Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, April 30, 2012

What makes Think Like a Man a rare success in the self help based genre

For the second week in a row,the film adaptation of comedian Steve Harvey's romantic advice guide,Think Like a Man,has been number one at the box office. The critical reviews of the movie have been mixed but audiences are still eager to flock to the theaters for it. You could say that folks are just in mood for a romantic comedy right now but this weekend's highly promoted new entry,The Five Year Engagement,barely reached the top five list of movie money makers.

So far,films based on self help books have had the same hit-or-miss ratio with movie lovers as video game based ones have;great looking but lacking in steady story elements. This holds much truer for self help titles,since they are written as instructional manuals for the most part.

Some could point to factors such as Steve Harvey's fan base or the down playing of controversial singer Chris Brown in the cast for most of the TV spots for this film getting the big numbers at the ticket booth. However,I think there is one small but crucial detail that many are not seeing as the key to TLAM's success.

The basic plot of the movie has a group of frustrated in love women who decide to take a few cues from Steve Harvey's book(which is fully titled Act Like a Lady,Think Like a Man)and use them to their advantage. The men in their lives find out what they're doing and go,'Oh,well,two can play at that game!" Both sides acknowledge the existence of the book that is the basis of the movie,which is a little bit meta and a nice tip of the hat to those who read it in the audience:

The previous attempt at establishing this film genre,He's Just Not That Into You,simply played out a short story style of script and so far as I know,didn't directly connect the book with the onscreen characters(I didn't see the movie and have no interest in doing so,not even for Bad Movie Month).

HJNTIY also received mixed reviews and while it opened at number one on it's opening weekend,the film quickly dropped into second place by the next. Both movies have solid ensemble casts and ties to a best seller,so what accounts for the change here? In my mind,Think Like a Man is much savvier for playing up their book hook rather than pretending that their love connection tale is cut from mostly original cloth:

Some may shrink from what film critic Roger Ebert describes as "one of the greatest examples of product placement in history" but in this case,it may the proper exception to the rule. Most people who chose to see a book based on a book have read the book beforehand and expect to see some of what they liked on page to appear onscreen.

Given that the nature of self help titles doesn't readily lend itself to movie friendly plot developments,having the characters read the book and apply it's contents to their current situation makes it more relatable.

Even to people who didn't read the book,it makes more sense-"What does this have to do with that book?" they might say upon leaving the theater. "I could've stayed home and watched a Friends marathon instead!" Bridging that literal gap could be the best bet that the self help based movie genre can make to stay alive amongst the major media sharks.

The real test for this niche will be the upcoming What to Expect When You're Expecting,another all star cast line-up that's "inspired by the best selling book." Hopefully,a couple of the characters will be seen reading the title manual or it may get written off as a typical pregnancy panic flick:

Time will tell about the self help book based genre,which may be a blessing as well as a curse for movie makers and their target audience. Of course,some will never like self help books in any form and will no doubt see the rise of them as hit films as a sign of the apocalypse. As for me,I'm a live and let live kind of gal when it comes to this topic and prefer to vent my movie wrath about other things,such as a lack of a Justice League movie which is a worse crime against cinema to me. Then again, we all have our pop culture crosses to bear and should respect each other's need to righteously rant:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

GOT goes to the bargaining table,a close call for a TAR team and more Vampire Diaries hijinks

Haggling was the name of the game on the last episode of Game of Thrones,starting with the Battling Baratheon brothers. Renly and Stannis meet in the field,with Lady Stark present,to discuss joining forces.

While it would benefit both sides to work together,the main bone of contention is who would be the one to wear the crown. Stannis is as stubborn as all get out that he should be in charge and Renly just loves sniping at his big brother.

Too bad Lady Stark isn't in charge here,as her notion of making these two get along might actually be beneficial to the proceedings.

Unfortunately,the only influential female in this mix is Melisandre,the Red Woman who persists in promoting Stannis as the Lord of Light's chosen one.

Her methods of persuasion,however,are going to prove to be rather deadly(no spoilers,I swear!). Let's just say that her interest in giving Stannis a son isn't as motherly as you might think it is and that the consequences of her powers are scarier than you might imagine:

Meanwhile,Dany and friends have reached the city of Qarth in hopes of being granted refuge from the desert. The Thirteen,the folks who run Qarth, did promise to recieve them but were quick to demand a look at the dragons first to see if they were real.

Dany took offense at their high handed attitude and showed some Targaryen flair in gaining entrance to the city. That impressed at least one member of the Thirteen,who took personal responsibility for Dany and her people. While she has a foot in the door,Dany should not get too overwhelmed by the beauty of Qarth or she may find herself outside the gates yet again:

On The Amazing Race,the first Road Block that the teams faced in India was particularly challenging to one pair,Team Kentucky. One team member had to learn a Bollywood dance routine and perform with a troupe in front of a local film director.

Since Bopper has been having trouble with his knees,Mark had to step up to the plate but the combination of heat and motion sickness(which he experienced on the bus heading over to the task),the poor guy went through more than a dozen attempts to get the dance done right.

Not too long into this ordeal,Bopper begged his friend to quit and just take the penalty at the Pit Stop. Mark wouldn't do it,worried about winning the money for his family. After a decent rest break,he did finally complete the challenge and thankfully,this was a non elimination leg. I really hope these guys make it all the way to the end,they truly deserve to:

The gang on The Vampire Diaries have a 1920s theme dance to distract them from their usual woes,but they need to keep on their toes as a secret alliance has been made under their noses.

It's also under the radar of their enemies,as Alaric's other personality has made a pact with Esther,the mother of the Originals.

Seems that Esther used her remaining magic to take over her darling daughter Rebecca's body and the two of them are out to wipe out all vampires,regardless of how good or bad they are. Hopefully,this ruse will be revealed in time to save our special vamps from extinction,plus let them enjoy the dance:


AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY PLATES: This upcoming Bravo series appears to be the Amazing Race of Cooking,as contestants travel the globe to learn international cuisine and prepare it at local restaurants in order to win the grand prize. With Cat Cora as hostess,this should be a savvy sweet ride:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some sweet sitcom birthday surprises

Alright,folks,today is my birthday and I tend to do specially themed posts about that on this occasion,so please bear with me. One thing that I've never had is a surprise birthday party and judging from the many examples that I have seen featured in pop culture,I don't think that I'm missing out much.

Mainly seen on sitcoms,surprise parties tend to be recipes for disaster and personal embarrassment,especially for the guest of honor. Yet,they are such a great go-to plot device that it would be a shame to do without such a golden opportunity for laughs. So,here are a handful of surprise party moments that provided plenty of startling(and silly)revelations:

NOBODY LOVES AN OVERDONE REACTION: An episode of Everybody Loves Raymond had both Ray and his mother-in-law plan his wife Debra's surprise birthday party. Debra found out that Ray was working on it(but not her mom)and got him to change the theme to Chinese banquet instead of the English garden party that her mother originally wanted.

By the time she actually arrived at the party,pretty much everyone there knew that Debra knew,so her pretending to be surprised was a prime example of over the top theatrics:

FAR FROM FRIENDLESS: One of the drawbacks to planning a surprise party is leaving the honoree so much in the dark that he/she may start to think that their special day has been forgotten.

On I Love Lucy,Ricky and friends kept her completely clueless on that front,which caused Lucy to wander the streets until she ran into a group called "Friends of the Friendless" that boosted her spirits.

She lead her new band of followers down to the club to let her loved ones know what she thought of their ignoring her but found out how much they cared about her instead:

BIRTHDAY BOY SONG: Granted,Mad Men is not a sitcom but the show can be humorous at times and the most recent moment of unexpected joy this season was watching Megan give Don her idea of a perfect birthday present,her sexy rendition of "Zou Bisou Bisou" at his surprise party.

That little song and dance was amusing,particularly for the reactions of the various party attendees. The best review of that performance came from Roger Sterling and his second wife Jane,who clearly wanted a birthday wish of their own granted right then and there:

TOO BROKE FOR BIRTHDAYS: Despite their very limited budget,Max on 2 Broke Girls did want to give Caroline a surprise party for her birthday. Even though the party supplies consisted of a few balloons and a six pack of nonalcoholic drinks,she was willing to make the effort.

Turns out the real surprise was that Caroline had no intentions of celebrating her b-day,not to mention the secret hook-ups between several of the diner patrons and staff:

Thanks for sharing this birthday blog post with me and I hope that you found a couple of these clips worth watching. As for any real life surprise party planning,let me offer a small piece of advice. Do be careful in choosing who to throw such a bash for,since some people tend to see that as more of a threat than a treat:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In the merry month of May,books can bloom in time for June

We are in the midst of spring,with summer approaching fast( and hopefully not furious),making this time of year a lovely transition from cold to warm in more ways than one. A very much looked forward to change up is in new books,which span from refined to relaxing.

Whether you're seeking a nice lit pick for Mother's Day, a new book club selection or planning to get a jump on a juicy beach read,there should be something in this preview post that will take you in the right direction:


I've reviewed this book earlier this month but singing the praises of The Secrets of Mary Bowser feels right at any time. Lois Leveen's debut novel
takes a relatively unknown heroine of the Civil War,an educated young woman freed by her Abolitionist owner,and shares a mix of fact and fiction about her exploits as a spy for the Union army.

Mary's journey through life is expanded by more than just her experiences working under cover as a maid in the household of Confederate president
Jefferson Davis. Her experiences growing up as a slave,with one parent forced to live apart from her and her mother to going to school in Philadelphia by herself and seeing how even in a free state,racial bias is still prevalent to falling in love with a man who volunteers to fight for freedom,are alluringly amazing to read(May 15):

Hilary Mantel won accolades,along with the Booker Prize,for her twist on the tales of the Tudors with Wolf Hall back in 2009 and next month she returns to that time with Bring Up The Bodies. The story of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn is seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell,whose rise to political power was made with their marriage.

However,as Anne is becoming less enchanting to the king,so is the appeal to Cromwell in keeping her as queen. Anne and her kin are not about to let go without a fight,which means more than one head may roll. Even to those familiar with this perilous period,Mantel shines a newer light on the subject that showcases it's doomed beauty brilliantly(May):


Even amongst non-foodies,chef Marcus Samuelsson is a well known name. From his restaurants in the heart of Harlem to his appearances on shows such as Top Chef Masters and Chopped,Samuelsson's dedication to the art of cooking and sincere nature have won over many folks who haven't had the pleasure of tasting his food.

He tells his life story in Yes,Chef,that starts from his childhood in Ethiopia to being adopted by a Swedish couple after the untimely death of his mother and his love of cooking taking him to apprenticeships in Sweden and France and onward to New York. Samuelsson's culinary climb to the top of his profession promises to be a read-worthy entree indeed(June):


The mysteries of sex are a reoccurring theme in John Irving's novels and in his upcoming book,In One Person,they take center stage. Leading man
Billy Abbott explores his desires for both men and women over the course of his life,starting in the straitlaced 1950s and dealing with the turbulence of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s.

Along the way,Billy falls in and out of love with a variety of friends and lovers,not to mention handling the quirks of his less than functional family. Irving's blend of humor and heart,plus epic story telling,should serve him and the reader rather well here(May):


The heroine of Elizabeth Percer's An Uncommon Education,Naomi Feinstein,is determined to use her time at Wellesley college wisely in order to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor capable of curing her ill prone parents. However,the isolation she craves for her studies turns out to be less appealing that she imagined.

An unexpected rescue of a drowning girl brings Naomi into the Shakespearean Society,a long standing secret club in the school,that opens up a whole new realm of social delights for her. That breath of fresh air becomes hard to enjoy when threat of a scandal forces her to choose between the new people in her life and those who have always been there. This debut novel could provide a lot of interesting debate for the college bound and book groups alike(May):

For Downton Abbey fans who love the thrill of the dark side,Sadie Jones may have your perfect cup of literary tea with The Uninvited Guests. A birthday party at a country estate in Edwardian England is interrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests,passengers from a nearby train derailment in need of shelter.

Amongst the distraught newcomers is Charlie Traversham-Beechers,a man who seems to know more than he should about the hostess,Charlotte,and her family. His attempts to provoke the delicate harmony of the household soon unleash an array of personal demons that appear to have very real teeth. The heady atmosphere of this riveting novel is bound to cause quite a bit of late night page turning(May):


Leila Meacham made an charming debut with the 2010 release of her steadfast saga Roses and lucky for us all,she's not stopping there.

Her upcoming novel,Tumbleweeds,like her first book is set in Texas and follows three good friends as they struggle to overcome a life changing event that affects their futures and bond with one another.

Not much more is known about the book,yet if it's half as satisfying as Roses was,Tumbleweeds should be making it's way into many a beach bag this summer(June).

While the temptation to go outdoors and indulge in the inviting spring and summer weather is understandable,do try to make reading part of that fun. Speaking of fun,book talks are a good way to be social this season but there's no need to resort to fisticuffs about which character is best,unless you're severely provoked,of course:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Does Dark Shadows deserve a silly spotlight?

Fans of the original Dark Shadows TV series(which ran for several years in the late sixties and early 1970s)were happy upon first hearing that
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp would be headlining a major motion picture version of the goth soap opera. However,many of those smiles have become frowns after viewing the trailer for the upcoming film.

The basic premise of the story is the same;accursed vampire Barnabas Collins returns to his former homestead upon being released from his coffin and encounters his troubled descendants. The tone of the piece then seems to romp right into parody country,as a sort of Brady Bunch:The Movie vibe then starts to take over.

While the script is written by Seth Grahame-Smith(the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,plus another big summer movie this season,Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter),who has proven to be a rather talented humorist,I'm not sure that his take on Collinwood is going to be appreciated by the diehard Dark Shadows crowd:

Granted,a good portion of the DS fan base loves the over the top antics of the show and have kept it alive as a camp icon for years,but others are
going to feel as they are being made the punchline of the jokes here. I only saw some of the original Dark Shadows in reruns as a kid and it was part of the reason that I became the huge vampire fan that I am. However,I also feel that my comfort level as a geek(not to mention my hopeful maturity as I grow older)helps me to be able to laugh a little about it.

That doesn't mean I'm totally on board with this version of Dark Shadows,which will be the introduction to the whole phenomenon for most of this generation.Tim Burton and Johnny Depp claim to be ardent fans of the show,for which I have no doubt about,and perhaps this is their way of reconciling that passion of the past with a reflection of their adult awareness about the flaws as well as the fun of it. One can only hope yet it is hard to deny the ripe opportunities for humor with this material:

The influence of Dark Shadows has been felt over time,with an attempt at reviving the show as a prime time contender during the 1990s and the daytime soap opera Passions clearly taking a page or two from the DS playbook. Yet,the true successor to the legend of Barnabas Collins is,in my opinion,The Vampire Diaries.

While TVD has more of a believable edge in terms of character development and sharper dialogue,it does own quite a bit to Dark Shadows there. After all,we do have a lovelorn vampire who returns to his ancestral home in order to be with the girl who eerily resembles his long ago sweetheart and there are witches and ghosts nearby. Sounds familiar in some ways,now doesn't it,folks?

Granted,things are a tad more complex with the sinister sibling rivalry,plus the previous girlfriend also being a jealous lookalike vampirella whose hobby is mind games and werewolves also part of the mix. Still,The Vampire Diaries is a very worthy heir to the bloody throne that Barnabas built:

So,while it remains to be seen if the new Dark Shadows movie is a fresh transfusion or a stake to the heart of vampire lore,I wouldn't despair just yet. Even if Dark Shadows turns out to be a dud,there is still plenty of room on the small screen for bloodthirsty melodrama to flourish.

Demand for DVD/ online streaming viewing of the original series will go up with all of the new attention given to it,thanks to the film,and season five of True Blood is arriving this June,so vampire lovers will have their fair share of dark delights to cool down with at home. It would also be nice to enjoy some blood chilling at the multiplex as well but in the end,quality should win out:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pump up the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction of the past

There was quite a shock amongst book lovers this week,as the Pulitzer committee decided not to award a fiction prize this year. Granted,this has happened before but the last time this occurred was 1977,so to many folks such a thing seems unthinkable.

The lack of a fiction winner for the Pulitzer Prize has given distress to writers and readers,not to mention a special note of concern for booksellers. Usually the novel that gets the award becomes a high demand purchase for lit lovers,which brings plenty of them into bookstores big and small. In such tight economic times,the foot traffic on this front can be more crucial than ever:

As a former bookseller myself,I do have a suggestion on how brick and mortar book shops can handle this dilemma and that's backlist,baby.

For those of you unfamiliar with that term,it means previously published titles that are still part of a publishing house's rotation and the basis of their distribution list. Also,if you happen to sell DVDs as well,a good number of these past Pulitzer winners have film adaptations which you can easily pair up as a two-for-one deal.

One likely candidate for display is Richard Russo's Empire Falls,that received the PP in 2002. This novel that chronicles the life of a small town centers it's focus on Miles Roby,a modern day George Bailey type who doesn't have a guardian angel handy. However,his taken for granted good nature is upset more by a secret kept since childhood on behalf of a loved one. Not only is the book a wonderful absorbing read but the HBO miniseries made from it is this close to perfect as a visual translation of the novel:

Another good piece of work to feature here is The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. This tale of two brothers,Nestor and Cesar Castillo,whose musical careers and fortunes rise and fall as they make their way from Havana to New York won the Pulitzer in 1990 and was the first novel written by a Hispanic American to achieve that distinction.

The 1992 film version starred Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas,with the title shortened to The Mambo Kings. The reviews were decent but film audiences weren't as captivated by it as readers were. The film did get an Oscar nomination for the pivotal song of the plot,"Beautiful Maria of my Soul" and a stage production was attempted in 2005. With the current state of Broadway musicals,it might be time to try that again:

For a more classical approach,Edith Wharton and The Age of Innocence nicely fits the bill. Set amongst high society in nineteenth century New York,the subtle yet tormented nuances of the passion between Newland Archer,a man already engaged to a proper young lady,and Countess Ellen Olenska,returing home to decide the fate of her ill advised marriage,is a touching tragedy of the soul.

There have been three movie editions of this 1921 Pulitzer winner,the first being a silent version made in 1924. The one that truly captures the spirit of the novel,in my opinion,is Martin Scorsese's 1993 rendition,which he directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Scorsese dedicated the film to his father who did not live to see it,a true shame since it's a breathtakingly beautiful presentation:

Last but not least on my list of suggestions,The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk is more than just a WWII story. It's an intense drama that highlights the true nature of men under pressure and how they can let their worst side take over. This is a good time to either reread or be introduced to Wouk,as he has a new book coming out this fall entitled The Lawgiver,about the making of a Moses movie in modern times,told via e-mail,tweets and other forms of new media. Pretty sharp for a gentleman of his age(which happens to be 96)-sir,I salute you!

Back to Caine,the novel(which won it's PP in 1952) inspired a stage play and a very notable film adaptation 10 1954 that is still considered to be a major influence upon courtroom dramas and military movies. Humphrey Bogart's performance as the too tightly wound Captain Queeg holds up as a major highpoint of his career but just as excellent was the work done by Jose Ferrar,as the military lawyer acting against his own instincts to bring Queeg down:

Of course,you can always promote the three novels up for the Pulitzer this year-Swamplandia by Karen Russell,The Pale King by David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson's Train Dreams-and see which one your patrons think should have taken the prize home.

Awards aside,being pleased as a reader is what really counts in the long run and is key to keeping any work of literary art alive. Even books that do win any sort of honor aren't always appreciated in their time. Some people just love to find fault in anything popular,especially an award winner,and instead of drinking their sour grape brew,make your own lit-worthy lemonade:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tyrion shuffles the deck on GOT,unnecessary pouting on TAR and a new page for The Vampire Diaries

When last we checked in with Game of Thrones,Tyrion made a power move to find out who in the Small Council would be quick to sell him out to sister Cersei. He spun a tale of making a marriage alliance with his niece Myrcella to Littlefinger,Vareys and the Grand Maester,naming a different potential groom and asking all of them not to tell the Queen mother.

Naturally,someone let her in on the plan and that leak came from the Maester,which made it easier for Tyrion and friends to plug up. Nicely played,Tyrion but be careful with those other guys,neither of them can be trusted,trust me on that!:

Meanwhile,Arya's trek to the North has been interrupted by Lannister soldiers seeking out Gendry,the possibly last of the illegitimate children of King Robert,for execution.

As much as Night's Watch man Yoren tried,the troops overtook him but not without a bit of bloodshed. Arya lost her sword and her freedom yet managed to save Gendry from death by telling their captors that another boy whom they had just killed was the one they were looking for. Good going,girl and stay safe:

On this leg of The Amazing Race,a Double U Turn was in place,which lets two teams get the chance to send two others back to complete the Detour challenge not taken.

Team Border Patrol(Art and J.J.)used that option to set Team Big Brother back but became unreasonably annoyed that Dave and Rachel(who they had an alliance with)didn't do so when they arrived to the DUT first. I honestly don't see what was the problem;as Dave and Rachel pointed out,Jamie and Nary(the "school teachers")were further behind the pack,plus they had a Speed Bump so in terms of strategy,delaying Team BB wasn't a necessary move to make.

You would think that Art and J.J. would be pleased to have the "honor" of u-turning Team BB but no,they were whiny and grumpy about the whole thing,swearing that their alliance was over. Being poor sports,fellas,not a smart way to earn that good karma you may need soon:

After a brief break,The Vampire Diaries return tonight with more entertaining angst and chaos. With Alric's alter ego hiding that special stake that could destroy the Originals,Elena needs to do something proactive so she chooses to retrieve Jeremy from his supposedly safe location in Denver. My best guess is that trouble is already lurking around that kid and is ready to pounce as soon as Elena shows up.

Damon is going with her,for more than one reason of course. Yep,that's the best time to consider a romantic entanglement,right when you're risking your neck to save just about everyone you know and care about,not to mention road trip! It never rains in Mystic Falls,the conflicts love to pour:


MAD MEN: I would be remiss in my pop culture duties if I didn't comment on the fist fight between Lane and Pete this week. Pete was really cruising for a bruising and he certainly got one,English style. I do hope that Lane can find a better way to relieve his obvious stress about his place in the world but delivering a much needed smackdown isn't a totally bad way to start:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unravel The Secrets of Mary Bowser with Lois Leveen

There were a number of behind the scenes players that helped to end the Civil War in favor of the North and those who wanted to end slavery but not all of them have been recognized by history. In Lois Leveen's debut novel,The Secrets of Mary Bowser,one of those courageous women is finally given her due.

Mary was the daughter of enslaved parents,one of whom belonged to the prominent Van Lew family in Richmond,Virginia. The daughter of that house, Elizabeth Van Lew,aka Bet,was an active advocate for the abolitionist movement and saw Mary's intellectual potential at a young age.

Before she even learned to read,Mary was able to memorize entire conversations and repeat anything read aloud in her presence word for word. It was a talent that she had to be taught to conceal as any indication of advanced knowledge in a slave would place all of them in jeopardy.

When Bet was old enough to free her family slaves,she also arranged for Mary to receive an education in Philadelphia. Her mother and father weren't able to join her,due to Mary's father being owned by a vicious man who refused to let him leave his service at any price. As nervous as she was about leaving all that she knew behind,Mary was determined to live up to her mother's notion that destiny had special plans for her.

After getting used to living on her own,Mary flourished in Philadelphia and made good friends with people like Hattie,the youngest child of an undertaker whose shop was a way station for the Underground Railroad and Zinnie Moore,a Quaker woman who devoted herself to ending slavery,even while some of her church members weren't very welcoming to African Americans.

Although she was able to make a good life for herself in a free state,Mary still ran into prejudice from both blacks and whites that disheartened her,not to mention missing her parents who were still miles apart from her. Eventually,she returned to Virginia,partly because she wanted to make a contribution towards gaining freedom for her people. Bet Van Lew was instrumental in that department,as she brought Mary into the spy network that she was a member of:

With the Civil War fully underway,Mary's keen deciphering skills were well employed,first as a go-between for Union soldiers imprisoned nearby and then later as a maid in the household of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

Working for temperamental "First Lady" Varina Davis was a daily trial by fire but the intelligence gathered from overheard conversations and documents left on top of Davis' office desk made such burdens easier to bear.

Risk was risk,however,and Mary came close to it time and time again. Still,she persevered as more than her life was on the line. Her determination grew stronger when her husband David was able to enlist and join the fight for freedom on the battlefield. Even as Mary was desperate to see David safe and sound again,she knew that the best way to help him and others in bondage was to stay in the spy game:

The Secrets of Mary Bowser may sound like a history lesson,but it's much more than that. It's a living,breathing portrait of a woman struggling to find her place in a world that oppresses her for many reasons and manages to mark her own significant mark on it. Since most of the facts about Mary are unknown to the official history of the time period,Leveen resorts to her extensive research and inventive imagination to create a plausible as well as entertaining version of the story of this exceptional woman's life and times.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of this wonderful book,courtesy of Library Thing,and for fans of historical fiction with a feminine focus,The Secrets of Mary Bowser is the absolute must-read of the season.

The novel is set to be released next month and I'll be featuring it in my May/June book preview next week. However,I urge you not to hesitate in reserving your copy as soon as may be. This touching tale of triumph and hope should be part of any well stocked library,public or private:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Clash of the Archie Comics titans

The comic book world of Archie,set in the small town of Riverdale,was considered a bastion of good natured wholeness as iconic as the Andy Griffith show or Happy Days,where the biggest problem was who would get an invite to the high school dance by the title hero,Betty or Veronica?

However,there has been a recent rift behind the scenes of the comic book company that created it which reflects upon a dramatic shift in the viewpoint of the residents of Riverdale and their growing connection to our reality. A legal battle is currently being waged between the two corporate heads of the Archie Comics company(which is still a family owned business,a rarity in publishing circles these days)that is rift with allegations of employee harassment,defamation and a hostile work environment.

At this time,mediation is under way to settle who is in active control of the company and there are hopes that this fight won't be too costly. Otherwise,the sales of Archie Comics may be a real possibility and could change the future of all of the titles in it's possession. Sounds like a far cry from those carefree days of yesteryear,especially for long time fans of the series(I'm more of a Josie and the Pussycats girl myself but still I sympathize there):

Without getting into all of the he said/she said details,the one thing that convinced me about this entire situation being more than just a power struggle was that a major bone of contention is the updating of the world in which Archie and friends live in. Particularly,the addition of a gay character named Kevin Keller who was first introduced in a Veronica comic and has become a popular draw,with the issue where Kevin gets married selling out at retailers in strong numbers.

Other changes in the Archie series have been opposed as well,including story lines that imagined what if scenarios for Archie to marry either Betty or Veronica but this one says a lot about the mind set of the forces arrayed against it inhouse,in my opinion. Kevin Keller being a part of Archie's world has made the comic more accessible to a new audience and shown growth amongst characters that were in danger of turning into stale cliches that no longer had any pop culture relevance. Saving Archie from rejection by the next generation sounds like a smart and savvy decision to me:

While some may fear that any major changes to the fictional status quo could tear down the elements that made it so endearing in the first place,the hard truth is that in order to keep any series going,you need to ratchet things up a notch so that the plots stay interesting for the reader as well be relatable to all concerned.

This can be done without destroying the original structure of the piece. Actually,it can improve things quite a bit. Think of it as renovating a house;to keep what you love best about the building,some of the worn out fixtures have to be replaced,along with newer ones worked in to steady the foundation.

If you do it right,the former glory can shine brighter than before,not to mention make way for new residents to appreciate and enjoy such rich structure:

With any luck,this rift at Archie Comics will soon be mended and in favor of expanding the appeal of the comics to all audiences. Holding back promising new developments will only doom the series and deprive readers of a charming comic that showcases a positive version of life amongst teens. Dwelling in denial is a pointless exercise that gets you nowhere fast and that would be a shame for that to happen to Archie and the Riverdale gang:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Inspecting the frightful foundation of The Cabin in the Woods

With today being our second Friday the 13th of the year(the next one's due in July),horror fans are fortunate to have a shiny new scare film in theaters
that actually seems like a smart and savvy fear fest. The Cabin in the Woods is co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard(with Goddard taking the directorial reins),who have worked well together since their days on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

The plot appears to be your basic slasher movie set-up,with five young people heading off to the remote wilderness to party. However,things are not what they seem and more than one twist to the standard slaughter scenario is revealed over time:

Naturally,even in the most original of plot premises,there are always building blocks from previous pop culture material that help to stabilize the
fictional foundation. Not saying that this movie is a rip-off,far from it. The knowledge and appreciation of the nuances of a certain genre are what makes it so flexible to the next generation of story tellers and allows them to find new variations on the theme.

While I haven't seen TCITW yet,here are a few of my best guesses as to what inspired this terror tale. With the "teens in danger from mysterious stranger while alone in the woods" mold in place,the obvious fear fore bearer is Friday the 13,the Sean Cunningham killer classic of the 1980s.

That first film set the bar for this kind of slasher film;horny teenagers,check! Scary strange back story for the killer,check! Gruesomely inventive ways to die,check! Lone "good" girl to survive,check! Say what you will about this flick and the seemingly endless sequels that followed,it was a cinematic ground breaker in it's day:

Another take on the isolated in the woods theme was Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II:Dead by Dawn that came out in 1987. ED2 was a mix of sequel and remake,as Raimi wanted a better version of his first Evil Dead movie that would lead to a sequel set in medieval times.

Bruce Campbell,who starred in the first ED,reprises his role as Ash,the hapless hero who gets as insanely dangerous as the demonic foes released from the Book of the Dead and are out to "swallow your soul". The blend of over the top humor and horror,combined with visual effects that were amazingly shocking,made this movie a cult favorite and did pave the way for the medieval sequel that Raimi wanted to make, Army of Darkness,which was out in theaters by 1992. Sometimes,remakes are a good thing:

Last but not least,there is a mystery element to Cabin in the Woods that may have come from such small yet skillful fare as April Fool's Day. This 1986 Canadian chiller brought together a group of party hearty young people to an island mansion supposedly to celebrate a mutual friend's birthday. However,a set of pranks have been placed around the house,making everyone a bit jumpy but willing to laugh it off.

That jumpiness soon becomes less amusing as one by one,the gang is picked off. Or are they? Granted,AFD wasn't a major horror high point but it did have some fearsome flair to it:

So,whether you hit the multiplex this Friday the 13 or just curl up with your favorite scary movie,keep in mind that everything old does become new again and hopefully,that newness will expand your horror horizons. If not,at least you'll have a mockworthy movie that should inspire budding film makers to do better by us all:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A grey light shines on a GOT family reunion,two TAR teams have an airport smackdown and Mad Men's sinister vibe

An expansion into one character's background was made on Games of Thrones this week,as Stark ally Theon Greyjoy went home to the Iron Islands to negotiate with his father for the use of his ships to fight the Lannisters at King's Landing. However,his expectations were rather high as daddy Balon isn't exactly ready to roll out the welcome wagon for him.

Theon didn't help matters any by not recognizing his now grown sister Yara(originally named Asha in the books),who lives more by the "iron price" and has her father's full trust in military affairs. While it's certainly not fair of Balon to take out his frustrations about losing a previous rebellion to the Starks(in which Theon was taken as a child hostage for all intents and purposes),Theon is doing himself no favors by expecting the reins of power to be automatically handed over to him:

While we'll be seeing more of the Greyjoys this season,other key players are beginning to make their moves as Catelyn discovers next time when she pays a visit to Renly,the other Baratheon eager to claim the Iron Throne.

Also,tensions are brewing between Tyrion,Cersei and Littlefinger while Arya and her new friend Gendry are sharing secrets and trying to save each other's lives. Thank goodness HBO gave the nod for a third season because you know there is too much plot excitement to contain in only two runs:

As the teams on The Amazing Race for this leg were changing planes on their way to Tarzania,two of them got into an open verbal brawl. Team Big Brother(aka "Team Big Baby" to some)pushed and shoved their way forward,with one of them making a classic rude hand gesture.

That got Vanessa and Ralph(Team Divorcee)understandably mad(plus a few other teams as well)and words were exchanged. Granted,some of the comments on both sides went below the belt,but I hold Team BB responsible for this mess. Particularly Rachel,who doesn't know when to shut up and when it is the right time to act her age:

The specter of Richard Speck's mass murder spree hovered over Mad Men last episode,as Don brutally murdered a nightmare image of his past infidelities, Sally formed a weird bond with her step-grandmother and Peggy gave an impromptu invite for a sleepover to new secretary Dawn when both of them were too nervous to leave the office alone at night.

The major shakeup of the show occurred when Joan finally kicked her creep of a husband to the curb. The guy has been nothing but a yoke around her neck since day one and his pathetic need to feel manly has taken this couple down some very dark turns. Good for her that she decided to strike out on her own,even if that means her instigating mother won't be leaving her side any time soon:


KATHY: Yes,the feisty comedienne is getting her own talk show on Bravo,complete with appearances from her equally opinionated mother and no doubt a few surprise guests. As outrageously entertaining as her stand-up specials are,I'm hoping for Kathy Griffin to really let her freak flag fly here,along with a few great commentaries on our pop culture world:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is this truly Carrie:The Musical's swan song?

With the announcement of a new production of the infamously awful musical Carrie(based on Stephen King's original novel more than the 1976 film incarnation),many horror and Broadway fans were excited yet anxious about how well this show would do. Well,the verdict is in,folks. The musical is closing two weeks early,due to poor reception from audiences and critics alike.

The major flaws in this version of the show included placing the story in the modern internet age(Carrie was written in the seventies and some of it's plot points work best there)and the lack of camp that rendered the play blander than cafeteria food. To their credit,the producers and cast wanted to make the show more in touch with the issues of bullying that are part of the national dialogue these days but something like Carrie:The Musical wasn't quite the right place to do that:

As bad as the original 1988 Broadway version was,theater fans,especially those who love the best of the worst,found much to love about it.

Not enough to keep the show going for long,granted,but the level of twisted nostalgia that it retained was high enough to maintain even higher levels of expectation for the revival.

Some of that love comes from the actual songs,a good number of which were performed by Broadway baby Betty Buckley. Her performance as Margaret White,the religiously demented mother of the beleaguered heroine,was said to be the highlight of that run and makes someone like me who never saw the show back then wish so much that she had:

I was worried about the serious tone that this revival was intending to take since genre material,particularly horror, in a musical setting can be pulled off in only one of two ways,high opera(such as Phantom of the Opera)or camp. After all,the ending of the story is not a happy one and if you really want to add music to such gruesome proceedings,you better be able to pump up the theatrical flair.

Considering the rising prices at box offices these days,folks are prepared to get their money's worth and then some. People still kept coming to Spiderman:Turn off the Dark,despite it's insane staging,confusing numbers and actor injuries because while it wasn't good,it wasn't boring either. A good campy take on Carrie,plus some creative casting,might have turned the tide here:

Although this looks like the end for Carrie on Broadway or Off Broadway,I suspect that this strange little show will go on. Left in the hands of the musical geeks,who love it unconditionally and with tongue firmly in cheek,Carrie:The Musical will find the audience it deserves. That may sound sad but look on the bright side,people;it's not as if there's a major trend out there of reenactments of The Moose Murders(never heard of it? That's the point!):

Monday, April 09, 2012

Getting the inside scoop on Downton Abbey style domestic affairs

Even though we have another year to wait for the next installment of Downton Abbey,there are still plenty of ways to satisfy our craving for such rich period fare. While finding a good novel about the lifestyles of the extremely well-to-do of that time is a fun option,so is picking a true life account of their servants who saw much and said little,until a good many years later.

Right now,I'm reading Rose:My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison,first published in 1976. Rosina,called Rose,had been a ladies' maid in several homes before landing a position with Lady Nancy Astor,the first woman in England to hold a seat in Parliament.

Putting up with difficult people and dealing with unexpected changes was becoming an old habit to Rose in her line of work but Lady Astor was an original in that department in more ways then one. Despite the struggles she met on a daily basis with her employer,Rose managed to stay"in her place" yet not allow Lady Astor to treat her like a doormat either. I know that this book wasn't the basis for this particular character on the classic "Upstairs,Downstairs",however she does remind me quite a lot of Rose Buck,the head parlor and occasional ladies' maid who spoke her mind to her bosses when she felt the situation warranted it:

A memoir that is more of a direct influence on that series is Margaret Powell's Below Stairs which was released originally in 1968. Mrs. Powell began life in service as a kitchen maid and worked her way up to cook,all the while observing the comings and goings amongst her fellow staff and residents of the household whose scandals and secrets weren't as well concealed as they should be.

She achieved a nice taste of fame during her lifetime,as the success of Upstairs,Downstairs gained Mrs. Powell a little celebrity status in Britain during the early to mid seventies,with a few TV appearances and even a commercial endorsement to boot:

Although most of the tell-all tales of domestic servants came from the ladies,there was one from the male point of view as well. What the Butler Winked at is Eric Horne's account of his life and times as a butler,a job that he performed to the best of his ability for over fifty years but wasn't his ideal choice of occupation.

Horne talks about the lack of independence servants could get from their employers,particularly financial independence when it came time for many of them to retire. His sharp insights into high society of that period(as well as his fellow staff)show that the old stereotype of the servant being smarter than the master wasn't entirely based upon a writer's whimsical notion:

It is wonderful that there are written remembrances of those days from more than one end of the social staircase as interest in British social classes will no doubt be fine fodder for future fictional entertainment. Downton Abbey may only have one season left to go,but like many of it's TV predecessors,that series will pave the way for others to follow on both sides of the pond. Whatever new angle this genre will explore,it will help to have some solid literary ground for the audience to stand on: