Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, December 31, 2009

LRG's Top Ten favorite pop culture videos of 2009

As this is the last day of 2009 and the current order of the day is to take a look back at what has gone on throughout the year,I thought it would be fitting to reminiscence over some of the video clips that have been showcased on this blog.

Perhaps I overdo it by adding at least three or more to just about every post,but since this medium allows me to create an audio/visual aspect to my written ramblings about books,TV,movies and whatever vampire series has dug their fangs into my fan girl jugular at the moment,I figure that a mixed media approach is the most modern way to go. Plus,that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words increases with video, big time.

Without further ado,here are my picks for Best LRG Added clips of the year:


The antics of Random Guy and Random Gal,the co-creators of the Marvel/DC video series,have not waned despite the only major comic book films this year being Watchmen(which didn't do as well as it could have) and the highly anticipated X-Men:Origins:Wolverine(too many subtitles there, a sure sign of trouble).

They've done some great parodies of other big summer movies such as Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Transformers while still keeping tabs on the graphic novel adaptation game. Their first one out of the gate this past spring set the summer movie season off just right:


At the TV Land Awards,a song and dance tribute to Sid and Marty Krofft was part of the evening's entertainment(which was also conveniently a ti-in promo for the lackluster Land of the Lost film released and quickly forgotten into theaters). One of my favorite Krofft caper shows was Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and representing those crime fighting gals was Cyndi Lauper,in full villianess garb. Why no one has thought to give her a wacky kid's show is beyond me:


On the second season of True Blood,Sookie's easily lead brother Jason wound up joining the Fellowship of the Sun,an anti-vampire group that plans to harm his sister as part of their goals to provoke open warfare between humans and vamps.

For once,Jason's impulsive nature came in handy to rescue Sookie and friends from being fried alive and he was actually rather witty in his final comments to the big talk but no action Rev. Newlin:


Creative editing is an unappreciated art form,in my opinion,and when done right,can give a whole new perspective on a pop culture favorite. This amusing remix of some of the supporting players on True Blood reveals a sinister sit-com version that has harried waitress Arlene taking over the leading lady position and trying to juggle an equally awkward work and home life,not to mention a romance of sorts with sadly strange Terry-I know I'd certainly watch it on a regular basis:


This delightful twisted tribute to Fanny Dashwood,the viciously obnoxious sister-in-law from Sense and Sensibility not only gave my Jane Austen parody post an extra chuckle but introduced me to the Scissor Sisters "I Can't Decide",a charmingly evil song that I simply adore to pieces:


Book trailers have become increasingly important over the past couple of years,as a way to spread the online word about upcoming titles and without a doubt,the folks at Quirk Classics made themselves an overnight sensation with this mini-movie promo for their latest Jane Austen monster mash-up.

Granted,their first big classic chiller,Pride & Prejudice & Zombies,did well enough on it's own without a video officially attached to it but having S&S&SM introduced to the eager public in this way did jump start the continuation of the genre nicely. This trailer even made it's way into multiplexes this holiday season,paving a pathway for the future film adaptation of P&P&Z(which will star Natalie Portman)and showing folks what a cleverly made promo can do for the book industry:


One of the real shockers on Mad Men's third season was a runaway John Deere tractor being driven at Joan's last day at work party,which proved that drunk driving is just as dangerous indoors as well as out. It certainly made that day memorable,in more ways than one and gave a darker meaning to the phrase "You've got red on you":


As much as I'm a Peggy fan when it comes to Mad Men,the moxie of Joan Holloway can not be denied. As she tried to console her whiny jerk of a husband about his professional failures,Joan's patience goes along the Popeye route of "that's all I stand,I can't stands no more!"-couldn't have happened to a nicer guy there:


As vampires are merging with Jane Austen novels in print,it's only a matter of time before this heartfelt horror brew is served up on screens both big and small. This remix of audio from a Jane Austen made for TV movie ad and sequences from HBO's True Blood gives us a glimpse of what that may be like:


One of the reasons that I started to enjoy the musical stylings of Lady Gaga is this version of her biggest hit song by former American Idol contender Daughtry. His soulful rendition of Poker Face made it a must-listen for me and many others out there and it gets better every time I hear it,folks:

My thanks to those who made their own clips as well to the people who were kind enough to put up some of the best moments from some of our favorite shows this year. See you all next week in the new year and to tie you over,check out this odd little song by Jonathan Coulton that someone has thoughtfully translated into American Sign Language for the amusement of all. See,even zombies want to reach out to more than their usual demographic,so make thinking outside of the box one of your New Year's resolutions,folks!:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Louisa May Alcott,a true American Master

Normally,I don't watch the PBS series American Masters but when I heard that this week they were showing a documentary about Louisa May Alcott,it became must-see TV for me. The film aired on Monday night and even now,some of the sequences are still fresh in my mind,which is nudging a few of the books on my Classic Read pile to move up to the top.

The documentary was based on a new biography by Harriet Reisen released this fall(and no,I didn't read it,but certainly would like to)entitled "The Woman behind Little Women" and the film used a mixed media approach of actor reenactments,commentary from scholars and old fashioned styled animation to showcase all of the diverse facets that made up the literary persona and the real personality of Louisa May.

The actors chosen for this film included Jane Alexander(as LMA's first official biographer)and Elizabeth Marvel as Alcott herself. Marvel was wonderful to watch,she really made Louisa come alive on the screen and hopefully,we will get to see more of her talents sooner rather than later:

Granted,there were some things that I already knew about Alcott before seeing this movie,such as her father's involvement in the Transcendental movement in New England,which was not always beneficial either socially or financially to his family but allowed friendships with the likes of Emerson and Thoreau for many years.

Also no surprise to me were the "blood and thunder" tales that Louisa wrote for money(and a little fun,in my opinion)under various pen names,which were discovered to be hers long after her death.

There's a couple of lovely clips where the two rare book dealers/writers Madeline Stern and Leona Rostenberg,who first brought these forgotten thrillers to light,plus delightful imaginings of how Alcott created these stories in her mind(she always did have a love of the theater and it shows especially here):

There was,however,a treasure trove of things that I didn't know and was most anxious to hear more about. For example,Louisa was a Union nurse during the Civil War and attended many wounded and dying soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg,one of the worst battles of the war.

After the war,Louisa had the chance to go to Europe as a lady's companion to an invalid and wound up having a bit of a fling in Paris with a Polish gentleman at least ten years her junior. The romance didn't last,but no doubt the tender feelings that it stirred in her lingered onward.

It was said that her young beau was one of the inspirations for Laurie in Little Women,which makes that character's connection with Jo March(the book's obvious doppelganger for LMA)much more potent:

The success of Little Women lifted Louisa and her family out of the bouts of poverty they had fallen into over the years and despite LMA's reluctance at being pegged as a children's writer,I think the book did give her some artistic satisfaction as well. It was loosely based on her childhood and gave her the chance to honor her mother,memorialize her beloved deceased sister Elizabeth and much like Jo,make her own way in the world solely on her skills:

Overall,this film was a lovely tribute to an author whose influence upon future generations of readers and writers is still strong today and was always underestimated both within and beyond her moment in time.

I don't know if they plan to show this American Masters episode again but you can either check your local PBS listings or see if the DVD is available for rental in your area(it's not on Netflix yet). Kudos to Harriet Reisen and director Nancy Porter for bringing this fully fleshed portrait of an admirable American artist and woman to both faithful fans of her work and a new audience waiting to discover her writings for themselves. Maybe I should keep an eye out for this series next year to see who else gets such a well lit and well deserved spotlight:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

10 great ways to start a New Year of reading

As 2009 is on it's way out of the door and 2010 is getting ready to take a turn on the catwalk,a good strategy for greeting this bookend to the first decade of the twenty first century is to start up a brand pile of books to read.

True,there is a whole year's worth of new material soon to come out,plus plenty of books from the last couple of years that you may not have caught up to just yet(I am so a card carrying member of that club!)but that doesn't mean you should put some new stuff on hold until your TBR sections are clear. Perhaps one or two of these titles might help to jump start your reader mode and motivate you into digging into a portion of that backlog while planning on picking up another pile of fresh literature in time for spring.

Whatever your reason,here is a listing of ten books due to arrive this upcoming January and February for your sampling pleasure:


As many of you know,I am an all-day sucker for saga novels and when I spotted Leila Meacham's Roses at BEA last spring,my mouth was watering.

It's a generational story that takes a trio of prominent families in a small Texas town through years of heartbreak as Mary Toliver struggles over which she loves more,the cotton plantation that she revived after her father squandered their fortune or Percy Warwick,the timber tycoon and childhood friend who adores her but wants a stay at home wife and mother. Their reluctant romance leads to repercussions upon their family and friends for more than one lifetime.

This was a book that I couldn't wait to get home and read. Hopefully,so will many others out there feel the same way and enjoy this enticing epic tale of love that triumphs over time,despite the winds of change,thorns and all(January 6):


Persistence does pay off,folks-after months of trying,I received my first Advance Reviewers' book from Library Thing and it's a fresh and fanciful new novel from one of my favorite lady lit writers,Marian Keyes.

The Brightest Star in the Sky has an unnamed yet spunky guardian spirit sent down to earth to give some otherworldly assistance to one of the residents of a Dublin townhouse.

Just who needs help here is no easy question to answer-cranky Jemina and her son Fionn,who is set to star in a TV series as a hunky gardener,newlyweds Matt and Maeve stumbling over their first big roadblock in romance,Lydia,the sharp tongued gal who wards off everyone with her harsh demeanor or Katie,a professional business woman looking for equal success in her love life.

Whoever it is,there is no doubt that everyone will benefit from the charm and warmth that Keyes always adds to her stories and leaves you wanting more(January 21):

Another lost soul in search of much needed guidance,Ida Maclaird returns to the mysterious archipelago of St. Hauda's Land as The Girl With Glass Feet in Ali Shaw's debut novel. Ida's odd ailment first began there when she went to visit the strange snow covered area overrun with albino animals and her only hope of a cure may be found there.

Midas Crook,a young man who has lived on these unusual islands all of his life,joins Ida in her quest and loses his heart to her along the way. Will they find a way to halt the spread of glass upon Ida's person in time? This intriguing novel certainly seems to be worth a look to discover that solution,plus see if anything else gets broken as well(January):


Patricia Falvey sets her new novel The Yellow House in the early part of the 20th century,where the struggles of Northern Ireland were most keenly felt. Eileen O'Neill is determined to mend the rifts in her family due to the political turmoil as well as take back their former ancestral home and plans to do so with hard work and thrifty savings.

Those plans take an emotional turn as Eileen's heart is torn between James,a passionate Irish nationalist, and Owen,a British army officer. Which path to follow in order to seek true happiness here is not going to be to easy but when the choices come down to sense or sensibility,it never is(February).

In The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom,seven year old Lavinia is an orphaned Irish girl who becomes an indentured servant at a tobacco farm in Virginia.

Under the mentoring hand of Belle,the illegitimate daughter of the almost always absent master of the house,Lavinia bonds with the slaves who work in the homestead but as she grows up,race and gender barriers crop up that threaten to make both Belle and Lavinia's futures a trial by fire. A tender and turbulent take on such harsh times for women,regardless of who and where they were,knows no true boundaries of time and place(February):


Elizabeth Kostova made quite a splash with her Dracula themed thriller The Historian a few years ago and now she may do so again with her latest novel involving mysterious obsessions. The Swan Thieves has psychiatrist Andrew Marlow seeking to find out why his newest patient, Robert Oliver,tried to destroy a painting displayed in the National Galley of Art.

Robert is a respected artist in his own right and his reasons for this bizarre act of vandalism leads Marlow towards the women in Oliver's life and a pack of love letters from 18th century France that seem to reveal a hidden sorrow from the world of French Impressionism. The key element to understanding any form of art is mystery and Kostova provides that in abundance(January):


The heroine of The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens is Mary Gooch,who has been dutifully waiting for her husband of twenty five years to come home to celebrate their anniversary. When it becomes all too clear that he's not,she decides to get over her sorrows by taking a trip to California,to if she can find him and maybe herself along the way.

What Mary does discovers is a set of interesting new friends and some inner strength to face what lies ahead. This looks like a promising book to introduce to your reading group,who will probably see a bit of Mary Gooch in themselves and rally around this thoughtful new read(February):

The lives of four women connect in Wench,a historical novel by Dolen Perkins Valdez,under circumstances that may seem lighthearted at first glance but are more grounded in harsh reality upon further notice. Lizzie,Sweet and Rennie are regular visitors to Tawawa House,a vacation resort in Ohio where they spend their summers with the married men in their lives and take time off from their everyday cares and woes.

When a newcomer,Masu,arrives to remind them of their real situation as the slave mistresses of their Southern gentlemen masters and encourages them to run away,their pleasant fantasy escape goes up in flames in more ways than one. This looks like a real out of the box approach to characters from a time period that many may assume they already know about and be surprised to find something intriguingly new(January).

Sadie Jones' Small Wars showcases the strain upon a marriage from being stationed in a war zone. Hal Treherne spent most of his time in Cyprus fighting off insurrections that by the time things settle down in 1956,he is ill equipped to deal with a trauma at home that his long suffering wife Clara desperately needs him for as emotional support.

Clara soon enough realizes that Hal's service has taken more of a toll on him than she anticipated and must make the best of a bad situation before her family is swept away by the inner and outer forces of destruction all around them. Some stirring food for thought that wouldn't look out of place at a modern day banquet of ideas(January):


When Marilyn Johnson did research for her first book,The Dead Beat,she developed a strong appreciation for libraries and the struggles facing those who work at them in our fast paced techno loving times and made that the focus of her new nonfiction book.

This Book Is Overdue features both traditional librarians and new school "cybarians" who both seek to expand the borders of open access to their communities,despite budget crunches,government hassles and outdated notions about the usefulness and convenience that a good library can offer. A must read for anyone who loves books and still remembers their first trip to their local public library(February).

Well,I hope something on this list gives you a good idea of what to spend those gift certificates you received over the holidays on. Finding an amazing book to talk about and share with others is wonderful to do at any time of the year,plus it may give resolve to change your life for the better in the bargain. That's a good goal for New Year's,don't let anyone steal your wind!:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Jasper Fforde has a new set of literary lenses for clearly seeing Shades of Grey

Eddie Russet lives in a world dominated by color-the kind that each person can see determines their status in life and just how far he or she can go up or down the Chromatic social ladder.

Eddie hopes to improve his station as a Red by marrying Constance Oxblood and inheriting the string works that her well to-do family runs in their respectable town of Jade-Under-Lime but instead,he and his father get transferred to East Carmine,a place on the "Outer Fringes" where even the sacred Rules of their society are twisted and turned in all sorts of ways both good and bad for the locals of all hues.

While on their journey into East Carmine,Eddie and his father(a swatchman who uses colors to heal people of just about everything except the dreaded Mildew)stumble across a mystery involving one of the oppressed Greys trying to pass for a highly touted Purple which leads to Eddie spotting Jane,a rebellious Grey girl with a very attractive nose,and following her down a path of revelation into the hidden secrets of their tightly structured society.

Jane does threaten to kill him quite a bit,but she's only one of the many dangers of being a resident of the Outer Fringes. There's ball lightning,carnivorous plants called Yateveos(which Eddie has more than one nasty encounter with), the strong possibility of being forced to marry a pushy Purple named Violet DeMauve and losing too many credits in order to get married in the first place to worry about,not to mention being caught out after dark and deadly swan attacks:

The longer Eddie stays in East Carmine,the more questions about the meaning of the restraints that his world insists upon,due to the Something That Happened in the Previous existence,crop up. Why are spoons in such limited supply? Is it fair to make the Greys do all of the hard work for everybody and does that justify them getting first dibs on the morning bacon?

Why are Yellows such ill tempered people and what sinister plot does the Yellow prefect Sally Gamboge and her obnoxious son Courtland wish to cover up from prying eyes? By being more observant than he should be,Eddie becomes a target and an unwitting ally to more than one of the hidden forces at work in their small section of the Collective:

Eddie,with the reluctant help of Jane and various other odd friends and foes,must ultimately decided whether or not to make a stand against the status quo and subtly subvert the system before being Rebooted for good.

Shades of Grey is meant to be the first book in a new series by Jasper Fforde,who amused many readers with his quirky bibliophile set of thrillers known as the Thursday Next books and then later with an entertaining spin-off of sorts called Nursery Crimes.

Fforde is one of those charming British writers who make mixing whimsy with social satire seem as easy as pie. I adored the Thursday Next books and even if you've never read those,Shades of Grey is a delightful introduction to the offbeat yet enchanting worlds of imagination Fforde has dreamed up that,in some ways,hit very close to home in showing us the absurdities of our need to impose social order upon others.

Shades of Grey will be available this week at a bookstore near you and it's a definite must-read that will start your New Year off right. It's good to get in on this color scheme early before too much light on the subject blinds you to it's bizarre brilliance:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Time for a seasonal singalong to make spirits bright this Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is upon us,folks,and once again,it's time to showcase some holiday music to tide everyone over during these hopefully happy days.

As some of you may know,we here at LRG tend to look for Xmas music videos that are rather offbeat and/or oddly nostalgic in order to add a little spice to our funky fruitcake. With that in mind,if a couple of these tunes have a strange sensory aftertaste to your ears,there should at least one that cleanses your auditory palate.

Our first musical selection is a favorite of mine that was hard to find last year and while an amusing substitute was discovered,I am very glad to see that it's back for public viewing. The homemade charm of this lip sync with it's toothpick animation has become a annual must-listen for me and I'm happy to share with you all this version of "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses:

Next under the tree is "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand" from the animated TV special 'Twas the Night Before Christmas that first aired on CBS back in the seventies and is on the rotation list of ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas.

The show weaves a story line around the classic holiday poem in which a small town is depending on the local clock maker(voiced by Joel Grey)to build a musical clock tower as an incentive to Santa not to pass them by. The need for that is due to a Letter to the Editor(written by a mouse child)that dissed the holiday and in this number,the clock maker encourages his family to keep the faith in him,which also moves the cynical little mouse boy as well:

Another cool track from the original A Very Special Christmas album is John Cougar Mellencamp's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". Yes,folks,this song was part of his in between name change playlist,starting with John Cougar and then adding his real last name on to that and ending with dropping the Cougar altogether. Personally,I think John Cougar Mellencamp had a interesting ring to it,but oh,well:

This was quite the find;Olivia Newton-John appeared in a made for TV film in her homeland of Australia back in the mid-1960s called Funny Things Happen Down Under and yes,there was a Christmas scene in it that required her to sing. Here for your audio/video pleasure is "Christmas Time Down Under"(so weird to see her as a brunette!):

Recently,the pop band Blondie reunited and as part of their promo push for their upcoming new album next year,they released a very rocking version of "We Three Kings". This is usually a song that's sung slowly and somberly but this much livelier version does the tune justice and makes it a carol worthy of busting a few moves to on the dance floor:

Time to wrap things up with an always welcome dose of ABBA and best wishes for everyone out there to have a Happy Christmas. See you all next week,as we start looking forward to what should be a Happy New Year:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting into the spirit of the season with pop culture flair

With Christmas day literally just around the corner,it's hard not to embrace the feeling of holiday cheer that seems to have gotten a revival of sorts this year. Perhaps it's the realization of our first decade of this new century being marked off or the rough financial times that have taken a toll upon us all that has made this season of sharing all the more important to folks for all the right reasons.

Everyone has their own special touchstones that invoke the warm feelings of remembrance and joy on Christmas(or the winter holiday of your choice)and I thought that I would share a few of my favorite Christmas highlights from the pop culture side of the tree:

THE FIRST CHAPTER OF LITTLE WOMEN: In my opinion,one of the best opening lines in literature is "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents!". That statement starts off our introduction to the March sisters from Louisa May Alcott's classic novel,Little Women,a book that I received as a Christmas gift from my aunt way back in 1977.

It's still one of my most reread books and that first couple of chapters where the girls decide to think more of their mother than themselves in their holiday shopping and later give away their breakfast to the poor Hummel family which brings them plenty of special surprises in return,is a true treasure chest of Yuletide spirit that's sweeter than gingerbread and goes down smoother than eggnog:

MERRY CHRISTMAS,MR. BEAN: Rowan Atkinson's goofy antics as the mostly silent but never sensible character are on their best display here in this special that first aired on HBO many moons ago. Picking just one funny scene is really hard to do,but if I had to,my choice would be this bit where Mr. Bean kills some time at a department store during his holiday shopping by playing with a nativity set in a most nontraditional way:

Yes, this song is insanely disrespectful of the season,not to mention elderly relatives but I can't help myself.Sometimes,you have to pull Santa's beard off and have a good laugh or two,even if it's not good taste:

A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS: The first of this musical collection(put together to raise money for the Special Olympics)is the only Christmas album I've ever bought in my life. It was on cassette,so you can guess far back in ancient times that purchase was! I'm not sure if I still have it on hand but those songs are some of the best versions of Christmas music I've ever heard.

Here are a few of my favorite tracks from that album-Run D.M.C with "Christmas in Hollis" is charmingly unique and cool enough to be included in the soundtrack of the original Die Hard movie(it plays in the background as John McClane's clueless limo driver is chatting up a girl on the phone,unaware of the danger surrounding him):

The Pointer Sisters were in vogue back then and their take on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is timeless fun even when hearing it today. If there is someone you know who doesn't know the Pointer Sisters,this is a good place to start educating them:

Last but far from least is the Eurythmics with "Winter Wonderland". Annie Lennox has a great voice but you have to admit that her take on this song gives it a very surrealistic air indeed:

Please feel free to share some of your pop culture holiday favorites in the comments section and stay tuned tomorrow for some Christmas Eve carols by the LRG players. No matter what rings your bell to stir the spirit of Christmas within you,it's the little things that keep you going,even if you're a regular Joe or Jane or a mega media star all year round:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What's heading to the movie trailer park for 2010?

As the holiday movie season reaches it's peak,more and more sneak peeks at what to expect in theaters next year are appearing fast and furiously. Some of these flicks look like more of the same that we've getting lately from Hollywood while other show some promise of better things to come.

To whet our cinematic appetites,let's look at a handful of these trailers that are in current rotation to see if we can spot a winner or smell out a stinker before anyone puts their money down at the box office window. With the tight budgets most of us are dealing with these days,it's best to plan your entertainment spending ahead:


Amy Adams is our leading lady for this fanciful little romance that has her desperate to be married yuppie gal rushing off to Dublin in order to take advantage of an old Irish tradition of women being allowed to propose marriage on February 29(real forward feminism movement being put on display here,folks!)and get her steady guy onboard the commitment train.

Along the way,she enlists the help of a local man(Matthew Goode)to get her to town on time and naturally,they fall in love. I suppose this is a decent enough date movie,but why is it that Hollywood persists in releasing dippy rom-coms during the midwinter season? Is it a mandate that talented actresses like Amy Adams have to do at least one incredibly obvious-what's-going-to-happen movie instead of something better? Perhaps,I'm being too picky but this just sounds like a decent rental instead of a night out at the multiplex(January):

THE RUNAWAYS: Now this is some girl power I'd like to see more of onscreen. This biopic of the seventies girl band has Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett with her New Moon co-star Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie,the lead singer whose book about her time as a teen rock star is the basis of the film. The rock n' roll rise and fall story is usually reserved for the fellas,so seeing how these ladies handled the stress of success should be worth a look-see,especially for music fans(March):

CLASH OF THE TITANS:Even tho I am tired of the endless trend of remakes coming from the studios over the past several years,I have to say that upon checking out the trailer for the new version of Clash of the Titans that the movie doesn't look half bad. In fact,it looks pretty damn cool.

As much as I appreciate the Ray Harryhausen effects from the 1981 original,that movie was pure Velveeta on toast,folks. This new version does have plenty of cheddar to offer but with a little more kick to it. Don't hold your breath but "Release the Kraken!" may become a fresh new catchphrase by next spring(March):

ROBIN HOOD:Another movie about the leader of the Merry Men who robbed from the rich to give to the poor would be most welcome during the hard financial times we're facing right now. However,this film feels more akin to the likes of 300 and Gladiator,which is not too surprising since Ridley Scott is the director with Russell Crowe as the legendary outlaw.

Nothing wrong with taking a more realistic approach to the material,yet it would be nice to see a Robin Hood styled in the Errol Flynn fashion-one that used his wits as well as his fists to bring justice to the oppressed. I swear,you wouldn't even know this was a Robin Hood movie from the trailer here until the title pops up at the end(May):

IRON MAN 2: The return of Tony Stark and his ultimate power suit is one of the highly anticipated big action movies for the start of 2010's summer season and this sequel seems to be another check in the win column for Marvel.

Not only does Robert Downey Jr. come back for seconds,he gets a more formidable foe this go-round,with Mickey Rourke's Whiplash ready and willing to take him down for the count.

Even with Don Cheadle taking over for Terrence Howard as the man who becomes War Machine(maybe you should've waited for the third movie to start fussing about the money,Terrence-just saying!),having most of the original cast and crew is a good sign. Plus,Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury,Agent of Shield,is quite the cherry ontop of this superhero sundae(May):

Well,those are my best guesses for now. Stay tuned,movie lovers and we'll see if the big boys and girls of Hollywood can serve us up something substantial as well as amusing when the warm weather comes back. I do hope that DC does catch up to Marvel in the hit film sweepstakes,even if they feel that sharing Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern with the chance of him headlining a possible Deadpool spin-off to Wolverine is the way to go. It might not be such a great loss if he gave up either one of those parts,if you ask me:

Monday, December 21, 2009

A sudden sad departure for Brittany Murphy

It was quite a stunner to see the report of the death of actress Brittany Murphy yesterday;she was only 32 years old,not an age where hearing that someone has left this earth to be expected. News is still pending about how she died,so until I refuse to speculate upon the whys and wherefores of that,out of respect for her family and friends.

An unexpected death is hard to deal with,especially at this time of year when the focus on bonds between loved ones is most keenly felt. In the giving spirit of the season,I feel that it's more appropriate to take a look back at the legacy Brittany left behind in her work on more than one entertainment front.

Many of us first saw Brittany onscreen in 1995's Clueless,where she played Tai,the Harriet Smith to Alicia Silverstone's Cher in this updated version of Jane Austen's Emma.

Tai was an important piece of the parody puzzle and Brittany played it with ease,making her sweetly goofy girl character not just a teen caricature and endowing her with the lovable charm that made it all too understandable why hip chicks like Cher and Dionne wanted her in their inner circle of coolness:

She became best known as a strong supporting actress,ranging from serious mainstream dramas such as Girl,Interrupted,8 Mile and Don't Say a Word to offbeat indie fare like Spun,Cherry Falls and Sidewalks of New York.

One of her best supporting moments in film was in Sin City,the live action version of Frank Miller's gruesomely gritty graphic novels. She played Shellie,a waitress who inspired love in all the wrong places and set off a juicy plot line for Dwight(Clive Owen),her latest boyfriend with his own dark secrets to keep. Her standoff with the demented Jackie Boy(Benecio DelToro) was a mixture of bravado and vulnerability that had her dancing as fast as she could to keep up and she made damn good time,too:

Brittany didn't just play girls from the rough and tumble side of town or dippy damsels in distress. She eventually grew into some leading lady roles,many of them romantic comedies like Little Black Book where her co-stars included Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates or down to earth gal pal flicks like Uptown Girls with Dakota Fanning.

She even appeared in made for TV film fare,with her latest being an adaptation of a Nora Roberts novel called Tribute. Brittany played Cilla McGowan,a young woman who works on renovating her grandmother's house and winds up uncovering a mystery that explains a lot about her family's past. Not where you'd expect to see her,but like many a character actor before her,Brittany tend to turn up in very interestingly unusual places:

A number of those unexpected places were in animation. Brittany was the voice of Luanne Platter on the Mike Judge series King of The Hill(along with a few other characters on occasion)throughout it's entire run,bringing her sweet liveliness to the part of Hank's innocently ignorant niece and even receiving a nomination for an Annie Award(given to folks who work in the animation field)for her performance.

One of her major voice overs was in the animated penguin movie Happy Feet,where she also showed off her pipes as Gloria,the singing sensation that made tone deaf Mumbles(Elijah Wood)trip the light fantastic on ice. This wasn't her first foray into the music scene-Brittany had a hit dance single with Paul Oakenfold with "Faster Kill Pussycat" that was number one on the Billboard Dance Club chart and did well overseas,too.

Someone in any field who can stretch her creative wings in more than one forum and make a subtle yet special splash is a person you want to keep your eye for future developments. Unfortunately for us all,Brittany is no longer available to be in the center of the spotlight but she did leave a unique and lasting legacy for others to remember her fondly by. Sorry to see you go,Brittany,and I'm sure that wherever you are,folks are happy to have a dance party with you:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Do holiday special sequels make for good stocking stuffers?

Last but not least in our LRG look at Christmastime holiday pop culture is a glance at those TV specials that do make the channel surfing rotation during this time of year but are perhaps not as appreciated for their own merits.

Just like hit movies,made for TV specials have sequels made to them that are a mixed bag of entertainment delights. Some of them are fun to watch,even if you haven't seen the original material while others are clearly an acquired taste. Here are five of these follow-ups that are worth watching for either or both these reasons:


One route that sequel specials take is to jump right into the next holiday on the calendar. In this one,Charlie Brown attends a New Year's bash hoping to meet up with the elusive Little Red Haired Girl while trying to finish reading War and Peace,his assigned homework for the holiday break(who gives a kid a book that long to do a report on,honestly?).

This show was made in the mid 1980s,so there are more singing and dancing bits than in the standard old school Peanuts specials. It's a cute special that pretty much follows the tone of the strips,despite the extra musical moments:

RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR: This one is a great action adventure,as our favorite red nosed reindeer is on a quest to find the Baby New Year(named Happy,of course)who has run away due to folks laughing at his giant ears,something that Rudolph relates to all too well. His search takes him to the Archipelago of Last Years,where each island represents a frozen moment of time for the former New Year.

Rudolph gathers up a few time guardians to help him search and find Happy before a cranky buzzard named Aeon grabs him first. Wandering around those islands is an interesting way to slip a few history lessons in,plus the show gives the changing of the guard on New Year's Eve a bit of importance to it,instead of seeming like an excuse to stay up late and party:

FROSTY'S WINTER WONDERLAND: The talking snowman returns to his old stomping grounds and finds himself getting a little lonely when the kids go home,so the youngsters decide to play matchmaker and create a snow bride named Crystal for him to pal around with.

Jack Frost tries to break up the proceedings but all eventually does turn out well. For some reason,Jack Frost and other winter wizards always winds up being the bad guy in show like this-why is that? You'd think they would be more pro snow people. Anyway, it is a good excuse to sing Winter Wonderland and see Frosty find someone to share the cold outdoors with:

RUDOLPH AND FROSTY'S CHRISTMAS IN JULY: Like peanut butter and jelly,these two titans of Yuletide fame team up for some wacky holiday hijinks as they help a ice cream man meet up with his true love,who happens to be a circus performer. Frosty's wife and kids(how those two had offspring,I don't know and I don't want to know)come along for the ride and yet another winter wizard is out to spoil the fun.

The plot line gets a tad soap opera-ish,with Rudolph being framed for a crime he didn't commit,thanks to an evil reindeer(I told you it was soap opera style!)and the mean wizard trying to steal both the magic powers of Rudy and Frosty. Rankin-Bass shows did attract some interesting voice over players and one that really stands out here is the late great Ethel Merman,who gives her generous pipes to circus owner Lily Loraine and really livens up the proceedings:

Yes,Virginia,this counts as a sequel since it is a follow-up to Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. This special is probably the best known of them all,as Santa gets all grumpy about his merry mission and Mrs. Claus has to save the day by scrambling about for a miracle to revive his spirits.

The main reason,I think,for this show getting plenty of attention on it's own is due to the Miser Brothers,who Mrs. Claus and company intercede with for assistance in sending a snowstorm to a small southern town in order to reclaim one of Santa's reindeer. Their theme songs are as memorable as any traditional Christmas carol and the best part of the show for some fans:

Sequels at any time of year are a sticky wicket to pull off right. On one hand,the chance to expand upon the first story is ripe with possibilities,on the other,so are the creative pitfalls that lead to artistic and commercial disaster. Having a holiday theme attached to the project only ups the ante for those involved but with any luck,you can create an amusing delight to entertain audiences with for decades to come. If not only,it's best to make do with that lump of coal that ended up in your stocking before someone switches the channel:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas reunion and what's coming up after New Year's on TV

No season of Top Chef is complete without the reunion show to wrap things up. This one was as civil as the series,with some good natured laughs at behind the scenes antics,profiled looks at stand out chefs such as Jen,Mikey I. and Ron,plus a visit from the mother of the Brothers Voltaggio,who "pleaded the fifth" when asked which one of her boys she was rooting for. Smart move,ma'am. She did tell everyone that her family planned to give whichever brother that didn't win one of their cars,so Byran now has a '79 Corvette as a consolation prize-sweet!

Kevin was kidded about his meal with Joel Robuchon and the language barrier between them in a clip reel. Kevin also talked about how close he came to quitting after his team lost Restaurant Wars(glad he stayed on there). Other topics of discussion included how Robin's talkative nature irked a lot of people and the bad behavior she recieved because of that. She really seemed to take the whole thing in stride and I believe Robin when she said that being straight forward with her about it was something that she respected.

It turns out that Eli hadn't apologized to her about that catty cancer remark he made after her Quickfire win and he did so right then and there. That was about as sincere as a six dollar bill,but letting it go is the best remedy here.

The Fan Favorite for this TC season will be announced tonight on Bravo's Watch What Happens and my money is on Kevin to take the ten grand home. I don't know when a new season of Top Chef will be on but hopefully,it will be as much fun for the viewers as this one was for the chefs to experience:

Since a number of shows are taking a winter break,so will my regular TV Thursday posts on this blog. However,I am keeping an eye for newer series and my favorites to return,so if any of these programs are Must Sees for you,here's a quick rundown of return dates to mark on your DVR:

LEGEND OF THE SEEKER: More of Season Two will be on a syndicated station near you by the weekend of January 9. Richard,Kahlan and the gang are still in hot pursuit of the Stone of Tears in order to keep the Underworld from destroying humanity but a major obstacle in their path will be an all too familiar face-Denna,the ultimate Mord Sith is back wearing white,no less,but that doesn't mean she's one of the good guys:

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES:Despite the cliffhanger ending of the last new episode,Elena will be back for another bite on January 14,along with the Salvatore brothers and it looks as if the notion of a threesome is starting to have some appeal to her. Also,Bonnie's witchy ancestry and Elena's striking resemblance to magically trapped vampiress Katherine will spark up a few interesting flares of plot tension:

PROJECT RUNWAY: Also debuting on January 14 is the seventh season of PR on Lifetime,which should be free of the new setting shakes that plagued Season Six. I know that I haven't been talking about the show lately(due to it's Thursday night time slot)but one of my New Year's resolutions will be to remedy that next year.

The odds are in our favor for a better season,with the show returning to New York and all of the regular judges(particularly Nina Garcia and Michael Kors) on deck to keep the catwalk on an even keel:

AMERICAN IDOL: The big magilla for the midwinter season(other than the Olympics) will be AI,which premieres on January 12th. Special celebrity judges will include Avril LaVigne and Dr. Horrible himself,Neil Patrick Harris and yes,Virginia,there will be bad singing at the auditions to gleefully chuckle over.

Of course,the big question is going to be how will Ellen Degeneres fit into that now empty Paula chair at the judges' table? My advice to her is to watch out for Kara;in her mind,it's probably one down and two to go:

RANDOM NOTES:There's a SNL Christmas special set to air tonight and while I haven't watched the show in years,this little holiday medley deserves to be one of the highlights(you gotta love the sweaters these guys dared to wear on live TV):

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An invite to Jane Austen's birthday dance party

Many literary lovers around the world,both on and offline,are celebrating today in honor of Jane Austen,whose 234th birthday it is today. Gatherings will be held by like minded friends while some chose to share the simple joys of the day either with a selected few or alone in a Marlene Dietrich fashion.

There are many good reasons to rejoice about Jane's legacy,which is doing a brisk business these days,thanks to the lively crew at Quirk Classics who are devoting most of the day to honoring Our Dear Jane at their new website and glowing with delight over the casting of Natalie Portman as the quick witted and fierce warrior maiden Lizzie Bennett for the film version of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

If you prefer a more sedate setting,the Morgan Library & Museum's exhibit of Jane Austen is available online for perusal,with a fifteen minute video of such diverse company as Cornel West,Fran Lebowitz and Harriet Walter talking about what Jane means to them,plus images of her letters and other writings made available for viewing.

As for me,I think I'd like to dance-that's what Jane would be doing,after all. While she was a homebody at times,the lady did love to go out and kick her heels up at a ball or two(with a proper invitation and respectable escorts,of course)and dancing was a major part of socialization in the Regency world. Any talk of either her novels or her life story must and has included dancing,so with that in mind,we here at LRG have selected some prime examples of the art of the dance and it's importance in Austen's realm.

A dance in a public place or private home was considered a very proper way for young people to meet and mingle,with hopes of making a good marriage match in the bargain. Visits to cities such as Bath were done in the hopes of finding suitable suitors as well as acquaintances and good first impressions at establishments like the Upper Rooms were most desirable to be made:

Since the pacing of certain dance movements required one to spend a considerable amount of time on the dance floor with your partner,it was a great opportunity for people to get to know more about each other thru conversation. Many a romance blossomed under such circumstances and also some resentments as well,which is why many of the best moments of character revelation in Austen's work came about during those carefully timed twists and turns in the ballroom:

Body language is not just a modern concept;in Jane's day,where concealing your true feelings was an unofficial art, there were times when more could be revealed about a person's courtship intentions as he or she moved across the dance floor than in any lengthy conversation or time spent together.The exchange of longing looks and just how close someone would dare to be towards one partner or another during several of the movements could be read as an open declaration of love:

No matter what changes are made in adapting the novels of Jane Austen to film and/or TV,the dance scenes are always vital to the story and taking them out is something no one seems willing to do.

It's hard to imagine what Pride and Prejudice would be like without seeing Darcy and Elizabeth spar in sync at the Netherfield ball or Elinor meeting Willoughby while dancing at that London party before Marianne spots him and causes that sad scene which only fuels the fodder for gossip and heartbreak to come. All Austen couples share some sort of dancing moment together-even the self composed Emma looses up a little when she and Mr. Knightley take their turn together at the Crown Inn ball,a hint of things to come between those two before the end of the book:

Reimagings and modern stories that use Austen's novels as a template for their romantic plots also make sure to keep the characters on their dancing toes. No matter how times may change,folks still feel the need to flirt via tripping the light fantastic. You could almost say that such fancy footwork is a universal language of love:

As the music dies down,let us wish Jane Austen a happy birthday as she no doubt observes all this fuss being made over her and finds it most amusing(as well as flattering).

As brilliant as her wit was and the cleverness of her writing most highly appreciated by generations of readers now and yet to come,Jane also was ahead of her time in the knowledge that there are times when all a girl wants to do is dance: