Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

I Don’t Do Fan Clubs

I’m not really very good at promoting my blog, but I do occasionally post links if I’m particularly pleased with something, or if I think a specific person or group might find it interesting.  Occasionally I get an invitation to join a fan club, fan group, or a fan forum in response.  Well, I don’t do fan groups anymore, and here’s why.

When I got my first computer with internet access, back in 1999, I had just discovered actor Ioan Gruffudd.  I spent hours in fan chat rooms with various ladies in the US and the UK.  It was really fun, and these online discussions eventually led to real meetings with several people both locally and in London.  Then it was actor Hugh Jackman, only for him I met other fans in New York.  Then it was a stage actor from London.  For each one, something similar would happen.

First I would meet people who shared my interest after we’d chatted online.  I had about a 50/50 success rate.  Roughly half the people I’d meet from online were nice and normal—or should I say, about as normal as me, which may not be saying much.  The other half were just odd.  Sometimes it was something scary and intense in their eyes, sometimes it was just general social awkwardness.  Most often, what turned me off was a kind of hyper-competitiveness over their obsession.  They conveyed the attitude, “I accept you as a fellow fan, but I am and will always be a bigger fan than you.  My interest, affection and devotion are greater than yours.”  I began to learn how to spot this kind of person through clues in their online interactions, but I’ve never become an expert.  In my online groups, I would try to avoid these people and just stick with the people I genuinely liked, but that’s where the group dynamic became tricky.

It’s really hard to avoid people when they’re members of an online community.  And, there’s something that happens with groups online, when people are able to post their thoughts without face-to-face social restraints.   Sometimes things just get really silly.  I left the Ioan Gruffudd fan group when we ran out of his work to dissect, and the discussion devolved into “If Ioan was ice cream, what flavor would he be?”  Worse, people get nasty.  Often, it’s a failure to be welcoming to new members combined with an attitude of superiority because one has been a fan for much longer.  It’s that hyper-competitiveness rearing its ugly head.  There’s also usually a person or a couple of people who become dominant, and soon anyone who disagrees with these leaders gets pushed out.  What usually happens to me is a growing sense of being boxed in, where I become reluctant to express my real opinions.

My preference now is to find several like-minded fellow fans and connect through one-on-one interactions.  I don’t consciously seek them out, because that kind of deliberateness is creepy!  It just happens naturally.   After some back and forth in public forums, we then communicate privately, where we can be more honest.   I’ve met some wonderful people on YouTube, facebook fan pages, twitter, and through my blog.  It starts with a mutual interest in a particular actor, but the fans who become friends share more in common with me, whether it’s other interests or a similar sense of humor.  I’m lucky to know these people.  And grateful.

So, that’s why I’m not a joiner.  What about you?  I hope you share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

My Response to the Changes at Netflix

I was puzzled when a late evening email from Reed Hastings arrived in my inbox on September 18th, with the subject line “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”  I almost deleted it as junk mail.  It turned out to be an oddly-worded message from the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, the largest internet/by-mail movie rental company in the US.  Netflix recently angered subscribers by raising their rental fees and restructuring their services.  This email from Hastings was both an apology and a press release about even bigger changes coming to Netflix.  Instead of smoothing things over, this latest announcement has increased subscriber dissatisfaction.  Over 27,000 comments have been posted on the Netflix blog responding to the news.

I’m not happy with the decision to split the company into Netflix (streaming services) and Qwikster (DVDs by mail) with two independent websites and separate credit card billing.  I guess I will be switched over to Qwikster, because I’m currently only getting DVDs by mail.   That’s because what I want to watch either isn’t available streaming yet or streams so poorly, stuttering along with bad resolution, that it’s not worth paying for that kind of frustration.  The biggest hassle for folks subscribing to both services will be having to check two sites to see if a movie is available in either format.  In the past, one site showed all this information in one place.

Still, my reaction to the changes coming to Netflix has been overshadowed by my feelings about this statement by Reed Hastings: “Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. ”  This is completely ridiculous.  Perhaps Mr Hastings is more of a businessman than a film buff, but I’m still shocked at his ignorance.  

According to the National Film Preservation Foundation, approximately 50% of all US feature films made before 1951 no longer exist.  Around 80% of all US feature films made in the 1910s and 1920s have been lost.  These figures even don’t take into account all the films made in other countries.  Some estimate that 99% of all silent films are gone.  Many went up in flames or simply deteriorated due to the instability of nitrate film stock.  Many more were deliberately destroyed because few believed that the films would have any lasting significance.  Even the films stored in archives today are at risk while they sit waiting for the funding needed for restoration.

If you’re a lover of foreign films, you know that “nearly every film ever made is published on DVD” does not apply to overseas titles available to US viewers.  Many independent films have never received a DVD distribution deal, regardless of their country of origin.  Picture all these numbers, then narrow them down to the actual number of film titles that you can rent from Netflix.  My “saved” queue of films on Netflix is almost as long as my rental queue.  These are the films with no known release date.   This list also includes titles that are currently available to buy on DVD, but Netflix doesn’t know when or if they will ever be available for rental.

What Netflix isn’t saying directly is that the US Postal Service is bankrupt and in crisis.  With threats to end Saturday delivery or shut down altogether, nobody knows how long our Post Office will be able to deliver DVDs quickly and reliably.   The closest Reed Hastings came to stating the problem in his announcement was this: “DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.”  The folks at Netflix are obviously scrambling to switch over to streaming content in order to stay in business, leaving those of us with older equipment and bad DSL service behind.  I may have to give up my Netflix/Qwikster habit if things continue in this direction.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

Since this news announcement on September 18th, I’ve stopped receiving Netflix email notifications telling me when a DVD has been received and informing me what my next title will be.  I hope this is not the kind of customer service Qwikster will provide in the future.

I’m interested in hearing your opinion.  Please post your comments.

Update 10/10/11:  Netflix announced today that the company will not be split up.  The price increase—and the separation of DVDs and streaming into two plans—will stay in effect.  Supposedly there will be no further price increases, but we’ll see about that.  I’m just wondering what will happen to the new CEO who was going to run Qwikster.  So much for the promotion.

A Twitter Goof

twitter-matt-lucas-exchange-9-23-11

This was just too funny not to share.  It reminds me of a story Anne Murray told at a concert years ago, about some fans who gushed about how much they loved her, then asked her to autograph a photo of Helen Reddy.

Hadley Fraser and Some Random Stuff

Rumors are spreading that West End performer (and Ugly Bug Ball favorite) Hadley Fraser will play Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, joining his good friend Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom.  There has been no official confirmation.  Fraser seems to be avoiding twitter, and Karimloo is teasing his followers without revealing anything.  Fraser has been hinting at a big announcement coming up, so perhaps this is what he meant.  Where did the rumor begin?  I don’t know, but Amazon’s UK site lists Fraser as Raoul on the pre-order page for the CD.  Maybe this is an error, hardly the first one at Amazon, but I hope it’s not.  I’m very impatient to know either way, because the tickets at my local cinema go on sale in a day or two.  If Fraser plays Raoul, I will definitely go to the live broadcast, since I would pay to see this guy read (or sing) the phone book.

Fraser is talented and funny, and I’ve enjoyed following his career this year.  It’s given me plenty to blog about.   Wordpress gives me really detailed stats on my visitors, and I have Fraser to thank for much of my traffic.   Sometimes it feels kind of voyeuristic to know exactly what folks have typed into a search engine when they click over to my blog.   It gets pretty bizarre!   Because I have “ugly” in my blog title, people will land here because they are using the search term “ugly” with another name or word.   When I blogged about the royal wedding, I had a lot of visitors who were searching for ugly hats and ugly princesses.  Nobody has searched for “Hadley Fraser ugly” (I’d punch them if they did), but it’s obvious that a lot of people want to know more about his personal life and his relationship status.  Well, that information isn’t here, since I prefer to discuss his work, but this interview will be of interest.

I like to think that blogging about performers like Fraser and Karimloo benefit their careers in some small way.  It may be boasting, but some of the news and links here are more current than on Fraser’s own website.  He’s got a great site, but I suspect he’s too busy to update it often.  Anyway, I’m happy to help spread the word about my favorites.  Do casting directors and producers take note when a performer they’re considering for a role has thousands of followers on twitter and facebook, not to mention blogs devoted to their every move?  Since I blog mostly for my own enjoyment, it doesn’t make a big difference to me personally, but I’d still love to know.

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I was at an improv show recently where the audience was asked, what’s your personal motto?  I have a few.  One is “Sit when you can, stand when you must.”  This comes from years of working on my feet.  Another one is “I get there in the end.”  This one is really just a rationalization for how much I procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing laundry.  Here is the motto I have the most difficulty following: “You’re more likely to find happiness in the center of your own life than around the edges of somebody else.”

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I’ve been re-watching due South, one of my favorite series, and I’m sure a longer post about the show is coming soon.  I noticed in the pilot that a stuntman driving a dog sled was a poor match for lead actor Paul Gross.  It made me think about dangerous stunts and the many times I’ve read or heard “the actors do most of their own stunts.”  I have nothing against using stuntmen.  In fact, I’m all for them.  I never want an actor or anybody else to take terrible risks just for my entertainment.  The safety of those involved is the best reason for using for digital special effects.

Speaking of digital effects, I have started to hate how artificially heightened everything looks in films lately.  Even the grass and trees look unreal in I Am Number Four.   When I watched Unstoppable on DVD, the yellow and red trains were so intensely colored, it was like a cartoon.  It was jarring in an otherwise gritty, realistic movie based on a true incident.

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The websites that I visit frequently are really getting annoying.  IMDb has so many ads and unnecessary videos to load, I can’t get quickly to the pages I need.  Zap2it has so many pop-ups, videos and ads, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach when I visit the site.  My earthlink email was freezing up every time a sidebar ad refreshed, so now I’m actually paying an extra dollar a month to NOT SEE ads in my inbox.  How insane is that?

Enation’s “Video for a Cause” Contest

I’m a fan of Enation, the indie band fronted by actor Jonathan Jackson.  This week, the band is having a “Video for a Cause” contest.  Their new song The Salvation of One will be on their upcoming album My Ancient Rebellion, due to be released in late October.   Fans have been invited to create a video using the song for a cause of their choice.  The winner of the contest will receive concert tickets and an iChat with either Jonathan Jackson or Bethany Joy Galeotti of Everly and One Tree Hill.   (She’s married to Enation’s Michael Galeotti.)

I love making short videos using Animoto, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to make longer videos with an upgrade to Animoto Plus.  It’s only $5 a month, less if you pre-pay for a year.  If you want to upgrade your video for better resolution, ideal for YouTube, it’s an extra $3 per video.  I decided to make one for the contest.  With less than a week to make the video, I wasn’t able to go anywhere to take photos.  Instead, I used photos from news sources of recent natural disasters, including the Christchurch earthquake, Japan tsunami, and Joplin tornado.  My cause is the Red Cross and other organizations around the world that provide relief.  Here is my video.

I learned so much making this.  As a photographer, I strongly believe that all photographs should be properly credited.   I realize I’ve posted many photographs here on my blog where I haven’t done that.  It’s not easy, though.  So many times, photographs have been copied from other sites, and the credits have been left off.  Sometimes when you use google image search, the pages where the photos appeared have expired, so you can’t even find the source.  I’m going to make a better effort in the future with the photos used here, in spite of the difficulties.

A few months ago, I was using google image search.  I found one of my best photographs on somebody else’s website, and the woman was claiming it as her own work.  Once something like that happens, you know how important it is to protect your work and to have it respected.

You can tell I’m passionate about this!  Perhaps I should have made this my “cause.”  Anyway, there are some great videos being submitted by Enation fans.  It’s made for a very interesting week.  I don’t actually want to win the contest, since the real prize is making a video and having others watch it, especially people whose creative efforts you admire.

If you watch my video, be sure to leave a comment on YouTube, and support disaster relief!

A Netflix Petition to Sign

There’s an important petition that I’m encouraging everybody to sign.   Here’s the information from the email I received from a friend:

There’s been a lot of blowback since Netflix announced its rate hike this week. But far fewer people are talking about the fact that Netflix regularly discriminates against its deaf and hard of hearing customers by denying them access to 70% of Netflix’s streaming videos.

That’s because only 30% of Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” content has captions or subtitles. Additionally, there’s no way to search among the limited options for a specific title or even a genre, just one long list of titles. Which means that if you’re a deaf or hard of hearing Netflix subscriber who wants to watch, say, a comedy, you could spend most of your night clicking Next… Next… Next…

Ask Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to make all streaming videos accessible for deaf and hard of hearing customers.

Sebastian St. Troy lost most of his hearing last December due to an infection. Sebastian is a movie buff, and losing his hearing opened his eyes to the vital importance of closed captions to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Sebastian told us, “I’m an avid Netflix subscriber. I learned that Netflix didn’t provide enough streaming content with captions, so I was challenged as to what I could watch.”

That’s why Sebastian started a petition on Change.org asking Netflix to make all of its content accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.

Sebastian has been pursuing this campaign for months, but Netflix has dragged its feet on responding, despite legal action: The National Association of the Deaf is suing Netflix for not fully complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Deaf and hard of hearing Netflix subscribers shouldn’t have to wait for a prolonged legal battle to play out before enjoying equal access to streaming videos — particularly since Netflix has already put many video stores out of business. Netflix can and should start taking good faith steps (like making captioned content searchable) today.

Please sign the petition today to ask Netflix to give deaf and hard of hearing customers equal access to content:

http://www.change.org/petitions/netflix-make-films-accessible-for-the-deaf-hoh

Thanks for taking action,

- Weldon and the Change.org team

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I’m not deaf or hard of hearing, but I use captions and subtitles all the time.  This is something that will be beneficial to everybody.   Please take a moment to add your signature!

One Year Old

Reflections on my first year of blogging

Today is the one year anniversary of The Ugly Bug Ball.  I wasn’t sure I could keep it going, but here we are on post number 95.  100 would have been a nicer number, but I’m not complaining.  Honestly, my only goal a year ago was to find a way to stop driving my boss crazy.  She was tired of all my entertainment chitchat, so I took it online. 

A year ago, I was obsessing over Matthew Goode and Michael Sheen, and I was mourning the cancellation of EastEnders on my local PBS station.  I think I can be forgiven for neglecting Matthew Goode, since he hasn’t released any new movies.  Michael Sheen has been very busy, but I have to confess, I didn’t finish watching A Special Relationship.  All the politics went right over my head.  I still miss Albert Square.

A year ago, I’d never heard of Jonathan Jackson or his band Enation.  I didn’t know I’d be spending every weekday afternoon watching General Hospital to see Jackson as Lucky Spencer.   I was so excited when Enation tweeted links to my blog and even commented on one of my posts.  Now my current obsession is the Les Misérables 25th anniversary concert and some of the West End actors who performed in it.   Who knows what will entertain me next.  I try to “spread the love” by having lots of favorites, so there is always something new just around the corner.

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to check my blog stats so often.  I’m fascinated by how many visitors I get, and what brings them here.  It took me a long time to figure out that a portion of my “visitors” weren’t real, but spam referrers and creepy link posters.  Once I got over that disappointment, I soldiered on.  A dramatic change came a few months after I started, when the UK dating site with the same name was launched.   Suddenly, I had a dramatic increase in visits, but it wasn’t my Bug Ball they wanted.  Google soon sorted them out, although I still get a few strays.  My other wish?  That more people would leave comments.   Even after a year, it’s a thrill to know that people from all over the world are looking at my pages.

 I never really planned to be “Ugly Bug,”  but that’s become my username in various forums and sites that I visit, and when I leave comments on other blogs.  My gravatar photo is a damselfly, and I quite like that for a name, but I never got around to trying it.  It amuses me how some folks are uncomfortable with the word ugly.  I’m usually addressed as UB or Bug, which is fine, too.  I’m fond 0f that old saying, call me anything except late for dinner!

My most popular post this first year is  A Silent Scream, which talks about silent film.  Lots of folks out there are googling “Louise Brooks.”  A surprisingly popular one is All Thumbs, simply because of the photo of Hrithik Roshan’s double thumb.   Another entry that gets a lot of visits is In Remembrance: Armistice Day due to the WWI art.   My Les Mis posts have brought in a lot of new people, too.  I’m not sure how many more screencaps I will add, but at least my photoshop skills keep improving. 

New technology has brought big changes to my blog and what entertains me.  Last summer I got my first mp3 player.  Then my brother gave me my first digital camera, so I was able to start adding fresh photos.  I got a new Epson scanner, so old photos and slides were resurrected and added to these pages.  I learned how to make screencaps using Paint and Photoshop, and I learned that YouTube videos could be converted into mp3s.   Speaking of YouTube, I had no idea until last summer what treasures could be found there.  

Another big blogging milestone was when I started writing about personal subjects.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there.   Writing about my favorite uncle, Dennis Severs, was a wonderful way to share a few memories, and I found it deeply satisfying.   I’ve been neglecting my Stage Door Encounter series, but it’s been a fun way to combine personal experiences with my interest in actors.  

So here’s to one year and counting, and hopefully the best is yet to come!

A Sad Week For Soap Fans

This week, the news broke that Rebecca Herbst has been fired from General Hospital.  For thirteen years, she has played the character Elizabeth Webber, who arrived in Port Charles as a rebellious teen, and is now a nurse and a single mother of three small boys.  Not only is she one of the most popular actresses on daytime television, but to viewers who have watched her all these years, she is an old friend.  Passionate fans engage in fierce battles on soap forums over which character is her best romantic partner, and they are willing to travel far to attend her fan events. 

 I’ve only been watching GH for seven months, but I can see from the online reaction that this is a truly shocking event.  Viewers, critics, and cast members are stunned, and nobody can make sense of this decision.  The official word from ABC: “Storyline dictates the exit of Elizabeth Webber this spring. The next few months promise to be a ‘not to miss’ story for the character. We at ABC and GENERAL HOSPITAL wish Rebecca Herbst nothing but the best in all of her future endeavors.”  This is news to everybody, because Elizabeth Webber hasn’t had much of a story to miss lately.  Viewers have been waiting impatiently since March for her to find out that the father of her baby is really Lucky Spencer, since Helena Cassadine switched the results of the paternity tests.  Things are either going to start happening really fast, or viewers are going to be left frustrated and unhappy.  Oh, yeah, that’s going to happen anyway, isn’t it?

Most GH viewers agree, even though Rebecca Herbst is a lovely, talented actress, her character has been poorly written this last year.  Rather than try to fix the writing, they are just writing her out.  It can’t be easy to go back on set, filming your last scenes over the course of several weeks, after you’ve been fired.  I’m sure Rebecca Herbst will remain professional and give her very best to these scenes, but they will be heartbreaking to watch, no matter how her character departs.  Soaps are famous for bringing back popular actors, even after their characters have died, but who knows if General Hospital will be on the air long enough for Elizabeth Webber to return to Port Charles. 

Many viewers are saying they will quit watching General Hospital now.   I have to say, it’s been a real slog ever since the whole evil Balkan storyline began, and I can’t wait for that to be over.  Will I stop watching?  Well, I will definitely stop watching when Jonathan Jackson (Lucky Spencer) leaves the show.  Until then, I will probably keep at it, yelling at the TV when the storyline gets unbearably stupid, knowing that nobody at ABC is really listening.

Update: It didn’t take long for producers to reverse their decision.  Now it’s just a question of whether Rebecca Herbst will get a storyline and writing that’s worth watching.

Playing With Photoshop

Enation performing Eyes of Grace

Enation performing Eyes of Grace (click to see larger)

Enation just posted a new video on YouTube, performing Eyes of Grace in concert.  My friend recently taught me how to make screencaps, so I had some fun putting this together in photoshop.

Daily Lit

I haven’t been reading as much these last few months.  Reading is a habit, and once you fall out of the habit, filling up the time with other distractions is all too easy.   It amazes me how much time I spend on the computer now, checking the same round of websites for updates, looking up references on wikipedia and IMDb,  and messing around in photoshop.   I find playing on the computer pleasurable, but it doesn’t give me the same sense of accomplishment as reading a good book.

Usually when I need to recharge my reading batteries, I turn to children’s books.  Some of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years were written for kids or teens.  That’s not to say anything against the children’s books that I read before, but ten years ago I began a job in the children’s section at a large Borders Books.  That’s when my interest became a passion. 

Adults who haven’t read a really good children’s book since they were young may not remember the pure, intense emotional satisfaction that it produces.   It’s not something that you felt just because you were a kid.  It happen to any reader who still feels, and I’m always impressed and amazed how the authors manage to elicit this emotional reaction in such a compact work.   I could write a list of writers who consistently accomplish this in their books, but it would be a meaningless list if you don’t understand first what I mean by this emotional satisfaction.  (Grown-ups who love these books already know what I mean, so forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir.)  Here’s a great example.  Most adults who experienced and loved Charlotte’s Web still remember how much they cried over the death of a spider.   This is a slim little book about a pig and a spider that produced feelings so strong we can still remember them after all these years.  The best books for children don’t shy away from the serious issues of life, especially death, and children recognize this and love them for it.  My brother and I were so passionate about Charlotte’s Web that we each had to have our own copy, because we couldn’t stop fighting over who got to re-read it next.  (Just as an aside, I also loved E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan, which never gets the same attention.)  

An easy way to find good children’s books is to consult the list of Newbery Medal winners.   I would like to say that I’ve read all the winners, and the honor books, too, but I’ve still got a long way to go with this list.  I tend to use the Newberys as a jumping off point.  The Newbery Medal list will lead you to all these great authors, and you’ll want to read more of their work.  Just a few of my favorites are Christopher Paul Curtis, Jennifer L. Holm, Kate DiCamillo, Nancy Farmer, Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, and E.L. Konigsburg.

Another way I’ve been getting back into the reading habit is to give in to my computer obsession.  I’m reading books on my computer.  It’s no kindle, but I just read my first book from the library using my laptop.  It was Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.  I am surprised by how quickly it went, which just goes to show how time flies on the computer, regardless of what you’re doing.

A friend just turned me on to dailylit.com, which is another great way to recharge those batteries.   You can choose from a decent list of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this website will email you a couple of pages every day.  Or three times a week.  You set the frequency and even the time they arrive in your inbox.  You can also suspend your emails for vacations or when life gets too busy.  Many of the books are classics that are in the public domain, and these are the books I always intend to read but rarely begin, let alone finish.  Right now I’m reading Dicken’s Dombey and Son in 443 installments.  That means it will take more than a year to read in daily emails.  I hope that the story will get so compelling that I can’t wait to get to the next page.  Then I will get a copy of the book to finish faster.  Dickens is a great author to read in small batches, because when you read him too fast, you can miss all his little character flourishes and humor.  I am also getting a-poem-a-day and Spirits in Bondage by C.S. Lewis.

My monthly book club compels me to read at least one adult book a month.  Zeitoun is this month’s selection, and next month is The Help by Kathryn Stockett.   Both books should trigger lively discussions.

What are you reading to kick off the new year?

My Year End Wrap-Up 2010

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back and reflect on the best and worst of 2010.  I’m not going to be the least bit objective here.  This is my blog, so I get to ignore popular trends and public opinion.  You won’t find Lady Gaga or Dancing With The Stars or Harry Potter The First Part of the Last Book (Finally).  This is what entertained ME this year.

Best Books: This year, the recently published books that I most enjoyed were The Gates by John Connolly, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, Operation Mincemeat by Ben McIntyre, and The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart.  The biggest disappoint was One Day by David Nicholls.

Best Television: All year long, the television show that has been the most consistently funny and worth watching is The Big Bang Theory.  Jim Parsons gets a lot of the credit, but I’m also a big fan of Kunal Nayyar as Raj.   Another excellent series is Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  My favorite new show from the fall is Hawaii Five-O.  The worst show this year  was the incredibly dull American Idol season.  I can’t even remember the finalists anymore, probably because I was watching NCIS instead.   (People who know me will wonder about General Hospital.  Just keep reading.)

Best Twitter:  Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds tweets with charm and whimsy, and his photos, while not always in focus, are always worth clicking open.

Best Movie:  This category is very tricky.  I only saw five films this year in a movie theater, and two of them were silent.   Of the talkies, Easy A was the funniest and most endearing.  Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are so appealing, you easily forget the shortcomings of the story.  Fortunately, none of the films I paid good money to see actually sucked.  Considering the clunkers released this year, that’s pretty good luck.   All the good films released this month will have to go into next year’s list, because I haven’t seen them yet!

Best DVDs:  Here is where I make up for all the movies I missed in the theater.   The best films I watched on DVD weren’t even released this year, but they’re worth mentioning.  I loved Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont, Patrik Age 1.5, In the Loop, The Band’s Visit, and Heartlands.  Note that three of these films are British, one is Swedish, and one is Israeli.  Not one American film made my list this year.  Unfortunately, the worst thing I watched on DVD this year was also British.  It was a short-lived TV series called Bonekickers.  Avoid it.

Best Streaming:  A special thank you to my downstairs neighbors Nathan and Eric, because I share their wireless DSL.  They upgraded the speed a couple of months ago.  Now I can watch programs on my computer without all the stops for buffering.  The best thing I watched streaming was the British comedy series The IT Crowd.  A special mention goes to the hours of entertaining clips I watched on YouTube.

Best Music:  The music that gets the most space on my mp3 player, and the most plays, is by Enation.  I’ve also enjoyed the new albums by Hanson (Shout it Out) and Jason Castro.

Best Music Video:   I love dogs, so my favorite is White Knuckles by OK Go.

Best Entertainment News:  This is a weird category, but I have been fascinated by all the news about the making of The Hobbit.  The director changes, the New Zealand union controversy, the casting news—it could all prove to be more entertaining than the movie itself.  If it ever gets made.  The worst news was when Entertainment Weekly magazine refused to honor my great subscription rate from past years, so I didn’t renew.

Entertainer of the Year:  This one is a no-brainer.  Back in July, I started watching General Hospital to check out James Franco’s guest appearance.  I became interested in Jonathan Jackson, who plays Lucky Spencer.  I thought my interest would last about a week.   Six months later, I’m still watching him on GH, listening to his band Enation, and checking his facebook page every day.  I’ve watched his movies, his YouTube videos, and his live streaming events on Ustream.   He even answered a question from me on his Twitter Q & A last month.  Jonathan Jackson gets this “award” not just because he has entertained me, but because he has done it in so many different ways.  Thumbs up!

Enation in the recording studio

Jonathan Jackson and Enation (click to see larger)

Christmas Movies, Christmas Memories

It seems like everywhere I go on the internet lately, people are listing their favorite holiday movies.  I’ve added comments on various sites mentioning some of mine, and I’ve also made a list of films I’ve somehow missed over the years.  Now I’m busy trying to see them before the end of the Christmas season. 

When I was much younger, I really liked Bing Crosby, so my favorite holiday movie was Holiday InnWhite Christmas didn’t do much for me—I think it had something to do with the plot (“let’s put on a show for the old commanding general”).  I grew up on The Court Jester, so I love Danny Kaye, too.   I just liked the plot and the songs in Holiday Inn better.   I haven’t seen either movie in years, and I wonder if I’d like White Christmas better now that I’m older.

In my twenties, It’s a Wonderful Life was my number one holiday movie.   It has everything going for it, especially Jimmy Stewart.  It resonated so much with me during that time in my life, when I had to postpone some of my dreams to help my family.   The only problem with this film is its length.  I don’t mind a long movie, but TV stations love to chop it down and extend it with endless commercial breaks.  This is definitely a film that should be watched on DVD, or video, or streaming.  

As an anglophile, I have a soft spot for A Christmas Carol.  I’ve seen many of the movie versions, although not the Jim Carrey one that came out last year.  The movies bring back memories of working as a dresser for the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s annual production of the play. I was only 16, so I was rather shocked at the co-ed dressing room, not to mention the actor playing Bob Cratchit who didn’t believe in underwear.   

Now, there are movies that are about Christmas, and then there are the movies that are released at Christmas.  I have a special place in my heart for the movie musical The Little Prince, released in 1974 during the holidays.  It wasn’t a hit, but it did have Bob Fosse and Gene Wilder singing and dancing as The Snake and The Fox.  

One of my favorite Christmas comedies is The Ref with Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, Christine Baranski, and Glynis Johns.  It’s kind of crude, and it ends rather abruptly, but the Christmas dinner scene is just too good to miss.  I have no idea how the production team managed to keep all those candles in the St Lucia headpieces burning without anybody losing their hair.  I’d love to find out, but unfortunately the DVD has no behind-the-scenes extras.  

It took me a few years to get around to seeing Bridget Jones’s Diary, but now it’s always near the top of my favorites list.  Some folks might argue that it’s not a holiday movie, but it does begin and end at Christmas, and one of the funniest things in the movie is Colin Firth’s holiday sweater.

I watched Elf for the very first time this week.   It was delightful, of course, and I love Bob Newhart and Peter Dinklage.  It made me realize that I can’t just keep watching the same old favorites every year.  I need to make space for new movies, giving them a chance to become old favorites.

What else is new this year?  Well, I made my own Christmas video.  It’s only 33 seconds long, but it was really fun to make, and now I’m sharing it with all my friends and family.  Over at animoto.com you upload photos and video clips, choose music, make titles, and then their software will mix it all into a really neat little video.  You should check it out.

Happy Holidays!

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