Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Acquiring some autumn friendly reads

With Labor Day weekend about to begin, it only feels right to start stacking up those books for heavy duty fall reading time.

 Granted, you don't necessarily have to read "serious" books but with the cooler temperatures coming, along with those beautiful color changing leaves, sweaters and hot chocolate, it does inspire one to have something a little more thoughtful on hand, rather than the lighter fare that summer seems to invite.

 That's one of the reasons that I decided to hold off on reading Annie Proulx's Barkskins until autumn. For another, it's a good long book that tells the tale of two families setting themselves up in 17th century Canada(known as New France back then).

As Rene and Charles take up their load as indentured tree cutters to a feudal lord(in hopes of being given land of their own on day), the two friends find themselves going down very different roads to making their own fate.

While Charles flees his obligations and creates a fortune for himself within the lumber industry, Rene is bound by marriage to a native woman which makes them both outsiders on both sides of the working class community they're in.

The novel follows several generations of each man's descendants as the environmental impact of the lumber business affects slow yet steady social changes upon them all. Other than Brokeback Mountain, I haven't read any of Proulx's work and maybe a long book like this can be a daunting place to start. However, I do enjoy a good meaty saga story and this certainly sounds like that to me:

For more historical fiction flair, I feel like diving into some Tudor themed fare and Three Sisters,Three Queens by Philippa Gregory should be more than suitable for this season.

Two of the sisters here are actually sisters-in-law, with Catherine of Aragon becoming Queen of England and having to deal with the resentments of Henry's sister Margaret who is made to marry the King of Scotland in order to secure an alliance between the two countries.

In addition, Margaret's little sister Mary manages to marry the man her big sister truly loves, only to find herself in need of family support when she becomes a widow and secretly remarries without royal consent. This is fine melodrama worthy of any prime time series and I hope it gets adapted for the small screen at some point:

Having recently read Alison Weir's most recent Anne Boleyn novel, I thought it would be interesting to tackle another one of her books that indirectly deals with the Tudor drama.

Innocent Traitor tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was manipulated into taking the crown, due to her brief engagement to Henry the VIII's son Edward, in order to prevent "Bloody" Mary Tudor and her Catholic leanings to take over the country. Jane's reign was sad and short yet many still admire her quiet nobility as she staid true to her Protestant faith and met her end with dignity.

I really don't know much about Lady Jane and since Weir is a historian as well as a novelist, this book ought to be a good introduction to this supporting player whose time on the world stage was brief but memorable:

For something a little closer to modern times, I'm going with Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. Yes, this did come out during the summer but something about this has more of a fall flavor to me.

In 1949, Nicky Castone is fresh out of the army and wants more out of life than driving a cab for his uncle's car service and planning to someday marry his sweetheart Peachy DePino.

 By secretly taking part in a local Shakespeare production, he starts to feel complete yet complicated as his passion for the theater also includes a growing passion for Calla Borelli, the theater owner's daughter.

 When a prime opportunity arrives for Nicky to showcase his acting skills via an impersonation of an expected guest at a festival, things get even more complicated and becomes way too much like a Shakespearean comedy of errors for all involved. Trigiani's storytelling skills excel when she mixes romance, drama and family love into a special stew of a story that should be a heartwarming read for the chilly autumn days to come:

These aren't the only books I plan to read this fall(I do have a month long readathon for October, after all!) but a solid selection that ought to set me up just fine. My summer reading was good yet  part of my Labor Day plans this weekend involve finishing up a few of those intended reads that I haven't quite completed so far.

 While I do feel a twinge of regret in not getting into every book that I intended to this summer, at least I did some good reading and really need to make that glass of seasonal iced tea half full instead of half empty. I hope all of you turning those last of summer reading pages out there try and feel that way as well. Happy reading, no matter what the season!:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bad Movie Month barks at the moon with Silver Bullet

Welcome back,folks, for the Bad Movie Month grand finale in our Worst of Stephen King series and this is quite the howler indeed.

The source material for 1985's Silver Bullet is a unique book in the King canon, as it was a collaboration between King and artist Berni Wrightson who originally intended this project to be a calendar.

 Cycle of the Werewolf is at best a novella(aka "novelette") about a small town being terrorized by a killer who strikes during full moons. A young boy in a wheelchair discovers that the local menace is a werewolf and teams up with his older sister and uncle to stop the monster, who is now targeting them as prey for the next major moon rise.

Sounds like a fun little story,right? Well, it is but in truth, the plot is secondary to the amazing artistry of Wrightson's illustrations and put together, King's tiny terror tale works well with the artwork in a peanut butter and jelly style.

However, the film adaptation has none of the visual flair that Wrightson brought to the book and instead of a PB&J, you get something that's more like a potato salad and jelly sandwich.

The special effects are particularly bad when it comes to the werewolf, which looks like a mutant bear costume rejected by Party City. There is some variety in the make-up department in one dream sequence,where Reverend Lowe(Everett McGill) finds himself presiding over a funeral service taken over by a lycanthrope congregation, right down to the lady playing the church organ. This is supposed to be scary but it plays out more like a bad comedy skit:

Why is the good reverend having this particular dream? Spoiler alert-he's the werewolf!

Trust me, the movie is quick to spill the blood soaked beans on that aspect of the plot, so don't feel too bad about knowing that before you see this sucker.

Meanwhile, our young hero, Marty Coslaw(Corey Haim) discovers the true identity of the monster late one summer night, thanks to his less than reliable Uncle Red(Gary Busey, in fine for him form) providing his favorite nephew with a rocket powered wheelchair,named Silver Bullet, of course, and illegal fireworks to boot!

See, due to the recent string of gruesome murders,which includes one of Marty's pals, the annual fireworks show was canceled, which seems to bother our boy hero much more than the grisly demise of his friend. Sure, kids do the darnest things, even at the worst of times, but it just comes across as a set-up for young Marty to shoot off his last firework as an act of self defense:

After that, Marty gets his big sister Jane(Megan Follows) to do a search for the new one eyed person in town and sure enough, she sees that it's Rev. Lowe. Other than the bandage over the guy's eye, Jane's biggest clue is a baseball bat found in Lowe's garage, which used to belong to the local bartender(Lawrence Tierney in a truly waste of his time role).

Said bat was used against the bartender during a vigilante raid gone wrong(which is par for the course as those "private justice" outings are never a good idea) and kept as a souvenir, I guess? So many question arise from this that are never answered.

Why would anyone, let alone a werewolf, take a thing like that home with them and then shove under a pile of cans being saved for recycling? It's a community project, certainly someone else might have found well before Jane did and recognized the "peace maker" logo on it!

For that matter, why would a werewolf use a bat in the first place? Sure, it was conveniently on hand at the time but why not leave it there as no one has been convicted on werewolf murder charges due to fingerprints! Do werewolves even have or able to leave fingerprints?  So many questions. I know Stephen King wrote the screenplay but this script feels like a first draft rather than an adaptation.

Oh, just one more question-why does the werewolf use the bat AGAIN, when the sheriff comes a-calling? What, you can only use your claws during an official moonlight hunt, not a casual attack?:

To be fair, this could have been a good small town scare show, an Our Town meets The Wolfman, but in the end, Silver Bullet fizzles out faster than any of the fireworks that Uncle Red gave to Marty.

Thank you one and all, for joining in the fun of this Stephen King fest of film flops. Despite the mixed reviews on the Dark Tower movie that came out earlier this month, I still hope to see it and more than likely will enjoy it. I'll be doing a reading challenge in 2018 that cover the Dark Tower books, so stay tuned for that,folks!

In the meantime, we do have the new film version of IT to look forward to this fall and many other King related movies to arrive on screens big and small in the near future. Enough to create a cinematic universe? Perhaps but then again, there are other worlds that this!:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Getting ready for fall reading with these upcoming September/October reads

Well, it's the last week in August and we all know what that means; time to start thinking about fall and all of the lovely things we need to start shopping for.

Granted, some autumn must-haves are more fun than others such as back to school supplies for those of us who don't have to go back or send anyone off with a packed lunch and fresh stack of notebooks.
( what can I say, fall in New York does make you want to have a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils on hand,folks!).

One truly fun shopping trip for the season is book buying and hopefully, some of these September and October new releases will find their way onto your list or at the very least, you'll feel the need to make room for them:


 In Liv Constantine's debut novel, The Last Mrs. Parrish, we meet Amber Patterson, a young woman whose major goal in life is to be the replacement wife for a wealthy husband.

The couple she has in mind is Daphne and Jackson Parrish, the kind of people who seem to have everything and in Amber's mind, don't deserve such luxuries. She begins by befriending Daphne during the planning of a charitable event(even to the point of pretending she had a family member with the same disease) and slowly yet surely works her way into the inner family circle.

Amber is determined to stay one step ahead of anyone who wants to block her path toward the life she feels she deserves. However, as time goes on and things change in unexpected ways, it's not clear who is luring who into a fool-proof trap. Liv Constantine is actually a pen name for a pair of siblings(Lynne and Valerie) and based upon what I've read so far of this book, this sinister sister act have a fine future in riveting drama there(October):

Author Nicole Krauss tracks two emotional journeys in her latest novel, Forest Dark, which do happen to indirectly intersect internationally.

Jules Epstein is a retired lawyer, tired of his regular life and at the age of sixty-eight, takes a trip to Tel Aviv to seek some clarity into what he should do next. Frustrated writer Nicole also heads to Tel Aviv, in search of literary inspiration as well as a way out of her broken down marriage.

Both of them meet charismatic people who feel that they know just the right path for each of them to take yet neither of them are sure about being lead down these particular garden paths. Krauss does have a good reputation for writing stories about self reflective characters and this books sounds like a smartly seasoned simmer of a read to warm you up during the chilly days of fall(September).


Speaking of simmering, Lia Huber gives us a taste of her edible approach to life and family love in Nourished. 

 In this memoir, she chronicles her travels, starting with a village in Guatemala where her communal cooking offered up a moment of true inspiration to the island of Corfu, that showed her the simple pleasures of food to  California wine country, where she felt her life's work could begin.

Huber interweaves her personal accounts with recipes that reflect her growing desire to share good food and positive energy with others. If you're looking for
a heartfelt approach to family cooking as well as good living, this ought to be a savvy page turning delight for your culinary bookshelf(October):

A HUNK OF BURNING HISTORICAL FICTION: Ken Follett returns to the town of Kingsbridge, where two of his bestselling books, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End were set, with another epic novel entitled A Column of Fire.

In 1558, all of England is in uproar as divisions between Catholics and Protestants grow deeper and more intense. None of that matters to Ned Willard as his only interest in life is to marry his beloved Margery Fitzgerald yet they are torn apart by the religious divide.

As Ned joins the employ of Queen Elizabeth, Margery goes in full in to spread the Protestant faith but can their love overcome such obstacles in the end? Follett is a fine hand at creating such engaging and elaborate historical dramas as this and fans of his prior work should be delighted to have this series rounded out nicely with a third entry(September):

A SWEET STACK OF SCARY STORIES: With Halloween on the autumn horizon, the urge for fearful fiction will be keenly felt. A celebration of that particular genre comes from Grady Hendrix(and Will Errickson) in the gruesomely gorgeous Paperbacks from Hell.

Hendrix does more than just showcase the amazingly offbeat cover art from horror books of the 1970s and 80s, he goes over the roots of that growing wave of fiction as well as the different trends that came and went over the years.

With special focus given to cover artists who stood out in their field and in-depth discussion of the very strange plots that unfolded across these petrifying pages, Paperbacks from Hell is a good source for finding new avenues of horror entertainment, along with some old school fear flicks to boot(September):

Meanwhile, Stephen King brings us a new flight of fancy, this time teaming up with his son Owen for Sleeping Beauties. In this strange new world, women are prone to a bizarre illness that occurs during sleep as a membrane wraps them up and keeps them in a coma like state.

Most of the world is affected by this "sleeping sickness" but the women's prison in one Appalachian town is not only directly involved, a possible answer to the growing problem may be among them. A stranger called Eve Black appears to be immune to the sickness and perhaps can be the source of a cure.

However, her arrival, like the disease, may be more of a curse than a blessing. King has partnered with other writers before but it should be interesting to see how this family affair works itself on the page(September):

For a sweetly sinister Halloween treat, Silvia Moreno-Garcia introduces us to The Beautiful Ones, especially Antonina" Nina" Beaulieu, a young woman preparing for her first Grand Season in society.

Her prospects in marriage are daunting, despite her family's wealth and connections, as Nina happens to have telekinetic powers that already have caused quite a stir of whispers at many social gatherings.

Nina does find herself being courted by Hector, a performer that shares her unique talents and who is eager to help her learn to control them. As their relationship blossoms, the potential for wedded bliss is great yet there are a few secrets and lies, along with magic, that could doom their love for all time.

Moreno-Garcia is an amazing writer and thanks to good word of mouth, I discovered the joys of her first novel Signal to Noise and eager to get my hands on Certain Dark Things, which came out earlier this year. Don't wait too long to be entranced by the beguiling charms of such a creative force of nature that she truly is(October):

I hope you all have a good time in your fall preparations and yes, even the hectic frenzy that back-to-school shopping can create. Just don't fuss over the kind of paper needed or special erasers on sale and you'll be fine:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bad Movie Month doesn't feel the burn from Firestarter

It's time for another round of Bad Movie Month,folks, as we take a look at the latest entry in our Worst of Stephen King collection. Now, many people have taken a liking to the 1984 film adaptation of Firestarter but even King himself has listed it among the most disappointing movie versions of his work.

The book itself(which I plan to reread this October for a readathon) has a great concept-a young couple, who meet during a medical experiment in college, find themselves having a daughter who manifests a dangerous psychic ability early on in life,being able to set fires with her mind.

The government agency that secretly sponsored the original experiment goes after them, forcing the father Andy to take his little girl Charlie on the run and undo some of the safety training he's taught her to control her powers. Once captured, Andy and Charlie have to find their separate ways out yet attempt to reunite and escape but not without dealing with a dubious ally or two.

Sounds exciting,right? Intense, fast paced, the kind of interesting premise for a great sci-fi/horror movie? Well, it's too bad that the entire story is told with all of the energy of snails racing through a puddle of molasses.

While I refuse to blame Drew Barrymore for her rather bland performance(she was a kid,after all)as Charlie, most of the adult actors along side her have no excuse for the cue card reading level of acting done here, even seasoned professionals such as Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Martin Sheen and even David Keith as daddy Andy at times. Most of the dialogue is more wooden than anything Charlie is given to light up with her "flame-on" skills.

 For some strange reason, there is a serious disconnect between the intensity of the situations on screen and the characters involved in them. One of the most pivotal scenes early on in the story is Charlie and Andy taking refuge with a kindly farmer and his wife when the government henchmen surround them for a showdown. This should be a nerves on edge feel to this but what we get instead is more of a set-up for some rather sad special effects:

The most persistent of the sorry f/x is Charlie's hair being hit with the force of a thousand hair dryers every time her fire power is ignited. A couple of times, I swear it looked like they had attached wires to the poor girl's hairline there!

 Granted, Andy's constant clutching of his head like he's living in an old school aspirin commercial isn't much better but I bet it didn't use up a good chunk of the budget.

Yes, the technical advancements of that time period did limit things but it's not a good sign when you're waiting for more bad fire balls than wanting to watch these actors go through the motions oh so stiffly here. Granted, the casting choices were rather a mixed bag at best, such as Heather Locklear's brief role as Charlie's mother Vicky. Something tells me that she gave livelier line readings on T.J. Hooker than any of her small scenes in this movie:

One of the most important roles in this story is that of John Rainbird, a government hit man who's part Native American and has a rather twisted love for his work. He becomes obsessed with Charlie and her powers, wanting to be the one to kill her in order to take some of that ability for himself.

So, who did they cast for such a major character? George C. Scott, because the guy who played Patton is the one that springs to mind when searching for a Native American assassin, oh yeah, sure! To be fair, George C. does attempt to give some sort of a credible performance but at this stage of his career, he was more of a caricature than a character actor and it shows here, big time:

The worst thing about this movie is how mediocre it is. Firestarter may not be up there with The Shining but plenty of readers liked Charlie McGee as much as they did Danny Torrence and she's one of those young characters that we wanted to see what the future held for her.

I know you can debate the merits of Kubrick's Shining from here to eternity yet it is more than fair to say that particular movie was more thought out and well planned that this one. The whole tone is off, making the story feel it was something everyone had to do, rather than want to do.

 Sure, Firestarter has a good soundtrack(courtesy of Tangerine Dream) but the group that made it didn't even see the film before creating the music for it! That is not a good sign, folks. Charlie certainly deserved a better cinematic introduction that the lackluster one she was given here. Also, I think she deserves a follow-up book as well(hey, if Danny can have his own sequel, so can Charlie!).

 The Syfy Channel did make a miniseries called Firestarter: Rekindled, which showcased an older Charlie, in 2002 but that barely lit a spark for audiences. There is talk of a remake and this might be one of those rare cases where a remake can truly be a good thing. Join us next week, when Bad Movie Month wraps up the Worst of Stephen King with Silver Bullet(and no, it's not about the beer but you might need one after watching this howler):

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Making new cinematic connections in the Movie Trailer Park

Autumn is rarely seen as a season of change and that usually goes for fall films as well. However, I have spotted a trio of upcoming movies that do feature unlikely friendships(and romances) between people who otherwise would not meet that promises to change the course of their lives.

First up is Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon as Alice, a newly separated woman with two kids who is far from looking for a new love. During a birthday night out with her friends, she meets a much younger man(Pico Alexander) who is not simply a one night stand.

Instead, Alice allows him and his two brothers, all three of them aspiring filmmakers, to move in with the odd approval of her mother(Candice Bergen). As soon as word spreads about this new family dynamic, Alice's husband Austen(Michael Sheen) decides to step back into the picture.

 Quite an extended family set up here but this does appear to be an amusing and possibly engaging portrait of the typical May-December romance flipping the script:

For something a bit more dramatic, we have The Mountain Between Us,  based upon Charles Martin's 2010 novel. Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) is in need of a quick flight in order to perform a major surgery and photojournalist Alex
Martin(Kate Winslet) needs one as well to get to her wedding on time.

The two of them decide to share a charter plane after the airlines cancel their flight due to inclement weather. Unfortunately, they were unable to avoid the encroaching storm and while they survive the plane crash, Alex and Ben find themselves alone in the wilderness.

With Ben's medical training and Alex's determination as their main assets, the two of them head out into the unknown to reach civilization, relying on each other to make it through the numerous obstacles in their path. The trailer does showcase this as more of a survival story than a romance but I hope we do get a good mix of both genres here:

To round things off, Judi Dench is once again playing Queen Victoria in a film about Her Majesty feeling down in the doldrums and reviving her spirits by embarking on a new relationship that irks her contemporaries.

Victoria & Abdul takes place during the latter years of the Queen's life as many of her family and friends seem to be more than ready for her to be at the end of her time. Yet, she takes a renewed interest in living due to a growing friendship with Abdul Karim(Ali Fazul), a servant from India.

Fearful of the influence that Abdul may have over her, the Prince of Wales(Eddie Izzard) threatens to declare her insane, something that no one in their right mind would try to pin on this particular royal diva!  As a fan of her performance in Mrs. Brown, seeing Judi Dench take on this matriarchal mantle at the movies again is a treat suited for more than just tea time:

In times like these, it's good to see unlikely friends and lovers pair up onscreen to overcome the odds against them, both from without and within. Of course, some offbeat bonds have more practical purposes such as saving the world from a death goddess as the Hulk and Thor do, with a few dubious new companions, in Thor:Ragnarok. Yeah, teaming up to defeat a common enemy can bring very unlikely people together, that's for sure!:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The bright and the dark side of solar eclipse cinema

I'm doing a special Sunday post today, in honor of the solar eclipse due to arrive tomorrow in the USA. A significant scientific moment for our country and not to be missed,even on TV.

While my particular neck of the woods is not within the line of totality(aka, a place on the map expected to be fully affected), this promises to be quite an event as one thing that pop culture has taught me, it's that a solar eclipse is an event that portends change.

From books to film over the years, a solar eclipse has often been seen as something that borders on the mystical and could tilt the scales for either good or evil. To showcase this point better, here are a handful of cinematic examples of what a solar eclipse can do:

BREAK A CURSE: For many of us, the 1985 fantasy film Ladyhawke instantly springs to mind as the leading romantic couple(played by Rutget Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer) are both near and far to each other, thanks to the complexities of a rogue bishop's curse.

Hauer's knight is enchanted to be human by day and a wolf at night, while his lady love Pfeiffer is a hawk by sunrise and a woman by sunset. Not an easy thing to work around, to say the least.

However, there is one chance to break that spell by being together in human form and part of that cure involves "a day without night and a night without day", a notion that Hauer's character finds hard to believe until it actually happens and truly helps him save the day:

CONCEAL THE ARRIVAL OF A SPACE INVADER: In Little Shop of Horrors, hapless Seymour is constantly asked about his finding of the seemingly innocent looking Audrey II and his story is a simple one told in song.

During a regular visit to his favorite exotic plant store, a total eclipse of the sun occurs and when daylight returns, this strange new plant that he swore wasn't there before just catches his eye. As we all know what happened to Seymour and friends afterwards, a good lesson to take away from this is not to go plant shopping during an eclipse or immediately after!:

CONCEAL A CRIME: As Stephen King shows us in one of his more realistic horror stories, Dolores Claiborne, sometimes a solar eclipse is a dark blessing in disguise.

Both the book and the 1995 film adaptation turn on battered wife Delores' decision to do away with her horrible husband Joe St. George during an eclipse. Since they live in a remote island community, it's the perfect distraction for both her vicious spouse and local authorities, more concerned with keeping folks on the water safe from harm.

It's a harrowing scene in the book yet the film version is highly enhanced by Kathy Bates' performance, a perfect storm of anger, heartbreak and calculation in order to save herself and her daughter from the daily terror that is Joe St. George:

COMPLETE A QUEST: In the first Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film from 2001, our heroine must find the pieces of a "Triangle of Light" in order to take advantage of a special planetary alignment that is capped off by, you guessed it, a solar eclipse.

To get that last piece, Lara has to play leap frog with a giant moving model of the solar system, with plenty of bad guys hot on her heels, trying to get to the sun where that special prize is to be found. Does she succeed?  Come on, whose name is in the title there, folks?:

With that, I hope everyone has a good time in checking out the eclipse and unlike what you see in the movies, do wear those protective glasses if you 're taking part in real time,folks!

On another note, I am happy to see many of us here in America uniting together for a positive purpose, considering the tragic events in Charlottesville last week.  Condolences to all of those who were directly affected and sincere apologies to those expecting a mature and thoughtful response from our sadly current leader.

 Since we are clearly not going to get any meaningful support from the highest office in our land, it is up to all of us to look for strength and unity to square off against home grown evil from each other and I believe we're more than up to the challenge.

 In the meanwhile, let us look forward to better things such as the joy of being witness to a truly once in a lifetime event that should lighten our hearts indeed:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Checking out the fall fear fest at the Movie Trailer Park

While it is much too soon to think about Halloween(which never stops those early candy displays from showing up in stores by Labor Day), Hollywood already has a good number of fear filled flicks ready to roll for the autumn movie going season.

Some of these films will be out well before All Hallow's Eve,as well as after, and not all of them are out-and-out horror shows. So, whether you prefer your cinematic scares straight up with a twist or slow baked into a mystery meat pie, these trailers should serve as a sinister sampler of what's to come.

First up is Flatliners, which is a sequel and/or a reboot of the original 1990 movie about medical school students experimenting with life after death. Kiefer Sutherland does reprise his role from that film but the main focus of the plot is on Courtney(Ellen Page) who recruits her friends into joining her high tech quest to break on through to the other side.

As someone who has seen the 1990 version, this looks more like a reboot than a sequel to me yet why anyone felt this story needed to be followed up is beyond me.  The story doesn't seem that much different other than younger faces(Nina Dobrev,Diego Luna and Kiersey Clemons) and better special effects doing a modern re-enactment here. Then again, there may be more to this movie than meets the eye, we shall see in September:

Coming out in time for Halloween and on a Friday the 13th no less, Happy Death Day tags along for college student Tree Gelbman(Jessica Rothe)'s birthday on campus which ends in her gruesome demise.

However, Tree wakes up to discover that it's her birthday again and she must discover the identity of the masked killer before she meets her deadly fate yet again. Yep, this is Groundhog's Day crossed with Scream yet I suspect without none of the original creativity along for the ride.

This might be a fun little slasher movie, I suppose, but I don't know which is worse, the dopey mask that the killer wears or the constant replay of that goofy song that Tree chose as her ringtone for the day:

For something featuring grown-ups, director Darren Aronofsky brings us mother! this September and yes, the exclamation point and lower case lettering is intentional.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Grace, the young wife of Eli(Javier Bardem), who is helping her husband fix up their rather isolated country home. The arrival of  a pair of strangers(Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) sets off a strange string of events that disrupts their happy harmony or was it so happy to begin with?

The vibe that I'm getting from this trailer is in the vein of those European influenced suspense films of the 1960s, such as Rosemary's Baby or The Collector. Whether or not the source of the terror here is real or imagined, this does look like a film that will stir up plenty of discussion and hopefully, be worth talking about:

In the suspense section, we find The Snowman, an adaptation of one of the best selling Harry Hole detective novels from Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbo. Michael Fassbinder plays Harry, who is on the hunt for a serial killer that may have resurfaced from the past.

Working with new recruit Katrine Bratt(Rebecca Ferguson), Harry has to connect the current wave of murders to several cold cases in order to track down the killer, who has threatened to strike again at the next snow fall.

Nesbo does have a strong following and casting Fassbinder in the lead role is not too shabby. My only doubt comes from the end shot in this trailer that features a horrible surprise in a garage that might elicit more giggles than gasps from it's intended audience.

I may be wrong on that but my instinct is telling me that particular reveal may make the difference between The Snowman becoming a trick or a treat at the box office this October:

To round things up, Kenneth Branagh is not only directing the latest version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, he is playing the lead role of detective Hercule Poirot as well.

That could work either for or against him, as not only is Poirot one of the most popular fictional detectives in pop culture history, several actors have portrayed him most memorable in the past, such as Albert Finney in the 1974 adaptation and David Suchet in the acclaimed BBC series from 1989 to 2013.

Folks do have their preferences when it comes to Poirot(personally, I enjoyed Peter Ustinov's take on the character) and many fans may be overly critical of Branagh's performance. Those arguments ought to be engaging, to say the least.

However, the real reason that most people will go to see this movie is not for the whodunnit plot(it has been adapted four times, after all) but the large cast, which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr, Johnny Depp and Daisy Ridley to name a few.

It is fitting to have this film arrive in theaters in November as we will certainly be treated to quite the Thanksgiving feast of acting with the possibility of certain performances being deliciously sweet and sinister. If any more luck, hopefully this classic mystery will be a savory relief from our real world terrors and set the tone for better things to come from the reel world as well:

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bad Movie Month shifts into gear with Maximum Overdrive

Welcome back to Bad Movie Month, folks, where we continue with our Worst of Stephen King theme by hitting the horrible highway heading for Bad Adaptation Road with 1986's Maximum Overdrive.

Like our previous entry,Children of the Corn, this  cinematic dumpster on fire with wheels is based upon a short story(entitled Trucks) from King's Night Shift collection. One of the main differences between those two hot movie messes,however, is that Stephen King was in the driver's seat as director/writer for this particular car wreck.

We start things off with an opening title card that explains what's about to happen as the earth is the tail of a strange comet whose effects are supposed to last for about a week or so. I'm sure this was meant to be helpful but it leaves so many questions unanwered.

For example, this celestial event is the reason given for all of the mechanical devices in the world to suddenly turn violent against humanity. Yet, not every machine seems to be on board with the new lethal program as while such things as trucks, soda can machines and even an electric carving knife come to life and draw first blood, regular cars don't attack people at all.

 If trucks can use their new found free will for evil, why not cars?  Surely, cars would be able to do plenty of damage to the human population,  right along side their eighteen-wheeler brethren, and we all know King is no stranger to evil cars there! I guess that King didn't want to go too far beyond the borders of his original short story here but there are hints of what else he had in mind as one poor guy is zapped by a video game machine with the added indignity of dying with snack cakes sticking out of his hat:

As in the short story, most of the action here is centered around the Dixie Boy truck stop run by the sleazy owner Hendershot(Pat Hingle) and all too soon, the hapless staff and civilians are held captive by a band of trucks relentlessly circling the place.

The leader of the trucks appears to be a toy delivery vehicle,which has the gruesome grinning face of Spiderman's arch nemesis, The Green Goblin, mounted on the front grille. How Marvel let them have that in this movie, I don't know, but then again, it gives that big rig more of a personality than most of the human actors here:

Speaking of lack of personality, Emilio Estavez is intended to be our hero, playing diner cook Bill whose biggest grip until the trucks take over is being cheated out of his overtime pay due to his ex-con status by Hendershot.

It's a legitimate complaint but really doesn't add much to either him or the situation at hand, not even when Hendershot gleefully tells Bill's new found girl friend(more on that in a moment) about his short lived life of crime. Estavez maintains the same level of annoyance at that as he does toward the killer trucks outside, which registers as moody with a side of grumpy and a dash of belated teen angst:

Estavez's laconic performance(which earned him a Golden Raspberry nomination) is more than made up for by Pat Hingle's glee at chewing the scenery in the same manner that his character chomps his cheap cigars.

Both of them, however, are out done by the ladies in this film, two out of the three being world class hysterical. Sure, killer machines are something worthy to be upset about yet the screech levels that these gals reach could break the sound barrier at times.

From Yeardley Smith's newly wed whiner with her brilliant questions such as "Curtis, are you dead?" to Dixie Boy waitress Wanda June(Ellen McElduff) who takes the revolt of the trucks way too personally, the only feminine strength on display here is lung power.

 Sure, we do have the feisty hitchhiker(Laura Harrington) who fights off the advances of a sleazy salesman only to fall into bed with moody cook Bill*pause for serious eye-roll* but even she doesn't get to do much of anything to fight back against the murder machines. The only woman who does that in the entire film(and not by much other than her "We Made YOU!" stance) pays for that greatly well before the end credits:

I know, I know, this wasn't intended to be anything other than a grade Z drive-in type of movie but still, at least one female character could've been more than a helpless maiden in distress or a sexy sidekick.

To be fair, most of the characters were pretty dumb, especially in taking their sweet time to load up with the stash of weapons under the diner(how convenient!) to fight their way out of the truck stop. Instead, they let the trucks blackmail them into refueling them for hours on end, a sequence that is laughable sad to say the least.

King has said that making this movie was a "learning experience" and the lesson he got from it was to never do something like this again. At least the man is smart enough to learn from his mistakes, unlike some I could mention. A made-for-TV film was made from Trucks several years later but the reviews for that were only slightly better than the critical thrashing that Maximum Overdrive received.

Stop by next week, folks, to see Firestarter blow things up real good! Yeah, Drew Barrymore and Stephen King movies tend not to mix together very well indeed, kind of like popcorn and motor oil:

Friday, August 11, 2017

My summer of Series-ous Reading introduces me to Jane and The Genius of the Place

For my summer selection in my Series-ous Reading challenge, I thought that the fourth book in Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mystery series,Jane and The Genius of the Place, would be a quick read.

 Turns out, it took longer than I expected(partly due to my putting it aside during the High Summer Readathon) but that is not the fault of the book at all.

Here, we come upon our Miss Austen during a visit to her brother Edward and his family at Kent in the year 1805. Jane, along with her delightful snarky sister-in-law Elizabeth and brother Henry Austen,attends the annual horse races in Canterbury and as soon as the main race is over and done with, a brutal murder is discovered to have taken place nearby.

 The victim is Francoise Grey, the youthful wife of well-established(and far older than she) banker Valentine Grey, found strangled by her own hair ribbon and placed in a carriage owned by Denys Collingforth, one of several men whom the lady was known to have a serious flirtation with.

Since Edward happens to be the local Justice of the Peace, he must investigate the crime and is willing to take assistance from any quarter, including Jane who he knows has prior experience in such matters.

 I really enjoyed that aspect of the story, not putting Jane in a position where she would have to sneak around for evidence(although she does a little of that) or have her input be ignored. Kind of gives the book a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew vibe to it:

While Collingforth flees the scene, he is not the most likely candidate to have done away with Mrs. Grey as Jane and friends soon learn.

In addition to the other gentlemen callers she entertained, Francoise also received regular correspondence from her adoptive family back in France, a rather difficult  thing to do given the tensions between Napoleonic France and England during such a time.

Her main correspondent was the Comte de Penfleur, who is said to have had strong affections for Francoise and less than thrilled that she married Valentine as part of a business alliance at best. Was it a jealous lover, a jealous husband or another party who unwittingly shared secrets with the seductive Mrs. Grey who made her last time on horseback a truly final finish?:

While Jane and her brothers look into some of the inconsistencies of Francoise's death-how was it that the lady was seen by all to be riding away from the races yet found only a short time later in Collingforth's carriage without her signature red riding coat?-a new source of intrigue enters the scene.

Julian Sothey, a "Gentleman Improver" happened to be a trusted guest at the estate of the Greys, giving helpful hints as to the renovation of the grounds and quite the charming fellow to boot. His sudden appearance catches many a lady's eye but is he truly trustworthy?

 Jane does find him agreeable company but soon suspects that Julian knows more than he's telling and perhaps answers can be found in the confidence of Anne Sharpe, governess to Jane's young niece Fanny, who seems to know Julian far better than she respectably should:

The story does take a couple of twists and turns that I didn't expect yet all in all, it was engaging to read. I did adore Elizabeth, who seemed to have a droll remark for every occasion, and while I did wish for a slightly more dramatic ending, this did work out well.

I did think that I would be spending more of my summer reading with a much longer book for Series-ous Reading but a change of plans can be good, so I'll finish out the remainder of this season with Daniel O'Malley's The Rook, the first in the Checquy Files series.

This supernatural spy story has a very inventive blend of Jason Bourne meets Atomic Blonde with a sharp tang of Buffy the Vampire Slayer laced with Kingsmen. Sounds a bit all over the place but trust me, this novel is more organized than my description of it. So, see you all in September with more Series-ous Reading to come: