Tuesday, July 27, 2021

It's that moment when...

Jean Lodescar Jr in "Moment"

We don't post many straight-up art film here at Shades of Gray; we're simple folk, with simple tastes. But when we came across "Moment" on YouTube, we thought it was so excellent that it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. 

Take a couple minutes to enjoy this bit of visual and spoken poetry.

Moment (2021)
Starring: Jean Lodescar, Jr.
Director: Jean Lodescar, Jr.
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Monday, July 26, 2021

Musical Monday with Leslie Grace

Leslie Grace

 Last week, it was announced that singer/actress Leslie Grace has been cast as Batgirl in an upcoming movie. We'd never heard of her until now, but a little research showed that one of her songs features a video that's a perfect Musical Monday selection: It's a 1950s retro video for a modern romantic song. In black-and-white, of course.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Christmas in July with Jingle Bones

I thought I'd get onboard with the whole Christmas in July thing  with a review of Christmas-themed Coffee! So here goes!

The Jingle Bones blend is a medium roast, and, as the name implies, it's Christmas-themed. Jingle Bones is one of about half-a-dozen Christmas-oriented blends that Bones Coffee Company offers (other examples are Oh Fuuuudge and Eggnog) that the company offers.

This review is based on coffee brewed from a 4-oz. pre-ground pack, in a drip coffeemaker. Like previous Bones blends I've reviewed, the coffee smelled great while brewing, filling my kitchen with an air of caramel that wafted into my office. This was off to a promising start.

The Jingle Bones blend tasted as good as it smelled, with the advertised coconut, caramel, and vanilla being present both in the aroma and in each sip. The flavor was sweet and smooth enough that even someone like me who almost always cuts his coffee with almond milk or creamer (or a mix of the two) could drink it straight from the mug without cutting it. 

Hot, this blend leads with a caramel flavor but the vanilla and especially the coconut shine through as well. When it's consumed iced, the coconut flavor comes through even stronger, but however the blend is consumed, its flavors remain nicely balanced.

I can't quite see how Christmas-y this blend is honestly--unless it's supposed to bring to mind a plateful of cookies?--but it's very tasty and one I recommend highly if you like coffee.

Kylie Approves of Coffee

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Avengers: Small Game for Big Hunters

Small Game for Big Hunters (1966)
Starring: Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg, Peter Burton, Liam Redmon, James Villiers, and Bill Fraser
Director: Gerry O'Hara
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Men, dressed for jungle safaris and shot with poisoned darts, are turning up near the manor of retired army officer Colonel Rawlings (Fraser). Government problem-solvers John Steed (Macnee) and Emma Peel (Rigg) are tasked with getting to the bottom of the mystery and stopping the violence before scandal occurs. 

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in "The Avengers"

"Small Game for Big Hunters" features both the best and the worst of what "The Avengers" series has to offer. 

First the good. It's got a supremely goofy plot that everyone treats with the utmost seriousness and straight faces of characters who exist in a comic-book universe where, on the outskirts of London, a delusion military officer can be kept within a recreation of a British military outpost in colonial Africa while his staff execute evil schemes--and no one notices for an extended period of time. It's also got comic relief characters who are, likewise, treated with absolute seriousness by those around them, because, again, everyone exists in a comic book universe where Crazy is Normal. This is the sort stuff, along with witty banter between Steed and Peel, that make most episodes of this series such a joy to watch.

On the downside, it's got an incoherent plot that sometimes seems to lose track of its own story-threads, which is made worse and even more obvious due to the way there are two separate narrative tracks for most of this episode, one of which is not all that interesting... and it's made worse by some comedic antics that aren't all that funny. At least we're not subjected to the all-too-common action/fight scenes that are so badly rehearsed and/or badly choreographed that one has to wonder if people actually got paid for working on the show--it would have dragged the rating down from a Seven to a Six. It might have been a rating of 5 if not for a couple twists that I didn't see coming, and for the clever social commentary on the faded British empire and the insanity (and inanity) of those who were still trying to revive it as late the the 1960s.

All that said, Diana Rigg's performance in this episode is also one of the strongest things about it, because it made me realize something that hadn't quite clicked before: She always seems to dial up the intensity of her performance if her Emma Peel character has been parked in the more boring parts of an episode, like she is here. It adds a greater sense of drama or comedy to sequences that are otherwise borderline drab. (Here, Rigg's dialed-up intensity saves a few scenes from coming across as too frivolous or silly.) .

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Princesses of Mars, Part 37

The Princesses of Mars are spending this Picture Perfect Wednesday just lounging about and enjoying the summer heat.

Dejah Thoris by Phil Moy

Dejah Thoris by Gene Espy

Dejah Thoris by Robb Phipp

(And yes. It's a hot during the summer on Mars, too. Why do you ask?)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Felix goes the distance in search of 'False Vases'

False Vases (1929)
Starring: Anonymous Voice Actors (although no sensible lines are spoken)
Director: Otto Messmer
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After his wife's favorite vase is broken, Felix the Cat (who is fearful of her wrath) goes all the way to China to get a replacement.

If there ever was a text book example of doing something the hard way--even in a cartoon universe--than this is it... even if Felix cleverly tricks a dog into digging him a hole all the Earth so he can get to China. It's a cute execution of a joke that was probably old when this film was made. 

And "cute" is the byword for everything in this cartoon, with a cartoonish surrealism dose. There's not much here that will make you go "wow", but it's a solid piece of fluffy entertainment without any spectacular highs but also without anything that's so bad it's worth calling out. I don't think it's "False Vases" age that makes me say that, I think audiences in 1929 would say the same thing: Whether you compare it to previous Felix the Cat cartoons, or to some of the other fare available around the same time, this Felix adventure is nice, but nothing spectacular.

From a purely personal standpoint, there are two minor factors that drag "False Vases" down. First, there's my basic dislike of Felix when he's causing chaos unprovoked and just generally being a trickster for no solid reason; we're given a little of that here, so my reaction to a few of the sequences are equal parts amusement and annoyance. Second, there's a strangely recurring gag/theme of Felix turning human beings into musical instruments and playing them. I suspect the bits are there because this was reportedly the first Felix cartoon was was made with sound in mind (instead of being retrofit with a soundtrack as many of them were), but a little less repetition would have been nice. (Some modern viewers might also gasp with outrage and horror and need some time on the fainting couch due to some of the character designs, but I think those would be in the tiny minority of people interested in old cartoons like this, of which an even tinier fraction would be looking at this blog. Personally, I see them as cartoon characters living in a cartoon version of China, and they are no more or less rediculous or offensive or insensitive than other human characters that appear in the various Felix cartoons. I feel a little silly even commenting on it, but it also feels like a necessity these days.)

"False Vases" is one of ten Felix the Cat cartoons included on the "Felix the Cat: Early Cartoon Classics" from Alpha Video. It's the latest collection curated by film preservationist and lecturer John Carpenter, and it's got some rarities on it you won't find easily elsewhere. Even if you do find them, they're not likely to be in as good condition, nor as complete, as the ones featured on this disc.

Take for example the version of "False Vases" that's available on YouTube (embedded below, so you can sample Felix if you want to) versus the one of the DVD. The latter has a much sharper picture.

But I recommend getting the Carpenter/Alpha Video's "Felix the Cat" collection. It's fun stuff as a VERY reasonable price!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Musical Monday with Lykke Li

Lykke Li, Live from the Moon!

Experts in such matters as Ancient Aliens, the Greys, and Lizard People claim that ten years ago, in 2011,  singer Lykke Li, two musicians, and a film crew were sent to the Moon where Lykke Li and the musicians performed a concert. We have come upon footage that seems to bear out this claim. It's embedded below.

The question then becomes: Why was Lykke Li and those particular musicians chosen to perform a live concert on the Moon? Who did they perform for? Or maybe Lykke Li is actually a time traveler, and the Live From the Moon concert didn't happen ten years ago, but rather 410 years into the future? What is the truth here? We want answers!

Take a look at the video evidence and prepare to have your mind blown on this Musical Monday. (Or maybe just enjoy this minimalist, haunting performance of Lykke Li's "I Follow Rivers".)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Bones Coffee's Maple Bacon Blend

A little while back, I ordered some coffee from Florida-based Bones Coffee Company because the name of the blend amused me--Army of Dark Chocolate. It was so good that I ordered a whole bunch of 4-oz. sample packs of their amusingly named blends (and a few of their 'straight' ones) to try them... and to post brief reviews of them here at the blog--because what's more black than coffee... or more white than the unsweetened almond milk I pour in it? (Okay, REAL milk is whiter than almond milk, but just go with it, okay?)

Vincent Price takes a coffee break
All the cool people drink coffee, like Vincent Price!

I'm starting this new type of post with a blend I ordered, expecting NOT to like, but the concept was so odd I had to try it: Maple Bacon.

The Maple Bacon blend is a medium roast, made with Brazilian Arabica beans. I admit that I a sample  the idea of bacon flavored coffee seems... well, absolutely terrible. Yeah, I know bacon is supposed to go with everything, and I DO eat bacon while drinking coffee... but didn't think much of the idea of bacon IN coffee!

The first thing I noticed about this blend was how great it smelled while brewing. It didn't just smell like coffee--it smelled like maple syrup. Even better, when I took the first sip from my mug, I discovered it didn't taste much like bacon at all. It has a sweet and salty flavor to it, with a maple flavor coming through strong enough that someone (like me) who hardly ever drinks their coffee black could do so with this.

When drinking the Maple Bacon blend with added almond milk (unsweetened), the undercurrent of bacon flavor emerges more strongly become more of a clear flavor than just a touch of saltiness. It's not so strong so as to be off-putting, but instead adds a fascinating flavor twist.

The Maple Bacon blend is equally good hot or iced. Interestingly, when I drank it iced, the bacon flavor seemed to come through even stronger. (That could just have been my imagination though.)

If you like coffee, I recommend giving this a try!


Here's a Pinterest page that relates to this topic: Famous People Drinking Coffee!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

It's Record Store Day 2021!

Claudia Cardinale with records and record player

Today is the day when we celebrate music-lovers who are further behind the times than your host, Steve Miller, and his flip-phone! Record store owners (and those who still release music on vinyl) have created this day to remind they're around--and if you still have a working turntable, we join them in encouraging you to see what they have to offer! This year's record store ambassador is Fred Armisen.

Meanwhile, Monica Lewis offered by to demonstrate that records have at least one advantage that CDs might not (and that streaming audio files certainly do not) have...

Monica Lewis and a record

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Avengers Dossier, Page Fourteen

It's time for another look at one of the many actors and actresses who guest-starred in an episode of "The Avengers".

Isobel Black

In "Silent Dust", Isobel Black plays the daughter of a scientist who was wronged... and who may or may not be out for revenge.

Isobel Black was born in Scotland in 1942, and she landed her first professional acting roles while still in her teens. She spent most of her career playing supporting roles in historical dramas and police procedurals and action-adventure series on television, with a few excursions into horror and science fiction along the way.

Isobel Black
Black's major television credits include starring roles in "Witch Wood" (1964), "The Rise and Fall of César Birotteau" (1965), "This Way for Murder" (1967), "The Rebellious Red Gauntlets" (1970), "Castaway" (1970), "The Capone Investment (1974), "The Brief" (1984), and "Tygo Road" (1990); and key recurring roles in "Emergency-Ward 10" (1962), "Mogul" (1967), and "The Castle of Adventure" (1990). Both her big screen appearances were in Hammer Studios gothic vampire films "The Kiss of the Vampire" (1962) and "Twins of Evil" (1971).

Black married director/producer James Gatward in 1969. From that point forward, her acting career began to slow down. Several of her major roles were in series that were either produced or directed by Gatward. As the 1980s came to a close, Black grew increasingly involved with the administrative side of high educaton. In 1994, she served as a governor of the Southhampton Technical Collection as it was being transformed into Solent University. She has also been heavily involved with the Mayflower Theatre Trust in Southhampton since the mid-970s, and she was awarded the British Empire Medal for that work.