Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, January 17, 2020

A rather mixed goodie bag of Oscar nominations handed out this award season

Earlier this week, the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced and there were more reasons to sigh than cheer this time out.

Before I get into all of that, let's start off on the one big positive note here which is the multiple noms for the film Parasite, co-written and directed by Boon Joon Ho. It's up for six nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture as well as Best International Feature(the new name for the Foreign Film category).

This is a first for South Korean cinema, to have such major spots among the Oscar contenders and the film has won several awards at other venues, particularly the Golden Globes and the Palm d'Or from the Cannes film festival. Odds are that Parasite will be a big winner on Oscar night and about the only movie that everyone feels good about it doing so well here.

Both the critical reviews and word of mouth have been great for this social horror story where a poor family schemes their way into the household of a wealthier one, only to face unintended dire consequences from an unexpected source for their status elevation. I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Parasite and right away, you could tell that this was a slow burn of a suspense tale that would haunt you for the better:


The only negative about Parasite's nominations is that none of the actors were included in the Best lead or supporting categories. This omission carried out to many of the other Oscar sections-no women up for Best Director such as Greta Gerwig for Little Women(which is up for several other categories, including Best Picture), Lulu Wang for The Farewell and Kasi Lemmons for Harriet.

Only two POC actors were nominated for the acting categories and while Cynthia Erivo and Antonio Banderas deserved the recognition, so did Awkwafina for her work in The Farewell which won her a Golden Globe.

Also, no appreciation for Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is my Name, which is a funny,engaging film about cult movie hero Rudy Ray Moore and one would argue a fitting companion piece to Tim Burton's Ed Wood as cinematic tribute to the offbeat stars of the silver screen.

The biggest disappointment to me(and quite a few others out there) is that Joker earned the most nominations, eleven, including Jouquin Phoenix in the title role. While I don't dispute the acting talents of Phoenix, this film just repulses me and yes, I have not seen it despite being a big fan of DC Comics and Batman lore in particular.

The whole premise of this film is way off as an origin story for this character and I will tell you why; the Joker was created as a major nemesis to Batman, similar to Lex Luthor and Superman, and while they are polar opposites, they are meant to balance each other off. Granted, there is no set backstory for the Joker(one of his aliases is Jack Napier) but some traits are core components-he's deviously smart and skilled enough to create his own chemical weapons, is gleefully sociopathic and driven by impulse and ego. Basically, a formidable menace in his own right.

According to this movie, the Joker is a sad sack of a guy named Arthur Fleck whose mental health issues and emotional abuse from his mother lead to him taking revenge against a rather Martin Scorsese inspired Gotham City. I'm sorry but dressing up a second rate Travis Bickle in clown make-up and having him attack a King of Comedy(Why, Robert De Niro, why?) is a sadly cynical take on this iconic villain that says nothing original at all.

Instead, it seems to play on cheap stereotypes about those with mental health situations and loaded with pretentious preening about how "we live in a society" where white guys feel free to whine about being picked on for bad behavior. I don't know if I will ever watch this movie but it tells you something when the SNL parody of it sounds like a better version altogether:


What disappoints me even more than that is the overlooking of Rocketman, which received only one nomination for Best Original Song. I suppose that the Academy voters thought that honoring Bohemian Rhapsody last time was good enough but they are so wrong!

Bohemian Rhapsody was at best a standard biopic elevated by Rami Malek's performance but Rocketman is a creative autobiographical musical that feels like a Broadway show on the level of Hamilton in terms of quality. Elton John told the story of his life in an emotionally honest way, using his vast catalogue of songs as touchstones for various points in his journey without glossing over any of the messy moments there.

Taron Egerton(who won a Golden Globe for his performance,hello!) was wonderful and egregiously snubbed in the Best Actor category, not to mention Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila,Elton's viciously passive-aggressive mother and Jamie Bell as longtime friend and collaborator Bernie Taupin for the Best Supporting sections.

Also, how could you not nominate an Elton John musical for Best Costume, Best Production Design or either of the Sound categories? I have seen Rocketman three times(once in theaters, twice on home video) with family members and all of us were moved deeply by the themes of dealing with the pains of the past and moving onward. Based on audience response and mostly positive critical reviews, we are not alone in that good feeling.

While I am glad that at least ("I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" will be performed on Oscar night, it's a crying shame that the Academy is ignoring such an artistic cinematic gem like this:


Speaking of Best Song, I did listen to all of the other nominees, as is my usual, and for the most part,  found myself less than impressed.

While "Into the Unknown" from Frozen 2(surprisingly not up for Best Animated Film) is nice enough, in the words of a certain Buffy character, it's more of a book number than a breakaway pop hit.

Toy Story 4's "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" is a throwaway number that barely lasts two minutes. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that composer Randy Newman spent less than half of the song's running time to write it.

"I'm Standing With You" from Breakthough is your standard inspirational piece and while Chrissy Metz has a good voice, this tune is far from being memorable. What is a real contender with the Rocketman song here is "Stand Up" from Harriet, sung by Best Actress nominee Cynthia Erivo.

She is a Broadway singer, having won a Tony, Emmy and a Grammy for her role in the musical version of The Color Purple and she may become the youngest EGOT winner on Oscar night. Ervio's vocals are amazing and having the lead character perform the theme song to her life story is elegantly touching, to say the least:


Just a few other thoughts before I wrap this up:

Did Scarlett Johanssen really need to be a double nominee? Sure, her work in JoJo Rabbit and Marriage Story was well praised but did she really have to take up spots in both of the actress categories?  I suspect not,folks. Hell, Lupita N'yongo could have taken both categories for her duel role in Us (which was out and out ignored by the Academy!) and that would have been a bold creative use of that nomination there!

As much as I appreciate Martin Scorsese, The Irishman sounds like four hours of his greatest hits and hey, Marty-instead of complaining about superhero movies taking up too much attention, how about taking a creative chance yourself? You've done it before, with The Age of Innocence , The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun...instead of grousing about what others are doing, make your own work relevant to old and new audiences again.


I am happy that Renee Zellweger is up for Best Actress in Judy and that the Make-up/Hair Styling category has five nominees(most of the time, it's lucky to get three).

Other wise, the Best Picture nominees are not that exciting-Ford vs. Ferrari, 1917,Marriage Story, Joker,I don't even want to put them on my Netflix queue, let alone watch them at all. I would love to see Little Women and maybe check out Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit but beyond that, a hard pass.

Will I watch the Oscars? Sure, because it's my Super Bowl and even if your team isn't playing, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the show. I do find it amusing that Best Supporting Actress nominee Margo Robbie will have her Harley Quinn on at the theaters with Birds of Prey a few days before the Oscars-when it comes to clown criminals, her royal riot girl act is one worth watching indeed:




Tuesday, January 14, 2020

My first Library Haul(and LibraryThing prize!) of 2020

Getting settled into a new year of reading can be daunting at first but it does help to take up a regular routine or two to start your bookish engines there.

Having been away from my local library during the holidays, it was wonderful to make my first visit of 2020 this past weekend with at least one book to return(which lead to another loan, that I'll get to momentarily).

What made this trip special was the joy of discovering a new book on the shelf that I've been wanting to check out ever since I first heard about it. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis has the literary sisters Bronte find themselves  becoming a trio of sleuths as news of a strange death and disappearance at a nearby estate peaks their considerable interest.

With the assistance of their brother Bramwell, Emily, Anne and Charlotte look into what happened at Chester Grange, where the second wife of Robert Chester is missing with only a blood stained bed to suggest a gruesome departure. From hearing the eyewitness account of Matilda French, the current governess of the household and old school friend of sisters Emily and Charlotte, the sisters feel that they have no choice but to use their considerable skills of observation to find out the truth.

This leads them on a search that entails conducting interviews in disguise, finding clues in unlikely places and discovering hidden rooms within the manor house itself. Can the Bronte sisters solve this mysterious situation before another dire event takes place?

This book is intended to be the first in a mystery series and I certainly like this premise. Granted, out of the three Brontes, I'm more of a Charlotte person yet it ought to be entertaining and enlightening to see all of them in crime fighting action here:


During my last library visit, I decided to try a novel by Fiona Davis entitled The Address and it was such an engrossing read that upon my return, I went in search of another one of her works of historical fiction.

Luckily for me, The Chelsea Girls was readily available and quickly added to my pile of  new must reads. The story takes place in New York during the mid-1950s as two ladies of the theater reunite at the title hotel.

Hazel and Maxine became friends during WWII as USO performers on tour to entertain the troops. Now, five years later, they hope to combine Hazel's talent for play-writing and directing with the star power that Maxine has been generating on the Broadway stage to mark their mutual paths to fame and glory.

Unfortunately, their dreams are threatened by official demands to testify about "Un-American activities" as the McCarthy blacklist era begins. Can Hazel and Maxine stay true to their bonds of friendships as well as their professional goals, despite the pressure building from all sides?

This sounds intensely intriguing and I won't be surprised to see a few modern day parallels in this tale of attempted repression of artistic women:



To round out my library loan picks, I went with another debut mystery novel that is starting off a fresh new series and from the looks of it, this is one that I'm definitely going to like.

Marty Wingate's The Bodies in the Library is set in Bath, England as new  curator of The First Edition Society, Hayley Burke, discovers that the world of books is not as safe as one would think.

In addition to not having read any of the classic mystery titles in the collection that she's in charge of, Hayley also has to deal with a cranky co-worker and a local fan fiction writers' group that she has allowed to use the FES quarters who keep fighting among themselves about the proper way to add vampires or zombies to the works of Agatha Christie.

When the group leader is found dead one morning in the FES library, Hayley finds inspiration from Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library to find the killer before things get more out of hand. While she may not be a Miss Marple, Hayley may turn out to be a true detective in the making. I'm already reading this book and it's quite the Christie inspired cup of tea indeed:


When I arrived home, laden with books, there was a nice surprise in my mailbox from LibraryThing. LT does a monthly giveaway of upcoming titles and I won a copy of Little Wonders by Kate Rorick, best known for the Diary of Lizzie Bennet webseries tie-in novels.

When determined super mom Quinn Barrett unleashes her anger at her pre-school age son for not wanting to wear the homemade Halloween costume she created for him in public, she never expected that meltdown to become a viral sensation.

Newcomer Daisy Stone took the video but only meant to share it with her best friend back in California as a private joke. Instead, that slip of Quinn's perfect persona mask has taken on an internet life of it's own, making the once envied suburban diva the talk of the town.

While Daisy's unconventional ways make her reluctant to admit her part in this slow moving mess, she can't help but to reach out to Quinn, who's struggling to regain what sense of self she has left. This take on modern motherhood seems to be mixed with humor and heartbreak yet with a strong dose of unlikely friendship that should make for a solid good read. The book is due out in March and I think it'll be one to watch out for there.

Well, I do have quite a bit of reading on my hands, with the Winter's Respite readathon(reading two books at once for that one!), plus my Series-ous Reading and preparing for a review of Sanditon next week. No rest for the page turning wicked there!

Considering the cold weather on the way and the current news headlines, I think that a good book or two or more is the right choice for my entertainment needs(especially after the disappointing Oscar nominations, which I'll discuss later on) at this time.

For the moment, my first of many library hauls this year is off to a good start and the biggest decision on that score is long book or short book? At least that's a fun choice to make!:


Friday, January 03, 2020

Ringing in a New Year of Series-ous Reading

Welcome back, friends, for another year of Series-ous Reading where I talk about various books from established series and before we begin with the new, I must wrap up last year's list with the last book I read for that purpose.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary is the first title in author Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope novels which are set in England during WWII. Maggie was born there but grew up in America, due to both of her parents being killed in a car crash when she was a baby.

She was raised by her aunt in Boston and encouraged in her studies yet when word came of her grandmother's passing and her house in London in need of selling for any sort of inheritance, Maggie went over overseas to do just that. However, the escalation of the impending war with Germany made her hard for her to find a buyer so Maggie decided to take in a few roommates and see how she could help the war effort.

Despite her incredible math skills, the only solid position she could get in the government(thanks to some help from her good friend David) was as a replacement secretary to Winston Churchill. Seems that the former occupant of that position met with a rather deadly end.

Regardless of her disappointment, Maggie takes on the job and finds that while Churchill is a rough talker, he's also incredibly clever and even has a bit of a sense of humor about him, making those long hours of work at 10 Downing Street far more bearable there:


As the bombing raids in London begin, Maggie and her friends, such as Paige, her favorite roommate and best friend from college back in the US and Chuck, who is engaged to a solider headed for the front lines, do their best to keep their spirits up.

However, when a raid strikes down one of their own, Maggie becomes more determined to be of real use.

She spots a potential secret code in a newspaper ad for women's fashion(the skirt has a strangely sequential design of dots and dashes) and tries to bring this espionage in open sight to the attention of others in the department yet is politely but firmly shut down.

 Nonetheless, she is intent on finding the truth and as it turns out, there is a hidden secret regarding her family's past that leads her down an unexpected path of spies and secret plots that threaten the nation. I don't want to say more than that as this book is an entertainingly engaging adventure with characters that are well rounded and suspenseful plot points that keep those pages a-turning.

What I liked the most about this story was Maggie, a smart, capable woman who stayed on point despite being underestimated by the men around her and who was a good friend even to those who betrayed her trust. In truth, this reminded me of the short lived TV show Agent Carter, which really should've stayed on the air for longer than it did. Fortunately, Maggie Hope seems to have more staying power in print:


So, yes, my last Series-ous Reading of 2019 was a wonderful treat and for this new bookish bout in 2020, the next entry in the Maggie Hope series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, is part of the literary line-up.

In fact, that book is part of a special category called Second Acts, which will highlight those crucial follow-ups to the debut novel in a book series. The first one may set up shop but the second steadies the balance for more to come.

Along with Princess Elizabeth's Spy, the second book selections include Dying For Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson and A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody, plus another book that I'll get to in a moment.

 Speaking of Frances Brody, I plan to read more of her Kate Shackleton series such as Death of an Avid Reader, A Woman Unknown and Murder in the Afternoon. Having read a later book in her series set in post WWI England about a lady photographer who becomes a detective last year, I thought it would be right to catch up on her other mystery entries as well. Also, I have more of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson stories to read as my mom has gone far ahead of me on that score!

For now, my first Series-ous Reading selection of 2020 is the second book in the Agatha Raisin mysteries from the late great author M.C. Beaton, Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet.

Sadly, Ms. Beaton(aka Marion Chesney) passed away on New Year's Eve at the age of 83. Before the Agatha Raisin books, she was well known for her Hamish Macbeth detective series,which also became a popular TV series in the UK much like the Raisin books are right now.

She also wrote a number of historical romances and mysteries under various pen names such as Charlotte Ward, Ann Fairfax and Jennie Tremaine. In total, she had over 160 books published during her lifetime and many of her colleagues describe her as a witty, warm hearted yet no nonsense lady who they felt honored to know. As a very new reader , I send my condolences to her loved ones and wish them some peace of mind during such a sorrowful time.

I hope to do justice to my write-up on the second Agatha Raisin novel, which I've already started, and perhaps I might try some of the Hamish Macbeth books,too. For now, Agatha's continuing adventures as  the city savvy country sleuth are a great way to get this new year of Series-ous Reading started:


Monday, December 30, 2019

Setting up a New Year's brunch of new books for the start of 2020

It seems that we're just about done with 2019(thank goodness!) and apart from a tasty brunch to look forward to, a new book is the perfect thing to get your brand new year started.

Of course, my preferred brunch would be made up of books and this short yet savory list of upcoming reads for January and February of 2020 promises to be an appetizing menu for good reading indeed:


FEASTING ON HISTORICAL FICTION:

 Marie Benedict brings forth another overlooked lady of history with Lady Clementine, best known to many as the wife of Winston Churchill. Their marriage was a true partnership with Clementine helping her husband weather many a political storm even before he became Prime Minister.

With her assistance, Winston was encouraged to make major social changes such as support for the women's suffragette movement as well as crafting many of the speeches he gave to rally support from the government and the people.

However, balancing her family life with working with Winston was a real challenge, particularly as WWII loomed ever closer. Nonetheless, she persisted for the betterment of all. This engaging novel ought to be an enlightening surprise to those who think of Winston Churchill as a one man show-rather, he was the more prominent face of a dynamic duo that worked together to save the world(January):



In Allison Pataki's The Queen's Fortune, our leading lady is Desiree Clary, whose destiny becomes entwined with that of future ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

While her sister Julie is engaged to his brother Joseph, Desiree is swept off her feet by Napoleon, who promises to make her his bride. However, during his rise to power, she is supplanted by the older yet glamorous Josephine who eventually takes her place by his side upon the throne.

As Desiree stays within his social circle by marrying one of his  most valuable generals, Napoleon's ascent and ultimate fall from glory is witnessed by her to the bitter end. Pataki does have a flair for royal drama and this look at a potential queen cast aside promises to be a popcorn worthy page turner(February):


RIVETING SLICES OF RESISTANCE:



Gish Jen brings us to a not-too-distant future in her upcoming novel, The Resisters, where teen baseball star Gwen decides to use a golden opportunity to change her status for the better.

 As a member of The Surplus in AutoAmerica, she has no decent quality of life, unlike the ruling class known as The Netted. Her skills at pitching have caught the eye of a Netted recruiter who thinks she's their best bet to beat ChinRussia's team.

That chance would mean Gwen leaving her old friends behind, such as Ondi, who was punished by the government for sharing what they considered to be "forbidden" information online, as well as her family that resists the new way of the world as they sadly try to recall what life was like before. Will she do what is best for her or best for the next generation to come?

Gish Jen seems to be moving in a new direction with her work here and that sounds great, especially if we get an Orwellian take on A League of Their Own out of this creative change-up(Feb).

 
Megan Angelo's debut novel The Followers starts off in 2015 as celebrity reporter Orla makes a new online star out of her vapid roommate Floss. The instant success goes right to their heads but a bizarre accident called The Spill changes their lives, along with the rest of the world, for good.

By 2051, there are state sponsored celebrities whose lives are scripted for the entertainment of the internet masses and one of them, Marlow, decides to do a little research into her own backstory before tackling the pregnancy story line that's been issued to her.

As it turns out, Marlow's past is connected to Orla and Floss, making her rethink everything that her publicly viewed life has become. Will she be able to find her own tale to tell or forced to stick to the script no matter what? Angelo offers us a new way to examine our media obsessed and tech dominated culture with clever use of heart and mind(Jan.):


SAVORING THE FLAVOR OF MYSTERY:


It's nice to be at the start of a new cozy mystery series and Ellery Adams already has the third entry in The Secret, Book and Scone Society series ready for the new year.

In The Book of Candlelight, the residents of Miracle Springs are doing their best with the torrential rains in their area that are causing the local inns to be overcrowded with travelers left stranded by flood waters.

Book shop owner Nora decides to help out, not to mention drum up a little business, and while she's eager to assist, the watery discovery of a dead body has her calling in her trio of good friends to find a killer.

The deceased is Danny, a pottery maker whose accidental death is anything but that. The clues to his demise may be linked to a rather old diary and the mysterious Inn of Mist and Roses, that takes Nora and company down a dangerous lane of inquiry that could put them all at risk. However, even the most sinister situations can be conquered with good, well meaning friends on hand and Adams provides that enchanting element in abundance(Jan):

 

 Happy New Year to all and I'll see you on the other side of the calendar page soon. There are so many wonderful stories to look forward to in 2020, both on and off screen, and while we have quite a bit of strife to go through, books can offer us plenty of hopeful heroes and heroines to inspire our journey together.

Speaking of heroines, I know that one of my all-time favorites will be returning to the silver screen with her golden lasso charged up and prepared for the necessary throwdown to come. With any luck, I'll be among the movie going crowds ready to cheer her on this summer:












Friday, December 27, 2019

Preparing to start a new year with a Winter's Respite readathon

Welcome back, folks, and I hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season as much as I am. As the new year approaches, there are plans to be made and mine begin with books, naturally.

To get things off to a fine start in 2020, Seasons of Reading(hosted by Michelle Miller) will have the Winter's Respite readathon for the whole month of January.

There is still plenty of time to sign up if you're interested and while fiction of all sorts  is strongly encouraged, nonfiction titles are perfectly fine as well. It's a nice relaxed way to join a few like minded friends in tackling your overgrowing TBR lists and/or your pile of holiday gift books.

My list includes some lovely novels that arrived under my Christmas tree along with one that I'll be reviewing for a blog tour related to Jane Austen and PBS. That last one may not be as easy to guess as you might think....

SANDITON: Yes, this is the upcoming PBS Masterpiece miniseries set to start on January 12 but this edition is not the unfinished work by Jane Austen. This book is a novelization of the Sanditon screenplay that was written by Andrew Davies(who also provides a foreword here) from author Kate Riordan.

As an uncompleted novel, which Austen was working on until her sad passing, there is much speculation as to what direction she might have taken it, given that the setting of the story was unlike any other in her prior books.

The title refers to a seaside town where locals such as the ambitious Tom Parker hope to expand their businesses and visitors like Charlotte Heywood and Georgiana Lambe seek their futures either with or without a romantic partner in tow.

I've been looking forward to this miniseries for months now and was very happy to be asked by Laurel Ann of Austenprose to take part in the blog tour for Riordan's adaptation.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the publisher who not only sent me a review copy of the novelization but the companion book, The World of Sanditon, to boot! I've already started reading that one and it's a delightful preview of the series as well as a nice refresher course in all things Jane Austen.

This indeed is a lovely way to start the new year and what better hostess than Jane Austen to make an old story feel so brand new:


THE WEDDING PARTY: Jasmine Guillory's third book pairs up a most unlikely couple-Theo and Maddie, who can't stand each other yet are willing to get along momentarily for the sake of their mutual friend Alexa.

That common bond leads them to a romantic encounter that lasts longer that either one of them expected it to. With Alexa's wedding approaching, Maddie and Theo decide to keep their possible relationship under wraps until then.

However, that secrecy is putting a strain on their personal and professional lives, leaving them both to wonder if keeping this secret is really worth all of the trouble.

I have to confess that due to having read the book that comes after this(Royal Holiday, which features Maddie's mother Vivian) already that I do know where this ends up. That doesn't mean that just because I know where the ultimate destination for these two characters is, I have no interest in their journey there. On the contrary, my curiosity is quite peaked, to say the least:


THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK: The leading lady of the title from Kim Michele Richardson is Cussy Mary Carter, a young woman living in Kentucky of 1936.

She has signed up for the Pack Horse Library Project, an idea that emerged from the New Deal in Washington, that intends to bring literature to those in rural areas. Due to her blue skin(a rare hereditary condition), Cussy has been made to feel isolated in her community but the book deliveries bring her more in contact with the world around her,allowing a few new friends to be made as well.

While the possibility of finding the cause of her skin condition and the chance for a new life are offered up to Cussy, she still has plenty of roadblocks in the way towards her future happiness,especially a wrathful preacher who unjustly blames her for the death of a relation.

This story has had a lot of good word of mouth, plus the Pack Horse Project was a real thing which makes this all the more intriguing to check out:



THE CHOCOLATE MAKER'S WIFE: Author Karen Brooks introduces us to Rosemund, who is living in the Restoration era of England and very willing to enter into an arranged marriage with a much older man in order to leave her disruptive household.

Her new husband ,Sir Everald Blithman, is happy to have her be the hostess of his new chocolate house which serves steaming hot sweet beverages to the elite. While Rosemund is eager to prove her worth, she soon discovers the true reason that Sir Everald wanted her as his wife.

As it turns out, Rosemund bears a striking resemblance to Helena, Blithman's late daughter who married Matthew Lovelace, a man that Everard considers his nemesis. This plan to irk his former son-in-law promises to backfire on him as Rosemund is less than thrilled to be a pawn in either man's privately declared war and has her own agenda in mind for the future of the chocolate house and those who benefit or suffer by it's merits.

This blend of historical fiction with the development of commercial chocolate sounds deliciously page turning and should go well with a nice cup of warm cocoa on the cold nights to come:


The Winter's Respite readathon begins on January 1st and lasts until the end of the month and while you can begin or end when you want to here, it is more fun to share this bookish time with good friends, in my opinion. Also, this is a great way to extend the holiday season-don't take those lights down yet, you may need them to read by!:


Monday, December 23, 2019

Some holiday tunes to set off the season right!

It's become a regular tradition here at LRG to put up a playlist for Christmas and since today is the day before the night before the big event, some seasonal tunes are in order, I do believe.

I also want to wish a Happy Chanukah to those out there who have just begun their celebrations, along with a Happy Winter Solstice greeting which may be a little late there and an advance Happy Kwanzaa(which starts on the 26th).

Yes, this Christmas jukebox post is also a herald for a small blog break but I do intend to have a post or two up before the end of the year(got a nice book preview for early winter 2020 in the works!).
For now, let's put on some music to dance around the tree with:

One of my favorite Christmas songs from the modern era is "Christmas In Hollis" from Run-DMC, a song that not only has a fun video to go with it but fits wells into so many other moments of media.

From being a contribution to the first A Very Christmas fundraising album to popping up on TV shows such as The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and making appearances in holiday themed films like the should-be-undisputed classic Die Hard, this hip-hop tribute to Santa Claus has my spirits chilling just like a snowman:



Speaking of great movies, I felt that having an Elton John number would be the best way to honor one of the best movies that I saw this year(three times, as a matter of fact!).

It's wonderful to see Rocketman get some award show attention so far and hopefully, that will extend to some Oscar love early in the new year. For now, we ought to just be happy enough to "Step into Christmas" with the one and only Elton Hercules John:


I'm not a big podcast listener but this year, I have been enjoying Song Vs. Song  which is co-hosted by YouTube reviewer Todd in the Shadows and SyFy's Dany Roth. The basic concept is that they put up a pair of songs to debate the merits of such as "You Oughta Know" and "Criminal", with folks on their Patreon getting to vote for the winner.

Well, they did a holiday episode and the fight was between "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"(Rudolph won, of course). During their discussion, a number of cover versions of each song were mentioned and while it's oddly interesting to hear Fiona Apple sing "Frosty", I do agree with Dany that Kacey Musgraves has a good take on "Rudolph", very playlist worthy:



Another great cover version of a childhood classic is "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" from the Pointer Sisters. Their rendition of the song debuted on the A Very Special Christmas album(the first one was the best, in my opinion) and there are none to rival it.

Yes, I know others have done a good job with this number, even the evergreen holiday diva Mariah Carey, but the energy and joy that singing siblings Ruth, Anita and June gave to the song were hard to beat.

These days, Ruth has teamed up with her nieces Issa and Sadako to continue the group and while it's not quite the same, the heartfelt family vibe is very much alive there:


As an end piece, I went with the closing credits song from Scrooged and while it may not be thought of as a Christmas tune, I firmly believe that it counts. Especially as we are all entering a most uncertain new year indeed, the idea of "Put a Little Love in your Heart" seems to be truly fitting.

So, Happy Holidays, folks and see you all soon before the season ends:


Monday, December 16, 2019

Miss Emma Woodhouse invites you to a Jane Austen birthday party!

For many of us, Jane Austen's birthday is an early Christmas present as that good lady was kind enough to enter the world in December of 1775(making this the 244th celebration of her life and works).

As an Austen fan myself, I do enjoy honoring her special day and for this year's party, one of her finest leading ladies who has the distinction of having her particular story named after her, Emma, is the perfectly proper hostess for this occasion.

While I may not be as taken with Miss Woodhouse as many of my fellow Austenians are, I have grown to appreciate her numerous good qualities along with watching the various film/TV adaptations of her tale over the years. For this year's entertainment, let us take a look at some of those excellent visual visits to Emma's home of Highbury:


My favorite of the adaptations is the 1996 made for TV version starring Kate Beckinsale, who fully embodies the headstrong heroine in my mind.

The supporting cast has plenty of wonderful British actors such as Mark Strong who plays a rather firm yet endearing Mr. Knightley, a youthful Samantha Morton as eager to please Harriet Smith and Bernard Hepton makes for a delightfully nervous Mr. Woodhouse.

In fact, Hepton had played an Austen father figure before this production in a BBC miniseries of Mansfield Park(with Samantha Bond as his daughter Maria, who shows up here as Miss Taylor/Mrs.Weston). A nice little bonus there for British TV admirers!

With a script by Andrew Davies, who made a few welcome changes such as harvest dance to wrap the story up, and the film folk who made the quite successful Pride & Prejudice series featuring a certain wet shirted actor, this take on Emma is uniformly charming. I usually watch it around this time of year as I do consider Emma to be a Christmas movie(it does have a pivotal plot point during a Christmas party outing) and a birthday treat all in one:


Also in 1996, a theatrical edition of Emma was released with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role, Toni Collette as Harriet and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.

Granted, I'm not a big fan of this film but I do credit writer/director Douglas McGrath for having a nice flair for the comedic tones of the original novel.

Not to mention that many of the casting choices that were made, with Alan Cumming as the eternally ingratiating Mr. Elton, Ewan McGregor as the deceptively delightful Frank Churchill and Juliet Stevenson as the inevitably obnoxious Mrs. Elton, were well suited for the humorous themes focused on here.

It's also an elegant looking film, with even small scenes being brought to vivid life with rich colors and smartly selected settings that kept your eye most agreeably engaged:


One of the best modern adaptations was the web series Emma Approved, created by the same folks who gave us The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and this online saga also won an Emmy just like LBD did.

Joanna Sotomura's performance as Emma Woodhouse, lifestyle coach, is instantly appealing and her co-stars are a fine fit as well. Brent Bailey as her Mr. Knightley is a real charmer here.

What I really liked about this series(which had a brief revival last year) was how well they updated the story to a 21 century time period, with Harriet being Emma's office assistant, a sweetly shy gal with musical talent, Robert Martin turned into IT guy Bobby and Miss Bates as Maddie Bates , a family friend with a small accounting business of her own.

Out of all of the portrayals of Miss Bates, the well meaning yet incredibly chatty neighbor who can't resist praising her beloved niece Jane Fairfax to the skies, I truly adore this incarnation of her with a oddly flavored jam making hobby and keen financial sense:


While the most recent Emma adaptation in 2009 wasn't everything I hoped for,  I did find great pleasure in seeing  Jonny Lee Miller play Mr. Knightley.

Miller not only has wonderful chemistry with Romola Garai(who does a lovely version of Emma Woodhouse in this series), he is no stranger to Jane Austen country.

He's appeared in two versions of Mansfield Park, the first a small role as one of Fanny Price's little brothers in the 1983 BBC miniseries(the only decent adaptation of the book so far, in my opinion) and the other as Edmund Bertram in the eyebrow raising 1999 movie.

 His talents are better served in this version of Emma, making a perfect partner for Miss Woodhouse to match her considerable wits against here:


 To conclude this Emma themed party, we have the early gift of a fresh new film due out in 2020, with Anna Taylor-Joy as our handsome, rich and clever heroine. With any luck, this movie will set off a wave of Jane Austen interest that will sustain us throughout the year.

Happy birthday, Miss Austen, and thank you ever so much for creating such amazing female characters  in print that generation after generation can't resist reviving for us on screens big and small: