Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, August 31, 2009

Start your back-to-school reading off right with some paperback history lessons

With September only a few short hours away,the time for some serious upgrading of your To Be Read piles is here. That doesn't mean you have to put aside any of those beach books that you haven't finished yet(I know I'm not,that's for sure)but it wouldn't hurt to plan on stocking up on more hearty fare for the coming chill of autumn that drives you indoors.

One category that's sure to have a good mix of knowledge and pleasure is historical fiction,which can take place in just about any time period or place and hosts a rather diverse range of characters both up and down the cultural class ladder. To make things easier on your wallet,I thought it would be a good idea to highlight a few of the top choices out in paperback that should hit the spot nicely.

Author Robert Hicks' new novel,A Separate Country,is due out later this month,but those who are unfamiliar with him can get well acquainted with his first book,Widow Of the South,which also has a Civil War theme.

Widow of the South tells the story of Carrie McGavock,who opened up her plantation as a field hospital during the Battle of Franklin in 1864 and insisted on burying the numerous dead in her backyard. Her dedication to honoring their sacrifice was not without some personal sacrifices of her own to bear and Hicks endeavors to honor the real life Widow McGavock with this touching tale:

The 19th Wife is a blend of past and present,as the history of Ann Eliza Young,the infamously known bride of Brigham Young who lead the charge against bigamy,is counterbalanced with a modern day tale of a young man raised in a secretive plural marriage community who only returns when his mother is charged with the murder of his father.

I was lucky enough to get an Advance Copy of this book before it came out in hardcover and now with it being available in trade paperback,The 19th Wife is ideal for any reading group selection this season. There's plenty of food for thought and lively debate about the compelling details of both sides of the controversy coin on this still sadly relevant issue:

If your number on the waiting list for Philippa Gregory's latest book that starts off her Plantagenet cycle,The White Queen,is in the lower digits,you can make the time go by faster with her last Tudor themed novel,The Other Queen.

The queen in question is Mary,Queen of Scots who was a "guest" of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his tough as nails wife,Bess of Hardwick. As is the way with Gregory's work,the take on Mary and her imprisonment takes a very different tack from the official history reports and shows the all too human sides of those caught within these sometimes deadly political struggles:

An interesting set of mysteries set in the Victorian era,Deanna Raybourn's Silent series is slowly but surely gaining a receptive audience. Starting with the first novel,Silent In The Grave,readers were introduced to Lady Julia Grey who teamed up with the haughty private inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane to solve the bizarre death of her husband during a dinner party at home.

In the newest book,Silent on the Moor,Lady Julia is in pursuit of Brisbane,who has retreated to his recently purchased estate in Yorkshire. Determined to find out why Brisbane has cut himself off from her,Lady Julia uncovers a long buried family that is ready to rise from the grave:

Another historical fiction hybrid is Andrew Davidson's debut novel,The Gargoyle. This strangely steamy book has it's main character,a male burn victim,listen to tales of times past told to him by a woman who claims to have been his lover during medieval Germany,where she was a nun and he was a wounded mercenary.

Whether or not you're willing to believe in reincarnation,the many stories of thwarted lovers thru out time that are recounted within the book are rather compelling,to say the least. You may,along with the disillusioned party boy suffering for his sins,doubt the truth of these narratives but the sincerity in which they're presented makes them feel so very real:

I hope this helps you to find a great historical read,but a word of warning to the hasty students out there. Don't use any of these titles(or any historical fiction,for that matter)as actual reference material for classroom use. The results may be a tad embarrassing. While most historical fiction is well researched,the key component here is fiction,folks-don't forget it!:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bad Movie Month closes up shop with Johnny Mnemonic

There are some actors and actresses out there who are perfectly versatile in their talents,going from drama to comedy to action movie based on a video game with all of the ease of a world renowned trapeze artist,and then there are those who are only at their best in genre fare.

Keanu Reeves is the latter,and nine times out of ten,his stiff style of acting works well in story lines that involve sci-fi kung fu fighting(The Matrix series),run-ins with the devil(Constantine,Devil's Advocate)or pumped up action flicks(Speed,Point Break). It's that tenth time that gets Keanu into trouble and some really bad films.

A prime example of that is Johnny Mnemonic,based on the works of cyberpunk writer Willian Gibson,where Keanu plays the title character whose job it is in his futuristic world to have corporate computer data downloaded into his brain(insert joke about plenty of space for that in his head here) for secretive courier service.

Johnny's newest batch of software threatens to cause a permanent mental meltdown,so he seeks a cure with the help of a bodyguard gal for hire(Dina Meyer)before the Yakuza hunt him down to chop off his head. Sounds like a bad video game,doesn't it,folks? Johnny does get a tad testy after awhile,very much like a teenager that can't get his Sidekick to text message properly:

A whole array of oddly cast folk are after Johnny's brainpan info,including a self proclaimed Street Preacher(Dolph Lundgren),a group of rebels called LoTeks lead by J-Bone(Ice T) and a discredited doctor(Henry Rollins)who runs an underground clinic for those afflicted with the latest incurable disease,said ailment having a super secret remedy that just happens to be trapped in our boy's "Just Johnny" head. As the Church Lady would say, how convenient!:

Is Johnny moved to help stop the sufferings of others? Hell to the no on that one,folks. All he wants is to get back those yuppie creature comforts that he feels entitled to and at one point makes a speech about his trials and tribulations that would make Shakespeare weep,if that would get Johnny to quit whining:

In the end,Johnny Mnemonic is a cinematic virus riddled with a hodgepodge of a plot and compulsive overacting. Much of the blame for this mess of a movie went to studio for chopping it up in the editing room(there's a director's cut that was released in Japan) but even with a couple of extra scenes tossed in,this is one sci-fi book to film that is truly lost in translation.

I actually paid good money to see Johnny Mnemonic when it came out in theaters back in 1995(my sister wanted to go,so she endured this onscreen cyber sludge with me)and even thinking about now,I still want my money back.

That's as likely to happen as finding a pot of gold on my doorstep but at least one good thing came out of my having to watch this tripe; a good enough bad film to wrap up Bad Movie Month just right. Thanks for attending BMM 2009,folks and if you have suggestions for 2010,feel free to let me know. I'll save you some aisle seats:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Top Chef learns to roll with it,Rachel Zoe returns and tensions on True Blood reach a boiling point

More Vegas style was displayed on Top Chef this week,as the Quickfire challenge had the chefs rolling dice on a craps table to determine the number of ingredients to use for an impromptu dish(salt,pepper and oil were freebies). Padma and guest judge Todd English not only had immunity for this round as the prize but $15,000 as well.

Michael won the QF,for making a gazpacho with toast using liquid nitrogen to chill it out. Todd English was very impressed by that choice and Michael's brother Bryan was put on notice with that little family victory. I worry about those guys,sibling rivalry on top of an already tense competition is just a firecracker fuse waiting to be lit.

The Elimination Challenge was to cater a bachelor & bachelorette party,with the men cooking for the bacholerettes and the ladies preparing food for the other side. Part of the challenge was to match their dishes to one of three shots of booze to be served at each party. One of those drinks was a "Moscow Mule" that has vodka and ginger,which Eli's ahi tuna tartar with puffed rice went incredibly well with,according to Judge Gail.

The men's team won the challenge with Michael and Hector joining Eli in the winner's circle but taking home the top honors here was Bryan,for his sweet and sour lime macaroon with corn nuts. That makes the brothers Voltaggio even steven for the time being there. Let's see how long that's going to last!

On the chopping block for the ladies were Eve,Ashley,Jesse and Preeti,who made a coriander tuna with eggplant on a wonton crisp. Judge Tom felt that the tuna was over marinated,turning it mealy and that the shiso leaves placed on the bottom of the plate were too wilted to bother with in such hot weather.

Preeti kept saying that folks came back to her station for seconds and thirds,so she thought her dish was fine. Preeti,you have to remember that most of those guys were drunk,which means that their taste buds had an "out of order" sign on them that day.

Eve wound up packing her knives,for the less than spicy shrimp ceviche with salsa and popcorn she served up. I think that was a wise choice,due to this being the second time she's been on the chopping block(along with Jesse,who I hope can do better next time)and her explanations of what went wrong have been fuzzy,to say the least.

Next week,the Elimination Challenge will involve cooking for the military and tensions will flare up between two of the ladies in the Bottom Four this week. With any luck,that spat will quickly become water over the bridge:

The Rachel Zoe Project returned for a second season of Vapid Fest and why I watch this show is somewhat of a mystery to me. Yes,it's a guilty pleasure but what hooked me into this last time was Taylor,Rachel's bitchy right hand gal who was hellbent on making new hire Brad's life a complete and total misery.

On the positive side,Taylor and Brad now seem to be more in sync with one another and are on a buddy-buddy level these days. Perhaps some of that is due to a couple of other assistants being hired to do more of the grunt work. It's an improvement over how they got along before, big time:

The bad news is that Taylor is still Taylor,with her total lack of sense of humor about herself. Granted,Rachel can be amazingly thoughtless with her words,but I really do believe her when she said that she was only kidding with Taylor about fitting into designer dresses at work(something that Taylor doesn't even want to do in the first place!). Oh,well,things would be boring on this show without some bitchery to spice it up:

Many rescues on True Blood this week,as Sookie and friends come home to a Bon Temps Gone Wild, with Sam and Andy on the run from their Maryann crazed neighbors. Jason was thrilled to have an excuse to go into action while Sookie and Bill went over to Lafayette's to see if they could snap Tara out of her trance.

It took a combo of Bill's vampire glamor with Sookie's telepathy to bring her back from the abyss but thank goodness that it worked. I agree with Lafayette,to hell with Eggs,Tara needs to stay as far away as possible from anything to do with Maryann and her evil plans:

Jason and Andy did a good job of tricking the hunting party at Merlotte's into letting Sam go(even if they were too slow about producing demon god horns)and Sam is probably going to have to tell them about his shapeshifting powers or convince them that he is one hell of a magician there:

While these victories are good,there are only small fights in the ultimate war for the souls of Bon Temps. Sam is no doubt a major player in the upcoming battle royale and Bill's going to the Vampire Queen of Louisiana for help will do some good but it seems to be Sookie who may truly have the upper hand when it comes to taking Maryann down for the count:


DESIGNSTAR: It was kid's room makeover this week and while Antonio's dinosaur room soared,Jason's prissy pink princess design wound up leading him to his dethroning.

I did feel bad for him when he had to change carpenters in midstream(a good decision,since the first guy wasn't getting anything done)but a number of choices that Jason made for the room were real stinkers,like the painting pattern over the window and those black place mats on the wall-crazy!:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Playing old school movie catch up

Arriving in my mailbox yesterday,courtesy of Netflix,was Pretty In Pink,one of the classic John Hughes/Molly Ringwald cinematic collaborations of the eighties. With Hughes' recent departure from this earth still lingering on the pop culture mindset of the moment,I thought it was time to finally check this out.

Yes,it's true-I haven't yet seen Pretty in Pink. By the time it came out in theaters,I was kind of over the whole teen romance flick phase and never bothered to watch it on TV or any sort of home video before.

Hell,it was only a couple of years ago that I saw "Say Anything",which helped me to see the "John Cusack holding up a boombox" bit as more than a joke. Plus,there are a good number of PiP references in Gilmore Girls to make this mandatory viewing,at least once:

There are a number of other gaps in my movie watching history,some of which I have patched up over the years but plenty are left untouched. A few of them I'm not too sure that I even want to.

For example,Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,a film that I was too young to see in theaters but has had various replays on television for a couple of decades now and yet I'm not feeling the need to check it out anytime soon.

I know it's a quality film and all of that,but what keeps me back from it is Robert Redford. He was a major heartthrob of the period,along with Warren Beatty,and as Shania Twain would say,he don't impress me much. Yes,he's an intelligent man,too but both he and Beatty just seem to be incredibly overrated to me. Perhaps it's a generational thing. All I know is that Butch and Sundance are not high items on my to-do list(also never saw The Sting,for the same reason):

One that I really do need to see and has been on my Netflix queue for awhile now is Marty,the story of a sad sack of a fellow looking for love and a way out of his mind numbing lonely bachelor routine. Ernest Borgnine gave one of the best performances of his career in this film and it won Best Picture at the Oscars that year,more than enough of an incentive for me to watch:

Jaws was a popular movie in my house,with my father and brother seeing it just about every time it came on TV when I was growing up. Yet,I never watched it in it's entirety. I've seen a scene or two but never sat down to see it and I was encouraged to,believe you me.

Maybe it's because I never was a good swimmer to begin with(the shallow end of pools public and private are old friends to me)or that I saw too many of those land shark skits on SNL but Jaws couldn't reel in me in. I even tried reading the book when I was a kid and was turned off by seeing a profanity on the first page(it was "damn"-up til then,swear words had not been a part of my reading experience). My tolerance for all kinds of language has expanded since then but still Jaws has not hooked me:

Well,my John Hughes quota will be elevated to a higher level after Pretty In Pink and while I may not have seen some of the great movies of our time,at least I can proudly proclaim that I'm not a Pippi virgin. Certain lapses in movie geek mania are hard to live down but then again,no time like the present to correct such a grievous error:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds bring on the noise of the WWII movie

A late summer release is usually not a good indicator of quality in a movie but when it comes to anything by Quentin Tarantino,all bets are off. His new film,Inglourious Basterds,raked in about 40 million at the box office this past weekend and most of the reviews have been positive(word of mouth even more so).

Some might feel that the depiction of WWII here is rather less than reverent,but Tarantino is only paying tribute to the genre of war movies that he likes the best.

The" men on a mission" theme has jumped around as the plot point for many different kinds of action movies over the decades,with war movies being one of the better vehicles to drive it around in. Of course,this being a QT flick,the band of brothers depicted here are naturally a brutal bunch indeed:

While I have no doubt that Inglourious Basterds is a blast and a half,I've always preferred the quieter war related dramas myself. Don't get me wrong,I am the first to appreciate a good battle scene but sometimes the biggest explosions come from battling forces within as well as without.

My kind of war movie is Mrs. Miniver,which starred Greer Garson as the title character for which she won the Best Actress Oscar that year. It's based on a book by Jan Struther that started out as a series of newspaper columns about a housewife living in the English countryside who tries to keep her family's spirits up as the realities of war are slowly creeping into their lives.

While you could argue that certain elements of the movie were designed as propaganda talking points for American involvement in a war that was mostly affecting Europe at the time,it's not the only reason that many people were drawn to this story.

The emotional dramas,such as Mrs. Miniver's son falling in love with the outspoken granddaughter of the local matriarch(Teresa Wright,who also won Best Supporting Actress)and the humble stationmaster entering his rose in the for-the-upper-classes-only flower show,that made up the majority of the movie were the true lures for audiences then and still are to this day:

While the big noisy battlefield type of WWII movie has gotten some well made and received revival over time,the smaller stay at home dramas have been more on the sidelines. The closest I can think of as a Mrs. Miniver type of tale would be Atonement,but even that movie had a solider in the midst of battle subplot,not to mention a rather arthouse approach to the whole genre.

Perhaps in these turbulent times,the sedate and sensitive drama about warfare isn't meant to be found within the realm of WWII based fiction. It might be best found on another genre horizon,closer to home than you think. As they say,only time will tell:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rebecca Loncraine leads you down the yellow brick road to The Real Wizard of Oz

In the new biography of L.Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine,The Real Wizard of Oz,the author showcases the changing world around the legendary creator of the Oz mythos and seeks to point out the influences that made their way into his imagination and on the pages of his books.

L.Frank Baum(L stood for Lyman,but he was never called that name by family or friends)held numerous jobs in life but always had a love of the arts.

He met his wife Maud Gage while touring with his amateur theater group that performed plays written by him and he was even cast as the lead for one production. His family encouraged his interest in acting yet felt it was only an expensive hobby at best. Baum took on many other practical enterprises such as running a dry goods store,however he found his true calling in writing.

As a side business while trying to make a success from his shop in Aberdeen,South Dakota,Baum became editor of a small newspaper where he started to express many of his social ideas with a bit of whimsy. One of his more popular columns was a feature called "Our Landlady" where a character named Miss Bilkins took a common sense approach to local situations.

Baum didn't always hide behind fictional characters to get his points across. His mother-in-law,Matilda,was a prominent suffragist and Baum was an active supporter for women's right to vote. He wrote numerous articles and editorials to encourage his fellow townsfolk to support an amendment in the Dakota territories that allow women voting privileges(it was ultimately defeated).

Strong roles for women are a hallmark of his Oz books,along with the belief that females are more in tune with spiritual forces. The duality of the witches in the first book,The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,displays that nicely:

His writing always reveled a few of his flaws as well. Baum was careless with money and wrote about what he considered to be foolishness in having any savings(his wife managed the household finances).

While he did have some sympathy towards the plight of Native Americans,Baum wrote quite a few editorials that suggested the solution would be to put them out of their misery. Many of Baum's opinions and beliefs were reflected in the social fears and growing movements in the early days of the twentieth century,which held an uneasy balance between embracing new technological wonders and clinging to the familiar notions from the past:

Rebecca Loncraine blends in a bit of history lesson with each chapter,so that one can see how such things as the popularity of P.T. Barnum's circus,balloonists and seances contributed to the Oz series. Although those details can slow down the pace a bit,they do provide some depth and broader range of the fantasy material that Baum best became known for.

She also highlights the terrors that faced children growing up in rough terrain during those days(disease and early death being on top of the list)and despite how safe and serene the world of Oz may seem,Baum did not shy away from the darker tones of fairytale telling as set forth by the Brothers Grimm and other European folklore:

Despite Baum's many attempts at fame and fortune,his first and best introduction to the Land of Oz has turned into his truest treasure, becoming a long lasting pop culture icon due in part to the classic film made long after his death in 1919.

Dorothy Gale has become as potent a feminine fantasy figure as Alice in Wonderland and perhaps this new biography will revive interest in the other titles in the Oz series that have fallen out of the literary spotlight.

Rebecca Loncraine's take on what made Baum the literary wizard that he was may not suit all readers but her creativity in presentation shows the kind of showmanship and style that Baum himself strove for in his work. She dares to paint a more expansive picture of the world that helped to midwife Baum's tales for children of all ages and such boldness deserves to be rewarded. The Real Wizard of Oz is now available at a bookseller near you and is worth defying gravity to check out:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bad Movie Month puts out a restraining order on The Fan

One of the classic stumbling blocks on the road to box office gold is the awful adaptation;whether the source material is a bestselling book,hit play or a once popular sitcom,Hollywood never seems to learn that some things are best left alone.

Speaking of being left alone,the 1981 thriller The Fan(not to be confused with the 1996 Robert DeNiro/Wesley Snipes movie which shares the same title and similar theme)first began life as a novel by Bob Randall which told the story of a stalker and his celebrity victim thru letters,the kind referred to these days as "snail mail."

I read the book twice-once in a Reader's Digest version(they cut out the naughty words)and then in it's intended format. It was a decent suspense story that might have made a juicy little fear flick but unfortunately the folks who translated it to film did that as smoothly and subtly as a ShamWow or a SlapChop commercial.

Lauren Bacall stars here as Sally Ross,a once glamorous star of stage and screen who is still kicking up her heels on Broadway while having an on-again,off-again relationship with her ex-husband Jake(James Garner).

Sally's stalker is Douglas Breen(Michael Biehn in pre-Terminator mode),a delusional record store clerk who walks around with a persistent psycho scowl on his face as he stalks Sally the old fashioned way,by following her from afar,typing up love letters on a daily basis and knocking down fellow fanatics in order to swipe their stolen souvenirs:

Douglas starts to get annoyed at Sally's lack of personal response and blames Bella(Maureen Stapleton),her no nonsense secretary who tries to get Sally to buy a clue about how not "harmless" the letters are. Douglas decides to prove his love by getting slash happy towards anyone he sees standing in his way,starting with Bella, and has an uncanny ability to whip out his trusty pocket knife anywhere,even while underwater in a YMCA pool or planted at a remote hideout to set up his fake suicide(I wish I were kidding,folks,I really do):

The saddest thing about this movie is the waste of talent;Lauren Bacall and Maureen Stapleton attempt to have an "All About Eve" flair to their early scenes while James Garner is pretty much eye candy and a shoulder for Bacall's character to either cry on or yell at.

Not to mention that Bacall is supposed to act mostly helpless through the story when she looks perfectly capable of kicking Biehn's crazy boy ass,especially during the painful finale scene that has her dodging blows from a riding crop and then giving a little speech about how folks are tired of being bullied by wackos. Maybe she should've delivered that bit of business to the jokers who talked her into making this clunker.

The scariest part of the movie is not Douglas and his slice and dice romantic charms(which range from bragging about his "equipment" to offering the object of his affection an intimate connection with a meat cleaver)but the musical that Sally is supposed to be starring in. I can't decide which is more chilling,the fact that Douglas is stalking someone who looks old enough to be his grandmother or Sally purring about "hot love tonight" on stage:

This movie also had the bad roll of the release dice by coming out shortly after the tragic death of John Lennon,which gained it some publicity but not the kind that anyone in their right mind would want. Years later,the film still leaves a bad taste in your mouth and mind.

An unsuspecting soul might be bored enough to check this movie out,thinking that it's just another celebrity stalker piece like Misery. In this case,The Fan is only capable of making you truly miserable long before the last curtain call:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Masters ends as a new season of Top Chef begins,plus Lafayette is back in fighting form

For the finale of Top Chef Masters,the last three fellas remaining were asked to make a four course meal that "told the story of their lives",an edible autobiography,if you will. The first course was Your First Food Memory,the second to be Your First Inspiration,the Third as When You Opened Your First Restaurant and the last to be Where You Are At Now and In the Future.

The food was judged by not only the regular panel of TCM critics but the Top Chef crew of Tom,Padma and Gail,plus the five winners from Top Chef's past seasons as well(always good to see Harold,but I couldn't resist booing at Ilan). The chefs were even allowed to have their best sous chefs from their own restaurants come in to assist,a nice surprise indeed:

The tastiest part of the show was listening to all of the great stories about what made them the great chefs they are today-Hubert Keller's story about the "laundry day" dish that his father would make for the women in his village,Rick Bayless and how he grew up in a family owned barbecue grill joint and Michael Chiarello's fish dish that made his first restaurant stand out above the crowd.

The ultimate win went to Rick Bayless,who pretty much wowed everyone with his Inspiration dish,an elaborate black mole sauce that he had tasted in his teens and dramatically changed his life. The recipe has over twenty ingredients and it took him years to get it right,very impressive. Congrats to Rick and the hundred grand prize goes to his charity,Frontera Farmer's Foundation. I hope that we get another round of TC Masters next year,this was a refreshing take on cooking competition shows.

On the new season of Top Chef,the joint was certainly jumping Vegas style. Not only did the newbies have a mise en place relay race for their first Quickfire,the winning team had a cook-off to determine the winner using the food items that they had been prepping. Jennifer C won with her clam ceviche and got a $15000 poker chip as her reward-nice!

For the Elimination Challenge,the chefs were asked to make a dish that represented one of their personal vices,rather interesting theme and no shocker that many of the recipes included alcohol. Kevin chose procrastination as the basis of his plate by serving up a slow cooked arctic char with a turnip salsa verde. Wolfgang Puck was the guest judge here and he was very pleased with the flavors.

The first one to pack her knives and go this season was Jennifer Z,for her less than spicy chile rellano that was mostly made up of seitan(a wheat gluten product). It was meant to show off her hot temper but her defensiveness at Judges' Table had more heat to it than the food she had offered up.

So far,season six of Top Chef has gotten off to a good start and even more Vegas flair seems to be in store for the chefs in the next round:

While the vampire dilemma in Dallas is winding itself up on True Blood,Bon Temps is going down in flames and fortunately for Tara,Lafayette is ready,willing and able to lay the smackdown on Eggs and company in her defense.

I wasn't sure if he was completely recovered from his time in the Fangtasia dungeon but the fact his spider sense is tingling when it comes to Maryann's destructive influence(and taking decisive action) on his cousin is a good sign to me:

Round One

Round Two

Also glad to see Sam step up his shapeshifting abilities but he's not out of the woods yet and hopefully Sookie and her Southern Scoobies can do something to stop Maryann's reign of terror before it's too late for them all:



The big challenge was to remake rooms in military housing and I salute Antonio's stand on not painting the room tan(his team wound up creating the best room). It was the wise choice to make. Too bad Nathan didn't use his time wisely in making an entertainment center that took up most of the challenge and was useless to boot. His dismissal was well deserved:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flipping thru some of the fantasies for Fall'09 TV

While fans of fantasy are beating the heat by cooling off in front of their TVs with the likes of True Blood,Merlin and repeats of The Ghost Whisperer during these dreary dog days of August,there are plenty of fresh new delights awaiting them from networks both regular and cable this fall.

There's a wide variety of genres for folks to choose from,with some familiar favors being revived along side a set of spicy switch-ups that may or may not be to everyone's liking. For your viewing pleasure,check this small sampler of strange things yet to come on the small screen:


A show with a set of built-in fans(and those who will be foes),The Vampire Diaries stars Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder as vampire brothers who have returned to their home town after hundreds of years only to wind up fighting over a local girl named Elena(Nina Dobev)who bears a striking resemble to the bloodsucking babe that sired them long ago.

The series is based on a set of YA books by L.J. Smith and while some may be doing a bit of comparing and contrasting with the Twilight saga,I think it's best to judge this on it's own merits. The fan base being counted seems to include both guys and gals with very gothy tastes;let's hope that it measures up(September 10):




ABC is going for the retro vibe by remaking a couple of well known fantasy series,one of which has been tried twice already and found wanting both times. That would be Eastwick,loosely based on the John Updike book and film adaptation about a trio of frustrated suburbanite gals who accidentally called on trouble in the form of a devilishy charming stranger.

This time around,Rebecca Romijn,Lindsey Price and Jamie Ray Newman are the witchy women in question with Paul Gross as Darryl Van Horne. Who knows,perhaps the third time around will be the charm(September):

The other revived series is V,which started out it's TV life as a pair of miniseries and a spin off show that didn't last long. One of the behind the scenes people who brought this updated version about also worked on the summer sci-fi series The 4400,which explains why of the lead actors,Joel Gretsch, from that show is on this one.

The premise is the same;a mysterious set of spaceships come to earth filled with human looking aliens who promise to bring peace and prosperity to us. Of course,things are not always what they seem and a resistance movement starts to grow in order to fight the threat that not everyone is aware of just yet. How this will measure up to the original remains to be seen(November):


Heroes will be back for a fourth season and I know that interest in this show has waxed and waned over time but I'm not giving up on it yet.

There were several convoluted plot points last season that are poised to be unraveled here and we may get some good TV out of this. Plus,the addition of the carnival folk and the reemergence of Sylar from his mental prison and shapeshifted body should be worth some fireworks(September 21):

Legend of the Seeker was granted a second season,and the plot lines this time will follow the story set up in Stone of Tears,the next book in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.

While there are new enemies and dangers to face,there will be a few familiar faces on deck and note to Whedonverse fans,Charisma Carpenter is confirmed in a guest spot role as Triana,a Mord Sith(for those who don't know,Mord Siths are magical maidens of pain). If you haven't seen this show,please take the time to catch up on it,you won't be sorry(November 7):

Well,I hope that there was at least one or two on this mystical menu to entice you for the upcoming fall fantasy shows this year. Just keep one thing in mind as you do so,folks: own your weirdness. Denial of such fare to outsiders only leaves you vulnerable to endless mocking,more than you would've gotten from being straight forward about your fandom:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to the Mad Men Movie Club

The third season of Mad Men premiered on Sunday,starting up lively discussions both on and off line about the who,what and why of the folks at Sterling Cooper. The where we already know;within the early half of the sixties,just on the cusp of some very major social changes but still clinging to the rigid formalities from the WWII era:

Many reasons have been cited by critics and fans alike for the show's success and while good acting and writing are major league components here,I do believe that many of us would agree that there are three crucial lures that draw viewers in:

1)Vivid recreation of the time period,from clothes,cars and logos to the manners and the mores,Mad Men is like a live action museum that showcases the last days of old school Madison Avenue New York in all it's glory.

2) Actors who look in sync with that era. That may seem to be superficial,but in truth,some folks just have too much of a modern day appearance to be believable for period pieces;think Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter,Al Pacino in Revolution or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.

3) Secrets and lies;in the tell-all-and-then-some world we live in today,it's become a real novelty item. There's nothing like a dose of good old fashioned repression and social scorn to make those hidden passions simmer up to the surface and threaten to boil over at a moment's notice. Hell to live thru,but heavenly ingredients for cooking up compelling drama.

With Mad Men mania starting up again,a good number of fans want to keep that mindset going by seeking out books and other pop culture touchstones directly or indirectly connected to the series. Since I'm a MM fangirl myself(Peggy is my favorite character),my contribution to that quest is a list of cinematic suggestions that not only match up to all three of my talking points but are easily rentable and excellent movies to boot.

First up is the 2002 film Far From Heaven,starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quad as the seemingly perfect suburban couple of the fifties.

However,since this is Director Todd Haynes' tribute to Douglas Sirk melodramas,there's a heap of troubles on their doorstep and in their lives,with hubby being a somewhat closeted gay and the little woman striking up a too close for comfort friendship with a charming new neighbor of the African American persuasion. A beautifully bold take on the times and Moore is picture perfect,inside and out:

One of my favorite Anthony Minghella films,The Talented Mr. Ripley does real justice to the dark noir energy of the original Patricia Highsmith novel while giving the material a healthy dose of empathy and pathos.

Matt Damon and Jude Law play off each other very well as the desperate social climber with an eerie talent for mimicry and the spoiled rich son of a shipping magnate who coasts thru life on charm and connections. The rest of the cast is spot on but the interplay between Law and Damon is crucial to the identity theft mystery that glues the plot together:

Also from 2002,The Hours does a hop,skip and a jump through time as the impact of the novel Mrs. Dalloway is felt by it's troubled author,an emotionally and sexually frustrated housewife in the fifties and a distraught twentieth century woman trying to lift the spirits of a dying friend.

Yet all of them have their own dark moments and inner torments to contend with and each of the actresses gives their all to their part of the story puzzle. Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman are amazing but Julianne Moore(who seems born to play women of the 1950s)is the most luminescent belle of this gloriously gloomy ball:

One of the understated literary masters of suburban angst was Richard Yates,who sadly enough did not live to see his most acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road come to life on screen.

A marvelous trio of artists(Leo DiCaprio,Kate Winslet and director Sam Mendes)clicked together in harmony to make this portrait of a disappointed marriage in miniature become as large scale in emotion as an IMAX screening. In a weird way,it was oddly appropriate for former period film lovers Winslet and DiCaprio to reunite here as a once hopeful couple on the fast track to their train wreck of a relationship:

At this point,some of you might be saying "Well,okay,those other movies make sense but Age of Innocence? Even if it qualifies to your set of standards,isn't this going way too far back in time to be relevant here?" Actually no,and here's why: Edith Wharton is the great grandmother of chronicling social sins amongst the upper classes of New York. Without her,many of these other films that I've mentioned wouldn't exist.

And,yes,there is a 1934 version but the 1993 Martin Scorsese crafted film trumps it handily,in my humble opinion. The opulent settings mirror the operatic inner torment of the characters to a T and kudos to Scorsese for using a narrator at the most opportune segments of the story. It's also the first film that really gave Winona Ryder a chance to showcase her skills in an adult role:

With any luck,one or all of these movies will either be a great discovery or a golden opportunity for some prime reviewing. If you're in need of an excuse to hang out with friends,pick out a double feature for the perfect dinner and a movie night. There's bound to be something suitable for all taste buds but pass on the awkward conversation appetizers if you can: