Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, March 31, 2008

PBS' new version of Sense and Sensibility is so far sensational

Part One of the new miniseries adaptation of Sense & Sensibility aired last night,signaling the beginning of the end of PBS' Complete Jane Austen run on Masterpiece Theater.

I know that I tend to overly praise the talents of Andrew Davies,who to many fans is the official unofficial Austen adapter of our time,but I can't help but be pleased as punch that he was given the opportunity to bring the book to life,with a few original twists and highlighting some less familiar faces from the novel's cast.

That being said,I can completely understand why folks would think that this version of S&S takes a good number of cues from the 1995 Ang Lee/Emma Thompson collaboration.

Not only does Hattie Morahan(who does an excellent job as Elinor)sound very much as if she's been possessed by Thompson at times,a few of the interesting bits of business added to liven things up here does trod upon ground that was treaded on in the earlier film.

However,some of those borrowed bits don't bother me such as having little sister Margaret be rather tomboyish and expressing opinions that others would prefer to be concealed(plus,Emma Thompson would've never had Margaret openly wish to poison Fanny Dashwood-a fate that's much too good for that harridan!). If it's a good idea that helps the story along while keeping true to the author's intent,I can overlook the similarities.

Since this is the first time that I've seen Hattie Morahan on film,I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in intentionally speaking like Thompson(that may be her natural voice for all I know). She does give a very thoughtful and mature performance as the eldest Dashwood sister who has to become the voice of reason and restraint for her newly disenfranchised family.

Fortunately,she's not just made out to be Miss Prim and Proper,particularly when Edward Ferrars(Dan Stevens)arrives and starts to become an unexpected source of comfort:

Charity Wakefield,who plays the boldly emotional Marianne,has a touch of Kate Winslet in her performance but not too much overall.

She does embody the character fully and the script makes her less harsh towards Col. Brandon(who is represented by a very manly David Morrissey-no Alan Rickman,granted,but not too shabby!) and his interest in her. All of that changes when Willoughby(Dominic Cooper)enters the picture,taking Marianne's heart by storm.

It's pretty obvious that this version is more than willing to be more on the side of Col. Brandon than Willoughby,who comes across a tad sinister in his demeanor at times.

The sidebar confrontation between Brandon and Willoughby during an evening at Barton Park(how great is it that Arthur Weasley is Sir John Middleton?) is not in the book but it does give a strong hint of what's to come,as did the opening seduction sequence make Marianne and Willoughby's secret visit to Allenham that much more fraught with sexual tension:

Well,all of this tension is good enough to make me champing at the bit for the finale next week. Even tho it's no mystery to me how it all comes out,this fresh face that's put on Austen's most classic tale( that is second only to P&P) is very complimentary and entertaining indeed.

For Part Two,we get to see more of our old favorites such as Mr. and Mrs. Palmer and be introduced to the Steele sisters(yes,both Lucy and Anne are presented here),which will have a great affect on Elinor's love life. Also,a rather unique bonus is offered up as Edward decides to take up wood chopping. Work it out,Edward!:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jennifer Weiner and her Certain Girls

While I was reading Jennifer Weiner's new book Certain Girls recently(I stayed up late to finish it last night),I kept thinking about the first time that I ever read any of her work. At my old book store job,we kept numerous piles of ARCs(Advance Reading Copies)downstairs,in the unofficial staff lounge area.

Most of them were stacked upon an old credenza that took up most of the back wall and in the small shelving spaces that faced out onto the round table where book buying appointments and staff meetings were held,along with eating your lunch that was either stashed in the mini fridge or brought from one of the shops nearby.

It was during my lunch break when I spotted Good In Bed and to be honest,I wasn't all too keen on it at first glance,with it's suggestive title and cover art. However,I did what good readers are supposed to do and gave it a chance. After finishing the book,I knew that I had a new favorite author to add to my list to be on the look out for.

One of the main reasons that I liked Good In Bed was that I could relate to Cannie Shapiro much more easily than some of the other chick lit heroines at the time. Cannie's emotional struggles and dealing with her weight issues had more of a realistic tinge to them than ,say,Bridget Jones. Now,I like the Bridget Jones books just fine(and adore the first movie based on them-the second one is amusing at times but very so-so overall)but based upon my own experiences as a large sized woman,Cannie walked the walk with more cred than ditzy Bridget could or ever would.

It's not just the big girls thing that made me seek out more of Weiner's books-she's also very funny and knows just how to write an engrossing narrative that keeps you turning the pages as eagerly as a video gamer works their way up to the next level on World Of Warcraft(or whatever game is popular these days). She has a true knack for creating characters that snap,crackle and pop with interest and intelligence.

Weiner also devels into deeper waters at times,like many other female friendly writers who can be judged too quickly based on book covers such as Anna Maxted and Marian Keyes. Some of the topics that can be found in her books include unexpected pregnancy,family members with mental illness,grandparents having to stay away from their grandchildren due to family secrets or past abusive behavior,sibling rivalry and the ups and downs of motherhood.

Another strong Weiner trait is the bond between family and friends,those ties that bind but also give support and affection at times of crisis and moments of shared joy. A great example of such shared joy can be seen in the film version of In Her Shoes(a vastly underrated movie and one that more people should see)when little sister Maggie(Cameron Diaz) expresses her love for her big sister Rose(the amazing Toni Collette)by reading a poem at Rose's wedding:

So,what is Certain Girls about? Well,it brings us back to Cannie,now married for over a decade to Peter,a good and understanding man and getting her nearly teenaged daughter Joy(also shares the narrative here)ready for her bat mitzvah.

Joy is not thrilled with her mother's protective nature and has a lot of questions about the past after reading Cannie's semi-autobiographical novel that hit the bestseller lists years ago but brought Cannie plenty of unwanted attention and press(she now writes a series of sci-fi novels under a pen name).

A main clash of the generations occurs over the plans for the bat mitzvah,in which Joy wants a fancy theme party like many of her classmates have and Cannie prefers to hold a more simple and less overdone celebration. You're able to see both sides of the debate here,as Joy longs for a real feminine and stylish debut and Cannie only wants to instill some more mature and positive ideals into her daughter and not hold a Super Sweet Sixteen/Stupid Girls kind of shindig:

The bigger battles come up over the horizons as Joy goes on a secret fact finding mission to find out just how much of her mom's novel,Big Girls Don't Cry, is based on their lives and to seek out her estranged grandfather. Cannie,meanwhile,is not only trying to figure out how to reestablish her relationship with Joy but having a second child as well and due to the complications from her last pregnancy,she and Peter go looking for a suitable surrogate mother(Cannie evens asks her flighty younger sister, who now insists on being called "Elle", to do the honors but the response she gets is less than enthusiastic).

Don't be held off from Certain Girls by thinking "Oh,I need to read the other book first"-there's a good amount of backstory and recap given to keep new folks in the loop as well as refresh the memories for those who haven't given Good In Bed a reread lately.

Certain Girls is not just a sequel to be snapped up while surfing the New Releases section,it's a sensational book in the best Weiner style,with it's mix of humor,love and pathos that brings the characters to vivid,breathing life and gives you a small pang of loss at departing such endearing company as you get closer to the end. I had a bit of that myself as I tried to go to sleep after reading the last page.

The book will be sale April 8,and I hope that it not only pleases other Jennifer Weiner fans out there but gathers up a few new ones as well. As for me,I still haven't read her collection of short stories,The Guy Not Taken,yet which gives me something to look forward to.

I was hoping to meet Jennifer Weiner at the last BEA I attended,but she had to cancel her signing appearance due to being pregnant with her second child(Congrats to her and her loved ones there). Perhaps another opportunity will arise for me to see her somewhere and thank her for all of the good times she's given me over the years. If not,I thank Jennifer Weiner right here and now,for showcasing the talents of a smart and sensitive literary woman and inspiring others to follow her lead:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Chef's block party,American Idol says it's your birthday and South Park goes Heavy Metal

The Quickfire challenge on Top Chef this week was to create a fine dining version of a taco,to be judged by Rick Bayless(who would also add that dish to the menu of his high end Mexican restaurant,Topolobambo). Most of the chefs wound up making the usual "street food" type of taco,including Spike and Erik,who snorted off camera that he didn't give a *bleep* about what Bayless thought. Not a good sign of things to come there,buddy!

Richard won the QF(which gave him immunity)for making a taco with jicama slices as the wrap instead of the usual tortilla. I must confess that I've never eaten a taco before or even any real Mexican food(spicy is not my thing)but that does sound like a pretty smart way to blend fine dining with such a hearty cuisine to me.

For the Elimination challenge,the chefs split up into two teams(Red & Blue)and each one had to make enough food for a block party,using only those ingredients that the neighbor residents were willing to "donate" to them. Richard lead the Blue team halfheartedly and they went for more of a fancy menu,with paella and a "sexy" drink(I don't see how adding lavender makes it sexy. Lavender is more associated with calm and soothing,from what I understand).

Since there were to be expected a large number of kids,Nikki whipped up some mac and cheese,using a huge hunk of Velveeta. She not only wondered if she could get the Velveeta to melt into a sauce(are you kidding me? Does McDonalds have fries on the menu?)but if her dish would dry out during transit to the party,which ,of course,it did!

I don't understand these chefs,sometimes-hey,Nikki,didn't it ever occur to you that you should bake the mac & cheese instead of the regular mix with the boiled method? That way,it would hold up better during travel,perhaps you could even make a nice crust on top for your dish?

I know that most of these chefs work in big time restaurants but unless the lot of them grew up living like the Rockefeller's,it stands to reason that a basic American meal like macaroni and cheese is something they would've been exposed to at some point and could handle without too much difficulty.

The Red Team decided to "cook for the neighborhood" and some of their ideas looked very good,such as setting up a dipping bar,serving sliders and having s'mores on a stick(the mini torch used to make the marshmellows melty was cool).

However,they also had their fair share of screw-ups,like the Waldorf salad made mayonnaise less that turned watery and a pathetic pasta salad that Zoi didn't want to make in the first place and it clearly showed. Hon,no one was forcing you at gun point here,okay?

What really did the Red Team in was Erik's corn dogs that were served up despite being soggy from the transport(again,with the not figuring out how to handle the transit problem! I don't get it,guys,I really don't.) The attitude that Team Red gave to the judges was amazing,they acted like punky kids who expected to be praised just for making an appearance to this event. Spike was the worst,with his"You'd had to have security guards drag me out of here...I'm not ready to leave,this is MY house!"

Earth to Spike,this is NOT YOUR HOUSE,BUDDY BOY! It's Judge Tom,Padma,Gail and Ted Allen's house(not to mention Bravo)and you are lucky enough to be a guest here. Granted,the judges get way too picky at times(Judge Tom gripping over whether the paella was more of a pilaf didn't sit well with me)but that's to be expected! I would love to see you try that crap with Gordon Ramsey just once(he'd chew you up and spit you out before you could blink). Spike,watch some Hell's Kitchen and be thankful for being where you are.

As Erik packed his knives to go,Stephanie was able to celebrate her second win for making a dessert good enough to earn Team Blue a win(just barely,according to Judge Tom).

She created a nice fruit crumble that everyone enjoyed and could agree on. Congrats,Stephanie! Two for two there,way to go!

This is for the American Idol judges;what have you guys got against Carly? This is mainly directed at Randy and Simon,(since Paula's critical analysis is about as cogent as a five year old's after eating a jar of glitter paste)due to nearly every week,you find some fault with her. Occasionally,you toss her a compliment but very begrudgingly.

Is it that you don't want her to win? Fellas,if Carly was not hitting the right notes or picked a song that was all wrong for her,I would give you the benefit of the doubt but she's been the most savvy singer here. I'm sick of you guys always telling her that she "chose the wrong song" when she clearly hasn't. And Simon,saying that Carly was "too intense" during Total Eclipse of the Heart is ridiculous! That song is intense to the tenth power,have you heard it lately?


Speaking of Heart,the Sanjaya award this week goes to Ramiele,for her lackluster attempt to sing "Alone" which Carly had knocked out of the ball park during Hollywood Week. I'm not buying the "she was sick" excuse either. Ramiele does not have the vocal range to sing any tune from the Heart catalog with that reedy little voice of hers.

Ramiele was spared from being in the bottom three this week(so long,Chikezie!)but with sorry numbers like this,she'll definitely have a very short shelf life on this show,hopefully sooner rather than later:



While I was mistaken about Andrew Lloyd Webber being up this week,Dolly Parton was announced as the mentor for the next round and should mean that country is the theme. Before I wrap Idol up here,I have to talk about David Cook's rendition of "Billie Jean",which is a cover of a cover(Chris Cornell redid it recently,I believe, for the anniversary tribute to Thriller). At first,I admit that my reaction was "What the..what?!" I didn't even recognize the song until he started singing it.

After giving it another listen to,I have to say that it's not as bad as I originally thought it was. The arrangement is not to my taste but he did deliver it with emotion and sincere passion and that does go a long way:

The first two South Park episodes of the season didn't click with me but after last night's tribute to the movie Heavy Metal,with Kenny having "cheesed out" visions inspired by that film,I'm back in happy mode here:

Those guys must've watched that movie a lot,since they got so many of the best details from it right(even if their focus was on the boobage). I also liked the little Eliot Spitzer riff as Gerald confessed his cheesing past in a press conference. Thank you,South Park,for making me laugh comfortably again and giving tribute to my favorite character in Heavy Metal,Taarna:

Random Notes:

Smallville: Tonight,Clark gets some flying lessons from Kara(like he has no clue how to do that by now!)in order to get ready to face off on Brainiac. Should be fun:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hanging out at Hulu

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this new website called Hulu,which is sponsored by several broadcast networks(NBC,FOX and some of their sublets like Bravo and F/X)and studios such as MGM and Universal,that has clips and/or full movies and episodes of a good number of TV shows,past and present. After reading about Hulu in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly,I thought that I should give it a whirl.

Well,first off,good news for Buffy fans-if you're in the mood to watch one of your favorite episodes online or want a good clip to share with friends,Hulu is your one stop shopping center,gang. Only the first two seasons of BTVS are available right now(and alas,no cool clips with Spike & Dru just yet)but you can embed such fun moments as Principal Flutie getting devoured by the Sunnydale Hyena Possessed Posse:

In addition to whole seasons and assorted clips,the TV section also has an offering of "Minisodes"(five minute versions of half hour sitcoms and hour long programs)of well loved chunks of video cheddar like Married With Children,Ricki Lake and The Facts of Life. Full length episodes can be had for some of Minisode listings,but not for The Facts of Life. I don't know why,because I'm sure that I am not the only one out there who wouldn't mind sitting thru plenty of entire episodes of TFOL:

In the interest of seeing just how many commercial breaks you'd have to endure while watching a full length version of a TV show on Hulu,I forced myself to see the pilot episode of The Return of Jezebel James(since the show has already been canceled,I figured "Oh,why not? Maybe it isn't so bad."). Hulu allows it's members to leave comments and this was mine:

"As a Gilmore Girls fan,I am deeply disappointed here. No wonder that this show was just canceled. Note to Hollywood: DO NOT put Parker Posey in a sitcom,ever,again!!! She comes across as twitchy and irritating to the tenth power. Also,that laugh track must have been conceived by Foley artists from hell;it was as useless as a lace on a barbell. What a waste of time and talent."

Oh,and there are about three 30 second ad spots you have to watch during a half hour program(all for one product,which was more entertaining than watching Parker Posey acting like a loon)and I believe about four or five for hour long ones. Not too bad.

I haven't watched a movie in it's entirety on Hulu yet,but the choices given to you are rather odd. Some movies are only available in small clips,like Waitress or the original Psycho,and others in full such as The Big Lebowski and the terrible remake of Psycho(why,Gus Van Sant,why?). Lionsgate seems to be the most generous studio, with all of it's movie listings being available in full(then again,those listings include Boat Trip and Hercules in New York).

While it may appear to be a bit of a tease to only have certain films up as clips(some I can understand,like Juno which is due out on DVD soon),they do at least put up some pretty good ones. For example,my all time personal pick for Best Moment of Sequential Action On Film comes from Raising Arizona. The whole chain of events that result from H.I.'s robbery attempt is both funny and exciting,no matter how many times you see it and nicely anchored by that pack of Huggies:

So,is Hulu here to stay? Maybe,for now. It certainly won't replace YouTube,due to music videos(real and fan made)not being available,along with other random bits of internet lore for the amusement of the public. I think that it will be a nice sidekick instead,giving folks another chance to catch up on things they didn't get the chance to see earlier and making it easier for bloggers like me to post clips from certain shows like the new season of Hell's Kitchen. Thanks,Hulu:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge,your tour guides to life in Crosby,Maine

Olive Kitteridge is a former math teacher who is many things to many people in the small town of Crosby,Maine. To her husband,Henry,an easy going pharmacist who once developed a bit of a crush on his clerk Denise(who was also married to a man named Henry),Olive can be an angry,unpredictable woman at times.

To her son Christopher,a man that grows up to marry a know-it-all type of woman who leaves him after one year of marriage and then hooks up with a more laid back lady with two kids years later,Olive is to blame for all of his emotional problems,according to his therapist Arthur.

To Kevin Coulson,one of Olive's former students,her presence is a welcome one as he sits in his car,considering his options for ending his life. These folks and others each hold their own chapter in Elizabeth Strout's new book,Olive Kitteridge,a novel made up of thirteen interconnected stories,all of which share Olive as a common thread.

In some of these stories,Olive has only a cameo appearance,such as Winter Concert,where elderly couple Bob and Jane go over a few of the finer points and touch on a couple of old wounds in their marriage,or is just a brief mention like in Criminal,where nervous talker Rebecca Brown starts to find comfort in kleptomania. In a good number of these tales,Olive takes center stage and while she is a hard woman to like,let alone love,you do see the more vulnerable side of her.

Yes,Olive is a blunt talking gal,the kind of person who tells people to shut up when they have hysterics(even during a brief hostage situation,like the one she and Henry went thru in A Different Road) and finds the world to be a rather bizarre place these days,but she's not that distant from life in her heart.

Bonding with others openly and emotionally doesn't come naturally to her. She just has a harder time than most keeping connected to things,especially when Henry is left incapacitated after a stroke and Christopher barely tries to communicate with her at all.

As in her previous novels(Amy & Isabelle,Abide With Me),Strout deftly paints a portrait of life in New England,warts and all,that showcases her strengths as a writer. She dazzles the reader with her keen sense of perspective and a real knack for displaying the joys and despairs of humanity in all of their splendor and glory.

Olive Kitteridge has just been released for sale today,and I urge you to get yourself a copy and when you're done,spread the good word about it far and wide. Book clubs and reading groups,get ready to meet Olive. She's got a lot to say and will have you and your friends talking and thinking about her for a long while.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spending Easter Sunday with Jane Austen's Emma

The Complete Jane Austen series started up again this past Sunday,with one of my favorite adaptations of Emma. I must confess that Emma(charmingly brought to life by Kate Beckinsale) is the only Austen novel that I don't truly adore. Yes,I do find many of the characters amusing,such as the talkative Miss Bates,the supercilious Mrs. Elton and of course, the endearing hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse and the mysterious goings on between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill make for an intriguing plot twist and some good character development as well.

No,it is Miss Woodhouse herself that keeps me at bay-as Austen once said about her,she a heroine"whom no-one but myself will much like." Emma is a hard girl to love at times,as Mr. Knightley(Mark Strong) can attest to;she considers herself to be very clever about the world around(as small and limited as it is)and thinks nothing of manipulating people into doing what she prefers them to do,or at least believing that she can.

Part of the reason that Emma seeks out the companionship of Harriet Smith(well played by Samantha Morton-as much as I love Toni Collette,Morton does a much better job in this role than Toni does in the Paltrow version,sorry!)is that Harriet is more than willing to be lead down the garden path leashed by Emma's influence. The only one who seems to be on the lookout for what is best for both girls is Mr. Knightley,who may seem like he's scolding Emma most of the time but he is the most mature person in Highbury who steps up to the plate and calls it like he sees it:

However,after rereading and watching a couple of film versions of the story,you do gain a better understanding of what makes Emma Woodhouse tick.

After all,she is raised practically as an only child(her sister was married and out of the house before Emma reached puberty)with few opportunities to venture beyond Highbury due to her father's health concerns(real and imaged)and her closest adult mentor,Miss Taylor,treated her more like a friend than a child.

However,her former governess is correct when she says about Emma's character,"with all her faults,she is an excellent creature." Emma's cleverness does get the best of her at times,especially under the influence of Frank Churchill(who is in many ways like the naughty by nature brother she never had)but fortunately,Knightley is there to keep her grounded:

Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay here,which makes this version of Emma that much more enjoyable,along with a cast that has several regular Austen adaptation players in it(Bernard Hepton and Samantha Bond were father and daughter in the mid-1980s miniseries of Mansfield Park and are father and governess here. Mrs. Elton,Lucy Robinson,was one of the Bingley sisters in P&P and Olivia Williams,who is Jane Fairfax,was most recently seen as Jane Austen herself in Miss Austen Regrets).

Davies not only balances the focus between the Harriet Smith/Mr. Elton botched romance and the Fairfax/Churchill mystery(which the Paltrow version shortchanges,in my opinion),he slips in bits of visual social commentary on the class struggles of the time period,showing some of the poverty that co-exists near the well to do lives of Emma and her neighbors with humor.

Showing the difficulties of servants having to cart enough furniture and food to make a picnic at Box Hill agreeable and the rattling on of Mrs. Elton about how "natural" it is to pick one's own strawberries while a footman stands by to move a cushion for her to kneel on as she does so,adds some real perspective onto the story and highlights the satirical tone Austen takes with the narrative:

One of Davies' original notions to the plot is the harvest dance ending,which he uses to tie up the loose ends of the story together. The only real criticism that I feel bold enough to make about Austen's writing is that it takes her too long to get to the end of the book with Emma. The harvest dance works well to settle all scores and bring things to a happy close. If you haven't seen this version of Emma,please do so-it is available on video and the harvest dance is the cherry on top of this sweetly sharp sundae:

Another Andrew Davies adaptation will end PBS' Jane Austen run,with a miniseries version of Sense and Sensibility that begins next Sunday and ends on April 6. Davies has mentioned in some of the promos for the new S&S that this will be quite steamy in certain parts. Before anyone gets into a major uproar over this,let's give it a chance here. There is a lot of passionate behavior in the novel,both expressed and withheld:

Friday, March 21, 2008

One thing that certainly does blossom in the spring is a romantic comedy

The first official day of spring arrived yesterday,with some fierce March winds announcing it's arrival in my area. This time of year usually brings about a couple of romantic comedies to the theaters but in looking over a list of coming attractions lately,I'm hard pressed to find some.

The closest I've come to one is Leatherheads,a period film about football with Renee Zellweger's heart being tossed between George Clooney and John Krasinski and Forgetting Sarah Marshall,a Judd Apatow produced movie about a guy trying to get away from his recent ex-girlfriend only to wind up vacationing at the very place she's staying with her new guy. They might be good movies but the emphasis seems to be more on the comedy than the romance.

I tend to like my romcoms in the same way that I enjoy a Reese's peanut butter cup,as two great tastes that taste great together. With that in mind,here's a look at some of my favorite films in this genre that best fit the bill.

Notting Hill is a good place to begin;there are so many reasons that I love this movie. It's directed by Roger Michell(who also made one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations,Persuasion),Hugh Grant playing a travel bookstore owner,Julia Roberts blending into a very British cast with the greatest of ease,Rhys Ifans as Spike,the insanely wise roommate.

One of the best scenes in the film frames an emotional mourning period,as Grant's character moves thru the marketplace to his bookstore and feeling the loss of his relationship with Anna Scott over time. It's beautifully done,with the perfect song as the background narrative to his heartbreak:

I know that I've talked about You've Got Mail before,but I can't help it,folks. It's the only Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan pairup on film that I really like. It has so many charming scenes,like those voice over readings of Kathleen Kelly's and Joe Fox's e-mails to each other about the everydayness of their lives.

Another little gem of a scene is the Thanksgiving food shopping jam that Kathleen gets herself into by standing on the wrong line and Joe smoothly coming to her rescue. As a former cashier myself,I do have to admit that I probably would've given in after the knock-knock joke,too:

John Cusack is pretty much considered the king of romantic comedies by some and proof of just how far his charisma can stretch is nicely showcased in Point Grosse Blank,about a hitman who returns to his hometown for his high school reunion and to check out what happened to the girl he left behind(smashingly played by Minnie Driver).

The movie is a weird little mix of dark humor,kickass violence and a tale of lost love revived. When I first heard about this film,I thought it was going to be a pretentious piece of wannabe hipster film making but everything in it clicks together in near perfect harmony:

Educating Rita is a rather unorthodox selection here,given that the two seemingly meant to be together leads don't ultimately hook up but it's still a happy ending regardless of that. It's really a platonic love story of two people who learn to love themselves by teaching each other about what's really worthwhile in life.

The movie also celebrates a love of books and literature(a major drawing point for me)and the drive to change but to be careful of falling for superficial makeovers. Michael Caine and Julie Walters have a strong chemistry together that lights up the screen,even with very talkative moments(of which they are plenty)such as their first meeting on campus:

Well,whatever tickles your romantic comedy fancy,I hope that you can find it this spring,if not at a theater near you,then on video somewhere out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top Chef becomes a cooking zoo,Beatles week on Idol,part two and The Riches return

The Quickfire on Top Chef this week was to create an entree using five and only five
ingredients purchased at a farmer's market and/or found in the TC pantry(exceptions to this rule being salt,pepper,sugar and oil)to be judged by Wylie Dufresne,who also stayed around for the Elimination Challenge as well. I like that concept;usually there's one special judge for the QF and another for the Elim,which made no sense to me.

Mark was a little jumpy during the farmer's market shopping(also,a tad pushy while waiting his turn;you need to mellow out,dude,seriously!)and forgot one of the ingredients that he had bought. However,his steak with turnips,mushrooms and peaches came out well and earned him not only a win but immunity for the Elim.

A patented TC knife pull divided the chefs into teams of three to cater a reception at the Lincoln Park Zoo and their menus were to be based on the diet of the animal each team was named for(Bear,Lion,Vulture,Penguin and Gorilla). A pretty cool conception,altho for some reason,Team Gorilla added lamb to their mix. Uh,guys,it's a vegetarian menu and even without the whole "true to the animal" diet thing,most folks would frown upon throwing meat in. The judges didn't call them on it but still,I don't think that's a good thing for a chef to do.

Team Gorilla had other probelms,like Stephanie's crab salad that was mixed too early and was all watery by serving time(fortunately,her banana bread saved her from going home)and Valerie's blinis,which were also made way too soon and dried out. Team Bear was also on the chopping block,for their disasterous mushroom stuffed with blueberries that they tried to salvage by covering it with cheese(none of them tasted it with cheese before serving it-not smart,folks!). As Judge Gail rightly put it,"it looked more like something a bear would produce rather than eat."

The big winner here was Andrew,for his squid ceviche and a "glacier" made with yuzu and mint. He was on Team Penguin,who did very well over all. Mark whipped up an anchovy croquette that had the judges raving about it's goodness and the team also had a nice flow on their table with a black and white theme that suited their animal namesake. Good job,Team Penguin!

Valerie packed her knives after her botched blinis were chosen as the worst of the bunch. From the clips they showed for next week,looks like there's going to some major fighting going on in the kitchen. I just hope it spices things up a little and doesn't overpower the whole show,as it's been wont to do in the past.

I'm very disappointed with American Idol voters this week;first you put Carly Smithson in the Bottom Three(I don't care what Simon said,she sang "Blackbird" beautifully!)and then you take away my Rock N' Roll Nurse! What gives?

"Well,why don't you vote then,Lady T?" I would,but the last time someone in my house voted in this season's AI,we lost Danny Noriega to the Text of Doom. I'm trying not to jinx things,okay?!

Kristy Lee Cook has been stinking up the joint for the past two weeks(her version of "You've Got to hide your love away" hid the melody away. She tied cement blocks to that tune and dragged it around the stage like roadkill)and should've been sent home by now. Instead,Amanda Overmeyer gets the boot. What a world!:


A person who deserved to be in the Bottom Three this week was Michael Johns,for that Cliff Notes version of A Day in the Life. It was not just a complete mess of music but those lighting choices for the background made it look like he was performing live from the Ninth Circle of Hell!

His Sanjaya award winning performance should be taken as a warning to those who would attempt to shorten long songs. Sometimes,it can be done and sometimes,it can not. There is no try. Just say no,people!



Oh,well,at least Carly is still here. She gave the best performance of the night,in my humble opinion,and the only thing she did wrong was agree to wear that awful red top with the wreath neckline. Next week,the theme is Andrew Lloyd Webber. Any takers on which singer is going to mangle "Memory"? My money's on Kristy:


Season two of The Riches premiered this week,and it's picking off where they left off from,with Wayne staying behind in Eden Falls to see what he can salvage(not to mention keeping Dale from going to the cops about his secret and figuring out what to do about Pete).

I'm glad that Nina decided to run away with the Malloys;I like her and Dahlia's going to need all the help she can get. Her being in charge of the kids and "Grandma" is bound to lead to trouble,even more than that cliffhanger with the driver of the van they were stealing having a big old hand cannon aimed at them(stealing transportation in Texas is a very risky venture there!). So far,so good.

Random Notes

SOUTH PARK: Is it just me or is South Park starting to resemble outtakes from the Brothers Grimm? Look,I like risk taking humor and the bold social statements that Matt and Trey make from time to time but this new season is really freaking me out.

The Britney Spears as a human sacrifice metaphor,I totally get and while I do agree that the media overkill on her is pretty nasty,it was hard to laugh after Britney blew her head off and yet still lived. The horror movie references were well done(like the bit about Miley Cyrus at the end)but the whole thing was starting to feel more like a heavy handed message than satire. Between this and last week's "Cartman curing AIDS with money" routine,South Park is really getting preachy here.

ROOT OF ALL EVIL: Lewis Black's new Comedy Central show(which comes on right after South Park) has been rather funny,with it's debates about which is worse,Oprah or the Catholic Church and Donald Trump vs. Viagra. That's the kind of topical humor I like to see,something smart and snappy,not off putting: