Thursday, December 30, 2010
As New Year's Eve kicks off upon the morrow,it is high time that we at LRG wrap up the rest of 2010 in order to enter 2011 with slightly less pop culture baggage than before.
No doubt that some things will stay the same,such as the rise of reality show stars,strange new trends cropping up on the teen horizon and the surge of vampire related media(so looking forward to the new episodes of Vampire Diaries myself).
Yet,it never hurts to keep a tongue-in-cheek approach to these developments and as the gang at E!'s The Soup remind us weekly,a clipdown is the best way to get a handle on this stuff:
CLASSIC LADIES KICKING IT NEW SCHOOL STYLE
First up in this delightful category is a mock commercial for literary based action figures,namely the Sisters Bronte who battle evil male domination of publishing via power action book tossing. The best part of this charmingly retro ad is when the gals form a "Brontesaurus" to break into the literary clubhouse:
Of course,Jane Austen must have her share of the conversation and in this twisted take on literary remixes,her heroines also receive their fair share of bruises and beatdowns as well:
For a gentler but still sassy look at Austen,the Babelgum series "Sex and the Austen Girl"(based on the Jane Austen Addict novels by Laurie Viera Rigler) offered up a nice compare and contrast between that time period and now. The outlook on life for women in some ways turns out to be not that much different,interestingly enough:
DOUBLE SHOT OF JOAN
The fourth season of Mad Men had it's ups and downs,however one constant held true and that was the unexpectedly powerhouse nature of Joan Holloway/Harris.
Even with the ever changing plot lines and social changes all about her, Joan sticks to her guns and is the ultimate verbal sharpshooter at Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
One memorable elevator exchange between her and Peggy,who feels the need for recognition after taking a sexist staff member down a notch, shows why even a tentative alliance could never blossom into a full fledged sisterhood. Joan not only takes no prisoners but prefers to work alone even backed into a corner:
Christina Hendricks,the actress who portrays Joan,also made an intriguing debut in the music realm as the silent star of Broken Bell's video for their song "The Ghost Inside". Christina's character is a space traveler whose need to reach the perfect vacation spot is more expensive than she initially realized. It's a nice subtle performance that compliments the song to a T:
MOVIE PARODY MASH-UP
One of the best ways to spoof a film is to merge it with a more(financially) successful flick,creating a humorous hybrid satire in the process. The folks at Just Some Random Guy have that formula down pat,particularly in this bit where Iron Man decides to cheer up a depressed Jonah Hex by showing him a very different Disney version of what his big summer movie could have been like:
Another amusing mix and match movie parody came most recently from The Soup,as troublesome Fashion Show contestant Calvin Tran was given the starring role in one of the most anticipated sci-fi flicks of the year. Here go hell come,indeed!:
Happy New Year,folks and friends and I thank you for taking time out to read and watch some of the things I have to say about this crazy pop culture world of ours. Best wishes for next year to one and all and if you do attend a party tomorrow night,may there be a plucky gal with a song in her heart to serenade you sweetly into the midnight hour:
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The made for TV miniseries was once a staple of network programming,offering both insightful story telling and entertaining melodrama to capture our collective attention.
Like many pop culture endeavors of the past,however,this format has been abandoned by it's mainstream masters and been kept alive via public and cable broadcasters which have raised it to heights yet unheard of in it's heyday.
In looking forward to the upcoming TV season this winter and spring,there are at least four miniseries that hold much promise for bringing the best of the old and the new for our viewing pleasure. Let's take a quick peek at the miniseries marvels that await us in 2011:
MASTERPIECE CLASSIC MANOR HOUSE BLUES
Starting up on January 9th,the American debut of a British period drama is set to begin the new season of PBS' Masterpiece Classic. Downton Abbey tells the separate but equally riveting stories about the aristocratic Crawley family and their household staff who are both facing changes from without and within their social spheres.
The series was written by Julian Fellowes(screenwriter for the similarly themed Gosford Park)and received great acclaim from audiences and critics alike,making a second season a must-have for the ITV network. No doubt that US viewers will feel the same way,especially with such a rich cast(Maggie Smith,Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville)and the show's Upstairs,Downstairs flair:
Speaking of Upstairs,Downstairs, a new edition of the 1970s continuing drama has been aired in England and will appear on PBS this April. While a new family will be moving into 165 Eaton Place, one of the original staff will be returning as well. Jean Marsh revives her role as Rose Buck,now a housekeeper and head of her own employment agency,who is eager to bring the old house back to it's former glory.
Whether this latest chapter will be a fitting one to the now classic series is yet to be determined but should be a sweet excuse for folks to experience the world of Upstairs.Downstairs for either the first time or yet again:
HBO GOES BY THE BOOK
For the spring season on HBO,a pair of book based dramas get the unabridged adaptation treatment. One of them is Mildred Pierce,best known as the Joan Crawford star vehicle that won her an Academy Award.
Kate Winslet takes the title role here,with Todd Haynes directing a five part version that will veneer closer to the original plot created by James M. Cain. With Evan Rachel Wood as self involved Veda who takes her mother's emotional suffering for granted,one thing is for certain-this isn't going to be your mother's Mildred Pierce,folks:
Another spring offering from HBO is Game of Thrones,taken from the first book in George R. R. Martin's feverishly followed A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series. The main spine of the plot is the clash of power between members of a royal dynasty who wish to gain a steadier hold on their kingdom before a 40 year winter sets in.
Magic is rather limited here but there is enough to whet your wizardry palate,not to mention some binding family ties that would make Caligula blush. Sean Bean heads up the cast and looks perfectly suited to this storyline,which should be as chilling and fiery as it's literary namesake promises to be:
Perhaps the Big Three Network will someday return to the miniseries and try to spin gold out of what story telling straw they have left. They might even succeed in doing so,but the chances of them coming up with another batch of sour grapes is pretty high,folks.
Maybe satire would be the way to go for them,then. It's not like they haven't tried it before and as much as I like the juiciness of miniseries drama,a few laughs along the way wouldn't be unwelcome,especially these days:
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
My tastes in popular music being pretty standard(I am the target audience for the Greatest Hits collection market),I still have a few offbeat choices in this entertainment area that have made their mark on this blog over this past year.
With that in mind,I invite you to boogie down memory lane with me and re-experience a few of the LRG musical moments that keep my toes a-tapping. A musical moment is not just confined to a hit song,however;it can occur when and wherever least expected yet should be something worth singing about:
LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS
A couple of new releases did make me feel very extra feminine on the dance floor,starting with Rihanna's "Only Girl(In the World)". After a string of songs that explored her emotional depths of despair,it was truly a joyous revelation to hear Rihanna delight in the splendor of love supreme:
While Beyonce did very well with her rendition of "If I Were a Boy",I suspect that I am not alone in preferring Reba McEntire's cover version of this song.
Reba brings a world weary emotional resonance to this musing about the age old differences between men and women in love,not to mention proving that established musical genres aren't barriers to true artistic expression:
AMERICAN IDOL MANIA
Love it or hate it,this was a memorable year for American Idol due to it being the last one to have snarky Simon Cowell on the judges' panel. Whether the show will survive his departure(and thankfully,Kara's as well)will come down to how great or godawful the musical performances are this upcoming season.
Speaking of performances,Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" was given the royal treatment in terms of production and panache. As much as the official video for this song was stunning,to say the least,watching Gaga appear as a gothed-up version of Poison Ivy who cavorted with her minions in the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil was one of the best moments I've seen on TV ever:
Another amazing performance came from contestant Michael "Big Mike" Lynche,as he sang for his life during an elimination show. Mike had won the hearts of Idol fans early on,with his touching devotion to his wife who was giving birth to their first child as he auditioned and the sincerity in his heart came through in many of his song choices,such as Maxwell's " This Woman's Work".
Mike survived to sing another day and it's a real shame that he didn't make it to the finale,in my opinion. Regardless of that,Big Mike showed just how big a man he truly was and good wishes for his future go out to him and his loved ones:
Many may scoff at homemade musical projects created strictly for an online audience but don't be too quick to toss out all of these babes with the bathwater. There are plenty of video gold clips to be found in them thar YouTube hills.
The Marvel/DC hijinks in Some Random Guy's ongoing series,for example,has had a bounty of laughs with Deadpool,the psychotic superpowered hitman who in this parody world has the gift of song.
In this take on Comic Con,Deadpool gleefully praises and punches out the highs and lows of the convention circuit which makes you wonder why he didn't try out for Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark(his healing skills certainly would come in handy there):
The second season of Legend of the Seeker increased it's legion of fans but alas,despite all of their efforts,a third time around the syndicated block was denied to them. As one of them,it's a real shame to not have this entertaining fantasy series to look forward to in 2011.
Some of the fan love for this show was well displayed,as one person showcased a major showdown sequence from an episode titled Perdition and slipped in a suitable soundtrack bit from Kill Bill,Vol. I.
For those not familiar with the story line, leading lady Kahlan and friends are attempting to rescue leading man Richard from a desert mind trap only to be sneak attacked by the evil Sisters of the Dark.
Their main target is Kahlan,who is prophesied to be the key to undoing their master's plan to destroy the world of the living but as you will see,these twisted sisters have no problem with racking up a few extra casualties along the way. Their deadly determination,particularly that of their ruthless leader Sister Nicci,is not without serious repercussions and major magical payback:
To round out this musical look back,let us pay tribute to a recently departed pop music diva. Teena Marie,the original Lady T,passed away this weekend at the too soon age of 54.
Known as the "Ivory Queen of Soul",Teena,aka Mary Christine Brockert,started her career in the early 1980s and had several hit albums and songs such as "I'm Just A Sucker for Your Love","Ooo La La" and "Lovergirl".
Even during a long hiatus from music,her work was a top choice of covering and/or sampling by other artists. In 2005,Teena was nominated for a Grammy in the R&B category for her take on an Al Green song"Still in Love" from her comeback album La Dona.
During her lifetime and despite whatever personal woes she had,Teena Marie was a positive influence on many lives and her legend will still live on in the hearts of music lovers today and beyond. Thank you for your talent and time,Teena Marie,and for truly rocking our world:
Monday, December 27, 2010
The end of 2010 is nigh,bringing forth a shiny new year of pop culture presents to unwrap and that includes fresh new bundles of books. Now some of you are no doubt saying,"Come on,Lady T-my To Be Read pile is still backed up from last summer!"
Well,if like me,you are currently hunkering down until the blizzard snow has been swept up and away,that should give you more than a chance to catch up. Otherwise,a good way to motivate your reading speed is to see all of the great stuff coming out and there's sure to be something that you don't want to miss out on:
TRULY OFF THE BEATEN PATH
One of the most highly anticipated novels of 2011 is Jonathan Evison's West of Here,which tells the tale of Port Bonita,a town whose past and present are about to collide. Stories of the first settlers are interlaced with a look at the current residents,some of whom wish that they could go back to a time when living off the land seemed to be the best option.
Evison worked on this second novel for a long time and it's one of those labors of love that seem to be just another writer's cliche but the man is really walking the walk as well as talking the talk. It may be too soon to mention awards but I won't be surprised to see that West of Here show up on a couple of nomination lists by this time next year(February):
Another destined to be talked about novel is The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore,a debut offering from Benjamin Hale. Bruno is a chimp born in captivity and living a less than satisfying life at the zoo when a group of scientists select him as a likely candidate for their experiments in advancing animal communication.
The results are more than anyone expected,as Bruno learns to speak and gains an almost human level of intelligence,even to the point of artistic expression. Little do they know that Bruno's prime motivation is his love for Dr. Lydia Littlemore,his most devoted researcher.
Their connection winds up crossing lines that neither human or simian society wish to deal with and things get stranger from there. This may not be for all tastes but Bruno Littlemore is quite the intriguing as well as erudite leading man who has a story that's worth listening to. It sounds a bit like science fiction but trust me when I say that this brash first novel feels like tomorrow's headlines today(February):
A TOUCH OF FRENCH INTRIGUE
No sooner than we have unraveled a Pink Carnation Christmas story,another sweet spy adventure from Lauren Willig will be upon us. The Orchid Affair sends Laura Grey, a new graduate from the Selwick School for Spies ,into the household of Andre Jaouen,who works at the side of Bonaparte's minister of police.
Her position as governess to Andre's children offers Laura plenty of opportunity to check out his secret dealings and schemes but it also gives her a deeper insight into Andre's heart as well. This develops into a romance on the run,which many fans of this enchanting series will be doing to seize this latest addition to the gothic governess genre(January):
Elena Mauli Shapiro takes her readers on an unusual journey into one woman's life in 13,Rue Therese as Trevor,an academic from America,is fascinated by the contents of a mysterious box that holds her personal trinkets dating back to WWI.
As Trevor pieces together the details of Louise Brunet's life and loves,he starts to get an appreciation of what might be right under his nose in terms of true love.
The plot is told through the found letters and other objects within the box,becoming a treasure hunt that yields emotional gems along with shimmering strands of storytelling wonder(February).
TWO LADIES' ADVENTURES ABROAD
When Eleonora Cohen is born in 1877,a prophesy regarding her future was fulfilled several years later as she stowed away with her merchant father and traveled to a distant land that was key to the Ottoman Empire.
In Michael David Lukas' The Oracle of Stamboul, eight year old Eleonora becomes a prime fixture at the sultan's court when her amazing intellect is the talk of the country. Her advice is sorted after by several influential folk,some of whom are without scruple in swaying her statements regarding political matters.
As the fate of more than one nation lies in the balance,Eleonora must learn to choose her words and alliances wisely. I'll be participating in the blog tour for this debut novel this upcoming midwinter season,where this fanciful tale will come to life for all to discover(February).
The subtitle for Tamara Chalabi's true life story,Late For Tea at the Deer Palace,is "the lost dreams of my Iraqi family" and is the main thread of her recounting of the trip she took with her father in 2003 back to their ancestral homeland.
While the men in her family had many numerous political involvements that lead to their flight from the country,Tamara talks mostly about the struggles of her female predecessors.
From her grandmother's rebellions at the restrictions of her life to the domestic dramas that mirror the conflicts within their changing world,Tamara offers us a glimpse into a world that we think we know all too well but truly don't(January):
DOUBLE TROUBLE DARLINGS
The leading lady in Deborah Harkness' first novel truly makes A Discovery of Witches as she unearths an ancient manuscript that drags her kicking and screaming into a realm that she wants to avoid like the plague.
Diana Bishop prefers to spend her time and talents as a Yale historian but her research discovery attracts the notice of powerful vampire Matthew Clairmont,who agrees to give her his protection when Diana is under attack from forces that wish to claim the knowledge within these newly brought to light pages.
As much as she loathes magic,Diana must use her witch ancestry to learn the truth behind the origins of the supernatural in order to survive. This lively look at the magic of books and monsters could be that perfect wine which goes with everything and hopefully every reader(February):
A lovely early Christmas surprise for me was finding out that I had won an advance copy of Pale Demon, Kim Harrison's new entry in her Rachel Morgan series,from Library Thing.
This time around,Rachel has only a few days to reach the San Francisco witches' convention to clear her name and reputation of being a black magic practitioner.
Due to her dubious status,however,Rachel is not allowed to travel by plane so she hits the road with her trusty pals Jinks and Ivy,plus longtime frenemy Trent Kalamack hitches along for the ride with an agenda of his own.If things weren't bad enough,there is also the added bonus of a crazed demon on the loose that's making a sure and steady path in their direction.
Rachel is no stranger to juggling several scary plates in the air but this chain of eerie events promises to be able to overwhelm her traveling band and lead them into trouble that they can't get out of. As the Clint Eastwood flick that this book(and every Harrison title) takes it's name from,a hell of a ride awaits those who sign on for this rough and ready road trip(February):
So,these set of fresh new reads should be a great way to celebrate as well as comfort us through the long dreary days of winter weather ahead of us. However,we are not entirely free of holiday expectations as people will soon be looking for love along with new releases at their local bookseller.
If you do choose to mix your literary and love lives together,please try not to take out your frustrations on the bookstore staff. They're really just doing their job and have to follow the rules,despite the discount dilemmas of the day:
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tis the day before the Night Before Christmas and since I plan to take a three day holiday from the blog this year,I thought it would be nice to give you all the gift of music.
Whether this mix of merry sounds offers you some toe tapping background tunes during your last minute preparations or a bit of Yuletide fun,there should be something for just about everyone to groove to under the mistletoe here.
First up on the LRG holiday play list is "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses,with this little homemade video homage to this funky modern spirit of the season sing-a-along making it's annual presence once again.
Not only is the song great,but the mix of toothpick animation,synchronized light up wall decoration and a leading lip synchtress who I swear resembles Pam from The Office all add up to a nifty bit of small scale holiday bliss:
This next number is quite the find;back in the days when celebs loved raising money for Comic Relief,the British version of this charitable event managed to recruit Kim Wilde(yep,the "Kids in America" singer herself)and comedian Mel Smith for a take on "Rocking around the Christmas Tree".
Kim does a good job with the vocals and the rest of it is your typically wacky English humor,which is a jolly good show,indeed:
Returning to the States,here's a clip from the Soul Train Christmas Special that showcases the skills of Take 6,who blend two great songs together-"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Carol of the Bells"-to give the audience a harmonious holiday treat for the ears:
And it's back to Britain,I think,as Paul McCartney and Wings are simply having a "Wonderful Christmas Time". The setting does look like it's in England and there is quite a bit of odd imagery,what with the random animated sparkles and goofing around of the band.
The best of the strangeness here is when the giant gift wrapped box floats down from the sky and blows up real good in front of the bar,releasing the band to rock out for the patrons already packed in the place. Talk about the perfect landing there!:
To wrap this all up in a tidy bow,we have a rendition of "O Christmas Tree" from the Claymation Christmas special made lo these many moons ago. This clip takes the viewer on a mini journey into the gatherings about the title spruce,from eager kids waiting for presents to Santa and Mrs. Claus spending some well deserved time together. Beyond nice,in my opinion:
Happy Holidays to one and all,and we'll be back next week to start getting ready for New Year's Eve so be sure to have your dance routines ready if you want that party platform built for you:
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
I know this is the season to make merry and think good thoughts,but there are a couple of flies buzzing about in my pop culture ointment and the need to shake them off before 2011 appears on the horizon is crucial. So,please allow me to indulge my inner Scrooge and take some time out to vent a little pre-holiday frustration in a hopefully humorous way.
Theme songs are an easy definer of people,programs and entertainment vehicles,with their own fan followings to boot. For some,however,the theme song they have is not always the one that really suits them. Let's take a look at a handful of LRG suggestions for the perfect theme song that unofficially fits these candidates to a terrible T:
SPIDERMAN:TURN OFF THE DARK
While it's been fun to mock this troublesome Broadway production,which is still stranded in previews,the joke is starting to lose some of it's flavor due to constant cast member injuries.
Bad enough that a major player was convinced to go on with the show while suffering a concussion;now we have a stunt double falling thirty feet during a performance. The actor in question will recover but this is the fourth major physical injury to occur and the play is not even officially open yet!
As we send our get well soon wishes to all who have needed medical attention so far,it's hard not to think that maybe Bono should add the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" to this musical's song list as it becomes all too apropos here:
Many folks do want this gal to straight up and fly right,but how many second chances does Lindsay really deserve? Her latest antics at the Betty Ford clinic,where a staff member was fired for giving an interview to the media about her refusal to be drug tested after sneaking out with a couple of friends,are a clear as crystal sign that Little Ms. Lohan has had more than her fair share.
I don't wish anyone evil but if Lindsay is that determined to go to hell with herself,let her decorate that hand basket alone. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" sounds like the soundtrack to her life as it is now:
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Granted,I have not seen this movie but all of the hype and hoopla around it is truly making me not regret that choice. Yes,the movie has quality actors,a top notch director and a respected writer to it's credit but when you boil the whole thing down,it's just a story about one guy making it big with the latest technological wonder and getting some dirt on his hands during the climb to the top.
Plenty of behind the scenes business stories have the same plot framework attached to it(Citizen Kane,anyone?),plus I agree with some who feel that maybe it was too soon to tell this tale. Time does allow for the broader picture to be more fully developed,after all.
This movie has already garnered a good round of Golden Globe nominations and will probably do well come Oscar time. As much I like Facebook,this self involved ode to it is cashing in on the "Cult of Personality" that makes this Hollywood homage to that site so popular:
This revival of the 1950's genre film gimmick has absorbed more victims than either version of The Blob ever did. It's one thing to have a couple of action adventure or fantasy films add this extra trick to their bag of goodies but must every other movie do the same?
So far,we've had gallons of gore(Saw 3D,Piranha 3D,Jackass 3D),sorry sequels(Step Up 3D,Cats and Dogs:the Revenge of Kitty Galore)and kiddie themed clunkers such as Yogi Bear and the Last Airbender throw more than the kitchen sink at audiences with more on the way. Is it really necessary to have both the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern movies in 3D?
Getting people to attend multiplexes during these hard economic times is tough yet beating this revamped visual aid into the ground isn't helping matters that much. Maybe it's me but 3D is in danger of killing the movie star as much Video did with the Buggles' Radio Star:
Let us leave this topic on a sweet note rather than a sour one. 2010 has been quite the rocky ride on several fronts but one thing that the pop culture realm is good for in such circumstances is rallying our collective spirits. So,take heart that in the new year to come,there's nothing we can't face...except perhaps for bunnies:
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
On a recent segment of CBS' Sunday Morning show,the focus was on cover art for books and if the rise in the e-book market would have any major impact on that part of the literary creative process. While an official verdict wasn't exactly reached,arguments for it's continuation were pretty well made.
Despite the care worn phrase regarding judging books by their covers,just about every reader has an opinion on the look they want for their favorite genres. Some folks,for example,hate paperbacks that have tie-ins to film or TV adaptations while others are annoyed when hardcover art work doesn't reappear on soft cover editions.
For a good number of readers,cover art can be a source of amusement. Whether it's laughing at the cheesiness of the models in their cliched poses,the strange choice of background colors/styles or the repetitiveness of certain images for the likes of romance,chick lit or paranormal fantasy,there is something for everyone to giggle and grin at:
In all seriousness,it would be hard to imagine a completely coverless book world,despite the advancement of e-books in the marketplace.
Dust jacket art is as much of a pop culture touchstone as movie posters are,plus they are considered highly desirable by collectors and historians. While it is possible to enjoy a book strictly on it's own basic terms,forgoing the cover art altogether seems a dismal prospect.
In the best case scenario,cover art is meant to not only be an eye catcher for readers but a reflection of the author and their work,a mirror into the essence of the book in question. The collaboration between the writer and designer can be just as vital for the development of a series as the one between writer and editor:
Of course,some people can get too attached to a particular style and raise the roof when they believe that an author's work is being misrepresented by a change in the cover art. The design for Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series was put under such scrutiny,with the mass market reprint of the first book and the upcoming January release,The Orchid Affair.
There's even an online petition that was started over this past summer that asks the publisher to change the TOA cover(which does seems to have been slightly tweaked since it's first preview but still is a change from the earlier look of the previous novels )which they feel is a "typical bodice ripper".
While I appreciate their concern and enthusiasm,this is a bit of a tempest in a teapot situation. In my opinion,both the new paperback and the upcoming hardcover do add a different flavor to the series' historical fiction tea but not an entirely unappealing one.
Sometimes a shift in scene and scenery can do wonders,particularly if you want to attract new readers,and what you truly love about the books is what's on inside after all,which won't change. Give it a chance,folks:
Getting back to the main point at hand,while e-books will bring about new challenges to the creative process of designing cover art,the need for dust jacket allure will not vanish into the electronic ether.
Certain literary genres readily lend themselves to this art form and many of the longtime fans will feel that their books are incomplete without it,even for their digital libraries.
Also,print books will always be around,one way or another. The need for interesting cover art,especially for classic lit, can and will be filled by artists who endeavor to make their own mark while staying true to the intended theme of the published work.
It may not be a picture perfect match at times,however,yet sometimes the connection between writer and designer will click just right and provide a complimentary duet of food for thought and eye candy that stirs up the reader's passion to make these two great tastes taste great together:
Monday, December 20, 2010
It's not so shocking that Tron:Legacy made a nice little impact on the box office in it's debut weekend,taking in 43 million in the US alone. This is not the kind of film that's dependent on positive critical reviews(most of which were mixed at best) or big name stars,other than Jeff Bridges who reprises his role from the original movie in more ways than one.
The ultimate allure of Tron:Legacy(beside it's riveting Daft Punk soundtrack)is the fantasy of living in a video game world,where anything is possible. For some,that would be a dream come true but as this movie and it's nearly thirty year old predecessor point out,it can quickly turn into a far too real nightmare:
Video game themed films are a mostly maligned genre,for good reason some would say. The best known type of these flicks are the adaptations of popular name brand games that are more often than not live action cartoons in the worst sense of the term.
A few have managed to become financially if not artistic successes such as Lara Croft and Resident Evil(enough to spawn sequels at least)but nine times out of ten if you asked the average film fan/casual gamer for an example of a video game movie,the likes of Mortal Combat or Super Mario Bros. would be first on their list:
Tron:Legacy has a slight advantage over those films,due to it's 1980s origins. Movies that dealt with this genre back then tended to create fictional games for it's characters to interact with,such as War Games and even strictly for little kids adventure capers such as 1984's Cloak & Dagger.
Tie-in versions of the games were developed but with the emphasis of being more like the movie than the other way round. That allowed the screenplays for these films to use the regular set of tropes involving action,suspense and/or sci-fi in developing the story instead of implanting computer game movements for the actors to follow lock-step into for the camera.
A favorite film of mine from those days is The Last Starfighter,where an arcade style video game was used to recruit potential warriors for an intergalactic battle zone. The blend of "small town boy going up into the big leagues" with straightforward science fiction storytelling made TLS such an entertaining footnote to that time that the possibility of it getting a long after sequel such as Tron did could be a welcoming development indeed:
Something else that gives Tron:Legacy an edge here is the rise of the virtual reality genre,which has roots in film noir as well as The Sims. The doubting of the world in which the leading character feels trapped in,reasonably or not,has been expanded along with the technology,making this familiar film fear more relevant in our fast changing cultural mindset.
While many of the takes on this concept have ranged from standard B-movie fare to art house thrillers,the mainstream mold for virtual reality films that hasn't been broke yet is The Matrix. That film and it's follow-ups caused not only audiences but film critics as well to expect a solid story structure from this genre and others that can be connected to it:
The main critique of Tron:Legacy has been it's plot,which even those film folk who like it say that it's weak as an old computer program and about as creative.
Having not seen the movie for myself,I can't really claim a side but on the other hand,,maybe the real problem with merging the video game with film is that their true entertainment intents are at cross purposes here.
Movies,like books,are meant to tell a story that goes from A to Z,for the most part. A beginning,middle and end are what the majority of moviegoers and critics have come to expect as the basis for any film in any genre. Video games,however,are all about the journey not the end point.
Don't get me wrong,this is not meant as a slam. The main purpose of a video game is to give the player an excuse to develop their skills as they go along each level. No more and no less,which is why trying to translate this enterprise to film seems to be so difficult.
Most of the early arcade games simply had what they called a "killscreen" that signaled the last level of play. That notion has been somewhat modified within the video game realm but appears to be alive and well for it's silver screen counterparts. Whether or not Tron:Legacy heralds the way towards a new film frontier or simply takes it two steps back is debatable but perhaps the best way to look at a movie like this is to readjust your preset cinematic standards.
That is not intended as an excuse for sloppy film making at all but merely a reminder that these two entertainment venues put together are more like spicy nacho cheese and popcorn than peanut butter and jelly. There are two great tastes that some will rejoice in and others will automatically revile. If we can just agree on that,maybe the video game movie killscreen will be an easier hurdle to jump over:
Friday, December 17, 2010
Another sad loss to the pop culture world occurred this week as renowned director Blake Edwards passed away at the age of 88. Mr. Edwards' body of work extended over four decades and worked with a number of incredible entertainers yet his most official acknowledgment from Hollywood was an honorary Oscar presented to him in 2004.
Edwards was truly one of the last old school satirists who many felt had his best days in the seventies yet even after that time had passed,Blake had a few tricks in his bag that gave audiences a good time had by all. In honor of this fabulously talented gentleman,let us take a brief tour of his most memorable movies:
HOLLY GO LOVELY
While Edwards had some of his early work for TV see some success(he created the detective series Peter Gunn,with the theme music provided by future longtime collaborator Henry Mancini),film was where he yearned to go. He did make a few serious dramas such as The Days of Wine & Roses but comedy was Edwards' true calling.
A hallmark film for him was Breakfast at Tiffany's,based loosely on Truman Capote's tale of goofy glam girl Holly Golightly who was played to perfection by Audrey Hepburn.
Despite the changes to the source material and the regrettable casting of Mickey Rooney(the less said about that the better),this charming movie is considered an iconic piece of New York allure and how many people are drawn to it's bright lights that can burn as well as illuminate your way:
During the 1970s,the most popular series of comedy films that Edwards did were the Pink Panther capers,starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau,a bumbling French detective always on the trail of the elusive diamond thief of the title but prat falling far behind his prey.
Sellers and Edwards made five complete Pink Panther films(the sixth, 1982's Trail of the Pink Panther mostly took outtakes to patchwork the final production due to Sellers' death a few years earlier)and are loaded with gems of hilarity that any comedic performer should study as part of their training in this not as easy as it looks craft.
Steve Martin attempted to revive the character in a movie of his own back in 2006 but it was obvious that like James Bond,nobody does Closeau better than Sellers and Edwards did in their day:
Another regular actor on the Blake Edwards circuit was Dudley Moore,with their best known film being the sexy satire of middle age lust "10",a film also infamous for introducing Bo Derek to the pop culture realm in all of her cornrowed glory.
However,in the midst of the eighties,Moore starred in a rather sweetly silly romantic triangle of a film called Micki & Maude,with Ann Reinking as his character's wife with a promising political career and low fertility rate. Amy Irving was Maude,an up and coming cellist who he falls in love with and wants to marry once she gets pregnant.
However,as he is about to ask Micki for a divorce,she tells him that she's finally with child and winds up a befuddled bigamist,keeping both ladies in the dark for as long as possible. Not many folks could make a situation like this charming or such a leading man seem worth rooting for,yet Moore and Edwards were two great talents that worked well together:
THE JOY OF JULIE
The best player on Blake Edwards' team,some would say,was his wife Julie Andrews who appeared in quite a few of his films both as supporting and lead actress.
Julie's squeaky clean image was often tweaked by her husband,especially in the dark humor of the scorching satire S.O.B. and while a few may have thought she was just being a good trooper about that,you can tell that Julie relished the opportunity to break out of that sugary shell folks wanted her to stay in.
Their greatest pairing was in 1982's Victor/Victoria,where a desperate for work singer in 1930s Paris teams up with another out of work entertainer(the delightful Robert Preston) to become a "woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman" as her way into show business.
That routine makes her famous but holds up her love life,particularly when a shady nightclub owner from America(James Garner)has his eye on her/him. Victor/Victoria became such a well loved modern comedy classic that it was turned into a Broadway musical in 1995 and while it is a remake of a 1933 German film,Julie and Blake truly made this bit of le jazz hot sizzle with their own original spark:
This upcoming Monday night,TCM plans to air a marathon of Blake Edwards films,including a couple that I've mentioned in this post. If you haven't seen any of his work,this is a nice prime time opportunity to do so. Many of Edwards' films are also available on DVD and should fill up your rental list rather nicely during the doldrums of midwinter reruns.
Blake Edwards,like any other artist,had his fair share of hits and misses over the years. Yet he leaves behind a lasting legacy of laughter that any filmmaker would give their body part of choice to put on their resume. Our condolences to his family and friends who will undoubtedly miss him more than they can say and missed he will be in the hearts of moviegoers. Fare thee well,sir,fare thee well indeed:
Thursday, December 16, 2010
This week's round of Top Chef All-Stars was a little less dramatic but still high on tension. Everyone was divided into groups of four in the Quickfire challenge with a two-part assignment.
They began with a mise en place relay race to break down three ingredients(lamb,garlic and artichoke) and when the first team finished,a fifteen minute window was opened to create a tasty dish with these items before time ran out.
The team that won was made up of Spike,Richard,Tre and Stephen,whose lamb chop with three different takes on artichoke wowed guest judge David Chang. Immunity was not granted but each team member was given five grand as their reward,not too shabby.
For the Elimination,the chefs stayed in their teams but were going to compete against each other with one dish apiece. A knife pull determined which of the four top NYC restaurants each group would be dining at and then later returning to in order to make their own version of that place's signature cuisine.
The prize for this round was a six day stay in New Zealand but the stakes were greater as two chefs would be on the chopping block this time around. The owner of each restaurant would also tasting their meals as well;when it rains,it really pours.
One of the chosen restaurants was Townhouse,which has modern American food,and Antonia did very well with a peas and carrots puree along side a seared scallop. It was a little salty but the flavors were strong enough to take her to the winner's circle here.
Angelo joined her,with his play on the French Asian fare of Ma Peche. He took quite a chance adding white chocolate to his plate of fish offerings and a touch of chorizo but that daring combo tasted great and won him some brownie points but not the main prize.
That honor went to Dale T,for a breakfast spin on wd-50's experimental food. Instead of using the gastro chemistry tricks that kitchen is known for,Dale chose to simply be inspired by the actual food but go with what he knows.
His sunny side up egg dumpling with braised pork belly and milk-bacon ramen went over like gangbusters,especially since wd-50 owner Wiley Dufresne is ,according to Anthony Bourdain,"an egg slut"(not my words,just reporting the facts,folks!)
With Bourdain back on the Judges' Panel,everyone seemed to mind their manners and not get as confrontational as before. Even Fabio was not as touchy but certainly not happy about his Ma Peche plate putting him on the Bottom.
His best defense was that he wasn't comfortable with this type of cuisine and that awkwardness showed in Fabio's roast lamb with lemongrass ricotta and plum sauce. It was too heavy handed a dish to fit into Ma Peche's light French Asian menu.
Tiffani F tried to emulate the high tech wizardry of wd-50 by using liquid nitrogen to freeze and smash her summer heirloom melons but the results were a disaster of flat flavors. She landed in the Bottom Four as well.
Kudos for a honest effort there but it didn't really enhance the food which is the whole goal of that school of culinary thought.
On the other hand,she did better than her season one cohort Stephen who was sent off to pack his knives. Stephen was thrilled to dine and cook at Marea,a favorite Italian restaurant of his,but the coho salmon with black Mission figs and fennel pollen just didn't have the right flair.
Joining him out the door was Dale L,for overplaying the whimsy factor in some of Townhouse's menu. He has an offbeat take on food to begin with so this seemed like an easy win for Dale at first.
Unfortunately,the popcorn,peanuts and French toast that shared a plate with his veal was ill balanced indeed. I thought he would've lasted longer but hey,you never know.
Next time,wackiness ensues as the chefs scramble for equipment during the Quickfire challenge. Hope they're careful or someone might get hurt(again!).
Congratulations are in order to doctors Nat and Kat for being the first all female pair to win The Amazing Race this season. It was tough going for a few moments,since Nat(who's afraid of heights)had not one but two up in the air challenges to get through. They did gain a good lead after that and rode that train to a well deserved victory.
It was nice to see these ladies win,especially since the strength of their friendship really shined through during the whole run of the race. Coming up early next year is another Amazing Race All Stars,which should be fun to see. In the meanwhile,happy holidays Nat and Kat,you truly deserve it:
Speaking of the holidays,with so many shows taking a break for the season,I thought it would be fun to round out our TV Thursday time with a look at a couple of Santa Claus bits from the Ghost of Sitcoms past. First up is from season four of Roseanne,where Rosie gets to be the Santa at Rodbells,to make some extra Christmas cash.
Jackie teams up as her helper,Mrs. Claus,and their combined personalities work out pretty well in the kid wrangling department but Roseanne is thrown for a loop when the mall bookseller introduces herself as Darlene's new friend. Bit of a shocker in her stocking but things worked out in the end,as is the way of most Christmas tales:
The Golden Girls had a Nightmare Before Christmas,as their travel plans were derailed by a desperate for attention Santa that held them hostage at Rose's Grief Counseling Center. Even with their sad and soggy state upon heading back home,the ladies managed to make merry at a diner on Christmas Eve and returned the favor to the owner who helped them realize that they were amongst family after all:
For the last but far from least Santa sitcom clip,Reba felt gloomy about the falling away of her family traditions on Christmas Eve as everyone else made new plans. However,a chat with a self proclaimed Santa at a local soup kitchen seemed to jumpstart her spirits and despite the rejection of her Christmas cookies,Reba's holiday wish eventually came true,as I hope everyone else's does no matter what your celebration is:
AMERICAN IDOL: The new season will be starting in January,with Steven Tyler and JLo sitting next to Randy to judge a new crop of singing hopefuls. Not sure if things will ever be the same after Simon but you have to at least give the audition rounds a fair shot:
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