Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

A beautiful bundle of birthday books sweeter than cake

I celebrated my forty fifth birthday late last week and amongst the great gifts I received(with much thanks to my wonderful family and friends) were a number of my favorite items,books. Since as they say a book is a present you can open again and again,I thought it would be nice to re-open a few of them with all of you.

As expected,some of the books were Jane Austen related such as Syrie James' The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen and Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. I'm reading the P.D. James first,mainly because I really haven't read her before and want to make up for lost time there.

DCTP takes place six years after the main events of Pride and Prejudice,with Elizabeth and Darcy comfortably settled in his family homestead as well as the prospects for Georgianna to receive more than one promising offer of marriage being very good indeed.

This period of calm is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Lydia,who hysterically claims that her no account husband Wickam has been shot by his good friend Denny somewhere on the grounds of Pemberley. Upon investigating the matter,Mr. Darcy and his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam(who happens to be one of Georgianna's potential suitors) discover that things are not as quite as they seem,even for the devious likes of Wickam.

 Jane Austen mystery stories do have a strong following and I've enjoyed the series penned by Carrie Bebis(The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries) but for such a renowned author in this genre to be taking on Austen like this,I was eager to take a look despite the mixed reviews. I'll most  likely post my full thoughts on the book after finishing it yet so far,it is delightfully diverting:

 My nonfiction gifts included a collection of author essays,Why We Write,and a book that has become a must-have for Downton Abbey fans.

 Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is written by the current lady of the manor,Fiona,the Countess of Carnavon,who offers her estate as the central location for the popular PBS drama. It relates the history of the fifth Countess,whose life and times are rather similar to the back story of Lady Cora Crawley,an American heiress who married an English nobleman in need of a fortune to sustain his family holdings.

Highclere Castle is full of rich history,such as the Earl's partaking in the Egyptian exploration that lead to the discovery of King Tut and the house being opened to wounded soldiers during WWI. This will be a nice read to tide me over until season four of Downton arrives on our shores:

For some time now,I have been dipping into Les Miserables as part of my morning reading ritual and making excellent progress with this massive tome. In part,I think that is due to reading an edition translated by Norman Denny,who really knows how to make such a long literary journey move faster without bypassing any of the lovely scenery prose along the way.

French literature has never been my thing,with the only exceptions being Madame Bovary and Cousin Bette(Balzac strikes me as one of those rowdy relatives you meet at a family reunion who is more than happy to share a few family secrets after a drink or two).

Encouraged by my steady pace with Le Miz,one of my birthday books this year is The Three Musketeers,with Alexandre  Dumas being translated by Richard Pevear. I am familiar with the story,due to the various film versions(plus a couple of child friendly editions back in the day) but would really like to sink my mental teeth into one of the big man's major tales of derring-do. Granted,it'll be awhile since I still have a ways to go with Le Miz but when I'm done,D,artagnon and friends will be waiting for me:

 Philippa Gregory is one of my favorite writers of historical fiction and for my birthday,I was fortunate enough to get the first three titles in her new series of royal family titles known as The Cousin's War(aka the War of the Roses).  

The White Queen is focused on Elizabeth Woodville,whose marriage to Edward the Fifth was one of the sparks that set off the infamous rivalry between the houses of York and Lancaster and who was the mother of the two young princes set to the Tower.

The mantle is taken up in The Red Queen by Margaret Beaufort,who is married at thirteen and becomes a mother and a widow by fourteen.

 Despite the political manipulations that force her into two other loveless marriages, Margaret makes her primary goal in life the placing of her son Henry upon the throne of England at all costs.

The torch is then passed slightly back in time for The Lady of the Rivers, where the psychic gifts of Jacquetta are exploited by her future husband,the Duke of Bedford,who has Joan of Arc executed.

Jacquetta believes that her second sight comes from being a descendant of the river goddess Melusina but even she could not see the outcome of her second marriage to Richard Woodville or the impact of the Cousin's War upon her daughter Elizabeth.

The next book after that one is The Kingmaker's Daughter,which I'll be ready for by the fall at this rate,and while I do prefer the Tudors over the Plantagenet clan,these books should be rip roaring fun:

Well,I do have a lot to take in here,in addition to some of my other reading,yet this is definitely more of a pleasure than a chore by far. Books do make wonderful gifts that keep on giving and I'm thankful that many of my loved ones enjoy giving them to me:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A close finish on TAR,GOT's Dany makes a power play and messing around on Mad Men

The teams on The Amazing Race this week landed in Germany,where they had a number of risky tasks to perform,such as taking a high dive off of a hotel roof and exploring a bizarre labyrinth within a nightclub.

However,the real risk came towards the end,as two teams were neck in neck for the Pit Stop. Team Hockey(Anthony and Bates) and Team Roller Derby(Mona and Beth)were practically on top of each other during the last challenge and it was an out and out foot race to reach Phil first.

 The boys made it in just seconds ahead of the ladies,but this was a non elimination leg,lucky for them. Both of these teams have been doing great and playing fair,so it's good to see them both still in the game:

 Cheating themes abound on Mad Men this week,as Don wavered between "tolerating" Megan's sexier scenes on her soap opera as well as fending off the advances of her work colleagues(who are clearly a swinging couple,in every sense of the term) and going behind the back of one Heinz executive to court another.

In the terms of his dealings with Megan,Don wants to have it both ways;supportive spouse and jealous husband,so typical of him. Never mind that he's sleeping with her new best friend a couple of  floors away,Don still has to act like he's in the right about things,regardless of the muddy moral waters he's wading in.

As to the Heinz Ketchup account,it was one of those bold moves that Don made his career on,but this time out,his former student Peggy gave him a real run for the money there.

In both aspects of his life,Don is slowly realizing that his moves are not as slick as they once were. If he's as smart as he thinks he is,it would be wise to learn a few new tricks instead of relying on the regular stand-bys,but we shall see:

Plenty of plot ground was covered on the last episode of Game of Thrones,with Jaime sinking into sorrow over his missing hands,plans for Sansa to marry into House Tyrell being made and Arya hoping that the Hound would receive true justice from the Brotherhood Without Banners.

The major game change came from overseas,as Dany completed her bargain with the trash talking slave trader in Astapor. With the promise of a live dragon as payment,she was given control over an army of eight thousand Unsullied soldiers and not until the last minute,she revealed the true nature of her plan.

Granted,I've read the book(A Storm of Swords)so this wasn't a complete surprise to me yet seeing it unfold in such a spectacular fashion was one of the best thrills on TV that I've seen in a long time. All hail Daenarys Stormborn,a real mother of dragons indeed!:


THE AMERICAN BAKING COMPETITION: The U.S. version of this cooking contest will be arriving in May and while I still think the title needs some work,the show does look like yummy viewing:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Booking new reads for May and June

With the weather getting warmer these days(slowly in some places),the urge to go outdoors is becoming hard to resist. One good excuse for giving into that desire is to find what's new at your local bookseller,who has a ripe crop of reading goods on display this season.

Of course,spring and early summer is a busy gift shopping time as well,with weddings,graduations and parental holidays to honor. Some of the books suggested here may be more suitable as a present to yourself but at least one or two of them might be the perfect book to give to that person who seems to need nothing yet will need to read this:


Daphne Kalotay follows up her brilliant debut novel Russian Winter with another look at tormented artists in Sight Reading. Remy and Hazel have not seen each other for twenty years yet a chance encounter brings back a flood of memories regarding the man they both loved.

 When Remy was just a second chair violinist in Boston of 1987,she was drawn by the charms of Nicholas,a charismatic conductor still in the throws of love with his new wife Hazel. The passion that generates between Remy and Nicholas changed more than one life and put all three of them on a path each least expected to be on. Kalotay's story telling skills are as fine honed as any orchestra with the spotlight being placed on just the right emotional notes in this tale of tortured love and desire(May):

In Kathleen Tessaro's The Perfume Collector, Grace Monroe finds the life of a 1950s British socialite to be as dull as she expected with not even her recent marriage offering much zest to her days. When an inheritance from a mysterious French woman arrives on her doorstep,however,Grace's interest is rather peaked indeed.

She travels to France to discover what this is all about and learns about the rise and fall of her benefactor,Eva D'Orsey. Eva started out as a hotel maid in New York during the 1920s and went into the perfume business with a man named Andre,who she loved and lost during WWII. Eva's tale inspires Grace to make what she can of this unexpected treasure bestowed upon her. A riveting tale that gives the reader more than one sense of how something simple like perfume can bring new enchantment to life(May):


British actress/comedian Dawn French is not as well known for her books as she is her films and TV shows but perhaps that might all change with her latest novel. The heroine of Oh Dear Silvia happens to be in a coma due to a fall off her balcony and her many visitors to her hospital bed have much to say to her.

From her dippy sister Jo(whose idea of helping her wake up is to bring in a male stripper) to moody ex-husband Ed and the dubious agenda of her housekeeper Tia,the people in Silvia's life are all wondering why she made such a sudden change of life five years ago in disconnecting from her family. That secret is one of the dozens unearthed in this offbeat narrative(late May):


Alafair Burke's new suspense novel,If You Were Here, has journalist McKenna Jordan looking for the subject for her next big story in the New York magazine she writes for while fielding book offers on a major article. In checking out the video of a women rescuing a teenager from  subway tracks,she recognizes an old friend from her time as an A.D.A.,Susan,who has gone missing for a decade.

While seeking out Susan,McKenna winds up opening up an old can of worms having to do with a case against a police officer that ended her legal career. This blend of past and present woes adds to a compelling story line that examines the effect of secret and lies upon one woman's life(June).

Bad Monkey is another tale from the seedy side of Florida that author Carl Hiaasen is best known for. The hapless hero of the story,Andrew Yancy,has plenty of troubles to deal,starting with the severed arm in his freezer.

 The reason given for this detached limb involves a story about a boating incident at a "shark luncheon",something that Andrew doesn't buy but is willing to look into as the truth of the matter might help him get a better gig with the local law enforcement than his current position as a health inspector.

Along the way towards discovering what really happened,Andrew runs into a few old friends and oddball new acquaintances( including the widow of the arm's former owner) do their best to help or hinder him in his investigation. Hiaasen's heady mix of humor and criminal hijinks is quite the literary cocktail to down on a hot summer's night(June):


The subtitle of The Resurrectionist by E.D. Hudspeth is "the lost work of Doctor Spencer Black",a Victorian era scientist who did extensive studies and anatomical drawings of supernatural creatures that he felt were the key to understanding human development.

 The first half of the book is devoted to Dr. Black's biography,where as the son of a grave robber,he worked hard to achieve his medical degree yet was haunted by his interest in the strange and unusual.

 The rest of it showcases the good doctor's amazing illustrations of such fantastical beings as a minotaur,mermaid and even dragons that display their inner workings with creative grace. Anyone who loves fantasy lit or fantasy art will want to add this engaging book to their collection of wonders(May).


Anna Badken gives us a year in the life of an Afghan village with The World is a Carpet. Badken was a war correspondent who went to Afghanistan more than once in her career and decided to stay for a time to get to know the people better.

The narrative thread of this chronicle is the weaving of a carpet,which would bring enough money upon completion to help the people of Oqa pay for things like medicine for children made ill by "the black cough" and to survive in such a physically harsh climate.

The families shown here(along with brief sketches made by the author) are hardy folk who hold on to their traditions as a way of finding resolve in tough times,something that is quite universal to us all(late May).

Award winning actress Shohreh Aghdashloo discusses her life and times in an engaging memoir entitled The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines. Starting with her childhood in Iran during the time of the Shah, she chronicles her journey into acting even in the midst of the growing repressions of the new regime that followed the former one.

Aghdashloo made a number of sacrifices,including leaving her husband,along the way to pursuing her love of acting and found ways to keep in touch with the home land she had to leave behind though her art. Her real world adventures are as moving as any put on film and just as compelling as fiction(June):

So,even with summer reading plans to make,finding good books to read should be more of a pleasure than a chore. Doing what you love,whether it's for work or play,is a joy worth singing about:

Monday, April 22, 2013

A bouquet of cinematic scares awaits you this spring and summer at the movie trailer park

While the spring and summer movie season is not always a feast for the eyes of horror fans,even this year offers a few gruesome gems for folks of that persuasion to enjoy. Just this past weekend,musician/director Rob Zombie opened up his latest fright flick,The Lords of Salem,and received a fair number of positive reviews.

 The movie stars Rob's lovely wife,Sheri Moon Zombie,as Heidi,a DJ who gets a mysterious box containing a vinyl record that causes bizarre visions to appear to those who listen. Despite the terrifying results of the record,it does get air play and many are drawn to the bewitching power of the music and a concert for the Lords is planned,which may bring down the house in more ways than one:

 Despite the fact that the Twilight saga has ended for movie goers,vampires will still be making their presence known on the silver screen this May. Kiss of the Damned stars Milo Ventimiglia as Paolo,a young screenwriter who falls hopelessly in love with Djuna(Josephine de La Baume) who is reluctant to bring him into her eternally dark world.

Once she does,however,more complications arise as her devil may care sister Mimi drops by for a visit. Mimi's flouting of the rules that govern their blood drinking society puts them all at risk and forces both Paolo and Djuna to make choices that test the limits of their love and mutual blood lust:

The ghost story is the little black dress of the horror genre;it never really goes out of style. This July,you'll see the latest spooky number on display with The Conjuring. The movie is based on the exploits of real life husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren(Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who for the most part,tended to disprove rather than prove the existence of haunted houses.

However,when the Warrens went to check out the strange goings-on at the Rhode Island farm house where the beleaguered Perron family insisted was under supernatural siege,they soon realized that this was an experience unlike any other they had encountered before:

 The true rose among these thorny films,however,may prove to be You're Next. This low budget film takes place at a family reunion,where the Dawson clan seems truly happy to be together.

That good mood is soon shattered by a set of lethal party crashers who make their deadly intentions known right away. As the Dawsons seek safe places to hide,one of their invited guests decides to rise to the grisly challenge of survival and takes brutal charge of the situation. You're Next is due in August and I wouldn't be surprised to see it become the sinister sleeper hit of the season:

While most film goers will choose to bask in the shade of blockbuster fare this spring and summer,I find that it may be best to cool off during those long hot days with a chilling fear flick instead. Such a movie can be frightfully refreshing and provide a real relief from the rest of those 500 days of summer indeed:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TAR gets cheesy,GOT's Jaime loses his grip and Mad Men's secrets and lies

Homage was paid to a past challenge on The Amazing Race this week,as the remaining teams arrived in Switzerland and were tasked to carry a quartet of heavy cheeses down a steep hill.

Since they also had snow to deal with,a pair of small sleds were provided for each couple to use and that use was mandatory. Chuck and Wynona found that out the hard way,as they barely managed to get down the hill themselves and wound up rolling the chunks of cheddar ahead of them(also,for some strange reason,Chuck had loaded the sleds upside down).

They made it to the Pit Stop on time but had to wait out a 30 minute penalty before being checked in. Lucky for Team YouTube(Joey and Meghan)that they did,because that penalty saved their bacon. Chuck and Wynona went home instead and my best guess that their first meal back in the States won't be a cheeseburger:

 A lot happened on Games of Thrones last Sunday,as Arya parted ways with a friend,Dany struck a deal with a rude slaver for an army of The Unsullied and Tyrion had no choice but to take on new responsibilities.

 Our main focus this time,however,went to Jaime and Brienne,who were captured by Rob Stark's potential banner men. Jaime had warned Brienne that the men would be abusing her sexually by nightfall and not to fight back too much. She naturally resisted that notion and those men as the time came yet Jaime dropped his usual manner of disinterest in the pain of others to help her out.

Unfortunately for him, Jaime overplayed his hand by pushing the head man in charge for other favors that included sending home to his father and a more comfortable resting spot. If he had just left off with his fib about the wealth of Brienne's family(which saved her physical virtue for the moment),all might have been well. Sadly,that Lannister pride and vanity lead Jaime to face some very hard truths and to lose a hand,something that a famed swordsman would rather die than live with:

There were some interesting parallels between Don and Pete this week on Mad Men as both men are conducting extramarital affairs close to home,not to mention figuring out to please a couple of tricky clients.

 Don's entanglement with Sylvia,the doctor's wife only a couple of apartment floors away,has her more on edge than him. She and Megan shared a personal moment(where Megan told her about a recent miscarriage before telling Don)that gave her some serious qualms about continuing her fling. Don,however, seems contented with this outlet for his anxieties,no shock there,and pretty much talked Sylvia down from that ledge their relationship was about to go over.

Pete,as usual,came off as a sloppier version of Don as he used his NYC apartment to hook up with one of the suburban house wives in his neighborhood. That lady,alas,has a husband who viciously lashed out at her and Pete's wife Trudy gave her refuge from that domestic storm.

 To her credit,Trudy laid down the law the next day and told Pete in no uncertain terms that he had to stay away or she would make him sorry. A divorce would be better for them both,in my opinion,but neither one of them is ready to go that extra step just yet. What is it with Pete and his bad karma with women? While he did earn a lot of it,you would think that he'd learn a few lessons from the master on successfully scoring on the side.

Some of this bled over into work,as the creep from Jaguar who insisted on a night with Joan as a signing bonus stopped in to throw his weight around regarding the ad campaign. Don cleverly sunk that battleship subtly,which ticked Pete off but once again,he was too slow to catch up there. Hopefully both of them will be on the ball as Heinz ketchup is in their reach but may slip away to Peggy's new firm. Wise up,boys or more than one fortune may be lost here:


 THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: New episodes start tonight as the gang still struggles to find the missing vampire cure and deal with Silas but that doesn't mean prom dresses won't be shopped for:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Amanda Grange writes a love letter to P&P with Dear Mr. Darcy

My latest selection for the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge this year was Amanda Grange's Dear Mr. Darcy which, as the subtitle describes, is a retelling of Jane Austen's classic novel. The story is retold in epistolary form(aka letters) with both the regular batch of Austen characters and a few new ones added to the mix.

 The narrative point begins with the death of old Mr. Darcy,who leaves his only son instructions on how to carry out the family legacy,including advice on finding a suitable wife.

Darcy does his best to  pick up the reins of responsibility during this sad time,as well as providing comfort to his younger sister Georgiana. Some of Darcy's advisers are family such as Col. Fitzwilliam(who shares guardianship of Georgiana) and cousin Phillip,who offer solace and suggestions on many dilemmas,especially the never ending one that is George Wickam:

Meanwhile,we also meet the Bennet sisters,who are regretting the loss of the Sotherton family from their neighborhood(due to a necessary retrenchment to Bath) but are pleased to get acquainted with the new tenants of their friends' former home at Netherfield Park. While second eldest daughter Elizabeth shares her local news with her beloved Aunt Gardner,she gives more intimate details to her good friend Susan Sotherton,who hopes to find a well off gentleman to marry her way out of her family's troubles.

  One of the amusing highlights of these letters are the opportunities granted to other supporting characters such as seriously silly Mary Bennet. Her correspondence to Lucy Sotherton,a fellow "Learned Woman", that chronicles her devotion to creating numerous books of extracts as well as being oblivious to the attentions of a local clerk,are some of my personal favorite passages in DMD.

 Of course,the main plot threads are linked to Darcy and Elizabeth,whose journey from mutual loathing to true love is well carried out here. Both the sassy interactions and the dramatic moments of tension between these two are properly put on display:

 Amanda Grange has written several other Austen themed books,such as Mr. Darcy,Vampyre(which I happen to be reading in e-book form),as well as other fictional fare but Dear Mr. Darcy is quite the delightful introduction to her lively style of storytelling.

The ease in which she blends in new characters with their own story lines into the already well known plot points of the established P&P players marks her as a solid writer in her own stead. A true bonus is how Grange makes this story sing with notes of freshness and the engaging entertainment of each letter,even when the sad news about Lydia takes center stage:

   So,if you haven't yet discovered the literary delights of Amanda Grange,Dear Mr. Darcy is a highly recommended place to start in my opinion. I do have some extra credit P&P reading to do,one of those being P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley and I am saving a pair of red hot sequels for summer but for now,this engaging revisit to Pride and Prejudice is a satisfying set of letters to analyze:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

GOT's Sansa speaks up,Chopped All-Stars and Mad Men enters their sixth season doorway

The latest episode of Game of Thrones caught up with a few more supporting players as Bran made a new friend,Arya's secret identity was exposed by The Hound, Jamie and Brienne are still on the move and Theon is undergoing some enhanced interrogation.

But the biggest scene went to Sansa,who was asked for the lowdown on Joffrey by his new intended bride Margery and her grandmother Lady Olenna(who is to this story what the Dowager Countess Violet is to Downton Abbey). At first,Sansa was cautiously polite in her remarks but kindly seeming attentions from the Tyrells caused her to loosen her tongue and tell the truth about him.

Margery and Lady Olenna weren't totally shocked at this and for the moment,the results of that openness for Sansa are yet to be seen. However,it is safe to say that Margery appears to be far more savvy in dealing with difficult men than Sansa but is willing to be generous to those who help her,knowingly or unknowingly there:

Next week,more intrigue abounds as Jon Snow is in danger of losing his place amongst Mance Ryder's wildings and Brienne is in danger of losing her head from Jamie's new captors. No one's scalp is safe for long with this crew but let's hope for the best in Brienne's case:

 Chopped began it's annual All-Stars competition this week,with a set of well known chefs going head to head against each other and the mystery baskets to raise money for their respective charities.

 First up,it was Food Network folks vs. Cooking Channel regulars. Representing FN was Sunny Anderson and Jeff "The Sandwich King" Mauro and for CC,it was Gabriele Corcos(who shares his show Extra Virgin with his wife Debi Mazur)and Nadia G of Bitchin' Kitchen.

 The first round for appetizers had banana bread,mango juice,vegetable terrine and galanghal(which is a spicy cousin of ginger) to work with. Nadia managed to make some tasty croquette balls but one of them bounced right off the plate just as time was up,leaving one of the judges without anything to taste:

Needless to say,that dropped Nadia out of the running. The ultimate winner was Sunny Anderson,who will be going to the finale to try and win 50 grand for her charity of choice. One of her challengers will be from the four pack of "Mega Chefs" up next,that will include Elizabeth Falkner and Top Chef's Richard Blaise. Should be quite the savory showdown indeed!:

Mad Men began their sixth season with many of the main players examining where they are right now,as Peggy is smoothing out her rough edges at her new job,Roger is wondering what his mother's death really means to him and Don is unsure of what his place is in the life he's currently leading.

Yes,Don is back in cheating mode but his whole outlook on the world is becoming more bleaker than he expected or can see(the idea for his latest ad campaign is more darker than he intended to everyone but him,it seems). He appears to be looking for some sort of escape hatch from his present state of reality and if he does find it,hopefully it won't be as permanent as Lane's was last year.

 Betty is also going through a bit of reflection,as she takes an interest in a talented friend of her daughter's who feels frustrated about not being able to go further with her musical skills.

 When the girl takes off to find what's she's looking for in Greenwich Village,Betty goes after her and shows a more maternal side than even she knew was in her before.

 Granted,Betty has enough issues for a lifetime subscription to Psychology Today(those creepy jealous remarks she made to her current husband prior to getting to know the girl in question,for one) but it seems as if she may be ready to turn a crucial corner emotionally,perhaps much sooner than Don is at this junction. Time will tell on that,I suppose:


VEGAS: If you've become a fan of this show and have been wondering when it will return,fear not. Vegas is now on Fridays at 9:00,instead of their previous Thursday at ten spot. All of the episodes are new and I sincerely hope we get a second season because this series has a good amount of sizzle and steak to feed your need for historical crime drama:

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Having a devil of a time with Bad Movie Month

One of the regular features of this blog is Bad Movie Month,which takes place in August and for the uninitiated,on every Friday of that month we highlight those cinematic experiences that you so wish to unsee.

 For 2013,our theme is The Devil Made Me Do It and I'm sorry to report that in pulling together this list of Beelzebub box office bombs,I realized that I actually paid to see every single one of them during their original theatrical run. Perhaps Satan did have a hand in my choices there but since I have to watch them yet again in order to provide fresh blog fodder this summer,my pop culture punishment will be complete.

First in our sin basket is 1999's End of Days that has Arnold Schwarzenegger as a former NYC cop trying to prevent Satan(who possesses the body of Gabriel Bryne,a man I wouldn't mind possessing but I digress...) from impregnating his chosen bride with the Antichrist on New Year's Eve. Funny how Arnold doesn't seem to be the type of guy that would stop a fella from getting a little illicit congress there but then again,that was before he decided to run for political office which has it's own soul selling policies:

 Next up is Spawn,a disappointing adaptation from 1997 of Todd McFarlane's ground breaking comic book series that has a former military man getting another chance at life by joining the service of the devil upon his death. Why ex-law enforcement officers/soldiers get picked on by the Prince of Darkness so much is a good question for discussion-why not people who cut in line,for example?

What makes this Hollywood version even more regrettable is that an animated series based on Spawn was airing on HBO around the same time and that show had more of a realistic dark edge than the movie,which turned just about everyone onscreen into cartoonish cliches:

 On the lighter side,we have the 2000 remake of the British comedy classic Bedazzled,with Brendan Fraser playing the Dudley Moore role of hapless romantic who bargains for seven wishes from the Devil(played by Elizabeth Hurley,quite a change of pace from Peter Cook in the original).

Having the Devil be a woman is the only creative notion in this less than sharp satire that descends into a hell wrought of sitcom level jokes. We're not talking Everybody Loves Raymond or How I Met Your Mother style of standard humor either,more like According to Jim or Rules of Engagement as in "this thing is still on the air?!":

You can't have a discussion of devil movies without an evil kid or two and Bless The Child fills that bill nicely. Kim Basinger stars in this 2000 clunker as a nurse whose abandoned niece is suddenly reclaimed by her former junkie sister whose new man in her life happens to run a cult dedicated to bringing forth hell on earth.

Since the girl in question happens to have psychic powers,her satanic stepdaddy is hoping that she'll be the one who lets the Big Bad in, a family dilemma that not even Dr. Phil would want to touch with a ten foot pole. Too bad Basinger didn't use a similar device to get away from this script but perhaps she's a glutton for punishment(insert Alec Baldwin joke here):

Speaking of bad kids, the movie that my sister Stephanie chose for her birthday salute(known as Sister's Choice) also has a wicked offspring on board.

2004's Godsend features Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as parents so desperate to revive their deceased son that they let suspicious mad doctor Robert De Niro clone their boy who,of course,comes back wrong.

This movie is so bad,folks,that I actually forgot that I had seen it at all! Guess the mind has to do something to protect itself from too much bad data,I guess. My sis remembers it all too well,as something "we've done" together and for her sake,I'll risk the mental reboot:

Back to our Lucifer list,last and possibly least is 1993's Needful Things,based on one of Stephen King's far from truly frightening horror novels. As much as I love Big Steve, even he wouldn't try to sell you on this stinker.

 The plot line here has Max Von Sydow as a sinister shop keeper who demands a special price for his goods and services and he's about the only one in this whole mess who appears to be having a good time. However,his presence is not enough to make up for the overwrought story telling and gruesome goings-on that grow tiresome rather than terrifying:

 This summer should get a lot hotter around here with this pack of hell hound horrible flicks indeed. I hope that you all join in the fearsome fun and share your thoughts about these silly Satanic mess-terpieces. Misery does love company after all. Tune in this August and when it comes to quality movies,just ignore them for the hell of it for awhile:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Are we in the midst of a Stephen King Renaissance?

Stephen King's media presence has been pretty steady over the past couple of decades and rightfully so,but it has gone through a number of ups and downs as time moves on. This year,however, a strong revival of interest in both his past and present work seems to be growing.

 One of the key elements for this recent revival is the film remake of his first hit horror novel,Carrie,which was meant to be released last month yet now has a fall date scheduled.

 You could say that the studio thought it play better during the Halloween season but something tells me that due to it's pivotal prom scene,someone might have had second thoughts about putting this out during the spring(I could be wrong there). Of course,the real qualm that folks would have with this reboot is to wonder if it was even necessary for reasons other than money.

In my opinion,the original movie still resonates with audiences and even with such good casting as Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role(plus,Julianne Moore as her demented mom) and a screenplay that promises to be more faithful to the source material(which I doubt,since this version is set in present time),fans might best served by renting the 70's Carrie instead:

 What is in theaters right now is the documentary Room 237,that has a number of obsessed fans sharing their theories about the hidden messages within Stanley Kubrick's cinematic interpretation of Stephen King's The Shining.

 Granted, it can be said that this film is more about Kubrick than King(which is one of the reasons that some fans have trouble with this movie in the first place) but it does invoke King's story telling power nonetheless. Despite the creative quirks and liberties taken with the original novel,the true terror of The Shining must be credited to King and like it or not,the Kubrick version does have it's fair share of chills and thrills.

This new sparkle upon the legacy of The Shining should be most helpful when the long awaited follow-up to that book comes out this September. Doctor Sleep  shows us an adult version of the troubled psychic son from the original,Danny Torrance who has become a caretaker to the ailing elderly.

 His unique powers of perception are still intact and must be brought to the fore front in order to protect a young girl with similar abilities from being  fed upon by immortal creatures known as the True Knot. How solid this story is will be determined soon enough but for now,it's good to see King take the reins in regards to bringing his former characters back to life:

We won't have to wait for autumn,however,for more Stephen King goodness as starting this June,CBS will be airing an adaptation of Under The Dome,one of his more recent sci-fi outings. The main premise of the plot is that a small town is mysteriously cut off from the outside world via a rounded off force field,causing more than one kind of chaos for the people trapped beneath it's boundaries.

 A few naysayers have insisted that "the Simpsons did it first!" but the concept for this book came from a draft of an unfinished King piece from 1982 entitled The Cannibals(which had several pages posted at the official Stephen King website). This could be an interesting drama to watch unfold,especially during those long days of summer time viewing and I for one intend to check it out:

 As a King fan myself, I will be first to admit that not everything he's put out is top notch but like the little girl with the curl on her forehead,when he's good,he's very,very good indeed. Looking back at his past body of work as well as anticipating more to come is a great blessing for any fan to have for their favorite pop culture contributor and important for those new to his sinister section of fiction to better understand the really rare nature of his success:

Friday, April 05, 2013

Saving an aisle seat for Roger Ebert

It was a sad day for movie lovers yesterday,as news of the passing of famed film critic Roger Ebert made it's way across the media landscape. His battles with cancer were well known and only the day before he had announced a "leave of presence" due to his declining health.

However,his perseverance in keeping up with the steady stream of films released every week,despite his physical condition, is a testament to his cinematic devotion. Ebert's movie mania was and is an inspiration that others over the years chose to follow whether behind the camera or in the audience,including this little blogger girl.

My first introduction to Roger Ebert was through his review show Sneak Previews,where he was teamed up with friendly rival in the Chicago newspaper arts section,Gene Siskel. The series was first aired on PBS stations around the country and many folks were delighted to find such spirited discussion(especially when they disagreed about a movie) about current films that was accessible as well as entertaining:

  Soon enough,syndicated stations gave them a wider audience by creating At The Movies,which gave the fellas more room to work with on the reviewing front.

  Ebert and Siskel did more than just highlight the new releases,which they rated with a "thumbs up/down" system,they also did special shows about classic movies and why they worked,features on promising new directors such as Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino and trends in Hollywood that either pleased or irked them for good reason(I still agree with them about colorization):

After the death of Gene Siskel in the late 1990s, Ebert continued with his TV review show and had a rotating number of co-hosts before settling upon fellow Chicagoan Richard Roeper. While his partnership with Roeper wasn't as engaging as his prior connection with Siskel,it was still good to hear what Ebert thought about the newest releases at the multiplex that week:

In addition to watching his film views on TV, I also read many of his books about the subject and not just his yearly guides either. From humorous looks at movie cliches(Roger Ebert's Little Movie Glossary) and agonized takes on the worst in film(I Hated,Hated,Hated This Movie),plus tributes to the best in cinema(The Great Movies),Roger Ebert truly covered the waterfront here.

His most recent book was a memoir entitled Life Itself,which was well received by critics. It's no surprise that he was such a talented writer,given that he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in 1975,the first in his field to do so. Ebert had the knack for making talk about art house films seem as casually clever as appreciation of more mainstream fare.

 He also enjoyed a good genre flick as well with some experience in that department from writing the screenplays for  a couple of Russ Meyer B-movies,including Beyond the Valley of the Dolls(which is worth seeing if you're a sucker for camp) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens.

 Ebert also used his considerable clout to shine a light on independent and overlooked films(even holding a festival for them) and encouraging younger fans to check out their cinematic elders who paved the way for them:

Roger Ebert's departure from this life is of even more sadness to his family and friends,particularly his devoted wife Chaz and all of my sympathies and best wishes go out to her and those others who had such an amazing man in their lives.

Yes,he was a human being with flaws just like everyone else but not many of us use our time on earth to pursue what they most passionately love like he did. Roger Ebert did much to contribute to the appreciation of film along side such greats as Pauline Kael,Andrew Sarris and his former partner on the cinematic beat Gene Siskel.

 He and Gene helped to pave the way for present and future critics both in print and online who take liberties with the standard quo and challenge all of us to want better from this medium of motion pictures than visual gimmicks and tired remakes. That didn't mean turning your nose up at popcorn fare or overpraising the artistic content of films that had little to truly offer in that arena. It meant that movies could only be as good or bad as we made them to be and that it was up to us to encourage the best in film.

I practically grew up with Siskel and Ebert as movie mentors(as I'm sure countless others did)and seeing Roger take his leave of the aisle seat for good is a sweet sorrow indeed. However,I have no doubt that he'll be getting a much finer view of the cinema in his new theater in the hereafter: