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Archive for the 'Television and Movies' Category

Tuesday - August 5, 2014

Action Stars: Helen & Helen

800px-Helen_Holmes_1916Have you heard of the movie stars Helen Holmes and Helen Gibson? Me, neither, until I read about them recently.

Helen Holmes was a silent film (movie with no dialogue or speaking by the actors) star who appeared in many films at the beginning of the 20th century. Beginning at the young age of 20, she starred (was the main actor) in 26 action films as part of a series called The Hazards of Helen.

The first film appeared in 1914. They were action films where the title character — Helen — had to get herself out of a series of difficult situations. Sometimes Helen had help and sometimes she was saved by a someone else, but in most of the films, she uses her own ingenuity (cleverness) to get out of scrapes (difficult situations) and to capture (to catch) the bad guys and to bring them to justice (have them arrested by the police).

Some people call Helen Holmes the first female action hero (movie star in action films). She did many of her own stunts (difficult and dangerous physical actions). These included crawling (moving on your hands and knees) on the hood (front section that opens) of a moving car, fighting on top of a moving train, and driving a motorcycle off a bridge and into a river.

Helen Holmes was born in 1892 to a Norwegian immigrant father and a mother from Indiana. She was a pretty woman and started working as a photographer’s model, but soon started acting, mostly in the theater and in bit parts (small roles) in films. As a result of these popular films, Helen Holmes became a big star, although her later films never had the same level of popularity as her early ones.

Interestingly, although she did many of her own stunts, Helen Holme had a stuntwoman (woman whose job is to do the dangerous actions in movies in place of actors) who did the remaining stunts. She was another woman named Helen–Helen Gibson. (She also acted in non-starring (not as one of the main actors) roles in early The Hazard of Helen films.) Later, when Helen Holmes and her director husband went to work at another movie studio (company), the second Helen was given the starring role in the later The Hazards of Helen films. Here are some examples of her stunt work: Fearless Helen.

Today, neither Helen is a household name (name known by many people), but both are certainly worth remembering for their groundbreaking (innovative; the first to do something worthy of remembering) work as action stars. If you want to see the Helens in action, many of the films are available on YouTube and can be found by searching for “The Hazards of Helen.”

– Lucy

Image from Wikipedia

Tuesday - March 4, 2014

Your Movie Will Begin…Later and Later

AirscreenIf you’ve been to a movie theater recently, you may have noticed that there are more trailers (advertisements for future movies) than ever, and they last (continue; has a duration that is) longer than ever. Film studios (movie companies) pay movie theaters to show trailers of their upcoming (future) movies, and movie theaters in the U.S. have increased the number of trailers shown to about six or seven at many locations, while a decade ago (10-year period previous), only three or four were shown.

Trailers are very effective advertising, second only to (only less effective than) television advertising, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. But there is a constant battle between movie theater owners and movie studios: movie theaters want to show more trailers to make more money, and movie studios want to show longer trailers with a longer lead time (time period before something happens) before a movie is released.

The latest move in this tug of war (contest; battle) was recently made by the National Association of Theatre* Owners, a group that consists of (includes) major theater companies.  It tries to influence rules and policies relating to movies and theaters in its favor (to benefit it).  The Association issued (released) new guidelines (rules) for trailers: they should be no more than two minutes long, and they should not appear more than five months before a movie’s premier (showing in theaters for the first time).

As you can imagine, movie executives (important people working in movie companies) aren’t happy. They say that the new guidelines are not to benefit moviegoers (people who go to movie theaters to see a movie) who have complained about too many and too long trailers. Instead, they say, movie theater owners are making room for (space for) more advertising from other companies.

Are there these types of rules for trailers where you live? Do you like seeing the trailers shown before feature films (main movies)? If you could lay down the law (make the rules), what would be the ideal situation with regard to trailers?

– Lucy

* Note that, in the U.S., the word “theater” is generally spelled with an “er,” not a “re” at the end. However, some organizations and companies in the U.S. like to use British spellings since Americans generally have positive associations with British English.

Photo Credit: Airscreen from Wikipedia

Thursday - September 26, 2013

We’re Going to the Drive-in!

800px-Hollywood_Drive_In_New_YorkOne of the first movies I saw at a theater was at a drive-in. I was eight years old and my friend Heather’s older brother had the family car for the evening. He let us tag along (allowed us to go along) with his friends to see a movie. He drove onto the large drive-in theater parking lot, parked alongside (next to) one of the speakers (device used to project sound) which he removed from the stand (something holding something in place) and hooked (placed over the top using a piece of curved metal so it would stay in place) onto the car door so we could hear the audio (sound) in the car, and went to the concession stand (place where food and drinks are sold, usually at a movie, concert, or similar event) to get our popcorn and sodas. Then, the outdoor screen in front of us came alive and the movie started.

My first drive-in experience came at the tail-end (near the end) of the drive-in’s popularity. In 1958, at the peak (highest point) of the drive-in craze (with a lot of enthusiasm for something), there were over 4,000 drive-ins in the United States. By the 1990s, many had closed, and today, there are about 350 drive-ins still in existence (remaining) in the U.S.

One reason for the slow demise (death) of drive-ins is rising (going up) real estate (buying of land and buildings) prices. Obviously, you need a large enough piece of land for cars to park to make enough money on each movie screening (showing).

Another major problem for drive-in owners is the switch (change) to digital projectors. Movie projectors allow film or digital images to be shown on a large screen. Movies used to be copied onto film for distribution (given to many people). Now, movies are distributed to theaters in digital form. One digital projector costs about $70,000 per (for each) screen, according to a recent Time magazine article.

Even with these major obstacles (problems in the way), some drive-ins are surviving (staying alive) and some are thriving (doing well). Some theaters are going upscale (with finer quality and appealing to pickier or more selective tastes) by offering quality beer and wine, and better food than the usual popcorn and candy. These theaters are located in urban areas and try to appeal to hipsters, people who follow the latest trends and fashions.

Do drive-ins exist where you live? Have you ever been to a drive-in? What is your favorite environment for watching a movie?

– Lucy

Photo  Credit: Hollywood Drive in New York from Wikipedia

Tuesday - July 2, 2013

Top Chef: Fake Edition

chef_512x512x32One of the more popular reality television programs in the United States is Top Chef, a cooking competition for young professional chefs (cooks). On the show, contestants (people who are participating in the competition or game) try to cook the best possible food, often in a very short amount of time. (Top means “the best” in this case.) It is one of several popular cooking shows now in the U.S.

Many Americans like to cook. Sadly, I am not one of them. But it is possible nowadays to pretend like you’re cooking, even when you aren’t doing all of the normal hard work of preparing a meal.

Several food companies have developed what we might call “half-cooked” or “half-prepared” meals, where most of the work is done for you, but not all of it.

You might wonder why companies would sell meals that were not completely finished. The answer is simple: guilt.

People feel guilty (bad because you did something wrong) about saying they “cooked” something when they don’t have some active participation in the preparation.

This fact came to light (was discovered; became known) in the 1940s, when baking companies discovered a way to sell cake mix (a dry, powdered form of the cake ingredients) that only required adding water and putting it in the oven. When they went to sell the product to (mostly) American women, they hated it!

So the companies tried something different. They made the mix so that you would need to add an egg with the water. That concept was an instant (immediate) hit (very successful). Women said this felt more like “real cooking.”

Even to this day (even today; nowadays), you have to buy an egg to add to the cake mix before baking it.

There are variations (different versions) of this approach (tactic; way of doing something). Some companies package (put into small bags) the individual ingredients (things you use to make food) separately so that you have to “add” them together to cook and eat the food. Again, the companies could just put them all together for you, but people want to feel like they’re cooking.

Another popular version is to require you to buy some “fresh” food, such as vegetables or meat, which is then added to the box of ingredients you get from the store.

I am hoping that someday soon, there will be another edition (kind; variation) of Top Chef called Top Chef: Fake Edition, where people like me who pretend to cook can compete against other fake (false; not real) cooks. I’m pretty sure I’d win.

Is “pretend cooking” popular where you live? Have you ever “fake cooked” a meal?


Image credit: Chef by Juan Pablo Bravo from The Noun Project

Tuesday - May 14, 2013

Who’s Swatting Me Now?

427px-Members_of_the_60th_Security_Police_Squadron's_Base_Swat_TeamI feel sorry for celebrities. All of that wealth (money), admiration (people liking and respecting you), and influence. What a sad life.

And there is now a new reason to pity (feel bad for the suffering of) celebrities. They’re being “swatted.”

To swat someone is to pull a prank (play a joke) on them by getting emergency services such as the police, ambulance services (emergency vehicle to take you to the hospital), or firefighters to go to someone’s home when there is no emergency, often in the middle of the night or another inconvenient time. Usually, an anonymous (identity not known) caller calls 9-1-1, the emergency services phone number, and reports some type of problem or emergency. When the emergency vehicle arrives at the address, they find no emergency. Not only does this waste (use for no purpose) taxpayer money (money paid by citizens for public services) and tie up (occupy) emergency services, it’s a nuisance to the person they’re trying to “help.”

The term “swatting” is a relatively new one and comes from the acronym (word made from the first letter of a phrase or group of words) SWAT. SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics. (Weapons  are tools we use to hurt each other, such as guns and bombs, and tactics are actions or strategies we carefully plan and use to defeat the enemy).

A SWAT team is a special group of police officers who operate like a military (army) unit and are called in (summoned; used) for difficult, high-risk, and dangerous operations that regular police are not trained to handle, such as hostage situations (where someone is holding one or more people and not letting them leave, usually threatening them with violence, unless the hostage-takers’ demands are met). The idea behind swatting is to bring a large number of police — or other emergency workers — to a place quickly and to create an emergency-type situation where none really exists.

Swatting is actually against the law, since you can be arrested (taken in by the police) if you report something to the police that isn’t true. However, with the technology of today, swatters use techniques that make it difficult for their reporting to be traced (followed to the source).

Many celebrities have been the victim of swatting, including the singers Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Sean Combs (also known as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, or just Diddy). Actors Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus, and Ashton Kutcher have also been victims of swatting.

Too much money, too much admiration, and now swatting. I’m more grateful than ever that I’m not a celebrity.

Does swatting exist where you live?  Are there laws against it?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit:  Members of the 60th Security Police Squadron’s Base Swat Team from Wikipedia

P.S. Thank you for all of the birthday wishes. It “takes the sting out of” (makes it less painful) getting another year older!

Tuesday - April 23, 2013

Are You Smarter Than a 12th Grader?

Coal_miner's_child_in_grade_school._Lejunior,_Harlan_County,_Kentucky._-_NARA_-_541367There was a game show (a competition on television for money) a few years ago called “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (a fifth grader is a student in grade five, about eleven years old). In the game, adults would try to answer questions taken from the lessons of elementary school (grades one through six) students. If you got an answer wrong, you had to say, “I am not smarter than a 5th grader!”

The game became so popular that other countries (more than 50!) created similar shows, some of which are still on the air (being shown on television).

Today’s post is not about questions for fifth graders, but for those who are about to go to college.

In the U.S., students who want to attend (go to; be a student at) a university usually have to write a short essay about some topic in order to demonstrate that they know how to write well in English.  I thought it would be fun to share some of the topics high school seniors (twelfth graders) have to answer when applying to many U.S. colleges.

The following writing prompts (topics for writing an essay, usually for an exam or application) are among the most popular used by American colleges. Read each question and think about what your answer might be:

-Some students have a background or story that is so central (important) to their identity (who they see themselves as) that they believe their application would be incomplete (not finished) without it. If this sounds like (appears to be) you, then please share (tell us) your story.

-Recount (tell us the story of) an incident (event; situation) or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

-Reflect (think about) a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted (caused) you to act (do it)? Would you make that same decision again?

-Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly (completely) content (happy; satisfied). What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful (important; significant) to you?

-Discuss an accomplishment (something you’ve done) or event, formal or informal, that marked (indicated) your transition (change) from childhood (being a child) to adulthood (being an adult) within your culture, community, or family.

See if you can answer one of these questions (in English!), then tell us about how you answered in the comments below.


Photo credit: Student in Kentucky, 1946, Wikipedia PD



Thursday - August 2, 2012

The Olympic Spirit

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Olympic Games. Here in the U.S., the Olympic Games are being broadcasted in real time (while it is happening; not delayed) on several channels and streaming (shown on the Internet while it’s happening) on the TV network’s website. And then each night, there is a recap (summary) of that day’s major events. I’ve only been watching the recaps each night, but have been reading the coverage in the newspaper.

Last Friday, we saw the opening ceremonies (the official start to an event) and, as usual, it was a spectacle (something amazing to see). Then came the parade (public marching to be on display) of the athletes from different countries. With this auspicious (good; indication of success) start, it’s unfortunate that these Olympic Games are marred (spoiled; made not perfect) by scandal (the doing of something wrong that causes the public to have strong negative reaction), which is par for the course (normal) in a sporting event this big.  There have been accusations (statements that someone has done something wrong) of doping (taking banned (not allowed) drugs to improve performance) and cheating. Some of the the athletes have been exonerated (shown to have done nothing wrong), while others have filed official protests (statements of disagreement). With the media focusing so much on these scandals, it’s easy to lose sight of (forget) the spirit (true quality or characteristic) of the Olympic Games.

That’s why I like stories like that of U.S. Olympic swimmer — and now gold medal winner — Missy Franklin. Missy is seventeen years old and she did not follow the same path (route) as many Olympic athletes. When she was younger and showed talent for swimming, many people urged her parents to move her from Colorado to a major city where there are better coaches (trainers) and facilities (places to train), but her parents said no. Missy has continued to train with the same swim club that she’s been with for many years, which doesn’t even have its own swimming pool, and she continues to swim as one of many athletes for her high school team. What is more remarkable (surprising; amazing) is that she is still being coached by the same swimming coach she has had since she began swimming when she was seven years old. She also says that she plans to go to college, swimming for the university’s team, rather than to compete professionally, forgoing (not taking advantage of) a lot of possible prize money.

So while I’m watching the Olympic competitions and hearing about the medal counts (total number of prizes each country has won) and the continuing athlete scandals, I try to remember the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

Are you watching the Games? Which sports are you most interested in? Are there any stories of athletes that strike you (impress you) as particularly interesting or inspiring (giving you good, positive feeling)?

~ Lucy

Thursday - May 24, 2012

Your Favorite TV Detective

The television detective has been a part of TV history nearly from its earliest days. Cops (police officers) and private eyes (private detectives) used to be the most common type of TV detectives, but anyone can be a detective on television: attorneys (lawyers), doctors, and even mystery novelists (book writers).  With so many TV detectives, can you pick a favorite?

My favorite American TV detective is perhaps an unusual choice.  This detective was most popular in the 1970’s, and I watched most of the shows in reruns (a later showing of the same episode) many years later. He is a cop, but not an obvious choice for a hero (someone who is brave, whose actions help people, and is admired by others).  His name is Columbo.

Lieutenant (one of the ranks (levels) in the police force below captain) Columbo is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.  He is not young, not good-looking, and he’s always rumpled (looking messy and wrinkled, like he just got out of bed).  But don’t let appearances fool you (trick you).  Columbo has the mind of a steel trap (can think quickly, clearly, and intelligently).  It is precisely (exactly) because his appearance (the way he looks) and his manner (way he behaves) are so unassuming (modest; humble) that the murderer often underestimates him (believes he is less able, skilled, intelligent, etc., than he is).  With persistence (not giving up; continuing to try even when the situation is difficult), Columbo always gets his man — or woman (finds the criminal).

Peter Falk was the actor who played (acted in the role as) Lieutenant Columbo and he died in 2011. He acted in many films and was twice nominated (named as a possible winner) for an Academy Award, but he was best known for his role as Columbo.  Columbo was on the air from 1971 to 1978, and then returned occasionally (from time to time) between 1989 and 2003 in TV movies.

Do you watch TV detective shows?  Who is your favorite TV detective of all time?  What makes him or her such a good detective?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Peter Falk Columbo from Wikipedia

Tuesday - March 2, 2010

Desert Island Companion

800px-lakshadweepislandI often come across desert island questions, asking if we were stranded on (not able to leave) a desert island, or a deserted island, that is uninhabited (with no people, other than me), what would we want to bring along?  It’s not too difficult to select our favorite books or movies to accompany (go with) us to our lonely new home, I think.

But what if you were stranded on a desert island and given the chance to have one companion, someone to keep you company (give you friendship or companionship)?  This person cannot be a relative or even someone you know personally, such as your spouse (husband/wife), boyfriend/girlfriend, or best friend.  It must be a historical figure (someone famous from the past) or a character from books, movies, or TV shows.

Of course, those of you who are practical-minded (thinking of and doing the most useful things) may immediately think of someone like MacGyver, or someone else who is extremely resourceful (able to do a lot with only a little), to help you on the island. This person would certainly be helpful as a companion, so let’s assume he’s already on the island with you.

The question is:  If you were picking someone else to be on your desert island, who would you pick?

You might be interested to know that when I asked Jeff this question, first he said he might pick someone like Socrates or Albert Einstein.  And then, he thought for a minute and asked me, “Is my wife dead?” so we know where his mind was going…and of course, we don’t blame him (say that he did something wrong)!

I’m still trying to decide. I think I would pick someone who is a great storyteller to help me pass the time.

Who would you pick and why?

~ Lucy

Tuesday - August 11, 2009

Giving In to Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures are things that we enjoy, but that we are embarrassed or ashamed that we like.  There can be guilty pleasures in all categories: food, TV shows, music, sports, and more.

In terms of food, one of my guilty pleasures is cake.  Other people like ice cream, chocolate, or candy.  I like cake–not the fancy kind at fancy bakeries, though I don’t mind those either.  I am perfectly happy with a plain white (vanilla) cake with frosting (a layer of sweet icing used to decorate the top and sides of cakes).  Chocolate cake is fine, too, but I don’t need fancy fruit, cream, or other fillings (food put inside of other food).  My favorite part of birthday parties, mine and other people’s, is having cake.  It’s something that I can never turn down (refuse), and I give in to (allow myself to do something I shouldn’t) my cravings (the wanting something very badly) all too often.

In terms of movies, I have a lot of guilty pleasures.  My guilty pleasures fall into two categories:
1) movies that I can watch over and over again (no, I won’t admit how many times I’ve seen them), and
2) bad movies that I enjoy.

Movies like “The Fugitive,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “Roman Holiday” are ones I can watch time and time again (many times).  I usually catch them on lazy weekend afternoons, surfing the channels (using the remote control to move quickly through many TV channels).

Then, there are the bad movies.  There was a movie I saw on television when I was young called “Sooner or Later” about a teenage girl who falls for a handsome 17-year-old guy.  He is (of course!) the leader of a rock band, and she lies to him about her age so he’ll be interested in her.  Okay, everything about this movie is cheesy (embarrassingly bad and of poor quality)–the acting, the script, the music, the premise (basic idea).  Still, I can’t help enjoying myself when I watch the film now.  I’m sure it’s nostalgia (warm feelings for the past), but I’m not joking when I say it’s bad.

All right, now that I’ve confessed (admitted to something I’m not proud of or to something bad I’ve done) some of my guilty pleasures, will you confess some of yours?

~ Lucy