Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, September 18, 2020

Booking a few page turning options at the Movie Trailer Park


 As we know all too well these days, new film premieres are rather quick to change their opening dates(not to mention viewing formats) yet we are still getting trailers that make our cinematic mouths water.

Book adaptations are also included and whether a favorite of yours is set to debut on a screen that's big,small or streaming, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the previews with a bag of popcorn at hand.

First up is Dune, based on the classic sci-fi series by Frank Herbert, starring Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atriedes, the heir to a spice mining fortune who finds himself in the midst of a trade war that also takes him on a spiritual quest on the planet Arrakis.

Other prominent cast members include Oscar Isaac as Paul's father , Jason Momoa as master swordsman Duncan Idaho and Zendaya as Chani, a resident Fremen of Arrakis who Paul falls in love with. It's been a long time since I read the Dune books(the first four, at least) and yes, that David Lynch version from 1984 fell very far short of expectations there.

However, this production is in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, best known for Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and he seems to have a good handle on this genre. There's also talk of this film leading to a prequel TV series for HBO Max called Dune: Sisterhood, focusing on the Bene Gesserit which sounds awesome indeed:



Next up is Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, with Kenneth Branagh taking up the role of detective Hercule Poirot once again. In this tale, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving a rather tangled love triangle between Simon Doyle(Armie Hammer), his new wife Linnet(Gal Godot) and Jacqueline de Bellefort(Emma Mackey).

Simon was engaged to Jaqueline but one look at her friend Linnet and that romantic journey changed paths. While on their honeymoon in Egypt, Jacqueline is stalking the two of them with her jealous fury not bothering to hide itself.

 When shots ring out on the passenger boat that they're all sharing,Poirot is ready and able to dive into this not so simple case of murder and deception. Like his last Christie adapation, Branagh is also directing this film with a solid all star cast that includes Annette Benning, Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo.

 I happen to be a big fan of the 1978 version of this story(Peter Ustinov is my ideal Poirot and I refuse to waver from that stance) so this movie needs to bring it big time. Also, Branagh wants to create a "Poirot cinematic universe" which is fine but he needs to include Miss Marple at some point if you ask me!:



Set to premiere in whatever theaters are open along with Netflix, a new version of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca is arriving in late October. 

Lily James plays the second Mrs. de Winter, who arrives at the intimidating manor house known as Manderly with new husband Maxim(Armie Hammer-what is it with this guy and period pieces?) and introduced to the equally intimidating housekeeper Mrs. Danvers(Kristen Scott Thomas).

With the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation firmly emblazoned onto movie history, this movie is going to have a tough time when it comes to making it's own mark. Hopefully, the cast and company of this production will do their best to up the game:



Meanwhile, the made for TV folk are at long last getting their second season of The Spanish Princess on Starz this fall. 

Based on Philippa Gregory's novel about Catherine of Aragon, this season showcases the young queen(Charlotte Hope) ruling and fighting along side King Henry(Ruairi O'Connor) as they defend England from enemies from outward and within their realm.

I have to say that Starz has been giving us some miniseries goodness with these Philippa Gregory adaptations and by expanding The Spanish Princess to more than one season, hopes for more historical fiction fare like this are high indeed:


Finding new entertainment to watch is going to be tricky for the foreseeable future yet it's the least of our real world worries. One thing is for certain; books and film will be ready, willing and waiting to help us bear the burden of these harsh times and hopefully not too long from now, give us something to celebrate better days with.

In the meantime, let's hunker down with a great stack of books and the streaming service/ TV channel of your choice(there are just too many of the former, folks-and budgets are a big issue right now!) and try to find a moment or two of peace to savor. Hey, it's not like we're trapped in a Stephen King novel after all(or are we....?!):





Thursday, September 10, 2020

How about Mansfield Park: The Musical?

I am at the midway point with my Jane Austen rereading of the Classic Six, which takes me to Mansfield Park, a novel that I feel is vastly underrated.

For one, the main bone of contention among Austen fans regarding this book is how mild mannered the leading lady is. Fanny Price stands apart from the other Jane Austen heroines in that she is not a daughter of the title household and constantly reminded that she is "not a Miss Bertram" by her horrible Aunt Norris(who we will talk about indeed!).

Being treated like a poor relation is not easy in any time period(particularly for women) and with Fanny not being prone to witticisms like a certain someone, it's hard for her to stand out but yet she does, using her inner strength to weather some rough times ahead of her.

Yet, what can be done to liven up the perception that MP is not a major player in the Austen game? Sadly, most of the film/TV adaptations have not done well by Fanny(except for the 1983 BBC miniseries) and often confuse the tone of the story.

There are few modern takes on Mansfield, including books and webseries, so I do think our best bet for a MP revival is a musical. Mary Crawford does play the harp and I'm sure a fun number can be done with that instrument!

Let's see what that might be like, in a jukebox musical fashion, and Fanny must be featured first in this regard.

Being an introspective character, finding the right song is a bit tricky for her yet I do think that "Stay(I Miss You)" by Lisa Loeb would work.

 For one Fanny opens up to very few people, one of whom is her cousin Edmund(yes, cousin marrying was the norm back then,folks,okay?) and he in turn makes her his confidante when it comes to Mary Crawford, whose savvy manner intrigues him but her slick morals do not.

 In talking his doubts over with Fanny, he's really trying to convince himself that she's the right one for him despite their vastly different outlooks on life(which is not very sensitive to Fanny, who is seriously yet secretly in love with Edmund-dude, read the room there!). I can picture her singing this after one of their talks regarding Mary in her white attic room, sweetly with a touch of sorrow:


Next on the mike is of course Mary Crawford, one half of the double trouble that arrives to Mansfield Park(courtesy of Mrs. Grant). Yes, I know many people consider her a secondary heroine but I firmly do not.

While she's not intentionally malicious, Mary's witty talk and sly sophistication hide a person who has seen a bad relationship up close and personal(her uncle bringing his mistress home after the death of his wife is so an AITA post in the making there) and refuses to be "taken in" in that regard.

Like her brother(who I have much to say about!), Mary refuses to adjust her views for anyone, even if the other person is perfectly justified in having them. She is genuinely puzzled by the fact that Edmund truly wants to become a clergyman and doesn't give that up out of love for her. To his credit, it's a true calling for him and not simply settling for second son status.

Mary, on the other hand, is good intentioned at times yet possesses a strong selfish streak that settling for anything less than what high society says is repulsive to her. Also, her social skills are more suited to the upper class game playing of London than the down to earth sweet style of country living at Mansfield. With that in mind, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" suits her perfectly:


The second half of that dubiously dynamic duo is Henry Crawford, whose charms go a long way there. He and his sister both share a taste for snarky conversation and being unwilling to commit to someone who doesn't let them have their way.

Henry and Maria Bertram are very much alike in that neither one of them wants to make the first move towards making their on the side romance a more permanent arrangement. In fact, getting back at Maria for going through with her wedding to Mr. Rushworth is part of the reason that Henry fancies himself in love with Fanny to begin with.

I must say this now: Henry is NOT in love with Fanny; he is in love with the idea of being her romantic hero that would take her away from her ungrateful relatives and make her into his perfect on a pedestal bride. None of this takes Fanny's feelings into account at all(even Edmund fails her in this regard, transposing his thwarted romance with Mary onto her) and by people such as Mary insisting that Fanny can "reform" him is insulting in more ways that one.

At first, his ego can not abide that Fanny is not interested in him once her female cousins have left the neighborhood, making him want to "put a hole through her heart" but then upon, seeing that she is a serious minded person, decides that marriage is the best way to win her and get over Maria(bad idea all around). Is any wonder that a song like "The World's Most Handsome Man" by Robbie Williams seems to have been written for him?


Finally, we come to Aunt Norris, a villain worth a Disney song at least. My musical pick for her wasn't from that pop culture corner but I can assure you she is definitely the worst.

Her petty cruelty towards Fanny(a way of getting back at her sister for not marrying well as well as a long ago argument) combined with her bad match making skills in service of favored niece Maria is bad enough yet topped with her penny pinching ways, tendency to overstep her bounds(especially when it comes to Fanny) and quickness to excuse her own errors in judgement just makes her that much more loathsome indeed.

Hell, even the kids she does favor in the family don't like her much but they hardly hesitate to get her on their side for that play(including costume making, where she makes off with the extra cloth!). It's no wonder that Fanny dreads the idea of living with Aunt Norris once she's a widow but fortunately, that less than good lady would rather admit her former pear tree might not bear tasty fruit than keep Fanny that close to home.

Her company is barely tolerated by her ditzy sister Lady Bertram(who at times seems to be more alert than she lets on about things) and when her ultimate comeuppance arrives, it is awfully lovely to behold. Paramore's "Misery Business" just feels right for her:


 Well, who knows-we might see a musical version of Mansfield Park on Broadway in the distant future. Meanwhile, the book itself has plenty to offer in terms of  topics about family, fidelity and not underestimating the quiet folk among us.

Although, a musical certainly would be fun, especially those Lovers' Vows rehearsal scenes! Things would certainly gather up some considerable stream that might require an extra costume change or two there:




Friday, September 04, 2020

Sweetening the end of summer with my Series-ous Reading serving of Apple Turnover Murder

With summer technically over(I know the first official day of fall is a couple of weeks away), I am so looking forward to the fall season of crisp leaves, cool temperatures and hearty meals.

That is probably why my Series-ous Reading selection was Apple Turnover Murder , the 13th entry in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery novels. Granted, the story takes place in June but apple desserts just have that autumn flavor to them, in my opinion.

This time out, Hannah is busy as a bee during the early summer season yet can't help but to add some extra work by catering specially made treats to several charity events(a last minute request from the mayor's wife).

 Her business partner Lisa comes up with the idea for the title pastry, which is meant to tie in the theme of "turning over a new leaf", something that a new arrival from Hannah's past is clearly not capable of doing.

College professor Bradford Ramsey, who pops in at the end of the previous book Plum Pudding Murder(which I read out of order), acts as if he doesn't know Hannah from when she was a grad student having a secret romance with him. What he didn't tell her then was the real reason for keeping things on the quiet was that he was married, a most unwelcome surprise that caused Hannah to cut their relationship and her college education short.

Bradford happens to be one of her younger sister Michelle's teachers, making Hannah extra nervous about being around him, not to mention concern for her sibling's welfare. When Hannah does run into Bradford backstage at a local talent show, he not only remember her, he insists that they hook up again or his wandering eye will focus on Michelle!

Those are fighting words indeed and Hannah gives him what for on that score. However, their next encounter is awkward in more ways than one as she finds him stabbed to death with one of her turnovers by his sleazy side:


While Hannah is savvy enough to let police detective/occasional boyfriend Mike in on her past with Bradford, she doesn't do the same for gentleman caller number two Norman(which I'll get to in a moment).

 Fortunately, that omission doesn't impact the case which is tricky given the numerous suspects due to Bradford's wayward habits with the ladies, including a couple of ex-wives.

In this particular book, the murder in question is fitted tightly between two subplots, one of which has Hannah's middle sister Andrea in a panic. Seems as if her police chief husband Bill is being strongly recruited by a security firm and taking that job would require them to move to Florida, a fate worse than death in Andrea's eyes!

Look, I'm not crazy about warm weather all the time places either but leaving Lake Eden wouldn't be so bad for a small town gal like Andrea-sure, adjusting would be difficult yet it would also be an opportunity to widen her family's horizons there. After all, a real estate whiz like her would do well anywhere and if this was a good move for Bill to make, it would be worth considering.

Despite Bill's refusal of each offer(the whole thing turns out to be a weird scam), she still persists in freaking out over the mere chance that he might say yes-Andrea, honey, you're acting all wacky cake about this,seriously chill with some chocolate there!:


The biggest plot development,however, is between Hannah and Norman. As I said earlier, Hannah was right to tell Mike about her priors with Bradford(keeps her from being a suspect) but when given the same chance to tell Norman, she doesn't.

Now I know that talking about past relationships with a current significant other is tricky but the reason that Hannah holds back is shame. She has nothing to be ashamed of here(neither does her sister Michelle, who Bradford did flirt with, the lowlife!).

At this point in their "who will she choose" situation, Mike has already told Hannah that she would be better off marrying Norman(a bit of an eyebrow raise on such presumption!) and when informed about Bradford's prior romance with her, Mike is mad enough to wish that Bradford wasn't dead so that he could kill the guy(metaphorically speaking). In other words, he doesn't blame her at all and neither would Norman, I have no doubt about that.

Yet, Norman is also keeping something back from her. Upon returning from a reunion with some old dental school buddies, Norman is acting all distant from Hannah and even though he tries to help her out with the mystery, it's clear that he's going through the motions.

Hannah does,finally, ask him what is the matter and he tells her that there's a big decision that he needs to make but can't go into details just yet. We discover that this major choice involves his former wife Beverly, who is now going to join his dental practice and what does this mean for Hannah's relationship with Norman? We shall see.

I've been Team Norman for quite some time now but have to admit that if neither one of them is willing to open up to the other person about the past or the present, this is not a good sign for future happiness there. Honesty is a key ingredient in any recipe for lasting love, folks:


Yes, the murder does get solved but I am so concerned with whole Norman situation that my latest Series-ous Reading pick is the next book in the Hannah Swensen saga, Devil's Food Cake Murder.

As Hannah is trying to cope with Beverly being part of Norman's professional life(plus, everyone in town really seems to like her!), she gets a welcome distraction from Reverend Knudson's grandmother, who is rather suspicious of an old childhood friend of her grandson's being back in town.

I must admit that the book cover looks scrumptious, with a touch of a broken heart look in that sliced section(or am I reading way too much into that?). Regardless, any story with devil's food cake included is always  bound to be a delicious read indeed:


Monday, August 31, 2020

Fall into a new season for books this September/October

I know that I'm a tad last minute with this preview of upcoming Sept/Oct reads but better late than never, right?

While there is a lot going on right now and much to do, taking some time out for a good read is essential to your emotional health, in my opinion.

 Also, certain types of books are great for channeling your stress, whether it's a heart pounding mystery or a romantic look for love.


Speaking of the former, let's start our bookish journey on a chilling note...

DOUBLE DOSE OF TROUBLE:

 ONE BY ONE: This latest thriller from celebrated author Ruth Ware is set at a remote ski resort in France, where a group of corporate types decide to take a much needed relaxing retreat.

When Eva, one of the co-founders of the social media company Snoops, goes missing  at lunch, a search for her whereabouts by the staff is cut off by an avalanche. This sudden extra bit of isolation is made worse by the power and internet access being out as well and on top of that, another guest is found dead by not so natural circumstances.

With tensions rising, can the killer be caught before more loss of life occurs or will their rescue from the outside world arrive far too late? Ware's take on modern mysteries have a wonderful old school style about them which makes them nonetheless engagingly new tales of terror worth exploring(Sept):


 THEY NEVER LEARN: Author Layne Fargo introduces us to Professor Scarlett Clark, who teaches English at the highly esteemed Gorman University and has made a habit of killing off predatory men both on staff and in the student body.

While she made sure to make the demise of her latest victim, football star Tyler Elkin, look self inflicted, his status as an up and coming celebrity athlete has drawn some unwanted attention to Scarlett's schemes.

Doing her best to lay low, Scarlett attempts to charm the detective in charge of the case while trying very hard not to go after her next target. However, things become even more complicated when a student decides to go down a similar road of vengeance after her roommate is assaulted, bringing Scarlett closer than she'd like to being revealed.

I have to say that while I've never read anything by this writer before, this whole premise makes me want to snatch it up as soon as can be. If this thriller isn't picked up for a film/TV adaptation soon, hopefully it's reception among readers will hasten that pop culture decision(Oct):


 AN AIR OF HISTORICAL MYSTERY:

MURDER IS IN THE AIR: The twelfth installment in Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton series has our 1930s lady detective taking up an invitation to attend a garden party in North Yorkshire being held in the honor of Ruth Parnaby, who has been chosen as queen of the local brewery.

With her niece Harriet accompanying her, Kate is happy to bring the children at the party to the pony ride promised by the company but that joy quickly sours once the drayman meant to conduct the rides is missing and later found dead in the fermentation room.

A variety of suspects are available, including Ruth's father Slater, who didn't want his daughter to aid the brewery in any way. Even though he has an alibi, Kate can't help but think that Slater knows more than what he's saying.

I'm still at the far end when it comes to the Kate Shackleton stories yet I can say that dipping into just one of them instantly puts you at ease when it comes to backstory and characters. This particular tale sounds fitting for autumn and should quench your thirst for a historical mystery mug of mead rather nicely(October). 

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART:

LOVE YOUR LIFE: The leading lady of Sophie Kinsella's newest novel is Ava, who takes a trip to Italy in order to attend a writer's retreat. There, she meets "Dutch"(anonymous names are encouraged), who seems to be her romantic ideal.

Once they get back to England, however, it turns out that Dutch is actually Matt, the head honcho at a dollhouse company and the two of them are not as compatible as they each thought. For one, he hates clutter and she collects discarded furniture and books in abundance.

Other potential obstacles in their path to true love include Ava hating his art collection, Matt keeping his bedroom at ice cold temperatures and  worst of all, his immense dislike of Harold, Ava's sweet but not well trained beagle.

Can this lovelorn odd couple find a way to deal with their differences and make a happy medium together? No doubt the answer to that will be entertainingly found within the delightful pages that Kinsella magically brings together(Oct).


MONOGAMY: In Sue Miller's upcoming novel, Annie McFarlane is forced to reexamine her life upon the sudden death of her husband Graham.

Granted, since this was a second marriage for the both of them, she was well aware that Graham was not a perfect person. Nonetheless, Annie is surprised to learn that not only was he having an affair, his first wife Frieda was taken into his confidence about it.

Despite that revelation, Annie is determined to deal with this loss in the best way possible without compromising her own self worth. This look at love and marriage promises to have a bittersweet energy that should be a well taken journey of the heart(Sept):


Given the horrible headlines that we receive daily, finding a good book to read sounds more and more like a viable option. That doesn't mean that we ignore what's going on around us and mourn those great losses to our world(RIP to Chadwick Boseman, a remarkable actor and real life superhero).

Rather, we give ourselves a much needed break so that our collective spirits can be revived for what lies ahead. It would be nice to have a couple of good movies coming soon safely but then again, it does give us something to look forward to for next year.

Let us hope for better things in real life and in entertainment, where at some point, the new remake of Death On The Nile will be available to all, one way or another:

 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Making a merry musical RomCom Comfort Food meal for Bride & Prejudice

Welcome back ,RomCom Comfort Food friends and for our final film feast entree, we have a delightful fusion of love Jane Austen style, mixed with modern flair and a dash of classic musical fun.

One of my best movie going trips was joining some of the Jane Austen fans from The Republic of Pemberley and taking my younger sister along with me to see 2004's  Bride & Prejudice in a Manhattan theater.

My sister is not a Jane Austen person(she likes to jokingly call many of my BBC related shows "British comas"); she was into Bollywood films at the time and I like to think she got a little Austen knowledge out of that viewing.

The movie is a retelling of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, set at first in modern day India where the four Bakshi daughters(yes, Kitty is not included but Maya's cobra dance more than makes up for that!) are, in their fretful mother's opinion, in need of husbands.

While Lalita, the Elizabeth Bennet of this story(played by renowned Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai) is happy to see her older sister Jaya(Namrata Shirodkar) find a potential suitor named Balraj(Naveen Andrews) at a friend's wedding, she is less than thrilled with his buddy William Darcy(Martin Henderson).

For one, Darcy has a touch of the Ugly American about him as he finds the customs of the country out of date with some snarky encouragement by Balraj's sister Kiran(Indira Varma, who is a top rate Miss Bingley indeed!). While he's not malicious, his attitude is rather off-putting to Lalita for good reason.

Despite trying to keep the peace for her sister's sake during a resort outing, Lalita can't resist challenging Darcy on his presumptions about her country and culture:


Tensions further arise when a former friend of Darcy's, Johnny Wickham(Daniel Gillies) literally comes forth from the sea to catch Lalita's eye.

This potential triangle breaks up when Lalita and Jaya come home to find their mother getting all of her girls ready for a visit from their distant relative Mr. Kohli(Nitin Ganatra, a very memorable Mr. Collins for sure!).

Since her mother practically has Jaya married off already, all of Kohli's romantic intentions are focused on Lalita which leads to my favorite song "No Life Without Wife". It's fitting for this number to be set here, not long after Darcy's list of attributes for the ideal woman have been discussed. As her sisters gleefully mock her supposed future with Kohli in America, Lalita gets the chance to express what she finds to be the perfect man for her:


Once Mr. Kohli takes his unwanted marriage proposal elsewhere, Lalita does run into Darcy again.

With her family invited to attend Kohli's wedding in America, she meets Darcy on a connecting flight to London and then in LA, where the two of them finally start to kindle a spark of romance.

That brings us to "Take Me to Love", a tune that Lalita first begins at home when Wickham is no longer in the picture but upon seeing the better side of Darcy, the song is refitted nicely.

 There's tons of lovelorn imagery in the musical montage for this number that includes running through jet sprayed water and a stroll on the beach where a choir serenades the dreamy eyed couple:



 Well, if you know Jane Austen, you know how the rest of the story goes. If not, I would prefer to let you be pleasantly surprised by this charming adaptation.

Director Gurinder Chadha(first known to many for Bend It Like Beckham) is clearly a major Austen lover and by blending the musical style of Bollywood with this iconic tale, she brings many realms together for some good old fashioned romcom joy.

That's what struck me during this rewatch;how much joy is pouring off of the screen, from the elaborate dance number at the start of the story to the rollicking show stopper "Marriage Has Come to Town". While you can argue that Henderson's Darcy is not much of a match for Rai's Lalita, they do make a good couple towards the end and by then, the music rightfully takes over.

Joy is something that's been in short supply these days and the main reason that I started this new summer series in the first place. While we do have to keep an alert eye out for the problems hitting us hard right now, taking a break for some sort of relief is necessary and I hope that these silly little posts of mine are helping to make that happen.

Thank you all for attending this film food festival and perhaps we'll do it again some time. For now, let us share in the musical joy of love:





 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Taking our RomCom Comfort Food out for a pop culture picnic at Notting Hill

Thank you once again for attending our RomCom Comfort Food luncheon, where we will be taking our main movie meal to a most charming location, 1999's Notting Hill.

Hugh Grant stars as Will, a recent divorcee and owner of a small travel book shop in the title section of London. One average day, a famous movie star named Anna Scott(Julia Roberts) walks in to browse and both of their lives are never quite the same.

After an amusing exchange involving a shoplifter who asks for Anna's autograph(she signs a piece of paper saying "Dear Rufus, you belong in jail" which the guy takes as a good joke before offering her his phone number!),
Will literally runs into Anna a very short time later, spilling a huge cup of orange juice on her and then offering to take her to his nearby "house with the blue door" for an emergency clean-up.

As she fixes herself up, Will becomes more tongue tied and nervous with his banter(a classic Hugh Grant trait) and as they say goodbye yet again, his parting words describe the situation as "surreal but nice", which Anna clearly finds to be accurate as she returns to offer him a surprise smooch:


This leads to a few romantic complications, one of which has Will trying to meet up with Anna at a press junket for her new sci-fi movie called Helix(sounds pretty cool, actually) and having to pose as a reporter for Horse & Hound magazine(not a very sci-fi type of publication there).

Eventually, Will and Anna's first date is at his sister Honey's birthday party that is being held at the home of his married friends Max and Bella(not to mention the future Lord Grantham, Hugh Bonneville, whose character Bernie is totally dense about who Anna is!).

Once the initial shock of Will bringing a famous person to dinner is over, the rest of the party goes off rather well, with everyone at the end of the not-so-well-cooked dinner having a mock debate contest over who deserves the last brownie on the dessert plate. Anna feels comfortable enough to chime in and the whole scene is bittersweet yet beautifully brilliant for all concerned:


The romance between Will and Anna becomes an on-again, off-again affair due to the complications that arise from her celebrity status and his growing doubts about being able to fit into her world.

Now, I know that when people think of this movie, the line they recall and love the best is "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her"-a well done cinematic moment indeed.

However, my personal choice is from an earlier scene, where the two of them are having a quiet dinner out and happen to overhear a group of louts at the other table joke about Anna being an "actress" in the less respectable sense of the term. Will does his best to call these jerks out without reveling Anna's presence but to no avail.

She does appreciate his effort but suddenly gets inspired to confront the table of leering creeps herself and the whole thing is hilarious, especially when Anna expresses her conviction of the origin of their "friendly banter":


My favorite scene, however, is rather sad. It's a passage of time montage after Will and Anna have a major breakup that includes the media landing on his doorstep, which cause a big league fight over how to handle such things. His laidback approach just doesn't work for her, not to mention his goofy roommate Spike(Rhys Ifans, who steals countless scenes here) having an unintended role in this situation does not help matters much.

 This sequence is set to the classic "Ain't No Sunshine" by the late great Bill Withers and it's simplicity is sweetly sorrowful. Yes, it's far from happy but I can't help feeling that it sums up such a lovelorn loss so perfectly:



On a brighter note, my Jane Austen connection for this film is director Roger Michell, who several years earlier was the directorial hand on Persuasion, a made for British TV production that was released in theaters in America.

That well received movie got me to read Jane Austen for the first time and part of the reason that Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. While NH and Persuasion are set in very different time periods, the approach taken to the difficulties of love has a similar feel as both stories are given realistic tones that enhance the heartbreak and the humor.

Michell even has two of the actors from Persuasion( Samuel West and Richard McCabe) play minor roles in Notting Hill, a nice bonus for us Austenites and while he hasn't done another adaptation of Austen's work(one of his latest works was a remake of My Cousin Rachel), his flair for bringing parted lovers back together is a delight to behold:


For our film feast finale, what's better than a musical and a Jane Austen themed one, no less?

Our last RomCom Comfort Food entree is 2004's  Bride & Prejudice, where director and co-screenwriter Gurinder Chadha has"Bollywood meet Hollywood" in a lovely modern take on Pride and Prejudice.

Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson are our leads as the Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy with Marsha Mason doing her version of Lady Catherine and Naveen Andrews being a rather lively take on Mr. Bingley, if you ask me:


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Getting ready for a double dose of FrightFall reading

It may be too soon to think of Fall but for the upcoming FrightFall readathon this year, a little preparation is rather necessary.

Due to Seasons of Reading having to postpone part of their summer schedule for real life concerns, their annual scary reading celebration known as FrightFall has been extended . We're getting a September/October readathon, which I consider a true Halloween treat from SOR moderator, Michelle Miller.

It'll be awhile before sign-ups start but I couldn't wait to share my TBR for FF here. My plan is to have three books each month to complete(no doubt, reading time will overlap), with thrillers and cozy mysteries as the main focus, plus I have three Halloween themed books for October! Well, let's start with September where my serious page turning terrors are:

THE DRY: Jane Harper's 2017 debut thriller takes place in Australia, where federal agent Aaron Falk is heading back to his home town for the funeral of his best friend Luke.

The circumstances of Luke's demise(along with his wife and son) appear to be a self inflicted family tragedy but things may not be as they seem. When Luke's parents ask Aaron to look into the matter, he does so as part of a debt he's trying to repay to his former friend, who once stood by him during similar circumstances back in the day.

A number of secrets and lies become revealed during the course of the case, making Aaron reconsider his whole perspective on his mutual past with Luke. Will he allow that past to blind him to the truth of the present?

I did read the follow-up book to this(Force of Nature, which works well as a stand alone) and was intrigued enough to want to see where Harper's sharp talents at storytelling began:



THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE:  In this first entry in his popular series, Alan Bradley introduces us to Flavia de Luce, a very clever eleven year old girl living with her snippy sisters and stamp collecting father in 1950s England.

Her regular routine is interrupted by the arrival of a red haired stranger, who accuses her father of a long ago theft and then later winds up dead in their cucumber patch.

In order to clear her father's name, Flavia uses her knack for chemistry, inclination for snooping and the aid of Dogger, the family gardener to not only acquit her sole parent of murder but stamp stealing as well. I have heard a great deal about these books and their engaging young heroine and this is certainly the perfect opportunity to get to know them better:


I will be rounding this out with A Pizza to Die For by Chris Cavender(hey, pizza is good anytime of the year!), needing a little cozy comfort mystery to offset the literary tension. For October, however, I'm going full cozy with a trio of seasonal reads:

STIRRING THE PLOT: This third entry in Daryl Wood Gerber's Cookbook Nook series(and yes, I do plan on reading the earlier books) has specialty bookstore owner Jenna Hart revving the shop up for some Halloween hijinks.

While she and her bookshop partner Aunt Vera are happy to host the Winsome Witches, a local Wiccan group who hold annual fund raisers, trouble brews up unexpectedly when their  High Priestess is discovered to be dead.

Can Jenna get to the bottom of things before All Hallow's Eve, especially if Aunt Vera's gift for seeing the future is a bit on hold at the moment? This sounds like a fun series, combining three elements that I like: food, book stores and mystery solving!

Turns out that Daryl Wood Gerber is also known as Avery Aames, the author of the Cheese Shop mysteries that I'm still planing to get into(much thanks to Ellie Alexander, for her Five Things Friday interview with her that clued me into this particular set of stories!). This should be a true treat to enjoy this season indeed:


LESLIE MEIER & LUCY STONE: Last year, I read an ebook version of a Lucy Stone mystery, Turkey Day Murder, and really liked it. I also have Turkey Trot Murder(which I may dive into in November) and one other in this format but I decided this time out to get print versions. Some books just need to be held in hand, in my opinion.

This long running series by Leslie Meier featuring small town wife and mother Lucy covers just about every holiday and special occasion that you can imagine and it's not surprising that there are at least several Halloween themed stories, which made it hard to choose from yet I managed to go with two of them.  

Trick or Treat Murder has Lucy investigating a number of  historical buildings in their town of Tinker's Cove being torched , the latest inferno taking the life of socialite Monica Mayes.  Naturally, Monica's husband is a prime suspect but this fiery murder might have been lit by an old flame....

A later book, Candy Corn Murder, has Lucy, who is now a reporter for the local newspaper, juggling her journalist duties in highlighting the upcoming Giant Pumpkin festival with keeping an eye on her visiting grandson.

It doesn't help that her husband Tom is putting all of his attention towards the big pumpkin weigh-in contest, including a catapult competition that leaves someone dead and in need of a real look into the messy matter.

I do like the charming sitcom feel of the setting and Lucy herself(not crazy about her husband but hopefully he improves with time) so spending this Halloween in Tinker's Cove feels just right to me. A little homemade holiday fun ought to be a real sweet relief these days:


I have no doubt that many of SOR's devoted readers will be glad to have extra time with the spooky tales of their choosing here and that this seasonal fear fest offers some much needed relaxation from the current headline horrors out there.

So, thank you in advance to Michelle for this special sinister sweet treat and look forward to sharing more scary book recommendations with one and all. Granted, my list seems a tad tame but how great a fear can be is truly in the eye of the bookish beholder:




Friday, August 14, 2020

Serving up a California platter of Clueless with a Jane Austen twist as RomCom Comfort Food

Welcome back for more delightful dinner party fun as the RomCom Comfort Food film festival continues. Our menu today is a mashup of classic lit with 90's sunny satire with 1995's Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone as leading lady Cher in the hit movie based on Jane Austen's Emma, thanks to writer/director Amy Heckerling.

It can argued that Clueless paved the way for other modern day takes on Austen's work such as Bridget Jones' Diary and You've Got Mail(which does nod to Pride & Prejudice while being a remake of Shop Around the Corner) and later web series like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved.

However, even if you're not at all familiar with Austen's novel, this movie works well as a snappy look at upper class teens in love. Since our focus is romantic comedy, let's set our sights on the three main love stories presented here:

TAI & TRAVIS:

In the context of Emma, new student Tai(played by the late Brittany Murphy) is the Harriet Smith , sweetly awkward and in need of some guidance in her rather upscale surroundings.

Cher, with the help of gal pal Dionne(Stacey Dash), is more than ready to take on Tai as a "makeover project" but firmly squashes the instant attraction that her new friend has towards class clown Travis(Breckin Meyer). Granted, Travis is a bit of a stoner(a habit that Tai also shares) but he does admire Tai's talent for drawing, a very Jane Austen trait by the way.

Nonetheless, Cher uses her clout as reigning teen queen to set Tai on what she considers to be the proper path towards high school popularity and social acceptance, which means avoiding the "loadies on the grassy knoll" like him:


Cher's attempts to match Tai up with supposedly suitable big man on campus Elton(Jeremy Sisto) go horribly awry, leaving her friend heartbroken in the near future.

Meanwhile, rejecting Elton's advances followed by him dropping her off in a bad neighborhood where she gets robbed leaves Cher with instant regrets over the whole deal.

That sequence of events takes me to one of my favorite parts of the movie, where Cher calls her former stepbrother Josh(the evergreen Paul Rudd) to give her a lift home. Josh arrives with current college girlfriend Heather in tow, who is giving a very Mrs. Elton style teardown of one of their professors(she's not really the Mrs. Elton of the story-that dubious honor belongs to snippy classmate Amber but I digress).

At one point, Heather misquotes Shakespeare and Cher is able to offer a correction, due to her recall of the latest Hamlet remake-"he didn't say that, that Polonius guy did!". That quick exchange gets a laugh out of Josh, which earns him a glare from the girlfriend and shows that he's aware that Cher is more than a smart dresser:


Ultimately, Tai and Travis do hook up and Cher, who has chosen by now to give herself a "makeover-only this time, I'll make over my soul", gives her approval. Mind you, that approval is not needed or asked for at this point but Cher has become more accepting of others. It does help that Travis is on a twelve step program and turning into a more focused person, not to mention that Tai still likes him very much indeed:


MISS GEIST & MR. HALL:

While Cher's initial motive to pair these two teachers up romantically is based on the need to renegotiate her midterm grades, she and Dionne do see the sweetness in both Mr. Hall(the delightful Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist(Twink Caplan) as these "old people" begin to fall in love.

This small side story is the Miss Taylor/Mr. Weston romance that in Emma has been completed by marriage in the beginning and in Clueless, ends the film. However, in both situations, these two had feelings for each other in the first place, despite all of the youthful intervention, that made them become a wedded couple:



CHER & JOSH:

Yes, this is the big romance and before we get any further here, I know that there's been some recent debate over how truly appropriate this relationship is.

 Well, for one-the age gap between them is not as distant as it was between their literary counterparts Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley(who remembers holding her as a baby in the book!) .

Also, they are ex-stepsiblings who clearly didn't grow up together in Brady Bunch style and no doubt, Josh would wait until Cher was of college age before their relationship went into a major adult direction. As Cher says herself early on in the movie-"You've seen how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet!"

With that out of the way, this love story is a slow moving affair as Cher suddenly realizes that she loves Josh(complete with light up fountain action in the background) but not sure how to pursue this. Her ill fated romance with Christian(who Josh was briefly jealous of until he saw his alleged rival's true inclinations in that department) didn't end badly but still, she wasn't sure of how to proceed when it came to someone who knows her so well.

Fortunately, a moment occurred when Cher thought she had made a mistake in her lawyer father's case file(she didn't and that guy was a jerk for blaming her there) and Josh not only backed her up but reveled his deeper feelings for her. It's a sweet scene that holds up, even after twenty five years and here's to another twenty score and more for this charming take on a timeless classic:



It was fun to see Clueless again and with the 25th anniversary attention given to this movie(plus talk of a remake, which I consider to be pointless), I'm sure plenty of old fans and new are enjoying this flashback to the past indeed.

Our next movie meal will take place at Notting Hill, where movie star Julia Roberts and humble travel bookstore clerk Hugh Grant find themselves in love amid massive media attention and his wacky roommate Spike.

This is such a lovely film, with great supporting characters and bittersweet moments galore(and yes, a Jane Austen connection!). Also, it has a meet-cute that involves shoplifting which isn't the most likely form of love connection but there you go:



Thursday, August 06, 2020

Paging through the Death of An Avid Reader for my summertime Series-ous Reading

This past July, I was happy to have a bit of a staycation with my latest Series-ous Reading selection that had a nice mix of excitement, mystery and library love.

Frances Brody's Death of An Avid Reader is the sixth entry in her series of Kate Shackleton mysteries, set in post-WWI. Kate is a widow that still holds out a bit of hope that her husband(officially listed as missing in action) is somehow alive and coming home to her.

In the meantime, Kate is a detective and most often times asked to find missing persons such as the secretly given up for adoption daughter of Lady Coulton. Her Ladyship become pregnant while her husband was off fighting in the war so keeping that baby well out of sight was a major priority.

Before Kate can fully start that investigation, she's pressed to witness an exorcism at the Leeds Library by Dr. Potter, a member of the library board who finds the notion shared by the staff of a ghost haunting the place amusing at best. However, to allay those persistent fears, a priest has been summoned and Kate reluctantly finds herself,along with the head librarian, taking part in this late night ceremony:



As it turns out, the only scary moment during that "exorcism" is the discovery of Dr. Potter's body in the basement. Trapped under a knocked over bookcase, with a rather valuable rare book not far from him, it appears as if a thief is to blame.

However, another find causes the case to take a different turn. Hiding in a distant corner of the basement is Umberto, the local organ grinder who has not been out and about lately, due perhaps to the cold weather.

Umberto, as Kate's past medical training has alerted her, is deathly ill from pneumonia and taken to the hospital. Despite the fact that he's clearly in no condition to harm anyone,let alone Dr. Potter, the police quickly point the finger of blame at the elderly Italian immigrant. Kate finds this appalling and despite not being officially part of the police inquiry, she decides to look firmly into the matter.

What she does discover is that Umberto did have a brief meeting with Dr. Potter before the murder but that had nothing to do with books. Umberto's pet monkey intrigued the mathematician for some private studies of his own involving animals and education. Kate happens to have that monkey on hand as the creature stowed away in her car that fateful night, making her even more compelled to solve the case:


 
As she looks further into things, Kate suspects that her long lost daughter case may overlap into this murder mystery as the father of that adopted child happened to be a librarian and that girl may have unknowingly followed in her parent's literary footsteps.

With a few surprises along the way, Kate does get far beyond the local police in both respects but can she find the killer and the girl before it's too late? I have read this series quite out of order(plan to read book two this fall as the last of my Second Acts) yet these stories are so well written that you would hardly feel out of place no matter where you started.

Frances Brody blends historical fiction with murder mystery as skillfully as a brewer might stir together tea leaves, making these stories a charming mix of comfortable yet chilling all at once.

Her characters are as fully sketched as the art work displayed upon the book covers, with Kate being paired up with such folk as Mrs. Sugden, her pragmatic housekeeper and Jim Sykes, an ex-cop who is more than just a right hand man. The subtle settings of these stories frame a wider picture of the seemingly simple life back then, making Kate's detective tales uniquely thrilling.

I do hope that someday, the Kate Shackleton books become adapted for television as they would do very well along side the likes of Agatha Raisin or Queens of Mystery, if you ask me:


So, while A Medal for Murder and Murder in the Afternoon will be appearing this fall in my Series-ous Reading coverage, I also have another long running set of mysteries to keep up with.

Yes, it's more Hannah Swensen time as I dig into Apple Turnover Murder, where one of the title treats lands near the dead body of Bradford Ramsey, who was her college professor and a rather unscrupulous Romeo to say the least.

Finding him dead is bad enough but hoping to hunt down his killer without anyone in town finding out about their mutual past is a troubling challenge even for Hannah! I know this story takes place in the summer but apple flavored desserts just make me think of autumn, which is why I suppose that this was my choice for a tasty late summer read:


Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Starting off our RomCom Comfort Food with My Big Fat Greek Wedding feast of love

Welcome to the opening of LRG's new cinematic cafe ,RomCom Comfort Food, where you can safely social distance and enjoy a lovely movie meal straight from the heart.

The first item on our movie menu is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a film that holds a special place in my memory as one of the first movies that I ever saw on a plane.

Back in the summer of 2002, I was heading home from England, having spent one of the greatest weeks of my life visiting Jane Austen sites with a group of Austen admirers known as The Republic of Pemberley.

 Since this was not only the first time that I've gone outside of the US but also been on a plane, my initial flight over was a tad hectic. However, my trip home was much calmer, allowing me to relax and watch a couple of movies to pass the time. My first pick was a recent version of The Importance of Being Earnest(starring Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth!) and the other was this sleeper hit that I didn't have the chance to see before my trip.

If any movie is perfect for seeing as you're heading home to America, this romcom certainly is , in my opinion. Our leading lady is Toula(Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the screenplay)Portokalos, a thirty year old woman in Chicago that feels trapped in her "dutiful daughter" role amid her large,loud and very loving Greek family.

Working at the family restaurant one fateful morning, she's lovestruck by a random customer, Ian Miller(John Corbett),the type of guy that her relatives would never approve of her dating due to the fact that he's not Greek. Yet a small spark seems to be lit between them during that brief encounter:


They do meet again, well after Toula decides to change her life by taking some computer courses that qualify her to work at her Aunt Voula's(played by the delightful Andrea Martin) travel agency.

I like that Toula giving herself a makeover and getting more education isn't about landing a man-it's more about finding a better place for herself in the world. I also love how her mother(Lainie Kazan) gives her an assist with old school tactics.

Granted, her mom does want Toula to get married and have babies just like her traditionally minded father only wants her to, yet her mother can see and appreciate that her daughter needs a bit more out of life there. Her methods may be manipulative but they do work out well for all concerned. At one point in the film, Toula's mother tells her "I gave you life so that you could live it!" and she's as good as her word:


Meanwhile, Ian spots Toula at the travel agency and their relationship is kept on the down low in the beginning, due to her family's feelings about romance with a non-Greek.

Eventually, the truth comes out and while there's grief from her father, Toula's family does comes around when it's announced that they're getting married. That sets off a new pack of problems as her family's over the top plans for the wedding get bigger by the minute, with a huge party to welcome Ian's rather staid parents gets overwhelming to say the least(the bundt cake bit is too much fun!).

Nonetheless, they do get married and while Toula still harbors doubt about Ian going through all of this for her, my favorite scene in the movie erases all such worries for me. It's their first date and he asks Toula if she would like to go out for Greek food at " Zorba's something" and she quickly declines. She then explains that Dancing Zorba's is owned by her family, which she hopes he doesn't recall her from.

Oh, but he does with "I remember you!" said in a delighted,dreamy way. She starts telling him about how she was "Frump Girl" back then and he responses with "I don't remember Frump Girl but I remember you." *sigh* Yes, I know , he may seem too good to be true yet with sincere lines like that and later on when Toula asks him why he would marry someone like her and he replies with "Because I came alive when I met you."...that is such a Jane Austen worthy thing to say!:


Early on, I said that this is a good movie to watch while returning to America and my reason for that statement is that this is not just a romance between two people.

It's about two very different families coming together to form one loving unit. Sure, not everyone gets along all of the time but being united on the main things in life is what helps to get over the rough spots, which is the true American way, if you ask me.

 Even the most resistant person to this marriage, Toula's father with his "give me any word and I'll show you the Greek root of that word(even kimono doesn't faze him as a challenge!)" finds a way to accept Ian and his "dry toast" family. During the wedding reception, he points out that their family name Portokalos means orange and the root word for Miller is apple which leads him to proclaim "apples, oranges, we're all different but in the end, we're all fruit!" No truer words are spoken here.

MBFGW was indeed a surprise smash at the box office(much thanks to Tom Hanks, who produced the film and given his own romance with his lovely Greek wife Rita Wilson, perhaps related quite a bit to this story) and yet, despite a short lived sitcom and a much later in time sequel, this is where the story really ends. I think that's best ,since Toula's tale of finding true love,self love and family love is perfectly complete within it's self:


I do hope that you all had a good time with this first of four film love fests to come this August. I must confess that all of these selections have a personal to me Jane Austen connection and while that may not be easy to see at first, trust me-I will point that out!

Next week's menu is preparing a 25th anniversary platter of Clueless, flavored with 90's flair and a satirical sauce of Jane Austen snarky goodness.

Yes, comparisons to Jane Austen's Emma will be made but do not despair, there will be plenty of lighthearted teen humor on hand to snack on as well: