Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, August 31, 2006

On the Shelf with Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I first encountered Lauren as I was reading Flirting With Pride & Prejudice,a collection of essays and short stories about Jane Austen's most universal novel. She has written several novels such as The Thin Pink Line,Crossing the Line,A Little Change of Face and her soon to be released How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. Lauren is also having a Young Adult title,Angel's Choice,about to hit the stores and another book,Vertigo,is a sexy suspense story set in Victorian times.

Lately,she has become the voice of reason in the ongoing Chick Lit debate. She is the editor of This Is Chick Lit,the smartly written reply to Elizabeth Merrick's This Is Not Chick Lit anthology. Lauren has worked in publishing and started out as an independent bookseller. I was pleased to get the chance to speak with her about Chick Lit and other fun topics:

1)When the publication of This Is Not Chick Lit was
announced,it roused the ire of many chick lit
devotees.Has putting out This Is Chick Lit cooled some of your
anger about the whole debate?

Absolutely! There is nothing like taking positive action for diminishing anger and increasing feelings of power and joy. What we hope to achieve with THIS IS CHICK-LIT has nothing to do with denigrating literary fiction; we love all kinds of writing, provided the books are well written. We are merely trying to make a positive statement about the wide range of themes and story-telling styles found under the umbrella heading of Chick-Lit. Our collection has paranormal, mystery, futuristic, metafiction, magic realism, romantic comedy, satire, even a spy parody of the genre.

2)What's your favorite story(beside your own)in the

I will not be trapped into answering that question! Do you want to get me killed? :) I love all the stories the women contributed. An astonishing cornucopia of issues are addressed in the collection's 272 pages and I expect each reader will have his or her own favorites.

3)You've also contributed an essay to Flirting With
Pride & Prejudice-what Jane Austen novel do you feel best defines you?

Oh, I probably have to go with Pride & Prejudice, don't I, with the Elizabeth Bennet character being the character I most identify with? That said, if we're talking movie versions, and you can arrange to replace the lead opposite Ciaran Hinds with me, I'll take Persuasion.

4)Your new novel is entitled How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. Where the Nancy Drew books a big part of your childhood reading?

Ironically, like me, the heroine was more of a Trixie Belden girl growing up, even though neither of us is good with horses, tending to fall off them. But, also like me, Charlotte Bell reads an op-ed by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times asking where all the brave and intrepid people like Nancy Drew have gone to in government. Wanting to be more brave and intrepid herself, Charlotte then reads all 56 original volumes in the Nancy Drew series, her mantra in times of trouble becoming, "What Would Nancy Drew Do?"

5)As a former independant bookseller,do you think
things are getting better or worse for bookstores

It's so hard to say. At the height of my career as an independent bookseller there were four bookstores - three of them independents - all surviving nicely on one tiny street in Westport. Of course, that situation has changed, with a decline in independents and an increase in chains. That said, they tell me competition is good. And I do love all kinds of booksellers - some days, I wish I still was one.

6)What are some of your all time favorite novels?

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund; About a Boy, Nick Hornby; Memoirs of Cleopatra, Margaret George; and Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz who, sadly, just died.

7)Whose idea was it to include a reading list of
"across the aisle" titles recommended by the TICL

It was my idea. It stemmed from a guestblog I did at www.literarychicks.com last summer that I titled "Reaching Across the Aisle." In it, I spoke about how nothing gets accomplished in congress when Democrats and Republicans stick to strict party politics and that it's no different with Lits and Chicks. We need to learn how to work together, "reaching across the aisle." By no means do I expect people to endorse specific books they've read and disliked. But if you can't find good books in a genre outside of your own, what with nearly 200,000 new books published each year in the U.S., you can't be looking hard enough, because there are good and bad books published in every area. When it came time to put the collection together, I asked each Chick to tap one Lit whose work she admired and was sure her own fanbase would adore. As I'm sure you'll agree, they came through admirably.

If you would like to know more about Lauren and her work,please click the title link above to check out her website. I thank her most graciously for her time and encourage everyone to take the time to read some of her great books as well as those recommended in TICL. It's good to support someone who's more interested in bringing folks together rather than keep them apart,not to mention having a bit of fun along the way!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Some Pop Culture Complaints

Every now and then,I can't help but grumble at some of the insanity inflicted on our entertainment/pop culture hungry souls. Yes,I know there's more pressing probelms in the world today but instead of getting worked up over something that I can't control,I'd much rather stew about stuff that doesn't decide the fate of humanity.

For example,why are they releasing yet another "Extended Edition" of the Lord of the Rings films? Haven't they put out about a dozen or so of these by now? Do we really have to see extra behind-the-scenes footage of Gollum blowing his nose or Legolas tying his shoes? Don't get me wrong,I love LOTR but am quite satisfied with the theaterical versions I bought on DVD(mainly due to the studio releasing the bare bones DVDs first).

And it's cool to have special editions but just many are necessary for one set of films? It's getting to the point where I'm starting to agree with Randal here:

Also,there's rumor going around that Katherine McPhee is in the running for the lead in Wonder Woman. Please,why,why say stuff like that? Isn't it bad enough that Constantine is about to do a Broadway run of The Wedding Singer(Sebastian Bach better watch his back!)? I sincerely doubt that Joss Whedon would even consider her for the part but I couldn't stand McPhee when she was on American Idol and hate to see more press on her. The only good thing that came out of "McPheever" was the jumpstart to K.T. Tunstall's career via Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. I'd rather hear more about K. T. than Kat anyday of the week:

And finally,Major Victory was kicked to the curb on last week's Who Wants to be a Superhero and Stan Lee's reason for that? MV's too funny-"almost like a parody of a superhero"-yeah,Stan,that's why we like him! It's not like you haven't created superheroes who don't toss in some quips as they save the day. All we're left with is Fat Momma(who broke down and had a crying fit in the bathroom,saying she wanted out so that Feedback wouldn't be heartbroken)and Feedback who takes this whole thing more seriously than the U.N. does about war in the Middle East.

I know this is a just a goofy show but part of the fun is watching this big hunk of ham strut his stuff. Plus, one of the prizes for the winner is an appearance in a Sci-Fi Channel Movie(a dubious honor in and of itself)and wouldn't it be great to see this guy fighting some mutated alien/monster/insect creature?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This Is Chick Lit and oh,how sweet it is!

In the introduction to This Is Chick Lit,editor/contributor Lauren Baratz-Logsted says"this collection was born out of anger"-the anger coming from another short story anthology entitled "This Is Not Chick Lit" which sets out to "nourish your heart and mind" with Very Serious writings by Very Serious Women Authors. Sounds like a barrel of laughs,doesn't it?

On to the book at hand-TICL has eighteen stories from a variety of chick lit writers(and one who is more of a spy novelist,Raelynn Hillhouse,who gives us a great Jane Bond story called Secret Agent Chick),some of whom I've only heard of but never read before(Cara Lockwood,Harley Jane Kozak,Rachel Pine),a couple who I'm already a big fan of(Julie Kenner,mainly her Demon Hunter Soccer Mom books,Carpe Demon/California Demon and Johanna Edwards)and some that are brand new to me(Gena Showalter,Heather Swain,Karen Siplin). Their stories cover love and romance but also other topics such as motherhood,body image issues,competitiveness amongst women and finding the courage to achieve your dreams.

Some of the best stories have interesting creative twists like Caren Lissner's The Database,which envisions a future where people meet friends and lovers thru a national computerized listing service and Confessions of a Three Eyed Freak by Ariella Papa that has one woman's quest to remove a bothersome mole lead to an unexpected result. There's some slightly supernatural touches in stories like Dead Friends and Other Dating Dilemmas by Julie Kenner,about being literally haunted by the past and Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Shell Game that hits upon a tasty solution to a probelm marriage.

There's also plenty of good humor available in such offerings as Nice Jewish Boy by Karen Siplin which highlights the hell of social functions for singles and Mama Knows Best by Kayla Perrin,a sweet payback tale that makes me hope for a whole book about the characters. I have to say that two stories strongly stand out in my mind;Heather Swain's Cafe Con Leche Crush,about a new mother of twins who goes back to her old coffeehouse stomping grounds to reassess herself and Andrea Schicke Hirsch's Meeting Cute where a little girl with a not so cute attitude decides the fate of a budding relationship. Both stories have touching moments(particularly Cafe Con Leche Crush)and great narrative styles that I'll be on the lookout for these ladies when I need to find a good thumping read to tide me over.

This Is Chick Lit makes a marvelous addition to your chick lit library and if this genre is new to you,TICL is the perfect introduction. Anger may have motivated it but good writing and a strong sense of self is what drives TICL into charming it's readers. Please click the title link above to go to the TICL website that has more about the authors and plenty of links to many online discussions about Lit vs. Chick.
Hopefully,both sides will find a happy accord and to start,there's a list of recommended reading"across the aisle" by the contributors which should make many reading groups sit up and take notice.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bad Movie Month concludes with an open letter to Eugene Levy

Dear Eugene,

First off,I'd like to say that I've been a fan of yours ever since those wonderful days of SCTV,when you,John Candy,Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara(not to overlook Rick Moranis,Dave Thomas or Andrea Martin)put some damn fine funny moments on TV screens across the land. Like many other comedy skit show regulars,you went on to the big screen and while it would be unreasonable to insist that every project be a thread of comedy gold,you have quite a fair share of recent clunkers on your resume,one of which was The Man. My sister made me see it when it was in theaters,mainly due to your co-starring appearance(her favorite SCTV character is Sid Dithers)and she still apologizes to this day.

I took a good look at your IMDB listing and right smack on top,it says that you're making "American Pie 5:The Naked Mile." American Pie 5?!!! Bad enough that I had to risk searing my eyeballs during American Pie 2(yet another Little Sister cinema selection that I can get an instant"I'm sorry" for)which was not only low on humor but had a literally phoned-in performance by Mena Suvari! You could clearly see in the girl's eyes that she was thinking"Gee,how much can I not do and still cash a big paycheck here?".

Some movies are just for the money,I get that-nothing wrong with paying the bills and hanging with Queen Latifah or Steve Martin doing that as a bonus. Who wouldn't want to be working with Samuel L. Jackson,even in a movie with meat fart jokes? But when you're doing these direct-to-video schlockfests,it's sad to see a man of your talents having to play Mr. Goofy Parent. Yes,I know all about those Christopher Guest movies that you make with your friends and they're great(and I'm sure that your new film,For Your Consideration, will gather up the usual critical praise).

However,most of the younger generation is discovering you in the likes of Dumb and Dumber:When Harry Met Lloyd and New York Minute with the Olsen twins,who have a wide audience for some damn reason. Perhaps they were originally triplets and the extra one was sacrificed to Satan for fame and fortune-that wouldn't surpise you,would it?

Anyway,my point is-do it for the kids,Eugene! Please let them see you in something that doesn't hit the low expectations level that Hollywood loves to spoonfeed them!

You and your fellow SCTV folk are some of the best comedic treasures around and while it may be too late to help Marty Short(who can't resist a chance to dunk himself in makeup-why else be in Santa Clause 3?),you're still a guy who can make laughs seem effortless. Look at it this way-you don't want to be Rob Schneider. Even Rob Schneider doesn't want to be Rob Schneider.

I know you care about the young people,especially after I saw this moving PSA:

So,hopefully,you'll think twice before considering an offer for American Pie 7.

Thanks and look forward to seeing you in better films,

Lady T and every other SCTV fan out there

Friday, August 25, 2006

Why should Survivor be the only one to play the race card?

The latest controversy sweeping the internet is about the upcoming season of Survivor which plans to divide the contestants into four teams based on race. This has caused such a ruckus that NYC officials are already demanding that CBS pull the show.CBS' response is that they " fully recognizes the controversial nature of this format but has full confidence in the producers and their ability to produce the program in a responsible manner,".... "'Survivor' is a program that is no stranger to controversy and has always answered its critics on the screen."

I've never been a big fan of Survivor(it's like The Real World to me-one of those shows that my first thought is"They're still doing that?")and I do like some reality shows,mainly the ones who insist on using creativity and skills instead of smarmy sideshow antics. Apparently,CBS is that desparate to get those ratings at all costs.

If this is the new trend that network TV is going to take up to compete with an ever expanding cable/video game/IPod audience,why leave it to the cheesy reality shows? Recruit some big Hollywood talents and throw some real money into production values. Hey,if the Disney channel can give us High School Musical,surely someone can put together a social experimental musical extravaganza a little something like this:

And let's not overlook Broadway! There's a long and grand tradition of tackling tough issues in society on stage. Imagine combining that with the metaphorical genre of science fiction and just marvel at the results!:

Other troublesome topics could use some fresh exploitation,er,exploration! It doesn't have to be tedious-mix in a mainstream sporting event that's known even to small children and see where that leads:

It's too bad that we can't have intelligent,creative programming which would not only enlighten but entertain folks into seeing past their differences. That would be too much to ask for. I guess quality television such as this won't be possible to have within my lifetime:

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,Blade and Project Runway's family affair

Thanks to Netflix,I saw the pilot episode of NBC's upcoming fall show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which stars Amanda Peet,Steven Weber and Matthew Perry(sounds like a made for tv indie style movie with a cast like that,doesn't it?). The premise of the show is that a late night comedy skit show ala SNL is in trouble after the executive producer(well played by Judd Hirsch)pulls a Network stunt live on the air after having yet another good sketch being cut by the Standards & Practices censor.

To negate some of the bad press,newly appointed president of the network,Jordan McDeere(Amanda P.)decides to hire two former writers who were kicked off four years earlier(and now have achieved some solo success)to run the show. Matt Albie(Matthew Perry) has more than one probelm with that;seems his ex-girlfriend Harriet Hayes is one of the "Big Three" stars of Studio 60 and their break up was due to her becoming a born again Christian. Matt's pal Danny Tripp(Bradley Whitford)reluctantly agrees to taking the job since he wasn't able to get insurance for the film that he and Matt were planning to make due to not passing a drug test.

The show is an Aaron Sorkin creation and while I'm not a big fan of his(never watched The West Wing because if I want to see politics on Tv,that's what CNN is for),this does look very good. Sorkin knows his way around network television and is not going to be shy about throwing some tough punches. The writing sounds smart and there's great chemistry amongst the cast which also includes D.L. Hughley,Timothy Busfield,Nate Corddry and Ed Anser. Studio 60 is one to watch for this fall.

I've been watching the replays of Blade the series on Monday nights,so I'm always a tad behind most regulars viewers. This show has been kicking some major ass with sleek fight scenes and smart plotlines that are just as complicated as any HBO series. So far,we've had old gang buddies of Blade's seeking some payback,possible warfare brewing between the vampire houses,secret experiments that have more than one purpose,a creepy baby eating master(or should I say mistress)pre-teen vampirella who makes Anne Rice's Claudia look as tough as one of the Olsen twins and Krista turning her mom into a vamp to save her from cancer. And that's just the first season,here!

Check out this music video to see what you've been missing out on:

Last night's Project Runway challenge was to design an outfit for the "everyday" woman,using female family members of the contestants as models(the rule was that you couldn't pick your own family member to work on). Jeffrey wound up with Angela's mom and treated her horribly. She had some doubts about the colors for the outfit and expressed them to Tim(who asked for her opinion before Jeffrey came back into the workroom). Jeffrey took the whole thing personally and actually brought the poor lady to tears. What a complete tool he is!

I had felt bad for Jeffery last week because I thought his dress for the Trash challenge deserved to win(Michael's was great but I liked the Pam Grier outfit he made better)and it looked like he was going to win,especially after Michael Kors praised the painted on belt. However,his behavior towards Angela's mother was non professional,to say the least. Hey,jerk-if you have a client that's reluctant about the choices you're making with THEIR outfit,it's your job to reassure her and politely bring her around to see things your way and/or compromise. If you don't have people skills,there are just some careers you shouldn't be in. He's damn lucky that it wasn't my mother he pulled that with-she'd have put a designer boot in his scawny ass.

Random Notes:

Who Wants to be a Superhero: It's down to three finalists-Major Victory,Fat Momma and Feedback. I was worried about MV getting kicked off last time(Stan Lee can be too picky about some things. His complaints about MV's taking off his cape and gloves,I don't buy. "A superhero never takes off his costume for any reason!" Uh,Stan-did you happen to see Spiderman 2? Peter Parker whipped off the mask quite a few times there). Tonight,the Final Three face off with some kids and have to hunt down their archenemy,Dark Enforcer,in a crowded public place. Good luck,gang!

Rescue Me: I swear,this show gets wackier everytime I watch-Maggie's hijacking of her brother's funeral to have a wedding(stupid,Garrity,stupid!)was mind blowing. Glad to see the Chief pull thru and yes,it is a tad eerie that Franco's new girlfriend looks alot like his daughter(that's a storyline that needs tying up there).Next week's the big finale and then,Nip/Tuck returns!

The 4400: Another season finale to watch for. Jordan's looking like the good guy in this upcoming battle and Isobel seems to be in her villianess groove. Too bad this is only a summer series-it's going be hard waiting for next season.

And last but not least,the new promo for season six of Smallville is out and about. Take a look at it and get to hear Lex say those magic words all Superman 2 fans know and love:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An Alphabetical Life is well worth living and reading

The subtitle of Wendy Werris' upcoming memoir,An Alphabetical Life,is "Living it up in the business of books" which she does with vibrant gusto. Her literary career started at nineteen when she got a job at the legendary Pickwick Shop in Hollywood in 1970. There,she not only blended in with the lively staff and customers but wound up putting college aside to pursue a bookselling career(she did obtain a degree later in life). When Pickwick closed down due to being bought by B. Dalton,Wendy worked at several other bookstores before landing a marketing position at Straight Arrow Books in San Francisco. After awhile,corporate life wasn't for her so she became a publisher's representive(one of the first women to do so in what had been a male dominated field for a long time)who eventually started up I-5 Associates and has also been a media escort for such authors as Jonathan Franzen and Eric Idle.

It's been a life of ups and downs;there are plenty of wonderful anecdotes in the book,like the time she went to a dinner party with Eric Idle,who seemed concerned about something. He said to her"Oh,I'm just wondering where my friend George is." His pal George did show up-George Harrison,that is! Other tales include the joys of convincing booksellers to stock The World According to Garp,finding a more entertaining way to do stock inventory with another rep and a visit to McDonalds with Franzen.

We also get to meet Wendy's family,mostly her parents Charlotte and Snag who brought their die hard Brooklyn born style with them to L.A. Snag was a well known comedy writer who worked on the Jackie Gleason show and wrote jokes for the likes of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope. When Snag became no longer in as much demand as he used with the changes in the entertainment world,it took a toll on family life. Wendy talks about how much she loved and admired her parents in different ways and dealt with losing them as well as a violent encounter in her home from a stranger that profoundly affected her relationships for a time.

Wendy paints loving portraits of many of the bookfolk she has met up with over the years like Anne Chiqouine,who had a Auntie Mame spirit about her and Miriam Bass,a book buyer for Hunter's Bookshop in Beverly Hills who was particularly her soulmate.

She relates many of the differences in the book world since she first entered it and laments the loss of many great independant stores(Wendy helped organize a reunion of Pickwick employees who still have fond memories of their time together).

An Alphabetical Life is a must-have not only for booklovers but for anyone curious about the nature of the book industry. It's also an engaging,rollicking ride with a truly remarkable woman. The book is due in stores by late October,so keep a sharp eye out for it and put in your pre-order today! You won't reget it but you will want to kick yourself for missing out on such a delightful daring life story.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Special Topics in Calamity Physics and the Chick Lit debate continues

The hottest new novel to hit the bookshelves right now is Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl and I was unable to resist it's siren call. Sure,you hang around the book review sections long enough and you can start to recognize the usual signs of a critics' darling by their "innovative" style,plus other terms of endearment that create a need for a thesaurus,stat! However, I was intrigued,not only by the positive reviews but some of the negative vibes as well(I'll get to that later)so I went out on the internet and ordered a copy.

I haven't finished STICP yet but can say that it's a damn good read so far. The plot focues on Blue Van Meer,a quiet,brainy girl who has been traveling from one college town to another with her widower father,Gareth(a man who seems to love the sound of his own voice more than anything else in life),a love'em and leave'em type of professor. Blue's last year of high school is spent at St. Galway's School,where she is reluctantly initiated into the Bluebloods,the top of the clique food chain.

The Bluebloods are united by Hannah Schneider,an Intro to Film teacher at St. Galway's who seems to cultivate an air of mystery about her. At one point in the story,Hannah is found dead,hanging from a tree limb and how that happened causes quite abit of chaos.

Much has been made of how the novel's been written;it's told from Blue's p.o.v. and she formats it like a Required Reading syllabus,with chapter titles taken from classic books and use of references and "visual aids". There's even a Final Exam at the end,sort of an open book test on the whole story.

That may scream "pretenious" to some but it does play well and fits the characters like a well made glove. Reading this book is like watching a season of Gilmore Girls that was written and directed by Wes Anderson. It's that smart,quirky and quite willing to entertain a dark side of the moon. I do intend to finish STICP,it really seems to be that rare gem that few truly find in the arts;something that actually lives up to the hype. The biggest complaints about Pessl's debut is that it's very similar to Donna Tartt's The Secret History(which I never read)and that Marissa is getting alot of attention due to her good looks. That is so Heathers-I don't deny that attractive features can give some folks advantages but I honestly don't think that Pessl sent out headshots with her manuscript when submitting for publication.

Speaking of Heathers,there's a new collection of short stories out called This is not Chick Lit,edited by Elizabeth Merrick who regards"literary" women writers as under siege from "piles of pink books" that keep readers from discovering them.It's even inspired another anthology entitled This is Chick Lit(that I will be reviewing for the blog very soon)put together by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. This made Merrick quite cranky and she shot back at it online(please click the title link to read her
written wrath and see the response from one of the TICL contributors,Rachel Pine).

I've been on the side of the Chicks in this ongoing feud and am sad to see all this infighting on both sides. What makes me favor the Chicks? Well,for one thing,if the Lit Girl theory is correct,a book like Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen shouldn't be climbing bestseller lists across the country(including the NYT and PW) and titles like Night Watch by Sarah Waters wouldn't be on the long list for the Man Booker Prize but,yet they are! How can that be,if all those icky pink covered books with their"stock protagonist with a designer handbag and three boyfriends" are storming the shelves,holding back those bold"pushing the envelope" tomes? Give me a bloody break,please!

Also,the Chicks are way more self-confident. They generally are saying"Look,some of us write for fun and some people read both our stuff and yours. Some readers just go for one or the other. Why can't we be friends?" In the index of This is Chick Lit,the contributing authors recommend titles by writers"across the aisle" such as The Outside World by Tova Mirvis,Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman and At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard,all of which I've read as well. Sounds to me as if some gals are more well rounded in their reading than others who are more interested in saying what they're not than what they are.

Gloria Steinem also added her two cents by endorsing TINCL with this amusing little blurb that appears on the back of the book:

" This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. I’ll know we’re getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing."

You know,if there was a book out called This Is Not A Guy Thing,it would sell. It also would unleash a massive wave of Beavis and Butthead like snickers in bookstores and libraries everywhere. Maybe Gloria should've gone into Marketing-missed your calling there,Ms. Steinem!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bad Movie Month takes you to the Valley of the Dolls and Beyond.

Book to film adaptations always have their fair share of naysayers,even when the book in question is not considered "literary" by critics. So,you could reasonably conclude that the film version of Jacqueline Susann's hit novel Valley of the Dolls was destined to be a camp classic from it's onset. Valley of the Dolls was one of the biggest insider glam books of the time which supposedly was talking about real life celebs(sort of the Devil Wears Prada of it's day)and even Ms. Susann herself has a small cameo in a movie she later came to hate.

The movie tells the story of three working gals caught up in the wicked world of entertainment;Anne Welles(Barbara Parkins),a WASPy good girl who lands a job at a theaterical agency by just showing up in beige and becomes pals with ambitious Neely O'Hara(Patty Duke) and Jennifer North(Sharon Tate),a pretty girl written off as just that. Neely winds up being a big Broadway/Hollywood star and a major pillhead to boot. Poor girl,she can't help it-"Of course,I'm hooked on dolls! I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and it's SPARKLE,Neely,SPARKLE!"

Patty Duke's over the top performance perfectly fits this movie with so many bits of goofiness to mock that it's hard to know where to begin. Duke doesn't just chew the scenery,she rips it apart and smacks the rest of the cast around with it,particularly in a big showdown with fading Broadway diva Helen Lawson(Susan Hayward,who replaced an on-the-rocks Judy Garland)that ends with a bathroom brawl where Neely tries to flush Helen's wig down the toilet.

Of course Neely isn't the only one with bad dialogue(she does deliver it the loudest tho-one of my favorite lines is "Boobies,boobies,boobies! Who needs 'em? I sure didn't"). Other memorable lines include"Just remember,at midnight all cats are grey" and "That little whore makes me feel nine feet tall." Plenty of songs are sung (and/or dubbed)with fun lyrics as "I'll plant my own tree/and I'll make it grow" and when in doubt,the theme song sung by Dionne Warwick is played to punch up those dramatic highpoints(usually in a scene where Anne stands by a window,feeling all pouty about her commitophobe boyfriend,Lyon Burke). Just listen to this sucker and enjoy it's soap opera funeral dirge charms:

When the storyline isn't ripe with melodramatic turns like Jennifer having to support her chronically ill husband by doing "art" films or Neely drying out in a sanitarum by being sealed up in a bathtub,montages are abused left and right. The best one is for Anne's fashion commerical(yep,out of the blue,she gets to be a supermodel)which looks like what Coco Chanel would see during an acid trip. There's a good reason this movie has become a cult hit and the DVD is definately worth adding to your midnight movie collection.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has to be taken as a major bitchslap. The movie has a pre-opening credits discloser claiming not to be an actual sequel to VOD and oddly enough VOD also has a "not based on real persons" one up front,too. BVD runs along similar lines about how the evils of fame can ruin young women,only this time the music world is the big focus. The three leading gals-Kelly(Dolly Read),Casey(Cynthia Myers)and Pet(Marcia McBroom)-are members of a rock group called the Carrie Nations mentored by Ronnie"Z-Man" Barzell(John LaZar) and when the girls start to be successful,romantic tensions are increased with plenty of sex and drugs galore.

Russ Meyer directed and co-wrote this movie with Roger Ebert(yes,the big thumbs-up critic man himself)and while many of Meyers' signature touches(rampant nudity and wacked out violence)are all over the place,it's weird to think of Ebert,who rips on subpar screenplays himself,penning such lines as "You will drink the black sperm of my vengence" and "You're a groovy boy,I'd like to strap you on sometime".

Montages get the redheaded stepchild treatment here as well(Ebert relates in an article about BVD that he and Meyer did see the VOD movie for inspiration),with plenty of them set to the Carrie Nations tunes that rival Josie and the Pussycats for sophistication and style.

Ebert calls BVD"an essay on generic expectations"-well,that's one way to put it,I guess. Another way would be to wonder if they weren't high while making this film, perhaps someone should have been! The best parts of the movie are when Z-Man appears,making his psuedo-Shakespearan quips and gossiping about everyone in sight. By the end of the movie,Z-Man goes insane after a bad dose of peyote and has a freaky little killing spree,armed with a sword and gun. Sure,some major characters bite it but then,one guy realizes that he can walk again and it's all smiles! No joke,folks.

BVD is also now on DVD and you can pair the two of them up for a daring double feature of culty camp goodness. I personally had more fun with the original Valley but it's good to compare and contrast. It is hard to decide which is better;Z-Man's declaration of "This is my happening and it freaks me out!" or Neely's backalley bellowing of"NEEELY OHARRAAA!" Tough call to make.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,the winner of the Oscar for Best Song of 2006 is...

I have to admit that the hype for Snakes on a Plane turned me off to it but this theme song made me do a 180 degree reversal:

It reminds me of a time when movie songs were fun little dittys,delighting in the buttery popcorn pop music that played over the closing credits. A time when songs from movies like Mannequin and Rocky III could be Top Forty Hits and major Oscar nominees:

It used to be easy to predict who would win Best Song on the Academy Awards;usually the one that was played so often you could recite the lyrics in your sleep got the Golden Boy. For awhile,there was a nice streak of Disney film songs that dominated the playing field and that was fine(except for Phil Collins' Tarzan number beating out the South Park song-not cool,Zeus!). Nowdays,the Song catagory makes you go"Who the hell is that?" rather than"Yeah,knew that one would be there."

I'm all for not favoring the obvious and giving lesser known stuff a fair shot but last year,there were only three songs up for Best Song,three! The pickings were that slim,folks. I know the Academy takes about a decade or so to get with it yet if Eminem can win an award(too bad he wasn't actually there to recieve from Barbara Streisand,that would've been classic)and "It's hard out here for a pimp" can as well,we should be able to have five songs vieing for the Oscar next year and the Snakes on a Plane song should be one of them.

I used to enjoy getting the soundtrack to movies-one of my favorites is Prince's Batman album and those videos were too much,especially Batdance. That is one of strangest,most over the top musicial numbers I've ever seen and yet,Prince looks cool as Gemini:

Maybe I'm just getting older and not that into new music(whenever MTV or Fuse is one,nine times out of ten I wind up asking Little Sister what band is playing)but I haven't been interested in any movie related tunes for a long time. The last soundtrack added to my collection was the one for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Back in the day,it seemed like everyone grooved to movie tunes from the likes of Pretty Woman,Speed and The Bodyguard. We've had some revival of that with the success of Chicago(which is actually the last movie soundtrack I've bought,come to think of it) and Moulin Rouge but it would be nice to see more of that reflected in a non musical film.

So,it's not too early to campaign for SOAP to be nominated for Best Song-come on,internet people! If you can make Samuel L. Jackson say"I'm tired of these mother fuckin' snakes on this mother fuckin' plane!",you can rally around this song to be honored by the industry. That way,we can have more kickass movie/music tie-ins like this one:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The return of Jordan Collier,Designstar and Hell's Kitchen is now closed!

Big doings this week on The 4400 as Jordan Collier makes his reappearance back from the dead(I find it an odd coincidence that his initials are J.C.-subtle,folks,real subtle)and brings about a number of changes,including the release of Kyle. While it's great to see something good happen for Tom(and Diana,who is pretty much going to get over unintentionally stealing her sister's boyfriend-hey,maybe Maia should set up a dating service!),you just know that this is going to get from bad to worse here,otherwise where's the plot beef?

Speaking of beef,Jordan certainly has one with Isobel(she sure seems nervous around him-for a gal who can crush your brain with a blink,Jordan doesn't look too tough to handle but looks are decieving). While I can't blame him for telling her to hit the road,I'm sure Sean won't take that lying down. The question is,what side will Richard be on here and how strong are his Carrie powers?

And the winner of Hell's Kitchen is ...Heather! I knew she could do it-Virginia can't cut it when it comes to service,since flirting doesn't make the food cook faster. Plus,what a dope Virginia was! She had first choice of team players and she selects K-Grease right off the bat(the guy who only last week called her Ramsey's love interest)and the two weakest members of both cooking teams,then tells them she based her selection of them due to their loser status! Great way to motivate people,hon.

I wasn't planning to get involved in Design Star but with repeat broadcasts(I'm so thankful that many networks are doing this,makes watching more than one series that much easier)and being a HGTV regular watcher,it just happened. Also,Donna got on my nerves,with her endless need to shop and constant clashes with Temple(who has been ragged on by more than one contestant for being a former Miss Utah). It was surpising to see Donna get sent home,however. Temple was the team leader on the last challenge,which was redoing an entire kitchen in someone's home within 32 hours.

Temple oversold her concept and as a result,many things were not completed by the end of the deadline. The whole thing reminded of a Top Chef episode that had Lee Ann in a similar bind,preparing her elaborate menu for a wedding(you know you've watched too much TV when one reality show reminds you of another).

Temple was on the chopping block but Donna's lack of pizzazz seemed to do her in. I also suspect that the judges might've seen the footage of Donna going on yet another shopping trip while there was work to be done(again!)and she even took a nap in the van! Atleast Temple put her shoulder to the wheel,trying to make the project work and didn't go off to eat apples and have some sleepy time,geez! Well,David is still in the running and he's very talented which makes my good buddy at Now,A Warning happy. With only four contestants now,it should get very gritty.

Random Notes:

Rescue Me:It's not even the season finale and we have two characters about to pop off,here! It didn't take long for that new girlfriend of the Chief's to leave him in the lurch,now did it? If I have to choose between Johnny and the Chief,my money's on the big man there. Johnny can join the ghost brigade in Tommy's head. I know that Garrity marrying Maggie makes for some decent comedy relief but his breaking off with her after that disasterous meeting with the priest shows some common sense.

Who Wants to be a Superhero?: Monkey Woman's Tears of Persuasion had no sway over Stan Lee,who kicked her to the curb after not only flunked her secret identity challenge but turned out to have lied as well. Maybe Dark Enforcer needs a henchwoman? Tonight,the heroes have to hit the streets to recruit civilian aid and face up to secrets from their pasts. Should be good for some super sized laughs!

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The last episode of season two airs tonight,with Stephen Collins(yep,the dad from 7th Heaven)guest starring as the alledged "real" father of Sweet Dee and Dennis,which puts Daddy Frank in an uproar. I'm really glad that I caught this show the second time around and look forward to it being renewed.

And finally,this promo for Nip/Tuck is seriously rocking my world-it first aired with a different song but switching to Goldfrapp's "Strict Machine" was a smart move.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Calendar Chaos;What to choose,what to choose?

One of the signs that summer is due to be over is the appearance of calendars for next year cropping at bookstores and this actually is the best time of year to get them. Why,you may ask? Let me clue you in,friends-bookstores order calendars in bulk months in advance and the vast majority are shipped in the summer. If you wait until December 27 to see if that Cuddly Kittens of Costco desk calendar you want is available,it might not be and it might not be available for re-order either.

It may seem nuts to think about getting a new calendar now but trust me,if you want a good one and/or there's a certain type you must have,strike while the iron's hot. For me,it's simply a pick of wall calendars. Page a days are cute but too messy for my needs and engagement calendars(those primitive versions of a Blackberry)are neat but,again,useless for me.

For the past two years,I've been using Alex Ross Mythology calenders-Alex Ross is a phemoneonal comics and graphic novel artist who makes photorealistic versions of some of the classic superheroes(his best known work is Kingdom Come)and a collection of his designs came out in a book,which the calendars are based. It's great stuff but I think it's time to change things up a bit.

So,what do I select to represent 2007? It's more important than you'd think. Remember,this is something you'll be looking at for an ENTIRE year and if you have a favorite month,is it wise to have a picture showcasing it that doesn't reflect your feelings? Also,trends change rather quickly and what may have looked cool in January may make you feel ill by the time July 4th rolls around.

Themes are tricky-do I want cute,funny,sexy? Should I go for a favorite author/tv show/movie? Remember the good old days when you could get a free calendar at any corner store? The choices these days are numerous-there is literally a calendar for anything and everything in the known universe.

Little Sister was luckier than me this year- right at the Tom Goes to the Mayor website,you can buy a Married Newsteam calendar that comes with a free TGTM button and sticker with purchase(just click the title link if you want one of your very own). It's great when you see the perfect item that will complete just the very spot in your life that you needed to fill. I know I'll find my calendar for 2007 out there somewhere and it'll be like the porridge Goldilocks chose. I just have to keep my eyes wide open.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bad Movie Month grabs hold of you with Anaconda

In honor of this week's release of Snakes on a Plane,today's Bad Movie focus will be on the reptilian delights of Anaconda,which starred a pre-J.Lo Jennifer Lopez as Terri,a documentary film maker traveling down the Amazon River with Eric Stolz and an array of fun sterotypes such as the effete Brit,the ditzy sex crazed whitebread couple(played by Owen Wilson and Kari Wuhrer)and the badass"urban" camera man(Ice Cube).

This unique group is hijacked by Jon Voight and friends who are searching for ,you guessed it,a giant anaconda. Voight's accent rivals Ricky Ricardo's and gives Al Pacino's vocal stylings in Scarface a run for the money with lines like"Eet wraps eetz COILS around yooo... .TIGHTAH zan anny luvvah." and" Buenos noches, beautiful."
Stolz tries to stop him but gets stung by a wasp while scuba diving(not making this up,I swear)and gets a Get Of The Plotline Free card by being in a convienant coma for the rest of the film. Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube aren't so lucky-they're stuck with the task of fighting off CGI snakes and having to figure out what the hell Voight's saying as he keeps getting the rest of the cast served up buffet style to the slaughter.

The special effects are somewhat decent but incredibly obvious,even for 1997. One of the more entertaining scenes is when Voight gets swallowed up and you think that with all the grease on his hair and body,it would be a quick gobble for the snake but oh noooo! You get more hamming up from Brangela's father-in-law as his body slowly makes it's way down the big boy's gullet. Strangest of all,there's actually a sequel to this mess called Anacondas:The Search For the Blood Orchid. No major stars in that one but plenty of bad acting that does the original proud,I'm sure.

Anaconda recieved several Razzie nominations,including two for Jon Voight(one was for "Worst Screen Couple" which was made up of him and the snake)but alas,no wins. If you can't make it to Snakes on a Plane,just pop over to your local video rental place and grab a copy of Anaconda,along with some Gummi Worms(hey,they don't make Gummi Snakes-maybe they should)for flavor. I would suggest nachos but you might get too qeasey from all the Velveeta oozing off your screen.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Let Little Miss Sunshine brighten up your day!

I know this is Bad Movie Month but I wound up seeing a really good film this weekend(don't worry,I have a slithery stinker for BBM coming up on the horizon). Little Miss Sunshine is an ensemble film about a family trip that's even more crazed than usual with the Little Miss Sunshine pagent as the destination.

Meet the Hoovers;desparate dad Richard(Greg Kinnear)who is keen on selling his 9 point motivational plan,mom Sheryl(Toni Collette)the determined peace keeper,silent son Dwayne(Paul Dano)who plans to become an Air Force pilot,Grandpa(a ribald Alan Arkin)who is not shy about giving his uncensored opinions and snorts heroin on the side. They've been recently joined by Uncle Frank(Steve Carell)who is recovering from a suicide attempt and doesn't hesitate to remind everyone that he is the "number one Proust scholar." The heart of the family and the film is Olive(Abigail Breslin),a sweet natured seven year old who dreams of beauty pagents and is given the chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine one due to the first place winner getting knocked out of the running.

Even tho the family finances are tight,going to the pagent means everything to Olive so off the Hoovers go,in a blindingly yellow van that breaks down so much that everyone has to push it to start and then race to get inside. Other obstacles pop up along the way such as a sudden death,a chance discovery that affects someone's future plans and certain realizations before the big climax of Olive's pagent performance.

What's so great about this movie is the strong family dynamics at work here;one key scene has Richard try to talk Olive out of having some ice cream at a restaurant, with worries about her weight. When the ice cream arrives and she rejects it,the rest of them start to all dig into it which is just a ploy to help her get over Richard's negative comments that works like a charm. A nice way to set up everyone's character without going overboard.

Richard is not made into the villian here,rather his attempts to make his plan sell and to project the image of being a "winner" only shows his true vulnerabilties. Despite whatever probelms the Hoovers have,at the end they rally together and give each other the support that's needed. This may sound like a major sapfest but it's not in the least. The humor is low key at times and loud at others but never vicious.

The cast is so wonderful here-Steve Carell plays his part well in tune with Kinnear,Collette and the rest. Everyone blends their talents to balance out the story without any showboating. The real breakout performance here is Abigail Breslin as Olive;forget Dakota Fanning,please! This girl is the future Kristen Dunst,a charming but no-way-in-hell-cutesy child star. Her big pagent"routine" is something you have to see to believe. One of the damn funniest things I've seen this year onscreen and a nifty bit of social satire to boot.

Little Miss Sunshine is in limited release at the moment but due to get a wider one soon(click the title link for more info). This is one movie that truly lives up to it's hype and will put you into a good mood as you leave the multiplex,still smiling at the thought of Olive's serenely sincere routine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cool down your summer nights with Winter's Bone and then warm back up with The Burning

With all the heat waves we've been experiencing this summer,it's good to find stories that make it more pleasant and give you some savory food for thought. These two titles,Winter's Bone and The Burning,are polar opposites in terms of style and plot but in some ways,they share some common ground.

The heroine of Winter's Bone is Ree Dolly,a sixteen year girl in the Ozarks who's running her whole household which consists of two younger brothers and a mother that's gone AWOL mentally some time ago. Ree's biggest goal in life is to join the Army so that she can get away from the endless cycle of poverty and despair that has engulfed generations of Dollys before her and threatens to do so for her brothers.

When the sheriff's deputy pays her a visit to inform them that her dad Jessup,one of the best known crank chefs around,must make his court date or forfeit the family home that was put up to gurantee his release,Ree sets out to find him. That's no easy task,given the deeply secretive nature of the folks in the area(many of whom are related to the Dollys in one way or another)and the harsh winter conditions that even with a hitched ride or two,can make the North Pole look like Spring Break.

Ree's quest to find Jessup stirs up more troubles than even she expected,bringing about some tough choices not only for her but for others as well,like her married friend,Gail,who is tired of her husband sneaking out to see his old girlfriend while leaving her with their newborn baby boy,and Uncle Teardrop,Jessup's older brother, who is a ferocious crank fiend and a man who you wouldn't want to meet up with after dark.

Author Daniel Woodrell is a native of the Ozarks and he captures that world in all it's beautifully sad details with crystal clarity. Ree Dolly is one of those strong young women who holds your interest on the page and keeps you rooting for her until the bitter end. Winter's Bone is a hauntingly elegant novel about surviving in a hard world without letting it harden your heart.

The Burning has it's start in Las Vegas,where recent college grad Logan meets up with gorgeous blackjack dealer Dallas Cole. Logan's primed to make his mark in the world of economics where he was touted as the next whiz kid in the field. Dallas wants more out of her life yet can't help but get herself into impulse driven situations such as fooling around with her married boss and getting accused of helping a player cheat at her station.

Logan's economic theories are appreciated but deemed too outlandish which only lands him a teaching position at Arizona State University. After a brief courtship,Dallas joins him as his wife which releases her from dealing with being banned from working in any Vegas casino due to the unfounded charges and breaking up with her boss(none of which she has mentioned to Logan). Dallas finds a job at a local casino but is bored by the slower pace of a non Vegas environment and winds up gambling away most of her paycheck.

Logan deals with his own frustrations by throwing himself into his work which takes a whole new twist,thanks to Keris,one of his new colleagues who captures more than his professional interest. Logan's new theory that could change the very nature of economics itself becomes more than a threat to those already keeping the status quo like his old college buddy Deck but to his relationship with Dallas,who is becoming increasingly jealous of any attention not given to her.

The Burning is Thomas Legendre's first novel and it hums with an electric beat that flows thru the characters and the choices they make. The dialogue crackles with the kind of energy that you long to hear and only expect in tightly written mystery stories. Logan and Dallas' passions rise and fall but not in a cheesy soap opera way.This is more along the lines of an Elmore Leonard or a Carl Hiaason with a dash of Economics 101 for added vest. Legendre is definately an author that we can expect to see dazzle us with more great and juicy books.

Whether you're looking for a quick read or an interesting character study,either one of these books should fill the bill.Both deal with people in worlds whose inner woes match their outer surroundings and are well written to boot. If you want to find out more about them,please click the title link above. Even tho the summer reading season is fading fast,there's plenty of time to add Winter's Bone and The Burning to your bedside table or beach chair for a perfect getaway from the everyday.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A villian rises,Tommy Gavin falls off the wagon and is there a harlot in Hell's Kitchen?

We're down to the final two chefs in Hell's Kitchen and by the luck of the devil,Virginia managed to knock K-Grease out of the running. Big Man did not take the news well,getting in Gordon Ramsey's face and accusing him of having a "hard-on" for Virginia. The phrase was bleeped but you could still make the words out(bleeping technology is getting clumsy these days). Dude,I know it stinks to lose out to Miss Flirty-Flirt(when she's not being Lady Weeping Willow)but Gordon's a professional who is clearly not taken in by her wiles,unlike the construction workers that approved of her turkey sandwich last week. I swear,that girl could clean up at Hooters with her hot momma routine!

Not to be left out of We Hate Virginia Club was Heather,who earlier in the show found it rather convenient that Virginia was the only one to perfectly match Gordon's signature dish AND just happened to have bought Ramsey's cookbook which probaly did have the recipe in it. That,to me,is a more serious accusation than the possibility of a Gordon/Virginia hook-up. Nothing much was done about that but it is odd that Virginia"just happened" to find those beans and use grapefruit. I think it's the producers who have a hard-on for her;she's a pretty face and a people pleaser after all. Next week is the big showdown,which has the kicked-off contestants working with the finalists in running a kitchen. Virginia melts under pressure so it's advantage Heather!

Last time on Who Wants To Be A Superhero,Iron Enforcer was the fourth person to be eliminated(after the lame Cell Phone Girl)but recruited at the last minute by Stan Lee to be the Big Bad for the show. It was a good call-the guy's clearly more of a villian type and this motley crew can certainly use a good challenge. Have to admit that Monkey Woman's tougher than I thought she was-making her way thru the attack dog run like that earned her some kickass points. Feedback is such a tool for his mocking of Ty'Velculus' new costume(which was awful but still...)and Creature's new duds don't seem like much, Then again,neither is her character.

Tonight,our heroes face a crossing rooftop challenge and meet their new menace,The Dark Enforcer! That new outfit of DF's looks like a D&D player's wet dream. Let's see who'll be a winner and not a weiner by the end of the show.

Rescue Me had some damn fine Denis Leary moments this week,with Tommy's tour de force in that bar,caging some whiskey and pouring out his pain for all and sundry. The second biggest high point was talking his friend into accepting death and promising to take of his wife and kids. With all that money that Sheila's been waving in Tommy's face,maybe some of it will go to someone who really needs it,hint hint!

Looks like Probie's leaving(can't say that I blame him)and another bad relationship is looming,now with the Chief hooking up with that lady from his wife's nursing home who tells him that a)she could get fired for seeing him,b)that she's an illegal immigrant and c)she works off the books,all on the first date! What is it with new love interests on this show-they all seem to be walking around with placards saying"I AM TROUBLE,BIGTIME" on them! It's sad when the only one with a healthy love life is Uncle Teddy with his fried chicken and conjugal visits.

Random Notes:

Project Runway: Glad to see Michael win the Icon challenge(Pam Grier would definately wear such a smoking outfit)and was surpised that Angela managed to make a dress that looked decent on her own. Kayne's Monroe dress was to die for but he's already had a win. How could Bradley not know anything about Cher? Maybe I'm picky here but for a designer not to know about such a celebrity clotheshorse is not acceptable. It would be like a mystery writer who claimed to not know about Elmore Leonard or John Grisham.

30 Days: The Atheist Vs. The Christians show once again had an understanding host wife and a stubborn husband(real subtle with the crossed arms there,buddy!). The sidebits with Morgan Spurlock checking out religious debates in the US was pretty fun. My favorite has to be the visit to Holy Land Experience,a theme park that sells Goliath burgers and does an re-enactment of the Crucifixion as it's main attraction. Wonder if Mel Gibson ever thought of this?

The 4400: Sean is screwed six ways to Sunday,according to the VisionQuest cigar he smoked. Marry Isobel,death! Don't marry Isobel,death! Maybe his Uncle Tom can pass on a certain needle full of special Isobel BeGon juice as a wedding present.

If you're in a rerun mood,tonight's The Office is replaying the one with Dwight's very Cartman like speech. As much as I dig the whole Jim & Pam deal,I truly hope that Dwight and Angela's romance gets some good focus next season:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Harbinger,a blast from the DC past at a toy store near you!

Last Saturday,Little Sister and I were at Midtown Comics(it was LS's birthday,so we went shopping,our first stop being Sanrio Surpises which is a realm of pink covered cuteness)and when I went upstairs to check out the vampire puppet from Angel,I also discovered that there were Crisis on Infinite Earths action figures and one of them was Harbinger.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a twelve part miniseries from DC Comics that came out in 1985 that was ment to not only entertain but as a way to narrow down the overflowing DC universe. I'll give you the Cliff Notes version of the plot:there are several earths(Earth 1,Earth 2,Earth Prime,etc)that slightly mirror each other and have alternate versions of such superheroes as Batman and Superman and/or similar types of good guys and bad guys. One day,a wave of anti-matter starts sweeping thru the universes,gobbling them up one by one. People,super and non,try to fight it but to no avail.

An all-seeing type called The Monitor knows what's behind this and decides to recruit heroes and villians from different worlds to stop the anti-matter tsunami. His assistant,Lyla,is the one who must bring them together and becomes Harbinger,a being who is able to divide herself into several replicates in order to be in many places at once(think Santa ever considered this option?). This method isn't foolproof,however which leads to one of her selves being corrupted by the Big Bad of the piece and ultimately being driven to turn on her mentor.

This,of course,was foreseen by The Monitor and his demise becomes a help,rather than a hinderance in the fight to save as many worlds as possible. Harbinger winds up losing her powers for awhile but still contributed to the battle by accessing as much of The Monitor's info to help the others. She wound up being one of the survivors of the Crisis and made a few other appearances in DC Comics,including a stint on Themyscira(aka Paradise Island,home of Wonder Woman).

So,what's so great about her? Well,first off,I liked how she was designed. Her whole entire look screams mystical warrior and while she didn't have any major fisticuffs with anyone,Harbinger certainly didn't seem like a weak sister. Also,by making her a savior who becomes a destroyer,it gives her some vulnerability which adds some depth to her character. The COIE series was written by Marv Wolfman who also did work on The New Teen Titans and created Raven,one of my favorite goth girls. The man knows how to write compelling superhero storylines that keeps the players from becoming superpowered stick figures.

Gals like her don't usually get much merchandising,let alone an action figure. Crisis on Infinite Earths does have a strong following still to this day and many people like me are happy to have Harbinger on their shelves,as well as Psycho Pirate and The Monitor. I think I'll just stay with Harbinger-she represents the best of the series to me. Why settle for less?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Movie Poster Preview of the Fall Film Season

With summer movie season beginning to wind down,it's a good time to see what lies ahead for autumn film fans who will not have to share multplex seating space with a bunch of bored teenagers and oversugared tots. A picture is worth a thousand words and a movie poster must be atleast double that,so let's look at what will be featured on a billboard near you.

The Black Dahlia: This adaptation of James Ellroy's novel looks to be as stylish as L.A. Confidential was,judging from this design. The posed doll-like face is very eye catching and that touch of either blood or lipstick oozing delicately from the corner of her mouth is so lush. Makes me want to see it or atleast read the book(it's due out in paperback soon)-wonder if the tie-in book will have this as it's cover?

The Wicker Man: The tagline says"Some sacrifices must be made"-well,hopefully Nicholas Cage offered up a goat or a good script to the Movie Gods because goodness knows,he's been between hit films for awhile(too soon to tell on the WTC film yet).I don't know what's freaky,Cage's sepia toned puss as the background or the evil flower girl who looks ready to take on Chucky and Damien for the heavyweight title belt there. Wicker Man is a remake of a celebrated cult classic so it'll be a tough row to hoe there when the movie critics come a-callin'.

The Protector:Rope Wrist Fighter is back-woo hoo! For those of you who didn't see Ong Bak:The Thai Warrior,Tony Jaa is the new Big Man on the Kung Fu campus. In this flick,Tony must go to Australia to rescue a pair of elephants from the mafia. Sounds wacky(and there is quite abit of comedy mixed into Ong Bak as well)but the fight scenes should be excellant. I love the color scheme in this poster,a great blend of darks and lights-doesn't it just seem like falling leaves and cold sweather weather?

Saw III: You can't help but admire the subtley of the advertising here. This actually looks less gruesome than the Saw II poster did(with the severed fingers)and I like how they not only added an actual sawblade but made the teeth dangling from it look like something out of HGTV:"Today,folks,we'll show you how to make those forced out of your mouth with gory pain teeth into an inexpensive decoration for your tool shed!"

Apocalypto:It's almost too easy to make a Mel joke with this,especially with a tagline like"No one can outrun their destiny" or outdrive it either-*cue drum riff*!

This seems like a cheerful little film,doesn't it? All sunshine and roses,just the perfect date movie! Why,with some editing,you might even be able to bring Aunt Eva and Great Grandpa Adolf along to make this a memorable family outing at the movies.

Santa Clause 3:The Escape Clause:As Dan Ackroyd said in Twilight Zone:The Movie"Hey,you want to see something REALLY scary?" I just hope there's an escape cause for the audience members who wish to keep some of their brain cells intact after sitting thru this Santa sludge. I'll admit to liking the first SC(it was kind of cute)but come on,part three? It's no Pirates of the Carribean(imagine Johnny Depp trying to make this mess watchable)or even Jackass,which is getting a part two out soon. I would feel sorry for Martin Short but he seems to revel in doing anything that requires massive amounts of makeup,so forget that. Hey,if Andy Dick was Jack Frost,that might have been cool(he was so twisted as the Xmas villian in The Hebrew Hammer) but that would've been creative or something.

Remember folks,those autumn months are more than back to school days and the countdown to New Year's Eve-there's some serious movie going to do!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bad Movie Month Presents Bride of the Atom,er,Monster!

Bride of the Atom was the original title of this Ed Wood"film"(with Ed Wood,it's best to use qoute marks when referring to his work,trust me)which actually did spawn a sequel entitled Night of the Ghouls that wasn't released for the longest time. BOTM stars Bela Lugosi as mad scientist Dr. Eric Vornoff,who along with mute thug assistant Lobo(played by wrestling star Tor Johnson who certainly had as much onscreen charisma as Kane does)are conducting a series of experiments in the "Old Willow's Place". Reporter Janet Lawton(Loretta King)goes off on a Lois Lane trip to find out about why folks keep disappearing and if the stories about a local monster are true. Of course,she needs rescuing from her cop boyfriend who's also on the look out for Professor Strowski who is seeking Vornoff himself.

Ed Wood was a big fan of stock footage to pad his movies and it's fully on display in BOTM as characters are menaced by creatures that are nowhere near enough to be an actual threat. One of the funniest bits has Janet cowering in fear from a snake only to be saved by Lobo,who knocks a real Woolworth's ten cent special rubber snake off of a prop tree. Another scene has the hero cop falling into quicksand(which he sort of walks into)that looks like a big leafy pit,shooting wildly in the direction of a rather distant alligator.

The movie is best known as Bela Lugosi's last speaking appearance in film(the clips of him in the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space have no dialogue)and as those of you who watched Tim Burton's Ed Wood(a good movie about making bad ones),this speech is one of the highlights of his performance:

Lugosi was not even considered a blip on the Hollywood radar when he did this and unfortunately,had a nasty morphine addiction to boot. Even so,you can catch a glimpse of what made him famous despite the fact that he was wired to the gills here.Martin Landau's portrayal of Bela is the best tribute to Lugosi's legacy that I can think of:

Even if you've seen Ed Wood,don't assume that's all there is to BOTM. There are plenty of strange bits that make it quite the unique little roadshow. There's the chief of police who goes around with a parakeet on his shoulder(at one point,the bird is dangling off of his eyeglasses!),our hero cop who spends a good portion of the climax,wearing ripped up remnants of his shirt ala Puffy Seinfeld Shirt and the non moving killer octopus,a prop that didn't work so the actors had to pretend to be fighting with it. Even poor Bela was not spared the indignity of rolling around in cold water while wrapping fake octopus limbs about him.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered Bride of the Monster but it has yet to be given a DVD release either in a box set or on it's own so far(you can catch clips of it on YouTube). The movie itself is available on the DVD market so if you want to see"The screen's master of the WEIRD...IN HIS NEWEST and MOST DARING SHOCKER!"for yourself,just saying "It's only a bad movie,it's only a bad movie...."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Having another taste of Flavor of the Month

For those of us who can't afford to travel elsewhere during the brutal summer season, books are the next best thing to being away from your regular life. I've been reading several books at different paces but have had a yen for something old yet new which is my complicated way of saying that I've been indulging myself with Flavor of the Month by Olivia Goldsmith. Goldsmith was best known as the author of The First Wives' Club(the movie ,which starred Diane Keaton,Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn,was a rather dumbed down version of the book)and wrote several other female friendly titles such as Fashionably Late,Marrying Mom and my favorite,The Bestseller.

Flavor of the Month follows three actresses who are teamed together on a daring new TV show called Three For The Road(the book came out in the early 1990s)that's being directed by Marty DiGennaro,a Martin Scorsese type. Jahne Moore aka Mary Jane Moran used to be a overweight,plain 36 year old New York actress cheated out of starring in the film version of her hit play,no thanks to her writer/director boyfriend who ditched her for the Hollywood scene. Mary Jane gets a windfall after her mean grandmother dies and uses the cash for some major league plastic surgeory to become a gorgeous,slim girl who can easily pass for twenty-four.

Sharleen Smith fled the trailer park hell she and her brother Dean(who are way closer than a half brother and sister should be) were trapped in and a couple of dead bodies to boot,for better living in California. Guided by her bible and a naive but decently flexible set of morals,she literally gets discovered at a diner by an agent and awkwardly enters the Hollywood life,always looking over her shoulder in case her past decides to stop in for a chat.

Lila Kyle is the daughter of Theresa O'Donnell,a faded screen star,who tries to keep her away from an acting career but Lila(with the help of Aunt Robbie,an old family friend)hustles her way onto the new show and into Marty's affections. Of course,she doesn't like to be touched but she does love to be adored and dishes out the vicious bitch treatment to all and sundry.

The thing about Goldsmith's books were that even tho the plot material was in Jackie Collins territory,she never treated it like sexed-up soap operas. Olivia added some tongue in cheek bits of satire that let you in on the joke without being all "wink,wink,nudge-say no more!" about it. Her first author photos had her in a long blonde wig,striking the same kind of glam girl poses ladies like Danielle Steel were known for(later on,she ditched the wig). Also,she gave her readers some juicy insider info into certain industries-for example,in the hardcover edition of The Bestseller,reference is made to a "Dean Koontz audit". Seems that Koontz realized that his earlier publishers had ripped him off and he took them to court where the accounting books revealed alot of do-ri-me that had been siphoned off. This mention of Koontz's victory was left out of the paperback edition,...hmmm,wonder why?

Anyway,Flavor of the Month still holds some good fun twists and turns. Sad to say,Goldsmith passed away in 2004(her last two books were published posthumously)but her books have not gone into the mist just yet. I'm glad that I still kept hold of FOTM and The Bestseller(I know I have the hardcover stashed somewhere in my house)in my paperback library. Some books need to be in those"in case of emergency or mental stress-break glass" cases for hot,sweltering dogs days.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

30 Days in India,Keith is packed off Project Runway and Who Wants to be a Superhero?

I've been skipping Nightmares and Dreamscapes lately to catch Morgan Spurlock's 30 days,F/X's other social experiment. Last night,an American whose job was out sourced to India went to Bangalore to see how the people who now have his job live. It was a pretty interesting show,especially involving the host family the outsourced guy was living with. The husband was not pleased about his wife getting work outside the home and ,at one point, kept crabbing at her"Where's my cup of tea?" I yelled at the screen"Get your own damn tea!" They made nice at the end but even their guest asked them not to fight as they exchanged good byes.

Next week,an atheist woman is going to live with fundamental Christians,which should be fun! Maybe Mel Gibson can make a guest appearance-just keep him away from the tequila and the car keys! Ok,enough of that-done with Mel jokes,I swear.

On Project Runway,Keith was busted for having pattern books(a clear violation of the rules)and for sneaking off to get help from the internet. Personally,I'm glad they could get rid of him as soon as they could,he was such a jerk. I was surpised at Angela being chosen as a team leader-the only reason her design did as well as it did was due to Laura and Michael who know something about making a structured outfit.

We'll see if she survives the next challenge on her own skills(and what is with the rosettes? Vincent has a hat thing and now Angela's into rosettes-it this some fashionista fetish trend that I'm not aware of?)

Who Wants to be a Superhero got off to a wacky start,which was expected. I'm predicted that a drinking game will spring up from it-take a swig every time someone says "Excelsior!"(two swigs,if Stan Lee does it). What kills me is how superhero illiterate some of these folk seem to be-if you're a good guy,you are supposed to stop to help a little girl lost(even if she's an obvious plant)rather than run over to a target,duh! I have to admit that Major Victory has the potential to become a favorite of mine;the man is so much of a human parody that he needs his own show.

Monkey Woman was the one I planned to root for but her big superpower seems to be crying on cue so forget that. Tonight's episode has costume upgrades and facing a couple of attack dogs(hopefully,someone will think to bring some steaks!).

Random Notes:

Hell's Kitchen: Virginia and Monkey Woman share the same ability to use tears as a weapon-that whole"oh,pick me,I'm going to quit" and then backing out of it when Gordon demanded that it be her choice to stay or go was worthy of a supervillian. So sick of Virginia-Go,Heather,go!

Rescue Me: So Janet's preggers-gee,didn't see that coming,not! My favorite scene was when Garrity asked for Maggie's hand from Gavin Sr.(glad to see Charles Dunning make another appearance)-talk about being desparate for love there. Tommy is just going to give him a beatdown at some point,with all of Garrity's "bro" business.

The 4400: What is with Isobel giving out all that promicin like it's Christmas stocking stuffers? She has something sinister up her sleeves. Looks like Richard is deciding to gear up his Carrie powers to lay down the law on his little girl(and about damn time). Too bad Diana gave up her chance for a 4400 power...or did she?

For all you Gilmore Girls fans out there,ABC Family is having a GG marathon this Sunday,starting at noon and ending by the time Three Moons Over Milford starts-nice tie-in there,huh? And,it's not too late to enter the Gilmore Girls Guru sweepstakes which has a trip for four to Stars Hollow as the big prize(click title link for more info)-like they say,you got to be in it to win it!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mel Gibson needs to know that Jesus Is Magic!

I was going to let the whole Mel Gibson drunken Nazi rant to the cops deal go right by,but with his repeated denials of "I am not a bigot"(yeah and neither was Archie Bunker,Mel-uh huh!)and lame apologies,it's become obvious that he needs some sort of help beyond rehab and I think one of the things that will clear his crazy head is to check out Sarah Silverman's Jesus Is Magic on DVD. I watched it last night and this little slice of mockery mixed with songs could solve many of the probelms we have going on right now. Sarah is a rather open minded gal-just listen to her take on inter-religious relationships:

Also,she speaks to many diverse cultural groups and is not afraid to confront her issues within her own ethnicity in the process. Not to mention that she can do it with a spring in her step and a song in her heart:

I know,you're saying"but Lady T,Mel is a talented filmmaker in his own right,why should he take advice from some wacky singing chick?" Well,Mel's talents as a film maker are debatable-yes,Braveheart did well but anyone can get lucky with one movie. Look at Kevin Costner-sure,Dance With Wolves got him some major cred but after Waterworld and,particularly,The Postman,you have to confess that you said to yourself"What have I done,letting this bozo get so famous?" Hey,don't feel bad,unless you're the one who kept Pauly Shore's movie career going for all that time.

Besides,Mel is in deep denial about his true feelings towards certain folk and Sarah's humorous in-your-face approach might get him to open and deal with that. And Sarah's songs speak to all ages:

So,hopefully someone will slip Mel a copy of Jesus is Magic and bring a dose of much needed tolerence and respect for others to him at such a crucial moment in his life.Oh,and here's a great song that should become a new holiday classic for Mel's family to use for caroling:

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bad Movie Month Returns with Bloodrayne

Today officially begins the celebration of schlocky cinema,bad wannabe blockbusters and most of Rob Schneider's films,Bad Movie Month. August,as some of you may know,has been given this honor due to lack of any actual holiday for this month plus the amount of onscreen sludge dumped out by studios wanting to clean house before the fall. Yes,January/February has it's clunkers but a)those months have other holidays and b)August was first in being the bad film stomping grounds.

To start us off,I thought a somewhat recent piece that barely saw the light of the silver screen and hit the DVD market so fast that it hit back would be like the porridge that Goldilocks chose. I give you BloodRayne,which stars Kristanna Lokken in the title role as a"dhamphir"(half human,half vampire,sort of a Medieval Blade)who we first see as a captive circus freak. She gets burned by regular water(for some odd reason,all water is fatal to vampires in this movie-is this where the Wicked Witch of the West used to live?)and fed goat's blood to heal herself. Now that's a show to take the kids to,right?

Eventually,BloodRayne goes off(after a killing spree brought upon a horny circus handler)to find Lord Kagan(Ben Kingsley),her vampire daddy who attacked and killed her mom for some serious payback. Kagan is also interested in finding some sacred vampire body parts that will give him major league powers. Along the way,our gal runs into some fearless vampire killer types lead by Michael Madsen(who looks like he's seriously hung over in every frame),Michelle Rodriequez and some pretty boy who winds up knocking boots with Bloodrayne against some prison cell bars. Other fun faces that pop up in this flick are Udo Kier,Billy Zane and Meatloaf. My favorite cameo has to be Geraldine Chaplin(uncredited for many good reasons)as a fortune teller who lets our plucky heroine in on her destiny.

Uwe Boll directed this movie,which is part of his growing stable of schlock. He's also given us the likes of Alone In The Dark(Tara Reid as a scientist,for starters),House of the Dead and coming soon,Dungeon Siege. It's nice to have a Roger Corman for our times. However,the real treat for me is not just the bad acting,the look of the movie that seems to have filmed thru stained cheesecloth,the abuse of bad wigs or the pitiful voice dubbing. No,it's Ben Kingsley and his determination to only act in one room!

That's right,folks-except for a necessary flashback scene,Ben spends the entire movie in one damn room of his secret hideout,emoting as much as Al Gore does during a debate. Even when he's about to chow down on a helpless maiden,the man seemingly refuses to express any form of emotion whatsoever. Rumor has it that he didn't want to be around Madsen(who shared some bad blood with him during Species)so that he stayed on one set. That doesn't explain his bloodless line delivery or utter lack of interest in anything that's going on around him. Truly a more forced performance has yet to be seen anywhere!

As for the rest of the cast,Lokken and Rodriquez do seem to be trying to act(keyword here is trying)while Billy Zane sits around in a bad toupee and gives meaningless plot development without having to be in any scene with any of the major players(lucky him!). Meatloaf is the only one who has any fun here-the man probaly said to himself"Hey,I get to be a vampire with some hot naked chicks,wear a really poofy wig and fight Michael Madsen-alll right!!" Well,someone needs to have some fun here,if not the audience then who?

BloodRayne is based on a video game,which only gives strength to the cliche that no good film can come from such beginnings. It follows in the grand tradition of Super Mario Bros,Lara Croft and Resident Evil which will soon be sharing shelf space at your local video store with Silent Hill and Doom. There is plenty of violence and quite a bit of nudity for those of you who need something to keep you awake or alert during a flick like this. Count more on the violence than the sexers tho-Lokken only pops her top once. She's more interested in hacking people up than humping them here.

I hope you liked this first installment of BMM;tune in next week for a look at the classic "Bride of the Monster" and keep an eye out for an upcoming special report on Eugene Levy:Why is he in so many bad movies? Please remember to put all trash in the proper disposal units as you leave the theater and have a nice day!