Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Respectable Trade makes a remarkable read

Sometimes,when you're in abit of a reading slump,it helps to just grab the first book off one of your To Be Read piles and plunge right in. I just did that and am still riveted to the pages of Philippa Gregory's A Respectable Trade,which tells the story of Frances Scott,a fallen on hard times lady of the gentry who makes a marriage of convience with ambitious Bristol trader,Josiah Cole. Josiah met Frances while interviewing for a governess who was meant to train newly arrived slaves from Africa the English language and manners in order to sell them as specially trained household servants. One of the captives,Mehuru(who was a government envoy and priest back home in Yoruba)is already proficent in several languages and becomes the inpromptu leader of the group. Eventually,he and Frances fall in love.

There are other complications;Josiah is banking on his wife's family connections to help him become more established with the upper class merchants to increase his business which frightens his sister Sarah,who was once his business confident and head of the household. Mehuru eventually joins with a group of Abolitionists who are seeking to have slavery banned in England but the chances of defeating the influence of the monied tradesmen and noblity seems slim. Frances' health is delicate and with her life at risk by not moving to a better climate,Mehuru's feelings towards her become apparent to many of those around him.

Before you start thinking that is some Mandingo type of story,hold on there. Gregory's books are well thought out historical novels,rich with character depth and never resorting to sleaze. She's not one to quickly demonize her characters either-Josiah,for example,is a likable fellow who truly cares for his wife and has the right idea about making his business grow but unfortunately doesn't have the savvy or the street smarts to know when he's in over his head. Frances wishes to follow her heart but is not used to expressing her true feelings as well as getting over the many prejudices she has acquired from her limited knowledge of the world.

The brutal nature of both the treatment of slaves and life in 1787 Bristol are not downplayed at all. Gregory went to Gambia as part of her research for the book and sponsors a charity group called Gardens For the Gambia that is dedicated to building wells and providing agriculture for rural schools(if you wish to know more,just click the title link to reach Philippa Gregory's website). She was born in Kenya and came to England when she was two where she grew up in Bristol,so you can see this novel has quite abit of her own personal interests invested in it.

A Respectable Trade came out in 1996 and was made into a BBC miniseries(which I'd love to see but might wait for DVD release). It's not as well known in the US as Gregory's series about English noblewoman such as The Other Boleyn Girl,Queen's Fool and most recently,The Constant Princess,but it should be. I hope that with more and more of her books getting reprints and reissues(such as the Wideacre books),that RT can make a comeback. You can buy used copies or get a UK edition like I did but it would be nice to have it readily available to hand to a good friend and say"Hey,you gotta read this-you'll love it,I swear!" The next best thing I can do here is to give
A Respectable Trade a big ol'blogger push into the spotlight.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Here we go again

When I went to see the new X-Men movie,I noticed at the multiplex a number of signs letting the patrons know that a trailer for the upcoming Oliver Stone 9/11 movie,World Trade Center,would be shown before The Da Vinci Code with scenes that might be upsetting to many viewers. First off,I was glad to see the sensitivity being taken by the theaters(someone learned from the United 93 trailer protest) and then,when I left,I decided to see if the WTC trailer was online and sure enough,it was.

I've seen it twice so far and I think it's more unsettling than the U93 one-I didn't see the other film but did think it was a good call on the filmmaker's part to not cast any Hollywood actors and to take a docudrama approach to the subject. Here,you have Nic Cage with a stylized mustache and stiffer than wood acting mode portraying a police officer who becomes trapped in the WTC(along with another officer)while saving citizens. There isn't a shot of the planes hitting the Towers but there is a scene where the shadow of a plane flashs by before impact and folks reacting to a thud in an office nearby.

Cage's character is then seen driving towards the area,saying things like"there's no plan for this...something this big" and then asking for volunteers to join him in getting people out of the building,with a slight pause before three guys step up. The worst part is seeing the lobby of the WTC collapse and people trapped under the rubble. I won't describe any more of it(there's a link to the trailer in the title above,if you want to check it out for yourself)but will say that there's tons of violin music used shamelessly to make emotional highpoints even more glaring.

The film is supposed to be based on the true story of two officers and I don't know what their families think about all of this but I don't trust Oliver Stone here at all. It looks to me as if to avoid the usual rap Stone gets about adding his own spin to any of his movies based on real life events,he might be bending over backwards to heap on plenty of Hollywood style "reverence" for the subject which is pretty damn condescending to me. I could be wrong but this is the impression that I'm getting from just this promotional peek at the movie.

I don't have a personal vendetta against Stone-he's made some great films. I do think,however,that alot of the prestige he recieved after Platoon went directly to his head and that he thinks he can do no wrong. A good book to read that showcases that attitude is Killer Instinct by Jane Hamsher,one of the producers of Natural Born Killers. Jane tells all about the craziness of making NBK(any film set where Robert Downey Jr. is the most well behaved person there gives you a clue as to what kind of atmosphere it was)with Stone whose idea of research for the film involved going on a peyote buying trip with the crew. Jane also doesn't paint a pretty picture about Quentin Tarantino either but she does point out her own mistakes and bad judgement calls so I'm willing to take her word here.

I do believe,as I've said before in an earlier post,that it's much too soon to have film versions of 9/11- a major part of the horror that day was seeing it live on TV and it's going to be a long time before anyone can look at those images and be able to not have an emotional reaction. People will see this movie out of curiosity and I just hope that it doesn't open any more wounds than it has to.

Monday, May 29, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand...or is it?

Little Sister and I hit the multiplex this weekend to catch the newest Marvel movie adaptation,X-Men:The Last Stand(formerly known as X-Men 3). The theater we went to had to finish up an earlier showing of the She-Ra movie before the commericals and the army of trailers. I found it to be a fun bonus feature while Little Sis was stunned at the cheesy animation(she did find He-Man's single tear as he said goodbye to "She-Ra,Princess of Power!" funny as did quite a few members of the audience). I'll get to the trailers later,now let's discuss the main feature.

First,the tone of this film is much more rock'em-sock'em than the Bryan Singer versions but not without it's charms. One of the strengths of XM:TLS is the keeping together of the original cast members,particularly Hugh Jackman. He never seems to be taking the easy way out in his performance or at all bored with the character. On the contary,he keeps the heart and soul of the storyline going,making you truly care about the fate of the world now that Jean Grey has returned from a watery grave as the Phoenix,an alternate personality with fierce psychic powers that also holds a grudge against Professor Xavier,since he unwittingly helped to create Phoenix in the first place. Dum Dum Dum!(needed a dramatic music beat there).

Yes,we get a taste of the well known and beloved Dark Phoenix storyline that all comic book fans will no doubt be debating as to how well it was done here on many forums thru out the land. While it would've been better explored as the main plot focus,we do get some chilling scenes as Phoenix/Jean Grey wrecks a nasty path of destruction with some unexpected casualities. At one point,both Little Sister and I were reminded of the season six finale of Buffy-very much"I love crayon breaky Jean and I love scary, veiny Jean".

The other storyline of the mutant"cure" adds a few more mutants to the playing field and while many were undeveloped(the Morlock characters seemed to have gotten a Hot Topic fashion makeover),others were able to stand out such as Kelsey Grammer's Beast and Kitty Pryde played by Ellen Page(the third actress to play Kitty and the only one to actually have some dialogue). A love triangle between Kitty,Iceman and Rogue is hinted at but not fully tapped into,leaving me with even more conviction that,despite the subtitle,this is not the "last" of the X-Men movies by a long shot.

The real question is,do we want another X-Men film? Judging by the box office so far,the answer is hell,yes! with about $107 million to date. Jackman has said he'd like to do a Wolverine movie and Halle Berry seems to want out of this series(fine with me,she's been adequate at best). Plenty of hints were dropped with the subtlety of bricks as to a follow-up and if a decent script and director were lined up,it might be worth it. Bret Ratner is not as savvy as Sam Raimi or Singer but he didn't totally fumble the ball on this one. Regardless,I would like to see someone else step up to the plate for the next go-round. We got lucky this time but if the X-Men series wants to go into extra innnings,I wouldn't want the guy that made Red Dragon calling the shots here again.

As to the trailers,the ones that stood out were Superman Returns(which looks better and better every time I see it),Nacho Libre and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. I really want to like Super Ex-Girlfriend but it does look a tad forced. Uma's character comes off more like a supervillian than a hero and what's with throwing a shark into Luke Wilson's bedroom? I can buy tossing his car across town but a shark? There's a real obvious joke to be made there but I'll let you fill the blanks on your own. It's a smart move to showcase Rainn Wilson's part in the movie but I have my doubts about Super Ex-Girlfriend. Might be best to wait for DVD rental on that one.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Linda Berdoll:Nortorious or just a little naughty?

Linda Berdoll doesn't look like the scandalous type but to many Jane Austen fans,she might as well be parading about in a scarlet red dress,causing folks to spread whispered remarks thru out the room. She is the author of Mr.Darcy Takes a
Wife(formerly known as The Bar Sinister)and Darcy & Elizabeth: Nights and Days at Pemberley,books that dare to suggest a rather steamy love life for everyone's all time favorite couple from Pride and Prejudice. Having read a few Jane Austen inspired novels and sequels of varying tones before,I was curious to check out these tomes that cause so much tongue clucking.

The first book was originally self-published and gained it's share of fans and naysayers. I can honestly say that while I wouldn't nominate Ms. Berdoll for that New York Times list of greatest American fiction(which is a dubious honor in some respects),she's not the wicked temptress out to sully Our Dear Jane's good name either. In fact,her books are lively,entertaining romps that,for the more open minded Austen fan,can be a welcome addition to their bedside reading table.

One thing I noticed right away about Berdoll's books was the realistic take she goes with not only the major characters but the supporting cast as well. She doesn't shy away from describing some of the hard circumstances and poverty many of her newer characters come from and bringing those in the servant class out into the spotlight. Berdoll has said that she was inspired by the BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries written by Andrew Davies who also slips in touches of class struggles in his adaptations. It's a strong hallmark of her work that makes her stand out from the crowd.

Also,there's many fun bits of humor-one of my favorite scenes has Lydia gleefully telling her about-to-be-married sisters the pleasures of the wedding night. Some of the words she uses may be shocking(or not)but it's really not that hard to image Lydia Bennett doing this while Lizzie rolls her eyes at her boasts. Mr. Collins pops up as well for some comic relief as do Mrs. Bennett but they don't distract for long. The main focus here is the developing relation between Elizabeth and Darcy who struggle to know each other better,keep their household in order and enjoy all the aspects of the love they share,not unlike many married couples in real life.

As to the sex,it's not some sleazy fanfiction at all-if either of these books became a movie,the rating would be an R or a PG-13,depending on your standards. If the very idea of joining the Darcys in their bedchamber is startling,then this is not your cup of tea. However,if you don't mind some passionate prose,then by all means do indulge yourself by plunging into these pages. Don't just skip ahead to find the "naughty" parts-you'll miss out on some good storytelling that way.

The new book,Darcy & Elizabeth,has dealing with the birth of twins and the interference of Lady Catherine(who must have her share of the conversation!). It does start off at a slower pace than MDTAW but is definately worth taking the time for. It is best to have read Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife first so my advice to have them both on hand for some excellant holiday reading. Nevermind watching those Desparate Housewives reruns-give yourself a real treat with these back-to-back riveting reimagings of Jane Austen's best loved romantic couple(just click the title link above for more details). It also gives you a good excuse to reread Pride and Prejudice yet again,which it makes it all worth while.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A New American Idol,The First Top Chef and another book contest

Well,at last,it's over for now-we have our American Idol and his name is Taylor Hicks. Despite the fact that I would've preferred Chris and Paris to be the Final Two,it's so good to see a guy like Taylor win. Yes,he's as wacky as wacky can be and would be voted Most Likely To Goofy Dance At A Family Wedding but that just makes him more human. It's great to see a regular person who doesn't fit into the usual cookie cutter pop star mold hit the bigtime.

That being said,was this finale show insanely over the top or what? I don't know what is but celebs are drawn to AI like flies to a barbecue. If they're not sitting in the audience(I confess to having a Whedonverse moment seeing David Boreanaz with his son clapping together),they're onstage or doing skits. The "Puck "N Pickler" bits were a bit too Hee Haw for my taste. I'm not Southern but when Kellie fell off of her chair,trying to run away from the live lobsters on the table,I felt embarassed for her.

Also,that duet with Meatloaf and Kat was horrible. It was like watching a Mack truck collide with a sportscar and then seeing them both burst into flames,with people struggling to crawl away from the wreckage. That surpise duet with the real Clay Aiken and the obnoxious wannabe was nicely staged(didn't recognize Clay right away-he really had some major hair styling done there). It was cool to bring back some of the almost rans for some stage time-yay,BrokeNote Cowboys!

The best moment of the night was Prince,performing on his own with only two backup singer gals. Prince is the only star I know of today that can comb his hair while singing and still be totally badass. Also,he was being the Prince we love the most,the sexy song Prince,not the preachy,boring Musicology guy. Maybe he'll be an advisor next year-Prince night would be a good theme.

Another winner was crowned last night-Harold is now Top Chef! I was so happy to see two good guys who deserved to win actually win. Tiffani's attitude is what did her in. She was ambitious in doubling up her menu but cold as ice to everyone,not to mention trying to take all the credit for Dave's dessert(which she did NOT "discuss with him at length"). Not cool,Zeus!

It was really telling that not only did three out of four of the former contestants want to work with Harold on the final challenge but afterwards,all four of then agreed that he should win. Tiffani seemed to think Harold conspired against her with that"my back just met your knife" comment but his look of confusion at that remark was genuine. Harold has always been a stand-up guy thru out the whole show and stood by his fellow chefs and taken responsiblity for any mishaps. He's the kind of boss any one would want to work for,in any field. Best of luck to him and I hope to eat at his restaurant one day soon.

I mentioned in my Fall reading post that there was a sweepstakes for a book I was interested in and now I find out that one of the ones I have is holding a trivia contest with advanced copies as the prize. If you click the title link above,you'll be at the Interpretation Of Murder website where you can get your chance to sign up to win as well as find out more about this rather intriguing book. Winning is fun but even tho it's not everything,it's worth trying for. Sometimes,the nice guy finishs first.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Can you judge a movie by it's poster?

There are many ways to decide if a particular movie is right for you-who's in it,who the director is,how the trailer looks,is there a Happy Meal tie-in and if so, is the toy cool?

We all know the old saying"You can't judge a book by it's cover" but nobody's ever applied that to movie posters. Sure,a bad film can have a cool poster and vice versa yet another thing to consider is what do the makers of this film think of their target audience? Let's look at a few samples of upcoming movie art:

The Lake House is supposed to be one of those"lovers separated by magical means" movies but frankly,I think Keanu looks like a vampire in this picture. Check out his over the shoulder pose and how extra scary and pale b&w makes him look. Too bad the Lestat musical is closing down because Matrix Boy would blend into that cast nicely!

You just gotta admire the subtlety here: scary little boy on swing with big monster dog at his side and oh,gee,is that an upside down cross I spot there? Not to mention all those references to the number 666-do you think this movie is about some kind of Antichrist or something? Didn't they already make a half dozen of these movies years ago,back in the ancient times of the 1970s? There must be a new angle here-oh,wait of course,Mia Farrow's in the movie! Yeah,Rosemary's Baby Momma,that doesn't reek of stunt casting...not!

I know Nic Cage is the star of Ghost Rider(even saw the trailer online)but my guess here is that the studio wanted to draw in the die hard comic book fans with a cool image of the hero rather than remind them of the actor under the CGI. Is it just me or does the pointed end weapon on GR's look a tad...well,the phrase"ribbed for her pleasure" comes to mind. Oh,I'm a bad,bad,very bad person...let's move on,shall we?

You know,in some ways,I'm already sick of hearing about this movie and it's not even being advertised that much. The poster says it all,don't even need to mention any of the actors in the movie since we all know Samuel L. Jackson's the star. That logo for some reason makes me think of the G.I. Joe cartoons back in the '80s. I wouldn't be suprised if someone from C.O.B.R.A. just popped in at one point to cheer the snakes on.

Okay,this freaks me out-the hands coming out of nowhere theme is pretty much a classic standard by now but whoa,Nelly! I'm not sure who's the one getting dragged into hell and beyond there(might be Kristen Bell who is in the movie,too bad it's not Lindsay Lohan-she deserves some payback for Just My Luck)but it's definately not a position you'd want to be in,ever. Got to admit,quite a spooky image there. Hopefully,the movie will deliver on it's promise.

If this is any indication of what the Oliver Stone version of 9/11 is going to be like,he should just do everyone a favor and just walk into a theater and start smacking the audience members in the face with a bag of bricks. It would be a hell of a lot faster,plus the crowd would get a fair shot at repaying him in kind. Nic Cage is in this one,too and yet,his face is nowhere to seen again-coincidence or conspiracy? You decide!

I want to end this post on a positive note so here's a look at the Pirates of the Carribean 2 poster. This is a movie that says"we know what you liked last time,so here's more of the same,plus a sea monster!" There better be a sea monster otherwise that giant tentacle rising from the waters is a total tease. I wasn't crazy about the first film(it was too damn long and the only thing that elevated it from your standard Disney Channel fare was Depp's performance designed mainly to amuse himself)and doubt that I'll see this one onscreen but you must admire the confidence on display here. You have the three leads front and center,a prominant logo and an overall design that styled very old school Hollywood. Say what you will about Disney but those fellas aren't insanely rich and powerful for nothing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Summer reading for the fall

Even tho I wasn't able to attend BEA this year(maybe next time,since it's supposed to be back in NYC),I still was able to gather a few samples of the upcoming autumn titles handed out to eager book folk who gleefully filled their goodie bags. Along with The Expected One,I have two other juicy looking novels and-hold on to your hats-a non fiction title! I will be reviewing these books for your blogging pleasure so this is just a sneak peak to whet your appetites:

The Interpretation Of Murder by Jeb Rubenfeld(Henry Holt,September)is inspired by Sigmund Freud's one and only trip to America which caused him to everafter call
Americans "savages". This first novel has Freud arriving in New York with then protege Carl Jung and being asked to assist in finding a killer who is targeting young society ladies. Quite an intriging premise-there's already a blurb from Matthew Pearl who wrote The Dante Club(and has a new book out now,The Poe Shadow). I was a big fan of the Alienist and this looks to be just as good and engrossing of a read.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield(Simon & Schuster,Sept)is another first novel with a great idea behind it(not to mention a gorgeous cover,so rich and enticing); Author Vida Winter, who protects her privacy in ways that rivel Greta Garbo for style, hires biographer Margaret Lea to write the real story of her past. The book promises a gothic flair and I find it hard not to jump into it right away(determined to finish TEO first). Also,Margaret is a bookseller which is catnip to a gal like me,not to mention that cover!

Big Box Swindle by Stacy Mitchell(Beacon,Sept) is subtitled "The true cost of mega retailers and the fight for America's independant business" which gives you a pretty complete idea of what it's about. I saw Beacon's Tom Hallock on BookTV,talking BBS up and it caught my eye. I've worked at quite a few small businesses and have seen the struggle to compete in a wider marketplace,especially with online shopping that offers easy access and discounts to boot. I'm all for free enterprise but I'm also wary of being overreliant on big companies for goods and services. BBS has already been compared to Nickel and Dimed and I hope it will fit the bill nicely.

There's another book I hope to get and Random House is offering to give away a hundred copies of: The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist. If that title sounds like a siren's call to you as it does to me,just click the title link for a chance to sign up and win a free copy of your very own. The plot feels very Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell like and it's page count is over 700 which makes it even more tempting to me. If I do win a copy(and maybe even if I don't),it'll get reviewed here,tout sweet,baby! Talk about a banquet of books-if nothing else,I'm sure to be entertained quite well and intend to pass on the good word.

Monday, May 22, 2006

BEA,The Da Vinci Code and other Monday madness

Kathleen McGowan,author of The Expected One,recieved a nice write-up and her own headline in the NY Times this morning in an article about BookExpo America(please click title link above) which was held in Washington D.C. over the weekend. C-Span had some coverage of the convention on their BookTV line-up. They showed an early morning breakfast with Barack Obama(who left the room right after he spoke)Amy Sedaris and John Updike. Updike didn't talk about his new novel,Terrorist,but instead made a nice speech about the importance of booksellers. I'm not a big Updike person myself(only read The Witches of Eastwick and actually liked the movie better)but it was cool of him to give props to the book folk out there in the trenches.

Amy Sedaris(sister of David and star of "Strangers With Candy")gave one wacky speech about her upcoming book which will be called "I Like You",sort of a parody of Martha Stewart Living type of books,I'm guessing. She was damn funny but I'm not sure everyone got her sense of humor-there were some confused faces in the crowd.

The Da Vinci Code blew the roof off of the box office by making $224 million worldwide-77 million came from the U.S. alone. I knew this movie was review-proof but ye gods and little fishes,that's one hell of a haul! Over the Hedge came in at second and yep,MI:III made it to third(awwww!). I didn't see DVC but from the box office numbers,it's probaly best that I didn't cram myself into a theater and fight off protestors for it yet. It'll be interesting to see how DVC takes on X-Men:The Last Stand over Memorial Day weekend-finally,some movies worth our attention!

Madonna's Confessions tour opened on Sunday with her usual attempts at shock; she came out on a mirrored cross(wearing a crown of thorns)to sing "Live To Tell" and then later during a costume change,treated the audience to a video montage of images of Bush,Tony Blair,Osama Bin Laden and Hitler. Other highlights include her dressing up in a Saturday Night Fever disco suit,wearing a white cape that had "Dancing Queen" on the back and running around in an S&M suit while whipping dancers who had ball gags in their mouths.

I have a confession to make:I am so over Madonna. She's become a walking,talking cliche of celebrity self-involvement and her attempts to freak people out are as tired as a Surreal Life marathon. One of her great strengths was her chameleon skills at upgrading her style but she can't turn the trick anymore than Blanche Dubois could by the time she got abroad that streetcar named Desire. Her children's books were a waste of space(yes,I read them and consider it a form of child abuse to add them to any kid's library)and like Howard Stern,she's holding on to her fame by the core of die-hard fans who will remain loyal to the end. That's fine but I prefer to remember her back when she was still fun. Hell,even her songs for the Dick Tracy movie were better than some of the crap she's shilling now.

Well,that's all for now. Tune in next time for more book news,movie highlights and celebrity bashing(only if they're really asking for it)right here at LRG!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Awaiting The Expected One

With all this Da Vinci Code movie buzz(the reviews are now pouring in and most of them are already nominating DVC for next year's Razzies)this week,I've been diving into another novel along the same lines due out this summer called The Expected One. The author,Kathleen McGowan,originally self-published this book as part one of a trilogy dubbed The Magdalene Line and did so well with it that Simon & Schuster made her a deal to republish all three under their banner,with a nice Book of the Month Club split Main Selection and foreign rights sold in about 18 countries thrown in the mix.

I was fortunate enough to recieve an advance reader's edition(which is now being offered up to BEA attendees in Washington as we speak)and while I haven't read enough to give TEO a full review,I can say that this is a pretty compelling read so far.

The heroine of TEO is Maureen Paschal,who while researching in Israel for an book about the true history of certain "infamous" women,acquires a mysterious ring and has a strange vision of a woman trapped in a crowd. She also has numberous dreams about this woman(who,yes,is Mary Magdalene)which she only discusses with her cousin Peter,a priest who teaches languages at the local university. Maureen's book does well and attracts the attention of many who are interested in the Magdalene legend,including Beringer Sinclair who uses some of his wealth to fund groups and projects about Mary Magdalene. Sinclair sends Maureen a painting(in which one of the subjects strongly resembles her)and an invite to visit him in France on the summer solstice.

This book seems to share similar themes with Kate Mosse's Labyrinth about looking into feminine spiritual roles and unlocking hidden truths,which is great. It's good that fellas like Dan Brown and Javier Sierra got the ball rolling here and I'm happy to see literary ladies join in to keep the game going. I'm not going to get into any debates on what or who Mary Magdalene was or is-my only concern as a reader is the strength of the story;does it work,do I care what happens to the characters,is this plotline a wee bit plausible? That's what matters to me. The rest is all gravy goodness(and I don't even like gravy!).

I'll have a real review soon for The Expected One(please click the title link for more info about Kathleen McGowan)and if I happen to see the DVC movie,that'll get a write-up,too. Theories may come and go but a good story lasts forever. I'm not saying that TEO is an instant classic but it's very readable with strong leads and that's more that many books can claim to possess.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

TV Time Round-up

First,some good news: The CW has announced their fall schedule and are keeping alive such fan faves as Supernatural,Gilmore Girls,Smallville,Everybody Hates Chris and Veronica Mars. The downside to that is they're also having America's Next Top Model and Seventh Heaven on the line-up-can I get a group "ARRGH!" here? Oh,well,some folks like those shows,too and it could be worse after all,atleast Charmed is finally getting exorcised from primetime viewing(yet will live forever in reruns*shudder*).

On the reality show front,The Amazing Race's two hour conclusion had thrills and spills,with BJ and Tyler(aka The Hippies)winning the million dollars. I was so happy-it's nice to see goodhearted folks like that get their just rewards. Eric & Jeremy,the reviled Frat Boys,seemed to begrudgingly accept the second spot(maybe if they had been paying alittle more attention to where they've been instead of all the girls they tried to mack on,they would've done better on that final flag challenge). Too bad about Ray and Yolanda but it looks like they'll be a better couple for going on the Race so they're winners as well.

Top Chef had another elimination challenge last night which knocked Dave out of the running,leaving Tiffani and Harold as the Final Two. I really felt bad for Dave,he's overemotional but does care alot about what he does and backs people up when it counts. Unfortunately,he botched one of the room services request by only making two dishes,not three and in the real world,that would get you in some trouble. I'm all for Harold-he's been very consistant thru out the entire show and I would rather eat a hamburger made by him than any three course dinner Tiffani would love to showcase.

And yes,American Idol is down to two: Kat and Taylor. I know I'm not the only one who didn't see that coming. Due to watching the AR finale,I only caught the last few minutes of AI so I missed out on Taylor's"Taking It To The Streets" dance number. Taylor gives Napoleon Dynamite a run for his money in the goofy public display catagory,that's for damn sure. Lots of folks have given up on AI already and I can't really blame them,with such talents as Chris and Paris having gotten the boot. My only hope here is that Taylor wins.

Sure,Taylor's wacky but he can sing and has a personality-Kat is duller than dishwater,with a beauty pagent contestant smile and a pleasant voice. That "Over the Rainbow" number did not impress me(why she thinks her best performances are done while kneeling on the floor is beyond me. ) In my opinion,if Judy Garland had heard that number,she'd be guzzling gin straight from the bottle. Granted Judy would be doing that anyway(as Little Sister pointed out to me)but she wouldn't even bother with finding a glass or any olives. Oh well,it'll all be over soon enough. Then we can focus our attention on more important matters like setting up a betting pool to see how long it'll take Social Services to swoop in and save Brittany Spears' kids from becoming the subject matter of a Lifetime made-for-Tv-movie.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Vinci Code's Cannes debute raises some doubts

The juggernaut that is the Da Vinci Code(not the Juggernaut who'll be in X-Men: The Last Stand) film had it's premiere at the Cannes film festival last night and from what I read,the reception to it was not good. Members of the audience were heard to be laughing and making catcalls during certain parts. Most folks seemed to be impatient with the length of the movie(the running time is 2 1/2 hours) and some were reported to have walked out during the closing minutes. No one clapped at the end of the DVC-in fact,there were hisses and whistles.

The NY Times also did a report about the lack of advance screenings for DVC,with the producers saying they wanted to keep a lid on spoilers from bloggers and movie websites. Nonetheless,I did find a review at Rotten Tomatoes(which is linked in the title above). The review is from JoBlo.com(don't let the name put you off,they give pretty good write-ups)and basically says what many of the critics at Cannes said:the movie is real damn long and not that exciting. Ian McKellan is cool and so is Paul Bettany who plays the infamous albino monk.

I didn't read DVC and really don't intend to see the movie but,who knows? A lady is entitled to change her mind and part of me is curious to see what all the hoopla is about. I'm sure this movie is nowhere in the realm of greatness as The Last Temptation of Christ(now that book,I read!) Plus,the fact that the very ideas this fictional story expresses about Jesus and Mary Magdalene have some folks all in an uproar and ready to protest this flick around the world gives me a bit of a rebel yell itch to scratch.

Frankly,I think this movie is pretty much review-proof. Tons of DVC fans are going to hit the theaters this weekend(Tom Cruise and Co. can kiss their box office lead goodbye)and many of the curious will follow. This could be either this year's Dances with Wolves or Battlefield Earth,it's a toss-up. Regardless,your only other new film options are either Over The Hedge or See No Evil. So,you can either check Tom Hanks in Steven Segal hair,cartoon animals who sound like Steve Carell and Bruce Willis or Kane from the WWE getting medievel on a bunch of punk kids. Gotta love the mulitplex sometimes,folks!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop:A beacon of biblio bliss

One of my favorite non fiction catagories is known as books about books and a subgenre of that would be books about bookselling. Lewis Buzbee's new book,The Yellow Lighted Bookshop is a must read for those who not only have many other titles on the same subject but for those who only see a bookstore as just another place to buy stuff. You won't think that way anymore after reading this book-it's a definative eye opener for booklovers of all stripes.

Buzbee recounts his working experiences in the book world(he worked at several independant book stores such as The UpStart Crow and Printers,Inc,then later became a publisher's sales rep)as well as mixing in some bookseller history and thoughts about the latest changes in bookselling. Even if you're very well versed in the history of books,you'll find some new fun fact to mull over. One chapter highlights some of his favorite places to buy books in the U.S and abroad(for folks who take bookstore tours,YLBS can give some great ideas for your vacation plans).

What I really like about YLBS is the easy conversational tone of the writing;it's like having a wonderful long talk with a good buddy who's seen it all and yet is not a cynic about the present and future of literacy. He speaks from life experience(just a few paragraphs about how tricky shelving is more than convinced me that Buzbee knows his stuff)and has some interesting opinions,such as having all citizens do a mandatory two years of working retail(his theory is that it will not only help the economy but create better customers who'll be a lot more understanding towards the sales staff having walked a mile in their shoes. Not a bad idea.)

Like many who write in this genre,Buzbee has a major fanlove for a certain author and his icon is John Steinbeck. He doesn't overly swoon over Steinbeck's work but rather has a clear and open admiration. He even visited Cannery Row(which has vastly changed from Steinbeck's time)and as someone who's visited a few Jane Austen sites myself,I can understand how he felt seeing it as part of the wider world yet still within his reach.

Buzbee also talks about the many friends he's made over the years thru books such as Greta Ray(who he first met at The Upstart Crow) and others who have taken many unique turns in life-one former friend from his days at Printers now has a bookstore/tatoo parlor out in Garberville,CA. This is the kind of book I'd give to a good friend and hopefully many other readers will feel the same way. The Yellow Lighted Bookshop is due out in June(please click the title link for more details)so keep a sharp eye out for it at a bookstore near you. It's a short but sweetly savvy look at what many consider to be their second home away from home.

Monday, May 15, 2006

You say best fiction,I say....

Last week,the online version of the NY Times had a upcoming Sunday Book Review feature(due in print form on May 21)called What Is The Best Fiction Of The Last 25 Years? According to the panel they chose(more details can be found in the title link above),the top book was Beloved by Toni Morrison. The runners-up included such notables as Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy,The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and six Phillip Roth novels.

The early release of this article is obviously meant to cause some buzz and maybe to start a literary dialogue that doesn't involve an author caught with their hand in the cookie jar. To me,this list just seems like one of those assigned reading lists they hand out to AP students for the summer-all the books are quality but not all that thrilling. I've read Beloved and yes,it's a great book but it didn't inspire me to look up any of her other books(Alice Walker,I did atleast try a couple of her other ones).Frankly,when I saw the headline,the first book that popped into my mind was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

K&C is pretty well known but in case you're not familar with it,it's the story of two cousins(one of whom is a new arrival in pre-WWII America)who team up to create a comic book hero called the Escapist and wind up having their fortunes rise and fall as well as sharing the love of the same woman. The development of the Escapist comic falls along similar lines to the history of Superman and other comics of the era(the storyline goes right up to the McCarthy hearings)and the descriptions of the comic's plots are the kind that Hollywood could only dream of capturing onscreen.

There is an actual Escapist comic put out by Chabon,which even if you haven't read the novel,you can still enjoy. Chabon also wrote Wonder Boys(which became a great movie with Micheal Douglas and Tobey Maguire)and contributed to the Spiderman 2 screenplay(he did a treatment for the first X-Men movie that was rejected but if you read it,they did use quite a few of his ideas,particularly regarding Wolverine). K&C is now being made into a film that hopefully we'll get to see soon and more importantly,does better at the box office and with critics than Beloved did when it hit the theaters.

My runners-up for Best Fiction would go a little something like this:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo-One of the best small town sagas ever written. Russo is great at making literary writing sound as easy as a conversation you just happen to be overhearing while waiting for the waitress to bring you your order. The HBO miniseries adaptation was very well done and a nice companion piece to the book.

Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman-Another small town story only a bit more grander in intent. The mammoth cheese of the title is made by a local single mom who arranges for it to be brought to the newly elected U.S. president(copying a similar offering made to Thomas Jefferson)to remind him of his campaign promise to help small farmers. The town,which recently had major publicity from the birth of 11 babies at one time to a poor family that ends tragically,rallies behind the cheese quest to stir up support for the community. This was a book that seemed to disappear from the major publishing world that truly deserves to be rediscovered and shared amongst readers.

Widow For One Year by John Irving-one of his best books around,period. I didn't see Door in the Floor(which is only adapted from half the book) but I own two copies of the book which is just as good,in my opinion. It's the kind of novel where sometimes you just want or need to reread one of your favorite passages from it because it rings so true in your memory.

I could go on and on but I'll give my fingers a rest and just list the rest of the best. Honorary mentions go out to the following:

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Nieffenegger

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

That's all I could come up with for now. Please feel free to list some of your own candidates for Best Fiction and even Worst Fiction;two of my picks for that dubious honor would be The Bridges of Madison County(one of the few times the movie was truly better than the book) and Violin by Anne Rice(just glad I didn't have to pay for a copy otherwise I'd be hounding Anne for a refund). Nice to have a book talk that didn't start with scandal and a Smoking Gun headline this year.

Friday, May 12, 2006

On the Shelf with Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen's wonderful new novel,Water For Elephants,is only her third book which is hard to believe since she writes like a seasoned pro at the top of her game. Her earlier novels dealt with the world of horse racing and her love of animals has lead her to add to her own family with three kids such companions as five cats,two goats and a horse and dog all within an environmental community north of Chicago.

She also donates to a number of animal charities that are listed at her website(linked in the title above)and she was kind enough to grant me this interview before embarking on her book tour,which will begin at next week's BEA where she'll be appearing at the Algonquin booth for signings. Here's what we said to each other:

1)What inspired you to write a story set in the world of 1930s traveling circues?

I was literally a day away from starting a completely different novel when I opened the newspaper and saw a fantastic panoramic photograph of a Depression-era circus. It was part of a feature article on the photographer Edward J. Kelty, who followed train circuses during the 1920s and 30s and whose custom-built camera was capable of producing negatives that were 12 x 24 inches. I couldn't tear my eyes away from
the picture, which was called "Congress of Freaks," and immediately ordered a book of his photographs. Shortly thereafter I ordered a second book of vintage circus photographs, these ones by the photographer Frederick W. Glasier. By the time I'd looked through them, there was no going back.

2)Was it your idea to add vintage photos to many of the chapters in Water For Elephants?

Yes! The book was inspired by a photograph, and because there are so many wonderful and evocative images, it was really important to me to include them. It was also fun to try to match up the pictures with the chapters so that they reflect the contents, and sometimes even contain foreshadowing. I spent months tracking down the owners of the pictures and securing the rights, but it was definitely worth it. They were a
part of my vision of this book.

3)You donate some of the proceeds from your writings to various animal charities-if you had to pick just one of them to recommend to a friend,which one would it be?

I really couldn't choose. Live & Let Live Farm, Proud Spirit Sanctuary,
and SARA Sanctuary are run by amazing individuals who really do
dedicate their lives to saving these animals. But the large rescues are also
responsible for many saved lives, and sometimes have a better network
for coordinating emergency efforts. That's why I support a mixture of
types. I'm afraid I make a bad Solomon!

4)On your website,there's a picture of a walk-in closet that you use as your writer's office. How did that come about?

The writing experience was really intense and because of the number of details I had to keep straight I felt like I always had sixteen balls in the air. I also had several long interruptions while writing "Water for Elephants", and after the final one I was having a really hard time getting back into it. I almost abandoned it, but my critique partner talked me out of it. That's when I had my husband move my desk into our walk-in closet, covered over the window, and wore noise-reduction headphones. I spent several months in that closet, and when I emerged with a finished book I was so exhausted I really had no idea whether it was any good at all.

5)Will there be a follow-up book to your earlier novels,Riding Lessons and Flying Changes?

There may well be. We're certainly talking about it.

6)What are some of your favorite books and/or films?

I live under a rock as far as movies go--we have three kids and we never quite seem to get around to hiring a babysitter, so the movies I see tend to be of the Chicken Little variety. As for books, I have very eclectic tastes: the ones I've read most recently are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Sun Also Rises, Niagara Falls All Over Again, Bel Canto, Horse Heaven, Marley & Me, The Kite Runner, and I'm about to start Animals In Translation. I also just read a bound copy of an
amazing new novel that's coming out in February 2007. It's called FINN,
by Jon Clinch, and it's coming out with Random House. Watch for it--it's incredible.

7)If Water For Elephants were to be made into a movie,who would you like to play the leading characters?

Ah, see, if I saw more movies I'd have an answer for that! :-P

My thanks to Sara for this interview and if you'd like to see her on tour,just check her website for dates and places near you. If I was casting the movie version of Water For Elephants,my picks for the leads would be Alexis Beidel,Tobey Maguire and Paul Giamatti as August. Hopefully Hollywood will take a look at Sara's books and see the greatness that would work so well onscreen as it does on the page. Even if they don't,Water For Elephants should be on top on everyone's To Read List this summer and be noted as one of the best books of the year.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A flurry of season finales

May not only brings flowers but ushers out most of the current TV shows we've been enjoying all year and this week in particular,there's quite a few finales. Tonight's lineup has "Expanded" wrap-ups of My Name Is Earl and The Office,not to mention a damn exciting conclusion for Smallville as Brainiac threatens to destroy the world with a virus unless Clark releases General Zod(Kneel Before ZOD!!!!...sorry,had to say it). Lex is also getting some sort of uber bad upgrade and a taste of real power which,yes, will lead into a major Kent/Luthor showdown. If Superman Returns can't be as exciting as this,we're in for a long summer,folks.

Veronica Mars was,for once,not pre-empted so we got to see who really crashed the bus as well as the end of Aaron Echolls(ironic that the last thing AE saw in this life was himself on TV). Poor Beaver-Kyle Gallner is a damn fine actor who has seemed like a bit player but turns out to have been the Big Bad all along. I truly hope that next season(if the whole"CW? Done deal" bit was a tip of the hat to the fans),Dick Casablancas is around and having to deal with what happened with his brother. Dick's the dictionary defination of shallow and callow but even he has to take a reality check here. One of my favorite parts of the episode was Woody getting tasered while trying to sneak out the window(in his undies,which reminded me of Fargo).

My least favorite moment had to be Weevil's arrest-Lamb could've nabbed him as he walked off the stage with diploma in hand but nooooo! Oh,well,let's look forward to next time,shall we?

While some shows are ending rapidly,others are about to finish up slowly but surely. AI fans were suprised at Chris being the one to leave last night and not pleased with Seacrest's abrupt way of telling him. My only choice here is to root for Taylor,since both Elliot and Kat are so bland they make tapioca pudding seem spicy.

The Amazing Race is down to the Final Three: The Hippies(Yay!),The Frat Boys(boo!)and Rayo aka Ray & Yolanda(hey,they deserve a nickname!). The Hippies are a big favorite amongst fans and I was glad to see them get the Fast Forward(bug eating is a tough gig but would've been easier if they had drunk the water given to them). Next week is the two hour race to the finish line in a snowy climate which is cool in more ways than one(Phil in a parka,cute!)

Top Chef had their reunion show last night and the bleep button must have been pretty worn out with all the F-bombs and S-bombs lobbed about. Stephen's apology to Candice was so fake-his true nature was more on display when he got mad at Ken(who I wouldn't be surpised at if he waited in the parking lot to kick Stephen's snotty ass). Some people might think that Tiffani's being picked on for being "aggressive" but a bitch is a bitch,folks. Stephen also has the same bad attitude,which is why I don't like him either. Next week,it'll be down to a Final Two-I'm rooting for Harold,he's a real stand up guy. Oh,and I love the "I'm not your bitch,bitch!" shirts!

Finales are fun and hopefully lead to better times next year. It's also good to now have summer series to tide us over til the fall-Rescue Me will be starting up again at the end of the month and the 4400 should be back in June. Also,TNT will be showing a number of horror mini-movies based on Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes short story collection. Summertime and the TV watching is easy!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Everything old school is new again

While browsing thru the movie listings in my area,I was surpised to discover that at one of the larger mulitplexs,there's a Saturday morning showtime for "She-Ra:Princess of Power-The Secret of the Sword". Yep,She-Ra,twin sister of He-Man,aka Adora(my dad used to insist that the characters really should've been called He-Ra and She-Ma,in the true Egyptian style but such accuracy was too scary for children's TV programmers in those days). According to He-Man.org,this rerelease seems to tie in with the upcoming She-Ra DVD set this summer. It's kind of ironic that a TV show ment to sell toys was made into a movie to sell more toys and now that movie is being used to sell the DVDs. It's all some round robin sales pitch that never ends!

I'm not complaining,really;She-Ra was amusing for many reasons. One of the highlights were the female foes created to fight She-Ra such as Catra,with her magical Mardi Gra mask,Scorpia(whose name fully explains her character),Entrapa and Shadow Weaver who seemed to be the Evilyn to the head Big Bad,Hordak. You would think that the main villian would be female but perhaps someone just dug the name Hordak,not to mention he looks way cooler than Skeletor.

The plot of SOTS is your basic origin story:Prince Adam discovers the alternate version of his homeworld Eterna which is ,of course,Etheria where his lost lost twin sis is working as a Captain of the guards for Hordak and knows nothing about her true identity,thanks to a memory spell from Shadow Weaver. She is soon made aware of her destiny to hold a sword over her head and say magic words that put her in a skimpy outfit that makes Wonder Woman's look modest in comparison. It's entertaining enough to watch for awhile but I can't see that it's worth the price of a theater ticket to take the kids to on a weekend morn. Better to wait for the DVD,which does include the Secret of the Sword movie.

All this old school love for such campy kiddie fare as He-Man,She-Ra and Thundercats(I always dug Cheetara)is best appreciated on DVD. I admit to being tempted to buying the first TC set but it's just too darn goofy for my budget. What would be great is if Cartoon Network gave some screen time to some of these oldies-but-goodies on their scheldules but I suspect that's why they have Boomarang(which is not available to everyone,people!). What would you rather see with your kids,original He-Man or the Bratz cartoon? Just the Bratz name alone should settle the debate right there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Attack of the Movie Tie-Ins

One of most amusing parts of summer movie hype are the tie-in products;you can usually tell how bad a film did at the box office by hitting a toy store around the end of August and checking out which movie related merchandise is now on sale in the bargain bin. This upcoming season,we'll be getting the likes of Superman,X-Men,a couple of kiddie flicks and yes,even the Da Vinci Code has an official board game(and several knock-offs)to tempt you into spending even more of your do-re-mi.

I shamelessly adore some of this stuff and even proudly display such items as my Van Helsing mini monster truck(hey,it was a present!)amongst my assortment of offbeat knick knacks. However,I do like to wonder about how low the tie-ins can go and in that spirit,here's a list of my Top Five What-If Movie Tie-Ins for '06

5)Poseidon Sink to the Bottom Playset:David Blaine may not want this under his Christmas tree but your youngsters should enjoy hours of fun with this easy to set up anywhere toy-just separate the two halves of the boat(keeping the plastic sidings on)and dunk into any body of water and watch the small figures slowly drown! Or,keep it together and look thru the see through bottom as the water fills up,knocking the pop up celebs around!

4)The Devil Wears Prada Talking Handbag: Just the thing for that Princess Diaries fangirl who wants to appear more grown-up! Every time you open the bag,listen to one of several vocal messages recorded by the film's stars. Hear Anne Hathaway say"I'll be right there" and Meryl Streep"Where's my latte?" or "I am NOT Anna Wintour!" Comes in your choice of colors-Bitchy Blood Red,Intern Green or Back in Black.

3)A Scanner Darkly Coloring Book: Now,you can make your very own version of this artsy new film at home! Just color in photos from the film with crayons,markers or whatever's rolling around in your kitchen drawer. Let the kids express their creativity by making the likes of Keanu Reeves,Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson as multi-hued as the Power Rangers on an acid trip!

2)A Prairie Home Companion Survival Kit: Want credit for seeing an "adult" movie this summer but can't stand the overlapping dialogue of an Altman film(plus,the possible dullness of watching people perform endless radio monologues)? Well,then we have the perfect solution-just pick up this handy dandy kit to help you keep as awake or rested as you wish! Kit includes earplugs,small shoulder pillows,a bottle of No Doz and for an extra 79.95,you can also have an IPod mini to drown out the more confusing talky bits which make up most of the film!

1)Snakes on a Plane In A Can: A nifty combo of the classic gag item with the hot new internet film sensation-Samuel L. Jackson qoutes may or may not be included.

Don't be surpised if any of these suckers actually do turn up at a store or website near you-I didn't think I would see the day when there would be an oil painting of Tony"Scarface" Montana and the casts of The GodFather,Goodfellas and the Sopranos in a Last Supper scenario out for sale but it does exist and I have witnesses. One of the scariest things I've ever seen,ever.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Stan Lee's holding out for a hero

Just when you thought reality shows couldn't get any stranger,here comes "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?" this summer on the Sci Fi Channel with Stan"The Man" Lee as host. 11 people will be chosen to compete for such honors as having their own comic book created by Stan Lee and getting their character to appear in a Sci Fi Channel movie. Granted,most movies on Sci Fi are of the Black Scorpion variety but it can't be any worse than Halle Berry's Catwoman,now can it?

You can also vote online for your favorite contestants-three of them are now being profiled with audition videos to help you decide(click title link above). The sound on Lemuria's video went out at one point but that might just be my computer. Yes,I did vote and despite loving the concept of Artemis,I had to go with Diamond Girl-that gal really sells her character!

This whole thing reminds me so much of Mystery Men,one of my big guilty pleasures. There was even an audition scene where folks like PMS Avenger("I only work five days a month-got a probelm with that?")and Pencilhead,with Son of PencilHead tried to team up with the likes of The Shoveler,Mr. Furious and the Blue Raja(who never wore anything blue,btw). The one they finally got was The Bowler(Janeane Garofolo,one of those comedians that Hollywood never quite figured out what to do with)
,who right away clashed with Mr. Furious(Ben Stiller,in his pre-Something About Mary days who was alot funnier back then than now,in my opinion). There's some damn funny dialogue in that movie such as "Well here I thought I was with a couple of real superheroes, the Shoveller and the Blue Raja! But really, it's Lazy Boy and... and... the recliner! Lazy Boy and the Recliner! " and"So what do you say? Do we all gather together, and go kick some Casanova butt? Or do I eat this sandwich?"

Superhero comedies can be tricky since it's too damn easy to parody-just compare the Adam West Batman show with Batman:The Animated Series and you'll see what I mean. We're due for another one this summer with My Super Ex-GirlFriend,starring Uma Thurman as Jenny aka G Girl,who does not take breaking up with boyfriend Luke Wilson well. This could be a decent flick,with Ivan Reitman(Ghostbusters)at the directing helm,plus having Rann Wilson and Eddie Izzard in the cast sounds good. However,it could turn out as hokey as John Ritter's Hero At Large or even worse,Meteor Man. Just hope they put out a trailer soon so we can get an idea of how MSEGF is(not that trailers are foolproof but hey,if you watch carefully,it can give you a heads-up).

Superhero satires can also be done right without making the characters too cardboard cutout like-The Incredibles works as an action film and as a family bonding story. Bonding with people is really at the core of what makes a superhero;it's no coincidence that most of the super powered icons of our culture are essentially outsiders who only want to be part of society but have to pull back from true intimacy due to their other life. Plenty of books have been written on this subject already(check out Men of Tommorrow by Gerard Jones or Mythology:The Work of Alex Ross)so I won't write a thesis here but it's hard to deny the allure of superheroes in American culture,despite the many snickers at comic book fans(some of whom are abit too die hard but what fan base doesn't have it's share of zealots?).

So,yes,many will watch "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?" for laughs but there will be some in the audience who'll wish they were there. You gotta have a sense of humor about your fanlove otherwise,you will wind up getting into fistfights over who would win in a fight between Wolverine and Batman(my money's on Batman)and that's not good!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Water For Elephants:A Carnival of Delights

I've never read or heard of Sara Gruen before picking up her new novel,Water for Elephants but after finishing it last night,I'm going"Where have you been all my reading life?" The story hooks you right away;it begins with Jacob Jankowski,now in a retirement home where the biggest event for the residents is the arrival of a traveling circus. This brings back Jacob's memories of his days with the Benzini Bros circus during the years of the Great Depression. He was a veterinary student who walked away from his final exams after the tragic death of his parents and wound up joining the circus by just hopping on the right train at the right time.

Jacob's medical skills earn him a reluctant place amongst the crew of the Benzini Bros and come in handy when during their travels,a seemingly dull witted elephant named Rosie becomes part of the animal menegarie run by August,the circus' animal trainer who is your best friend one minute and your worst nightmare the next. August's turn-on-a-dime moods are usually overlooked not only by Uncle Al,the Ringling Bros wannabee that runs the show but by August's wife,Marlena. Marlena is the star horseback(and later elephant)performer whose love of animals draws her and Jacob into a close but dangerous relationship.

What's so wonderful about this book is the believable atmosphere Gruen creates for her characters,you can almost smell the popcorn and hear the roar of the crowds as you turn the pages. The time jumps from Jacob's past to the present and vice versa flow as easily as wind thru the trees. Another added bonus is the use of photos from the 1930s of circus life inserted into the beginnings of many of the chapters. I love it when an author can get to do this-it's like having a DVD special feature. The last book I recall that was just as well written with illustrations was Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund and Water for Elephants is just as top notch.

Gruen did a great deal of research about traveling circues of that time period and it really pays off with the rich details that enhance the story. She's also a marvel at creating such vivid characters as Kinko,a ill tempered clown forced to bunk with Jacob who winds up being one of his strongest allies and even Rosie herself,much smarter and more humane than some of the people around her. This is one book that you will hate yourself for missing out on,so be on the lookout for it at your local bookstore(check the title link for more details)or library near you.

I'll make a bold prediction that Water for Elephants will become the next reading group sensation-it's already the number one Booksense Pick for June(WFE will be released May 26)and I have no doubts that more good reviews from both readers and critics will be showered upon it. Most circues are known for glitz and greasepaint hiding shabby surfaces but in this case,there's nothing but the real deal here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

This week's pop culture follies

Paris,we hardly knew ye-the talented Miss Bennett has been booted from American Idol making Katherine McPhee the only female left in the running. I don't think she has what it takes to go to the Final Three(Chris aka Sideburns Stepdad,clearly does) but neither does Elliott,so it's pretty much a crapshoot here. Next week,the gang goes to Graceland to be coached by Tommy Mottola for Elvis Night. I hope Taylor picks Blue Suede Shoes as his song;it's perfect for his wild n' crazy guy dance moves.

In other reality elim news,The Hippies were nearly kicked off again on The Amazing Race(The Frat Boys were total jerks for canceling the other teams' cabs but then karma denied them a ride-maybe Earl Hickey should be an advisor on this show)and Tiffani the Terrible made it to the Top Chef Final Three. I wasn't crazy about Lee Ann(she could be snippy at times)but even Dave and Harold preferred to go with her rather Miss"I bring humility"-NOT!.

George Lucas has finally uncletched his claws and will release the original versions of the first three Star Wars movies on DVD this September. Perhaps he realized the errors of his ways or just needs more money to make that Ewoks prequel trilogy he's been dreaming of low these many moons. Also,Veronica Mars season 2 DVDs are set to be available this August;hopefully,we'll get to actually see the finale on the night it's supposed to aired. These pre-empts are damn urksome.

Coming to many theaters near you is Mission Impossible III-am I the only one who fears that if I went to see it,Scientologists would pop out from under the seats armed with e-meters chanting"Do you want a personality test? IT'S FREE!" That's almost scarier than having RV hit the top of the B.O. charts for two weeks in a row,almost.....

Also hitting the multiplex is Hoot,which is based on Carl Hiaason's novel for kids about three teens trying to save a nesting place for owls from land developers. Despite some early negative reviews so far(check Rotten Tomatoes for more),this should be a good movie to take kids to. For one thing,Hiaason's a damn fine writer and witty not preachy about his environmental beliefs in his stories. Also,it might be nice for kids to see a movie that doesn't have a Happy Meal attached to it.

I take my leave of you but do remember to tune in next time for another thrilling episode of As The Blog Turns.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Throwing Kaavya under the bus

Seems as if Kaavya Viswanathan is being escorted out the door by security-not only has her contract with Little,Brown been canceled with no plans to reprint a revised edition of Opal Mehta(now selling for as much as forty dollars on the collector's market)but the Bergen county newspaper where she interned at during 2003 and 2004 are now going to go over her previous articles for them to check for accuracy. All this comes on the heels of more findings of other works plundered for How Opal Mehta...such as Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella,Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries and Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

What bothers me is how quickly everyone is to drag this girl to the town square for a ol' fashioned burning at the stake. Yes, she did wrong here and it's fit and proper of her publisher to cancel her contract. However,I don't hear anything from Little,Brown about how they're going to give a closer look at Alloy Entertainment which is just as responsible,in my opinion,seeing as how they own half of the copyright of the book and admitted to having"shaped" the first four chapters. I was afraid that Kaavya was going to be the scapegoat here and it looks like I was right.

Also,Kaavya's agent was the one who brought her to Alloy before bringing her book to any publisher and there's no comment from her or Alloy about what's going on now. All these borrowed passages from more than one author suggests to me a committee approach to putting this book together"Ok,we got some chick lit here,a bit of teen girl stuff and hey,can somebody get us something that makes this chapter sound more Indian?". No excuse for Kaavya to let this happen but she's not the only guilty party who should be held accountable here. A lot of people say this is James Frey fallout but his book is still on the shelves and people seemed satified enough after his public bitchslapping by Oprah to let him move on. Kaavya's only 19 and she's getting more public scrutiny than most elected officials do in a year.

Hopefully,this Kaavya hunt will end soon with those involved in pulling this patchworked wool over the eyes of readers all getting theirs. I also think it's sad that most of the book buzz this year seems to be all about scams and wrongdoings. It would be nice to talk about some good books getting the attention they deserve. Yes,I've joined in the heady mix of trash talk but am getting sick of this rolling in the muck and feel the need to hose myself off here. I feel the need...the need to read!(You know things are bad if I have to resort to qouting Tom Cruise movies).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A pair of pretty persuadable pieces of prose

Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen's final novel Persuasion has become a favorite template for modern authors to update and expand. I take a keen interest in such books since I was first introduced to Austen's works thru Persuasion(still one of my favorites-when I visited Lyme Regis with a group of JA fans,I did a reading of Louisa Musgrove's famous fall on the steps of the Cobb). One of the reasons that Persuasion is popular with the female friendly crowd is it's theme of recapturing a love given up long ago and getting the chance to fix a major mistake. Goodness knows that's something alot of us would leap at.

For your reading pleasure,we have two new takes on Jane's last stand;Jane Austen In Scarsdale by Paula Marantz Cohen and The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz. Both are good entertaining stories,even if you've never read or seen a JA related film. They do,however,approach the Austen theme in very different ways.

Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Scarsdale has a subtitle"Or Love,Death and the SATS" which well describes most of the novel's focus. Her heroine,Anne Ehrlich,is a guidance counselor at Fenimore High in Westchester and one of her most challenging duties is calming down the frenzied parents of hopefully well placed college bound students. She also has to cope with selling the family home due to her father's debts and the reappearance of Ben Cutler,a now successful travel writer who was once in love with Anne but she broke it off with him on the advice of her grandmother,Winnie(oddly enough,there's also a character named Winnie in The Family Fortune). Ben's nephew is spending his senior year at Fenimore and Ben wants to get him into Columbia(which is Anne's alma mater-Ben attended Queens College and worked at a travel agency which is how he and Anne first met).

Cohen also wrote Jane Austen in Boca(think Golden Girls meet P&P)and as in that book,her scope is not just on the connect-the-dots Austen plot points but a gentle satrical look at the community the characters are set in. Most of the best scenes in the novel have to do with meeting with parents who think that having their child diagnosed with ADD will give them a better shot(and more testing time)at college applications and students who are either scarily overprepared or underwhelmed at the prospects of life beyond high school. She does put in the recognizable Austen characters and expected moments but it's merely a loose outline rather than a boilerplate version. Nothing wrong with that-Cohen is a delightful writer with a sweet center and sharply tuned wit. Just don't expect a carbon copy,Jane Austen in Scarsdale is more of a "inspired by" type of literary homage.

The Family Fortune is abit more by-the-book than Jane Austen in Scarsdale but that doesn't make it a retrend into already familar turf. Rather,it's a lovely excursion into Austen country with some fun new looks along the way. Jane Fortune is our leading lady here,who runs a literary journal that also gives promising new writers a fellowship to give them a leg up on their careers. One of these fellowships lead Jane to Max Wellman,who is now a well respected author back in her life just as her family's debts force them to relocate. The Austen links are more secured by the appearance of Guy Callow(now that's a great name),an ex of Jane's snobby sister Miranda that keeps turning up like the proverbal bad penny.

One of the things I really liked about Family Fortune is how developed Jane's character is. She started up the Euphemia Review(named after her great-grandmother)out of a real love of literature and gets into a search for a writer named Jack Reilly who submitted a amazing short story to her but seems to have vanished. Jane evens contacts an old friend,Hope Bliss(another great name)who runs a detective agency to help find him. Jane's circle of friends certainly balance out her vilely selfish sister and father,not to mention family friend Priscilla,who was the one to talk Jane out of being with Max years ago. One of my favorite parts of this book is a cocktail party where sis Miranda is the "expert" at giving yet she makes the worst social errors towards her guests. I don't usually laugh out loud when reading but came pretty damn close to doing that here.

Jane Fortune is not just a stick figure Mary Sue;she's a giving person who has no clue about how special she is and it's touching at times to see her blossom,not just from reconnecting to Max but also for her other achievements. I believe this is Horowitz's first novel and it's one that makes me want to see more from her. There's a qoute from Edith Wharton(along with an Austen one)near the beginning of the book and the Wharton influence shows in her portrayal of the attitudes of high society and it's many follies. Top notch storytelling with a wink and nod at the classics.

Both titles are in hardcover and The Family Fortune should be available today(check title link for more details). Jane Austen in Scarsdale is already on the shelves and whichever one you find first,you won't be disappointed. Heck,if you can't decide,get both! With such lovely spring weather,a good way to enjoy it is
to take a good book outside and find the right spot to read and relax. Persuasion is all about renewal and spring is the best season for that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

MTV Movie Award nominees: hip or hype?

I have to admit that I usually love the MTV Movie Awards,mainly due to the mock serious way they celebrate film like catagories like Best Fight,Best Kiss and this year,Best Frightened Performance(which should go to anyone doing an interview with Tom Cruise at this point). They're also best known for having cool hosts,such as Chris Rock,Ben Stiller and Jack Black with Sarah Michelle Geller. Jessica Alba is this year's host which makes sense,given that she's in most of the nominated films and will draw in a huge male audience,many of whom will place bets on whether she'll be clad in her Sin City cowgirl stripper duds.

You can argue about the crass commericalism of it but then again,that's sort of the point here. True,the MTV movie awards started off as more of a joke,with great parodies(one of the best ones was the Carol & Greg Brady reenactment of Basic Instinct's classic interrogation scene)and tributes to such film greats as Chewbacca and Jason from the Friday the 13th series. Nowadays,it's abit more streamlined and studio friendly but still fun.

For one thing,some of these nominees are hard to choose from. In the Best Villian slot,we have Cillian Murphy,Ralph Finnes,Tilda Swinton,Tobin Bell and Hayden Christenson. Putting HC aside(he should be up for Best Wuss,IMO),the other four gave some pretty sweet onscreen performances. I caught up with the Chronicles of Narnia on DVD and Tilda was totally badass,especially in the battlefield scenes where she did this double sword action after her wand was destroyed. The woman could've given Beatrix Kiddo a run for her money,I swear! I wound up voting for Tobin Bell-he really makes the Saw films soar with his downplayed but electric antics.

Another good thing about the Movie Awards is the online voting;unlike other awards shows that pretend it's not a popularity contest,MTV doesn't shy away from that notion one little bit. They're not the most subtle of programmers after all,with shows like Yo Mamma,Pimp My Ride,My Super Sweet 16 and Date my Mom on their roster.

The Movie awards also highlight alot of movies that get ignored by the major honorariums but did deserve to be acknowledged-granted,some of the picks were Oscar contenders(Brokeback Mountain,Walk the Line)but up for Best Movie are the likes of Sin City,The 40 Year Old Virgin and Batman Begins,which recieved many positive reviews and big box office. Then again,Wedding Crashers and King Kong are up for that,too(I didn't see either one of them and will probaly not do so,unless I'm that bored out of my skull that the choices are down to:pound my head against the wall or see WC/KK). Atleast we know that if something like House of Wax or the Dukes of Hazzard get an award,it's due to overt fanboy rallying and not some pretenious notion about making a social statement-"Crash",anyone?

If you like them or you can lump'em,the MTV Movie awards show is usually somewhat entertaining and the acceptance speeches are actually worth listening to,so come this June,I'll be watching with a bowl of popcorn and some snark on the side. Hopefully,Steve Carell will be there(he's got several noms)because between this movie and The Office,I'm getting to be a devotee of his,not to mention that the ad slogan for 40 YOV"Better late than never" certainly applies here.