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Astaire and Charisse in The Band Wagon
Sorry.  I dropped the musical ball here, but since no one was complaining, I had no motivation to hurry up, except my own nagging need to finish up.  Here are numbers 19 through 11:

19.  On the Town  (1949)  This film was one of the most enjoyable on AFI’s list.   I’d never seen it and thought the cast, which includes Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, totally captivating.  That probably had something to do with knowing what gigantic legends they would all become.

Highlights:  Vera-Ellen as Miss Turnstiles, and scenes of New York as it was in 1949.

18.  Yankee Doodle Dandy  (1942)   Black and white biopic about George M. Cohan, the stage entertainer who was born into vaudeville and wrote Give my Regards to Broadway, You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag, and Yankee Doodle Boy.  I admit it was long and took me two sorta painful sittings to finish watching it.

Highlights:  Realizing George M. Cohan was a real person, and that James Cagney was a fab tap dancer.

17.  The Band Wagon  (1953)   Another musical about – wait for it – actors.  This was a charming one starring the hopelessly charming Fred Astaire and the exotic Cyd Charisse (who until a few years ago I thought was a man, having never seen a photo beside the name Cyd).  The film’s most famous song is probably That’s Entertainment.

Highlights:  Incredible dance number at the end called Girl Hunt Ballet (to which Michael Jackson gave a big nod in his Smooth Criminal video), and a super cute short number early in the film called Shine on Your Shoes.

16.  Funny Girl  (1968)  I’ll just say it.  I don’t dig Barbra Streisand.  But I didn’t really know until I tried to watch this movie.  I was interested in Fanny Brice’s story, but Barbra got in the way.  So did the hair, makeup and costumes, which (to me anyway) horribly confused the looks of the 1920s/30s with the 1960s.

Highlight (a big highlight):  The song Don’t Rain on My Parade.  One of my all-time fave tunes.

15.  Top Hat  (1935)  I’ll use the word charming again here, mainly because this one stars Fred Astaire, who is absolutely the definition of the word.  Add Ginger Rogers to the cast and - is there anything more to say?  Well, I’ll say one thing: there are some really solid comedic performances here, particularly those of Erik Blore as Bates, and Helen Broderick as Madge.  Check them out.

Highlights:  the sweet Astaire dancing on a sand-covered floor in the room above Ginger’s to lull her to sleep, and any scene with the totally silly “Bates” character in it.

14.  All That Jazz  (1979)  Wowee wow wow.  Dark, gritty and very late 70s, this one is a biopic about Bob Fosse directed by Fosse.  It is a musical technically, but it also stands on its own as a dramatic film.  Roy Scheider and Ann Reinking are amazing, and I’d argue that the best performance in it is not Scheider’s, but Reinking’s.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on the screen, and definitely see whatever Fosse saw in her…

Highlights:  Tough to pick.  Not being a dancer myself, I found every scene that highlighted the body and movement of the dancers captivating.  Take Off With Us is a good one for a group, but another different kind was the cute scene where the girlfriend and daughter do a song and dance number for Dad/Fosse/Gideon in their home (to the song Everything Old is New Again).

13.  42nd Street  (1933)  Ugh.  Double ugh.  After having seen this on Broadway with Jerry Orbach when I was a child, watching this very early film version was probably the biggest surprise let-down of any on the list.  It lacks some of my fave songs and is incredibly different from the stage version.  Also, Ruby Keeler was a crappy tapper.

Highlight:  When it ended.

12.  Chicago  (2002)  This was very good fun.  I don’t care much for the casting choices of Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere, but the film must’ve done a lot right because my lack of interest in the cast didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all.  I think this one appeals to pretty much everyone at almost every age, though my significant other may disagree slightly ;)

Highlights:  The All That Jazz overture and reprise, and the clever Cell Block Tango number with all the lady inmates.

11.  The King and I  (1956)  I know I’m supposed to really like this one, and I did think it was grand in scale, but the songs didn’t grab me the way some others have.  I think there are some obvious stand outs like Getting to Know You, which is, of course, adorable.

Highlight:  Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.  Amusing and thoroughly entertaining character.

Gonna try to be back with the list's top 10 this weekend :)

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Fred and Ginger in Top Hat
 
 
In December I was sitting at home one weekend lamenting the absence of even one decent film worth heading to the cinema for (or even worth renting).  It then occurred to me that it might be time to reach back to Hollywood’s Golden Age for some entertainment.  Not knowing quite what I was looking for, but feeling a bit weary of all the Hitchcock films in my cabinet, I stumbled onto the American Film Institute’s list of the 25 Best Movie Musicals, and a goal (of sorts) emerged:  to watch all 25 musicals in rapid succession.

I make no claim to be a film critic, nor am I particularly well-informed when it comes to the structure of a musical, but below are a some brief comments on each of the movies, in case there’s anyone out there interested in visiting the genre:

25.  Moulin Rouge!  (2001) – A visual feast.  The costumes, sets, make-up and editing are so fantastic you can barely rest your eyes (or ears) the entire time.  Truth be told, I did not care much for the actual story, and think its only original song (“Come What May”) is kinda bland, but I remember seeing this in the theatre when it was released and know it thrilled me completely at the time.  I also like the fact that Nicole and Ewan did their own singing.

Highlight:  Opening sequence with a mash-up of Fatboy Slim’s “Because We Can-Can-Can” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  The Nirvana sample is possibly my favorite moment, listen for it early in the film.

24.  Show Boat  (1936)

I’ve been unable to view this because the 1936 version is incredibly expensive to obtain on DVD (over $50, if you can find a used copy online somewhere).  I plan to get an old VHS of it eventually, but will still need to find a VHS player on which to view it… maybe on my next trip to the States.

23.  Guys and Dolls  (1955) – Even with the insanely talented male leads of Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, this one was a bit tough to endure.  Several of the songs are super fun, but overall it's particularly ridiculous.  Especially when it's Marlon Brando's turn to sing.

Highlight:  The song “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” (led magnificently by actor Stubby Kaye) was in my head all day after watching the movie.  A close second fave was the song “Fugue for Tinhorns” (aka “I Got the Horse Right Here”).  I subsequently watched both of these scenes repeatedly on Youtube.  Good fun.

22.  Beauty and the Beast  (1991) – The only animated feature on the list.  I had a lot of folks tell me the various reasons why this is/was the appropriate Disney/animated musical on the AFI list, but personally I didn’t much dig it. 

Highlight:  Broadway veteran Jerry Orbach as the voice of Lumiere, the French candlestick.

21.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  (1954) – In a word, painful.  I won’t even get into the - umm… sexist and politically incorrect plot, because things like that don’t really apply in period musicals.

Highlight:  Amazing choreography for the brothers (and other men) in this one.  Oh, and Julie (Catwoman) Newmar when her screen name was still Julie Newmeyer – playing a girl named Dorcas.  I couldn’t keep from saying “Dorcas Malorcas” over and over in my head once I heard that name.

20.  Grease  (1978) – What’s to say?  This musical rules, and most of us already know it.  If you’ve never seen it, get ye to your Netflix cue and add.

Highlight:  Three words… 

young John Travolta.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next five films on the list.

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Grease is indeed the word.

 
 
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First example, from Harrods

Today I'm not writing about England or America.  I'm writing about an irksome trend among retailers:  the practice of printing ridiculously long paper receipts, even when the customer has only purchased one simple item.

Am I the only one who's noticed that after every transaction at a cash register lately, the cashier hands over a receipt so long and bulky that it often needs to be rolled up or folded over several times just to be crammed into your purse or carry bag?  This happens a lot in grocery stores, particularly in America where they also print out a long strip of coupons to accompany your actual receipt (the coupon part doesn't happen much in the UK, though).  What bugs me most is when I buy one small item like a pack of gum or pair of socks, and I still receive a receipt a foot long - or more.

Pardon me, Mr. Giant Retailer, but I thought we were supposed to be green and earth-friendly and not use excessive paper where it isn't justified.  I mean, a lot of folks don't even print work email unless it's really needed in hard copy form.  Why are retailers exempt from the movement to conserve resources when possible?

The photos I've posted here were received this week while running errands in London.  One is from discount store TK Maxx (same as TJ Maxx in the States) where I bought ONE pair of knee socks.  The other is from Harrods department store, where I bought ONE tube of Lancome eye cream.  As seen in the photos, each receipt was for one item (no warranty info or other junk involved) and each receipt is 12 inches long.  A FOOT, y'all!

This is a disturbing trend in retail business.  There's a plague of humorously long (but seriously wasteful) paper receipts, and no one seems to care.  Walk into a modern office and some people scowl at you for wasting a few sheets of paper in a photocopier accident.  You might even get dressed-down by some militant coworkers for tossing a slip of paper into a bin that isn't labeled recycling - yet everyone's OK with miles upon miles of register receipt paper going in bins everywhere.  Why?

I know there are more important issues in life than the length of a store receipt, obviously, but that's not my point.  Even small things can make big differences.  Why don't people ask local retailers or corporate giants to cut back their excessive paper waste?

If it wasn't for stuff like this I'd have nothing to do all day.  I live to point-out inefficient and hypocritical things in life.  I've got to run now - I have a letter of complaint to write...
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An example from TKMaxx

 
 
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Photo 1 (close-up)

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Photo 2 (wide shot) can you spot the heart?

I was walking to London's Hammersmith station along Great West Road yesterday, and due to the blustery, cold weather, was mostly looking at the ground as I walked.  As I stepped over bits of sidewalk that I've tread many times, I noticed something lovely:  unusual hearts were hidden in the text of some metal street plates.  (I took the above photos to show you an example.) 

When I showed my British partner my photos, he pointed out that the "heart" is actually a sort of logo for the British Standards Institution (or BSI).  And of course, when I came home and looked it up, I saw that he was correct. 

The BSI Group was founded as the Engineering Standards Committee in London in 1901.  The "heart" I saw is their "Kitemark" created in 1903 as a symbol to identify products made to meet BSI' specifications.  It was called their "Kitemark" because the shape of the graphic - an uppercase B (for British) on its back, above an S (for standard), enclosed by two lines, looks a bit like a kite.  

The Kitemark became a registered trademark in 1903, making it one of the oldest product marks in the world still in regular use.

I prefer to call it a Heartmark, because the heart is a much older (and prettier) mark, also still in regular use, I believe...

;-)

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.
 
 
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If you haven't already contributed to the earthquake relief effort in Haiti, here are links to the donation pages of two reputable organizations that directly aid efforts on the ground in Haiti:

OXFAM:
https://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate/haiti-earthquake/index.php

AMERICAN RED CROSS:
http://tinyurl.com/y9l5zqu

Because every dollar makes a difference.
 
 
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I've been meaning to post the above photo for two weeks now.  It was taken at Mo's Diner, which is located inside Harrod's in Knightsbridge, London.

If you read this blog you probably know a few things about me.  I'm from America, I really dig good food, and I also really dig Harrod's.  Which is why I write this little item with some hesitation.  You see, I'm a huge fan of Jewish deli-style stuff (and I've had more than my share of such food in my life), so when I get some that's an utter disappointment, it's tough to shake off.

I had just returned to London from a long trip to the USA when I needed to do a bit of shopping at Harrod's.  While in Harrod's my partner and I thought it would be nice to see if we could find a hot Reuben sandwich somewhere.  First we went to their East Dulwich Deli restaurant, but alas, the menu had not a single cold-cut sandwich on the list, and definitely no hot Reubens (deli my ass)...  Then we checked the "American diner" themed restaurant called Mo's Diner.  We saw a Reuben on the menu and thought we'd scored big.

When the sandwich - which cost about $30 in U.S. dollars - arrived, it was smaller than my hand (see above photo for comparison).  I was shocked.  I'm all for reasonable portions and not wasting food, but when I order a REUBEN from a DINER I expect a beast of a sandwich - not some pathetic, over-priced piece of crap with spoiled carrot and raisin slaw on the side.

I mean REALLY.  Where do they even get bread that small? 

Best leave the art of the Jewish deli to the Americans - it's worth flying home for :)
 
 
I was reading an early chapter of Howard Zinn's book "A People's History of the United States" when I came across something that stuck in my mind.  It was about how native Americans (called "Indians" in the book) were held to new laws created by the invading Europeans, who thought the native Americans were lawless.

The "Indians" were told that the new punishment for the death of an Englishman was that the offender would be delivered to the English authorities and punished according to English law.  In 1635, Maryland's Indians responded to the governor's demand that they follow English law with the following (I've revised spelling only): 

"It is the manner amongst us Indians, that if any such accident happen, we do redeem the life of a man that is so slain with 100 arms length of beads and since that you are here as strangers, and come into our Country, you should rather conform yourselves to the Customs of our Country, than impose yours upon us..."

And I thought there was an excellent point in that.  "you are here as strangers, and come into our Country, you should rather conform yourselves to the Customs of our Country, than impose yours upon us".

This got me to thinking about myself, and the things I sometimes say about my (relatively new) home in the UK.  I am indeed a stranger here.  I have voluntarily come to live in England, and it would be right to try to fit into life here, instead of fighting it constantly just because I'm from America (where things are sometimes different and/or better).  Perhaps I've been a bit too harsh in some of my criticisms of British life and people over the past year and a half...

Does that mean I'm gonna stop writing about the things I encounter during my time in Great Britain?  Nope.  Am I going to lose my sarcasm or blunt manner of speaking?  Probably not.  I just wanted to mention the quote because I think it's interesting.  It's likely a good thing for everyone to think about - especially when one voluntarily travels to a foreign place.

There's a big difference between being different and being better.
 
 
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OK, ladies.  I've held-off from mentioning this for a long time, but upon seeing the above image of a current Alexander McQueen woman's shoe, I must say: STOP THE MADNESS.  This trend of un-wearable, over-priced extreme shoes for women is NUTS.  Are they creative and good fun to browse?  Yes.  Do they spice up a runway?  Yes.  Can REAL women incorporate the look into their existing closets?  No (unless your name is Victoria Beckham).

Stuff like this always leads me back to the same question: 

Why don't designers impose this sort of painful nonsense on MEN?
 
 
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The Black Pudding slices are the three round black things on the plate here.

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it's time to address the elephant in the room.  i'm not sure why it's taken me so long to mention this small element of Britishness, but i'm ready to spread the word today.  yes ladies and gents, i'm ready to talk about:  Black Pudding.

here in England, "Black Pudding" is a standard element of a hot breakfast meal (see first photo above).  it's served the same way as, say, links of sausage might be served:  with eggs, toast, bacon - whatever - on a plate, usually presented in round slices cut from a much larger "sausage". 

it may be surprising, for those of you who've read my older posts, that i actually have no problem with the fact that Black Pudding is neither "pudding" in the American sense of the word, NOR in the British sense of the word (in Britain a "pudding" is a generic term for dessert, like you'd see at the top of a list of desserts available on a restaurant menu)...  rather, my issue is with the ingredient list, which i have included above in the second photo.  if you can't see the photo clearly, the ingredient list is:
 
Water, Cooked Pork Rind, Oatmeal, Pearl Barley, Dried Blood, Rusk, Flour, Pork Fat, Onion, Salt, Mixed Herbs, Pepper, and Yeast Extract.

there's only one ingredient that i didn't recognize, and that was rusk.  i looked it up, and "rusk" is basically just hard, dry biscuit ground up.  it's commonly used as a binding agent in sausages.  of course i didn't have to look up "dried blood" to understand that item, but it led me to wonder: 

what is Dried Blood bringing to the flavor party?  why did it have to be dried before being added?  also, isn't dried blood really more of a scab?  and if blood generally tastes so good, why isn't it a key ingredient in more of our traditional foods?

after the ingredient list, the product label screams (in all caps) that the product CONTAINS GLUTEN.  i would think that perhaps they may also want to put the "dried blood" part in all caps - but that's just me.

i bought Black Pudding for my British significant other because he loves the stuff - possibly even more than the bacon or egg part of breakfast.  when i cooked the Black Pudding slices in the skillet, something just smelled wrong.  it didn't smell like i was cooking food at all...  and definitely not like anything suitable for human consumption.  it was kinda like playing "Let's-throw-this-random-object-in-the-pan-and-see-what-heat-does-to-it." 

far more disturbing was when my husband said:  "Ahh, that smells SO good!"

i'll be the first to say "To each his own," but i definitely felt a little wave of nausea when he tried to give me a thank-you kiss after eating it.

p.s.
kudos to the first person who gets my title reference ;)

 
 
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the shock mark i got on my hand in 2008 when i tried to use my U.S. hairdryer with a UK plug adapter and got shocked.  yay.

found a few small, Filofax-sized pages of notes made back during my first week living in London (Tuesday 29 April 2008, to be exact).  for fun i thought i'd type them up, minus some T.M.I. bits... 

8am:  got up, got dressed.
2 cups of "instant coffee" (because i forgot to ask how the percolator thing works).
washed new Le Creuset pots and roaster pans, watched a British morning TV show and waited for DFS sofa delivery.
11am:  a woman from DFS called for more directions to our flat.
11:30am:  DFS arrived - two men; one white, one black.  the concierge knocked on our door first to say the delivery was here.  they were friendly - one guy said he had a "helluva time" finding our building.  surprise.

lunch:  for the second day, i made a noon brunch out of stale bread loaf with deli ham slices and little chips of Edam cheese (which is probably the least melt-able cheese on the planet, but why would an American who isn't a cook know that?).  i heated it in the microwave, which btw, has several settings in numbers of 90, 180, 360, 600 etc. and i have no idea what those numbers mean.  but based on yesterday's ham and cheese microwave melt, i thought i needed about 30 seconds of the "600" button.


went to the local post office.  ok; not great.  no one's told me what a standard letter costs to mail in the UK.  every post office line seems to have a single mom with a kid demanding a juice box in it no matter what neighborhood i'm in.


went to a card shop, Cards Galore, due to a shortage of thank you notes.

went to grocery store Sainsbury's.  watched some white man in his late 50s or maybe 60s being dragged out across the floor while he spat and shouted "n*gger" over and over.  umm... 

went to drugstore called Superdrug.  all the boxes of facial tissue were busted open and damaged, but thought i'd better buy one box because i am not sure grocery stores sell a decent selection of tissues here.  there was an Asian man playing statue in the aisle.  another jerk-off who stands dead still in the middle of a store aisle, blocking your way entirely and being in just the right spot to impede all walking and shopping.


walk home:  walked through the A4/Great West Road underground passage, which was shady.  the "safety" mirrors are fogged and useless and if a predator was in there you'd never know unless your head could spin 360 degrees constantly to look out.  as i exited i heard footsteps behind me and hurried up the stairs to street level.  at the top i stopped and turned 180 degrees pretending to fumble for sunglasses so i could face my follower:  a totally normal-looking dude who passed by me.  the trouble is that in this city, "normal" people are just as likely to kick you in the head until you're in a coma - or dead - as they are likely to say "hello."  the crime and disorder in this city is in many ways worse than any U.S. city i've resided in.  i don't recommend watching the news. 

in London i feel i should be armed.  i have the intention to ask dad for a stun gun.  perhaps i should stick a small knife in my purse and walk with my right hand on the knife handle inside my bag.  if i'm going to be the victim of a crime i'm not going down without getting in at least a hard right stab to someone's gut.

this is how London is making me feel today.

oh, and did i mention that my MacBook broke down while using the stupid f-ing T-Mobile internet-by-the-hour thing?  not to mention the hour was prepaid and i didn't GET my hour?!  just another reason to cry about this place today.  i smell another full hard drive replacement coming...

i won't even bother describing the nonsense going on at the building, where we have a sofa to sit on now, but still can't get our mail, including the stinking mobile internet device, which was M.I.A. and now is apparently being re-directed to S's work address.

if this was Los Angeles i would have had Roger the "porter" fired or reassigned by now.  useless.  clearly London is a poorly-run, dangerous, and backwards city.  i'd feel more safe alone in Times Square at 4am.. 

17 months later i still have similar thoughts and feel equally unsafe - even in broad daylight.