Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, July 30, 2010

Will the shake-up of American Idol's judges bring back the beat or now is it too late?

Big news stirring up the never quite calm waters of American Idol today,as Ellen hands in her notice as a judge,with talk of Jennifer Lopez being signed on to take her spot.

If that wasn't enough,major league buzz in show biz quarters is that judge Kara Dioguardi(who first came on board for Paula Abdul's last year on the panel)has been fired and that Aerosmith's lead singer Steven Tyler is the front-runner to replace her. Talk about a whole lot of shaking going on there,folks!

The final tidbit of AI info is that the judges panel will go back to it's traditional three person format,sandwiching Randy Jackson between these two new players in the competitive TV game. In some ways,this is good to hear since the four judges set-up was not a great idea to begin with and as many speculated,Kara's placement on the panel was seen as the producer's wake-up call to Paula and her increasingly wacky ways. Instead of shaping up,Paula chose to ship out.

Having Kara fully take over,however,was hardly an improvement. Her off-putting manner and quickness to form rivalries with other females on the show(including guest judges and contestants alike)made her not only far from endearing,people were starting to wish that Paula was back,baggage and all there:

Ellen,on the other hand,did her best to fit into Idol's groove but her innate sweetness and lack of first hand experience in the music world just kept her a square peg by the end of last season's run. Also,she did joke about staying as long as Simon would and with him leaving(a major blow to the show,in my opinion),maybe she wasn't really kidding after all.

You do have to give kudos to Ellen for taking such a risk and being smart enough to know when to quit. While it's scary to tackle something new,staying with it despite the fact that this different sphere is not suitable to you or your special skills merely to save face is even scarier to watch.

Thanks for trying,Ellen and we'll be happier talking about the show with you than seeing you struggle to be part of it:

As for their replacements,the selections are somewhat sensible. Both Lopez and Tyler are credible people when it comes to giving music related critique strictly due to their resumes alone but will have anything really to say when the time comes?

Jennifer Lopez has bounced around in several pop culture spheres and managed to hold on to some star power but not as much as she once held. She has made plenty of career savvy moves in the past but also her fair share of lousy choices(Gigli and Monster in Law being at least two of them committed to film)as well.

In a way,it's a shame she can't be on So You Think You Can Dance. JLo did start out as a dancer in the beginning of her career and it's still her strongest card in the deck there:

Steven Tyler certainly is a guy with plenty of stories to tell but will all of his worldly(and then some)experience make him a good judge? His true strengths are in singing rather than talking,which is the main part and parcel of this gig.

Tyler may be a very good fit despite that ,however,since his past history shows a willingness to help out other artists in the field (especially up and coming ones) and a playful style of showmanship which could as fun to watch as any Aerosmith concert has been.

I'm not sure if he and Lopez would play well together,yet the odds are in favor of them doing so since Tyler's no stranger to doing his best in unexpected duets:

While the flurry of pop culture frenzy surrounding all of these new changes to American Idol is pretty interesting,the big elephant in the room is how the show will survive without the snark of Simon Cowell. Either one of the new judges might be able to fill that void but it could also be seen as high and mighty celebs sneering at regular people,if not done the right way.

Simon's bluntness and down to earth take on things made him a personality,with part of that appeal being that he wasn't a celeb in the first place.

Over time,we began to see that Simon wasn't just being mean for the hell of it,that he really did know what he was talking about and does truly appreciate real talent when he sees it.Makes you really pity the fool who brazenly thinks he or she can easily follow that act with the same audience(which has been dwindling quite a bit lately). This might herald the end of the AI era,which could be the right choice for all concerned to ultimately make.

We might as well enjoy Idol while it lasts,or until the music becomes too unbearable to listen to,whichever comes first. I just hope the new judges are prepared to deal with the plethora of bad singing that comes with the audition rounds or their ears may turn into vestigial organs as self defense,which can be troublesome once the noise stops:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top Chef D.C.'s power lunch mystery,Masterchef starts service and Tara takes control on True Blood

This week's Quickfire on Top Chef was another high stakes one,with the winner getting 20 grand and immunity for the Elimination round on top of that.

The challenge was to make a meal in miniature,tasty enough to be fully appreciated on a toothpick(the kind of bite size meals that congresspeople are allowed to accept from lobbyists,in keeping with the D.C. theme this season).

Angelo took the win here,thanks to using a cucumber cup as a last minute save for his spiced shrimp and cashew combo that was falling apart. Sometimes those old school moves can come in handy in a pinch.

For the Elimination,the chefs pulled knives to see which of the five proteins they would be cooking for a power lunch at the Palm restaurant for several news people and chef Art Smith(this was not a head to head challenge,everyone was fair game). The winner would get their dish added to the Palm's menu,plus have their likeness on the wall along with numerous others of famous patrons of the place.

Tiffany was convinced that her swordfish with olive-raisin tapenade would put her in the Bottom Three,for overcooking the fish. Everything on the plate turned out to be moist and delicious instead,placing her happily in the Top Three for this round.

Her good buddy Ed(and yes,I believe that they are just friends and nothing more than that,despite what some of their fellow chefs may say)joined her in the winner's circle with his poached lobster ballotine with a English pea and asparagus fricassee.

His choice of vegetables was a last minute replacement, due to the English pea puree Ed prepared the day before seeming to vanish into thin air at the Palm's kitchen. No one saw what happened to the pea puree but only one other person had a pea puree on their dish and he happened to make it to the Top Three also.

Alex's applewood smoked salmon on black forbidden rice was enjoyed by all but it was the pea puree that had the judges singing his praises and giving him the win here. Both Ed and Tiffany didn't look happy about that but were mature enough not to call him out on that,especially without any direct evidence.

As for me,I do think that Alex swiped that puree and here's why;in addition to not having any idea of what to do with his dish the day before yet whipping up an amazing pea puree instantly and denying that he even knew Ed was planning to make a puree(which was proven to be not true,thanks to a handy little video clip-why do people on these shows think they can say stupid stuff and get away with it? Hello,camera crew all around you!),he did something last week that made me distrust him completely.

Before food service on the last challenge,Amanda gave Alex a taste of her chicken dish and asked what he thought of it. He told her it was good but boasted in a video aside that he tasted cartilage and deliberately chose not to tell her. Not only is that bad sportsmanship but bad character as well;what if one of the folks eating her food(most of whom were their fellow chefs)got an extra big piece of that cartilage and choked on it? Badly done,sir,badly done indeed!

Alex may still be in the game for now but Andrea is definitely out,due to her swordfish with risotto style couscous being too sweet from the vanilla bean with honey mustard glaze she put on the dish.

Her open dislike of swordfish may have gotten her those knife packing instructions since it was between Kelly's severely over salted steak and Kevin's overcooked lambs as odds on favorite to be sent home. Remember,folks-over can be just as bad as under!

Next week,the chefs have international cuisine to deal with and some people are taking to it better than others. Good luck,gang-looks like a few of you are going to need it!

Gordon Ramsay's latest televised competitive culinary import,Masterchef,arrived this week and along with fellow chef Graham Bowles and wine connoisseur Joe Bastianich started to process the many hopeful amateur cooks that arrived to qualify for the competition. With the big prize being a quarter of a million dollars and having your own book of recipes published, there were a lot of eager beavers on deck for this one.

This quickly turned into an edible American Idol audition,as the likes of beer cheese soup(which looked like porridge that Goldilocks would've NOT chosen)and a greasy dish of "funeral potatoes",things were not looking good or appetizing for a while there. Fortunately,a few promising people popped up,such as Mike who wanted to showcase his skills for his family and Tracy,who wanted to honor her mother's memory by bringing her food back to life.

This show has some snarky flavor but clearly is meant to be less of a stress test than Hell's Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares,which should be a nice change of pace for Gordon,in his US shows anyway. Masterchef seems like a savory must-see to me:

After much psycho placating,Tara finally gets her groove back on True Blood,as she pulls off an incredible escape from the Vampire King of Mississippi's lair with Sookie in tow.

Using her wiles to lull crazy Franklin into untying her before he fell asleep(not to mention a bit of a power boost from drinking some of his blood),Tara went medieval upside his head and talked her way into Sookie's guarded room,where both gals took down the dim witted were guard and prepared to haul ass out of there.

Unfortunately,their swift departure was way laid by Sookie's insistence on saving Bill from being killed by Lorena(upon King Russell's orders). Oh,Sookie,Bill wouldn't mind if you got the hell out of Dodge instead of coming to his rescue,honest! Perhaps Alcide can save the day in the nick of time there and not put all of Tara's hard earned efforts to waste(quite a bit of gore in this clip-you have been warned):

Meanwhile,Eric is running more than one game,as he pledges his allegiance to King Russell in order to save Pam from the clutches of the Magistrate. Eric switched sides not only because Queen Sophie Anne set up him for selling V but to gain Russell's trust(and possible desire),which helps in gathering information about the King's werewolf followers and ultimate goal of conquering humanity.

Eric's true motive is revenge,after realizing that Russell and his were minions were the ones who slaughtered his Viking royal family centuries ago. You really have to admire Eric for his ability to play the long game and subtle use of subterfuge in seeking the means to his end.

Russell may think that his power play with Sophie Anne is a success but he may be unpleasantly surprised by his new ally before long there. It will certainly worth waiting for next Sunday,indeed:


THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR: We said so long to Serena this week,with her boring plates of pasta and over the top antics that failed to charm the judges any longer. Her singalong intro to the camera challenge was bad enough without her sad entree for the supper club challenge further compounding her errors.

The person I am most disappointed in,however, is Aria,who is feeling a little desperate about her recent flat lining performances and tried to take the wind out of Aarti's sails by interrupting her intro at the supper club presentation. The judges didn't like it but kept her in the competition anyway.

For shame,Aria,especially since that was done to you on an earlier challenge and you should definitely know better than to do that! Not cool,Aria,not at all!:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Murderous mayhem on the Jane Austen front can come even in a cozy comfort zone

One of my more relaxing reads this summer(on loan from Booksfree) is the latest paperback entry in Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series, The Matters at Mansfield(or,The Crawford Affair)
,courtesy of Jane Austen aficionado Carrie Bebris.

The chief concept behind the books is that a now married Elizabeth and her Darcy find themselves solving murders and other strange crimes as they run across other Austen created folk such as the Dashwoods and Henry Tilney,plus some supporting players like Caroline Bingley and George Wickam receive a bit of expansion in the story lines.

In this one,Henry Crawford has gotten himself into more than one fine mess in the romance department which happens to involves Lady Catherine's overprotected daughter Anne that winds up leading to that gentleman's untimely demise. The question remaining there is was Crawford's most welcome death by his own hand(as it appears to be) or another?

Seeing as how Mr. Crawford is one of the worst cads ever put in an Austen novel,in my opinion,seeing him as the corpse in question is most amusing. However,things may be more than they seem in this situation,which is oddly appropriate considering all of the romance hi-jinks and intrigues that crop up in Mansfield Park, the most often overlooked novel in Jane Austen's canon:

Part of the reason for Mansfield Park's less than preferred status is strong dislike of the book's meek and mild seeming heroine Fanny Price. Many people would rather rally around Mary Crawford,Henry's sly sister who while may not break as many hearts as her sibling does but is just as capricious in her scruples when it comes to dealing with society.

The Mary Crawford crowd will no doubt enjoy Murder at Mansfield,a new take on the story that has Mary and Fanny in completely different personae. Fanny is a spoiled little rich girl who is found dead on her estate while a kinder,gentler Mary teams up with a disreputable character to find the real killer.

This is a debut novel by Lynn Shepard and while I wish her well,part of me wishes that there was a reinvention of MP that held up Fanny's inner strengths as something to be admired rather than dismissed. Then again,the idea of an evil Fanny is very creative and sounds like a bit of a doppelganger delight there,so perhaps I should give it a fair chance in my future reading:

Despite the current rage for supernatural forces invading the calm Regency waters that Austen set her stories in,murder mysteries upon the same grounds have been building their imaginative estates for years now.

First in that field is Stephanie Barron,who is ready with the ninth book of her Jane Austen Mystery series this fall called Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron. I've tried to read these books but having Jane herself solving crimes never really clicked for me.

In a strange way,it's easier for me to accept Austen's characters acting differently than the lady who dreamed them up in the past. However,I had no trouble enjoying a vampire version of Austen battling it out with an undead Charlotte Bronte in Jane Bites Back this year,so maybe my standards are becoming a little more flexible with time.

After all,Jane was fond of books that,in her day,were just as juicy as some of the fictional fare on many a modern day bestseller list. Even her early writings were full of romantic escapades and touched upon a few subjects that weren't considered suitable for ladies and even when her work matured along with her,Jane did like to add a little spice to her imaginative life there.

Considering the mercenary tone to the marriage market amongst her contemporaries,dealing with that all too serious stress in a darkly humorous way was Austen's best defense and if she could lighten up under such social restrictions in real life, there's no sensible reason why I can't do the same when it comes to any fictionalized depiction of Jane:

With so much emotional violence lying under the surface of Austen's books,perhaps the rising tide of physical terror towards her leading ladies in fiction these days was inevitable. While the zombies,vampires and other things that go bump in the night have been fun to see go toe to toe with Jane's girls,the scariest force they may soon face is humanity itself.

It's a contest that Austen heroines have been training all of their existence for and have won in polite circles,but I wouldn't be too surprised to see the next round of re-imagined Austen force a few of them to get more than just a bit of mud on their petticoats. We shall see and smirk,while placing our bets on who would win in a fight(my money's on Fanny):

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'll take Fiction Based Female Detectives On TV for 400,Alex!

One of the hot new shows debuting this summer is TNT's Rizzoli & Isles,starring Angie Harmon and Sascha Alexander as the title duo,good friends who happen to work well together as a down to earth police detective and a slightly offbeat medical examiner.

This series is based upon the mystery novels of Tess Gerritsen,who also has medical thrillers and a few romance titles on her literary resume as well. It's great to see more strong female characters on the crime fighting scene out there in TV land and based on the positive reception R&I seems to be getting from both old fans and new,we may be seeing more of Gerritsen's work,on the small screen at least:

Of course,some of this success is in some part due to other fictional female sleuths being taken from page to screen and blazing a few pop culture trails in their wake for others to follow. Here are a handful of these clever ladies who delightfully deliver up the bad guys with style:

BONES: The strength of this show,from the Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs,comes from not only the connection between our two leads,rough and tumble Agent Booth and the seemingly distant but very much intrigued by new experiences Dr. Brennan,but the entire ensemble of players who click together in order to solve the gruesomely strange mysteries that turn up on their door step.

Since the author is also a producer on the series,much of her artistic vision seems to hold forth while allowing a few tweaks to some of the smaller details in order to give the show it's own distinction. Teamwork both in front of the camera and behind the scenes is the key to keeping a creative collaboration solid as a rock:

The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency: Thanks to the charming novels of Alexander McCall Smith,the world was introduced to Mma Precious Ramotswe,a "traditionally built" lady of Botswana who chose to use the inheritance from her father to start her own private eye business.

The miniseries version of these moderately made mysteries that were on HBO last year brought this budding detective to life in a rather entertaining manner that was almost as good as reading the books themselves.

No small feat for anyone to accomplish,even for a determined woman who's willing to do what it takes to set things right for her clients:

MISS MARPLE: The sweet but sharp witted elderly dame of Agatha Christie's creation has graced both the big screen along with the small,most recently returning to television as part of Masterpiece's Mystery series with Julia McKenzie taking over the role from actress Geraldine McEwan ,who played this classic small town solver of murders since 2004.

Having not the pleasure of seeing the previous performance(as well as the current incarnation),word of mouth has been very good regarding the talents of each lady. Either way,keeping Agatha Christie's characters alive for new generations of viewers and readers is an excellent notion,indeed:

Blood Ties: Sadly,not all adaptations lead to happy ends. Fans of Tanya Huff's paranormal novels about detective Vicki Nelson and her vampire assistant Henry(along with human and former police partner Mike) were only granted two seasons on air.

The show was well received by the fans as well as new comers but poor scheduling and promotion by it's parent network(Yes, Lifetime,we're looking at you!)staked the series from going forth for a third and maybe even fourth season.

Then again,two seasons are better than none and the exposure did help bring Tanya Huff's books to the forefront of many a paranormal/urban fantasy reader's must read list there. Sometimes,you have to make the best of a bloody situation and turn sour grapes into sweet wine,if you can:

One thing that books and TV share in common is the ability to fully expand upon the length of a story and give the characters all of the time they need to truly develop,which is a luxury both for the audience as well as the storyteller. Since the demand for new takes on the mystery genres appear to be on the rise,other female crime authors may have have their share of the conversation soon enough.

While more and more women are making their presence known in the crime solving realm on TV,the fellas shouldn't worry about being upstaged here. There are plenty of bodies all around for folks to ponder and probe in order to find the killers at large for everyone,plus a tough talking manly man can be a welcome breath of fresh air when tossed into the not-so-right setting:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Aimee Bender and Alicia Bessette whip up riveting recipes for mouth watering reads

Food related fiction has become a steady genre that also comes with it's own set of cliches and easily recognizable formats. However,new twists upon the same old recipes happen both in the kitchen and on the bookshelf rather frequently and here are a pair of new novels that deliver those goods with very different flavor profiles.

In Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,we first meet out heroine Rose at age nine,where she first discovers an unappetizing empathy with food as she tastes her mother's emotional neediness in the birthday cake specially made by Mom for her.

After some outside experimentation(with help from her brother Joseph's best friend George),Rose realizes that her ability to feel the emotions of whoever prepares her meals is not limited to home.

Adjusting to this new way of eating has her relying on factory processed fare and keeping some unsavory secrets that occasionally crop up during mouthfuls at the dinner table. Over the years,Rose learns a few hidden details about her family that are not discernible through her psychic sense of taste and that she is not the only one suffering in silence from unwanted extraordinary abilities.

Ultimately,Rose has to decide whether she will be ruled by her unusual senses or have them work for her as a means to discovering her true path to joy in life.

This story may sound like a culinary version of Heroes at first,but it's really more of a tale that has the slow simmer of inner family disharmony along the lines of American Beauty or The Ice Storm. Bender skillfully crafts the scope of one family's implosion and how each of them chooses to walk away(or not)from the wreckage is bittersweet yet lovely with it's subtle haunting tones and compelling portrait of a young woman searching for her own inner self to savor.

While Rose may not have a super power that requires a cape and costume,her insights into the emotional make-up of others transform her in ways she could never imagine or expect at times,such as tasting a wonderful onion soup that helps her to cope with a strangely sad experience in her life. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has a offbeat flavor that brings both the reader and it's narrator a sense of a brighter discontent which makes the bizarre nature of life a little easier to live with:

Alicia Bessette's debut novel,Simply From Scratch,starts off in a blaze of glory as Rose Ellen Roy(known to her friends as Zell) has her small town of Wippamunk's fire department save her house from the fire she accidentally set in the kitchen.

Zell was never much for cooking,that being one of the tasks her husband Nick used to take care,before he died while on a trip to help build new homes in post Katrina New Orleans.

She's still deeply mourning him after more than a year,with only her memories and their rescued from the racetrack scene greyhound,Captain Ahab,as company. Her world expands,however,by becoming friends with Ingrid,her new neighbor who's nine years old and a huge fan of the popular cooking show hostess Polly Pinch(who she believes is her missing mother).

While not wanting to overly encourage Ingrid's all consuming devotion to Polly and her growing culinary empire but needing a new outlet on life,Zell teams up with Ingrid to enter the Desserts That Warm the Soul contest. The top prize is twenty thousand dollars,the exact amount of money that Nick was planning on raising to donate to the Katrina restoration and a chance to meet Polly Pinch in person on her new talk show. One contest,two goals that take both of these gals to destinations far and way beyond their imaginings.

Much like Zell's early efforts at baking,the book has a few unsteady moments at the beginning but progresses nicely to the point where you don't want to put it down,for fear that you'll miss out on what happens next.

After awhile,Bessette sets her story and various characters on a course that's as smoothly soulful and sentimental without sap which makes you want to sing along with the prose,much like the Gladys Knight songs that Zell turns to and tunes into for comfort. Simply From Scratch shows that life is anything but that at times,yet finding it's sweetness to share with others makes those bumps in the road better to handle:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is available at a bookstore near you and Simply From Scratch is set to arrive on August 5th. Both of these books are wonderful reads,especially if you're on the hunt for a novel that embraces female family ties that leave a satisfying aftertaste in your heart and mind.

While the foodie fiction genre may appear to be just literary comfort food,as in all good recipes,the richness of the completed work holds layers of flavors that need patience and persistence to be fully discovered and properly enriching to your creative palate:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hanging out in the Comic Con movie trailer park

Out in San Diego this weekend,Comic Con 2010 is taking place and amongst the many pop culture delights on display there are several big promos for upcoming films. If you're like me and wish you could be there but can't,watching a handful of these trailers can be the next best thing.

First up is the highly anticipated Tron:Legacy, the sequel to the cult commercial film starring Jeff Bridges as a computer genius trapped in a video game world. Bridges is on deck again here,appearing as older and younger versions of himself,with his now adult son(Garret Hedlund) entering this secret cyber world in order to find his father and get some answers about the past.

While I enjoyed the original Tron,it wasn't a major movie for me(preferred The Last Starfighter instead)but clearly this cinematic update was given a lot of well thought out development in the f/x department and hopefully with the script as well:

Coming a bit soon to a theater near you,Vampires Suck is an out and out parody of the Twilight saga,with several other trendy targets tossed in for dubiously funny flavor. It might be amusing, perhaps more so to those already disinclined to the current fan fever for supernatural sweethearts these days:

For something way more scary,M Knight Shyamalan has executive producer credits on a fear flick called The Devil. This is intended to be the first of three films in what is being called The Night Chronicles trilogy and in the director's chair is a pair of brothers,Drew and John Erick Dowdle.

The story has five people become trapped in an elevator,with one of them being revealed to be the ultimate in evil. This may sound like your standard horror movie mayhem but judging from the trailer,The Devil could turn out to be one hell of a ride:

The success of Despicable Me at the box office this summer bodes well for another nice guy villain animated feature due this fall.

MegaMind has Will Ferrell voicing the title fiend whose lifelong battle with the smug superhero Metro Man(Brad Pitt) comes to an unexpected end and a new nemesis must be found to keep his evil empire going. The ready made hero,however,has diabolical plans of his own that leaves our lead villain as the savior of the day.

Plenty of top comedians are on hand to lend their vocal skills to the characters such as Tina Fey,David Cross and Jonah Hill and with such a skillfully satirical concept in play,we have the makings of a rise in the reluctant villain genre there,folks:

Soon enough,all of these movies will be available for our viewing pleasure along with the other goodies being pumped up at Comic Con as well. While going to one of these events can be incredibly fun,it can also be an insanely hectic experience. Entering this arena of fantasy play is no light task to be undertaken,especially when it comes to your wallet.

Whether or not you can wait for your geek thrills,the best thing about all of this hoopla is that fantasy in all of it's genre forms is still a hot ticket item for the industry bigwigs to invest in that will hopefully give a few diamonds in the rough the pop culture polish they need:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top Chef D.C. takes a chill,Design Star fires up and love is stranger on True Blood

To start things off on Top Chef this week,the Quickfire Challenge had the contenders select an exotic protein(rattlesnake,crocodile and duck white kidneys,aka duck testicles,were among the options)to work with. They were given forty-five minutes to cook but like a M. Knight Shyamalan movie,a twist was forth coming.

Fifteen minutes into their cooking time,Padma walked in and told everyone to take over the dish on their left. That was tricky for some but Kelly managed to land on her feet with the emu egg she inherited from Amanda. The omelet she whipped up gave her the win and immunity for the Elimination round.

For the Elim,a "cold war" was declared,meaning that two teams would face off on each other by preparing food meant to be served cold. Each team would have the other eating and critiquing their plates,along with the judges(Kelly's immunity allowed her to sample all of the dishes without having to compete herself)and each team had to choose one winner and loser from the bunch.

The chefs were given a boat ride to plan out their strategies and fret about what their fellow competitors were going to say. It didn't really add much to the challenge there,in my opinion,and they should have just gone straight to food shopping instead.

In the winner's circle was Tiffany,for her spice encrusted ahi tuna in gazpacho sauce that everyone seemed to adore. Even the regular batch of judges swooned over her food,with all of them agreeing that it was the one dish folks kept wanting to eat and it looked like she might take the big win here.

It was Kevin,however,who won for his tuna and veal slices served with Mediterranean seasonings and his big prize was a vacation to Hawaii. Not bad and congrats to him,but I was still hoping that Tiffany would win this one. Oh,well,at least she's still in the game for awhile.

On the chopping block was Kenny,who felt that his dish was chosen more as a way to get rid of him rather than the merits of the dish. While his lamb duo sounded like a dining room dud,he may have a point. Competing directly against him was Amanda,whose chicken gallentine had pieces of cartilage in several of the portions. Bland meat vs bone material in every other bite,I'd know who I would want out after that!

Tamesha had to pack her knives and go,due to the scallops she served with pickled rhubarb and rhubarb jus with basil which really turned everyone off. She seared only part of the scallops and with the raw side of the fish floating in that sauce,it felt like "putting a tongue on your tongue"( guest judge Michelle Bernstein's description of the texture there). Sad to see her go,Tamesha seemed like a nice young lady. Then again,she's young enough to bounce back from this just fine.

Next week,some political big wigs and newsfolk are going to be the special guests for the Elimination and hopefully they'll cast their votes for the dishes that keep some of our favorite contenders cooking for the ultimate victory here.

More of what fans like best about Design Star was on display this week,with the boys vs. girls bit being over and done with. The two teams were more evenly mixed and given the task of making over rec rooms for a pair of NYC firehouses.

Alex really stepped up this time,not only having his design signature become a significant part of the room(he did a nice cityscape mural on one of the walls as a focal point)but when one of his team members had an accident with a nail gun that sent him to the hospital,Alex made sure that Michael's project was completed along with the rest of the work that needed to be done.

Casey may have taken the solo win for her team here(her silhouette painting of a fireman turned out better than I expected)but Alex was the real champion for this challenge.

Going home finally was the obnoxious Nina,who once again fell back on creating pointless art projects as decor. This time around,she chose to cut up a cork board and write out in Braille the fireman's motto of commitment and service.

Why in Braille,you may ask? Nina felt it was a way to showcase the "unseen" qualities of being a fireman-hon,you do know that you're not on Work of Art,right? It was totally impractical and looked like something even a kindergartner could do much better.

The design choices from that whole team were bizarre,from painting a tin paneled ceiling black to making a shoddy entertainment center with wood stained dark enough to look singed. Hello,maybe the last thing firemen want to see after work is a burnt out space! No wonder that Vern and the other judges got so ticked off at them:

With the numerous subplots running in and out of Bon Temps these days,my main concern is still for Tara's plight on True Blood. Her options for getting away from her demented vampire lover Franklin on are getting very limited.

After being snubbed by Bill at the Vampire King of Mississippi's mansion and a daring daylight escape that had her dragged back by a werewolf guard,Tara resorts to psychological placating in order to calm Franklin down and keep herself reasonably intact.

That seems to be working,but Franklin is planning on making their "love" truly eternal and if she doesn't get some serious help soon,Tara will have more on her plate to deal with than day lilies for dinner:

Meanwhile,Bill and Sookie have finally reunited,only to be hunted down by King Russell and his were crew. Alcide may be on hand to help save Sookie but her magical microwave fingers might be more useful here,if only she could rev up that mysterious fire power faster on command:


THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR: Brad really blossomed this week,stirring up some swagger from his classic dish reinvention at a former home of Frank Sinatra's. He was struggling for quite some time and nearly went home on the last challenge,so it was great to see him recover to take the win.

Brianna's time was up,however,and it was long overdue there. From her misguided tips for a five year old's birthday party to the lackluster approach taken with tuna noodle casserole to liven up, Brianna's initial charms failed to entice the judges into keeping her in the competition. I am worried about Aarti,whose worse enemy is her nerves-fight the good fight,you can do it!:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angelina Jolie's Salt has a slew of strong cinematic sisters in arms to back her up

The big hoped-for box office bonanza hitting theaters this week is Salt,starring Angelina Jolie in an all too timely thriller as a CIA operative who is fingered as a sleeper spy for the Russians and has to go on the lam as well as the warpath to clear her name.

The part was originally written for a man but when the chance to sign on Jolie was offered(after several male actors backing down from taking the role),a revision to the script was made with only a few minor tweaks to accommodate the gender switch. Since Jolie seems to find action films as an ideal comfort zone for her, career wise,this was probably a smart move for all concerned:

While I don't think I'll be rushing out to savor Salt any time soon,it does put me in mind of other film females ready to throw down when called upon to do so(and even when not). Some of these ladies may not be as slick as Jolie but they are just as hardcore as she can be,perhaps even give her and other tough girl contenders a real run for their money. Let's take a look:


This story of a struggling girl from the streets being recruited and trained as a hit woman has been told and retold both on the big screen and the small. To get the best version,watch the original French film directed by Luc Besson and starring Anne Parillaud as the title reluctant assassin.

Parillaud brings true vulnerability and cold blooded determination to the role,making her character formidable as well as identifiable. Jean Reno also shows up here,in an earlier incarnation of the "cleaner" persona he would later play in
The Professional,however the focus of the film is Nikita and her journey of dealing death in order to find purpose in life:


Avoid the 1998 remake of this movie like the plague,folks. Sharon Stone's tepid performance is practically an insult to the one given by Gena Rowlands in the 1980 original.

Rowlands is more believable as a retired gangster moll who becomes the unwilling at first impromptu guardian of a neighbor's son,the only survivor of the Mafia hit put out on his family. While the kid does get on her nerves,she can't help but protect him from those who used to be her friends and kick some serious ass while doing so.

John Cassavetes did the directing honors here,and with the advantage of Rowlands being his wife and leading lady in several other films of his,this was truly a match made in movie heaven. Gloria is one gal you don't want to mess with,boys:


Quentin Tarantino doesn't always get credit for the strong women who frequent his films but in this case,it's only right for him to share the props for Jackie Brown with Elmore Leonard(whose crime novel,Rum Punch,is the source material for the script)and Pam Grier,iconic 70's B-movie goddess who brings her A-game here,as the airline stewardess reduced to being a drug runner's go-between and caught in the crossfire of a criminal investigation.

As Jackie seeks the balance between the Feds who want to use her to bring the big players down and the bad guys willing to do her in before she can betray them,Grier's emotional authority as an actress is given a solid showcase and why she didn't get an Oscar nomination out of this is beyond me:


Geena Davis took a very out of her usual box role here as Samantha Caine,a suburban housewife happy with her life,despite the amnesia which has blocked her memories of the past for several years.

When an accident starts to revive her lost memory,it turns out that Samantha is actually a believed to be dead CIA assassin named Charly Baltimore,who possesses an offbeat delight in her deadly abilities.

With the help of a third rate P.I.(Samuel L. Jackson),Samantha and Charly need to have a real meeting of the mind in order to fight off her enemies crawling out of the woodwork to kill her and protect her new found loved ones as well. This flick is an over the top popcorn thriller that didn't exactly blow up the box office but is a fast and furious piece of pop culture eye candy worth a try,especially to see Geena as a crazycool killing machine:

Of course,women don't have to be physical fighters to prove their true strength but you have to admit that sometimes seeing girl power in combat action can be fun. In order to elevate the feminine fisticuffs from the realm of mindless violence, the goal of the characters in the storyline should be a quest of the heart as well as the well being of others,which the best stories often are. However,sometimes a gal has to break a few eggs and heads in order to make that happy ending omelet:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Food Network Challenge gives you a stroll thru Carl Warner's Foodscapes

While this new season of Food Network Challenge has gone through some changes,one culinary constant that remains is judge Kerry Vincent,who is now teamed with former FNC host Keegan Gerhard on the panel to decide which sweet treat should reign supreme.

This past weekend,Kerry and Keegan had more of a savory rather than a sugary contest to oversee with FNC's first ever Food Landscapes challenge. The guest judge for this edible sculpture was a gentleman who Kerry highly recommended to the powers that be at Food Network,Carl Warner.

Carl Warner is a British photographer who is best known for the imaginative landscapes that he creates entirely with food. In his deliciously inventive world,you can walk into broccoli forests,visit charming garlic clove houses or sail a sea of salmon on a pea pod boat.

Carl's work has been showcased in commercials across Europe and will be soon be available this fall in a photo book as well as a 2011 calendar . Food art has always been a part of the cultural landscape but Warner's keen eye and clever compositions have clearly taken this genre to the next level:

Three teams lead by former FNC contenders were competing for top honors here. James Parker(who appeared on the Fantasy Fruit challenge and it's sequel,Fantasy Fruit Rematch)headed up one of them to make a Chinese landscape with a section of the Great Wall of China and a lovely bridge made from sugar cane against a mountain of durian fruit and a sake waterfall.

The best part of his sweet setting was a pagoda decorated with fresh lobster claws. It was so good that Carl Warner joked about swiping it for himself. While James' creation was considered to be lovely by all of the judges,it didn't get the win.

That honor went to Douglas St. Souver, who had competed against James in the Fantasy Fruit shows and was happy to take on his past rival yet again.

There was a bit of drama during the show,as Doug received a nasty sugar burn while constructing his pieces that required medical attention. Despite being told that he should go to the hospital,Doug chose to have his wound bandaged up and carry onward with the project,in order to not let his team down. He proved himself to be a real trouper and his painful perseverance paid off nicely.

Doug and his team did a farm scene,with hot dogs and coffee used to make plowed fields and a barn from matzoh crackers,plus a tractor carved from a beet with cruller doughnut wheels.

It was quite impressive and had the visual depth that Carl Warner's depictions were known for,which rightly earned Doug the ten thousand dollar prize. Even James was happy to concede the victory to him but jested about another rematch with Doug.

Sadly,the third team was lead by Stevie Famulari, the infamous cake fire starter who continued her usual campaign against Kerry by adding to her swamp setpiece a large chocolate head that was meant to pop out of the "water"(it was a pungent stew of strong smelling meats and veggies),which wound up leaking out of the display by judging time.

Stevie pulled out her regular bag of bad behavior tricks by arguing with her team mates and going out of her way to antagonize Kerry(who kept a steady stiff upper lip throughout)and added some new ones such as decorating her swamp with raw liver and baby squid,not to mention that the chocolate head that was allegedly meant to be a combination of all three judges(with a very obvious headband on top)resembled a rejected prop from a Boris Karloff movie.

Fortunately,Stevie's antics were not enough to detract from the creative wonders that James and Doug(along with the great back-up provided by their team mates)were able to present to the judges. This was an interesting new category for the Food Network Challenge that hopefully will be attempted again,particularly with both these talented food artists at the helm.

My thanks to Kerry Vincent for providing me with the group shot of the judges and the photo of Doug's winning display. This episode is set to be replayed later this week and I hope those of you intrigued by this tasty structural spectacle will tune in to see it all for yourselves.

I also hope that some of you will check out Carl Warner's work,both online and off,as well. Artistry such as this may seem like simple food play but it's much more complex and awe inspiring in it's intrinsic beauty than first meets the eye.

Think of it as a two for one deal;an expansion of your mind that also stimulates your savory senses with fantastical imagery flavor. Gives the phrase food for thought a whole other meaning there,now,doesn't it?: