Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mourning Maeve Binchy

I was sad to hear today that one of my favorite writers is no longer with us. Irish author Maeve Binchy passed away at the age of 72 with sixteen novels,four short story collections,a play and a novella under her belt,a nice tidy total indeed.

Of course,it's not really about the quantity,it's the quality of her work that endeared Ms. Binchy to an audience of readers that spanned the world. She was in such demand that when it was announced in 2000 that Scarlet Feather would be her last book,scores of people sent letters of protest to the Irish Times.

Naturally,Maeve did return to the literary world with Quentin's in 2002 and a few more novels,with her final one< A Week In Winter,due out before the end of this year.

Her first novel was Light a Penny Candle published in 1982 but most people discovered Maeve's warm words about life and love with Circle of Friends,which came out in 1990. Like many of her stories,this tale of three friends was set in Ireland near the fictitious town of Knockglen and focused on the choices facing the girls as they went off into the wider world.

As did many others,my favorite character here was Benny,the awkward large sized country girl who couldn't believe that a handsome city boy like Jack would fall truly in love with her and yet,she wasn't some meek and mild miss when it came to that relationship or any other.

Even with the 1950's setting of the story,Maeve brought strong female leads to the forefront and allowed them to rise or fall by their decisions in life. Circle of Friends was adapted for the movies in 1995,with Minnie Driver(in her film debut)and Chris O'Donnell,which complimented the source material rather well:

Binchy's talents were thrust under a bigger spotlight in 1999,when her novel Tara Road was chosen as a selection of Oprah's Book Club. The core concept of the plot was two women at crisis points in their lives who traded homes(and countries)to gain a fresh perspective on things proved to be popular,as it inspired other writers and film makers to do their own spin on that premise.

Tara Road was turned into a film by 2005,starring Andie McDowell and Olivia Williams,with Maeve doing an uncredited cameo in one scene. The movie played mostly overseas but is fortunately available on DVD and as I write this,it's on top of my Netflix queue and will hopefully not have too long a wait:

Maeve Binchy's appeal was based on the emotional connections that her characters made with the reader and what raised her work to a higher level of female friendly fiction,in my opinion.

I have many happy memories of enjoying the realistic yet hopeful society that she created,along with a personal recollection or two. When I was attending Weight Watchers many years ago,one of my rewards for doing well was a new nice edition of Evening Class(which I also own in paperback)and still have on my shelf.

My most emotional moment as a reader is due to The Glass Lake,where I actually spoke out loud in anger to one of the characters who was blaming her child for something that she should've taken care of herself! Wacky,yes but it was only for a minute or two and things did work out all right in the end for them both(I'm probably going to reread that one,now that I'm thinking about it).

That's how well developed Maeve's stories were,creating people as real as your family and friends whether they lived in Dublin,London or anywhere else. Those who simply thought that what she did was simple literary comfort food were quite mistaken about the matter:

My sincere condolences to Maeve Binchy's loved ones,who will no doubt miss her dearly,and to those who haven't read any of her books,there is no better time than now to give at least one of them a go. She was a great lady who knew the value of a life well lived and left such a wonderful legacy of words in her wake:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Browsing thru a few late summer literary treats

With the approach of August fast upon our heels,the remaining days of summer are truly numbered yet that doesn't mean all of the fun is far behind us. Considering how hotter than usual it's been lately,staying indoors to enjoy a good book is looking to be the best option and to make those moments in the shade all the more pleasant,here are a few suggestions of both upcoming and already released books worth a leisurely look.

We begin with The Lost Prince,a follow-up to Selden Edwards' small sensation The Little Book. The heroine of that story enters this one with a new name(Eleanor Burden)and engages in the life that a woman of her time was expected to lead in Boston during the 1890s.

However,she has something that none of her contemporaries possesses,a journal that predicts every major historical event to come. Eleanor's faith in that book keeps her going through trying times but a sudden turn of events involving a young man in her life gives her pause and a reason to risk everything to find him. While I haven't read The Little Book,it sounds as if The Lost Prince will be a welcome guide to this tale of timeless devotion:

Another long awaited sequel,The Prisoner of Heaven picks up where author Carlos Ruiz Zafron left off in his world wide bestseller,The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel,the son of Sempere & Sons bookshop in Barcelona,gets involved in another mystery as the mysterious purchaser of a rare edition of The Count of Monte Cristo uses that book to deliver a strange message to an assistant in the store.

Daniel's curiosity leads him and his new family down a couple of dangerous roads,including one that takes him back to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books,the place where all of his book related troubles started. This novel is the last volume in a trilogy but don't despair of more wonderful works to come from it's rather creative creator:

For sci-fi/fantasy fans,a new Terry Pratchett book is a delight and the pleasure is doubled with The Long Earth,which Pratchett co-wrote with Stephen Baxter. In this futuristic tale,the bridge between our Earth and similar planets in other dimensions has now been extended,thanks to a device called The Stepper.

With human beings only existing on our world,the possibilities for unlimited resources may be truly endless and that leads two people,Joshua,who has the natural ability to cross realities and Lobsang,an AI creation,on a journey to map the entirety of this new realm.

However,their discoveries caused them to ask more questions than answer them about the nature of the universe and may turn out to be more risky to the continuation of the human race than anyone could imagine. This book is meant to be the lead-off to a brand new series for both authors and sounds like a trip worth taking:

I received a lovely surprise in my mailbox last week,as the book chosen to be sent to folks who signed up for Simon & Schuster's newsletter at Facebook in June arrived.

My book was The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley,which begins with emotionally weary concert pianist Julia Forrester taking a much needed break from her troubles at her grandparents' estate in Wharton Park.

While reconnecting with an old flame,Julia comes across a old diary that revels a secret romance that nearly tore two families apart. Since this former fling happens to include an ancestor of her newly rekindled love,she is determined to seek out the truth,no matter what the cost.

This is exactly the kind of steadfast saga that I would pick out for myself and how well I was matched to it is very uncanny,indeed. My thanks to the good fairy that sent it my way and I hope that the rest of my fellow S&S newsletter joiners were just as fortunate in their introductory gift:

I do wish that whatever new book you decide to try before the autumn leaves fall gives you plenty to indulge in and doesn't cause anyone to complain to their local book adviser about the quality of the writing(not to mention demanding to speak to dead authors to address their reader grievances directly to the source):

Friday, July 27, 2012

Setting up a soundtrack for the London Olympics

Tonight is the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics,which are being held in London and should fulfill most of your TV viewing needs as the show starts at 7:30 EST and ends around midnight.

While I am not a major sports fan,I do appreciate an event likes this and want to at the very least see what sort of elaborate production number has been cooked up from the comfort of my living room. Even late comers to these games can simply settle in and have a nice little Olympics party without too much fuss there:

If your party plans for this evening's big show are a little more elaborate and you're seeking some appropriate music,here are a few pop culture picks that should do the trick nicely.

It's hard to go wrong with "You're The Best(Around)" from the original 1984 Karate Kid movie. The tune is the perfect go-to for rooting on your team favorite and despite the fact that karate is still not an official competition in the Olympics(they did try to get it for 2012 but it didn't get enough votes for approval),this song is inspiring to all potential athletes out there:

When it comes to sports themed inspiration,most look towards the Rocky films and there are plenty to choose from. A favorite of mine happens to be "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor,which was nominated for a Best Song Oscar that year.

This song is also a favorite at stadiums,where crowds never fail to cheer upon hearing just the opening notes. A plus for Olympic audiences is that tigers are considered fortunate for those going into battle in some cultures,which should even the odds up for anyone needing a solid win:

Since the Olympics are in England this time,choosing a British artist is only right and you don't have to search any further than Queen for great rousing numbers. "We Will Rock You" is one of their best known ones,having played at many sporting arenas,pro wrestling matches,commercials and video games.

It's also been featured in many TV shows and films,such as A Knight's Tale where it wasn't exactly chronologically correct for the medieval time frame of the story. However,it did suit the rock'em,sock'em vibe of the jousts that were a major focus of the plot to a T:

And what victory dance would be complete without "We Are The Champions",a true Queen
classic that needs no frills attached to it:

So,if you're going to celebrate the Olympics tonight and over the next few weeks,I hope these tunes provide the proper background for your singalong scoreboard. As for those just watching to check out the sights and sounds of the British Isle,I'm running right along side you,in spirit if not in full Jane Austen style:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

True Blood's Pam and Tara special moment,a Bunheads birthday and the winner of Food Network Star is....

Things are really ratcheting up on True Blood,as Sookie seriously considers the possibility of being free of her fairy powers,Jason struggles with the need to know more about the vampire that killed his parents(I have my doubts about that story he and Sookie were given,since in the books it was fairies who did the Stackhouses in)and Hoyt falling in with the self appointed monster hunter crowd.

On top of that,Lafayette being held prisoner by Jesus's uncle who wanted to transfer that demon legacy to his unborn child,Sam on the trail of the gang that shot him and Luna and the werewolf division in the ranks over who's in charge makes for a rather full plate of plot lines at the moment.

During all of this,Tara received a less than welcome visit from her mother at Fangtasia,while she was on the stripper pole,no less. Her mother declared that she as a preacher's wife couldn't have a vampire for a daughter(although it was fine for that daughter to grow up with a manic drunk for a mom,apparently).

Tara acted like that maternal dismissal was nothing in public,yet later alone with Pam,she opened up a little about how much that relationship still affected her. Pam actually offered her some comfort and approval,which was nice to see. However,I don't think Pam expected such a strong emotional response from Tara as that hug. This blood bond between them is growing by leaps and bounds,which may be a good thing considering what's happening with the Authority right now:

Meanwhile,at the Authority,it was revealed that Salome was behind Russell's reemergence and everyone seems to be in a forgiving mood about past grievances,except for Bill and Eric,that is.

Nevertheless,the guys were included in an initiation ritual that involved drinking the sacred blood of Lilith. Eric and Bill went along,convinced that vampire blood wouldn't affect them at all. Turns out that ancient vampire blood is pretty potent,as the lot of them were higher than kites and roaming the streets of New Orleans looking for a good time.

Their idea of fun was attacking a wedding party and turning the guests into their own personal buffet of blood. That was very bad business there and the potential spark for an all-out vampire/human war. Someone seems to be invested in that concept,what with the werewolves being offered V for their allegiance and the suspiciously grassroots monster squad who has a secret source of info about the supernatural folks in their community.

Sookie needs to hold on to what fairy mojo she has left in her,especially since many of the dark forces brewing up know of her existence and even the protection of Bill,Eric or even Alcide might not be enough to save her or her loved ones. Plus,this new path of Lilith followers is going towards a very bad end,if you ask me:

One of the major characters on Bunheads took a break this week,as Fanny decided to push Michelle out onto the dance floor to teach by taking a much needed mini vacation without any prior warning.

Michelle's big worry was about the plans for her birthday,a road trip that she and her best friend Talia from Vegas were geared up for. Those arrangements changed and included Truly,the quirky dress maker who knows what's good for everyone but herself.

Truly may not have been the friendliest person that Michelle's meet in Paradise but she really isn't the scary troll that Michelle thinks she is. Perhaps Michelle is starting to realize that making a local friend or two might be a good idea,if she's planning to stick around Paradise there:

Those last minute birthday plans took the merry trio to a carnival with a "movie truck" showing a grisly flick called Mountains of Arms(which sounds hilariously bad,btw). The quartet of budding bunheads from Fanny's school were also in the audience,with Boo crushing hard on her friend's brother and aloof Sasha trying hard to ignore the dramatic implosion of her parent's marriage.

That inner angst was well expressed by an end credits dance that added a surreal air to the episode. With more interesting stuff like this to strut,Bunheads has a better shot at getting a second season,it appears to me:

The winner of this season's The Next Food Network Star was Justin and congratulations are in order for him. While I would have preferred Michele or Yvan to take the win,Justin is a talented chef with a strong point of view that will work well for him and his future show.

Most of this run of TNFNS was pretty drama free,unlike the last time with the Dreadful Penny*shudder*. The mentor concept was interesting to see,but I hope that if they keep this set-up in place that they change the line-up. A little Giada goes a long way,that's all I'm saying:


DESIGN STAR: It was great to watch Danielle win this season,although Brittany did her best and would've been a good choice,too. Danielle's new series,Shop This Room,starts up in early August and I wish her the best of luck:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Let's hear for the Emmy girls!

Last week,the Emmy nominations were announced with the usual fanfare and raised eyebrows over who was on the list and who was not.

Since my TV tastes are rather erratic,to say the least,I try not to worry about who gets what here. I am happy to see Mad Men,Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones earn several spots for these awards and thought it might be best to highlight some of the ladies vying for the win this time out(plus a nod to one that shouldn't have been left on the sidelines,in my opinion)that I will be particularly rooting for.

While it's wonderful to see such DA actresses as Michelle Dockery and Joanne Froggett(who play Lady Mary and her equally troubled in love maid Anna)up for Best Lead and Supporting Actress,the true gem of the show is Maggie Smith as Violet,The Dowager Countess(also in the Best Supporting Actress category) who seems to be never at a loss for words no matter what the occasion.

Not only is her verbal timing immaculate,Maggie Smith also breathes humanity into a character that could otherwise be simply used as comedy relief. Granted,she does provide that but the Dowager Countess offers much more than that and the series wouldn't be the same without her.:

The gals on The Big Bang Theory may have become more than the feminine sidekicks to the main male quartet but the true breakout star amongst them is Mayim Bialik,who is up for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy series.

Granted,the former child star has a leg up there yet her winsome portrayal of Amy Farrah Fowler,the oddly ideal soulmate of quirky Sheldon Cooper,makes those sharply blunt edges of her tight knit personality very endearing.

Another plus in the character's favor is her developing embrace of social interaction combined with those moments of silly sweetness that Amy allows herself to have,which makes more than worthy of a tiara there:

Julianne Moore appears to be a shoo-in for the win in the Best Actress in a Miniseries or Made for TV Movie section with her amazing performance as Sarah Palin in Game Change. However,I don't see her possible victory for her work in this role as mere partisan politics.

Moore showed the inner woman inside the ambitious VP candidate,who was hoisted to incredible heights very much like an overnight sensation that was never meant to last,kind of like a boy band or a super model. Her troubles in keeping a firm grip on that brass ring she was handed seemed to be partly due to the dwindling support from the male power brokers that placed Sarah in the spotlight in the first place.

Regardless of how you feel about her politics(which I am not a fan of),Moore gave
Sarah Palin some of the emotional dignity that many of her real life counterparts weren't willing to grant her towards the bitter end of the campaign:

As good as it is to see Game of Thrones receive plenty of nominations,especially Peter Dinklage for Best Supporting Actor,it would be nice to honor the women in the cast as well. Those vibrant characters are just as strong a draw as the men and the dragons to this series.

One fine example is Lena Headey as Queen Cersei,the devious matriarch whose power struggles with her hated younger brother have been a cornerstone of both plot and character development in the second season.

Cersei,in lesser hands,could come across as a one note villainess but Headey is able to flip from brutal boldness to tender vulnerability with alarming ease that even puts her already suspicious sibling in doubt of how to connect with her. It's a shame that Headey's brilliant work is being overlooked,similar to how her character feels about her own position of power:

The Emmys will be handed out in September,which allows for some time to catch up on the nominees or get reacquainted with your favorites. So,if you're looking for a bit of entertainment relief during the dog days of summer,tuning into some of these ladies might be your best bet.

As to who wins or loses,we all win by seeing more and more talented women in the spotlight both in front of and behind the camera. A big song and dance is not necessary to achieve this but if like recent Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy you get the prime opportunity to have one,then put on those dancing shoes and do a victory romp around the stage:

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises over an American tragedy

Like most of the movie going nation,my sister and I made plans to see the third chapter in director Christopher Nolan's Batman saga,The Dark Knight Rises,this weekend. We didn't intend to go on opening night or one of the midnight shows on the preceding Thursday,knowing just how crowded those theaters would be.

Unfortunately,someone else took gruesome advantage of that anticipation and the large audiences at a movie house in Aurora,Colorado,with the results of that terrifying night still unfolding before us all.

I won't dwell on the details,since they have been well covered enough and will continue to be so for quite some time. However,if you are seeking ways to send what help and support you can to the folks in Aurora,there are plenty of places to choose from and what ever you give will be appreciated.

The outpouring of sympathy for the victims has been enormous and even Hollywood has shown a good deal of respect towards the situation by holding off on their usual report of box office totals during this time of crisis.

The cast and crew of TDKR have made statements of support regarding the tragic event,plus many of the pop culture followers out there are showing their maturity and thoughtfulness by talking about what matters most here:

What does matter most is making the best out of what life has to offer or throws in your path unexpectedly and that includes taking some time out to enjoy the pleasures available to you,especially with family and friends

In that spirit,my sister and I did go to a matinee showing of The Dark Knight Rises(which was our original plan,due solely to the lower ticket prices than fear of attending a movie theater after dark).

We had no trouble getting in and everything at the multiplex we went to ran smoothly. The entire atmosphere of the place and the other people in the audience was not any different from the last time the two of us saw a film in it's first run(which was The Hunger Games,btw).

The only thing that was missing from the show that day was a trailer for an upcoming movie called Gangster Squad that the studio pulled from Dark Knight showings because of a scene involving movie theater gun play.

Instead,a teaser trailer for next year's Superman movie,Man of Steel,played and the one we saw had a voice over by Kevin Costner who plays Pa Kent(there's another version that has a Russell Crowe as Jor-El narration). Granted,it was just standard superhero talk but I did feel that brief bit of speech resonated much more strongly than it normally would,to me at least because of what had happened:

As to the movie itself,The Dark Knight Rises was a solid conclusion to the story line that Nolan set up and while Bane, the major villain of the piece,wasn't as dynamic a foe as the Joker was in the previous entry,he still made for a very viable threat to both Bruce Wayne and Batman.

Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle was suitably subtle and sleek for this take on a more mean streets rendition of Catwoman. The true breakout performance of the ensemble cast belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake,who is more than he seems.

The themes of the story do play into some of our current social economic troubles,along with the classic struggle between rising and falling regimes that are the spine of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities,which Nolan points to as a direct inspiration for the plot points of this film. That book showcases how even a movement to change the world for the better can be misused by those looking to wield power unjustly or satisfy their own personal vendettas,which is well reflected in TDKR and can be a helpful teaching tool for English Lit students to boot:

My heartfelt condolences and best thoughts go out to the people of Aurora and all those affected by this terrible event. The only consolation that any of us have at this point is that the despicable being responsible for this horror was swiftly captured and will face justice.

Actually,that's not the only comforting thing to come out of this. Stories about the heroics of those in the audience who saved the lives of their loved ones during the attack and the police officers that drove the injured directly in their squad cars to local hospitals in order to get them medical assistance as soon as possible have helped to replenish my faith in the decency of humanity.

People insist that superheroes or other fantasy fare are mere escapism but during this last decade,we've needed the inspiration that they have provided us with in preserving the belief that when the chips are down,there are those who will rise up to do the right thing,more than perhaps ever before.

That shining thread of hope may seem slim at times,yet it is strong enough to help us hold on and reach out to others when the world appears to be falling down all around us. Hopefully,the true legacy of this Batman trilogy will be one of triumph over fear from without and within,rather than the sad real world horror unleashed during it's final chapter. Knowing the basic nature of movie fans,that will come to pass as time goes on:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

True Blood's Tara settles a score,voting for the Next Food Network Star and more Craft Wars

When last we checked in on True Blood,the budding friendship between Tara and Jessica was cut short when Jessica realized that Hoyt was being fang banged by her potential new gal pal in the next ladies' room stall at Fangtasia.

While Jessica is the older vampire,Tara has had a lot more experience in throwing down and she was close to seriously kicking her ass.

Pam halted the proceedings,then dragged her new protege off for a mixture of scolding and praise. There's a lot of push-pull going on in this relationship and it's hard to tell at this point where that's going to lead:

Hoyt was hoping that Jessica's anger meant that she wanted to get back with him but instead,he was emotionally shot down again. Later that night,he was reluctantly rescued by a group of self appointed monster hunters,who killed the vamp feeding off of him and then carried him away in their van.

Meanwhile Jason took Sookie to the fairy bar that he and Andy were tossed out of recently and confronted cousin Hadley about how their parents died. Hadley's info came from Claude,the brother of Sookie's former fairy godmother,who was told by Claudine that a vampire attacked them due to a trace amount of Sookie's blood in the back seat of their car.

She didn't take that news too well and tried to use that fairy magic of hers but it seems to be on low supply at the moment. That is a very bad development,particularly since Russell Edgington was able to turn the tables on Roman and stake him instead. Alas,Christopher Meloni,gone from this show too soon! Anyhow,things are definitely more dangerous for Sookie and friends,so hopefully she can recharge her fairy batteries soon:

It was make or break time on The Next Food Network Star,as the remaining six contenders had to film a promo for their potential show and only three of them would get a greenlight for a pilot episode as their last challenge.

Team Bobby's winner of that round was Michele and Team Giada was able to put up Yvan as their champ. In a surprising twist,both of the final members of Team Alton(Martie and Justin)were given that last spot in the finale.

The pilots were filmed and aired(about 3 minutes in length for each),with viewers allowed to vote for their favorites for two days afterward online. Yes,I voted and my ballots went to the two that I felt were the strongest.

While Justin's Rebel with a Culinary Cause had a nice mix of snark and cooking skill,he just doesn't click with me. As for Martie with the Party,she told several amusing stories but didn't give out enough details about what went into her dish,plus it looked rather cumbersome to serve.

Michele,on the other hand,has a refreshing view of things with My New England and even though I'm not that big of a seafood fan,her enthusiasm really wins you over:

Yvan's Family Style also resonated with me. He had great interaction with his little brother on camera and I can see folks trying to make that sweet corn mac & cheese of his. His onscreen sincerity is truly appetizing and I would be happy to see either him or Michele take the win here:

The polls are now closed,so we'll have to see who the winner is this Sunday night. I don't know if FN will keep up with the mentor theme for next season but it's been a decent trial run of that concept:

TLC's Craft Wars is still going strong,with fun ideas such as making birdhouses from items found in a junk drawer,turning beach equipment into backyard lounge furniture and making a toy box out of toys.

The level of building skills amongst the contestants tends to vary,with folks quick to use the wrong type of glue or felting when they should be painting. The creativity can be also be just as daunting but so far,I have not been bored while watching this.

It helps that Tori is a rather moderate host and that two of the judges delight in exchanging friendly banter during the deliberations. Overall,Craft Wars looks like it may be a keeper on this network and with any luck,not just for the summer:


PROJECT RUNWAY: The new season starts tonight and since I haven't checked in on this series for some time,now feels like the time to see some serious sewing action(or some good Tim Gunn advice,at least):

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting playful with Jane Austen's Rogues & Romance

Several months ago,I was fortunate enough to be one of the beta testers for a most diverting Facebook game(thanks to a heads-up from Austenprose's Laurel Ann Nattress) which has now made it's official debut into good society.

Jane Austen's Rogues & Romance is brought to us via the BBC and Legacy Games and even if you only know the works of Our Dear Jane from various film and TV adaptations or not at all,you can still indulge yourself in the many delights that this game has to offer.

The main object of this entertainment is to help Elizabeth and Darcy find their way back to their book,Pride and Prejudice,with the assistance of Miss Austen and other characters from her six novels. To do that,you must enter each book and find hidden objects in certain rooms,gardens and other essential locations from each story.

Along the way,you are able to collect gold,diamonds and keys that will unlock rooms in your very own manor house that you will be master or mistress of,to decorate as you please(in the proper Regency style,of course). Even now,newer elements are being added on and it would be a great pity for any Austen fan not to attend such an amusing outing as this:

Playing games,after all,is an essential part of enjoying Austen's world. Most social occasions in her day revolved around card games as well as dancing and became prime opportunities for certain folk in her novels to reveal more than a good hand.

The classic example is from Emma,where several hints regarding the true nature of the connection between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are dropped during a seemingly innocent spelling game. It was rather bold to do that in front of so many people but then again,not everyone present was privy to the real meaning behind the particular puzzles laid out there:

Outdoor activities were also encouraged back then,although by the time a young girl was considered to be ready to receive suitors,she was discouraged from romping around with a ball and bat.

The heroine of Northanger Abbey,Catherine Morland,did enjoy a rowdy game of baseball(which was probably more like the English game of cricket)in her carefree youth before getting wrapped up in the gothic tales of Anne Radcliffe and I suspect that even Jane herself couldn't bear to stay on the sidelines of a spirited round or two of any sporting event for too long:

Naturally,the real game that any Austen heroine wishes to master is the game of love and while Rogues & Romance does have it's intrigues,the best place to obtain useful advice on that subject is from Austen's novels.

Granted,not all of the scenarios facing her leading ladies directly apply to our modern age but some bits of sense can be gleamed from them that could work for a present day Bennet sister or two. Plus,it wouldn't hurt to upgrade your video game skills with some Austen flair,so do check out JA's R&R for some Facebook fun out of the sun this season:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pop culture castles falling out of the sky

One of the most talked about documentaries of the season is Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles,which covers an elaborate building project by wealthy couple David and Jackie Siegel,who wanted to have a home in Florida that would rival the world famous palace in France.

That goal was derailed,due to the economic downturn over the past couple of years that forced the family to scale back their way of life. The movie has received quite a bit of praise,not to mention a lawsuit from the subjects of the film who insist that they are being misrepresented here.

Such a complaint is becoming commonplace in our reality star realm yet it might behoove these two to follow the old show business dictum about taking what PR they can get,as long as their names are spelled right. After all,they could get a sweet deal on Bravo out of this:

Speaking of sweet deals,Candy Spelling managed to make the clearing out of her former mansion(to make way for a new owner within 30 days)a TV special last winter.

Selling Spelling Manor was a two part show on HGTV that not only showcased the major efforts involved in packing up,it also highlighted the over the top elements of the house that had three rooms set aside for gift wrapping,plus a doll museum. While some of the assembled goods were donated to charity,most of the Spelling manor contents went towards furnishing the former lady of the manor's new condo,so it's sort of a happy ending,I suppose:

I find it interesting that the pop culture switch has been reset for the iconic image of the new American home. Time was,building and/or rebuilding your very own house was something to celebrate,a sign of achieving a major life goal. The excesses of prospective home owners who didn't have a clue about what was needed or sensible towards creating their household was mocked but in a friendly way.

From the classic comedy Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House in 1948 to the dismal 1986 retread The Money Pit,,there was clearly a love-hate relationship towards house building with love winning out in the end:

Nowadays,hate seems to have the upper hand,adding a snort of derision towards the rich folk forced to retrench. In some ways,that's more than understandable given the current economic situation our country is in these days. Also,some of these former Richie Richs have entitlement issues that make it hard for someone depending on coupons to cut financial corners to feel the least bit sorry for their plight.

Yet,some sympathy for even the overly privileged amongst does slip in,for example the trials and tribulations of one of the leading ladies on 2 Broke Girls who is adjusting to a more downtown lifestyle.

However,one could argue that resentment of the better homes and gardens set has always been on the social back burner and only brought to the forefront during hard times. You don't have to go too far back to see this,as the mid to late 1980s brought us the satirical likes of Down and Out in Beverly Hills and the dark divorce comedy War of the Roses,which turned the feuding couple's massive home into a literal battlefield:

I wonder just how long it will be until grand houses are celebrated in our culture again. Don't get me wrong,excess is not a good thing and I myself wouldn't want such a big house to deal with(the idea of cleaning several bathrooms alone puts me right off).Yet,having such a dwelling is a motivating dream for those looking to do well in life and totally crushing it would be a real shame.

So,perhaps the best sign that things are turning around is the revival of posh estate love in pop culture. Hey,isn't easier to reach for the stars when you get to watch the stars play in their very own custom made sparkly settings?:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

True Blood's Tara makes her Fangtasia debut,Food Network Star deals with sabotage and checking in on Bunheads

On True Blood this week,Tara took her first steps as a vampire by getting all dressed up and ready to roll at Fangtasia. While she still has strong reservations about embracing the eternal night life,it's clear that Tara is no longer in the reluctant creature of the night phase.

However,her troubles are far from over,as Pam comes from the tough love school of vamp parenting and puts her new girl to work behind the bar. Tara does know her way around a cocktail but isn't fully ready to handle human customers without a little supervision just yet:

Tara gets a little consolation from Jessica,who more than understands how hard it is to adjust to this new way of life. She offers to be gal pals with Tara and the offer is not rejected. The two of them are the youngest vampires on the block(not counting the former Rev. Steve,who will be popping up again soon,I'm sure)and teaming up could be of great benefit to both.

However,with Tara feeding off a now barhopping fangbanger Hoyt and Jessica discovering them together,this new friendship is not off to a good start. Perhaps they'll be able to patch things up after the initial cat fight because there is plenty of bad business going on around them that will require a little unity to stay out of the fray as much as possible:

The remaining contenders on The Next Food Network Star were still at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival,with their main challenge being a live food demo. The secret twist was that each person had a different setback to deal with during their presentation.

Some folks rose to the occasion,like Martie whose lack of equipment and ingredients didn't rain on her parade. Others such as Justin managed to do well at first but faltered towards the end.

On the chopping block for this round were two members of Team Giada,Ippy and Martita. Ippy floundered when his audience began to walk off and Martita was so flustered when her peppers were switched that she couldn't maintain any energy or work in a personal story.

The Producers' Challenge had each of them give a quick promo for a mystery item under a cover(oranges)and once again,Martita's chatter was too general,so she was sent home. She did seem to be really nice but I think a lot of expectations were put on her during this competition(Giada,this means you!)and those were too much for Martita to live up to.

Next week is crucial,as the Final Six will become the Final Three after filming promos for their intended shows. The ultimate winner will be chosen by viewer votes and hopefully,the best person will get the green light and a good show as well.

It's been a few weeks since Bunheads premiered and while there is some awkwardness around the edges,the show does seem to be merging the central themes of Michelle's new life with her wacky mother-in-law and the town of Paradise with the multiple plot points involving the girls in Fanny's ballet class into a cohesive story spine.

This week's episode was a good middle grounder that had Fanny's concerns over the Joffrey auditions being moved well mirrored with Michelle's anxiety about setting up housekeeping in the small shed behind the main house and the tension amongst the students regarding the audition itself.

Speaking of the girls,Boo is the sweetheart of the bunch and clearly has the spirit of dance strongly within her. Her main obstacles are the emotional roller-coaster that is her self confidence and the bias against her body type,which is also given mixed messages by her mom. I do think her mother means well but sometimes it's not helpful to openly prepare for the worst,especially regarding an artistic challenge:

All in all,I think Bunheads has a good chance of succeeding in it's mission to entertain and am planning to watch the rest of the first season with hopes that it will not be the last. Particularly if they keep up with the dance routine portion of the show like next episode's paper vs. plastic ballet battle(that is so must-see!):


HELL'S KITCHEN: There were some special guests dining at the chef's table in each section this week and the girl's team had David Beckham(plus his son,Brooklyn)on their side. Ladies,I get the whole starstruck thing but even in a hot kitchen,you need to cool your jets in order to stay in the game! Bending for Beckham doesn't win you any points with Chef Ramsey,gals:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The good,bad and gory of Friday the 13th's New Blood

In making preparations for my annual August foray into schlock cinema,aka Bad Movie Month,this weekend I came across a fun series called Good Bad Flicks,which does rundowns on some of the best of the worst genres from the past and present.

Narrated and edited by a fella named Cecil,GBF offers up not only a breakdown of the important plot points for such films as Night of the Creeps and The Wicker Man(Nic Cage version),he also gives the viewer some behind the scenes bonus information.

While flipping through the video listings for GBF,I found a few old school films that I haven't thought about in some time and believed to be long lost,like the bizarre thriller The Kiss from the late eighties. However,what got me to write this post was the tribute to Friday the 13th Part Seven:The New Blood,which hold the distinction of being the only movie in that series(other than Freddy Vs. Jason,of course)that I actually went to a theater to see:

Now,I was and still am more of a Nightmare on Elm Street fan girl than a Friday the 13th gal,which even though there was a movie house in walking distance of my home that showed plenty of horror films back in the day,I let the Jason movies pass me right on by.

What got me into this installment was the twist of the film's heroine having psychic powers,turning the story into an unofficial "Jason Vs. Carrie" story. I went on opening night and the one thing that I recall first and foremost was the noise of the audience.

The theater that I attended(which is sadly no more)was the kind of place that you either had to sit up front or pay to see the movie again in order to hear all of the dialogue usually,but the sound level in the crowd for this movie was high enough to pierce dimensional walls,in my opinion. Not that it was a deterrent here,in fact that roar of the crowd was it's own special effect that enhanced the movie better than any 3-D or IMAX add-on could.

Before the film even started,my fellow movie goers that night were charged up by one of the preview trailers,Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. The brief little vignette that had a witty gruesome nod to the Lady of the Lake really got the party started that night:

Another major thing that resonates with me from that show was that I seemed to be the only one in the audience who rooted for any of the characters to live. Just about everyone else was rallying for Jason,as he made his slaughter happy way though the cast.

Granted,most of them were pretty much stick figures for our masked marauder to chop down but I did at least want leading lady Tina(played by Lar Park Lincoln)to survive the night.The only characters that did give me delight in seeing their demise was the bitchy blonde Melissa and the manipulative Dr. Crews,who was supposed to be helping Tina cope with the guilt of using her powers accidentally as a child and inadvertently causing the death of her father(conveniently occurring near Crystal Lake,naturally!).

A lot of fans of this movie focus on the sleeping bag murder scene,which was rather inventive,but what stands out for me is the part of the film where Tina's mother and Dr. Crews are in the woods arguing about his true motives for Tina when Jason shows up with a tree trimmer.

The not so good doctor practices his own brand of chivalry by putting Tina's mom in between him and Jason,allowing her to take one right in the chest. As Tina feels the psychic vibes that tell her of her mother's demise,I was in my seat cursing up a blue streak and demanding that doctor's head on a stick.

While Dr. Crews wasn't decapitated,I and the rest of the crowd were gleeful to see him get what was coming to him when Jason did catch up to him at last. Too bad that scene was one of the ones that the MPAA insisted upon being tweaked in order for the movie to have an R rating,although I'm sure the original cut is available on DVD.

Not a lovely emotion to admit to there,but hey,movies like this are meant to be somewhat of a cathartic release for such feelings and it was pretty cool to boot:

GBF's Cecil also appears to hold a special place in his heart for this seventh sequel along with me and his take on the film shouldn't ruin your enjoyment of seeing it for the first time,if that is the case with you. With this week ending on a Friday the 13th,chances are that P7:The New Blood might show up on a cable channel near you,so definitely tune in if you're lucky enough to come across it.

As for me,I intend to keep up with Good Bad Flicks and look forward to many more
romps in the bad movie sections here(wonder if GBF has ever covered a Freddy flick?)and I highly recommend that anyone with a love for genre fare does the same:

Monday, July 09, 2012

Coming to a Comic Con near you!

For many happy fanboys and girls,this year's Comic Con in San Diego is the ultimate bright spot in the pop culture universe and for good reason. A slew of promotional goodies,clips and star packed panels will be awaiting them as part of the big campaigns for upcoming movies and TV shows.

Some of us,however,will be stuck out here in the heart of Heat Wave city with only the promise of the new Batman movie to comfort us. Yet,we can savor a few of the Comic Con delights via the internet by viewing the movie trailers that are now available to us(as well as watch for the special CC versions online).

Let's begin with Dredd,a reboot of the Judge Dredd graphic novels that gave us a rather overwrought Sly Stallone adaptation back in the nineties. This time out,Karl Urban plays the title role along Olivia Thirlby as his new partner Judge Anderson and Lena Headey takes on the villainess position as "Ma-Ma",a drug dealing diva.

Normally,I am not a fan of the remake but in this case,it was clearly justified. This version of Dredd has a more gritty vibe and Urban seems like a good fit to this material,plus I sense a nice Escape From New York kind of energy here. Dredd should do nicely at the box office this September as well as earn a few new fans:

Another remake on the horizon is Total Recall,with Colin Farrell taking the Arnie Schwarzenegger lead in what appears to based a little more on the Phillip K. Dick short story"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" script than the original film was.

Unlike that movie,there is no trip to Mars for the confused hero and since this version is directed by Len Wiseman,Kate Beckinsale has a part to play here as the not so friendly wife.

Similar to Dredd,Total Recall has a remade raw edge that marks it as a different cinematic beast from it's pumped up predecessor. Such a difference,however,is a double edged sword that could drive away more movie goers than it brings in,which is probably why the studio is shipping this out to theaters in August:

For fantasy followers,seeing Peter Jackson work his movie magic on The Hobbit is a total dream come true.

The prelude to the epic Lord of the Rings series is being turned into two movies,with "An Unexpected Journey" arriving by this December and "There and Back Again" shortly afterward. Old and new faces will be showing up in the shire such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf,Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo Baggins and Andy Serkis naturally reprising his classic role as Gollum.

A few may fret that newly created characters are thrown into the mix,along with some that don't originally appear in this story but do in the later films but if it helps to give the audience a wider look at the big picture,so let it be done,folks. We should just be thankful to get another bite of the Tolkien apple,in my humble opinion,that we know will be done right:

For something a bit more animated,Wreck-It Ralph brings a new perspective to the video game world as the title character is a arcade game bad guy who wants to change his image by finding a new game world to live in.

John C. Reilly voices the lead and he's joined by Jane Lynch,Sarah Silverman and Dennis Haybert in a story that salutes the traditional realm of video games along with the present day ones. Classic figures from Q*bert,Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. pop up here,a sure fire way to get both older gamers and the new blood to join in the fun when the movie debuts in November:

These are only a handful of media wonders to be on display at Comic Con but don't despair if you can't get there this weekend. Chances are,a con will be showing up somewhere near you before the year is out and even if you can't make to one before 2013 starts,the the goodnatured community spirit of Comic Con never dies,it truly multiplies in abundance:

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Pam finds her maternal instinct on True Blood,Food Network Star has a beach party and TLC's Four Houses

Starting from they left off last time on True Blood,Pam rescued/forced Tara to stop attempting solar suicide and marched her over to Fangtasia,where Bill and Eric have finally showed up.

As much as Pam was happy to see Eric again,his interrogation of her regarding Russell's release caused another rift between them.

She was rightly upset over the apparent lack of trust but after a cooling off period,Eric leveled with Pam about the danger that both he and Bill are in. The only way that Eric felt he could protect her was to release Pam from his power as a Maker over her. She reluctantly accepted,yet when push comes to shove,I have no doubt that Pam will do whatever she can to help him with Russell and the Vampire Authority:

With that done,Pam is now shifting her focus to Tara,who not only hates being a vampire but is less than thrilled with the whole "As your Maker,I command you" clause. This pairing seems oddly apropos,as both of these women are strong willed and loyal to those they love.

Also,I suspect Pam is going to be more of a positive mother figure to Tara than her own ever was and if the two of them can get over the initial awkwardness of the situation,they might realize that this turning might be the best thing that happened to them both:

The gang at The Next Food Network Star headed down to Miami,where the South Beach Food & Wine Festival is under way. Their main challenge was to make two dishes for a beach party hosting Paula Deen and her family.

One dish had to be kid friendly while the other was for the adults and a thirty second tip on how to improve outdoor cooking was filmed and shown during the meal.

Most of the contenders did well here,but the Bottom Two came from Team Bobby. Michele's stone crabs weren't safe for either the children or the grown-ups,due to the amount of shells left in the dish and Malcolm's P.O.V. was and is pretty much nonexistent.

While they both whipped up great cocktails for the Producer's Challenge,it was crystal clear that Michele's New England focus had a more solid basis than Malcolm's on the spot "soulful like my mother" theme. He has never wanted to develop a p.o.v. throughout this competition,insisting that his cooking skills and personality were enough. Sorry,dude,but they're really not which is why you went home here.

Next week,they're still in South Beach and a live food demo is expected from everyone. Part of the challenge is dealing with sabotage,so all of them better be ready to roll with it:

TLC debuted another new show this week called Four Houses,where a group of homeowners tour each other's homes and rate them based on style,comfort and originality.

The highest scoring place wins ten grand and a photo spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Frankly,I think the show would be more compelling if the homes featured were bit a more down to earth.

Most of the houses displayed on the first episode were clearly very upscale,which makes you think that ten grand wouldn't do much for these people. Perhaps just a better balance,with one or two fancy houses up against your average suburban dwellings done with that extra touch that means so much. Maybe it's just me but I find it hard to relate to someone who longs for a stuffed peacock in their decor:

The house that won did have a nice European flair to it,yet it wasn't exactly a homey place to live in(not to mention how incredibly pretentious the owner came across as).

I'll give this series another chance,just to see if things get wackier or slowly start to even out. Then again,it might be best to wait for Four Weddings(which has a lot more going for it)to return later this month instead. We shall see!:


BUNHEADS: A new episode will be on next Monday and it looks like we're going to see the adult angst merge with the teen tension as Fanny preps the school for the Joffrey ballet auditions,with some assistance from Michelle who is overwrought enough to toss in a Godfather reference in her latest ramble: