Wednesday, August 29, 2012


When we were little, Dad made sure that my sister and I got a proper education: We grew up watching all episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus on PBS. So, the first and only interesting thing I could think of upon seeing this week's Illustration Friday topic, "Tall," was John Cleese exclaiming to Michael Palin, "I'll do what I like because I'm 6-foot-5, and I eat punks like you for breakfast!"

Here is our Kitty tribute to that skit. Who else but Monty Python would think to build it around archaeologists of the 1920s with an obsession slightly more important to them than digging for ancient relics?

Tall (August 24, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: August 24, 2012)

It seems The Kitties need a tie-breaker for their contest. While the winning team is determined, you can watch the full Monty Python skit below. I think Terry Jones may be the scene-stealer in this one. Enjoy!

 © Monty Python

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jazzing it up in D.C.

Hi everyone,

Whenever Dad comes to visit, we have a list of Possible Things to Do--browse museum exhibits, watch movies, see the Orioles. Going to jazz clubs is always on the list and, this weekend, we heard more than usual by visiting three different venues:
  • Friday night, the Westminster Presbyterian Church  in Southwest, D.C. showcased local talent paying tribute to Sarah Vaughan. Dad and I decided to check it out for the first time: For only a $5 admission, three sets of jazz are played from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday night. You can also buy dinner there, which is available on the lower level. Dad and I didn't try the food, but the lively social atmosphere, complete with audience members feeling the urge to dance in the aisles, was a one-of-a-kind experience. 
  • Saturday night, our main attraction was Terence Blanchard's appearance at Blues Alley in Georgetown. Dad and I have seen the trumpeter several times, and each time has been special. He has some Grammys (and other awards, I'm sure), but you can really feel the coolness best when you're watching him and his quintet play together from only a few feet away. (It's especially good after a yummy dinner: At Blues Alley, I recommend  Jerry "The Iceman" Butler's baked salmon.) 
  • Sunday night, we planned to visit our favorite jazz joint, Bohemian Caverns, on U Street. But since Sunday's late-night show was cancelled, we ended up a couple blocks away at Twins Jazz, a place we've heard about but hadn't tried yet. Walk up its stairs and you'll find yourself in a tiny haunt bathed in dim lighting. Its red walls are covered in random photos of jazz greats, such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk. Cozy square white-cloth-covered tables line the long room, with the bar at the back and the stage at the front. Dad and I enjoyed an Ethiopian dinner there while listening to the Ostle/Parker Quintet. 

Here's a treat from our weekend (sort of): One of the highlights of Saturday night's show was The Terence Blanchard Quintet's performance of the title song from his album, Choices. While the following 12-minute video is a recording of a performance at a New Orleans concert, you'll hear and see what we did--except for the different drummer. (Terence Blanchard's usual drummer was unavailable Saturday night, but we were perfectly happy with his substitute: He learned all the songs that day and--take my word for it--was blissfully in his own world the entire time.) Enjoy!

Video © The Global Salon: New Orleans/The Green Space NY

Good stuff, yes?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's celebrate Gene Kelly!

Hi everyone,

As you may know--especially if you read my post about attending last month's screening of Singin' in the Rain--Gene Kelly is one of my most favorite people no longer on the planet.

I can't remember exactly when I fell in love, but my first memory of him was watching his "Heather on the Hill" dance with Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon when I was  11 or 12. However, he was also in Xanadu, a movie I was completely obsessed with when I was 6! I had no idea who he was at the time--clearly mesmerized solely by that movie's combination of Olivia Newton John, roller skating, and catchy songs that I sang along to every time. But maybe it was really in Xanadu that Gene Kelly tapped into in my subconscious.
So, you could say that Gene Kelly's been in my life for most of it. And I can't image it without him. I joke that I must have fallen on my head when I was 12 because I seem to have never passed that celebrity-obsessed teenybopper stage. When I was 12, my life was about my three heroes: Johnny, Sting, and Gene!

After Brigadoon, I had to see every Gene Kelly movie I could find and read all about him. He's a really important figure in dance and film history, having invented a whole new dance style and making it accessible to everyone. But I never really thought of Gene that way: In my eyes, he was confident and handsome and romantic and smart and funny--and he danced on air!

Today would have been Gene Kelly's 100th birthday, and I've been contemplating how to celebrate it. Last night, I was still in the throes of brainstorming! What's the best way to spread the love to you about a guy who hit his prime in the early 1950s?

While pondering this question, I watched "So You Think You Can Dance," my summertime obsession! The weekly dance competition, which is working its way toward finding America's Two Favorite Dancers (one guy and one girl),  is down to its Top 10 contestants. This week, the group opened the show with a Gene Kelly tribute choreographed by Tyce Diorio. The dance, a kaleidoscope of Gene's famous dances and movie moments, began with the camera focused on Cyrus (my Favorite Guy) snapping a film clapperboard with Gene Kelly's name written on it. I gasped at the sight of it and beamed smiles as I recognized each familiar character and move.

That's it! Nobody makes me smile like Gene Kelly. Last week, Julie and Liam gave me a customized iphone case that's decorated with three photographs of Gene. I don't even own an iphone yet, but the case makes me smile whenever I look at it.

But what really sends me over the moon is the dancing. Gene shared pure joy with every step.

So, here's to a year of Gene Kelly celebration! I haven't yet figured out a schedule, what I'll call it, or what I'll draw, but The Kitties are already in rehearsal and auditioning for the starring role of our tribute. (Don't worry, I'll let you know when I figure out all the details.)

While The Kitties and I don't plan to feature his entire filmography, we will honor our favorite Gene Kelly dances from most of his musicals--with a few surprises thrown in as extra treats. I'll also be sure to include videos of each dance so that you can see the inspiration. May they give you the same glorious feeling I get every time I see them. It's kind of like this....

Our Gene Kelly Tribute is coming soon, so stay tuned.... In the meantime, don't forget to catch some of Gene's movies today on TCM. His wife, Patricia, is hanging out with host Robert Osborne this evening, starting at 8 p.m. Good movies, amazing songs and dances, and trivia--Talk about treats!


Image copyright credits: Brigadoon: MGM; Xanadu: Universal Pictures; Gene Kelly still: unknown; Singin' in the Rain: MGM.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012


When the living room window is open, Lily spends most of the day bathing in the breeze. Every so often, she freezes at the sight of something in the sky. She never tells me what she sees, and it never deters her from the task at hand. That's a cat for you.

Frozen (August 19, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: August 10, 2012)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #23--Blow (2001)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

I hope that people will be able to watch and learn from it. I hope kids will. We've all gone through the whole thing of thinking that drugs are just party time. You can sort of live that lie that it is recreational, but it's not. We're trying to hide from something, trying to mask something, trying to numb ourselves from something. Really, getting loaded to that extent is just postponing the inevitable, which is you are going to have to face the demon someday. You're gonna have to look him in the eye and go, "Okay, let's get through this." -- Johnny Depp 

Meet George Jung.
Blow chronicles the life of George Jung (Johnny Depp), a kid from Weymouth, Massachusetts, who wanted to break out of his father's working-class lifestyle. He began by dealing marijuana in California and eventually worked with Pablo Escobar, becoming one of the most wanted drug traffickers during the 1970s and '80s. Between 1977 and 1985, he smuggled 85% of all the cocaine available in the United States. Although in and out of jail and battling addiction and its warning signs, including illnesses and heart attacks, he continued to fall back on the only trade he learned in life: dealing drugs for profit. George Jung amassed $100 million but eventually learned his father's lasting lesson--that money means nothing--when he lost it all, including everything and everyone who mattered to him.

If I think about it too much, I get conflicted about this movie. The main character is a drug dealer, who introduced the majority of the United States' cocaine supply. Yet, by the end of this movie, I was rooting for him. Director Ted Demme felt the same way: "When I met George in prison, I went in not knowing what to expect because all my expectations of these kinds of guys were thug-like and kind of scary, and I met a guy who was really funny, really smart, really sad, really well-bred. I spent 4 to 5 hours with the guy and ended up really liking him and feeling sorry for him and--at the same time--being very judgmental about what he had done. For me, as a filmmaker, I thought it'd be a great challenge to present the classic antihero on the page as a sympathetic character. I always knew what the final frame of the film would be: a man in prison alone, no friends, going to be there for a long time, family estranged from him. And I find sadness in that, in any human being. I thought it was a great challenge, as a filmmaker, to tell this story." 

Based on the book Blow by Bruce Porter, the film Blow presents George Jung's story as a wild ride. I don't know how he has survived the amount of drugs he consumed and dealt or the dangerous situations in which he found himself. These days, he doesn't recommend it: "I think it boils down to a man bent on self-destruction. It's a guy who chose free will over the love of his daughter and his family. I can't say that he loved himself, but he loved free will and adventure more than he did the people around him. I mortgaged my whole life for several moments of freedom. Who the hell does that?"

It's all about the accent. 
I saw Blow with the whole family, and the only review I remember is from my dad: "Johnny was good in it. He did a good accent." This is high praise, considering my dad's side of the family all have heavy Bostonian accents. I was pleased. And, I agree. In some scenes, he sounds just like one of my uncles!

Johnny played his character with typical precision. "Johnny Depp blew my mind. It was me," George Jung said when he saw the film in prison. "He portrayed me and he literally became me--his voice, his mannerisms, his actions--everything, totally! It's almost frightening." Ted Demme concurred: "George was spooked by it because it was so right and perfect. Johnny is, amongst many things, a great mimic and he can really scare you with how good he is at being a mimic. When I finally got a script that I was happy with, I went and tracked Johnny down in Europe ('cause you kind of have to go find him). From my perspective, I wanted an actor to give me George Jung. I didn't want a movie star to come in and star in Blow. I really wanted the guy to be George. Johnny has done that on every film."

It's got that Ted Demme touch.
Ted Demme makes a cameo in Blow! (This isn't it.)
I don't know if it's because I'm aware that Ted Demme worked for MTV at the start of his career, but Blow reminds me of the same exciting style, pace, and fantastic music that MTV had in its golden years. I see so much potential, and so many exciting ideas in this movie too. Maybe that's heightened awareness again because I know it's his last piece of work. Ted Demme died of a heart attack at age 38, less than a year after Blow was released.

Despite that sad story and the seriousness of this movie's topic, Blow is a very entertaining! Aside from Johnny, the great cast includes Penelope Cruz, Franka Potente, Ray Liotta, Rachel Griffiths, and--most exciting to me--Paul Reubens! (It's a great, dramatic performance too!) Through George's eyes, I can see how the lifestyle would be enticing--having all that money and material possessions without the burden of much responsibility. But it's important to remember the lessons he learned. As Ted Demme explained, "I think George has a real clear idea of what drugs do to people because he's looked in the mirror and sees what its done to him. It's not only aged him and taken a huge chunk out of his life, but it's put him where he is right now--in isolation. He'd like to, right now, make a difference. That's one of the reasons he allowed me to make this film." George Jung wants people to see his story and hopefully have an impact on people who are thinking of getting into this business, are in this business and thinking about getting out, or have gotten out of the business already and are thinking about getting back in. His message is simple: It's just not worth it.

George and Tuna (Ethan Supree) decide to go into business.
Johnny had an experience similar to Ted Demme's when he met George Jung in prison. They became friends pretty instantly, having discovered many common interests and beliefs. Since making Blow, Johnny has been a strong supporter for George Jung's release. "I hope the audience is able to understand to some degree what George went through and why he made the decisions he made and why he became what he became. A lot has to do with the conditioning he went through as a kid. He became everything he didn't want to become," Johnny said. "George Jung is a lot of things. He's a complicated guy. But first and foremost--what I was really happy to find out--is he is just as human as can be. There is no evil. There is no malice in him. He's not greedy. He's just a good man who recognized his mistakes and has to live with his sort of devastation every day. I saw a strong guy when I met him. He's a very strong, kind of ironic, funny, broken man." 

Johnny visits the real George Jung.
"My opinion is that George Jung has served his time and paid his debt to society. He's not doing anyone any good rotting away in a prison cell," Johnny continued. "The guy is rehabilitated, and I'm not sure the system rehabilitated him. I think he rehabilitated himself based on the hideous thoughts he's had to live with and realities he has had to deal with. I think he could do much more good on the outside. He's doing work with the DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] program right now. He could, potentially, go on the road with DARE and teach kids the dangers of drugs. And, he could also pay his debt to his daughter and try to give her a father."

George Jung is scheduled to be released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Anthony, Texas, in 2014. He'll be 72.

The Kitties say they've had no catnip.
Ted Demme conveyed various scenes in Blow through collages of Polaroids rather than play them out. Instead of showing parties on film, for example, photo after photo flashes on screen. Keeping with that idea, this month's tribute offers Polaroids spanning George Jung's life.
Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #22--Blow (2001) [April 2012]

  • As kids, George Jung and his best friend Tuna (Norman) found ways to pass the time, like roller-skating down the streets of their hometown.
  • George and Tuna moved to Manhattan Beach, Florida, in the late '60s. There, George met his first love Barbara (Franka Potente/Lily) and began dealing pot.
  • In the '70s, George started doing big business in Mexico. The whole gang [including Barbara, business partner Derek (Paul Reubens/Simon), and childhood friends Tuna and Dulli (Max Perlich/B.J.] was one big happy family. 
  • After George and Derek celebrated their first big job, clinking glasses amid piles of cash, business grew. 
  • With their drug distribution system smoothed down to a science, George felt ultra-cool. (This scene, in which Johnny walks through Miami International Airport wearing an all-white outfit and big shades to the tune of "Black Betty" by Ram Jam, is what Ted Demme called, "one of the greatest moments in film history" while Johnny referred to his outfit as, "the ultimate in bad taste." It's an awesome combination any way you look at it.)  
  • But these illegal activities landed George in prison for a few years in Danbury, Connecticut. While there, he learned from his cellmate Diego how to deal cocaine.
  • Once out of jail, George kicked off the '80s by getting in with Pablo Escobar. He became part of the family by marrying Mirtha (Penelope Cruz/Ashes). 
  • When their daughter Kristina was born, George stayed sober and enjoyed a normal life for a while--birthday parties and all.
  • But old habits die hard, and George got caught on what he said was his last job. He's still in jail for it today.

We're not getting any cheerier. 
Next up, Johnny turns detective again: This time, he's tracking down Jack the Ripper in From Hell.

Image credits: All film images © New Line Cinema; image of Ted Demme © Globe-Images; Illustration © Melissa Connolly; image of Johnny Depp with George Jung © unknown

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


© Disney 
As demonstrated so joyfully by Winnie the Pooh's Tigger, one thing that all orange kitties have in common is their love of bouncing. Some days, you'll find B.J. in the yard doing just that. It's too bad this isn't an Olympic event because he would win the gold!

Bounce (August 3, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: August 3, 2012)

Monday, August 06, 2012


I've been moving in slow motion since returning to D.C. after my extra-long weekend at home in Ohio. Whenever I come back from a trip, Lily has plenty to tell me about her days alone in the apartment. I guess it takes both of us a while to get back into our routines. We get there eventually.

Lonely (July 27, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: July 27, 2012)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

TCM's Summer Under the Stars

Hi everyone,

© Turner Classic Movies)
Is Melissa's Kitties turning into Movie Central? I don't watch movies all the time, I swear, but August is one of my favorite months of the year--movie-wise. Every August, Turner Classic Movies celebrates Summer Under the Stars, dedicating each day to the films of a single movie star. I think TCM created this festival just for me since that's pretty much how my brain works: If I see a good movie with a good actor in it, I need to see all of that actor's movies as soon as possible. In August, TCM makes that easy! As an extra treat, you might fall for another movie star you've never noticed before!

Here are some of this month's highlights:

  • August 2: Myrna Loy -- She rocks in everything! The Best Years of Our Lives and The Thin Man are two of my favorite films.
  • August 4: Marilyn Monroe -- As a kid, I worshipped Marilyn, so any movie today is good in my eyes. See The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like it Hot, and The Seven Year Itch.
  • August 5: Claude Rains -- He's got the voice. Now, Voyager! (with Bette Davis, who I love) and The Invisible Man are both great!
  • August 7: Sidney Poitier -- He's got class. See Paris Blues (with Paul Newman, the coolest of the cool) and A Patch of Blue too! 
  • August 8: Rita Hayworth -- Did you know she was a fantastic dancer? Check her out with Fred Astaire in You'll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovelier. (She was supposedly his favorite dance partner. You'll see why.)
  • August  10: Lionel Barrymore -- It's Mr. Potter! Find him in You Can't Take It With You for a good laugh and Key Largo because it's awesome.  
  • August 12: Ginger Rogers -- Swing Time has my favorite Fred and Ginger dance in it. Stage Door offers some great acting from a starry ensemble cast--including Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, and Ann Miller--and a good cry. 
  • August 17: Katharine Hepburn -- You can't go wrong with this lady, but I'd recommend Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (with Sidney Poitier) and Bringing Up Baby (with the great Cary Grant--and a big cat). 
  • August 22: Jack Lemmon -- You can't go wrong with this guy either. Today, I'd recommend The ApartmentYou can also catch him in Some Like it Hot, which is being shown on Marilyn's day, August 4).
  • August 23: Gene Kelly -- You know how I feel about this guy. Wish him a happy 100th birthday, take the day off, and watch all you can! Or: Assuming everyone's seen An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain, I recommend On the Town (Gene's personal favorite)Cover Girl (with Rita Hayworth), and Inherit the Wind (an excellent drama with two of my other favorites, Spencer Tracy and Frederic March--not too shabby!)
  • August 29: Ingrid Bergman -- See Gaslight and Casablanca because TCM host Robert Osborne would tell you they're Essential.

TCM should really hire me, don't you think? Get into your pajamas, make some popcorn, and enjoy!