Agile Update – Week 34

Last week was very good for writing, but very little else got done, in part because I still have a sinus cold or allergies or something. Anyway, I wrote five posts last week here on WordPress. One of last week’s posts was my review of Top Hat which was also posted to my movie review blog. That was my 200th post to “The Movie Project”. Here on WordPress, I posted my weekly Agile update, the review of Top Hat, my presentation from Barcamp about Blogging, and two TV-on-DVD season set reviews – Once Upon a Time Season 4 and White Collar Season 6 (the final season). I now have 693 posts on WordPress with 40 followers. And on Twitter I’ve hit the 310 followers mark!

My side project to watch and review the DVDs that have been sitting on my “To Be Watched” shelf is also going well. I’m enjoying watching them for the most part, and there’s a certain feeling of accomplishment to watching and reviewing them. Course, it helps that so many of the shows I’ve been watching are relatively short with fewer episodes a season. I always prefer higher quality television, even if it means less episodes or stories, rather than a typical season that’s full length and has several so-so episodes and even a few really bad episodes mixed in with the better ones.

For next week, I need to review more movies, so I can make further headway on that older project, as well as my TV-on-DVD reviews. But I should also try to post an original essay on television or film. And, I really need to exercise more.

White Collar Season 6

  • Title:  White Collar
  • Season: 6 (Final)
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Cast:  Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Willie Garson, Tiffani Thiessen, Sharif Atkins, Marsha Thomason
  • Network:  USA Network
  • DVD Format:  Widescreen, color, DVD, R1, NTSC

Season 5 of White Collar was short, only 13 episodes, and this, the final season, is only 6 – not the 16 I’d normally expect from the show, and USA Network. So I found myself wondering what happened. The season opens where the previous season ended, with Neal kidnapped. Peter rescues him – but not before Neal’s made a deal with the devil so to speak, to get into the mysterious gang of thieves known only as the Pink Panthers. Also, already newly accepted into the Panthers is Neal’s old nemesis, Matthew Keller. Neal works with Peter to take down the Panthers, and avoid trouble with Keller. Meanwhile, Keller has a deal of his own, working with Interpol to take down the Panthers himself – he says.

Amid a few surprises – finding out Peter’s wife Elizabeth is pregnant, meeting Mozzie’s legal wife, we see Neal struggle again with the choice between remaining a conman or gaining his freedom. The story develops quickly with the entire White Collar team not only out to capture the Panthers, but out to first figure out the heist and later to stop it with the thieves red handed. Keller’s Interpol handler even has a French accent.

In the single episode finale, we see Neal say goodbye to June and Mozzie, the heist go down, Peter and the FBI catching everyone, but Keller catching up to Neal and shooting him – dead. Peter catches Keller after the deed, kills him, then finds a dying Neal in an ambulance. Peter in shock, takes Mozzie to the hospital morgue to look at Neal’s “dead” body. Because, you guessed it, the last scene has Peter figuring out that Neal had faked his death – and we see Neal walking the streets of Paris.

OK, so Neal pulls a Sherlock Holmes – or a White Collar twist on the ultimate caper film of all time – The Sting. In the end, I felt the “happy” ending was unsatisfying – and in a real way, I would have preferred it if Neal had actually died – since that would have been very sad, yet appropriate ending. Though, knowing Neal’s out there, so to speak, means the show could be picked up again. At first, I though Neal faking his death meant he had listened to Mozzie, and even Keller, and he wasn’t trusting Peter – so he let Peter think he was dead. But, even though the Pink Panthers (what a name!) were caught – if they were an international syndicate of thieves – well then. Neal would never be safe. People Neal cares about would never be safe. Neal had to “die” to not simply get his freedom but to guarantee everyone’s safety, including Peter’s. So, Neal was protecting Peter, like Sherlock Holmes protected Watson by pretending to die at Reichenbach Falls.

Once Upon a Time Season 4

  • Series Title: Once Upon a Time
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 23
  • Discs: 5
  • Network: ABC
  • Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parilla, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore, Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O’Donoghue, Sean McGuire, Georgina Haig, Elizabeth Lail, Elizabeth Mitchell, Kristen Bauer von Straten, Victoria Smurfit, Merrin Dungey
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, DVD

The fourth season of Once Upon a Time, like season 3, is again split into two halves. The first part of the season is based on Disney’s Frozen, and the second half is more like what the first two seasons of the show were like – it brings in three well-known Disney villains, the Queens of Evil, and has them working with Mr. Gold to “find their happy endings” by finding “the Author” to write those happy endings for them.

I have not seen Frozen, though I’m familiar with the song “Let It Go” and its parodies. However, I really enjoyed the “Frozen” section of Season 4. The actors playing Elsa and Anna had incredible chemistry. And the Snow Queen was also excellent. The interesting thing about the Snow Queen is that she really isn’t evil – she’s extremely manipulative, and she’s quick to jump on anything negative anyone says or does to her, but really, her story is that of a classic misunderstanding. Ingrid is afraid of her powers, but she’s also afraid of how people, even her family and kingdom will react to her powers. Because of this – she takes everything in a negative way. For example, she sees her sisters off to the ball, but refuses to go herself, because she fears rejection from the kingdom. She forgets her sister, especially the older one urging her to go anyway. This older sister is pursued by the Duke of Weaselton. Weaselton then makes moves on Ingrid, and threatens to reveal her secret. But when her sister shows up, she believes Ingrid – and attempts to banish the slimy duke. The duke then threatens both the sister and Ingrid. Rather than being happy that her sister believes her and believes in her, things get heated (so to speak) and Ingrid attacks Weaselton. The sister steps in the way out of instinct to protect the duke, and Ingrid freezes her – then the ice shatters, killing her. At this point, Gerda, Anna and Elsa’s mother (to be) shows up – sees her sister dead, and for all intents and purposes sees Ingrid over the body with the murder weapon – Gerda jumps to conclusions, and traps Ingrid in the urn. But we actually find this out at the end of the Frozen section which runs 12 episodes. Ingrid’s issue is she, somewhat rightfully so, feels utterly betrayed by her sister – so she, without good reason, assumes that Anna will betray Elsa the same way.

Meanwhile, Anna and Elsa actually have a very good relationship, and Anna accepts Elsa including her powers. And the actors playing Anna and Elsa had great chemistry. If they weren’t playing sisters, you’d think they were together. Watching the two, especially in the flashbacks, then at the end of the Frozen section of the story, when Anna is found in Storybrooke, is a joy.  Anna is also engaged to Kristoff, who’s simply adorable. He’s cute, and funny, and he let’s Anna take charge.

The flashbacks to Arendale, and Anna’s quest to Misthaven (the Enchanted Forest) were also very well filmed, as were the sections in Storybrooke. I’ve always liked just how good Once Upon a Time looks and most of Season 4 is no exception – the mist in the forests of Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest just looks so good, as do the rays of sunlight filtering through the mist.

In the end, the Snow Queen decides to get her revenge by controlling her “magical sisters” (Emma and Elsa) with magical ribbons that Ingrid had shared with her real sisters in Arendale. She also casts the Spell of Shattered Sight which awakens everyone’s darkest impulses and turns them all against each other. The Spell is one of the scarest curses we’ve seen on Once Upon a Time, but it’s realized only with the characters saying very nasty things to each other, and some scuffles in the street. In the end, though, to break the spell, Emma, Elsa, and Anna convince the Snow Queen to sacrifice herself to end the curse – which works. It’s Anna who finds the information needed to break the Snow Queen, finding a letter in a bottle from Gerda, her mother, in which Gerda has decided she made a mistake, and Ingrid must be released from her urn and the forgetting spell cast by the rock trolls reversed. However, since Gerda and her husband never returned to Arendale because their ship was sunk in a storm – Gerda was never able to return to set Ingrid free.

What the Frozen section also did, however, was it integrated well with the second half of the season. The last episode of the Frozen section actually is a transition to the second section with the “Queens of Evil” (or Heroes and Villains, which is the theme of the entire season). In the Frozen section, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s hat – a magical portal that can absorb magic – appears several times, and although it’s use seems self-contained, it’s not. The Hat even appears in the finale of the season. Also, in the Frozen section, we see a flashback to Emma’s past – which we think is there to show us that she knew Ingrid – Ingrid was one of her foster mothers, someone who became so close to her that Ingrid wanted to adopt Emma. But what you also see in those flashbacks is Emma meeting a girl called Lily – and Lily will turn out to be very important to the second half of the story – in many, many ways, the catalyst of the second half of the story. So, in Season 4, the season feels much more like a cohesive season – not two completely different half-seasons, like season three with Peter Pan at the beginning and Wicked second.

In the second half of the story – the “villains” are in search of their happy endings. Regina, one of my favorite characters, is now “good” really – she’s Henry’s mother, she’s friends with Emma, and she gets on with Mary Margaret and David. Regina is strong, smart, and a sharp dresser to boot, which I love. Regina becomes convinced that to really have her happy ending she must find the Author of the Storybook and ask him to write her a happy ending. And what she’s lost is Robin Hood. – Regina falling for Robin was one of the best things about Season 3 (well, that and Evil Peter Pan) – but just as Robin and Regina are getting together in Storybrooke, Emma returns to the present with Marion – Robin’s wife. Robin then tells Regina he can’t break his marriage vow, and he has to stay true to his wife.

Marion becomes the first and only victim of freezing sickness – and it becomes Regina’s duty to try to save her. Yep – Regina has to save her lover’s wife, so her lover can go back to his wife, and she won’t be happy. It’s to Regina’s credit, and her much more heroic status, that she actually agrees to this with no tricks up her sleeve and no force being used against her to get her to “do the right thing”. Marion is unconscious for most of the Frozen section, Regina and Robin do have an affair, and Robin keeps doing things like telling Regina he loves her but he can’t leave his wife. (Seriously, has the man never heard of divorce?) Robin even admits he no longer loves Marion. At the end of the section, Marion recovers, but then collapses again. But rather than dying and solving everyone’s problem – Regina realizes that the only thing that will cure Marion’s sickness to to send her away from Storybrooke where she will no longer be touched by magic. Robin takes his son, Roland, and leaves for New York with Marion. It’s a sad moment for Regina, but it doesn’t turn her evil.

Regina then goes undercover with the other Queens of Evil to find out their plans. And again to Regina’s credit – she reports everything back to Mary Margaret, David, and/or Emma. And again, she’s not dragged back into darkness.

But, not all is over with Marion. It turns out, she’s not Marion at all – she’s Zelena – the Wicked Witch, and Regina’s sister – who had killed Marion and taken her place years ago. This would be fine, but Zelena is also pregnant with Robin’s child. Or claims she is.  I didn’t like the Wicked section of Season 3 because I just wasn’t convinced by Zelena’s backstory, and I just didn’t like seeing her again. Plus it seemed too convenient that it was Zelena, disguised as Marion, that Emma brought back from the past, and that the minute Regina finds that out – Zelena also reveals she’s pregnant with Robin’s baby. Really?

Maleficent’s story was excellent, and a prime example of what Once Upon a Time does well – which is to show us that everyone is the hero of their own story – and from the point of view of an “evil” character things might look different. And, her story is the story of a wronged mother. I haven’t see Angelina Jole’s Maleficent film, so I don’t know if that’s where the plot came from, or if it was original to Once Upon a Time – I’d like to think it was original, because then it’s more impressive. Snow White and Prince Charming are manipulated by a peddler (whom we later discover is the Author, but more about that later) into a quest in the Enchanted Forest with Maleficent, Cruella, and Ursula to find the tree of knowledge. They do, but are unable to ask their question because Snow is pregnant. That her child might have the “potential for evil” freaks out Snow White (because she’s apparently never heard of “nature verses nuture”) and she ends up talking Charming into seeing a Wizard (actually the Apprentice) who then tells her there’s a spell which will remove all evil from Snow’s unborn child. To cast the spell, they need a vessel. So Snow White and Prince Charming go and steal Maleficent’s dragon’s egg – not entirely realizing that it’s her child. And that the reason she burned down the forest was to make a nest for her child (Maleficent being, well, a were-dragon, a human who can turn into a dragon, but also must reproduce in dragon form). Snow and Charming take the egg, bring it to the Apprentice, get him to cast the spell – and are surprised when the darkness not only goes into the egg, but it breaks, revealing a human-looking baby, who then falls through a portal. Taking away her dark impulses is what gives Emma her strong light magic – and possibly her “real world” superpower of being able to tell when people are lying.

As the story is told, Mary Margaret and David are keeping what they did to Maleficent from Emma and the town – they reveal their mistake to Regina, in part to get her to spy on the “Queens of Evil”.

We also get Ursula’s origin story – and ironically she’s the only one to get her happy ending as Killian (Hook) not only gives her, her voice back – but helps her to reconcile with her father.

Cruella’s origin story, and her relationship with the Author is also explained, but very quickly and in a single episode – so it just didn’t seem to work. At first, Cruella seems to be the victim of a cold and cruel mother. Later, it seems Cruella is a psychopath who had killed three of her mother’s husbands, including her own father, and who uses her superpower of controlling animals given to her by the Author to kill her mother using her own dogs, and then kill the dogs to make a coat (fortunately off screen). Cruella is also killed by Emma Swan to protect Henry whom she had kidnapped. But killing Cruella doesn’t make Emma dark. And in a sense, since Cruella is a psychopath she can’t be redeemed (and she seems to have no goal for happiness either) so dying is, for her, the best path, really.

Mr. Gold also returns to Storybrooke, let in by the “Queens of Evil” after being banished by Belle for lying to her, primarily about the dagger, but about other things too. Mr. Gold represents chaos much of the time. Once he’s no longer Rumplestilskin, and falls in love with Belle, he often doesn’t do outright evil – but he’s not on the side of good either. His return to Storybrooke isn’t really motivated by love for Belle, though there’s a scene or two where we see that – Gold is motivated by self-preservation. He’s dying, his heart is turning completely black from all the evil he’s done, and he also knows that once all the flicker of life has left his heart, the dark one will be free. Gold really wants to prevent that. So from that perspective, Gold’s actions with the Hat, and bringing in the three villains, and trying to find the author to re-write his story, even his actions towards Belle make sense.

In the search for The Author (called by Henry and Regina “Operation: Mongoose”) the characters follow several leads. One leads them to Pinocchio, who, as he’s become a child, doesn’t remember anything. Gold & company bring him back to being an adult, August, who tells Henry, Emma, Mary Margaret, and David, that “the Author” isn’t a person – it’s a job description, there have been many authors recording stories. The one they want is trapped in the book. Our heroes then learn from the Apprentice, that one author went bad – manipulating the stories. For example, he was the peddler that changed Snow and David’s path so they ended-up stealing Maleficent’s child. The Sorcerer and his Apprentice get very upset at this and trap the Author in the book.

In the finale, while Mary Margaret, David, Emma, Hook, and Henry figure out the last clues – the Author (Isaac) is with Gold, who’s collapsed in his shop, writing the story Gold wants – “Heroes and Villains”. Everyone is headed to Gold’s shop when poof. Henry wakes up, alone, and everyone in Storybrooke is gone. Henry heads to the local gas station/diner outside Storybrooke, finds Lily, who’s no help, but also find the “Heroes and Villains” book and from there goes to the film premiere where the author is speaking and signing copies of his book. Henry confronts the Author and they both end-up in “Heroes and Villains” – where the heroes lose and the villains win. There Henry, with help from Emma (now a Cassandra figure – doomed to remember everything from before the Author, Isaac, changed everything but to have no one believe her), and ultimately, from the alternate reality, Regina, who’s a bandit on the run from Snow White the Evil Queen. Regina’s sacrifice and literally her blood allow Henry to change things back.

With another poof – everything is back to normal in Storybrooke. Regina and Hook, who had died in the alternate realm are alive. Everyone goes to Gold’s shop – and finds him dying. The hat is used to draw the evilness and the dark one from Gold and the dagger show’s no name at all. Gold still doesn’t look well, but we suspect he’ll recover. However, the hat cannot contain the evil and it escapes – heading straight for Regina. Emma sacrifices herself, becoming the new Dark One to save Regina and give her her happy ending with Robin.

Overall, I liked season 4 of Once Upon a Time, especially the Frozen section which had a real innocence to it compared to the back end of the season. But I couldn’t help but notice that all the Fairy Tale characters believe not only in The Book – but predestination. Every single one of them believes they are fated to be either good or evil – and they can’t change that fate. That even if they try to be “good” they will still end-up doing evil things, and as such they won’t be given their happy ending. This really does defy a certain logic. Regina is the loudest mouthpiece for the “because I was evil I can’t be happy” mantra – but she fails to see that Henry is her happiness. Mr. Gold, also, at a point in the previous season, marries Belle – which should be his happy ending. But his search for power, and determination to be “free of the dagger” breaks apart the one happy thing he has – his relationship with Belle, which was why I saw her banishing him to be one of the saddest scenes in the show. Still, Once Upon a Time works best when it takes characters like Maleficent, like The Evil Queen, and not only gives us an origin that explains their actions, but also makes us want to root for these characters and see them happy. We do see, for example, Lily (Lilith) reunited with Maleficent – and I hope they are in Season 5 as regular or at least semi-regular characters. And since I totally ship Emma/Hook, I hope that while dark, Emma doesn’t permanently harm him in the upcoming season.

 

Top Hat

  • Title:  Top Hat
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick
  • Words and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, that call wasn’t for me, it was for you. Somebody has registered a complaint.” – Horace Hardwicke (Edward Everett Horton)
“I know! I’ve just seen the complaint and she’s lovely, she’s delightful, she’s charming, and she wants to sleep.” – Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire)

“May I rescue you?” – Jerry
“No thank you. I prefer to be in distress.” – Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)

“You want this show to last two nights? Get me a plane, now!” – Jerry
“What kind of plane?” – Horace
“One with wings!” – Jerry

Top Hat  is a a romantic comedy filled with mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and music! Like any farce, it’s the type of plot that would be resolved in five minutes if anyone in the cast actually talked to each other for five minutes, rather than making assumptions. But that’s not really a negative – because it’s light, frothy romance with no harsh realities at all. The sets are marvelously art deco and beautiful – especially the Venice hotel with it’s waterways and boats.

The story begins in London, with Jerry Travers waiting in a very quiet English gentleman’s club for his friend Horace. The club is one where Silence Must Be Observed at all times, and everyone stares at Jerry when he drops something, or turns the page of his newspaper. Horace finds Jerry, starts to talk to him, then realizes where he is, and urges Jerry to leave so they can talk. Just as he’s leaving, Jerry does a quick tap dance on the floor simply to annoy everyone – and as a joke.

Horace takes Jerry to his hotel, Jerry – excited about seeing Horace, and their new show, begins tapping in his hotel room (“No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)”) – waking up the young woman in the hotel suite below. She calls to complain to the manager. Horace takes the call, gets confused, and goes down to the hotel desk to tell the manager he doesn’t want a young woman in his hotel room because it wouldn’t be proper. Meanwhile, Dale goes to the hotel suite and complains. Dale doesn’t introduce herself – and Jerry’s so taken with her, he doesn’t introduce himself either. This proves to actually be a very important part of the plot.

The next day, Jerry goes to the hotel flower shop and orders that all the flowers be sent to Ms. Tremont’s room (by room number) – then charges the very expensive bill to Horace by his room number.

Horace, afraid that Dale might be a “designing woman” sets his valet, Bates, to following her. This is another part of the plot that’s considerably more important than it seems. Horace also warns Jerry off, telling him about a woman he met called Violet who took advantage of him.

Meanwhile, we learn Dale is a social model. A dress designer named Alberto Belleni pays her to wear his dresses, so her friends will see them, ask about them, and he will get more contracts to design dresses and sell more of his designs. But, since he’s financially supporting her – this is something not good for Horace to find out as he’d get the wrong idea. Dale is also close friends with his wife, Madge.

Jerry tries to meet Dale again, she rebuffs him – mentioning she’s going for a ride in the park. Jerry gives her a ride to her lesson in the park, and again tries to get her interested in him without luck. During her ride, Dale gets caught in the rain. She shelters in a gazebo. Jerry arrives and tries to calm her down by telling her a story about clouds. He then sings “Isn’t it a Lovely Day? (To get Caught in the Rain)” to her, and the two dance in partner tap. Ginger is wearing jodphur-pants. Fred and Ginger also mirror each other beautifully when dancing. At the end of their dance the two sit down on the edge of the raised gazebo platform – and shake hands. It’s a gesture between partners.

Later at the hotel, Ginger asks the concierge to point out Horace. The concierge points to “the man with the briefcase and cane” on the walkway. But Horace runs into Jerry and hands him his briefcase and cane – thus making Dale think he’s her friend Madge’s husband. This type of thing continuously happens – Dale keeps thinking that Jerry is Horace, and thus her friend’s husband and a terrible cad to boot.

Jerry is in the middle of his show, changing between acts, when Horace reads his wife’s telegram and finds out she and Dale are heading off to Venice. Jerry insists they hire a charter plane and go to Venice as well.

The production number, part of Jerry’s show, is “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” which has Astaire dancing with a chorus of men in formal wear. During the dance he “shoots” the men with his cane. His short tap dancing routine gets a standing ovation from the audience.

In Venice, Dale meets up with Madge, and they meet the sea plane – but Dale isn’t there when Madge says hello to Jerry – whom Madge actually wants to set-up with Jerry.  The hotel is full – so Horace and Jerry end up sharing the bridal suite, while Madge and Dale share their own suite.

Bellani, thinking that Horace has designs on Dale confronts him, but Horace has no idea what’s going on.

Dale talks to Madge about her husband’s flirting. Madge says she knows he flirts, but it doesn’t mean anything. Dale decides to “teach him a lesson” and goes to his room to throw herself at him – and again runs into Jerry. Jerry turns the tables and flirts back.

Later, at dinner, Madge, Jerry, and Dale meet – but no introductions are made, as Dale insists she knows who Jerry is (she still thinks he’s Madge’s husband Horace). Fred and Ginger dance to “Cheek to Cheek”, with Ginger in the beautiful, floaty, feather dress. It’s ballroom dance that begins with the two in the midst of a crowded dance floor, and moves to the two dancing on a patio that resembles an even bigger version of the gazebo from earlier. There is also some side by side and partner tap, with the two mirroring each other beautifully. But when Jerry proposes – Dale thinks he’s Madge’s husband, and slaps him.

Alberto Belleni flirts with Dale, and proposes to her. She accepts him but insists they must be married immediately.

Jerry, in a last ditch effort to get Dale to listen to him has Horace distract Belleni, and goes to talk to Dale. He takes her on a boat ride on the water – and finally explains who he is.

Meanwhile, Bates reports to Horace that Dale and Jerry are drifting out to sea. Horace, Madge, and Belleni go off in a boat to “rescue” Dale and Jerry.

Dale and Jerry return, happy at last, but concerned about her quick marriage and how to dissolve it. Dale rushes off. Bates tells Jerry that Madge, Horace, and Belleni went off in a boat from which he’d “removed the gasoline” while disguised as a gondolier. The local police arrest Bates for his impersonation.

There is a production number instrumental of “The Piccolino”, which starts with Bugby Berkeley-styled dancers. Then the camera changes to a much happier Dale singing “The Piccolino” to Jerry. Then the perspective switches back to the elaborate production number.

Fred and Ginger dance – tap and ballroom, mirroring each other in tap. Their dance is full frame and uncut. Ginger’s dress is sparkly with a trumpet skirt. They dance back to their table, saluting each other with champagne glasses.

Horace, Madge, and Belleni return. That Horace is Madge’s husband is confirmed, as is the blossoming romance between Dale and Jerry. Just as everyone is wondering what they will do, Bates arrives and states he had been following Dale everywhere, and he had earlier disguised himself as a clergyman by turning his collar around. Belleni states, “But you were the one who married us!” Dale responds, “Then we were never really married!” And she rushes off in Jerry’s arms!

List of Musical Numbers

  • No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)
  • Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)?
  • Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • The Piccolino

Top Hat  is a simple, romantic comedy – fueled by mistaken identities, coincidences, and misunderstandings, where, of course, in the end – everything works out. But it features some of Irving Berlin’s best songs and Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s best dances. The sets, especially the boats in the waterway, are wonderful – and the Art Deco just shines. The dances are filmed full-frame and often without cuts. Certainly, there’s no cuts to faces and feet – which means one can follow the dance and focus on Fred and Ginger’s artistry. There are two ensemble production numbers – Fred’s tap dance with a male chorus, which is part of the show he’s been hired for as a professional dancer; and “The Piccolino”. “The Piccolino” is a wonderful production number – but it seems out of place in Tap Hat. It starts as a elaborate production number, switches to show Ginger singing, switches back to a production number, then switches a fourth time to Fred and Ginger dancing. The production part is full of fast cuts, and elaborate patterns, using ribbons. In short, it looks like a Bugsy Berkeley musical. But when “The Piccolino” focuses on Fred and Ginger dancing together, it becomes one of their signature-style dances – shown full frame, in a single shot without cuts, with Fred and Ginger both tap dancing (briefly) and ballroom dancing. So overall, though very elaborate, it works.  Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, along with Swing Time and Shall We Dance. For many, it is the quintessential film for the pair.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Truman Show

Blogging 101 – My Presentation at BarCampGR

For the last two posts I’ve mentioned BarCampGR, a local Ad-Hoc IT conference, where I gave a presentation on Blogging, and I’ve said that I would post the lecture. It’s required by BarCamp to make the lecture available on-line, so here it is.

First, a couple of definitions – which I totally forgot to do in my lecture on Friday, 21 August 2015. I will try to be brief.

What is a blog? A blog is a series of usually written entries on a website that appear in reverse-chronological order (most recent first).

What is a blogging platform? The blogging platform is the website that hosts many blogs. Live Journal, Dreamwidth, Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress are all popular blogging sites.

What costs are involved in blogging? Time. That’s about it. Blogging, especially if you are serious about it will take time. But any enjoyable hobby takes time. A hobby is something you enjoy spending your time on, so if writing isn’t something you enjoy – don’t blog. Most blogging platforms are free.

How much money do you make blogging? Zero. Zip. Nada. See previous paragraph. Actually, not only do I not make money off any of my blogs – it really irritates me when people ask this question. No one asks someone who’s into antique cars if they make money or someone who’s in an amateur sports league if they get paid. But me – they ask.

I think that’s it for the FAQ that I totally forgot to include as part of my lecture at BarCampGR, and I think that covers most questions I was asked by the audience.

So away we go.

Presentation on Blogging for BarCampGR – 21 August 2015

Introduction

I have been blogging for about ten years. I currently have four blogs, but I primarily use two of them and the other two are mostly archives. I’m a technical writer, and I have been always interested in doing at least some time of writing.

Three Types of Blogs

There are three types of blogs, first, purely Personal Blogs, second, Semi-Professional Blogs, and third, Professional (Company) blogs. This presentation will focus on the first two: Personal and Semi-Professional blogs. A purely personal blog, is a blog one launches for personal enjoyment and satisfaction. It may be about your personal hobby or interests, or it may be a general blog about everything in your life that you are willing to share on-line. When blogging started, most blogs were personal blogs, and personal blogs still exist.  My WordPress blog is a personal blog – I don’t limit my content to a specific topic, and I frequently include the best content from my other, older, blogs. And, again – a personal blog can be about anything: your favorite TV show, your hobby, anything you want. Or, it can be about everything. Personal blogs are frequently havens of creativity and they don’t have a lot of rules.

The second common type of blog is a semi-professional blog. This is the type of blog you might want if you have a hobby that you hope to eventually make your profession. For example, if you are an amateur photographer, but you hope someday to be a professional, a semi-professional blog is perfect for you. – You can display your best photos on your blog, write about your photographic experiences (share your stories), even include a résumé. In essence, your blog becomes your on-line portfolio. And it isn’t just photography – any art or craft can become the subject of your blog. Do you love to cook? Start a blog with recipes, tips, and tricks. Cooking and recipe blogs some of the most popular places on the web. And if you want to include video – don’t forget youTube. It’s extremely easy to embed youTube videos in a blog these days. You can even establish statistics – followers, likes, etc., which you can use in a “pitch meeting”, or job interview. Semi-professional blogs are exploding right now. And if you are a student, a career-changer, or you just want to see if you can make your hobby into your dream job and still make a living – a semi-professional blog is a great place to start.

The third type of blog is a business blog. I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on business blogs, beyond explaining what they are. A business blog is usually part of a larger business website. Business blogs are meant to drive customers to your website, and thus create new customers. They are also meant to help your business retain customers and keep them from going to your competition. The best business blogs aren’t hard sell, used-car-salesman-like places. The best business blogs offer something – and something concrete. They seek to instruct. They include special offers – discounts and coupons. They inform. And they listen. All business social media interaction, including blogs, is about building a community with your customers.

How does one start a blog? – Blogging Platforms

There are a lot of different blogging platforms out there. I’ve used Live Journal, Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress. Every time I’ve started a new blog, I’ve learned something. And, in my opinion, every blog I’ve started has been better than the previous one. When you are starting from scratch, it’s good to do a little research, and read blogs on different platforms before deciding where you want to start. But, as with most things in computers, it also depends on your personal likes and dislikes, what you want to do with your blog, and your preferences. Most blogging platforms are intuitive and easy to use – and free, especially to start. You can also simply try a few different platforms before making a final decision, and abandon or delete the old blog on the old platform.

Live Journal (LJs) is one of the oldest blogging platforms. It’s entirely volunteer-run as well. Live Journal doesn’t limit content, and it is open to many different opinions and ideas. However, because it’s so old, the code is very, very old too. Although Live Journal tries to keep up and update its site to add features that users want – it can be slow and buggy. It’s also one of the few sites hosted outside the US, which can cause accessibility issues.

Dreamwidth, which I have not personally used, is, in essence, the US mirror for Live Journal. It uses the exact same code – and you can import your Live Journal directly into Dreamwidth and keep everything intact because it’s the same code and system – but hosted in the US. The problem with Dreamwidth is it is the exact same coding platform as Live Journal. Therefore the bugs in LJs, frequently also exist in Dreamwidth. Also volunteer-run, Dreamwidth seems to be slow in adding new features.

Both Live Journal and Dreamwidth do not play well with other blogs. If you want to re-publish content from another blog, you’ll need to cut and paste. Or you can link to non-LJs content. LJs did, finally, however, add the ability to embed videos from sources such as youTube or Vimeo rather than simply linking to them.

Blogger is Google’s blogging site. Any blog address with “BlogSpot” in it is hosted on Blogger. And when I set-up my movie review blog there, I loved it because design was drag and drop. Finally, an easy way to set things up to look the way I wanted, without having to use CSS, HMTL, JavaScript, or some type of code. The drawback of blogger is interactivity – there is none (pretty much). Most blogging sites host communities – some method to meet people who share your interests. They also allow for commenting, and for the blogger to comment back on comments. Yes, that sometimes means spam or trolls – but you can delete that. You can also set-up a spam filter to prevent seeing it in the first place. But one prime purpose of blogging is not only to express your own creativity, it’s to meet like-minded people. The power of community isn’t to be under-estimated. Blogger has security settings that are so high you are unlikely to get any comments. It’s also hard to get followers on Blogger – harder than any other platform.

Tumblr is a live-stream blogging site. It’s like Twitter – without the character limit. In fact, I became aware of Tumblr because I noticed people I followed on Twitter often simply posted a link on Twitter to blog content on Tumblr. Tumblr is almost entirely tag-driven. The easiest way to find the content you are looking for is to search for tags. You can follow other blogs on Tumblr, and find a community that shares your interests. It’s also very easy to link other blogs or social media accounts to Tumblr, or vice versa – to link your Tumblr account to automatically post a link to your social media accounts. Or, you can manually post the links you want to Twitter, Facebook, or other accounts. The downside of Tumblr is the complete lack of design controls. Even simple widgets – like a tag list, are missing from Tumblr – probably because it’s so in the now, like Twitter. Whereas Twitter makes this fun – for a blog, if you want to provide an archive of your writing, or art, or photography, or pictures of your crafts (everything from jewelry to wedding cakes), Tumblr isn’t the best only choice. But it can be a good additional place, something to use in addition to Twitter or even in addition to a second website or blog.

WordPress is what I’m now using for my blog. The most confusing thing about WordPress is that there are actually two of them. WordPress.Org, confusingly enough, is the commercial arm of WordPress. If you want a company website and blog – check out WordPress.org. But you’re going to have to pay for it. I actually use WordPress.Com, which is the free blogging site from WordPress. My blog is a personal one, and although I sometimes think of making it a semi-professional one – at this point, I’m not willing to pay monthly fees just for my blog. Still, WordPress.com has enough for the hobbyist blogger. And, unlike most other blogging sites, you can import the contents of another blog into WordPress, and create WordPress entries from your old blog entries. If you choose to do that, a couple of things to keep in mind. First, only import one blog at a time – or you will be overwhelmed by the new content. Second, proofread your new blog entries – remove extra spaces, and test links – updating them as needed. Third, use WordPress tags and categories to organize the imported content. Do not rely on the tags (labels, categories, etc.) importing correctly or completely – check and update them as needed.

How does one start a blog? – Design

To start a blog simply go to the main page of a blogging site and open an account. Fill in the required information and follow the on-screen directions to get started. The exact information you need to provide varies by service – but it usually isn’t much, a user name and an e-mail, that’s about it.

When starting a blog you’ll often start by choosing a theme. A theme is the decorative motif for your website. Most sites provide a number of free themes – some more than others. Some sites also have premium (paid) themes. The theme gives you a starting point for how your blog will look. Some themes are customizable – you can start from the basics that are given to use and update colors for example. Others are set as they are. If you see a theme you like somewhat but, for example, don’t like the color scheme – look at the description to see if the theme is customizable – if not choose a different theme.

Once you have a theme, you still might be able to customize the layout of your blog. My Movie Project blog on Blogger has a header row that goes across the top, a navigation column on the left then the main content column in the middle. My WordPress blog has a pinned video post on the top, and three columns: navigation, main content, then widgets. I prefer a two or three column layout column because it looks like a newspaper or newsletter. However, you can have any layout you want – and your projected content should determine the layout. My WordPress theme even lets me have a header photo for each blog post which looks very professional and engages the reader’s interest. But, again, because blogs tend to be customizable – you can do whatever you like and whatever appeals to you.

After determining your theme and customizing it, the next step is to add widgets if you want. Widgets are simply interactive or static “boxes” that hold information in a specific place on your blog. Widgets can import information from another source, such as your Twitter feed, or they can be a static list or piece of information – a quote, an “about you” description, a list of your favorite films – anything that fits your blog and that you want front and center and non-moving. Different blogging platforms offer different types of widgets you can use on their site. This might be another consideration when choosing a platform.

And that’s it – that should complete your design set-up. You are ready to start blogging. To post to your blog, or create a blog entry, sign in to your admin section, click on the “new post” button or icon, give your post a title and write away.

When you finish your post – press the “publish” button (or “Post” or “upload” whatever your service calls it). You also want to organize your posts to make them easier to find. Called “labels”, “tags”, or “categories”, you will want to use a consistent organization scheme, so your posts are identified by general content or type and others can find your posts. The tags you use will vary, it depends on the blogging platform and your actual content. But do not skip tagging (or using categories) to organize your posts and be consistent in the tags that you use. Tagging can get complex, but don’t skip it.

Another common thing you should add to at least some posts is pictures or video. Pictures make your posts more visually appealing and can draw people in to your blog. Pictures can be pictures, drawings, vector graphics, infographics, .jpgs of charts or graphs from Excel, a single Power Point image – anything with visual appeal. All graphics uploaded to blogging sites should be in the .jpg format.

Wrap-Up and Questions

Agile Update – Week 33

Last week was successful on in many areas. I wrote four posts on this blog: my regular Agile post, a movie review, a TV DVD set review, and a review of a professional development conference. The movie review was also posted to my Movie Project blog – and that project is slowly, but surely moving towards completion. On the one hand, I definitely over estimated the time and effort involved. But, on the other, I’ve managed to do a very good job with my project to review all the movies I own, and the posts here on WordPress get more notice than the ones on Blogger – which means part of the lack of notice (likes, comments, forwards) comes from the platform. Also, when complete I’ll have reviewed over 200 movies – and when I started I had only 166 or so, so there’s much more content than I planned. I also reviewed Series 8 of Doctor Who – it was great to re-watch it and write about it. I’m happy to see Capaldi as the Doctor. So, Agile, Tomorrow Never Dies, Doctor Who Series 8, what else? Oh, I also reviewed BarCamp – a local ad-hoc IT conference.

Exercise? Yes, I exercised once last week.  20 minutes of Yoga. I kept thinking, every day, I should exercise, even though it was a busy week, but at least I did get to exercise once. the Yoga was calming and the exercise is healthy. I need to up that to three times a week at least. But at least once is better than not at all!

Professional development went well too. I finally was able to attend a STC (Society for Technical Communication) local Meet-Up. It was a casual event at a local bar, only about eight people were there, and they all worked at or had worked for the same company. But it still was a fun time, I’d go again, and I’ve signed-up for a meeting of the planning committee – maybe I can get members interested in holding more events.

The second professional event was BarCampGR. I found out about it with only a week’s notice. But it was free. So I registered, and even suggested a topic I’d be willing to present. When I suggested my topic, I was told to “put it on the board when you get there”. I thought that was odd, considering every conference I’ve ever been to has set the schedule well in advance. But I worked on my topic, wrote it in Word, added to it, and finally practiced giving the “speech” by reciting it into Audacity. When I looked at the time of my recording it was a bit long, so I re-wrote it (not from stratch, just shortening it a bit) so I’d have time for questions. Giving the presentation went well – people showed up, listened, didn’t interrupt, and asked good questions. You can’t ask for better. I also attended some very good presentations on Friday. Saturday didn’t go as well, but that happens. Saturday I did get to a presentation on Agile – and it was more from the standpoint of a very small software development company that used Agile for one-week development sprints. One week! Not only did that remind me of my own Agile for personal development project that I use with one-week updates, but I was surprised that a company existed that used such quick turn around time for their iterations. I’d think it would be impossible to move that fast on a corporate scale. But then, I got the feeling it was a very small company, they were in the mobile app development business, and the presenter only touched on Agile in using Agile vocabulary – he didn’t introduce Agile as a project management system. It was good to see a different perspective though.

So this was a great week – with accomplishments in professional development, writing, and I even exercised! I’m glad that my week went well and I hope this week continues the trend.

Presentation at BarCampGR (21 – 22 August 2015) and Event Review

A week ago, one of my Meetup Groups mentioned BarCampGR, a local “unconference” from the national and international BarCamp organization. It was the person from my Meetup Group who invited me to attend. The idea of BarCamp is to have conferences about IT, computers, and other geeky topics, where everyone presents something and the conference is completely ad-hoc. I’m used to conventions where the schedule is set in advance – and if you want to suggest a panel topic, give a “lecture”, or host a panel discussion or round table – you suggest it to the convention organizers, then once they’ve approved your topic and scheduled it – you prepare and present your topic, whether it’s a more traditional lecture-style topic, or a panel with several presenters, or a round-table, or even hosting a hands-on event. It might sound somewhat formal, but really, it’s just being organized and structured – and it ensures that everyone knows the schedule for the weekend and can have a good time. But for BarCamp, and I’m not sure if this is how all of them work, or just the local one, there was no schedule. I proposed a topic when I signed-up, and was told, “write it on the board when you get there.” As someone who likes structure, this was daunting.

However, I arrived on Friday evening and everything went fine. I scheduled my presentation as one of the first sessions after the opening meet-and-greet, food provided, hour. I gave my presentation, and I actually had some people to give my presentation to. Since I was unfamiliar with BarCamp, I went with a straight lecture format (sessions were 25 minutes), followed by a Q & A for five minutes. I knew that “just talking” can be a bit boring, but I also knew that if you depend on being able to show slides for example, you are in trouble if you don’t have access to a slide projector, or if you can’t get your laptop to connect to the slide projector, or if any technical things go wrong. Plus, I don’t actually own a laptop – I always have to borrow one, and though I could have done that – I really didn’t want to be responsible for someone else’s laptop, when it might have gotten stolen or been damaged. I’ve seen lots of presenters crash and burn due to malfunction equipment, and I didn’t want that to happen. And I knew I could do my presentation in lecture format. I also practiced once, by recording my presentation in Audacity. Audacity is a free audio recorder, it’s great for Podcasting, and for practicing a speech it’s great because you can work out the kinks when you practice (there are some words and phrases that might look fine on the page, but when you try to say them you can easily get tongue-tied. Practicing with Audacity helps you find those, and to re-write to avoid them.) And having at least one practice session makes actually giving the presentation easier.

Anyway, my session went well. I went to several other sessions on Friday and Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon ended-up being a bit of a bust. Most of the sessions I went to were, how can I put it? Not friendly in some way, shape, or form. I did go to an excellent presentation on Social Media and Marketing from a PR perspective, but the rest of the presentations were a mess. In one presentation, the guy who had done a very good job the day before, was asked to do a second presentation the next day on a different aspect of a very large and complex thing – the person who understood that aspect better and was supposed to co-present didn’t show-up, leaving the poor guy looking incompetent – and having to repeat his previous lecture. I felt really bad for him.

Another lecture, which should have been a round table, was a disaster for me – I was unfairly attacked by other audience members when I entered. The presenter also gave bad information, and when I called him on it, he got very belligerent. It was supposed to be a presentation on geeky conventions, gatherings, and such in Michigan. The guy in charge, towards the end of the session, insisted a convention that I attend in Chicago had “folded”. Then he bashed the con. Then he attacked me for daring to correct him. I reported (sans name, since he “forgot” to give it) to the Chicago convention directly (via Facebook) someone was spreading rumors about them. But needless to say, that put me in a really bad mood for at least an hour. No one likes being yelled at – especially for correcting information that’s wrong, given by an arrogant presenter who figures the way to get more people to go to the events he runs is to tell people other events no longer exist, or that they aren’t any good – especially when those other events are actually much better.

Anyway, in the most part – it was a good event, I’d probably go again, I’d definitely present again, and other than the venue, the good probably outweighed the bad.

My presentation / lecture will be presented in a separate post for linking convenience.