Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Becoming Jane is only the first wave of Austenmania yet to come



Hitting theaters this upcoming Friday(in limited release,a more widespread one will be out by August 10th) is the Jane Austen biopic,Becoming Jane,that many Austenites dread will sully the good name of our favorite writer gal.

I've had those doubts myself but am now just giving in to the hoopla,particularly since the film seems to be igniting a revival of Austenmania that we haven't seen since Colin Firth made Mr. Darcy the ultimate wet shirted heartthrob of the Regency era low those many moons ago.



Becoming Jane will soon be followed by the movie version of Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club and speaking of books,there are a number of Austen related titles arriving at your local booksellers such as Laurie Viera Rigler's Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict(which I loved) and Shannon Hale's Austenland,which one of my good blog buddies,Robin Brande,has been saying such great things about.

And if that wasn't enough,PBS will be launching "The Complete Jane Austen" on Masterpiece Theater,starting in January of 2008. A story based on Austen's letters and diaries called Miss Austen Regrets will be part of the mix. The main bulk of their Austenfest will be newly made versions of Sense and Sensibility,Mansfield Park,Persuasion and Northanger Abbey(which really needed a remake;the only one out there is more like watching an old Hammer horror film than a JA flick),along with the now classic Pride and Prejudice from A&E and the Kate Beckinsale Emma(which is my personal favorite).



A good number of the PBS adaptations(including Emma and NA) were written by Andrew Davies,who shot to acclaim after helming the infamous P&P miniseries,and who has adapted several other classic novels into great films like Wives and Daughters and last year's Bleak House. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Davies on my Austen tour of England a few years ago(he was our group's guest speaker in Bath)and was able to not only get his autograph on a JA bookmark but to ask him alittle about the then upcoming miniseries version of Daniel Deronda that he was working on. Davies was a delightful man and as witty as his screenplays. It was a real honor to be in his prescence.


So,why Jane again and why now? Perhaps enough time had passed from the last bout of Jane-itis that we can fully enjoy her words and wit all over again. Also,not to get too sociopolitical(which is something I prefer to avoid like the plague),but another factor in this equation may be the fact that soon we will be having a change of the guard in our government and some of the uncertainty demands abit of comfort that only Our Jane can provide.

And what advice can she give us on that front? Well,that whatever life throws your way,you can always find solace in your family and community of true friends and neighbors. Also,that achieving your heart's desire requires both patience and persistence,on man's part as well as woman's. Sounds like pretty solid ideals to me. So,let us all rejoice in the magic that is Jane Austen and get our dancing shoes on to trip the mind and soul fantastic:

Monday, July 30, 2007

For Siskel and Ebert,the balcony may be re-opened



On this weekend's Ebert and Roeper movie review show,it was announced that on August 2,Roger Ebert will be doing a live online chat with fans to promote the new "Balcony Archives" website,which will feature a number of the classic Siskel & Ebert reviews(many of which have been lost or damaged over the years)along with current Ebert/Roeper vids as well. As of this writing,there hasn't yet been an media story or any links available but I will update this story later in the week when that info becomes public.

UPDATE: The official Ebert & Roeper site has now added some info regarding the online chat this Thursday,beginning at 7:00 PM. If you would like to submit a question,just click here to do so!

I'm very happy to hear this,since one of my favorite childhood memories was watching Siskel & Ebert with my family. We discovered the movie mavens on PBS(along with many moviegoers across the country)on Sneak Previews and then later,kept up with them when the show got syndicated and was reborn as "At The Movies." We didn't always get to see the latest films out there but by watching Roger and Gene,we never felt out of touch with the current cinema buzz:

SNEAK PREVIEWS OPENING



AT THE MOVIES OPENER



Siskel and Ebert not only made talking about the art of film mainstream and fun,they also had great debates over why they did or didn't like a movie. Some of the best chemistry between them emerged during a rousing argument,which was one of the reasons I looked forward to watching them every week. Here's one example,where the two of them clash on David Lynch's Blue Velvet:



While they could heatedly debate the quality of a film,both Siskel and Ebert were as equally passionate about things they argeed upon,like bad trends in film making(the depiction of women was a sore point at many times)and their pleas for better made movies in all genres,such as this spotlight shone on Halloween as a superior horror movie and one that others would've done well to emulate instead of most of cranked out slasher films of the day:



With Gene's passing, other reviewers tried to take up the gauntlet but to no avail. Roger went thru a number of co-hosts before settling on Richard Roeper(who is too wishy washy for my taste)and now with Ebert in bad health as well,another great advocate for movie love may no longer be with us.

Granted,I don't always agree with many of Ebert's opinions regarding film(his review of the latest Harry Potter movie seemed very out of touch with the scope of the series but then again,maybe he just doesn't like wizard angst)but I can't deny the cultural impact he and Siskel have made on the current state of film appreciation. The Siskel & Ebert phenom has become such a pop culture staple that it's regular fodder for parodies,like this great bit from Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle:



I also have to admit that Roeper has growed on me alittle,especially with the rotating mix of co-hosts to review movies with. It gives folks a chance to check out people who they've never seen on TV before or film makers like Kevin Smith defend those little movies they love,regardless of mockery:



The Balcony Archives sounds like a great opportunity, not only for film lovers to relive the glory days of Siskel & Ebert but for new generations to discover what the fuss was all about and catch the fandom fever themselves. It'll also be excellant for people to talk live to Roger Ebert(I'd like to know whatever happened to Sparky the Wonder Dog). All in all,it's good to know that come what may,the balcony will still be open and I'll be able to see the likes of them again at the movies:



Blogger note: My thanks to everyone who voted in the very first LRG poll-the winner of "Who is your favorite HP Villian" was Snape and the big loser was Draco(no votes or love for Malfoy!). I'm thrilled about this fun new feature and will gladly take suggestions on polling topics(pop culture subjects only,please!).

Friday, July 27, 2007

After twenty years,The Monster Squad is back in action



I got a great surprise this week as I looked over the current list of DVD releases. Seems that someone decided to give The Monster Squad a special two-disc anniversary edition.This little known movie came out in the late 1980s and did some time in theaters and on the cable channel circuit(where I first saw it)but has pretty much been persona non grata on the DVD market until now.

The plot of the film is pretty much a combo of The Goonies and Scooby Doo,with some old school Creature Feature vibes poured into the mix. A group of misfit kids team up to stop a group of monsters,lead by Dracula(Duncan Regehr)who are looking for a magic amulet that can pull all of the forces of evil into limbo. Naturally,Drac would like nothing better than to smash that sucker and set off a reign of darkness there.



The movie was made by Tri Star and they were under major pressure not to copy any of their monster designs from the Universal Studios films(they even had to tweak a few names like calling one monster "Gill Man"). Some of the monsters were played by actors who went on to more notable cult movie roles,like Napoleon Dynamite's Uncle Rico(John Gries)as the Wolfman in human form and Tom Noonan as a very sympathic Frankenstein's monster:






With a movie like this,folks have their favorite goofy lines and kickass moments. Most of the Monster Squad fans loved the part where two of the boys are facing the Wolfman and from a swift kick to the crotch,discover that"Wolfman's got nards!" My favorite bit in this movie is when Dracula tries to spot the amulet ritual by grabbing a cute little five year old girl by the chin(a virgin was needed to say the magical chant and yes,they could only find a little girl at the last minute),lifts her off the ground and hisses""Give me that amulet,you BITCH!" Just the way that Duncan Regehr delivers that line,in total scary seriousness,cracks me up.



Monster Squad was directed by Fred Dekker,who also made a much more gruesome horror comedy movie,Night of the Creeps(which I did see in a movie theater near me). Both films share the same earnestness of the characters who don't do the obvious wink and nudge approach to the unearthly menance out to get them.

Dekker also co-wrote the Monster Squad script with Shane Black(NOTC was written by Dekker alone),which accounts for some of the love and care given to this mix of genres. NOTC is also not currently available on DVD but perhaps with this new release of Monster Squad,it could perhaps see the light of day soon.

So,if you haven't seen this fun little kiddie fright flick before,just add it to your Netflix queue or check it out at your local video store. I know plenty of the diehard fans are rejoicing here and why not join the party?

DVD Trailer:



Original Film Trailer:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Top Chef Reunion,Design Star selects it's season 2 contestants and a sad departure from Hell's Kitchen



Top Chef,instead of giving us another new episode,presented a "Watch What Happens" reunion special(a little early for that,isn't it?)that had folks from each season sharing their experiences on the show. Season One was represented by Harold,Lee Ann and Dave,Season Two had Ilan(wearing a tuxedo suit with no socks-when it comes to fashion,clearly his taste is in his mouth),Sam,Cliff and Michael and all of eliminated chefs up to this point stood in for the current season.



It was duly noted that Marcal had been asked to come but was on a "fishing trip" and can you really blame him? A few questions were asked about the Marcelgate incident with Cliff insisting that it was all meant in stresed out,drunken fun(my interpretation,anyway). A montage of TC fights were shown(a good number featuring Marcel),along with audition tapes,a never before clip of the Season 2 Final Five holding a mock Quickfire Challenge and a video of Ilan's Aspen Food and Wine cooking contest,where he snarked that Sam"surrounds himself with ladies because he's insecure." Well,you would be the expert on that subject,now wouldn't you,Ilan? Personally,I never thought Sam was that hot in the looks department. Not bad looking but he just doesn't make my water boil over.



The judges got abit of ribbing,as well,with Judge Tom's style of dissecting his food on the plate and some defensiveness from Sandee when the question of "Do you know who you're going to eliminated before you get to the Judge's Table?" came up. I didn't like the whole cheesy"Padma is De Sexy" montage that followed the rather distasteful viewer question of "How can you guys cook when Padma is around? I would eat anything off of her...I'd drink her bathwater!". As Buffy once said to Spike,"Ewww!" Yes, it was mentioned that Judge Tom is considered attractive to folks who like "bear" men but that was done with much more class and good natured humor. Padma didn't seem to have a probelm with it,but I was very put off by that needless pandering.



There were plenty of positive moments,like Lee Ann(who looked great)talking about her role as culinary producer on the show,Harold(who can steam up my windows anytime)giving us a preview of his NYC restaurant,Perilla(I noticed that Ilan pretty much went into stammer mode as he was asked about what his big plans were) and hearing some inquiries from Project Runway's Tim Gunn(who is a big fan of TC). A decent special but I'm looking forward to next week for some new hijinks.



Hell's Kitchen had plenty of hijinks this week,as Julia won the opening challenge(cooking lunch for "trendsetters" aka high schoolers)and got a trip to Vegas where she and Jen met last season's HK winner,Heather.



Meanwhile,Bonnie,Josh and Rock had to clean the restaurant and Bonnie bonded slightly with Rock over being jealous of Julia's win. Josh wound up taking center stage during the dinner sevice as he kept pre-cooking the appetizers,despite Ramsey's repeated demands not to do so. On top of that,the aps tasted so bad that customers were sending them back and Ramsey had had enough of him and threw Josh out of the kitchen and the competition:



But that was not the end of the drama;Julia had a hard time on the garnishes as her stuff kept disappearing mysteriously(Rock's turbot vanished at one point as well and I suspect foul play on Bonnie's part). Rock and Jen started fighting,most of which was Rock's fault(he really has a temper problem there). Ramsey got so frustrated with the two of them that he smacked the grill to get them to shut up. After dinner service was completed,Bonnie was told to select two people to be put on the chopping block and she chose Rock and Julia(gee,what a surpise!). I thought Rock would be on his way out the door,but Ramsey tapped Julia for dismissal instead:



Ramsey did seem sad to let her go,and made Julia a great offer-he'll send her to culinary arts school and then she can come back on the show to "win it all." I'm happy that Julia's getting such a great opportunity but truly bummed at seeing her leave. Rock may very well be able to cook,but his attitude towards others is horrible and his temper flairs make him the last person on earth that I'd want to work for.

It's hard to root for any of the remaining chefs but I will keep watching,just to see Bonnie get taken down. She is not only useless behind the stove but a whiner and a schemer. I got so mad when she complained about Julia's winning dish for the high school kids-"obviously,cheese on bread tastes good!" Well,if that was true,Bonnie's fried breaded goat's cheese should've gone over like gangbusters but it apparently didn't.

Plus,I find it hard to credit the culinary expertise of someone who tosses out a whole bunch of food because she thinks it's gone bad,without checking with anyone else first! That is so basic food prep 101 that anyone who does what Bonnie did should not be allowed to cook in a professional or even an amateur kitchen! She needs to go down hard here.




HGTV's Design Star started it's second season off,with an audition special. The hopeful designers were interviewed by two of the show's judges,Vern Yip and Martha McCully and Season One's winner,David. A variety pack of folks came in and so far,I have one contestant who I like already:Adriana.

She seemed really down to earth and very polished. Adriana did make the contestant cut but many of the truly wacky folks did not,thanks be to the Tv gods(one of them looked like Drusilla and she even had a little dog with her that gave me BTVS season two flashbacks). The hands down winner for most bizarre audition goes to this illustrater of a yoga cat book:



Random Notes:


The 4400: I totally dug the Ed Woodsian power of this week's featured 4400,Curtis Peck and his wacky yet apparently revealing conspircy film,The Marked. I just hope that whatever those doctors injected into Tom can be rendered harmless,maybe by a big shot of Promicin,perhaps?

I AM SO GETTING THAT MOVIE!





Who Wants to be a Superhero?: Season two of the Stan Lee/Sci Fi Channel fantasy recruitment show starts tonight and what a roster of names we have here! There's Hygena,who uses cleaning products to fight evil,Braid,a gal with hair action and Mr. Mitzvah who has a Star of David paddle as his ultimate weapon(I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried,folks). Oh,and there's a lady named Whip Snap-I wonder if she's ever worked with Whip Boy to stop Lion Man's reign of terror:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lindsay Lohan:a Hot Hollywood Mess that needs to be cleaned up



I try to avoid most of the news about the celebrity bimbolinas that pass for starlets these days,but it's getting harder to look the other way on Lindsay Lohan. Her recent DUI arrest(her second one,I might add),just days after leaving rehab yet again(do they have a revolving door specially installed for her there or what?)has a nifty little upgrade there. Seems the cops found some cocaine on her person and what is her defense to that? Here what she e-mailed Access Hollywood's Billy Bush:

"I am innocent ... did not do drugs they're not mine. I was almost hit by my assistant Tarin's mom I appreciate everyone giving me my privacy,"



Gee,that's so original-right up with "the dog ate my homework" and "I was just standing here,minding my own business,officer"! Come on,Lindsay,can't your publicist write you some better excuses than that? Even if the coke isn't yours(which I find difficult to believe,especially from a girl who went thru rehab and then announced to the world that she's holding her next birthday party in Las Vegas and it's being sponsored by a vodka company.),your credibility is pretty much shot to hell.

Of course,this latest bust is putting a crimp in Lohan's promo tour for her about to be released movie,I Know Who Killed Me. Awww,poor little Lindsay! Well,I know Who's Killing Your Career and if you want to know,too,just look in the mirror,honey.

Hey,Lindsay,if you want to go straight down the tubes,why not go all out? Surely,you can outdo the likes of Paris and Nicole in the shameless spiral game! Why not take a tip from Britney and hook yourself up with a real loser who will quickly drain your bank account and help shove you off that ledge you're endlessly teetering on. Maybe,if you're really lucky,you'll find your true soulmate like Nancy Spungen did:



I know how harsh that sounds but I'm getting sick of seeing celebrity self destruction,particularly from a young woman who's an icon to many of the up and coming generation out there. Can't somebody start making it trendy to be smart and have self respect? You don't hear about Natalie Portman hitting the clubs until the wee small hours of the morning while on a film shoot,do you? Keira Knightley isn't known for showing off her lack of underwear in front of the paparazzi,as far as I know. Anne Hathaway hasn't been seen falling down drunk and passing out in the front seat of her car! It can be done,folks.

Yes,girls just want to have fun and I'm not advocating that all of the Hollywood misses act like prim and proper prisses(and I'm not letting the boys off the hook either-what's bad for the goose is just as bad for the gander),I'm just begging for an end to this parade of stupid,spoiled sluttiness. It's getting to the point where I wouldn't be shocked if this South Park parody item was actually for sale at the local mall:



If you think I'm exaggerating about the influence of this behavior on young people,watch this clip from "My Super Sweet Sixteen",as Audrey shows her "appreciation" for the car her mother gave her as an early birthday gift:



The blame for this phenomenon can not be all put on Lindsay,or the rest of her catty cohorts-parents need to take a stand and give some real guidance to their kids. However,Lindsay is now 21 years old and she's the one who is going to have to accept responsibility for her own life choices and suffer the consequences.

So,Lindsay,it's all up to you. GET SOME DAMN HELP,ALREADY! No more of this phoney baloney pseudo rehab,you need the real deal. You might actually get some major jail time and if you do,use that time wisely. Otherwise,that Oscar you've been claiming is your destiny might never be yours,in this lifetime atleast:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict can satisfy your cravings for a ripping good read



Meet Courtney Stone,modern woman of the world,who decides to get over her broken engagement with the cheating Frank(and the emotional betrayal by good friend Wes,who turns out to have covered up for Frank)in a most old fashioned way;taking to her bed with her favorite Jane Austen novel,Pride and Prejudice.

However,her mental getaway becomes all too real when she wakes in the year 1813,in the life and body of Miss Jane Mansfield,who is recovering from a fall off a horse.

At first,Courtney thinks she's in a dream but when the local doctor insists upon giving her a bleeding to restore her health and Jane's mother(who shares quite a few traits with Courtney's own mom)demands that she act sensibly or be sent to a madhouse,Courtney is forced to conclude that she and the real Jane have somehow switched places in time.



In addition to getting used to such things as having no choice but to let someone else dress you(Regency outfits are as tricky to put on as snowgear),not being able to take a bath without folks having to hail up buckets of water and chamber pots,Courtney is under serious pressure to marry Mr. Edgeworth,a well to do widower who may have a scandalous secet or two,according to his sister,Mary.

Courtney takes Mary into her confidence about the body switch and Mary in returns somewhat accepts her friend's memory problems in her own way. Turns out Mary has some romantic regrets herself and the two of them try to figure out how to handle that,while Courtney seeks a way to find her way back to her own time period and to Wes,who seems to have a few things in common with Edgeworth who becomes more appealing as time goes by.



This is Laurie Viera Rigler's first novel(she has co-authored non fiction books with film critic Richard Roeper and Sheree Bykofsky) and she certainly has developed a lively writing style that her favorite author would be proud of.

She also does JASNA proud as well(Rigler is the webmaster for their Southwest Region site)by skillfully blending the reality of both Courtney's and Jane's worlds and getting her leading lady to realize that while longing for a better place to be has it's limits as well as it's perks,some things such as love are timeless.

There's alot of humor tossed into the mix that keeps Rigler's tale from getting too melodramatic(including a chance meeting with Jane Austen herself). According to the official Confessions website,a sequel is in the works,featuring Jane Mansfield's adventures in 21st century LA,living in Courtney's shoes . After reading this book,I'm certainly looking forward to that and hopefully,more novels from Rigler.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict will be released by August 2 and I urge all of my fellow Austen fans to seek it out. You'll find alot to indentify with and a great story to enjoy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,was it worth the wait?



I recieved my copy of the final Harry Potter book on Saturday morning(thank you,Amazon,for fulfilling your promise of "guranteed delievry on the day of release")and stayed up until 2:30 AM on Sunday to finish it. I decided to pace myself over the course of the day,taking necessary food breaks and even a nap,since I woke up at six to lie in wait for the UPS courier.

So,was it worth all of the hype,hoopla and tons of talk,both online and in the print media? I have to honestly say,yes. One of the dangers of having such a huge mainstream audience for any pop culture item is overexposure,which can kill your appetite quicker than seeing a gory movie before dining out at an Italian restaurant. I don't intend to reveal any major spoilers here,out of respect to those who may still be reading the book or haven't gotten a copy yet,but I can say that the vast majority of "advance" details regarding the plot of Deathly Hallows were as inaccurate as government statistics. Maybe less than one percent of what I saw of the leaked info held any truth at all.



Here's what I can tell you about the story without ruining anything for you: Harry,Ron and Hermoine find themselves on the run as Voldemort's Death Eaters take over the magicial world and wage a secretive war on both Muggles and Muggle born magic folk. Muggle born witches and wizards are forced to be "registered" with the Ministry of Magic and prove they haven't "stolen" their abilities. There's a strong theme of WWII underground resistence movement,with secet radio broadcasts that tell the real news about what's going on,folks going into hiding and children being targeted for indoctrination.



Some of you may saying at this point,"Hey,what kind of kids' book is this?" Well,the kind that has matured with it's audience and spares them any dumbing down. As for the many(and I have to say many)characters that meet their end,you may be surprised at who and how they are killed.

A good number of the deaths are offscreen,so to speak,and the ones that are fully featured are not done gratuitously. There's an emotional impact given to the highlighted passings and an unexpected character revelation that changes the way one major player in the Potter realm has been always percieved.



Does it feel like a long read? Yes and no,in my opinion. Some of the middle portion of the book may make you want to hurry up and get to the good stuff but for me,those moments were few and far between. There are a good amount of magical battles(including a very key confrontation at Hogwarts) and I found myself mentally cheering on the combatants and getting as thrilled as I would be watching a great action movie sequence. I don't know how they will be able to truly do some of this justice for the future film adaptation. Perhaps the studio should consider coaxing someone like Terry Gilliam or even Peter Jackson to handle the Deathly Hallows movie,to give the finale that radiant energy it deserves.



All in all,Deathly Hallows caps off a truly delightful fantasy series that will be passed down thru the generations,to libraries and book nooks across the world. It's not every day that you get to witness a literary classic in the making and I thank J.K. Rowling for granting us that privilege. She's given readers what can only be properly described as a "thumping good read".

I had the same feeling of well earned completion during the last pages of the book that I have when rereading and reaching the end of some of my all-time favorites,like Little Women,Pride and Prejudice and C. S. Lewis's The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe. Well done,Ms. Rowling,well done indeed.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The FInal Countdown For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows



Today is the day for all of us happy Harry Potter fans;by midnight tonight,many of us will clutching our copy of Deathly Hallows and woe be to anyone who tries to stop us from reading as much as possible before the need for sleep takes over.

While there will be folks attending various HP parties,ranging from adults to pre-teens,a good number of Potter fans will be simply waiting for the doorbell to ring as our copy will be sent by mail(and if my book isn't here by Saturday,heads will roll!*clears throat*But hopefully,it won't come to that). For those of us unable to get down and boogie with our wizarding brethren,I decided to throw a little blog bash of my own. True,I won't be able to showcase live acts but then again,I won't run the risk of having a really bad magician ruining things for me either:




So,let's get this party started,with a rollicking number from the wizard rock tribute band known as Harry and the Potters. These fellas have been celebrating their love of the Rowlingverse with their great and witty tunes based on the books for quite a few years. Here,they remind everyone that "Voldemort Can't Stop The Rock":



Alas,every hero must have a villian to face and Harry and the Potters are no exception. Here's a fan made video that features a hauntingly familiar tune from Draco and the Malfoys called "99 Death Eaters":



Now for a puppet show! The Potter Puppet Pals present a cute little singalong in "The Mysterious Ticking Noise." By the way,this is not meant for kids-the dark humor here is all about the grown-ups:




More adult humor abounds in this combo parody of '70's sitcoms and Pottermania,with Ahmed Best(who played Jar-Jar in the Star Wars prequels)doing a great Freddy"Boom-Boom" Washington impresssion to "Welcome Back,Potter.":




What is kid friendly is this bit from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,where not only do Harry and Draco get to duel each other but Snape gets in a great spell shot at the pompous Gilderoy Lockhart(well played by Kenneth Bragnagh)as well. Harry's public display of Parselmouth is one of the most delightfully eerie moments of the movie:



And for the finale,this beginning of the term choral number from The Goblet of Fire is a good send-off,with it's clever Shakespearean blend of lyrical foreshadowing:



Happy reading,folks and have a great wizarding weekend!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Top Chef goes to lunch,more Hell's Kitchen fury and the Emmy nominations



A little irony was served up with last night's Quickfire challenge on Top Chef,as those who botched the pineapple desserts were reminded as Padma showed them all what food item had to be creatively used;frozen pie crusts. Hung made a chocolate mousse filling that didn't fully set before he served his dish but thought that his flavors would make up for the messy-mess there. That didn't cut ice with guest judge Martha Fromkin,who ranked him as one of the worst.




Joey turned out to be the QF winner( he mentioned in one of the camera asides that he does have some pastry experience that he's been keeping quiet about)and went into the Elimination Challenge with immunity. This time out,everyone had to cook a Latin dish to serve up to the cast of telenovella Dame Chocolate for lunch. Originally,the chefs were told that they had three hours to cook but Judge Tom arrived at the start of their prep and told them that since the lunch was moved up,they only had an hour and a half to make their dishes.



This made everyone extra special nervous;Hung was pretty much in frantic mode and he nearly knifed Casey as he whipped around with one of those ginormous blades upright in his hand. Dude,didn't anyone ever teach you how to carry a knife in the kitchen? You hold it either down at your side or with the handle pointed out when giving it to someone else,keeping the blade out of harm's way! Geez,all of those cooking tips from my mom seem smarter and more sensible when I watch these cooking competitions.



Joey was having a great week,as his bean stew was chosen as one of the top dishes served at the lunch. Howie,who was also in the Top Two,kept raving about how delicious it was and that it was his favorite plate at the lunch. I'm glad to see those fellas starting to get along,after that nasty fight they had a couple of weeks ago.



Their new found friendship was further sealed,as Howie won the challenge and recieved a nice bottle of wine,which he promptly gave to Joey! That showed real class,in my opinion. Howie's starting to grow on me,but I do have agree with Joey's earlier comment(made in a friendly way) that Howie does overly rely on pork. You gotta use some of the other white meats out there,dude,or the judges will rip you a new one on that at some point. Trust me on this.




There were four folks put up on the chopping block(they are really getting tough on these elims-used to be only three people called to the carpet back in the day),one of whom was Hung. His "arrozo con pollo" aka chicken and rice ,was not up to par which seemed to confuse him. Judge Tom told him that the rice was dry and tasted underseasoned and Hung's response was "Oh,I thought I was in trouble for over seasoning." and "The rice didn't want to make you spit it out and drink water." Uh,no but it still was crap cooking there. Someone needs a big slice of humble pie,right quick!



Lia was the one who had to pack her knives and go,for her trout and polenta cake which was deemed very bland. I thought Casey might've been tapped,since her attempt at making a coffee mole sauce went south fast. Judge Gail said it had a "bitter,licorise" taste which sounds yicky to me. I'm not a big fan of chicken with sauce to begin with and not into coffee,so I would be inclined not to eat that dish on first sight. Then again,she did wrap the chicken in bacon,which is usually a winner so I would've gone for it. Better luck next time,Casey!



I will be so happy when they finally get rid of Bonnie on Hell's Kitchen. The Red Team lost out on the leftover challenge,due to Bonnie wasting most of the thirty minute time limit by yammering about what to cook(and her steak and egg suggestion to Jen crapped out). As their punishment,the ladies had to not only clean the kitchen but check in and unload the daily delieveries. Guess who was in charge of checking them in and totally forgot to make sure everything was correct? If you said Bonnie(who whimpered and whined instead of figuring out how to fix things),give yourself a gold star!:



The fellas had fun playing paintball with Ramsey(who whipped their butts)and gleefully refused to help the ladies out with the boxes as they trooped back home. The big elimination challenge was for the teams to create their own menus for the dinner service. They had to come up with three of each course,appetizer,entree and dessert. Brad's ideas made up most of the men's offerings while Julia's suggestions were ignored. Ramsey didn't let the girls get away with that and had Julia's steak and shrimp placed on the menu. I am so sick of this "Oh,Julia doesn't know anything" attitude that both Bonnie and Jen give her. I didn't like Jen's look when Julia asked her about ahi tuna,like she was so shocked that anyone needed knowledge on that.

Part of running any business is training people,either in new procedures or to do things in a certain way that works best for that particular workplace. Is it too much to ask that a chef should be willing and able to show another how to make a dish that person may not be familar with? I've never worked in a restaurant but it seems to be a group effort to make a kitchen run well and if you're not willing to be a team player,what's the point of doing this?

Julia made some major brownie points,as her surf n' turf entree was the most requested on the Red menu. Go,Julia,it's your birthday,yeah! Bonnie's bacon wrapped rabbit took long to cook and she totally lied to Ramsey when he asked whose idea it was-"it was a team collaboration,Chef!" No,it was not,Missy! No wonder that Jen didn't want to speak with her all evening:



It was down to Bonnie and Brad on the chopping block and Brad was sent home. That was probaly due to him not coming to Josh's aid on the meat station after Ramsey told both Rock and Brad to help him out. Not cool,dudes. Team work,people! Even Ramsey told them all that at the end of this episode. They would do well to keep that in mind as next week,the remaining chefs will be put into one team.



Another good episode of The 4400 this week,as Kyle and Isabelle find Jordan Collier and his cohorts,Tom gets some insight into the potential for positive results from Promicin newbies and Sean has a rude political awakening. Those dreams of Maia's about Promicin People being shipped off to an internment camp are troublesome. I know that Diana's doing all she can there,but maybe something more drastic needs to make sure that Maia's nightmares remain just that,nightmares.

Had to admit that they got me with that whole"Tom's going to get the shot" bit and why is it that Kyle is so trusting of those prophecies? How can he be so sure that all of the people destined to take Promicin on that list will survive? It says they change the world but that doesn't mean that they have to live to do that! Perhaps,I question too much.

Random Notes:

The 2007 Emmys: the nominations were announced today and I must first give out my boos: No Gilmore Girls noms(the Sopranos weren't the only ones to have a final season,you know!)and why do Two and a Half Men and Brothers and Sisters have so many nods? I know folks watch TAAHM,but wasn't Brothers and Sisters cancelled already?

And now for the cheers: Heroes is up for Best Drama and Masi Oka has a Best Supporting Actor nom-Hiro Nakamura could get an award,yes! Ugly Betty,up for Best Comedy with America Ferrara and Vanessa Williams in the actress catagories,sweet! Minnie Driver got a Best Drama nod for The Riches,Denis Leary is again up for Best Actor and the summer miniseries The Starter Wife scored as well,with a Best Miniseries nom and Judy Davies getting a Best Supporting,along with Joe Mantegna. Oh,and Jenna Fischer was nominated for Best Supporting for The Office! I may actually have to watch the Emmys this year.

To celebrate,here are a few clips to showcase some of the nominees:

HIRO TAKES DOWN SYLAR



WIlHEMINA NEEDS A LITTLE GUIDANCE



WHEN BETTY MET HENRY



YOU TELL'EM, PAM!



TALK ABOUT YOUR DRAMATIC EXITS THERE!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Open Letter to the determined Harry Potter party poopers




Dear Spoilsports,


You think you've won,haven't you?

I didn't expect to write about this topic again,but with the latest act of literary sabotage hitting the internet just a few days away from the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,I feel that I must stand up to this blatant bullying.

I'm talking about the "alleged" copies of the final Potter book that have been photographed page by page,with a laundry list of content info,chapter headings,etc. Yes, I saw the spoiler items which you were so eager to hand out and yes,I didn't have to look at them at all. I freely confess to my own curiosity leading me down the garden path. I didn't have,but I did.

And you know what?

You haven't ruined anything for me at all. If anything,I am now more determined to read the book and will enjoy it to the utmost,knowing that folks like you just can't stand to see other people having a good time that doesn't measure up to your cool requirements.

Even if every claim made from this new source is one hundred percent true(and if this is an elaborate hoax,my response is a raised eyebrow with the comment"And you think I need a life?"),do you really think that all of the adults-who,let's face it,are the real targets here-who have been reading this series for several years now,will stumble across your open paged copy and go"Oh,no! I must cancel my order right away! There's no need to read Deathly Hallows anymore,or talk about it online. I'll just crawl back into my parent's basement."? Not going to happen,gang.

Nope,instead I'm going to take pleasure in persisting to enjoy my geekdom. Yes,I said geekdom. Geek is not the worst name in the world to be called and while there are those who carry their freak flag alittle too high,I'm not going to hide what I am. I am a geek and proud of it,buddy!



I've seen all of the movies(and own the first four on DVD),have a couple of the dolls(Snape and Hermione),and several other posters and offically tied-in Harry Potter goodies. I've dressed up as one of the characters for Halloween(Professor McGonagall) and yes, I'm an adult over 21. If you think that's sad,I really don't care. I find it sad that you have this need to go out of your way to trash someone else's fun to make yourself feel superior.

I know that some of you will try to crash the book release parties this Friday to further spoil things for folks who will be waiting in line,perhaps even in costume.My advice to my fellow geeks is this:bring some headphones(Ipod,CD player,etc) and keep them on if they shout spoilers at you. Ignore their cardboard signs by bringing a book to read while you wait(perhaps a copy of one of the earlier Potter books). Don't give them any power over you and that will be your true victory.


Walk tall and keep your eyes on the prize. Imagine yourself as a strong,confident fictional hero or heroine. For example,I'm Emily Gilmore,making four green beans last an hour and a half to keep my annoying mother-in-law from getting me down. I'm Buffy Summers,ready to face off on any Big Bad around. I'm Beatrix Kiddo,with my Hanzo sword about to confront O-ren and the Crazy 88:



Am I going overboard here? A tad,but it is annoying that some people insist upon stomping on the excitement of anticipation that others hold dear. The kind of people who would pop a little kid's balloon,just to see him or her cry. Of course,you don't care about ruining it for the kids,I know,but can you see how your maturity level is not that much higher than a fifth-grader? I hope you can.

Anyway,have your fun while it lasts. Eventually,you will have to find another target for your scorn or some puppies to kick around. Just remember this,throw all the rain you want on our parade but we have plenty of umbrellas to spare and share. You're the ones who'll be left out in the damp and cold.

Sincerely,

Lady T and the rest of Dumbledore's Army

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some promising late summer signs at the Movie Trailer Park



With Bad Movie Month looming on the horizon(better known to most as August),the chances of more good films to look forward to become dimmer and dimmer. While we at LRG will once again pay tribute to BBM in our usual fashion,with regular Friday features, all hope should not be lost.

Granted,it's hard to be optimistic with the likes of "UnderDog"(a live action version,no less) and "Bratz:The Movie"(another live action feature,the horror,the horror!)being advertised nightly,but there are some decent looking movies ready to pop up on the horizon. Let's take a look-see,shall we?

NO RESERVATIONS

This foodie drama/romcom is about to be served on July 27 and it does look quite appetitizing. Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as a tough talking top chef who has to melt down some of her icy demeanor to connect to her orphan niece(Abigail Breslin) and hot new sous chef Aaron Eckhart. The timing for this movie is great,with shows like Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef mainstreaming folks into food love and plenty of grown-ups in need of non kiddie fare at the multiplex. Plus,Eckhart is some pretty sweet eye candy there:



STARDUST

This fantasy film(based on Neil Gaiman's book) is due out by August 3 and you might have some misgivings about a big budget flick like this,starring Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare and Michelle Pffeifer as a youth seeking witch, so late in the game but it doesn't look bad at all. The plot has a young man in love on a quest to protect a falling star that's turned into a human girl who has the power to grant wishes. Pretty much a gal in high demand there:



THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Matt Damon gets back in the action star ring for Round 3 of the Jason Bourne chronicles. With a mix of old faces( Julia Stiles,Joan Allen) and new(David Strathern),plus the promise of finding out the true origins of this ultimate super spy, the third time out should be a real charmer:



BECOMING JANE

August 3 is going to be one busy release date,with not only Stardust and TBU coming out but the long awaited and potentially controversial Jane Austen biopic,Becoming Jane,hitting the big screen as well. Becoming Jane will be in limited release at first,which may make things easier. Nevertheless,there will be quite abit of talk stirred up from this movie which I suspect would not entirely displease the lady in question. After all,for what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors and then laugh at them in our turn?:



THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

I know that this adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's funtastic novel is really an autumn release but the trailer's already out and about,so why not savor it now? It looks like they may have done a good job here and it may further booster the impending Austenmania wave that's slowly overtaking us all. Dive in!:

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Top Ten Things I Learned From Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix



I not only got to see the new Harry Potter film,Order of the Phoenix,but I was fortunate enough to watch it in IMAX 3D. I've experienced 3D before,with the cardboard red and blue glasses,but that was on the level of cavemen rubbing two sticks together compared to the sleek,wraparound goggles that added extra oomph to the major magic fight scenes(no spoilers here,folks!).

The best way to describe what IMAX 3D feels like is to remind you of that scene in Batman Forever,where the Riddler shows off his TV brain wave feeding device in Two Face's lair,using the double trouble man's own hench wenchs as somewhat willing donors:




Even without the extra special viewing experience,OOTP was a pretty good film on it's own merits. Yes,many things and certain plot points were changed or left out but all of the important themes and moments were kept in. Imelda Staunton made an excellant Umbridge,Luna Lovegood was touching and strange and I'm glad that David Yates will also be directing Half Blood Prince,based on his work here. So,without further ado,here is my Top Ten list of knowledge gained from this year at Hogwarts onscreen:


10) You may not like him but, you have to admit,Dumbledore's got style.




9) Pink can be a very scary color when in the wrong hands.


8) The world is not split into good people and Death Eaters:




7) Fireworks can really help you go out with a bang.



6) Mistletoe is ripe with nargles.

5) The Room of Requirement can provide you with anything you urgently need,even a toilet.

4) The name on the paper says "Dumbledore's Army",not "Potter's Army"!

3) A prophecy should not be handled over lightly:



2) A full body Patronus is the most difficult to produce:





1) It isn't how you are alike,it is how you are not!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Looking for a cool,refreshing read? All you have to do is Swim To Me



Our story begins with Delores Walker,who boards a bus to Florida in 1972 to get her dream job as a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs. One of the few happy times her family had was a trip there,when Delores was thirteen. Three years later,her dad is long gone and Delores' determined to be depressed mother,Gail,insists that she leave school and go to work to help pay some of the expenses for not just the two of them but Westie,Delores' little brother who has never even seen his father.

Armed with only a handful of silver dollars she found hidden in the back of her parent's closet and Otto,her favorite childhood puppet who she sometimes secretly talks to,Delores departs from the Bronx and manages to impress Thelma Foote,the current manager of the Weeki Wachee mermaids,into giving her a chance to perform. Pretty soon,Delores is known as "Delores Taurus" and becomes one of the main performers in the show,headlining such much needed attention getting acts(Weeki Wachee is in fierce competition with the newly opened Disney World) such as an underwater re-inactment of the current hit film,"The Godfather".




Meanwhile,Gail makes an unexpected friend at one of her cleaning jobs,an up and coming fashion magazine intern named Avalon who even takes Gail and Westie along on a
business trip to Boca Raton to help her out as an assistant. Delores' reunion with her mother is not the greatest but she does get to reconnect to Westie,who shares his sister's love of the water. Delores is not lacking in friends such as merman Lester,who sunbathes constantly in hopes of clearing up his skin and Molly,one of her sister mermaids.



The success of the "Merfather" attracts the local television station,who wants to pick up some ratings for the evening news by having a rotation of WWS mermaids as weathergirls. Delores is first up,and quickly becomes the one and only choice for the job. During one of her reports that takes her to a stormy beach front,Delores makes a daring ocean rescue that leads to an unexpected reunion that may or may not reunite her family.



This is Betsy Carter's second novel(The Orange Blossom Special is the title of her first)and reading it makes me wish that I had discovered her sooner than this.Swim To Me is a gracefull and tender tale of a young woman in search of finding not only her heart's desire but a loving family and winds up creating more than one along the way.

Carter captures the magic of Weeki Wachee and the essence of the time period without resorting to a glossy literary version of rose colored glasses. She also brings out the humanity of gruff characters like Thelma,who was once a WWS mermaid herself but due to being rejected as the leading lady for "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid"(plus,an underwater show mishap),prefers to harden her personality shell but little by little,allows herself to open up to the new possibilites around her. Even Gloomy Gail is given a chance to blossom into her own person here.

Swim to Me is due out at a bookseller near you by August 1,which is great timing,being one of the biggest vacation months. This sweet and snappy novel is perfect for poolside reading and relaxing. Put it on your summer shopping list today!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Top Chef's back in action,The 4400 plays truth or dare and Melissa leaves Hell's Kitchen,finally!



Top Chef's Quickfire Challenge this week was to make an appetizer that would go along with a specially made gin cocktail. Hung was convinced that he had this one in the bag but his salmon & cream sauce combo didn't go over. Personally,I'm not a drinker but since the cocktail Hung had(after another infamous knife draw)had raspberry in it,chicken might've been a better choice than fish.



Casey won the QF,which gave her immunity that really made things interesting for the next Elimination Challenge. Everyone had to form teams of three to prepare a tasting menu trio of dishes(with one food item as the theme)for a elite dining club. Casey wound up with Joey and Howie,who managed not to get into a major fight for once as they both want her to take a back seat in decision making.

Since it was a four course meal,Dale insisted on having a dessert trio and Sara M. and Camile joined him for that one. All of the other teams went the protein route and made last minute changes at the supermarket with numerous complaints about their tight budget. Each team had $150 to spend and while I know meat's pricey(particularly at an upscale market),quit your whining,people. I can buy a week's worth of groceries with that kind of cash and still have change leftover. If I can do that at an Associated Foods,you guys certainly can manage.



The first course was shrimp and it went over well;the only weak spot was Hung's sauteed shrimp with corn pudding but not by much. There was much love for Brian's raw pink number with caviar but Lia's olive oil combo with cucumber & lime won the day for her and her special prize was to cook at a celebrity charity event in the Hamptons. Very nice,Lia!



The beef trio was well recieved,with only one complaint regarding Sara M.'s butter braised tenderloin that looked like something out of the Denny's menu,according to Judge Tom. My bet is that Sara's beef tasted good but compared to the fancy footwork from her two teammates,Tre and CJ,it did seem rather Plain Jane in appearance.



Casey's team wanted to use duck originally but decided on tuna when they went shopping. The guys did a so-number on their dishes but Casey's bird nest tartare creation was underseasoned(she ran out of soy sauce but didn't think to use salt. Talk about your "could've had a V-8!' moments there!) and her fellow chefs were criticized for not tasting each other's food. Casey had a mini-meltdown over the possibility of them getting knocked off due to her tasteless tuna but never fear,dear-the fish dish was not the worst by far.




That honor went to dessert,which was pineapple and pastry based. None of the three chefs had alot of pastry experience and it showed,with a rock hard upside down cake,half done gelatin that was passed off as a "semifreddo"(Judge Tom didn't buy that one) and a tone deaf tart. I don't get why so many chefs on cooking shows seem to be all thumbs when it comes to making a dessert;yes,there are specialists in any field but shouldn't a potential top chef have some familarity with every course that can be served for traditional dining? Camile had to pack her knives and go after that cake that even in her own words,was more like a cornmeal muffin.

Hell's Kitchen held a taste-off,with each team whipping up three lobster dishes. The lobsters wigged out Bonnie(the teams had to each yanked their own lobster out of the tank)but her lobster salad was deemed worthy of being added to the evening's menu. Melissa tried to tone down some of her crazy bitch routine(she even tied her hair back!)but still managed to mess things up for her team by making mushy risotto rice for Brad and mangling the monkfish.

I was worried about Julia for a moment there-she got alittle flustered during service but managed to pull herself together. Bonnie seriously needs to shut up about Julia not being"familar" with the food. Was Julia the one who didn't know how to put out the frying pan fire or was that you,Missy?:



Melissa was sent home but the Blue Team was still in trouble. Ramsey called both Josh and Brad on the carpet and yelled at them for their lousy work. At one point,it was nearly a triple elimination but the boys were given another shot:



On the 4400,Diana finally found little sister April,who survived her Promicin shot and gained the ability to make others answer her questions truthfully. April's not as slick as Chloe Sullivan was with the same power but she did have some fun testing Tom with her mad skills:





Other plot highlights included Sean running for city council and having to come out publicly against Jordan Collier's Promicin policy(I thought he was pretty discreet in his statement,despite what Kyle felt) and Isabelle translating that prophecy code to discover a list of names of folks who are destined to take the Promicin plunge. Kyle and Tom are clearly going to have a showdown,since Tom's name is on the list and Tom knows that Kyle's had his shot. I find it interesting that Isabelle still has total recall of the entire encyclopedia,another notch on my theory that her powers are not truly gone. If you need a refresher course in The 4400 lore or some current info,I would recommend checking out The 4400 Guide,it's a very well done and cool site.

Random Notes



Rescue Me: The death of the Chief and it's aftermath was handled well,with Tommy Gavin giving what I considered a eulogy of sorts at the beginning of the show last night. I know Jack McGee(the actor who played the Chief) was rather steamed at how his character was written off,according to an interview at TWOP,but it doesn't seem like a deliberate snubbing to me. In other plot points,Garrity should just take Maggie up on her offer for a divorce because she's not going to get clean and sober any time soon,especially for him.

Mind of Mencia: Another season of the show kicked off on Sunday and yes,Carlos is still in anti-PC mode. Good for him! According to a story on TMZ,Kanye West gives a bit of a shout out to Mencia in his new song,not being happy about the MOM parody of "Golddigger" that calls Kanye "Theo Huxtable". Hey,Kanye,if you're going to go the Vanilla Ice route with the pseudo-gangsta backstory,you gotta take your lumps there: