Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, June 29, 2007

Keeping The House is more rewarding than it seems

In Ellen Baker's debut novel,Keeping the House,we are first introduced to Dolly Magnuson,who has just moved to the town of Pine Rapids,Wisconsin in 1950 with her husband of two years,Byron. Dolly is determined to be the kind of perfect wife seen in appliance magazine ads and plunges herself into taking care of the bungalow home that doesn't feel too homey,planning the evening meal(she uses a yearly calendar to keep track of things)and joining the local Ladies' Aid in making a quilt.

It's there at the Ladies' Aid that Dolly hears talk of the Mickelson family,who used to own the beautiful old house across the way from the self appointed know it all on Mickelson family history,Cecilla Fryt. Most of the Mickelson family's troubles are blamed on Wilma,a talented pianist in the making who married John Mickelson in 1896 and felt pressured to give up her dreams of music. Wilma's resignation is somewhat offset by her unfulfilled passion for John's younger brother,Gust and then later on by her favoritism towards one of her sons,Chase,who dies in battle during WWI.

Dolly becomes facinated,not only by the legend of the Mickelsons but by their house,which is slowly decaying due to the family's desertion of it a few years ago. Feeling restless and lonely in her routine marriage,Dolly explores the old house and decides to secretly spruce it up,in hopes of convincing Byron to buy it for them. It's a fun project at first but when one of the Mickelson clan shows up,troubled WWII vet JJ,Dolly not only gets more info about what really happened that made the family leave Pine Rapids but finds herself questioning her life choices and being attracted to the one person who seems to truly listen to her and care about her inner self.

Reading this book,I was put in mind of one of those excellant Julianne Moore films with a 1950's background and multiple characters. Like The Hours,Keeping The House follows several of the characters thru out time,like Wilma,her son Harry who finds love late in life and nearly loses it,and granddaughter Elissa,whose choice of true love stirs up some startling family secrets. Baker gives her characters a full roundness of being,adding depth when neccessary and not falling into the trap of propping up cardboard cutouts to be easily defined as InstaStereotypes of The Bored Housewife,The Nosy Neighbor,The Dull Husband,etc.

Baker also gamely captures the mindset of the fifties as well as the allures and pitfalls of small town life. Some of her most moving chapters are focused on the wartime memories of characters like JJ,who lost part of one leg in combat and John Jr.,who is reluctant to have his daughter pine away for a soldier after seeing how badly affected his mother was when his brother Chase died.

You might be inclined to think that KTH is an old fashioned tear jerker but it's far from that. This is a strong and tender novel about how folks deal with the life they have before them and how it should or shouldn't be dealt with.

Ellen Baker is not just a great writer,she's an independant bookseller at J.W. Beecroft Books & Coffee in Superior,WI,another wonderful reason to make me smile. Her first book party for KTH will be there on July 10th(the official release date for KTH) and you can check her website for a signing near you. There's also a MySpace page for leading lady Dolly Magnuson herself.

Keeping The House is a wonderful story in an old school setting with an appealing modern but not ill fitting aspect that gives the characters a great framework to showcase their expectations upon. If you're in the market for a book club suggestion or just need a truly absorbing read, KTM is a must have for your home library.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Starter Wife finale,more heat in Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef tries to make everything old new again

Padma dramatically introduced the Quickfire Challenge this week,with guest judge Alfred Portale at her side,by revealing the huge fish tank filled with crayfish,conch and other shelled seafood for the chefs to scoop out as much as they could in thirty seconds to cook for a half hour. Hung went first and made everyone nervous with his zealous attempts to scrape up as many as he could. He even dropped a crayfish on the floor and didn't bother to pick it up. Not cool,dude.

Brian wound up winning the challenge and then we got a look at a display of several different "Family Favorite" classic dishes,for the chefs to select to remake in a more modern and low cholestrol way to serve at the local Elk's club. Hung went last(Padma announced that everyone would go in reverse order from the QF) and got fried chicken. Other choices included fish sticks and tater tots,tuna casserole,chicken ala king and my personal favorite,meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

Brian's immunity didn't keep him from being called to the carpet,along with four other of his fellow chefs,due to his idea of reinterpreting traditional stuffed cabbage by making it with lobster,which is high in fat. Uh,you did hear the part about making your dish LOW in chorlestrol,right,buddy? He was let off with a scolding but the others who had to face the judges' ire included Lia,whose version of franks and beans used chicken sausage(that she bought pre-made) and lentil that were undercooked,and Sara M.'s chicken ala king that looked more like shish kebob.

I'm going to have go on a mini meatloaf rant,with Micah's terrible version of it being voted the least favorite by the Elks club diners and the judges as well. Micah's first mistake was in using lean ground sirloin;I've cooked with lean sirloin and while it is meaty,it does tend to dry out. She should have used ground turkey instead,like Joey did for his lasagna.

She was also very condescending towards the dish-when she first selected it,her aside comment was "anything I do would be an improvement" and when she served it up,Micah made a catty comment about how she had to make a sauce for her meatloaf"since Americans are so into ketchup!"(Micah is from South Africa). If you don't like the dish,why choose it in the first place? Also,many people prefer tomato sauce or gravy(which renders it salisbury steak,in my opinion) to ketchup on their meatloaf. And contary to Micah's opinion,meatloaf is not just a "hunk of ground beef"-it's what you put into the meat that makes it sing. I've made tasty low sodium versions of meatloaf and my mother's made meatloaf with peppers that was excellant and I don't even like peppers as a rule! No surprise that Micah was sent packing after her misery of a meatloaf meal.

On a more positive note,Howie finally proved his cooking skills were worthy as he won for his take on porkchops and applesauce. He served up lean and tender slices of pork with an apple fennel salad. Smart move to have some crunch compliment the juiciness of the meat. He did well in the Quickfire,too and hopefully there will be no more tensions with Joey but,hey,half the fun here is the personality flare-ups.

Speaking of flare-ups,things are still hot and bothered in Hell's Kitchen as the Red Team won the blind taste test challenge(despite Melissa's thinking that hard boiled egg yolk tastes like potato) and the fellas having to eat offal meats for lunch as well as prep both kitchens for dinner service. There was some slight drama with Julia in the kitchen as she needed time to cook the scallops after overdoing her first batch and Melissa trying to rush her along. Ramsey called her out on her game:

Bonnie was a total mess and is seriously lacking in one of the most important elements about cooking,which is timing. She took longer than she should have to get the chicken ready and the beef wellingtons were done so early that they were dried out. She's such a whiner as well,which makes it easier for me to root for her departure:

The guys weren't much better,as Vinnie racked up a huge amount of messed up meat and was personally picked by Ramsey as someone who should go,along with Bonnie. Vinnie got arrogant with Ramsey during the elimination and was dismissed for his troubles. Bonnie really needs to go next,she's an airhead supreme. Note to Rock;that whole talking about yourself in the third person thing-"The only threat to the Rock is Rock."-is getting creepy and old. Also,if you start doing the People's Eyebrow,there's a certain WWE superstar/movie star who might show up to lay the smackdown on your candy ass there. Just saying!

The Starter Wife wraps up it's mini series tonight,with Molly having to choose between hooking up with studio exec Lou or handsomely homeless Sam. Whoever she picks is fine by me. This show has been a real blast and I hope that this cast gets a chance to either make SW a returning series or atleast do a sequel of some sorts.

Here's a few highlights that should give you an idea of what you've missing or why you will miss The Starter Wife on a weekly basis:





Random Notes

The 4400: Hey,raise your hand if you caught on that Kyle's new ladyfriend wasn't a real person before he did-whoa,talk about a forest of hands there! Glad to see Diana back in action(I prefer subtitles to dubbing myself when watching foreign films) and hopefully Tom does not have to go to extremes just to see Alaina again. Also,is anyone buying that Isabelle is totally powerless? My spider sense is tingling on that one;after all,if Shawn could snap out of a coma after a shot of Promicin,who's to say that it is really lethal to her? Perhaps that's what they want her to think!

Rescue Me: I so did not see the Chief eating a bullet at the end of last night's show coming. Whoa. Then again,he did seem to be putting his affairs in order,so to speak and luckily for Tommy. Tommy's daughter is quite the little bitch. I know that if my rocker boyfriend beat up my dad,I'd be pretty mad at him,not yelling at my father"He has a gig tonight!" I know Tommy threw the fight,but still. To cheer us up,let's look at one of funniest scenes this season so far:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

When Ratings used to be as simple as ABC and PG-13

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

In a recent Entertainment Weekly essay by Mark Harris(he's one of the guys who contributes the end piece for the back page,along with Dalton Ross and Stephen King),the movie ratings system was under fire for not being effective enough to bar underage viewers from the likes of Hostel II. Here's a couple of qoutes:

"Last weekend, Eli Roth's Hostel: Part II opened. According to the raters, it contains ''sadistic scenes of torture and bloody violence, terror, nudity, sexual content, language, and some drug content.''..... Hostel: Part II is rated R, which means it's perfectly okay to take a 5-year-old to see it if you can't get a sitter."

"Having seen Hostel: Part II, I'll spare you my feelings about why can you top this? horror comedies about torture are not my idea of a fun night out (although contrary to rumor, Roth is neither untalented nor the Antichrist). I'd rather expend my indignation on the people who gave the movie a rating that, in practical terms, is no different from a G. All that an R rating mandates is that a child doesn't walk into Hostel: Part II alone, as if the presence of a grown-up ''guardian'' magically renders a movie more appropriate for grade-schoolers. Of course, the raters could have given it an NC-17, which would have kept all children out. But they looked at that nude, tortured woman and genital mutilation, and decided it didn't cross the line. For that — and in the spirit of Roth's movie — I say off with their heads."

Now,I'm no fan of Hostel II but to me,the amazing part is that someone would look at that detailed outline of content that makes the movie an R rated film and be surprised at what they're seeing onscreen. It's about as shocking as Renault finding gambling going on at Rick's. I do agree that the rating system is flawed and overly favors big budget Hollywood features over the indie flick,but these laundry lists of objectionable items to alledgedly help folks decide if little Timmy or Tina should see this film are sometimes more funny than most of the comedy movies out there.

For example,what is the difference between "sci-fi violence","action violence" and"substained strong stylized violence"? What is a "sexual situation"-some might find a couple getting hot and heavy in the backseat of a car a sexual situation but another person could consider holding hands just as steamy.

Check out this sidebar for the upcoming R rated film,Superbad-" Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image - all involving teens." Well,thank goodness,they told us that it was involving teens! I couldn't tell that just from looking at the poster or watching the ads for it! Why,I might have thought that it was just perfect for me and that whole group of 7 year old orphans who couldn't get tickets for Ratatouille! Thanks,movie ratings people!

My point is,there used to be a time when a person would just look at the film rating and know what kind of movie they were going to get. Even when the PG-13 rating was born,folks quickly caught to the fact that it was more of an R rated Lite. Nowadays,we're being given pretty much a total breakdown of what to look out for and still that's not good enough for some people.

Look,if we have to have a ratings system here,it's the responsibility of the movie going public to actually pay attention to it and not insist on being spoonfed information just to be able to say"it's not my fault" if something goes awry. One of the main probelms here is that many people refuse to fully comprehend what's in front of them. The kind of person that would go into a store with a "Open 24-7" sign on the front door and ask the clerk,"Are you open on Sundays?"

We can not pad all of the harsh edges of the world,real or fantasy,just to keep those who are mentally lazy safe and secure. I'm not accusing Mark Harris of being one of those folk but his solution of just dropping the NC-17(which is hardly ever used,anyway) and putting out "maximum information about movie content" via a website isn't going to cut it. You can lead a horse to water,even a huge wading pool of it,but you can't make him or her drink. I would just settle for ticket buyers to be more proactive in their viewing choices,for themselves and their kids.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Are we running out of superhero movies to make?

With Spiderman 3 and Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer doing big business,plus upcoming film versions of Wonder Woman,Captain America and Iron Man in the works(not to mention the Batman and Superman sequels being geared up as we speak),there is one question on this fangirl's mind and that is this;are we low on superheroes to adapt for the big screen?

It almost seems that way,what with X-Men,The Hulk,even Ghost Rider already out and about. Many feel that some of these characters didn't deserve a film in the first place or atleast not the one they were given. Others say that this whole superhero movie thing is on the edge of burnout. I have my doubts about that,especially with TV shows like Heroes and Smallville gaining a wider mainsteam audience.

Let's look at a few powerful folk who haven't yet hit the live action realm and see how they would measure up:


There's been talk of a GL movie for awhile now,with such fellas as BTVS' Nicholas Brendon and Jack Black being cast as the lead. Green Lantern has made some guest appearances on such animated shows like Justice League Unlimited and Superman:The Animated Series,but never a solo gig. GL would be great for a big studio film,with all of the CGI advances that we have now. The only probelm is,which Green Lantern would be the star?

For those of you not in the know,the Green Lantern postion has been held by several characters(it's a position of responsibility granted by a benevolent alien group known as The Guardians of the Universe,to be passed on to those deemed worthy). Hal Jordan was the original GL and still a big fan favorite. Kyle Rayner is one of the more modern GL but John Stewart has been represented in the current Justice League series and I'm sure there's a few people going"Hey,don't rule out Guy Gardner!". Hopefully,someone will come along and get one of the GL Corpsman a greenlight for production some time soon.


Static is a younger and more up to date superhero and I think he'd be great to watch at the multiplex. Some might whine about how the whole "meta-human" thing is just DC's rip-off of the X-Men but come on,guys! That concept isn't the most original for anybody at this point and why complain about it if it works? The animated series was alot of fun and clearly shows the potential appeal of a major movie version:


There's been an animated film of LD that was pretty much direct to video and now that the rights to her character have changed hands from Chaos to Avatar(with her origin story altered),a live action version might be tricky. I personally prefer the old school Lady D,who started out as a side character in the Evil Ernie comics and was given a book of her own(which also spawned a spin off or two). Lady D is one of the coolest anti-heroines to come along in a long while and could make a really great
wicked girl power version of 300:


Superheroes are not just born from comics,sometimes they are created solely for the movies. That creates a 50/50 chance of a decent film,because for every success like The Incredibles,you get two or three like Meteor Man and My Super Ex-Girlfriend(which thanks be to Netflix,didn't cost me alot of out-of-pocket money to see). The Sci Fi channel will be showing it's second season of Who Wants to be a Superhero this July and even tho the winner gets a SciFi channel movie as one of the prizes,that's more of a punishment than a reward. I'd certainly pay ten bucks to see a Major Victory movie and I'm not the only one:

Well,take heart,true believers-perhaps the superhero adaptation trend is only at it's peak for the moment but there are plenty of caped crusaders waiting in the wings to strut their stuff and save the day. If we're real lucky,we might get that big screen version of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl that many of us gals have been dreaming about since grade school:

Friday, June 22, 2007

If 1408 is all booked up,check out these other Stephen King stories on film

One of the big new movies out this week is the latest Stephen King adaptation,1408,starrring John Cusack as a skeptical ghost hunter who decides to check into an infamous haunted hotel room against the advice of the manager(Samuel L. Jackson). The reviews for 1408 have been pretty stellar so far and while I don't know when I'll be able to see it,I am reminded of many other King short stories that have made it to the theaters with not so great acclaim(Graveyard Shift,for one) and others that done better than expected(Shawshank Redemption,Stand by Me).

In case I'm not the only one who can't make to the multiplex,here's a list of Stephen King short stories on film(and one that really wasn't but claimed to be) to search for at the video store or Netflix:


1408 seems to be made in the same style as Secret Window,which is based on a novella from King's collection Four Past Midnight. Take an interesting tale of a man tormented by his past,cast a quirky yet likable character actor who easily slips into leading man mode(Johnny Depp),add a few other cool character actors/former heartthrobs(John Turturro,Timothy Hutton,Charles S. Dutton) and away we go.

The best part of the film is Depp,who really has some dark fun with the character and throws himself wholeheartedly into the plot,which makes the basic premise of a writer being accused of plagarism by a menancing stranger while going thru a painful divorce that much more real. Plus,Depp gets to have bed hair for most of the movie and he even makes that look good:


This movie is a trilogy of King tales,two of which came from his first short story collection Nightshift. The final story(and wrap around tie-in for the film) is the one most folks remember as "Drew Barrymore's cat fights a little green guy in her bedroom." was written for the film.

It's a fun little popcorn horror film,with campy performancs from James Woods,Candy Clark,Robert Hays and Kenneth McMillan as a vengeful gangster husband. Even the trailer has a good sense of humor about it:


If you're in a mood for an awfully bad movie,feast your eyes on this sucker. Children of the Corn also came from Nightshift and the story itself was a creepy little Twilight Zone kind of tale about a deadly kid run town in the middle of Nowhere,USA,where all the adults are sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind The Rows. The movie version is a campy goreshow,with tons of bad acting,creepy kids and cheesy special effects that particularly ooze off the screen. Believe it or not,there are seven COTC flicks that get worse and worse as they go on. If you're tempted to see any of them,go for the first one. It's the campiest of the bunch:




IF CotC doesn't fully satisfy your appetite for bad horror,then get revvied up for Maximum Overdrive,another Nightshift story(is it just me or are most of the Nightshift stories under a curse? It sure seems that way.). This one was written and directed by King himself and he's the first to admit what a mess this is. King and company clearly did have fun here,from getting AC/DC to do the music for it to having one of the main evil trucks wear a Green Goblin mask:


This is the fake Stephen King movie I mentioned earlier;King took the producers to court to have his name taken off the film,since it bore no resembalance to the original Nightshift tale(see what I mean about a curse) other than the title and one of the gruesome deaths in the film.

There's also a reference to a secret gov't group called The Company that was first mentioned in Firestarter but beyond that the King connection ends there. My theory is that someone had this great little story that's "Charly goes Virtual Reality" in premise and decided to use the SK story as a way to greenlight the project.

Despite not being a real King adaptation,Lawnmover Man is actually a pretty good movie with some decent acting from Jeff Fahey and Pierce Brosnan and decent computer effects. It is worth seeing but avoid the hideous sequel at all costs:

Hope this list helps you find some movie magic or atleast a good scary laugh or two.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The return of The 4400,Hell's Kitchen hijinks and Top Chef gets a real grilling

Top Chef started off with a rather sweet Quickfire this week,to create a dish using fresh Florida citrus fruits. Padma lead the guest judge,Norman Van Aken,around to sample everyone's plates,which had Sara N. so nervous that she couldn't even describe her dish properly. I found it funny during one of the off camera asides that she was surpised that he was being "so critical." Uh,yeah,that's what a judge has to do there,hon. Can you say "Duh!"? I think you can.

Hung won the Quickfire,which made him immune to the Elimination Challenge to follow. The theme there was gourmet barbequing,as everyone had to prepare some fancy BBQ for a champagne outdoor party. Tre kept saying that he had this thing in the bag,since he's a Texan. That didn't prove to be the case,as his peach glazed salmon portions were either too salty or underseasoned. That landed him in the bottom four but I can understand how that could happen when you're cooking several pieces of meat at a time.

Sara N. redeemed herself from her lackluster QF by turning out a tasty Vietnamese pork dish that was easy to roll up and eat,which made judge Gail very happy. Micah also rebounded(she had a few moody moments during prep,saying she missed her daughter) with a grilled lamb and halloumi number that set her apart from the rest. Most of the chefs went with the usual red meats you see at barbeques.

Brian was one of the few who didn't and it paid off with a win for his seafood sausage dish. Pretty nice there,especially after last week's attempt at rattlesnake and eel which divebombed. He didn't get a prize like Tre did(what is it with the random giving out of gifts to the winners during TC rounds? On shows like The Amazing Race,the winner of every leg gets some goodies. What's the deal here,Bravo?)but he was pleased,regardless.

Sandee's lobster plate didn't please the judges,mainly because she didn't grilled it at all-her lobster was braised the day before and poached at the party. Also,the vanilla butter drowned rather than enhanced the lobster flavor and what was up with that huge stick in it? That stick would make sense if you were serving a shish kebob but not one little hunk of fish! Howie wound up on the chopping block again for his jerk pork being too tough(he prepped it way too soon) and when Joey,who was also in the bottom four for his boring chicken legs,was asked who should go,he tapped Howie. That was not cool,since Joey admitted to not having tasted Howie's dish(he did try Tre's and Sandee's)and that lead to a war of words with Howie in the waiting area.

It's soon for me to root for anyone here just yet but Joey is getting on my nerves with his constant whining and pointing fingers at folks,like getting mad that Hung served a watermelon drink at the BBQ after Joey had made one at the Quickfire. Dude,stop being such a jerk,especially to Howie since I think he can pretty much take you in a fight.

I am officially rooting for Julia to win Hell's Kitchen,particularly after the nonsense that went on during the elimination selection this week. The entire Red Team had to choose amongst themselves who would be put up on the chopping block and most of the gals picked Julia,despite the fact that her leadership skills earned them a win in the breakfast challenge for the army(she was even sent over to the Blue Team so that the navy folk could get some food since the guys couldn't hack it) and she had the sense to stop Jen from serving up spaghetti taken out of the garbage(not kidding here,folks)before Gordon Ramsey saw what was happening.

So,what was the logic behind selecting Julia? Well,according to Bonnie(who couldn't even cook her scallops for the dinner service) and Melissa,Julia doesn't "know the product" due to being a short order cook at a Waffle House.

Melissa bragged that it took her ten years to learn all of the ingrediants for fine dining,so how could Julia possible gain such vast knowledge during her brief run at Hell's Kitchen? Especially since she doesn't know how to make a creme brulee? How would Julia know what to shop for if she was given a four star Michlin restaurant?

Well,as Joanna(who was already in dutch with Ramsey for cooking with rancid crab meat) put it"That bitch could run a Michlin restaurant!". I agree but the bitch here is Melissa. It took you TEN YEARS to learn about ingrediants? That tells me that you're a real damn slow learner,hon. Not something that most would boast about. And Bonnie should just shut the hell up,since all she seems to know how to do is stand around half dressed and look more confused than an Amish farmer at a nudist colony.

Jen atleast redeemed herself by stepping up during the elimination and confessing her trashy spaghetti incident to Ramsey. Joanna was dismissed for the crab meat but Jen got a stern reprimand for her garbage picking ways.

The Blue Team didn't fare any better,as all of the guys wanted to be the leader of the group but the dubious honors went to Brian. Brian's being in command didn't improve matters,as Josh nearly exploded after Ramsey complained about the rawness of the eggs for the appetizers:

The guys did get a break as Aaron was finally dismissed,due to one last fainting spell that landed him in the hospital. Take care,cowboy and take some comfort in being one of the more memorable candidates of the season:




The 4400 began their fourth season,with Kyle waking Shawn out of his coma,thanks to a suggestion from a mysterious stranger,Tom finding out where Alana was taken to due to info from an inprisoned and powerless Isabelle,Diane coming back to the states to see what happened to her sister April who bought herself a shot of Promicin and Jordan Collier publicly displaying his special ability of deactivtating the new breed of Promicin powered people if he doesn't approve of their methods. That sounds fine in theory,especially with this week's probelm child having a Jim Jones vibe that turned a whole city into chaos, but I suspect that some of the newbies will want to take Jordan out of the picture for that little trick.

Random Notes

AFI's NEW LIST OF 100 GREATEST MOVIES: Citizen Kane reigned again at the top of the list and while I was glad to see some fresh blood(LOTR:Fellowship of the Ring @ #50),I was sad that Frankenstein didn't make the cut. Also happy to see Dances With Wolves not here,but Toy Story? I like the movie but not that much,even at number 99. You can check out the whole list here if you missed the show last night. Morgan Freeman was a great host and I'm glad that Shawshank Redemption placed well on the list.

Rescue Me: I'll have to catch with this week's episode over the weekend,due to the AFI special,but here's an amusing scene from the premiere as Garrity and Maggie try to bond over adult films:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes are a lucky find for your summer reading

One of the fun things about going to a book convention is discovering writers who have been out there in the trenches of Booklandia for awhile now and yet new to you as a reader. With The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes,I was able to sample three authors at once:Jennifer Crusie,
Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart who teamed up to create this novel after a lively chat at a writer's conference.

Our story begins with the three Fortune sisters,Deidre(Dee),Elizabeth(Lizzie) and Moira(Mare),who are trying to live quiet lives in the small town of Salem's Fork. Their neighbors know them as the O'Briens,due to the Dee's determination that their Aunt Xantippe doesn't find them,along with anyone else interested in the offspring of the once famous TV psychic couple,Phil and Fiona Fortune,who died under mysterious circumstances before going being sent to jail for fraud. The Fortune sisters also have another big secret to hide,the fact that they can all do magic.

Their abilities are great but their control over them is not;Dee is a shapeshifter whose bad luck in love is partly due to morphing into the mother of any guy she makes out with. Lizzie can transform items but when she's nervous,the flatware multiplies into bunnies and when aroused,gorgeous shoes appear out of nowhere. Mare is able to move objects with her mind but has to be careful when she gets too hot and bothered or she might literally make the earth move under her feet.

Aunt Xan does know where her nieces are and decides to trick them into giving her their powers by making them an offer they can't refuse,their True Loves. All at once,three strangers come into town and wind up sweeping the Fortunes off their feet. Dee gets Danny James,a researcher for a well known fantasy writer looking to expose the senior Fortunes as fakes for his venture into nonfiction. Lizzie encounters Elfric,a sorceror who wants her to stop disrrupting the balance of the universe with her attempts to change straw into gold.

Mare,however,is not interested in Jude,the VP from Value Video!! who wants to give her a big promotion that would take her to New York. She's more intrigued about her old boyfriend Crash,who has returned to town after getting into a motorcycle accident with Mare five years ago. That puts a spoke into the wheels of Aunt Xan's plot along with Xan's goofy helper Maxine who is as subtle as a brick in spying on the blossoming romances of the sisters.

With the exception of reading a couple of essay collections edited by Crusie,I have not read any of the author's previous fiction so I can't tell you who wrote what character and chapter. I can tell you that this narrative does flow together seamlessly and fits together like a well made puzzle that gives you a lovely yet sexy scene. Yes, there is some hanky panky but those moments are done tastefully and tenderly.

It's also nice to see some paranormal romance that is not mired in angst and revels in the playful aspects of love and lust. There's also plenty of good humor around and some tongue in cheek bits that don't undercut the theme of finding the emotional courage to love and be loved. You might be inclined to think that this book is just a take-off on Charmed but the style is more consistant with Buffy or Angel in their most lighthearted of shows,plus all that talk of bunnies reminded me so much of Anya:

And if I had to choose my favorite Fortune sister,it would be Mare. I identify with Dee quite abit,being an older sister myself and I've been as shy as Lizzie many times in my life but Mare is just so cool. A self proclaimed "Queen of the Universe" who takes no guff,can qoute dozens of movie lines off the top of her head and kick butt while not getting her Corpse Bride wedding dress mussed up is the kind of gal I'd like to hang out with to pick up a few pointers.

The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes will be in stores by June 26 and if you're shopping around for a fun summer read,look no further,folks. This novel is just as entertaining as any big budget film and alot more female friendly,that's for sure. An except from Jennifer Crusie' new novel is included as well,Agnes and the Hitman,which she wrote with Bob Mayer. I don't know if I will get to that one any time soon but it certainly sounds like another winner.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AFI's new 100 movies list and my own mini version of Great American Films

The American Film Institute,aka AFI,will be showing a tenth anniversary edition of their list of 100 greatest American movies on CBS tomorrow night. I usually like these specials,it's a good way to check out alot of cool clips from classic and not so classic films. Also,film folks chime in with their own rememberances and opinions of the movies in question,so more fun there.

However,having 100 films for your list gives you alot of leeway in terms of what gets picked and where they fall on the list. For example,some of us might think that Frankenstein deserves to be higher up(number 87) rather than say, E.T.(number 25) and why the blue hell is Dances With Wolves(number 75) even on this list?!

This 10th anniversary list is supposed to be "updated",which I hope means that some of the better films that didn't make the first cut were added on. I know plenty of people were fussing and feuding over the original picks,particularly the Top Ten list which included the following:

# Citizen Kane (1941)
# Casablanca (1942)
# The Godfather (1972)
# Gone with the Wind (1939)
# Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
# The Wizard of Oz (1939)
# The Graduate (1967)
# On the Waterfront (1954)
# Schindler's List (1993)
# Singin' in the Rain (1952)

A decent selection to be sure,but not what I would've chosen. "And what movies would you have in your Top Ten,Lady T?" Glad you asked,my fine friend! Actually,I'll just list my Top Five All Time Great American Movies of the Moment(my opinions may change from time to time,especially since there are many excellant films that I've yet to see). Let's get this party started with...

1) It's A Wonderful Life

The Frank Capra flop that became a cult and then an acclaimed family classic thru years of repeat viewings around Christmastime was number 11 on the AFI list but number one in my house. The film's survived bad reviews,neglect and colorization and still keeps on rocking. The main reason for it's staying power is the film's central Everyman theme that even most seemingly uneventful life can be more rewarding than any world traveler's. The ending alone brings tears to the eyes of even the most cynical amongst us:

2) The Godfather

As you can see,the Mario Puzo adaptation is third on the AFI list and I do agree that it is one of the key classics of our time. In a way,The Godfather is the perfect ying to It's A Wonderful Life's yang. This movie beautifully shows us the dark side of the American Dream and the legacies that we intentionally and unintentionally leave to the next generation. The follow up film was just as brilliant(out of respect for Coppola and company,it's best to pretend that Godfather III never happened),a rare thing in Hollywood. Another rare thing is a quiet yet highly dramatic opening such as this:

3) King Kong

Always duplicated but never truly re-created(sorry,Peter Jackson),Kong is the all time king of inspiration to movie makers and the great granddaddy of blockbuster films. Even with it's special effects that now look amusing and quaint when compared to CGI and over the top acting styles from Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot,Kong still holds his own and then some with whatever's up for summertime multiplex viewing:

4) The Wizard of Oz

A childhood favorite shared by so many,Dorothy's quest to find her way home thru the metaphorical dreamland of Oz has given a roost for many a restless soul to find comfort in. No matter where life may take us,you can always have home in your heart somewhere over the rainbow:

5) Superman

I'm talking about the 1978 Richard Donner film,with Christopher Reeve paving the way for other actors to not be afraid of typecasting in such an iconic role and leaving some pretty big footsteps to follow in. The Superman mythos is hardwired into the DNA of American pop culture and as much as I enjoyed the recent Superman Returns,Bryan Singer knew he couldn't top the original and gamely paid tribute to it.



To me,a great American movie is one that even many years later after it's initial release,people who have not seen it at all can still qoute lines and understand references to it. That is a clear sign of something that has truly impacted upon the cultural landscape,in my opinion. It may not be very high faluting but that's just the way my brain works there,people. Please feel free to suggest some of your own personal picks for the best American films of all time and we'll see if this updated AFI list has any of them on the roster.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Candleshoe and other childhood movie memories

While reading over some of the reviews for the new Nancy Drew movie(which only went to number seven on the past weekend's box office list),one of the naysaying critics wondered if there were any young Jodie Foster types out there in the current casting pool.

While I think most of the critics were being way too harsh(I didn't see the movie but it looks cute to me),it did inspire to recall one of my favorite Jodie Foster flicks and happily find out that it was on DVD. Candleshoe came out in 1977 and I remember seeing it on TV as one of the Wonderful World of Disney features.

Jodie played Casey Brown,a streetwise American orphan recruited by Brit con man Harry Bundage(Leo McKern) to convince Lady St. Edmund(Helen Hayes) that she is her long lost grand daughter in order to have access to the estate of Candleshoe. A pirate's treasure is hidden there and Casey is given the first clue to start with the hunt-"for the sunrise student,there is treasure amongst books."

The search for the treasure is not without some obstacles;Lady St. Edmund has several local orphans staying with her,who along with faithful butler Priory(David Niven) do their best to keep Candleshoe going by selling fruits and vegatables on market day to pay the taxes and having Her Ladyship think she still has a full staff on hand(Niven gets to pull off several disguises here)in order to maintain the illusion that the estate is not on the brink of bankruptcy.

Casey respects the good natured con enough to go along with it but has no real interest in helping anyone out at first. After all,she got into this for ten percent of the action,plus a red Ferrari. Little by little,however,Casey starts to care about the folks at Candleshoe and everyone teams up to find the pirate gold to save the old homestead. Watching the movie again after so many years,I was pleased to see how well it still holds up today. While it's not a classic family film,it is a smart and lively one with plenty of good humor and no maudlin movie scenes. Foster gamely holds her own with the experienced British cast and they seem to be enjoying themselves here,too but not at the expense of the story.

Seeing Candleshoe also made me think of those 1970's live action Disney movies that may have been hokey at times but were solid entertainments nonetheless. Movies like Escape to Witch Mountain(and the kickass sequel,Return to Witch Mountain with Bette Davis and Christopher Lee as the villians),The North Avenue Irregulars and The Cat From Outer Space.

Most people are familar with the likes of Freaky Friday but how many have seen The Strongest Man in the World? Disney and others like them use to make some good kid flicks back in the day that didn't have Happy Meal tie-ins and overblown f/x. Don't get me wrong,there are excellant movies for kids out there that are more than overlong toy commericals(Bridge to Terebintha,for example) but there was an earnestness and non ironic flair to the characters and plots that you don't see today. Check out some of these clips and I think you'll see what I mean:




Another Jodie Foster kid flick I adored was Bugsy Malone,with Scott Baio as the lead gangster who fought turf wars with cream pies. Jodie was the perfect moll:


So,perhaps some of the folks developing children's movies today could take a page or two from some of the films of the not so distant past. There's a reason that stories from childhood have such staying power;the potent memories of adults who refuse to let them go without a fight.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I'm a believer in having the Monkees in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame

The other night,I saw former frontman Davy Jones being interviewed about the Monkees being excluded from the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Jann Wenner, who is the head of Rolling Stone magazine and one of the nominating commitee members,thinks that the group is not worthy of joining according to another ex-Monkee member,Peter Tork. The Monkees haven't been offically nominated as far as I know but I don't see why not.

I grew up watching the Monkees tv show(in reruns)and it was one of my favorites. Watching these guys goof around and sing some fun tunes was my MTV back in the day. Their songs still hold up well and bring a smile to my face:

Like Marcia Brady,I too had a crush on Davy Jones(who is still quite a looker today),the short and sweet throated singer who made Daydream Believer such a heartfelt and homespun ballad. That British accent of his got me hooked on English men for life:

The other guys in the band were cool as well-Mickey Dolenz,Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith who directed the group's movie Head and always wore that knit hat with the poof ball on it(wonder if the South Park guys liked the Monkees since they love having characters wear hats like that?). I know the band's gotten flack for being a put together TV creation but so what? Are they any different from such boy bands as Menudo or the Backstreet Boys? Plenty of pop groups have been manufactured by media moguls,it's pratically a tradition. The big difference is that the Monkees not only sold more albums than many of their contempories,their music stands the test of time:

There are a few petitions going about online to have the guys added to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame roster. I've already signed one and I hope someone on the nominating committee sits up and takes notice. If the Beach Boys and ZZ Top,not to mention Ike Turner,can be inductees,the Monkees should be,too. I'd take Pleasant Valley Sunday over Help Me,Rhonda any day of the week:

So,good luck with the campaign,guys. Hope you get your well deserved place in the sun. After all,you're just trying to be friendly and want to come sing and play. I wish you'd come to my town:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hell's Kitchen,The Starter Wife and Top Chef Miami makes a splash

Top Chef Miami(aka season 3) started off well,as the fifteen chefs got together at a meet n' greet buffet where Host Padma and Judge Tom arrived to give them their first Quickfire Challenge. The QF was to create an amuse bouche from the food laden tables around them in ten minutes. Everyone rose to the challenge but the winner was Micah,with her tasty little Tuscan wrap. Among those who didn't do well here was Clay,who hollowed out a Granny Smith apple and filled it with different fruits. It looked fine,but way too big to be an amuse.

The Elimination Challenge was quite a doozy;the chefs had to create a surf n' turf plate using such exotic items as rattlesnake,sea urchin,wild boar,eel,black chicken and alligator. A knife draw decided the order everyone got to pick and choose their meats. On top of that,the dishes were to be served to Anthony Bourdain(who guest judged last season's Thanksgiving episode)along with the usual panel of judges. The chefs also were allowed to shop for extra ingrediants as well as raid the regular TC pantry.

A number of folks ran into probelms,like Howie who wasn't able to add frog's legs to his sea urchin with risotto plate before time ran out. He had to go out there and present an incomplete dish. Fortunately,the risotto was great and Howie was clever enough to hold his ground against Bourdain(who chided him for the missing food) by qouting a passage from one of Bourdain's own books. It was nicely done and earned Howie some respect amongst the judges,in my opinion. Kudos,my man,kudos!

More successful dishes included Hung's geoduck and slow cooked black chicken(black chicken is apparently a tough meat that's tricky to make tender),Micah's triple threat of kangaroo with sweet potato, poached egg with monkfish liver and ostrich carpaccio and Sara M's(there are two Saras in the competition)braised black chicken with geoduck and cucumber. Her use of the claw on the plate was very eye catching and impressed the judges quite a bit.

The winning plate,however,was Tre's ostrich fillet with abalone sauce,which looks tasty to me and I've never eaten ostrich. He was awarded a set of autographed(and "obscene doodled") Bourdain books and since Tre was in the bottom three for the Quickfire challenge,his victory was extra sweet.

Clay was asked to pack his knives and go home after his combo of wild boar chops and scorpion fish was pretty much inedible. The final choice was between Howie and Clay and the guy with the lousy tasting food got dismissed. Clay seemed like a nice guy but you could tell early on how tense he was about this whole thing and it showed in his cooking. So far,it's too soon to root for anyone just yet but there's alot of big egos floating around. Hung's not shy about his kitchen prowess and neither is Joey,who claims to be such a bad "motherf***er". Oh yeah,this should be fun!

Someone who is clearly not having fun is Aaron,still remaining on Hell's Kitchen and not doing any better this week than the last. When he's not crying,he is either about to pass out on the restaurant floor,taking a nap during the early cooking challenge of prepping Dover sole and doing a crappy job of deboning the sole at tableside for the customers. Since it was the guys' turn to screw up this week,Aaron was in danger of being put up on the chopping block but called up instead were Eddie and Josh.

Choosing Eddie I understood ,due to his ruining both the spaghetti and the risotto which lead to pulling him off of that station in the kitchen. Josh's only big sin ,however,was making the chicken too dry(Ramsey was so pissed at him for not fessing up that he slapped it off of the counter)and talking too much. Eddie was dismissed but I'm wondering just how long it's going to be before Aaron's number is up.

I not only watched the 2 hour premiere of The Starter Wife but last week's episode as well and have to say that I get the whole Debra Messing thing now. She's very likable and funny,not to mention a whiz at working with an ensemble cast. I like the whole Hollywood lives behind the scenes vibe and the dream sequence film parodies(they're already done the Wizard of Oz and From Here to Eternity) that Debra's character,Molly, has.

Tonight's episode should be a blast,as Molly's soon to be ex-husband is intending to marry his bimbolina pop star girlfriend,Shoshanna. So far,we've only seen Shosanna in her Britney Spears-esque video and it should be fun to get more of her:



Random Notes

Rescue Me: The season premiere kicked off with everyone thinking that Tommy's on his way to jail due to the fire,Garrity trying to settle into a comfortable arrangement regarding Maggie's love of porn and a hell of a rescue mission that I thought might be a dream sequence but was amazingly surreal and real. They did save a cat or two tho. It also looks like Sheila may be getting Tommy to help her run a scam on the insurance company over the house fire which may blow up in their faces. Let's see how this all plays out,shall we?

The Soup: One of the best pop culture mockery shows around,in my opinion. I don't really watch E! on a regular basis but every Friday at ten,I make it a point to catch up on anything I might have missed during the week. Here are a few highlights for your enjoyment: