Early Bette Davis

 She was truly an international movie screen legend. During my first full-time professional broadcast job after I'd graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, I was assigned to get a couple of radio soundbites from a star who was in Milwaukee to promote her new film. The star was Bette Davis and she was enthusiastically promoting 1978's DEATH ON THE NILE. In person, she was every inch a Hollywood legend, a little woman with a huge presence, and a person who obviously loved to work in her profession and loved to promote the work that she did. I did get a couple of soundbites from her and I was trembling as I did. I approached her like the quartet in THE WIZARD OF OZ approaching The Wizard for the first time. Despite how intimidating she was, she did give me what I needed for the radio newscast. All in all, Bette Davis was wonderful. What a privilege it was to sit up close to her with my tape recorder. How comically ironic that I grew up in Los Angeles, spent many an afternoon seeing movies in Hollywood, but only got up close to a star such as Bette Davis when I had a local FM rock radio job in Milwaukee. Now, enough about me. Here's a viewing tip on an early film that featured the future two-time Oscar winner for Best Actress.

Angela Lansbury, a DEATH ON THE NILE co-star, said this about Bette Davis: "Bette Davis is an original. There has never been anyone, before or since, who could touch her."


 Bette Davis said this: "Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life."

Now go online, to someplace like YouTube, and see if you can find a 1931 feature film from Universal called THE BAD SISTER. The movie runs about 1 hour and 10 minutes. It marks the feature film acting debut of Bette Davis. You'll recognize her as soon as you see her. She's not the star of the movie. The lead role was played by an actress named Sidney Fox. She's not a  bad girl like Ann Blyth's Veda in MILDRED PIERCE or Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Sidney Fox plays a small town girl who innocently flirts a lot and dreams of living like a big city debutante. Bette Davis plays her shy sister. 


 If you're a Bette Davis fan, you need to see this movie to realize how determined she was to succeed in her profession. You'll be surprised. In THE BAD SISTER, Bette Davis gives a stiff performance for her film debut. She's wooden -- like a totem pole on legs. You feel that she's getting acclimated to the movie camera. Compare her performance to the one delivered by a fellow cast member --screen newcomer Humphrey Bogart. He's so relaxed and natural, he seems like a veteran film actor already.


Davis and Bogart would both land at Warner Bros where they'd team up again in such films as MARKED WOMAN (1937) and DARK VICTORY (1939), the latter bringing her one of her many Best Actress Oscar nominations. 

Davis must have also noticed her stiffness in her film debut and proceeded to work hard to get rid of the wood. After 1931's THE BAD SISTER came a Warner Bros contract and a string of B-movies in which she improved herself. Then came RKO's 1934 drama, OF HUMAN BONDAGE.   


 As Mildred, the manipulate and slutty waitress, Bette Davis set the screen on fire, becoming a new star and a force of nature on film. Just three years after her lackluster work in THE BAD SISTER. Back at Warner Bros, she fought for better scripts. She'd win Best Actress Oscars for DANGEROUS (1935) and JEZEBEL (1938). Bette Davis would rack up a total of 10 Best Actress Oscar nominations in her career -- quite an achievement in the pre-Meryl Streep era.

My mother introduced me to the magnificence of Bette Davis when I was a kid who loved watching old movies on local TV. Mom pretty much ordered me to watch ALL ABOUT EVE with followed by NOW, VOYAGER weeks later.. Davis was an Oscar nominee for both films. There's not much talk about it today, but Bette Davis went on to slam across some strong performances in made-for-TV features when Hollywood was not sending her a lot of movie scripts. Because of Mom, a Bette Davis TV appearance was always a special event in our home. 

I loved Bette Davis in the creepy 1978 mini-series THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME based on a book by best-selling actor/novelist Tom Tryon. Tryon also wrote THE OTHER. No other feature ever made growing corn as twisted as THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME. Davis got rave reviews and won an Emmy for her performance in 1979's STRANGERS: THE STORY OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER co-starring Gena Rowlands. Davis was also very cool as an aging Texas flight instructor in the heartwarming 1980 TV movie, SKYWARD, directed by Ron Howard.

There was nobody like the bold and brilliant Bette Davis. She made herself bigger than life.



Sunday, April 4, 2021

The EASTER PARADE Maid

 EASTER PARADE. MGM's classic 1948 hit musical comedy starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ann Miller aired on two different TV channels, hours apart, on Easter Sunday. Yes, I watched it twice. Those great stars. The Irving Berlin score. What's not to love? Some of Garland's, Astaire's and Miller's best dance numbers of their film careers are in EASTER PARADE.

If you've seen the movie, you know that Ann Miller's glamorous Broadway star character has a very pretty Black maid named Essie. Essie has only a few lines in the movie and she's played by Jeni Le Gon. Her name does not appear in the credits -- an omission that happened to many Black performers in those Hollywood days who had minor roles as domestics and service employees. They went uncredited. Instead of MGM just giving Le Gon under 10 lines in the whole movie, she should've had a dance number with Ann Miller. Like Ann Miller, she could pick 'em up and lay 'em down in the dance department -- as she had shown in a few movies.


Jeni Le Gon had a specialty number in the Fox fantasy musical for Eddie Cantor, ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. In that 1937 movie, Cantor played a guy who winds up on the location set of a studio shooting a movie about the Arabian nights. He falls asleep and dreams he's back in Baghdad. Jeni Le Gon has a dance solo in the "Swing Is Here To Stay" number. Now, I warn you, Eddie Cantor in the 1930s was a performer -- like Al Jolson -- who did blackface numbers in his movies -- a carryover from his days as a Ziegfeld star on Broadway. Also in the number are the Peters Sisters, a singing trio. Popular in New York City, they had booked a gig at a Hollywood nightclub. But they weren't getting paid for it. They figured the appearances could lead to something. It did. Eddie Cantor was in one night, saw their act and immediately had them signed to sing in ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. Here's the number with them, Eddie Cantor and dancer Jeni Le Gon..

In 1939, Jeni Le Gon had a number in an independent feature for Black audiences called DOUBLE DEAL.

She grew frustrated with Hollywood discrimination. In the 1960s, she moved across the border to Vancouver,  British Columbia. There, she opened a dance studio and became a revered, celebrated local figure. She passed away in 2012 at age 96.


Saturday, April 3, 2021

About A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA

 A feature need not be two hours to hold your interest, introduce you to new characters and possibly move you to tears. All that can happen in a feature that runs under thirty minutes. I know. I saw a short documentary that put tears in my eyes at the end -- and it's only 19 minutes long. A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA is on Netflix.


 About Latasha Harlins, friends and relatives said ""Latasha was more responsible," "She wanted to be a lawyer" and "She was a loving person." In South Central Los Angeles in 1991, the 15 year old African American girl was wrongfully accused of stealing some orange juice that cost under $2.00. She was shot and killed by the storeowner.

I listen to a show on KPCC, an NPR station based in Pasadena, California. The show I listen to is AIRTALK hosted by Larry Mantle. On the Friday editions of the weekday show, there's one hour called "Film Week." As you probably guessed, it's one hour of film reviews and interviews. The show always boasts a race/gender diverse group of guest critics. Last Friday, during the discussion about Oscars and documentaries, two female critics -- one Asian American, the other Caucasian -- highly recommended A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA. One mentioned that the death of Latasha Harlins was a catalyst in L.A.'s Rodney King verdict riots the following year.

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. I left to attend a university in Milwaukee in the 1970s. After graduation, I worked in that city for 10 years and then accepted a job offer to work on TV in New York. I've visited, but I have not lived in Los Angeles for a long time. I was unfamiliar with the Latasha Harlins story, one that was major in L.A. news. 

I immediately recognized streets in the short documentary as I watched it. That was my community. That's where my story began. That's where I grew up. In the documentary, we never hear from Latasha. We do see her. All the dialogue is comments and recollections from those who loved her. They tell her moving story. As the documentary begins, we learn that the girl was someone who didn't think twice about charging in to help someone in trouble.


As the short documentary unfolds, one can understand how her untimely death still weighed heavy in the hearts of Black Los Angelenos when the verdict in the Rodney King trial was announced.

Hers was a senseless death. A true tragedy. This world needs people like Latasha Harlins. Just like the two critics on "Film Week," I also highly recommend A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA.

Friday, April 2, 2021

I Remember Christopher Plummer

Like many of you, I was a Christopher Plummer fan. When I was a kid in Los Angeles, I went to see him at the movies for Saturday matinee entertainment. I continued to see him at the movies in my adult years. 


 When I, a single guy, accepted a job offer to work on TV in New York, I moved there and dreamed of meeting a good Black/Latino man -- a few years older -- who was also lonely and romantically unattached. One night we'd dance, look into each other's eyes and feel a spark...just like Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

I saw Christopher Plummer on Broadway as actor John Barrymore. I saw him as CBS reporter Mike Wallace in THE INSIDER (1999) and strongly felt he should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for that performance. I wondered when the Academy would finally give him an Oscar nomination. Well, the Academy got it together with his performance in 2009's THE LAST STATION. I was thrilled when Plummer won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a gay dad with a grown son in 2010's BEGINNERS.

We who love films often put great stock in the reviews of noted film critics. We've based our movie-going choices on their praise or pans. But there are times when we go against the scholarly writings of a prestigious critic who didn't like a certain film. There are movies that are unloved by critics but hold a special place in our hearts. There was something about them that touched our soul, entertained us or gave voice to feelings we had that we didn't know how to or dared not express. For me, one such film is 1965's INSIDE DAISY CLOVER. It starred Natalie Wood and Christopher Plummer and was released a year after Fox's Oscar-winning box office blockbuster, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Most critics disliked INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, a Hollywood-on-Hollywood story. However, Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times felt that Plummer's performance as the successful, glacially sophisticated and morally tainted head of a major Hollywood studio in the 1930s was worthy of Best Supporting Actor Oscar consideration. Natalie Wood played the hardscrabble Santa Monica teen girl who can sing. The studio head discovers her, manipulates her and signs her to a contract. She becomes a troublesome star. True, Wood was 10 years too old for the role. I didn't care. She was one of my favorite movie stars. 

I'm the oldest of three children. I was just starting middle school and the emotional temperature in our home had changed. Mom and Dad had separated twice. The air had a heaviness to it. Their divorce was inevitable. One evening, they weren't speaking to each other. Dad decided to go to a movie and asked me if I wanted to go with him. I was already a film geek by that time. He chose the nearest movie theater, not really caring what the movie was. We saw INSIDE DAISY CLOVER. 

It marked the last father and son bonding time I had with Dad before he moved out of the house. 

I loved Natalie Wood in the movie. I loved the cinematography of the movie, the musical numbers, the drama, the actors and their performances. In one scene, the overworked and emotionally frayed star has to dub one of her musical numbers for an upcoming release. Her teen life is following the demands and assignments from middle-aged people. On the soundstage, she has a breakdown. Click onto the link to see a clip:

https://youtu.be/oKCJrSNx4RE.

I was a good little Catholic boy, a polite bookworm and film geek who never complained and did what we was told. Daisy's breakdown reflected just how I felt inside dealing with my parents' crumbling marriage, being a new kid at a new school and my duties as a son. Critics may have been cold to INSIDE DAILY CLOVER but it gave voice to feelings I definitely had and didn't know how to express. 

That's what movies can do. This weekend, I'm going to watch Christopher Plummer in KNIVES OUT again.


New Jamie Foxx Sitcom

 It's called DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME! and it's on Netflix. Talented Jamie Foxx is one of those performers who starred in a sitcom a...