Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bad Movie Month presents Wrestle Movie Mania

Since August is such a slow month,pop culture wise, I have dubbed it Bad Movie Month here at LRG and each week during that time, we cover some of the best of the worst in cinema.

This year, we're doing something special. Since my sister Stephanie happens to have an August birthday, I give a movie of her choosing a particular spotlight called Sister's Choice. This time, she has picked all of the feature films as well as our theme which I call Wrestle Movie Mania.

Yes, these are movies starring professional wrestlers, many of whom are still seen on WWE's Raw, Smackdown and whatever excuse to slam faces into the turnbuckle they're willing to put on TV. The old school will be represented at least once.

 As someone who remembers the goofy glory days of pro wrestling in the eighties, this is a genre that I'm more than willing to indulge in. Granted, a few decent actors have emerged from this pumped up pageantry but for every Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson or John Cena, there are plenty of performers who are better suited to the silent era of films. Here's a small sample of what we'll be subjecting ourselves to:

THREE NINJAS: HIGH NOON AT MEGA MOUNTAIN: For all of you Hulkamaniacs out there, this sorry sequel to the 1990s series of kiddie karate warriors has Hulk Hogan teaming up with the pint sized leads to save an amusement park from being taken over by bad guys.

The villains in question are lead by former WKRP in Cincinnati blonde bombshell Loni Anderson(her character is named Medusa, real subtle) and her main henchman is Jim Varney aka Ernest(the spirit guide for the likes of Larry the Cable Guy).

This particular installment in the Three Ninjas series(the last one,actually) is considered to the worst of the lot by fans and critics alike, so I think my sis and I are in for quite the terrible treat:


THE CONDEMNED: This play off of the tired trope of The Most Dangerous Game stars "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as one of many prisoners with life sentences who are snatched up by a group who wants them to fight to the death for the entertainment of rich clients.

Everyone is taken to a hidden island and strapped with a mini bomb that will go off if they disobey orders, sort of a stupider version of Suicide Squad. Naturally, Steve and his new buddies are not the type to fall in line with authority and go gruesomely off script.

The only other notable actor in this fight fest is Vinnie Jones, best known for his bad guy role in X-Men: The Last Stand and yes, he was the Juggernaut,bitch!:



THE CHAPERONE:  Paul "Triple H" Levesque tries to do better than he did as one of the vampire flunkies in Blade Trinity by taking the lead in this supposed family themed flick.

He plays an ex-con named Ray Ray who is attempting to reconnect with his teen daughter Sally(Modern Family's Ariel Winter) by being the bus monitor for her class field trip. Yeah, there's nothing that a teenager likes more than having their dad scowl at their spit balling friends there!

Of course, Ray's past catches up with him and the day needs saving from his former cohorts in crime. Too bad we can't be saved from this bout of banality:


We have a lot more in our line-up, including See No Evil with Kane and a couple of those 12 Rounds sequels. Sequels seem to be prime real estate for pro wrestlers to chomp into and hard to avoid when tacking this theme, so it seems.

Still, this should be fun for me and my sister to share during the dreary dog days of summer and hopefully, we'll be able to amuse all of you as well. Our first film will be the Three Ninjas one, just in time for my sister's birthday next week and a welcome relief from most of the pointless hot air on TV these days.

Pro wrestling and bad movies do seem to be the ideal couple. Both have low expectations, over hype , soap opera level drama and yet manage to offer some entertainment value that's at least popcorn worthy. As much as I like the cornball style of the 1980s, it's good to focus on the new way of doing things. Yet, one look back can't hurt too much now,can it?:


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chilling out at the Comic Con Movie Trailer Park

If you ask me, the only convention worth checking out this summer was Comic Con but if also like me, you were not able to attend, there are plenty of fresh and fun trailers from that mega event to enjoy in the hopefully cool comfort of your home.

Naturally, soon to be released movies were highlighted such as the strongly anticipated Suicide Squad, which DC really needs to boost their movie mojo after a certain lackluster superhero flick fizzled out earlier this year.

 The newest trailer gives us a bit of a hint as to what this gruesome gang is up against(a threat called Goliath) and an awesome Harley Quinn elevator ride that is helping to make this movie a one stop destination for blockbuster cinematic fun:



Upcoming films were,of course, the ones that most fan folk were eager to see and in particular Harry Potter people as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was given a full fledged trailer.

 This new story set in the Potterverse takes place in America(long before Harry and his friends existed) as a visiting British wizard named Newt Scamander(played by Eddie Redmayne) accidentally releases some of his specimens upon New York City.

The chief concern for the Magical Congress of the United States(their version of the Ministry of Magic) is that the muggles in their country will be quick to join forces with the New Salem Philanthropic Society's goal of destroying all wizards and witches upon their shores. 

Therefore, it's up to Newt and his new colleagues to save the day on more than one front. Seeing J.K. Rowling's world expand like this should be fun and perhaps lead to other amazing adventures with her characters both on and off screen:




 Speaking of legendary characters, the newest take on the tales of Camelot stars a former Son of Anarchy and has the fast paced director of Lock,Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at the helm.

 Charlie Hunnam plays the title role in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, more of a rough and tumble guy than a knight in training. When he does happen upon that certain sword in the stone, that instant ascension to power brings on a lot of trouble with enemies like Vortigen(Jude Law) ready to shut him down.

This is certainly a rather down to earth take on the Arthurian story and it just might work. Ritchie has done well with his revamps of the Sherlock Holmes films and Hunnam is definitely a solid actor who can make this character smartly believable. The movie won't be out until 2017,so it's too soon to tell yet there is a chance that this could be the jolt that the sword and sorcery genre needs:



 The small screen wasn't neglected,however, as promos for new seasons of genre heavy shows like Gotham,Prison Break and iZombie were showcased as well.

Personally, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of what's in store for The Flash as the second season ended with Barry using his time travel powers to reset his reality. Season three will be giving us the results of that twist of fate but clearly, there are consequences that our hero did not expect to deal with.

This should be even more fun that last season, although I do hope that we get another crossover with Supergirl since she's heading to the CW this fall(reruns of S1 will be airing on Mondays in August):


The showstopper for many of us was the Wonder Woman trailer, which really looks promising there. Starting off in WWII is the right choice and true to the character's origins,plus Gal Godot is instantly credible as Amazonian princess Diana.

Chris Pine seems to be another smart choice as Steve Trevor and having comic book favorite Etta Candy on board(played by Lucy Davis) a good choice,too, not to mention including Diana's female warrior folk and her royal mother into the mix all adds up to a possible smashing debut there.

I hate to be so hesitant but trailers can be deceiving and we've waited an amazingly long time for Hollywood to do this right. Out of all the features displayed at Comic Con this year, this first look at Wonder Woman is going to be remembered the most and with any luck, be looked back upon as a sign of greater things to come. That's something we really need right now, in more ways than one:


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Blending some history with mystery for your summer paperback party

The dog days of summer are fast approaching and when cooling off in the shade with a good book, a paperback might be easier to hold while sipping that much needed cold drink. Hardcovers are always welcome but it might be too tempting to use them as impromptu coasters.

 So, consider having a paperback party this season and since summer parties love to have themes, the menu for this one is History with a Twist of Mystery. First up is Beatriz Williams' Along the Infinite Sea(due out on August 9) , set in the fall of 1966 as Pepper Schyuler sells a restored 1936 Mercedes in order to have enough money to take care of her unborn child.



The father of the impeding baby is not only married but an influential politician determined to keep this whole affair under tight wraps. Pepper winds up selling the car to it's original owner, Annabelle Dommerich, who used it to flee from her husband during WWII. As the two women form a bond and share their stories, secrets from the past may be of help to them both but at what cost?

 Williams has written previous novels depicting her fictional set of Schyuler sisters(The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Tiny Little Thing) and her steadfast siblings do put you in mind of a certain trio of Schyuler sisters who could be their fabulous fore bearers.  While you don't have to have read those earlier books to enjoy this one, it should harmonize well with those familiar with those literary ladies there:


Another upcoming August release is The Last Treasure by Erika Marks. This story is set in modern times, as a trio of friends are reunited to continue a look into the mysterious disappearance of Theodosia Burr. Yes, we are speaking of the daughter of the infamous Aaron Burr, who was lost at sea with many of the other passengers of a South Carolina schooner back in 1812.

Of the three, Liv was the most devoted to discovering Theodosia's fate but that research went nowhere and so did her relationship with Sam, who she left for the seemingly more romantic Whit. Nine years later, she and Whit are salvage divers who stumble across the diary of Theodosia during an estate sale.

Armed with new clues, Liv and Whit convince Sam to rejoin them on their exploration into the Outer Banks of SC for answers. While he does so, Liv soon realizes that as much as she needs to know what happened to Theodosia, there's also the question of which man is she truly meant to be with that needs to be answered as well. This sounds like a perfect storm of storytelling to me, with a little history lesson to boot:




Of course, you can start your paperback party off right away with Kate Morton's The Lake House, which is readily available in soft cover now. The meat of the story is told in flashback, as Alice Everdene chronicles what happened to her family in the summer of 1933.

A police detective named Sadie Sparrow has revived interest in the long ago case and tracks Alice down to hear from her what lead to the mysterious disappearance of her baby brother Theo during a midsummer's eve party in the family house in Cornwall.

Alice was sixteen at the time and madly in love with Ben, a gardener who may have taken a careless remark about kidnapping too much to heart. As Sadie learns more about that summer, many theories come to mind but only one can be truly right.

Morton does know her stuff when it comes to weaving elaborate yet engaging tales of love and family gone awry and The Lake House seems to be another one of her elegant story quilts. She also did some extensive research into the history of Cornwall to firmly plant a strong anchor into the fictional hard ground that was dug up and made into quite the garden of enchanting delights:


I hope that this small sample of paperback party flavors is enough to whet your literary appetite yet not too overwhelming. Book recommendations can get piled on pretty quickly, especially by enthusiastic readers like me, but I do think that sometimes, it's best to just offer a small yet savory serving of good titles for your book loving guests to slowly enjoy:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cool down with some cooking shows this overheated summer

There's a lot of heated talk on TV these days, especially now that the first of our two big political conventions has begun this week.

While it's good to stay informed, it's also vitally important to give yourself a break from the contentious action and thank goodness, we have cooking shows to help you simmer down from the stress.

A great place to start is The Great British Baking Show, which is airing weekly on PBS(prime time in some places, Sunday afternoons in others). This is the third season for the US audience and such a lovely treat to watch people compete in such a polite way to become the best baker. You also learn a thing or two about baking, with many of the assigned recipes being from other countries as well as a few of the bakers adding a special twist or two to their food.

This past week, bread was the theme and part of the suspense for the technical challenge was to see if the bakers knew the right way to crisp up their French baguettes(steam is needed). Not everyone met the challenge but all of them did manage to make a good impression on the judges and us viewers to boot:



If you're looking for something fresh on Food Network, Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian is hosting a new season of Cooks Vs.Cons (con standing for "con artist" in this case).

A set of four chefs do battle, with two of them being non professional cooks. No one knows who is who until the end and if a "con" wins, that person can get fifteen grand(the pros win ten grand) as their prize.

Of course, the contestants have food challenges given to them like surprise ingredients such as maple syrup and ginger snaps. While Zakarian can be a little stiff in his host duties, it's hard not to get caught up with him and the other judges in trying to guess who the "true" cooks are:


For those who like a slice of luxury, Cooking Channel has Cake Hunters and yes, they do cover more than weddings. Folks looking for a special cake for a special occasion meet with three bakers to taste and chose the flavors and design that will work for them.

Not only do we see the sample cakes that are made by each baker, you also get a behind the scenes look at the chosen cake being prepared(usually with a last minute change in plans).

Some of these designs are truly amazing and fun to imagine having for your own party time fun. At the very least, Cake Hunters is a nice way to find some edible inspiration:


One constant source of wicked foodie fun is Cutthroat Kitchen, hosted by Alton Brown who allows his evil edible genius to run wild. If you haven't seen the show before, the premise is that four chefs are given money to bid on challenges to hand out to their competition and the winning chef only leaves with whatever amount of cash he or she has left.

The challenges are truly in the "you have to see it to believe it" category like cooking with non traditional sources of heat(hair dryer,egg cooker and once, a tiki torch to name a few) and having to prep food in unlikely places(ball pit, tub of water). Funny enough, it's usually the chef who winds up with no challenges who makes the most culinary mistakes.

Later this summer, Alton is bringing back "Camp Cutthroat", taking this twisted game to the not so great outdoors. In the meanwhile, there's plenty of fierce food fun to enjoy in this treacherous cooking game:


There are many more but I think this savory sample should whet your appetite for tuning into some cooking shows this hectic season. Some times, the only fights you want to see are the ones for culinary control and those beefy battles are certainly tastier than what else is on right now:


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joe Hill's The Fireman burns down the literary house with song and sizzle

Earlier this month, I took myself on a hardcover holiday as a low key way to celebrate Independence Day. One of the books that I chose for that literary excursion was anything but low key and filled with fireworks in more ways than one.

The premise of Joe Hill's The Fireman is that our world is being afflicted by a disease(which is really a spore gone wild) called Dragonscale, due to the beautiful black and gold markings that appear on it's victims. Trouble is, the final stage of this infection is spontaneous combustion, setting off deadly fires that added to the growing chaos that is tearing apart society.

One of those caught in the crossfire is Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes one of the volunteers to help the growing number of Dragonscale patients in her area. While she's as distressed as any of the others around her, Harper takes her inner strength from Julie Andrews, in particular her role as Mary Poppins, to make the harsh medicine of reality go down as smoothly as possible:




Harper's resolve is severely tested as she discovers that not only is she pregnant, she's infected by Dragonscale as well. Her seemingly sweet husband Jakob turns nasty as he wants to go ahead with plans to die together but Harper wants to live at least long enough to deliver a hopefully healthy baby.

On the run from Jakob,along with Cremation Crews who are quick to kill anyone with the disease, she is able to take refuge with a hidden group of Dragonscale folks, thanks to the mysterious Fireman, who has gotten control of his fiery abilities and uses them to protect others.

As it turns out, Dragonscale does not have to be a death sentence. The group of people gathered at a former summer camp have learned to keep from burning up by calming themselves down through song. At first Harper is reluctant to join in what the others call "the Bright" but once she does, her hopes for the future shine brighter than before:


However, things are not all bliss at the camp. Tensions rise from a series of thefts from within, not to mention the dwindling supplies of food and medical goods that force Harper to risk going outside of the camp's boundaries.

As leadership of the camp swiftly changes, threats from the outer world are also getting too close, as Harper discovers that Jakob is now part of a Cremation Crew and determined to hunt her down. With danger growing all around her and also threatening her small circle of allies, Harper must do what she can to survive in both body and spirit. Having a strong friend like The Fireman on hand is a help but even he has vulnerabilities of his own to protect:



This is the second book that I've read by Joe Hill and damn, is he a good writer. Yes, this is a long novel but the pacing is quick and sure footed,leaving you both satisfied with the conclusion of the story and yet wanting more.

Hill blends apocalyptic fare with humor and heart, plus a nice dose of pop culture nostalgia that always rings true. Not many stories have Mary Poppins, MTV's Martha Quinn and the Dire Straits as solid emotional touchstones for their characters but this one does and making them work so well together is the ultimate magic trick.

Reading The Fireman is like having the best blockbuster entertainment right in your hands,  bursting with popcorn glee and flavored with buttery sweet resonance that lingers in your imagination long after it's done. So far, this is one of the best books that I have read this summer and will more than likely be on my best of the year list. If you are reluctant to buy hardcovers, I completely understand but trust me, this is worth your time and money.

The Fireman is a true summer romance that will last far beyond this season and I hope that anyone looking for a romping good read will pick this up and fall in love with this dark yet delightful world and it's characters as much as I did. Harper and her Fireman are destined to become a classic fictional couple that should inspire others to follow in their fiery footsteps,sharing their heart and soul as the world falls down:




Monday, July 11, 2016

Finding pop culture pleasures to help you deal with Droughtlander

The second season of Outlander had it's ninety minute finale this past weekend, making fans eager to see what lies ahead for next year. Fortunately, the show has been renewed for two more seasons, giving us plenty of Claire and Jamie adventures to come.

Having finished Dragonfly in Amber just before the last episode, I can safely say that they managed to fit in everything that was necessary to set up season three just right. However, the waiting period between seasons can be hard on fans(even it does give you plenty of time to read the next book in Diana Gabaldon's series) and many call it "Droughtlander". Well, I feel your pain, friends and to help you over this rough pop culture patch, here's a small list of suggestions for your Droughtlander needs:


ROB ROY: This film version of this legendary Scotsman came out in the same year as Braveheart and frankly, I prefer Rob Roy over that epic any day of the week.  Everything an Outlander fan would want is here; gorgeous scenery, honorable men, strong women(Jessica Lange is amazing as Mary McGregor) and hissable villians.

It also helps that we have a slew of great actors on board, with Liam Neeson, Eric Stoltz, Brian Cox and Tim Roth, who was Oscar nominated for his role as Archibald Cunningham, the vicious lackey to the corrupt Marquess of Montrose(played to the hilt by John Hurt). A true point in it's favor is the well developed story that balances highland honor with court politics, making this a must-see during Droughtlander:


THE WHITE QUEEN: This earlier Starz miniseries is based upon a series of books by beloved historical fiction author Philippa Gregory, who chose to showcase England's War of the Roses through the viewpoint of the women involved.

While it is all about England, there are plenty of court intrigues and power struggles that mirror some of the Parisian troubles that Jamie and Claire dealt with in S2, not to mention a bit of magic used by the title monarch to help determine her future and those of her loved ones.

The actresses involved here are wonderful, with one of my favorites being Faye Marsay as Anne Neville, who wound marrying Richard III and Amanda  Hale as the incredibly intense Margaret Beaufort, mother of future ruler Henry the VIII. The series was popular enough to warrant a sequel(called The White Princess) which is in production now. If you haven't seen The White Queen, you are in for a royal treat:



THE OTHER QUEEN: Philippa Gregory did write one novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, and it focuses on her imprisonment as the "guest" of George Talbot and his wife, Bess of Hardwicke.

That informal house arrest did not come without struggles as Mary made repeated attempts to escape and use what influence she gained over Talbot to maintain a lifestyle that eventually bankrupted him. Bess, meanwhile, was less than thrilled to have such a difficult guest on hand, especially one that flirted with her husband.

Gregory does paint quite the picture of such unusual times and highlights the women of those days as doing their best to deal with what life has handed to them, for better or worse. It may not be completely Scottish but The Other Queen displays the troubles of those who aspired to that particular throne rather well:


FINDING FRASER: The leading lady of K.C. Dryer's novel set in modern times is Emma Sheridan, who is about to turn thirty and has so far not found a man who is as good as Jamie Fraser.

 Being a devoted fan of the Outlander books, Emma decides that maybe she would have better luck following in the footsteps of Claire Randall Fraser by going to Scotland to check out the places mentioned in the novels. While she does create a blog to chronicle her adventures, Emma soon discovers that there's more to explore than meets the eyes.

This book sounds like a lot of fun and I plan to read it sometime soon. Even Diana Gabaldon herself is pleased with this charming tribute to her popular hero. I suspect that Finding Fraser is meant to be to Outlander fans what Austenland was to Jane Austen admirers, a way to blend fictional romance with reality in the best sense:


So, I hope some of these books and films aid you in your quest to remain patient until this wave of Droughtlander is over. Patience may be a virtue yet it does help to find some enjoyable company to make that time fly by all the better:


Friday, July 08, 2016

Enjoying some Meryl Streep movie magic this summer

While I have plenty of great reading available to me this summer, a pop culture person can not live by book alone. Since most of the TV programming this season is either winding down or simply in a slump, I find myself looking to my DVD collection and starting to watch Meryl Streep movies.

Mind you, I don't have a lot of her films and I didn't intend to do my own version of The Meryl Streep Movie Club(which is a wonderful novel by Mia March,btw). It just began innocently enough as talk of a certain film's tenth anniversary started to make the rounds on the entertainment shows and websites lately.

It's hard to believe that it was only ten years ago that The Devil Wears Prada hit the theaters, with Streep owning the role of Miranda Priestly, the fashion magazine boss from hell. While the character is loosely based on real world editor Anna Wintour(as is the novel by Lauren Weisberger that it's based on), Streep breathes more life into Miranda than her literary counterpart,making her feel authentic.

One of the best scenes in the film9and a personal favorite of mine) is one that was originally cut in first drafts of the script but Meryl asked to have restored. Yes, the infamous "blue sweater" speech, where Miranda shows that her haughty attitude and seemingly impossible standards are not just due to mere bitchiness.

 In this scene and many others, Miranda often uses her position to quell any hints of snobbery about the fashion industry and how trivial it may seem to others. Granted, she's still hard to work with and for but at least we get a glimpse of why this stylish corner of the world has true meaning for her:


Then the other night, I found myself watching Julie & Julia, which is based on two books(a quick look at my Meryl movies tells me that I chose to own mostly literary adaptations that she's in).

While the title refers to the Julie Powell memoir about her year long blog project to make every recipe in Julia Child's classic cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking(which also inspire me to start blogging in the first place), the second narrative in the film belongs to Julia Child herself, using her memoir My Life In France to round out the story.

Even though Julia Child was less than thrilled by Julie Powell's project(which is mentioned in the film), both ladies did share a solid love of cooking and French cuisine that enriched their lives as well as the lives of others. Some felt that the Julia portion of the movie was the better half but I think that it compliments the Julie sections as neatly as perfectly shaped puzzled piece.

I will say that the Julia scenes are as rich and inviting as any French feast of foodie delights and at times, most intoxicating to watch:


Since I do have a big movie watching project coming up late this summer, I think that I will re-watch just one more Meryl Streep film and it turns out that The Hours is in my home film library.

This movie not only got me to read the brilliant Michael Cunningham novel that it is adapted from, it also got me interested in Virginia Woolf's work as well. It does help to be familiar with Mrs. Dalloway as this entire story is linked by that one book, from it's troubled author to a troubled housewife in the 1950s to a modern day woman who is practically the living embodiment of the title character.

All three of the main actresses in this film give their parts their all and Nicole Kidman rightfully winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf, Streep's role is not to be discounted. In the end, she becomes more of a key player than she ever knew that she could and would be:


 A new Meryl Streep movie is due out this summer,Florence Foster Jenkins, which is based upon a true story of a clueless yet well meaning woman who attempts to become a beloved opera singer.

Trouble is, she can't sing a note worth hearing and her devoted partner(Hugh Grant) is determined to let her take center stage while shielding her from what people really think of her dubious talents.

It sounds like a lovely movie and more than likely, I'll be seeing it via Netflix in the future.  It can be easy at times to take Meryl Streep for granted(guilty of that myself) but when you take the time to look over her vast array of work. I think it's safe to say that she really is one of those once in a lifetime performers that continues to make marvelous movie history. So, let's enjoy her movie magic as long as it lasts: