Saturday, January 31, 2009

Binging on Fred

When I was a kid, we had a copy of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie "Top Hat", which we watched together one night and which resulted in my immediate adoration of Fred Astaire. A few days later, we went down to a family get-together. My mom brought it with us. The night we planned to watch it with everyone I was extremely excited, until I saw that it wasn't "Top Hat" but a different movie with what I thought was a similar title: "Topper".

Over the years I have seen and enjoyed other Fred movies - The Gay Divorcee, which I watched with some family friends while we visited them in Birmingham, and Daddy-Long-Legs, which is based on one of my favorite books, and I can't be mad that the leading man isn't the young handsome type he is in the book - because it's Fred Astaire, and what's not to like about him?!

(I've seen "Funny Face" too, but that one's not very good, so I don't like to count it.)

I always loved musicals in general - some other favorites were "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (with Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly) and "Meet Me in St. Louis" (which I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince my choir instructor to take on for the spring musical. She didn't, but I remember singing some of the songs heartily in the car with two or three other girls on the way up to Seattle for an annual choir trip). The first time I saw "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was in the theater with I believe my mom and my paternal grandmother. That evening I had a sleepover with my friend and neighbor and, at the video rental, immediately convinced her that we should rent it. When the movie finished, I remember galloping up and down the length of her parents' large room with flowers doing our best to reprise the song "June Brides".

Well, it comes and goes. I love all the revivals of the genre, the remakes currently coming out of Hollywood such as "Hairspray" and "Mamma Mia". I have a huge weakness for the three High School Musical movies (and I'm no longer embarrassed to admit it).

In the days before I came back to Middelburg, I browsed the movies available for rent from iTunes and decided to get "The Gay Divorcee" for the flight. I hadn't seen it in years and was very pleasantly surprised - I even laughed out loud while sitting at the boarding gate waiting area in Chicago. These old movies all of the best sense of humor and the cleverest little jokes.

When I got back to Middelburg, I went on an internet hunt for Fred Astaire movies and was extremely successful. I had only seen those two Fred-and-Ginger movies but I'm currently working hard to up that number. The other night I watched "Top Hat". My favorite joke from that one - though there are many great ones - is when Horace says, "Are you sure you didn't forget yourself in the park?" And Fred Astaire's character Jerry says, "Positive. If I ever forgot myself with that girl, I'd remember."

Last night, I spent the evening with friends for birthday celebrations. We drank wine and ate cheese and crackers and birthday cake, and listened to pop/hip-hop/rap music on too high. That sort of ruined the image for me. Me, who has watched nearly a musical a day for the last week and a half and been listening either to musical soundtracks or Nat King Cole. It was a bit of a shock. The whole time - except when we did a sort of karaoke to the Black-Eyed-Peas' "Don't Lie" - I kept thinking how bad the music was and how if we were doing this at my place, the music would be on a much lower volume and it would probably be jazz.

Oh and how maybe I should have been born about 80, 90, 100... years ago.

For the complete inventory of my recent movie watching, consult below:

"The Gay Divorcee" (1934): a classic Astaire-Rogers mistaken identity film. Very amusing!

"Swing Time" (1936): another Astaire-Rogers, apparently Rogers' favorite of the ten they made together. If you've never seen this one, I recommend it; Fred's father-figure adds a lot of amusement. Also features the song "A Fine Romance".

"Funny Face" (1957): not worth it. Hepburn can't sing and Fred doesn't tap dance much (probably so that he doesn't look that much better than Audrey!) Put it back on the shelf and check out one of the other ones I list here.

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954): Not a Fred Astaire movie, but a classic musical! The cast is stock full of Portlanders, the most well-known being Jane Powell. Really, really fun.

"Royal Wedding" (1951): Fred Astaire and Jane Powell! Lots of fun dance scenes (on a rocking ship, on the walls & ceiling, etc.) This film is based on/inspired by Fred's roots doing Vaudeville acts with his sister Adele.

"Top Hat" (1935): Fred 'n' Ginger, at least as good as I remember it. It lost a little sparkle for me when I read that Fred didn't like the closing number, "The Piccolino", and therefore let Ginger do almost all of the performing. But there are some really good Astaire solos, and this one is full of funny moments.

"Follow the Fleet" (1936): Another Fred and Ginger. Another cute and fun flick. This time, Fred wanted to get out of a tux and top hat to change his image a little and prevent being typecast, so he's a sailor named "Bake" Baker who always chews gum and leaves his mouth hanging open at the end of every dumb joke while he waits for the punchline to settle in - very cute. I also love the opening number, "We Saw The Sea", which is full of clever lyrics.

Up Next: "Carefree" and "Shall We Dance". Plus, I've rented "Singin' in the Rain" to watch with my housemates, who have never seen it (gasp!).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mama Said

Since I left home for college, my mom has given me a lot of advice, much of it concerning food and cooking. One of the ones that I always remember is to keep tot he perimeters of the grocery store - all of the essentials are there, and once you go in towards the center you'll find all of the gunky junk food and useless objects.

Well, today, I ignored that rule, and it came back to bite me.

I was almost done doing my re-stocking shopping trip, having returned to Middelburg only hours before, but I waited to get greens - located in the front of the store just as you enter - so I could check and see if the frozen spinach selection had improved.

It hadn't.

I did all of my other shopping in between, and got to the freezer section at the end, to find that there was still your regular assortment of chopped spinach and creamed spinach, all in cardboard, not plastic, and doubtless freezer-burned.

So I doubled back to the produce section to grab a bag of organic mixed greens for salad and - the key mistake - cut through the center aisle of the store.

"cut through" might be a little misleading, though, because I was actually lengthily distracted not halfway across the store by an enormous table with seven or eight "BONUS!" signs.

Usually, these don't get me, but today, I saw the object on bonus was books.
Books! In the Netherlands! For only 2.50!

Since I'm moving in less than six months, I KNOW I should not be adding to my already rather large library. But I can't resist a deal when it concerns books.

I shuffled through, and found a thinnish, silly, trashy-looking novel, but one that was written in Dutch. (The others were mostly translated.) That might do me some good; I'm taking advanced French this semester but I really need to work on maintaining and improving my Dutch at the same time. Just your typical chick-lit, really; two girls trying to lead decent lives in the big city, only in this case, Nicki and Petra live in Amsterdam, not New York. So I put Yoyo van Gemerde's "Sushi & Chardonnay" in my basket.

With considerable will power, I set the translated copy of The Nanny Diaries back on the stack (reminding myself that I HAD already read it, and even if I didn't remember it very well, there was probably a reason for that).

Moving on, the next part of the table caught my eyes. CDs! After another few minutes spent shuffling through these, I finally pulled myself together with the intention of bee-lining it to the produce section...

...only to find that the end of the table housed the DVDs.

Mostly BBC miniseries, for the low price of 5.99. But good luck keeping me away from the classics.

I skimmed over Pride and Prejudice (1980 version, not '95), Great Expectations, He Knew He Was Right (though I considered that one), and Persuasion. Then I saw The Barchester Chronicles.


What's not to love? I loved Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, as well as the relatively recent mini-series of the book. So the Barchester Chronicles can't be bad. And second: It stars Alan Rickman. One of the best actors around. Who I especially love in period pieces (such as "Sense & Sensibility").

The fact that it's a 385 minute miniseries, not a two-hour movie, sealed the deal. Once my subtotal had ballooned to an uncomfortably high price (I had to buy phone minutes and I treated myself to the fresh-squeezed orange juice and some parmesan cheese for my pasta; that seems reasonable), I packed everything into my "Ga Rode Sokken" bag (thank you thank you Franny!), and headed home.

Now I just gotta find enough time for a lot of television-watching.