Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween glee on Top Chef, checking in with AHS:Coven and some Big Bang Theory costume choices

Tricks and treats abounded on Top Chef last night, as the contenders walked into their kitchen to find that everything had been wrapped in foil(product placement alert!),including  all of the cooking implements such as pots and pans.

Then Padma and Judge Gail brought out their moms and set up two teams to make three dishes in thirty minutes. The winners would receive ten grand to divide amongst themselves and the extra big twist was that the moms would be selecting the ingredients and utensils for each group.

After some pretty weird food combos(including a soup made with cherries and chilies),Padma's team won. Then the big Halloween theme was revealed as Glee star Lea Michelle entered the room.

She's a huge fan of the show and was happy to be the hostess for the Halloween party arranged for the Elimination challenge. Since Lea happens to be vegan but is willing to go vegetarian on occasion(the big difference between the two is that vegans refuse to eat anything with meat or dairy ties to it),cheese was the best option given to the chefs here.

Lea also mentioned that she loved Italian food,so a good number of the teams of two made arancini(which is basically a cheese ball) with the best one being from Nicholas. He added lemon and smoked mozzarella that gave it a nice tang.

His team mate Patty whipped up a butternut squash cannoli  that complimented his dish well and earned them both a place in the winner's circle.

However, it was Carlos and Travis who won this challenge. They did display some nifty team work in creating dishes that paired well together.

Carlos made a cheese fondue for his fried zucchini that turned out to be like Goldilock's porridge and Travis' veggie ceviche evened out the richness of his partner's plate,plus tasted great on it's own.

On the chopping block were Brian and Bene who made two boring salads. Granted,a non protein challenge can be hard to jazz up but it's not impossible,guys.

Lea was disappointed with the quinoa in Bene's mushroom mess and the tomatoes in Brian's were far too watery. They also made the mistake of calling the salads "spa cuisine", which is not what the challenge called for.

The team that fared the worst,however, was Michael and Nina. Those two had trouble from the beginning, due to Michael hoping to ride Nina's coattails on this one.

Her candy corn inspired gnocchi with kale pesto was tasty enough but his arancini with saffron and served with black olives slices just didn't cut the mustard. So, it's off to Last Chance Kitchen for Michael where he has to battle last week's eliminated chef Janine. Good luck, guys and Happy Halloween!

Speaking of Halloween, American Horror Story:Coven has been quite the wild ride so far. While the main thrust of the plot is the battle for power between the Salem witches and a new vendetta arising from the NOLA natives,particularly Marie Laveau, it's the wacky witchness from the all star ladies of the cast that makes this series worth tuning into.

One of the best awful characters in this bunch is Madame Lalaurie(Kathy Bates),who tortured slaves back in the bad old days in order to make beauty potions for herself and was punished with eternal life.

 That immortality was mainly spent in a locked coffin that current Supreme witch Fiona unearthed,mainly to figure out how to get that deal for herself. Jessica Lange is the real queen of AHS but she does allow others to stomp on the regal red carpet with her there.

 Back to Lalaurie,having been awakened in modern day America, she has had a lot of culture shock to deal with and not much help in adjusting to the new day and age. Not that she deserves such consideration, mind you, but her angst is both funny and terrible to behold:

My favorite of the power divas amongst the older generation is Marie(Angela Basset). She too is an eternal who has kept a low profile by running her dark arts business out of a beauty parlor but still has plenty of mystical ammo on hand.

Fiona threw her weight around early on with Marie and judging by what happened last night,the truce between those two factions is no longer in practice. If it comes down to a major showdown by the finale between Fiona and Marie, all my bets are on Marie.

 It's a well known trope in magical genres that the one who holds the strongest power doesn't have to show it off until absolutely necessary and Fiona is not shy about slinging her spells while Maria can keep cool under pressure. When ever it goes down, I will be eagerly taking a ringside seat for this witch battle royale:

Since it is Halloween, I thought it would be fun to round this post out with a look at the costume choices made on The Big Bang Theory over the years.

While the guys mostly love to deck themselves out as superheroes or other trendy geek personae, Sheldon can get unusually creative with his seasonal get-up. Being the Doppler Effect is perfectly suited to his strictly scientific style,even if most people(including his friends) don't quite get it:

Adding Penny to their costume capers made things even more fun,as one episode gave the guys a Wonder Woman for their Justice League, along with Penny's goofy boyfriend of the moment Zack being their Superman.

While Penny resisted wearing the traditional black wig for Wonder Woman at first, she did join in eventually and Zack was a nice change of pace from the mean lunkhead types she went out with.

Zack even showed up a few times after he and Penny broke up, which was good to see,plus his likable nature played off the rest of the gang rather well:

Having more women on the show did enhance the array of costumes for the gang, tension still flairs up. Sheldon was more than agreeable to the idea of a couples costume with Amy, neither of them could agree on a duo of classic couples.

Eventually, a compromise was reached with amusing results although not as amused as mismatched Penny and Leonard were later on at the comic book store costume party:


EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND: This isn't from a Halloween episode but it's a great creepy coda nonetheless. The set-up is that father Frank got angry at the truth telling dummy Robert was trying out for his night school teaching gig and he exacted some twisted revenge the next morning.
Peter Boyle is just delightfully demented here,so enjoy!:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Talking like Jane Austen at a menacing Mansfield Park

Since today is Talk Like Jane Austen Day as well as being the day before Halloween, I thought it might be a good way to acknowledge both occasions by offering up an excerpt from my upcoming e-book for 2014 entitled Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires.

The premise of my plot is that modern day descendants of the Bertram family(who happen to be living in America)discover that they are heirs to the estate of Mansfield,which has been mostly reclaimed due to back taxes and in a state of disrepair.

While cleaning out the place in order to make it acceptable for rental to a film company, a secret stash of letters written by Fanny Price are discovered,letters intended for her brother William but never sent to him. Instead, they serve as a journal of sorts in which Fanny relates to him about the growing vampire danger from a pair of certain new neighbors(I think you can guess who but here's a hint,they are brother and sister).

While one of the present day Bertrams chooses to continue with the clean-up at Mansfield, the other decides to publish the letters in order to cash in on the current vampire trend with hopes that Angelina Jolie will star in the film version.

Yes, this story is a tad "fang in cheek" but I am hoping to capture a hint of Austen's style with this epistolary tale of terror. This portion of the book is the very first letter in  the series in which Fanny talks of the recent death of her Uncle Norris and about a special inheritance that she was made the secret guardian of,for Edmund's sake:


My Dearest William,

Since I have already sent you word about the death of our Uncle Norris, this note will be put aside for some time until I am quite sure that it will not be a burden to our remaining uncle, Sir Thomas, to ask for it to be franked.

His funeral was this afternoon, which was done very neatly and economically, according to our Aunt Bertram who told me that her sister Norris saved a good deal of money by getting the undertaker to sell her one of his display coffins for her husband to be buried in. She was able to purchase it at half price and with a discount for the clergy included in the bill as well. Aunt Bertram did not say this as a critique of her sister, rather as an observation of the clear minded nature that Aunt Norris possesses, even at such a time.

Aunt Bertram also informed me that I would now be expected to live with her sister at her new lodgings, which are not too far a walk from the main house. Since she always meant to take me, according to Aunt Bertram, her current state of adjustment and absence of company is intended to be made up by me.

As much as I am grateful to my family Bertram for their many kindnesses towards myself and to you, brother, this duty will be hard to carry out.Aunt Norris is as kind as she can be, I suppose, yet her repeated reminders of how fortunate I am to even be in this household are difficult to bear and how I must never forget that I am not a Miss Bertram, like my dear cousins Maria and Julia, does place an obstacle in my heart's path when it comes to loving her as I should.

Cousin Edmund is the only one who understands some of this and will hopefully be able to offer me encouragement if and when I must move across the park with her. However, what I wanted to share with you is a remembrance of our uncle that has risen up in my mind  recently.

It was about a year or so after your first visit to Mansfield. I was assisting Aunt Norris in arranging the flowers in the parish church for the Easter celebrations due to take place the next day and trying to be as useful as I could. My Aunt Norris has very high standards which I was not always able to live up to at that age(or even now, I fear).

During a moment as she was instructing me on how to properly hold up a basket, Uncle Norris inquired " My dear Mrs. Norris, were you able to speak to Lady Bertram this morning?"

She paused in her instruction to me("Don't be so clumsy, Fanny!" were her exact words, I believe)and answered him. "Why, yes, I have spoken to her today, at least several times."

He nodded and then said "I only mention it because you specially asked me to remind you to speak with her about tomorrow's dinner and if we should bring something over beforehand."

That seemed to puzzle her. "I quite sure that Lady Bertram and I went over the dinner menu most thoroughly, Mr. Norris! I cannot think of what you mean..." she then started to worry about a dish that Sir Thomas particularly enjoyed and then decided to go back to the great house to check with Aunt Bertram. I was told to stay behind and help Uncle Norris with the rest of the flowers.

"Don't fret, my dear, Fanny and I will manage it well enough." Uncle Norris smiled at me, which was most reassuring. We did not spend a good deal of time in each others' company, other than my attendance at his sermons on Sunday. When ever he and Aunt Norris came to dinner at Mansfield, Sir Thomas and Edmund would talk with him as I attended our aunts in their needlework and tea.

Upon placing a pair of flower vases on the side of the altar, Uncle Norris turned to me and said "Fanny, may I ask a favor of you?" I replied yes, thinking that he wanted me to fetch more flowers or take a message to Aunt Norris. Instead, he reached into his coat pocket and brought forth a small object wrapped in cloth.

 Clearing his throat, he then said "As you know, Mrs. Norris is a very tidy housekeeper and especially prone to tossing away what might be mistaken for clutter during the spring season. Cleanliness is a fine trait, to be sure, as well as most Christian but every now and then I do have a few items that I would prefer to keep rather than lose due to her knack for thoroughness in these matters."

I kept still and nodded, not sure of what I was about to be asked. He continued, “This item in particular I wish to pass on to Edmund someday, after he takes his orders." You will recall that our cousin Edmund is destined to follow the tradition of younger sons and enter the church, which my Uncle Norris was most proud to instruct him in.

Holding out the wrapped item, he asked if I would put it away for him amongst my belongings until such time as it was ready to be given to Edmund. I was truly honored by this request and happy to oblige. Uncle Norris allowed me to unwrap the item, which I can only describe as a strange sort of spindle, like the one Mama used to have before it was broken by one of the boys or the maid we had at the time.

It was long and made of wood, with a sweet scent. My uncle told me that an old friend of his had carved it from an apricot tree similar to the one that Sir Thomas had given him for his own garden long ago.

Odd yet lovely designs were cut into the upper part of this spindle surrounding a cross with a circle within it. Uncle Norris told me that it was an Irish design. "I did not know that you knew any Irish men, Uncle!" I surprised myself by saying. He smiled at me again. "Yes, he was a good friend ,Mr. Lefroy and rather capable for a Catholic, that is."

"Is it an Irish prayer stick?" I don't know why I asked that and regretted my boldness instantly, yet Uncle Norris just laughed and said "Not exactly, my dear Fanny but it did send a few of the deserving to their eternal reward." I was most confused by this remark yet did not dare to inquire further.

He then asked me to keep this between ourselves, since Aunt Norris was not familiar with his Irish friend and might not understand the significance of the item for Edmund. "Some day I will ask you for it, Fanny, or have you give to Edmund directly but for now, I entrust this to your keeping. You don't mind, do you?" I did not, in the least and assured him so.

I put it away with some of my small trinkets in the East room near the attic ,where I and Maria and Julia took our lessons and  that I still spend some better part of the day in. For awhile, I had forgotten all about it, until Uncle Norris' recent departure. He had not mentioned it again to me during the rest of his days yet as it turned out, he remembered the matter quite well as I later discovered.

I was helping Aunt Norris bring a few parcels over to Mansfield before the funeral, to be stored in their attics due to her new house being much smaller than the parsonage. As I picked one up from the study, a pile of papers fell from the desk and while putting them back in place, there was a sealed envelope addressed to me!

 You can imagine my shock, William, at such a find. I took a moment to break the seal and found a small key underneath with this message:

My Dear Fanny,
Long ago, I asked you to take care of a certain Irish piece for me. I am sure that you still have it and if you are reading this letter, clearly I am not able to give it to Edmund before his ordination, so I entrust you to do so in my stead.

Use this key to open the bottom left drawer of my desk and add what is in there to that hiding place. There should be amongst the contents of the drawer a set of books that Edmund will need but those must only be given to him after he takes orders, that is most important! I thank you, my good niece, for your assistance in this matter and bless you for your discretion.

Your loving uncle,
John Norris

I was not able to attend my late uncle's wishes at that time, due to Aunt Norris calling for me to hurry with my bundle. I shall attempt to do so before her move and hopefully get a hold of what he intended for Edmund to have....

I have more to relate, now that my mission is complete. Aunt Norris was occupied with her sister Bertram this morning, so I was able to open that drawer and retrieve the books and things for Edmund without anyone noticing. Part of me feels rather disturbed at such a deception but since it was the wish of my uncle to keep this action a private matter and a respectable clergy man such as himself would not ask anyone, particularly a family member, to willfully do wrong, I am quite assured that I have done right.

The books for Edmund do not appear to be in English, but he is well versed in Latin and Greek, so this shouldn't be a problem for him. One of them does have a title that I can understand but must be a foreign book, as Lore of the Nosferatu does not sound like a proper English subject at all.

 What ever it is, Edmund will know and I hope that he will be pleased that Uncle Norris thought so highly of his prospects in the church to ensure these items would reach him despite their unexpected parting of the ways.

I hope that you will agree with me that I have done my duty to Uncle Norris in this situation. I am not sure when and how to give these treasures to Edmund, since his ordination will not be for quite some time.

I am also not sure how long a few of them will keep until then, either. Why my uncle thought to store away garlic cloves and a vial of their oil, much like my Aunt Bertram's for her smelling salts, is too odd a notion for me to consider but perhaps there is some religious purpose to it that a lay person is not meant to understand.

Those, I may very well put towards my own use in order not to borrow my aunt's too much. I am sure that Uncle Norris would not mind, yet Edmund will be offered it when this small inheritance is made over. I also ask you, brother, to keep this matter secretive as well, although I know it is hardily the sort of information anyone aboard ship would care to know at all. When this letter reaches you, it may not matter yet I do beg for your silence on the subject if you write to anyone else in the family.

Most Loving,
Your Sister Fanny

 As you can see, Aunt Norris is just as wicked as any vampire in my monster mash-up and there are quite a few surprises heading her way,along with the rest of the regular cast.

Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires is still a work in progress at the moment but I plan to have it finished by the end of this year and to be published at Smashwords by early 2014. With next year being the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park's original publication, the timing seemed eerily right.

I hope you enjoyed this advance look at my Austenesque horror story and please feel free to offer me some feedback,either in the comments section or at my FB page for my previous Jane Austen themed e-book,The Austen Avenger (which will also be the home for this sinister story as well). Have a happy Talk like Jane Austen Day and a Happy Halloween tomorrow and here's to making two great tastes taste great together,like a certain peanut butter cup:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A few literary gifts to consider this November and December

With Halloween arriving in a couple of days, the huge cloud of holiday shopping that looms over November and December is getting mighty close there.

In order to make your shopping sprees a tad easier(as well as maybe picking up a little gift for yourself along the way), our handy LRG book preview selection is all set to offer you plenty of treats for the upcoming season:


 Fans of Adriana Trigiani's novels about  Valentine Roncalli will be thrilled to see the long awaited third piece of the puzzle arrive to complete the trilogy.

The Supreme Macaroni Company has our heroine accepting the marriage proposal of Gianluca, an older and somewhat wiser man whose tannery compliments her shoemaker ambitions nicely. However, harmony is not guaranteed as family and friend complications threaten to make this blissful arrangement a less than perfect match.

 It helps if you're familiar with the earlier novels(Very Valentine and Brava Valentine) but then again, it's a great excuse to pick up all three. As with many connections of the heart, Trigiani skillfully blends a variety of storytelling spices to make her books as sweet as any offering on a cookie table and clever enough to keep from being cloying(November):

 In The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, author Fannie Flag introduces us to Sookie Poole, who only wants to take things easy after her grown daughters are now settled down into marriage.

The remaining thorn in her side,however, is her mother Lenore, a never shy with her attitude lady whose unbridled behavior causes no end of grief. Looking into her mother's past, Sookie discovers a connection between Lenore and a family of four sisters who ran a filling station,even when one of them joined the WASPS(female airforce pilots) during WWII.

As Sookie learns more about the family, she gleams some insights into her own blood ties and decides to make a few much needed changes in her life. Part of the appeal of this novel is the depiction of WASPs and their contribution to our country. Leave it to Flagg to bring such engaging real life ladies to the forefront with her brand of fabulous fiction(November):


It's been several years since we had a new book from Amy Tan and no doubt her new novel will be well worth the wait. The Valley of Amazement  follows more than one generation of women from Shanghai to San Francisco, beginning with Violet, a former courtesan who struggles with the challenges that her path in life has given her.

Part of the reason for choosing certain directions in which to go is due to her mother Lulu, an American who fell in love with a Chinese painter and took a chance on a new life. Those choices are echoed in similar yet somewhat different fashion by Violet and extend to even their descendants.

Mother-daughter drama is familiar territory for Amy Tan but she does it so well that you can't wish for anything more from this dynamic author(November):


The genius of late comedian Richard Pryor is explored in Furious Cool,written by a pair of brothers,David and Joe Henry,who may be planning a film based on their research as well.The subtitle of this biography,"and the world that made him",displays the pop culture influence of Pryor's work that still resonates with audiences today.

Like many of his fellow stand-up comedians,he started out as a mainstream entertainer who evolved into a more nuanced and risk taking artist whose personal woes often overlapped into all areas of his life.

The Henry brothers examine the impact of Richard Pryor's personal and professional choices that shaped his legacy,with insights from those who knew him best and for those who never will experience his talents firsthand, this is a powerful introduction to a true master of his craft(November):


In Barbara Mutch's debut novel,The Housemaid's Daughter, Irish woman Catherine Harrington journeys to South Africa to join her  husband Edward at his estate Cradock House in 1919.

Feeling very out of place in her new home,Catherine forms a bond with young Ada,the daughter of her housekeeper and treats her more like her own child. That relationship is sorely tested as Ada is forced to leave Chadock House at age seventeen after being morally betrayed by Edward and then becoming an outsider amongst her own people.

Catherine is not made aware of the situation until too late in the game,yet she persists in reconnecting with Ada even as numerous social changes are erupting all around them. This book offers an engaging look at what brings people together,who seem to be destined to be apart, in more ways than one(December).

We couldn't end this year of celebrating Pride and Prejudice without one more book about the Bennet sisters and Pamela Mingle 's upcoming contribution focuses on the most overlooked of the ladylike lot.

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet takes place three years after the leading lady of the title has seen her elder siblings suitably wed,along with younger sister Lydia still causing trouble with her feckless spouse.

When a fresh scandal from that particular end of the family arises, Mary and her other unattached sister Kitty are set off to stay for a while with Jane and Bingley,where they make the acquaintance of Henry Walsh, a most suitable suitor. However, Mary is doubtful of her charms as her merits have always been firmly placed in the basket of her mental talents. While Mary Bennet has been given a spotlight before, this new novel promises to allow her to sing to her true heart's content(November):


 Dean Koontz never fails to release a pulse pounding thriller in time for the holidays and Innocence even has a wintery cover to boot. The coldness of the story is in the isolation that both leads share,Addison whose distorted physical features turn many away from discovering his true worth and Gwyneth, a young woman haunted by the mysterious death of her father.

The two of them encounter one another in a deserted library,where Addison curates rare books, and Gwyneth's surprise at meeting him soon gives way into a trust that allows her to tell him of her suspicions regarding the man she believes poisoned her dad. As they both become targets of this mutual enemy,Addison and Gwyneth must dig deep into themselves to find the best plan of action,along with a more intimate alliance.

Koontz is best known for his frightful set-ups but it's the emotional connections between his characters that has brought him a legion of loyal readers. Innocence sounds like one of those fine examples of his best work(December).

Happy Halloween,everyone,and we'll be back with another book preview for early next year just before New Year's Eve. With any luck, most of your gift giving troubles will be over by then and rants about the hectic nature of holiday shopping will no longer be necessary:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jennifer Chiaverini's The Spymistress showcases a true heroine of the Civil War

Following up her foray into historical fiction last year with Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini introduces us to The Spymistress which details the life and times of Elizabeth Van Lew, a ringleader of Union spies in Richmond,VA during the American Civil War.

At the start of the war,Elizabeth is a staunch defender of the North's position regarding slavery and is dismayed at her home state for eagerly joining the growing alliance of Confederate states.

 Most of her family,including her widowed mother who freed the slaves owned by her late husband upon his death, support her campaign yet her sister-in-law Mary is quick to become a part of the new social order and to critique Elizabeth for her resistance to the changes in the wind. Realizing that her outspokenness could be used against her with the authorities, she resolves to switch up her tactics in order to aid the Union in any way she can:

 Elizabeth's main weapon in her arsenal was her southern lady charms, which she used to gain permission to provide food and other necessities to prisoners of war held at such places as Libby prison, Castle Thunder and even Belle Island.

Before long, she was able to do more than just offer a few amenities to the Union detainees. By certain subtle methods like marking the pages of a borrowed book, Elizabeth was entrusted with carrying messages to the commanders of the Union army which helped enormously in learning who was trapped behind enemy lines.

After some time, Elizabeth was approached about becoming a major player in the growing spy game, something that she had been quietly doing all along but not with direct ties to the Union.

She accepted this trust,despite being considered a social outcast by some and disharmony with her brother's family when Mary insisted that they move out of the Van Lew household in order to keep away from the "bad influence" that Elizabeth was felt to be.

The network of spies that Elizabeth worked with included those who worked within the system,such as prison guards, and those who were often overlooked,the African American men and women both free and slave who could gather up plenty of information directly under their oppressor's noses.

Most notable of the lady spies that Elizabeth brought into this secret circle was Mary Bowser,whose family had been enslaved by the Van Lews and was sent to Pennsylvania to be educated. Mary's keen intellect and talent for quickly memorizing details made her ideal to be placed in a very high profile position,as a maid in service to the family of Jefferson Davis,president of the Confederacy:

 Over the years,Elizabeth and her friends ran numerous risks in order to aid the imprisoned soldiers(including escape plans) and bring as much vital information as could be found to assist in bringing the war to a satisfying end.

Many times, her powers of gentle persuasion were sorely tested and setbacks in battles between the States,along with the scarcity of food amongst the civilian population,caused Elizabeth to have moments of despair. However, she persisted in doing what she could until the bitter end.

I was familiar with Miss Van Lew's part in the Civil War from reading Lois Leveen's The Secrets of Mary Bowser last year and very interested in seeing what a whole novel devoted to her would be like.  Chiaverini shows her resolve as well as the good humor that kept Elizabeth going through the worst of times and the devotion she gave to her family (particularly her nieces)and the many friends made during this turbulent time period.

The story has a slow yet steady pace as it moves on,with it's passionate portrayal of a woman who put herself on the line time and again to live by the principles she espoused. The battles that Elizabeth fought may appear to be small in the midst of that epic war but the wins that she did achieve became a vital component in reaching overall victory.

The Spymistress was released earlier this month and should make for an excellent book club selection as well as a great holiday gift for the historical fiction reader on your list. I also hope that it leads the ways for more books about the amazing women spies of that era,a subject that has yet to be fully mined for it's story telling gems:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Top Chef looks to see who will be the cooking captain,TAR's Express Pass play and Skye's secret mission on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Once again,there was no Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef this week as Emeril and guest judge Eddie Huang paid an early morning visit to announce that the theme for the Elimination round was Vietnamese food.

Apparently,this particular Asian cuisine is very popular in New Orleans,especially since shrimp is a major menu item which goes hand in hand with the local fishing community.

Teams were formed to make full course meals and shrimp had to be in at least one dish. The chefs were then given a tour of Vietnamese eateries,including a bakery and a fishery loaded to the gills with,of course, shrimp.

Some teams felt more advantaged than others,due to some of their members having prior experience with Asian food in general, with a couple of folks having more direct connections to Vietnam like Travis,who visited the country with his boyfriend. At one point, Travis earned the nickname "Captain Vietnam" due to his constant insistence that he knew best in all food related decisions here. That didn't work out as well as he wanted it to.

For one,his Green team wasn't up for the win. That honor went to Team Red,who seemed to be the only group that completely nailed the challenge.

The dish that won outright belonged to Shirley,who was smart enough to ask the fisher wives how they cooked shrimp and the butter mixed with Creole spice livened up her barbecue shrimp nicely.

 Travis's team,on the other hand,crashed and burned mostly due to his advice. The dish that he made, a pork sausage lettuce wrap with a side of pineapple shrimp paste sauce, suffered from a lack of lemongrass.

 That ingredient is a key essential in Vietnamese cooking but it was "lost in translation",according to Travis, during the shopping trip they made beforehand. Basically, it was taken in and out of the grocery cart by mistake and no one realized it until it was prep time.

 The guest judge even joked about it during a pre-presentation inspection with him but in an aside, Travis displayed his lack of a sense of humor and some nasty nit-picking observations about that judge's ethnic background in regards to his expertise on the food. Not cool,dude,so not cool!

The person who had to pack their knives and go, however, was Janine for serving twice fried shrimp that wasn't saved by the ginger tomato sauce covering it.

Bene made that sauce,particularly because Travis swore up and down that it was authentic Vietnamese style but Judge Tom wasn't buying that-he compared it to trying to claim McDonalds as French food just because you ate at one in Paris. He did have a point there.

Regardless of that, the shrimp was a a complete mess and Janine had to head off to Last Chance Kitchen,where with any luck she'll get another chance to re-enter the competition. Too bad Travis didn't join her but if his attitude keeps getting worse, he might be there sooner than expected.

Speaking of bad attitudes, Tim and Marie's(mainly Marie) strategy on The Amazing Race thus far has been to demand favors in exchange for the possibility of being awarded their extra Express Pass.

It wouldn't be so bad if Marie's notion of "being nice to everyone" didn't involve her ordering people around like children and acting like a playground bully when things don't go her way. One of the Detour tasks on this leg in Norway was to stack up fish heads in bundles and take them outside to dry on wooden racks. She and Tim were supposed to use a rack marked with a Race flag but didn't, which delayed them considerably.

Marie kept on getting agitated and even barked at one team,a pair of buddies I call the Beard Boys(they wouldn't look out of place on Duck Dynasty), to tell her what went wrong since she had the EP. Those guys didn't take her guff and rightly so:

Eventually,the genius queen figured it out,making her and Tim fall a bit behind there. As they struggled to find their next stop, Nicole and Travis(who would have originally won the EPs,if not for a simple mistake) ran into them.

Marie hit them up for help but Nicole insisted that the extra Express Pass be handed over first. Since this leg is one of the extended ones, we''ll find out this weekend if she did give to Nicole but to me, it's perfectly fair to want to get paid up front first in this game. Marie, if you're going to play hardball, someone is bound to call you on it.

 It's been obvious for some time now on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D that Skye has a hidden agenda for being on the team and this week, her plans were flushed into the open during their latest mission.

While the team tracked the Rising Tide member who leaked info about a man with fire powers to the same evil scientist types involved in creating Centipede serum, Skye found a way to hook up with him before they did.

 Turns out, he's her somewhat current boyfriend who talks a good game about freedom of information but is willing to cash in on his tech skills with no questions asked:

Skye wasn't happy with her man about his eagerness to sell out but that didn't change the fact that what trust she had managed to build up with the group was shattered.

Coulson had no choice but to ask Skye to put her cards on the table. Her mission happens to be a personal one; she's looking for information about her long lost parents and the main clue is a redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. document. 

That earned her a slight reprieve but it'll be some time before Skye has free reign at the computers,not to mention any friendship points with her S.O. Grant,who was starting to warm up to her. With the next episode not arriving until Nov. 5(gotta store up those fresh shows for the sweeps!), we have plenty of time to develop theories about Skye's mom and dad.

My best guess is that they were freelancers who were hired by S.H.I.E.L.D for a mission that went horribly awry. We shall see soon enough, I'm sure:


DRACULA:  Just in time for Halloween, the newest take on the classic bloodsucker arrives with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in tow as it's lethal leading man. Hopefully, this series will offer more than a pretty face and flashy sets to the horror icon's image:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thanks to Madonna,here's another look at misbehaving at the movies

One of the classic debates that film goers have had time and time again has nothing to do with favoring a certain actor,director or genre and everything to do with movie house manners.

Recently, Madonna attended a screening of 12 Years a Slave at the New York Film Festival where she spent most of her time texting away. When one of her fellow attendees asked her to stop(since the tapping noise and light from her Blackberry was distracting), her charming reply was "This is for business,enslaver!" Yes, she said that,folks at that particular movie.

As a result of that, the theater chain Alamo Drafthouse publicly declared that she would not be welcome at any of their theaters,which has a strict "no text,no talking" rule,until she apologizes. Given the lady's ego, that apology is never coming(plus, I feel that she owes me my money back for sitting through the likes of Shanghai Surprise and Evita). This whole kerfuffle made me think that it was the proper time to go over a few common complaints and/or solutions to the rude movie patron problem.

1) Loud is not always welcome:

Some films are enhanced by vocal audience participation,such as an action flick, a comedy or a decently scary film. Others,however, are best enjoyed with a reasonable amount of silence. Some might object to the volume of popcorn crunching or drink slurping ,particularly during key scenes of a movie but in my opinion,popcorn is sacrosanct for any  screening.

Loud talk and behavior stands out the most when watching highly dramatic material that all but demands complete concentration and for someone who treats a serious movie in the same way as a two steps away from a direct to video release,the full wrath of the audience is richly deserved:

2) Sometimes, it's better to switch seats:

While confronting a noisy movie goer should be a simple matter, it may at times be best to not directly tangle with that person. He or she may take your polite suggestion as a challenge to fight or defiantly turn up the volume on their antics.

Calling an usher or getting the manager ought to be a court of last resort. A safer move,if possible, is to change seats and hope that someone else will take the initiative. With any luck, you won't run into that person again,especially if they find less than funny films to be downright hilarious:

3) Get yourself settled before the movie starts:

 If you or the person you're going to the movie with is particular about where to sit or how to locate the "acoustic sweet spot" in order to enjoy the show properly, arrive early enough so that you can get all set up before the feature presentation begins. If you can, try to have all of your ducks in a theater row by the time the trailers start to roll and please don't be pushy about things:

4) If you can't handle a horror movie, don't go:

This sounds very specific but it can be applied to other types of films that provoke immediate reactions such as sadness, anger or disgust(any Jackass movie comes to mind for all three). Horror movies do have a drawing power for the squeamish amongst us and while covering your eyes is fine,freaking out is not.

You knew what you were getting into(or should have,based on poster art alone. Horror movie posters are never subtle,people) when you bought your ticket,so either bail out or sit tight,just as long you don't ruin the movie for those who wanted to see it:

There are more points we could go over but I think we can all agree that a) Madonna is too white a shade of pale to call anyone an enslaver,b) that if you really have business to attend to, you shouldn't be at the movies in the first place and c) texting during a movie is just plain wrong. A movie theater should be a cinematic oasis of art and entertainment away from the everyday world, not an extension of it.

Perhaps in time, people will regain the art of movie house manners and these discussions will no longer be necessary.  In the mean while, refraining from texting at the movies would be a good start. The only fighting at the movies should be onscreen, not off:

Friday, October 18, 2013

A look at the sinister siblings of Stephen King's Carrie

As the fresh new remake of Carrie unrolls at theaters this weekend, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other psychic teens of terror that the book and original 1976 film had inadvertently spawned over the years.

While Stephen King didn't write a sequel to his first acclaimed horror novel(for obvious reasons), that didn't stop Hollywood from making one in 1999,not to mention a TV remake and Broadway musical. However, those direct connections to Carrie are not our fearful focal points for this discussion.

 This is more about the "inspired by" cinematic characters that popped up in either horror or fantasy films from time to time like Vivian (played by Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Sue Anderson) in the 1981 made for television movie Midnight Offerings.

TV movies jumped on the Carrie bandwagon after Hollywood had temporarily abandoned due to the limited success of The Fury in 1978. Carrie type of girls showed up in Friday or Saturday Night small screen films and were often turned into witches, despite the fact that Carrie's abilities were more X-Men than Charmed.

While The Initiation of Sarah (which had a college bound pair of sisters,one of whom had TK powers) was remade recently by ABC Family, no one so far has attempted a new Midnight Offerings which would and could be remade easily with suitable time period adjustments. The main story is about two girls,Vivian who is shamelessly evil with her power and Robin,who doesn't mean to rub Vivian the wrong way and is reluctant to use her magic against anyone.

What does give a solid link to Carrie in this film is the twisted relationship between Vivian and her mother Diane,with the daughter scornful of mom's giving up magic in order to have a regular life. It's a reversal of the one Carrie and her mother Margaret had with the one big difference being that Diane actually cared about the well being of her kid. However,like Margaret White, she was powerless to stop her from unleashing the worst within her little girl:

Psychic teens returned to the big screen in due course,with one of the largest horror movie franchises bringing one on board in 1988.

 Friday the 13th,Part Seven:The New Blood(quite a mouthful of a title there!) might as well been called "Jason vs. Carrie" as the major new twist to the well worn out slasher series was having a troubled girl with TK along for the ride.

The girl in question,Tina(Lar Park Lincoln), was carrying around an extra load of guilt from accidentally killing her dad as a kid via her special ability. Unlike Carrie,Tina managed to mend that particular fence with her father but sadly, wasn't able to save her mom from a grisly end at the hands of Jason and a certain weaselly psychiatrist there.

 This was a movie that I fondly remember seeing on it's opening weekend and having the dubious honor of being the only one in the audience actively rooting for Tina to take down Jason(plus a couple of other characters who were particularly horrible). Even today, fans of the Friday the 13th films hold this entry in high regard:

Psychic teens aren't only found in the horror genre. While they have appeared as both heroes and villains in comic book sagas such as the previously mentioned X-Men, last year's found footage flick Chronicle gave us Andrew who was more of a down to earth version of Carrie.

Like her, he was an outcast amongst his peers, with an abusive parent to deal with, and the physically weakest of the trio of young men that stumbled upon a strange glowing rock that gives them all extraordinary abilities.

Andrew gained more confidence from his new powers as time went on but the continued bulling at school and home caused him to slowly yet surely consider the real damage he was now all too capable of doing,much to his own bitter end:

Reviews for the 2013 Carrie remake have been mixed thus far and it's early in the box office race to predict just how profitable the movie will be. It does have a considerable advantage of not having a lot of competition out in this genre right now,plus the whole Halloween thing.

While the original is somewhat dated,the story has remarkable staying power in it's themes of bullying and family abuse which are more on the mainstream radar these days. The fiery finale at the prom,however, is a nightmare that has become a very real fear for high school students much more so than back in the 1970s.

One of the real strengths of Carrie is that it's leading lady is a sympathetic portrayal of a young person who desperately needs a hand up to escape the downward spiral of their life,only to be slapped down yet again and driven to take revenge anyway she can. Hopefully this new version of this frighteningly familiar fable,as well as future imitators, will be able to grasp that all important element to making their pop culture potion just as potent as the first one was and still is: