Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Musicals

     I have a soft spot for movie musicals (MMs). My husband does not. The other night, while watching a documentary, The People vs. George Lucas (TPVGL), I learned that my husband's only exposure to MMs was through clips and dance sequences referenced by film critics or filmmakers. He has been in the room, tapping on his laptop, while I've watched MMs at home (Chicago, Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, Tangled). For the record, he refused to be in the room for Moulin Rouge(!).
     In TPVGL there was a clip from a Star Wars fan film spoofing George Lucas remastering Singin' in the Rain (watch the entire fan film below). My reaction was, "Uh! I haven't seen Singin' in the Rain in a while. Let's watch it!" My husband's was, "Uh, I see clips like this and I never want to watch that movie." I asked him to remind me if he had ever seen it. He said, "No. I've seen clips. I hate musicals, remember?" Then I asked him, "Have you ever actually watched one?" He said, "No, not really."
     Years ago, when he told me, "I hate musicals," I assumed, incorrectly, that he had seen some. In fact, he had not. This whole time he hated something he has been completely ignorant of!
     We made a deal. We would watch Singin' in the Rain (SITR), which I, and many others (I looked it up), consider to be the best MM. If he hated it, I would not ask him to watch another MM.
     While waiting for SITR to spin up, I asked him to explain why he hates MMs. He told me that he doesn't like the idea of people randomly breaking into song. It breaks up the narrative flow and tone of the film. He also thought the idea of jamming key plot elements into thirty seconds of dialogue between musical numbers suggested that storytelling did not matter.

     As modern filmgoers, we have been conditioned to watch films with interludes that consist of fast-paced, tightly edited fight scenes or car chases. I would argue that those editing and pacing choices are just as disruptive to a film's narrative flow as a song and dance number.
While we were watching SITR, my husband asked if we could talk. I said, sure. That turned out to be useful. We both pointed out interesting shots, dance sequences, funny lines, good background art, and other things. There were a few times when I looked nervously at him, wondering if he was thinking the same thing as I was--that a particular musical number was dragging. He seemed fully engrossed. At the end he declared, "That was really good." And the next day he said, "If you pick out some more musicals, I'll watch them with you..."

Here are some of my favorite MMs. We will try to watch as many of them as we can over the next few weeks:
All that Jazz (1979)
West Side Story (1961)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
An American in Paris (1951)
Top Hat (1935)
Marry Poppins (1964) or The Sound of Music (1965) (I don't think he could do both)
Grease (1978)
Important note: I recognize that the films above may not be the best MMs, but they are among my favorites. Also, knowing my husband, I know he may have trouble watching some of them. I'm guessing Mary Poppins and Top Hat. He would definitely have trouble watching other favorites of mine like Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Wizard of Oz, and A Star is Born, which is why they are omitted above.

     If you have favorite MMs that you would like to share, please let us know in a comment!

     Here is the full fan film that is mostly responsible for our MMs journey.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


     Birds, rabbits, voles, and squirrels nest around our house. Last May and June, I documented one breeding pair of robins nesting in our backyard. Most of the photos and video I included here were taken from the June nest and focus on the robins' chicks. I documented the nest activity every day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
     The robins had two consecutive nesting sites in our backyard. The first, in May, was thwarted by ants and dogs (ours). Two eggs hatched from that nest. The first chick was overtaken by ants. The second chick lived for one or two days, but was killed when our dogs ripped the nest out of the holly bush it was located in (about two feet off the ground). The dogs ate the live chick and the remaining eggs.

5.23.12 Breeding pair of robins.

5.26 Our backyard. The holly bush with the nest is circled in red.
5.23 Bow becomes interested in the nest.
The nest is in the middle of the bush. 

5.23 Four eggs.

5.26 Two chicks and lots of ants, which you can't really see.

Nine days after the first nest failed, the female robin began to lay eggs in a nest located in a hanging pot six feet off the ground on our back porch (pictured below). This nest had been used in previous years by mourning doves. The female robin laid five eggs over three days. In the following weeks, four eggs hatched and at least two chicks fledged. There were no ants in the second nest, but all the birds were covered in mites.

6.4 AM Three egss layed.

6.4 PM A fourth egg.

6.5 AM Still four eggs.

6.6 AM A fifth egg.

6.14 AM Fast forward about a week.
The two robins have been taking turns sitting on the nest.

6.15 AM Robin on the nest. Movement beneath.

6.15 AM First egg has hatched, yielding first chick.

6.16 AM Second egg has hatched, yielding second chick.

6.17 AM Third egg has hatched, yielding third chick.

6.17 AM Three chicks.

6.18 AM Four chicks. You can hear one of the parents scolding me in the background.

6.19 AM Four chicks. The last egg, which you can see briefly, never hatches.

6.19 AM Bow watches the nest.

6.20 AM Three of the chicks are getting big and growing feathers.
This is the last time I see the fourth chick alive.

6.20 PM Fourth chick gets trampled. The parents come with food every few minutes.

6.21 AM The parents were just on the nest eating the chicks' poop packets.

6.21 PM Really hot day. 100-something.

6.22 AM Good feather growth. Eating constantly.

6.23 AM Check out those wings!

6.23 PM Starting to see mites all over the chicks. Bow is barking...

6.23 PM Chicks were just fed.

6.23 PM The largest chick preens often.

6.24 AM Good feather growth. I'm trying to capture mite movement on camera.

6.25 PM Mites are everywhere.

6.26 AM Robin parent scolds from neighbor's roof.

6.27 AM The first chick leaves the nest at some point overnight or in the morning and is killed. My guess is a neighborhood cat did it.

6.27 AM A second chick is ready to jump from the nest.

6.28 AM There is only one chick left in the nest. I have seen the second one running around on the ground, shepherded by a parent.

6.28 AM2 Twenty minutes later, the last chick jumped out of the nest.

6.28 AM There it is!

6.28 AM Twenty four days after the first egg was laid in the hanging-pot
nest, the last chick has left. I saw this chick two days later in a small tree
with one of its parents. The parent was still feeding it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Die Hard

     Back in the days of VHS, I purchased three or four films that I watched over and over again. Lethal Weapon (LW) was one of them. Years later, I met my boyfriend, now husband, who also loved the Lethal Weapon franchise and we bought the films on DVD. We watched them, mostly LW, LW 3, and LW 4, at least yearly when we needed some action and wanted to feel like we belonged to a normal family like the Murtaugh's, which meant we usually watched them during the holidays. (By the way, the Bourne films give us some of that same feeling. But clearly there's less of a family/holiday theme in Bourne, which is partly what we need to get us from November to the other side of January 1st.)
     When a friend told me that he and his wife watch Die Hard every year on Christmas Eve (I think), I thought that was really cool. My husband and I added it to our holiday list. And now it's our favorite stand-alone holiday film. It has action, suspense, comedy, drama, unforgettable dialogue, serious acting and directing, a relatable holiday feel, and family themes that we identify with.    
     And here are six more reasons why I think Die Hard is the best holiday film out there:
1. Bruce Willis is at his best playing a beleaguered man who just wants to spend Christmas with his family and is willing to kick everyone's ass to do it.
2. Alan Rickman convinces me every year that his character, although ruthless, cares about Christmas in his own way.
3. Reginald VelJohnson, who plays a good cop, a good man, and a soon-to-be-good father, is my idea of Santa Claus. (Really, he is the hero of the film.)
4. Paul Gleason is a hilarious Scrooge--Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson!
5. All supporting cast members have a moment to shine and show their holiday spirit.
6. The film manages at once to be violent and heartwarming. What more can you ask for?
     Shout out to Steve in San Francisco, who turned us onto the Die-Hard-for-the-holidays tradition.
     Happy holidays everyone! Watch and enjoy!