Category Archives: Movies

My Year End Wrap Up 2012

Another year has slipped away, and here I sit, reflecting back on what entertained me in 2012.  I always start my wrap up by going back to the beginning of the year, to see how my interests have changed.  I began the year dividing my time between British stuff and vintage television shows…and that’s exactly where I find myself now.  Only the faces have changed!

Best Books:  Might as well get the embarrassment out of the way first.  Normally I read a couple of books a week, but I went 8 months out of the last 12 without finishing a single book!  Oh, the shame.  I could blame my eyes, since I need new glasses, but the real truth is that I spend too much time online.  Making videos has also sucked up my reading time, but that’s for another category.  Of the small selection of books read this year, I really enjoyed Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, and Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim.  (More about Arngrim’s book in an upcoming post.)  The biggest disappointment was Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

Best Television:  My television is usually always tuned to either Me-TV or CBS, except on Sunday night, when I watch Masterpiece on PBS.  I still enjoy The Big Bang Theory, but I do think it’s losing something from having too many separate storylines, with the characters spending less time gathered in the same living room.  More characters means less screen time for favorites Sheldon and Raj.  I discovered Leverage in reruns just as the show got cancelled, but at least I have five seasons to explore further.  Since September, I’ve been enjoying reruns of Emergency! on Me-TV.  Another season of Sherlock brought more delight, as well as more Inspector Lewis.  Thanks to a friend, I’m now back to enjoying EastEnders, the British serial drama, and already my life wouldn’t be complete without weekly visits to Albert Square.   This year’s favorite program was Call the Midwife, featuring new favorite Miranda Hart as the wonderful Chummy.  I can’t wait for more of this series!

Best Twitter:   I’m very picky about twitter.  Too much shameless self-promotion?  Unfollow.   Too many retweets?  Unfollow.   Too many conversations that should be private?  Unfollow.  No sense of humor?  I shouldn’t have been following in the first place!  I enjoy humor, whimsy,  and folks who don’t take themselves too seriously.   The most consistently entertaining tweets this year have come from Josh Groban.  I’ve also enjoyed following Russell Tovey.  I can count on a friend to share the best of Demetri Martin and The Onion, so I guess they count, too!

Best Theatre:  Oops.  Didn’t see any.  Never mind.

Best Movies:   I had good luck with the movies I saw in the cinema this year.  Mind you, I still haven’t seen three of the four films I was most looking forward to in 2012, so they will have to wait until 2013!  The Avengers was terrific, and I also enjoyed Life of PiThe Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a favorite, but Tom Conti and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made it worthwhile for me.   I saw my first 3D movie, John Carter, but I’m not a fan of the technology.  It was a great year for silents: Napoleon was stunning, and I also saw three films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with The Canadian (1926) making the deepest impression.   Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan had an entertaining beginning and middle, but I was disappointed by the third act.  The best new film I saw in 2012 was Argo.

Best DVDs:  I spent six months of this year with Wagon Train at the top of my Netflix queue.  They never sent me any on the discs, and my queue always said “short wait.”  I could have bought the DVDs for the money I spent on my Netflix plan, especially since I wasn’t watching the discs they sent me instead.  I cancelled my account.   This means I can’t go look at my history for this year to review, but this an easy category.  The best DVDs of my year have been the classic television western Laramie, particularly seasons one and two.  When I’m not watching the episodes again and again, I’m making tribute videos and posting them on YouTube.  I now have more YouTube followers than blog followers!   Which leads me to a new category…

Best Time-Sucker-Upper:  Call it a hobby, a passion, an obsession, a skill or an art.  But this year I started making videos, and now I can’t stop.  I’d been making slideshows using still images at animoto.com, and this summer I tried using their template program for short video clips.  It was okay, but I didn’t like their wide border which wasted space, so it forced me to try Windows Movie Maker.  I had no idea it would be so much fun!  My Laramie tribute videos aren’t very interesting to people who aren’t fans of the series, but I’m proud of my channel and grateful for all my followers.

Best Music:  Mostly I’ve listened to older stuff this year.  When Davy Jones died, I started listening to lots of the Monkees.  I love Gaelic Storm’s album How Are We Getting Home? (2004), discovered in a stack of my own CDs that I never got around to hearing.  I’m definitely going to listen to more of this group in 2013.  I’ve also been enjoying lots of Kate Rusby.  One of my favorite new old songs is “Can’t Turn My Heart Away” by Art Garfunkel.  I’m still enjoying The Book of Mormon Broadway soundtrack, but I learned the hard way not to listen to it in public.  Even with earphones, you look like a nutter snickering at the lyrics.

Best Music Video:  My choices are never conventional, but that’s what you get for taking musical advice from me!   Here’s my favorite:

Never mind that it was uploaded in 2008.  It’s still the most adorable video I’ve seen on YouTube this year!  If you don’t know it, this is India’s national anthem.

Best New-To-Me Software:   Handbrake for ripping DVDs, and Google Talk for saving me a fortune on phone bills.  I chat now with friends around the world, without the complications of installing Skype, and no webcam to show everyone how hideous I look through a fisheye lens.

Entertainer of the Year:  Honorable Mention this year goes to Miranda Hart.  I discovered her in Call the Midwife, and now I’m enjoying her comedy on YouTube and her BBC series Miranda.  The winner is an easy choice.  In April, I purchased season one of Laramie on DVD, and by the end of May, I was a member of Robert Fuller’s official fan group.  While my favorite role is Jess Harper in Laramie, I’ve been enjoying Wagon Train, Emergency!, and all of Fuller’s other television shows and movies.   I’ve spent hours chatting with other fans, making tribute videos and collages, and searching ebay for vintage photos.  For so much entertainment in so many different ways, Robert Fuller is my Entertainer of the Year.  Thank you, Mr. Fuller!

Jess Harper whip blog crp

Robert Fuller in Laramie

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Portraits of Barbara Stanwyck

I recently watched the PBS documentary Pioneers of Television: Westerns, and I was struck by what Linda Evans said about Barbara Stanwyck, her co-star on The Big Valley.  I didn’t know she was one of the nicest people in Hollywood, taking the time to get to know all the crew members and really enjoying herself on set.  This led me to check out the book Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck by Ella Smith from my local library.  I haven’t read much of the text, because the portraits in the book are too wonderful.  This book is now out of print, but here are some of those images, with more to come.  Perhaps it’s a cheat, to fill my blog pages, but what a great way to cheat!

With Joel McCrea in Internes Can’t Take Money

Columbia general publicity 1930

Stella Dallas

Breakfast for Two

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Happy 47th Birthday, Shah Rukh Khan

In honor of SRK’s birthday, here are some favorite moments from Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003).  This seems an appropriate choice this week, since the movie was filmed in New York.  After the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy,  Aman and Naina are not the only ones crying.

I love Shah Rukh, and I’m counting the days until his new movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan opens on November 13th.  Happy Birthday!

Click on any image to scroll through larger versions.

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An Argo/Tout Sweet Birthday

Today is my birthday, and I celebrated by going to see Argo with a friend.  Sometimes the movies that have a lot of Oscar buzz leave me cold.  I recognize their excellence but I feel disconnected, without an emotional involvement in the characters and story.  Not the case with Argo.  I was totally engrossed from the beginning, which gives a brief but helpful overview to the events leading up to the Iran hostage crisis.  I was a junior in high school when it began, and while I was aware of the overall situation during those years, I was also busy living my teenage life.  The movie made me realize how little attention I’ve paid to the major historical events in my lifetime.  Anyway, I recommend Argo, even though the hair and fashions will make you cringe.  Believe me, I was cringing then, too.

After the movie, my friend and I headed to Tout Sweet Patisserie, Yigit Pura’s new dessert shop in Union Square.  It’s a lovely space, with a delightful staff and a great view of the Square.  I had the Petit Tout Sweet cake and my friend had the sous-vide poached egg sandwich.  I met Yigit Pura a couple of years ago at the GLAAD Media Awards, and again last October at the Meals on Wheels calendar signing at Macys.  I’ve been following the progress of Tout Sweet through facebook and twitter, and today was the perfect day to visit.  Yum!

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Happy Birthday, Colleen Moore

Colleen Moore was born on this day in either 1899 or 1902, depending on whether you believe the official reports or her own autobiography.  I’ve only seen one of her films, Her Wild Oat (1927), but I got to see it on the big screen at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  She was a delight.  My favorite actresses are feisty and independent, and she was both.  She had an interesting connection with silent film comedian Buster Keaton—they both broke their necks filming on train tracks.  In different movies, of course!  Her autobiography Silent Star is a favorite of mine, and here are some of the photos from it.  Moore died in 1988, but she is not forgotten, even though many of her film were lost.  Happy Birthday, Ms. Moore!

Her Wild Oat, with director Marshall Neilan.

With popular western actor Tom Mix.

With her Packard.

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The Dark Knight Rises

A friend invited me to attend a special screening of The Dark Knight Rises last night with her family.  This was not a midnight show.  It was at 6:30pm at the San Francisco Metreon, where we saw the long line of people waiting for the midnight screening.  The Metreon was also showing the special Batman Trilogy for $25.  We arrived a little late and missed the very beginning of the film.  It was all a bit chaotic, trying to find the right place to check in and hurrying down the long corridor with 15 screens.  Naturally, ours was the last one.  The five of us didn’t end up sitting next each other, but we quickly grabbed seats on the aisle and tried to figure out what we’d missed.

It’s very difficult to discuss this film for two reasons.  In light of the Aurora tragedy, I can’t help flashing on the scenes in the film that depict random violence aimed at crowds of Gotham citizens in public places, and even mentioning this brings me to the second reason.  I hate plot spoilers, and in this case, they’re hard to avoid.

I’ll start with what I liked best.  I didn’t realize Tom Conti was back on the big screen, and it took me a scene to recognize him.  This was partly due to the way he was filmed in his first scene and his Russian accent, partly because I haven’t seen him in years.  I adore Tom Conti.  My favorite Conti film is Saving Grace (1986).  He plays a pope who gets accidentally locked out of the Vatican and goes to a small village to help rebuild an aqueduct.  He was also in Shirley Valentine (1989), American Dreamer (1984) and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).  He was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his performance in Reuben, Reuben (1983).  Lately he’s been doing a lot of voice work and appearing in British television that hasn’t made it to the States.  Just seeing him in The Dark Knight Rises made the movie a treat for me.

I also really enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I liked his character and his performance, and his presence gave me someone to really care about.  Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Matthew Modine, and Gary Oldman were also excellent.  Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard were both fine, but I’ll admit to being less focused on the females.

Christian Bale has fascinated me since I saw him in Empire of The Sun.  I’ve followed his career closely, and I’ve seen most of his films over the years.  I even went to the opening day matinee of Newsies, which makes me part of an exclusive group, since almost nobody else saw Newsies in the cinema.  Bale is well known for punishing his body to meet the demands of his roles, and his Batman looks older than his years.  So does Bale.  I think he did well, but it wasn’t an easy performance to watch.

I said this in my post about The Avengers, and it’s even more the case with The Dark Knight Rises.  I still find it very disturbing to watch Manhattan, or Manhattan-like cities, blown up and terrorized onscreen.   You can’t separate Batman from Gotham, but in general, there are just too many movies that show large cities being destroyed.  Why can’t filmmakers come up with something else to do with all these great CGI effects?

After the movie, the five of us found each other and compared notes.  One of our party stopped to get popcorn and was directed to the wrong screening by an employee.  He ended up at the Trilogy screening and saw Batman Begins instead.  He’d never seen any of the films, so he didn’t realize he was seeing the wrong one until he tried to find us when it was over.   With all the references to Harvey Dent and the events from the previous films, we all could have used a Batman refresher.

I woke up to the news of the Aurora tragedy, and it’s already coloring my impression of the film.  I’m glad I got to see it before the shootings, and I’m not sure I would have gone to see it otherwise.  I will caution anyone sensitive who sees it now.  A major plot point involves an explosive trap for Gotham police.  There are at least two scenes with gunmen attacking crowds, and I can’t help wondering if these should be trimmed, now that this horrible tragedy has happened.  My prayers go out to the victims and their families.

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Fuller, Crawford, and Grey Flannel

In my continuing passion for finding extras in old movies, here’s an interesting connection between favorites Robert Fuller and Johnny Crawford.  They were both extras in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956) starring Gregory Peck.  Fuller appears as a soldier in a scene at a field medical station.  This scene also features DeForest Kelley; both actors went on to play well-known television doctors.   Johnny Crawford plays a boy in Italy delivering a box of groceries.  His older brother, Robert Crawford Jr, co-starred in Laramie with Fuller three years later.

Robert Fuller in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

Robert Fuller in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

Robert Fuller in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

Robert Fuller in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

Johnny Crawford in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

Johnny Crawford in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

This entire movie is on YouTube.  Crawford’s moment is at 0:29:50, and Fuller appears at the 0:49:45 mark.

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