Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger,a contrary icon to the end

News of J.D. Salinger's death spread like wildfire yesterday,with plenty of talk both online and off about his literary legacy. Salinger became the Greta Garbo of American writers with his "I want to be alone" attitude that lasted for over twenty years.

After reading his works,you could easily understand why-many of Salinger's characters were disdainful of the world such as infamous Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye or Franny Glass,the heroine of Franny and Zooey. One of his most persistent themes was disaffected youth,a viewpoint that Salinger gave a microphone to,which has endeared him to readers of more than one generation.

Catcher in the Rye is his most widely read book,despite numerous attempts to ban it from high school English classes,and the one people from all walks of life know best.It's never been made into a movie(Salinger refused to do so,due to his extreme dissatisfaction with My Foolish Heart, a 1946 Hollywood film adaption of one of his short stories)and probably never should be.

It's one of those novels that work better on the page than the screen,with the moody yet amusing monologue that Holden uses to paint a portrait of his reality being vivid enough in the reader's imagination to not need actors or special cinematography for it to come alive.

The strength of the novel's appeal through out the decades is partially due to Salinger's darkly keen observations of the people in his life and his ability to recreate them for his work,making them as recognizable to the casual reader as well as to his friends and acquaintances. He did make you feel as if you know someone just like one of his characters,one way or another:

Salinger attracted plenty of controversy over the years and not just due to censorship battles over his books. Two lone gunmen types that targeted famous figures(John Lennon and Ronald Regan)toted Catcher in the Rye around,claiming it to be part of their incentive to kill,giving CITR a rather morbid reputation.

Also,two memoirs by women in Salinger's life painted a less than pretty picture of him as a person. While I didn't read his daughter Margaret's book Dreamcatcher,I have read At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard,a novelist in her own right and yes,I believe her and admire her emotional courage in making the details of her troubled relationship with Salinger known.

She received a lot of flack for that by those who felt that she was casting a bad light on Salinger for her own gain but let's be real,folks. If you look at the true history of many great artists in any field,you'll find that a vast majority of them were awful people who treated their loved ones terribly.

As much as I adore many of Charles Dickens' books,he did disrespect his wife by openly lusting after one of her sisters(even to extreme narcissistic levels by mourning her premature demise for years afterward)and abandoning her later on for a younger mistress,plus retaining another one of his sisters-in-law to keep house for him! That's just one of many examples of a renowned writer with a horrible personal life and whether or not J.D. Salinger is in that league of writing,he and Dickens both had bad ways of dealing with women in their lives in common. I don't wish to speak ill of the dead but if you're going to embrace the sweet,you have to accept the bitter as well.

One thing that is never in dispute about Salinger is his influence on writers and the many who were and are drawn to his unique style of short story telling.

Folks like Philip Roth,John Updike,Jonathan Safran Foer,Susan Minot and Aimee Bender claim him as one of their muses and books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Everything is Illuminated seem to follow in a few of Salinger's footsteps.

Movies are not exempt from his literary watermark,despite his contempt for Hollywood. Director Wes Anderson shares many of the eccentric touches that Salinger had for creating upper class families with stylized dysfunction in movies like Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums,which in turn influences others down that same path of oddly real storytelling,sort of an unintentional vicious circle:

In the end,Catcher in the Rye is the one thing that J.D. Salinger will always be remembered for. Not such a small legacy to leave behind there. Catcher in the Rye will be talked about and analyzed for many more decades to come,having achieved the ultimate artist's goal to create something that lasts beyond their lifetime by keeping a finger on the pulse of common human experience and hold up a mirror that reflects it accurately for readers past,present and future. Whatever becomes of his personal affects and writings left behind,Salinger is destined to be an immortal of literature,if not to be beloved:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heroes is not on to the con,AI auditions continue and Kitchen Nightmares is back in business

More of the Sullivan Brothers' carnival folk plot line unfolds on Heroes as Samuel regains the trust he lost after that tantrum over his lady love rejecting him caused a whole town to literally go under. Rather conveniently during the attack on the carnies during a supposed surrender to Noah Bennett,Lydia the empathic tattoo lady takes a bullet in the chest but realizes all too late that Samuel set them up.

Claire is in the midst of this,of course,and you'd think she would be a little more savvy by now to bad guys and their sneaky ways-come on,Claire,a guy with clearly major plans that involve keeping the band of mutant powered people around him as much as possible is just going to peacefully turn himself in for the good of all? Has none of your time with Sylar(including your most recent encounter with him) taught you nothing about villains and their ability to make bad situations work in their favor?

Granted,Samuel can put on a good con and whip out the halo when needed,plus he's not a showman for nothing. You got to give the man credit for making himself look helpless at just the right moment:

More carnival capers are ahead,as Peter does a mental recon to snap Sylar out of the isolation loop that Parkman trapped him in order to save Emma(who has joined the SB crew)from his deadly dream vision fate and Claire needs to rescue her dad from Samuel's clutches before the two of them are down for the count permanently. With any luck,all of this build-up will be worth the wait:

American Idol is still in the audition stage,with stops in L.A. and Dallas this week. Out of the four guest judges appearing in both cities,I have to say my favorites were Katy Perry and Neil Patrick Harris mainly for their snarking at Kara and Simon. I don't see how Ellen will hold up her end of the expected bitchy banter when her time comes,but clearly NPH and Katy can give her a few pointers there.

For the best of the worst,in L.A.,it was Jason Greene,who managed to creep out Katy Perry with his clueless lounge lizard rendition of "I Touch Myself". That guy was so sleazy that he seemed like the living embodiment of Wanda Sykes' Drink Man:

For Dallas,the Miss Congeniality award goes to Vanessa Jonston who may have a terrible singing voice but a terrific attitude about being told "no". With all of the crying,pouting and shouting from those who have no idea why they aren't granted a golden ticket to Hollywood on the spot,it's nice to see someone happy about being called Simon Cowell's worst nightmare:

Speaking of nightmares,Gordon Ramsey is ready to scare bad restaurants straight for another season of Kitchen Nightmares this Friday night. Say what you will about him,the man does know his stuff when it comes to making a successful eating establishment and the difference between potato soup and mashed potato glue for supper:


CONAN O'BRIEN'S SWAN SONG:I was fortunate enough to catch the last Tonight Show hosted by Conan,due to his ouster by Jay Leno whose level of self entitlement is higher than Trump Tower,apparently. Conan did get a few comic digs in but his closing words were well spoken and gracious about his departure,signifying his depth of character.

I didn't get too involved in this feud too much,since late night talk shows have lost their charm for me over the years. However,the more I read and heard about this situation,it was clear as crystal that Conan was in the right here and will do well where ever the winds of fate take him next.

That farewell musical performance of Free Bird with Will Ferrell,Conan and those lucky few who joined in was a truly memorable moment in TV history and I'm glad to have seen it live. Rock on,Conan,you deserve the best treatment because you won't put up with any other(but you need more cowbell!):

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Putting old books into new bottles of format

Quite a bit of buzz has been brewing about the graphic novel version of Twilight,which got a nice big preview in Entertainment Weekly recently. The first volume is set to be officially on sale by March 16 and while many eager fans will be grabbing a copy along with checking on their pre-orders for the New Moon DVD,I think I'll pass on this one,folks.

As much as I like the Twilight saga,seeing it in this shiny new comic book edition doesn't impress me much. The artwork is lovely(even tho manga is a tad overexposed,in my opinion)and if you feel the need to add it to your personal library,good on you but I prefer to enjoy the print version of the story as I first saw it in my imagination while reading it(not counting the movie adaptations,which are a whole other kettle of fish there).

It's a matter of choice but you do have to wonder if this is a matter of stretching creative boundaries or just recycling tried and true material in order to keep the cash flow alive and kicking.

Other authors have been putting their earlier works into graphic novel form and receiving praise for it like Stephen King with his Dark Tower books and The Stand,a book which is certainly no stranger to re-release. Back in 1990,an expanded edition of the apocalyptic novel came with not only previously edited out material put back it but updated pop culture/time period references and illustrations as well.

That "Complete and Uncut" edition wasn't used for the made-for-TV miniseries of the book but the persistence of The Stand as one of the key King novels to rear it's head up and be taken notice of is something that many writers strive to achieve for their work but don't always get no matter how hard they try. Part of the reason for that is some stories are more adaptable than others when it comes to strutting their stuff in a new venue. Even if it's told in stick figure drawings or as big budget Hollywood film,a good tale can hold up despite the attempts to re-envision the original dream:

Well known books are not only remade as graphic novels these days;some of them are given graphic novel style cover art as an enticement for folks to pick the book up. Penguin Classics has been doing this for awhile now,with the latest being a 25th anniversary edition of Don Delillo's White Noise that has an intro by Richard Powers and newly designed jacket by Canadian cartoonist Michael Cho.

Cho was already a big fan of the book,which made him a great choice to do this revamped cover-yes,you shouldn't judge a book by it's outer wear and so forth,but the illustrations on not only the front and back but even on the jacket flaps convey a sense of what White Noise is about,especially for those of us who haven't read it.

The themes of this modern literary classic(people being overwhelmed by fears in society brought about by technology)seem to be more approachable when wrapped up in such a vivid inviting jacket. Another bonus is that the artwork doesn't dilute the dark content of the book,rather it makes White Noise look like it's worth a walk on the wild side for the reluctant reader:

Making everything old look new again is a classic tactic of pop culture promotion and some folks would say "What's the big deal? If it gets people interested in good books,why not?" A good point,but the problems that can come from that include owning way too many copies of the same book(which increases shelving space issues)and seemingly endless debate over what should be influencing the younger generation to read.

Over the summer,a Twilight inspired cover for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights raised several eyebrows and caused a few serious eye rolls amongst those who find the works of Stephanie Meyer to be one of the signs of Western civilization heading into decline.

While I may not want a comic book version of Twilight,I certainly wouldn't prevent anyone else from enjoying it or choosing whatever cover they want for their copy of a classic. True,it is more than likely just another way to make money off of the same old thing but thrifty shoppers are more alert to that gimmick in these harsh economic times and it's a good lesson for the next generation to learn as they go.

After all,who among us hasn't grabbed up something we've already gotten or owned before because it came out in a flashy new style? Not always prudent but as they say,it's what is inside that counts. Not an endorsement of reckless spending here,folks,but sometimes a new look to an familiar face can make you remember what you loved about it in the first place. Just try to choose wisely and consider if you really need to re-experience a favorite story in different surroundings or find that loving feeling back in the same place as it was before:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Johnny Weir being good as gold for the 2010 Winter Olympics

I'm not a sports person by any means,yet I can and do appreciate some of them that allow solo performances. Over a week ago,I happened to catch part of the US Figure Skating Nationals on TV and a certain fella in the male division caught my eye. His name is Johnny Weir and while his skating costume reminded me of the dancers in the finale number from The Phantom of the Paradise,it was his talent that truly dazzled on the ice:

Turns out that Johnny is no stranger to the spotlight,having been an three time champ at the US Nationals,plus he's won medals at the Grand Prix,The Worlds(he received a bronze)and currently has been nominated for a spot on the US Olympic team for the upcoming Vancouver Winter Games.

He's also a pop culture celeb of sorts,who has done runway shows,owns a clothing line in Korea called "Be Unique" and even officially declared himself to be a D Lister like Kathy Griffin in an interview. Kathy had him on her show for the second season finale to teach her a few moves and to bust his chops a little(not too much,since she loves getting any mention in the media):

Weir is known to be out spoken and not shy in promoting his career,something that is guaranteed to draw enemies along side speculations about his sexuality from both the straight and gay communities.

This combination of wanted and unwanted attention has made him the star of an indie documentary called Pop Star on Ice and a reality series on the Sundance Channel with the modest title of Be Good Johnny Weir:

What is it about Weir that I find so fascinating? Well,for one thing,this is a guy who is an athlete in one of the most flamboyant sports in terms of style for both men and women and refuses to be ashamed about it. Instead,he embraces the flair and the flash,which makes a lot of folks uncomfortable but probably gets him plenty of support from those who feel the same way and are not up to saying so in public.

He's also got that "last chance at the big time" momentum going for him here,being twenty five years old which is the age that many in his profession tend to peak at. Basically,Johnny Weir is an in-your-face underdog;the kind of guy who at times may be asking to get knocked down but he gets up again and won't be kept down. You can't help but admire such boldness of spirit,particularly when it is backed up by honest to goodness talent and hard work at maintaining a level of excellence in that person's chosen field.

So,join me in tuning in once in awhile to the 2010 Winter Olympics for the male figure skating and see if Johnny Weir brings home a medal for us. I don't know about you but it would be great to see the Adam Lambert of men's skating step up to the podium and get the gold:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jane Austen's Emma gets a lively start-off from Masterpiece Classic

The newest film adaptation(to Americans,that is)of Emma by Jane Austen debuted last night on PBS' Masterpiece Classic,to much fanfare and even a Twitter party hosted by renown JA bloggers Laurel Ann from Austenprose,Vic at Jane Austen's World and Kali Pappas from Emma Adaptations. No doubt a good time was had by all who attended.

I must confess that Emma is not my favorite Austen novel,mainly due to the heroine's headstrong nature that even her creator declared "no one will but myself like much",yet the girl does grow on you after awhile.

The film versions that I prefer best of this story are the 1996 Andrew Davies scripted made for TV movie with Kate Beckinsale as the lead and Clueless,which used the book as a template for Alicia Silverstone's Beverly Hills heroine,also in the nineties. Hard acts to follow,but fortunately for audiences both old and new,the theme of young people who think they know everything but discover that they really know nothing is timeless.

Sandy Welch is the screenwriter for this version and she starts off the show with an almost Dickensian approach to the three major characters that are destined to reconnect with one another in Highbury:Emma(Romola Garai),Frank Churchill(Rupert Evans) and Jane Fairfax(Laura Pyper). The deaths in their families which formed their childhood paths in life are briefly detailed and get things off on a somber note,something that the book is really not known for.

Their back stories are correct and in keeping with the established source material but fleshing them out right at the top(plus an expansion into Emma's early childhood)is a little disconcerting for those expecting the usual liveliness of the first chapters:

Despite such a gloomy beginning,the proceedings do take a quick upturn as Emma dives into her role as matchmaker,determined to find new found friend Harriet Smith(Louise Dylan)a much more suitable to Emma's social status suitor like Mr. Elton(Blake Ritson)rather than the man Harriet's heart is already inclined towards,the down to earth farmer Robert Martin(Jefferson Hall).

This leads to a major debate between Emma and Mr. Knightley(Jonny Lee Miller)who see this romance from very different perspectives indeed. The chemistry between Miller and Garai really sparks off at this point,which makes the story come more alive and displays one of the best features of any Austen novel,those moments of open discussion about the social morays of the day and just how valid they really are:

That clicking of personas,not only between the main love lorn leads,but with supporting players such as Michael Gambon's Mr. Woodhouse,Jodhi May as former governess and close friend Mrs. Weston and Tasmin Grieg as the charmingly chatty Miss Bates,helps to smooth over some of the potential sore spots like scenes that seem to be unnecessary(the meeting between Robert Martin and Mr. Knightly,for example. It's already alluded to in the dialogue when Knightly and Emma talk about the marriage proposal-what purpose does it serve to add it into the action other than to get a good wide view of the Donwell estate onscreen?).

I don't mean to nitpick,but in my opinion some details of a plot work best when not shown right away or at all. It's a tricky balance for any artist to figure out which of his/her cards to lay down on the table. You don't want to drag out the game yet at the same time,you want to keep some suspense to the proceedings in order to keep folks playing along. Changes in story telling style can sometimes make a classic story more watchable as a film but they need to advance the plot instead of slow it down.

Even with my minor grumblings,I did enjoy the first part of Emma and am looking forward to the next. Romola Garai is delightfully adapt at capturing both the stubbornness and the sweetness of the character,with Jonny Lee Miller being a well matched Mr. Knightly for her to play off of.

Louise Dylan is a lovely Harriet Smith,even if at times she appears to be a tad too ditzy(never did like that riddle bit,poor Harriet always comes off as an airhead there)and while I wish Gambon had some more screen time,he is fun to watch. The second half of this three part series gets into the infamous Fairfax/Churchill section of the story,where things should really heat up and hopefully the introduction of Mrs. Elton(Christina Cole)stirs the pot nicely.

Of course,I had to start rereading Emma again after the show,which is the greatest benefit one can get from a new film version of Austen's works. Having the perfect excuse to experience Jane Austen's words and enter her world of imagination for the umpteenth time is worth it's weight in gold:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are angels the new vampires on the pop culture playing field?

Opening up at a theater near you this weekend is Legion,which stars Paul Bettany as an angel who refuses God's orders to destroy the world and decides to help humanity make their last stand by protecting a truck stop waitress who happens to be pregnant with a child destined to save us all.

I swear,ever since the Terminator franchise entered the successful end of the sci-fi/fantasy pool ,waitresses have become feisty Madonna figures with targets on their back. Nothing against them at all,but isn't their job hard enough without being tapped to mother future protectors of the universe?

Anyway, angels seem to be back on the pop culture radar again. The reviews for this film have been less than stellar so far but that doesn't mean it won't make a splash at the box office or the current trendy taste for otherworldly people to fantasize about:

Despite the religious implications of such beings to exist,angels have never been exempt from fictional depictions in mainstream entertainment. Most of the time,they were showcased as benevolent guiding forces of good like the bumbling Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life or the dashing Dudley in The Bishop's Wife(remade as The Preacher's Wife in 1996).

The good guy version of angels is still strong but darker or just more complex portrayals of these heaven sent folks have made their way into the pop culture platform. One of the most controversial ones was Kevin Smith's Dogma,which had exiled angels Bartleby and Loki(Ben Affleck and Matt Damon)try to re-enter Heaven after being unknowingly influenced by a demon happy to have them destroy all of existence for him.

While the movie was a satire,it did provide some clever food for thought and a few lesser known facts about angelic organization that most movies tend to ignore. One of the best characters in the story was the Metatron,The Voice of God played by Alan Rickman. I don't know what it is about English people getting cast as mystical beings so much;perhaps it's the accent that feels so right and conveys an instant sense of authority there:

Christopher Walken has become a most memorable less than divine villain in the B movie trilogy,The Prophecy. As the angel Gabriel who plots to rid the world of those "talking monkeys" taking up so much of God's attention,he has made quite a mark on the "angels are not our friends" sinister subgenre.

The second Prophecy movie even has a plot line similar to Legion(the expectant mother in question is a nurse this time)and by the third flick,Gabriel was back on the redemption trail,having been turned human as punishment for his previous bad behavior. Whether good,bad or just plain wacky,Walken gave angels a brand new bag of tricks to draw from,that's for sure:

The sweeter side of angels has held steady on TV,with shows like Highway to Heaven,Touched by an Angel and even the TGIF ABC series Teen Angel keeping the Be Good for Goodness Sake banner flying high in the PG section of the pop culture parade.

Hollywood films of late have left that fall to the wayside since the 1990s. Along with The Preacher's Wife,another attempt at romantic comedy was made earlier with a winged messenger as the object of desire.

1987's Date with an Angel took the Splash route by having their temporarily earth bound angel speak in screeches and crave french fries from Wendy's. Emmanuelle Beart was cast as the nameless angel,who certainly did look as pretty as one is usually imagined to be:

John Travolta added to his list of feel good films with 1996's Michael,where he was also a trapped on earth Pearly Gates resident being interviewed for a tabloid and making love connections in the process. Carrying a set of wings on his back didn't deter Travolta from making his trademark moves on the dance floor,of course:

With the increasingly tense real world traumas facing society since 2000,people have been willing to accept depictions of angels that are far from perfection. Whether that says something either good or bad about the state of fictional cultural affairs is subjective,plus too soon to tell at this point. However,as with vampires, one of the paths to mainstream entertainment acceptance of angels is being made by teens.

With the ABC Family miniseries Fallen,based on a YA series of books by Thomas Sniegoski a couple of years ago and Lauren Kate's new teen fantasy novel Fallen released last month,the concept of nephilim(children born from human and angel parents,also mentioned in the Prophecy movies)is slowly but surely gaining strides.

How far this will go and can angels become the next big thing on the market by taking on a Goth persona is certainly worth investigating. Some will squawk at this attempt to glam up angels but regardless of where the objections come from,it's the readers and film goers who will ultimately decide if these fallen angels are here to stay. While Legion might end up as another horror film flash in the pan,Lauren Kate and her legion of readers may be storming the ramparts of fantasy lit for some time to come:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Project Runway back in town,more AI antics and Denna meets her fate on LOTS

The seventh season of Project Runway started off right,with everyone returning to NYC and making it work. The batch of designers for this new chapter of couture competition are a much more lively group than last time,with the usual mix of young hopefuls,budding divas(Anthony and Seth Aaron,I'm watching you two!)and those offbeat artistic types who will either dazzle us or cause our heads to shake in wonder that someone dared to put an outfit like this together for someone to actually want to wear.

Too many contenders at this point to pick and chose from,yet I do like Emilio Sosa's work so far. The dress he created for the opening challenge(the theme was "express yourself as a designer")was beautifully done and displayed a gorgeous use of color and pattern.

He also seems like a pretty nice guy who's confident in his skills,even with a tight deadline and several other folks along side that are more than willing to give him a run for the prize money. Good luck,Emilio and congrats on winning the first challenge:

Tonight's challenge should be interesting as the designers take a field trip to a farm and are handed potato sacks to work with. If these guys and gals really know their stuff,hopefully their designs won't leave any of the models hanging out in all the wrong places:

Legend of the Seeker wasn't quite finished with bad girl Denna as she popped up on the latest episode to kidnap Zedd and use her charmingly cruel Mordsith techniques to enslave him to her will.

Not as easy as it sounds,since that particular Wizard of the First Order is a extra hard nut to crack,and towards the end of their time together,he was starting to get through to Denna about the possibility for her to change her wicked ways. Too bad Richard wasn't on hand for that but he's got his own scary subplot to deal with for now.

You almost felt sorry for her as Kara's death blow caused her to go over the edge of the cliff(that shot reminded me of that infamous Jodhi May moment in Last of the Mochians)but with all of the coming back from the dead business going on this season,this may not be the last we see of her.

Kara and Kahlan will certainly be more than ready if that happens-those two have really become a fighting force to be reckoned with. Fare thee well,Denna,for now:

Those wacky auditions for American Idol continued this week,going to Chicago and Orlando. First up for the best of the worst is Brian making his singing debut for the judges in Chi-town,who paid tribute to a pop culture icon in his audition. Unfortunately for him and us,Tiny Tim was his musical muse:

In Orlando,we met Theo Glinton,a hair stylist who certainly has plenty of showmanship but a voice loud enough to wake the dead and half the living in the state of Florida alone. You got to give him points for creativity with his outfit and makeup;maybe Lady Gaga could use him as a wardrobe consultant on her tour. They certainly share an affinity for elaborate eye wear:


MASTERPIECE CLASSIC: Starting this upcoming Sunday is a new Jane Austen miniseries based on Emma,starring Romola Garai as the matchmaking Miss Woodhouse with Jonny Lee Miller playing her Mr. Knightley.

Other notable cast members include Jodhi May as Miss Taylor/Mrs.Weston,Michael Gambon taking a break from his Dumbledore duties to be the overcautious yet caring Mr. Woodhouse and Blake Ritson,who was in the most recent version of Mansfield Park and is Mr. Elton here. This is a three parter,folks,so mark your calendars and DVRs in order not to miss a marvelous minute:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Eyeing a few clunkers in the movie trailer park

While we here at LRG salute bad movies during August(unofficially known as Bad Movie Month),truth be told that like the proverbial bad penny,awful films can pop up at just about any time of the year.

Another old saying,"you can't judge a book by it's cover" can be easily re-applied to cinema with "you can't judge a movie by it's trailer",yet some of those can be seen more as warnings than enticements to spend your money at the box office on opening weekend.

Of course,I could be wrong about the quality of these upcoming films but take a look for yourselves before you pre-order those tickets,folks. First up on the hit parade is When in Rome starring Kristen Bell as an unlucky in love New Yorker who decides to hedge her romantic bets by swiping a few coins from a magical fountain while on a trip to Rome.

This causes the guys who tossed the coins in to fall under a love spell and hunt her down while she tries to figure out if the man she's really interested in is doing so because of true love or under the influence of magic.Kristen,why are you doomed to be in these kinds of ridiculously bad romantic comedies? You were Veronica Mars,one of the smartest and savviest female leads on TV-pick something worthy of your talents,please!:

Speaking of wasted talent,John Cusack stars in Hot Tub Time Machine(a movie that first came to my attention via The Soup),as one of four fellas that wind up back in the 1980s due to the title communal bathing item. It's not just Cusack's time and acting ability being tossed into the trash-Rob Corddry,Craig Robinson and Clark Duke,you guys deserved way better than this:

Sometimes,certain actors seem to take just about anything that comes their way,regardless of whether or not he/she is right for the part. Many,like Christopher Walken,can bring a whole other level of entertainment to routine comedies and action films with their offbeat presence and artistic geniuses like Johnny Depp can even get Oscar nominations out of Keith Richards impersonations in a trio of Disney theme park based flicks.

Nicholas Cage,however,is more along the lines of that unwelcome guest at the party who one wants to be responsible for telling him it's time to go home. This year,you can take your pick of Cage poison by either seeing him as a knight who leads a band of men taking a medieval witch to her punishment in Season of the Witch:

Or,wait until the summer to watch him play a wizard who mentors a Jonas Brothers reject into being The Sorcerer's Appentice. Either way,Nick,you fit into fantasy films as smoothly as a elephant riding a unicycle down an escalator-did you learn nothing from Ghost Rider?:

Other dubious movies are clearly made with the best intentions such as Furry Vengeance,which has Brendan Fraser learning a lesson about green issues the hard way from some live action animal hijinks. The message is well meant but I think the point could be gotten across without resorting to cheap crotch shots and outhouse gags:

Perhaps I'm being too picky-after all,not every movie has to or should live up to everyone's standards of fun. Fun is subjective,which is why the term "guilty pleasures" exists.

Yet,considering all of the time,money and material that goes into making a movie and putting it out there for audiences to enjoy,some projects seem to be real head scratchers as to how they got the greenlight while others that are more original and creative are still struggling to be noticed by the big timers in Hollywood.

Oh well,that's show business. In the meantime,don't feel the need to spend your entertainment money on a movie that will no doubt be available for DVD rental all too soon. Even if your kids clamor to see Dwayne Johnson in Tooth Fairy(dude,family films are nice but set some limits there!),hold out for something better at the multiplex. They'll thank you for it,one day:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kitty's House of Horrors,enter if you dare for some deadly delights

Kitty Norville has had her share of dubious claims to fame,due mostly to her celebrity status as the only werewolf/talk radio DJ in America,and while she's naturally inclined to accept a little unwanted attention every now and then,this latest publicity opportunity being offered to her is close to her ultimate nightmare.

A couple of Hollywood producers want Kitty to be a member of their reality show cast,along with a few old friends of hers such as mysterious Vegas magician Odysseus Grant and Tina McCannon,a sweetheart of a psychic who uses her talents for a ghosthunters TV series.

Plus,there are a few unfamiliar faces included in the mix like Jerome Macy,a boxer turned pro wrestler due to his lycanthropy,Anastasia,the winner of the first vampire beauty pageant and professional supernatural debunker Conrad Garrett. The premise of the show is to prove to Conrad just how real supernatural beings are,by having all of them live together for two weeks in a remote lodge in Montana.

Despite her initial doubts,Kitty decides to go along for the ride,hoping that the experience will be more like a vacation than work. As is the way of these things,this gathering of strangers slowly simmers into disaster:

At first,the usual getting-to-know-you routine between Kitty and the rest of her fellow cast members is hampered only by dealing with the demands of the show's producers who want to draw out the tension for dramatic purposes(not to mention that Odysseus and Anastasia are instantly on their guard around each other).

Then one morning,Kitty wakes up to find that most of the production crew has been murdered,along with one of their house mates,and that all power and communication with the outside world has been shut down or cut off completely.

Whoever has planned this set-up knows the weaknesses of his enemies well,with carefully planted booby traps and barbed wire fencing laced with silver meant especially for Kitty and the other weres in their midst.

As more bodies start to pile up and suspicions about who's behind this and who to trust start to rise as well,Kitty has to take command of the situation before they reach the point of no escape for them all. This romp into the wilds of reality TV has become an all too real woodland tour of terror:

Kitty's House of Horrors is the seventh book in Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series and it's as fresh and engaging as the first one. The closed room mystery plot line of the story is not a watered down PG-13 but neither is it a needlessly gory R rated fear fest.

Vaughn skillfully manages to make the newer characters in this book just as well rounded and compelling to root for as those who we've seen before,plus ramp up the action smartly and swift in this fast paced but never rushed urban fantasy delight.

There are at least three more Kitty Norville books planned in this series and unlike many other paranormal based continuing titles,these books keep getting better and better as they go along. Those of us who are already Kitty fans will be thrilled with this latest entry while the rest who have yet to discover the path to Carrie Vaughn's neck of the woods would be strongly urge to pick one up and see what a little moonlight can do for the imagination:

Monday, January 18, 2010

The good,the bad and the so-so of this year's Golden Globes

The Golden Globes got off to a soggy start last night,as everyone attending had to use umbrellas on the red carpet(rain is so not a big deal,particularly if it's not at monsoon level but you wouldn't know that from the way the media folks were going on about it)and Ricky Gervais overdid the self-promoting gag in his opening bit.

Dude, holding up your own DVDs is too cliche,seriously. Not to mention that last minute plug for your new show in February during the end credits,so not of the funny.
Although,that nice swipe of snark at Mel Gibson was a good one.

Anyway,let's get to the highlights and low points of the Golden Globes that made it worth talking about:


It's rare that the first acceptance speech of the night turns out to be the one worthy of getting it's own award but a truly golden moment took place when Mo'Nique won for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. Her performance as the violently vicious mother Mary in Precious has been receiving major critical buzz and serious Oscar talk,which her win last night made very real.

Just listening to her speak with sincere heartfelt emotion and gratitude towards the people in life who helped her reach this artistic high point proves that down to earth honest talent is out there still,waiting and working for his/her time to take the world by storm. I look forward to seeing Mo'Nique take her well deserved Oscar glory later this year:


The Cecil B. DeMille award went to Martin Scorsese and was presented by two of his best leading men,Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio. It was a great tribute,despite the questionable taste of the jokes about just how much Scorsese loves film,and Scorsese's speech was appreciative of not only the many people he has worked with over the years but the history of cinema and the need to keep it alive and flourishing for future generations as well:


Plenty of folks seem to be amazed that Avatar won Best Picture but not me. No offense,but Helen Keller and Stevie Wonder could've seen that one coming. A major box office hit with tons of mass appeal,it would be shocking if it didn't win.

James Cameron getting Best Director along side that was a tad predictable,too, but how that will carry over into the Academy Awards is not as crystal clear.

On the TV front,Mad Men getting Best Drama was another non-startling event;as much as I like the series,it would be nice for the likes of True Blood or Dexter to take some top honors. Dexter at least scored a couple of good wins for Michael C. Hall(get better soon,buddy)and John Lithgow in the Best Actor categories


I was hoping for True Blood to get something here,but alas,the gang at Merlotte's had to settle for the usual "it's an honor to be nominated" round of drinks. It was nice to see Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer at the show,even if Anna's dress was a tad distracting there(I didn't see her shoes on camera but whoa nelly! What was up with those high class clod hoppers?)

Also was rooting for Little Dorrit to win in the Best Mini Series/Made for TV Movie section,but Grey Gardens scooped that up. Granted,I didn't see Grey Gardens but since it's a fictional version of an actual documentary about a pair of connected to the Kennedy clan wacky home bound divas(who would be ideal subjects for an A&E reality series these days),I have some doubts about it's merits.


Jane Lynch's snarky Sue from Glee seemed like a shoo-in to win for Best Supporting Actress in a TV series but Chloe Sevigny got the nod for her work in Big Love instead. Guess scheming sister wives trump off-the-cuff speaking cheerleading coaches for the moment.

Jeff Bridges made a few people sit up and take notice for his Best Actor win for Crazy Heart,a movie that's been stirring up some small praise and notice lately and even added a Best Song win to it's Oscar seeking resume. Up in the Air has become the critical darling for Oscar season but it looks like there will be some real competition for that victory this spring.


Along with Mo'Nique,congrats are in order to Glee(Best Comedy),Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz,Toni Collette for The United States of Tara and Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. Don't be surprised when Bullock gets that Academy Award nom later on-this role is her Erin Brockovich Golden Ticket to the top of the award show heap.

This year's Golden Globes didn't break any new ground but they did get the ball running well enough for the rest of the award season to follow. While we didn't witness any influenced by alcohol onstage hijinks,a hilarious parody of an acceptance speech was granted to the viewing audience by the sober yet far from serious minded Robert Downey,Jr.as he got his Best Actor in a Comedy award for Sherlock Holmes. That,second only to Mo'Nique's speech,was worth the price of admission:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Long live the Diva Ballad!

No matter how things change,some forms of art still persist and reinvent themselves over time,showing back up when and where you least expect them. In music,that happens frequently and one of the best examples of The Song That Won't Die is what I like to call the Diva Ballad.

Diva Ballads are not just slow songs by singers with big voices,they're tender medleys performed by those who are seen as only glammed up stage presences. Their true vocal talents are revealed by these tunes that strip away some of the glitz and glitter to bare open the driving emotional forces that made he or she the person they truly are,on and off stage.

Adam Lambert's new release from his For Your Entertainment album is called "What Do You Want From Me?" and it's the best of the bunch,if you ask me. Most people will tend to think his whole playlist is as raunchy as the title song infamously performed at the AMAs but they'd change their tune pretty fast after a good listen to this heartfelt plead for love and acceptance:

As a compare and contrast,take a listen to Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors",which is a tad milder in tone but shares a similar yearning for looking beyond the outer surface of a person and seeing their inner worth:

Even more over the top than Lambert is Lady Gaga,whose wild costumes and bizarre stage antics are accessories to her real voice as an artist. I first thought she was just a flash in the pan on the pop scene until I saw and heard her play the piano for "Speechless",a song inspired by an accident that left her father hospitalized with a wired jaw. Granted,it doesn't sound like something you'd sing to your dad but the sentiments are in the right place:

In an odd way(rather fitting when talking about Lady Gaga),that song puts me in mind of "I'll Stand By You" from The Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde has that motorcycle mama vibe about her and yet she's incredibly eloquent in this melodic pledge to stay true to whoever is the loved one in question here:

Even the beautiful trainwreck that is Amy Winehouse made her diva bones with more than just her catchy tributes to rehab, gin and bad girls.

"Back to Black" evokes the old school sorrows of female singers who mourned their broken hearts in front of the mike and paid the piper in more ways than one with their bittersweet performances:

Granted,it's too soon to say that she is in the same league but Shirley Bassey's "I Who Have Nothing"(made fashionable a couple of American Idol seasons ago)does play in the same emotional ballpark there. Bassey has had her own portion of personal traumas to deal with but unlike Winehouse,didn't let them interfere with her work. Not passing judgement here,folks-just making an observation. Shirley Bassey is still with us and my hopes are that Amy Winehouse will be,too,for a long time to come:

Diva Ballads are a time honored tradition that can and should be appreciated as soon they lift up their heads and sing their hearts out. Remember,folks,that they can strike without warning and come from the most unlikely people in the least appropriate moments,public and private. Yet,without them,the world would be a truly heartless haven for those yearning to express what they can not say to others but need to,oh so much:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That Heroes sense of humor,Vampire Diaries preview and American Idol gets the show on the road again

Heroes is in full throttle with it's main drama involving the Sullivan Brothers circus as Noah Bennett recruits a reluctant Matt into helping him track down Samuel's childhood sweetheart Vanessa(who winds up kidnapped,good going there guys!).

Also, Peter gets drawn into the fray slowly,thanks to borrowing his mom's dreamscape powers and seeing his new gal pal Emma doomed to using her recently discovered siren song gift for evil purposes,plus a meet-up with Sylar. That last part would be more than fine with me but then again,most ladies who run into Sylar don't come out of that experience in one piece.

One constant element that you can rely on with this series is the comic relief offered up by the team of Hiro and Ando,who embarked on a rescue mission to free Dr. Suresh from the mental ward that Hiro stuck him in several weeks ago in order to fool Samuel(sounds like a Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn caper,doesn't it?)for awhile.

Say what you will about Heroes,you can't deny the excellent comic tuning of those two best friends,especially Ando. That's one guy who defines the meaning of "taking one for the team":

The Vampire Diaries was set to return tonight but the next new episode will be airing next Thursday instead. It should be worth the wait,with Whedonverse alumna Gina Torres putting in a guest spot as a bartender who know Damon all too well.

Other upcoming events on the show include a 1950's sock hop themed school dance that will lead to some sort of trouble,both romantic and mystical wise. While the general tone of the series does take it's mix of teen angst and vampire melodrama somewhat seriously,the story lines do seem to be given quite a bit of respect for the audience's attention span and TV savvy. That's always appreciated by viewers of all ages and part of the reason that the series has caught on with folks so well.

If you haven't watched The Vampire Diaries before,this is a good time to start. Think of it as Dawson's Creek with fangs,not hard to do since Kevin Williamson is one of the producers here:

American Idol kicked their ninth season off with everyone's favorite portion of the show,the audition rounds. Ellen won't be appearing until the Hollywood section but guest judges Victoria Beckam and Mary J Blige did nicely at the Boston and Atlanta stops.

Since we all love to see the best of the worst,here are a few of horrifying highlights from the road. Honorable mention must be given to Mere Doyle,aka Anime Girl,for presenting us with a fashion show before her less than stellar singing debut. Hon,I hope you have receipts from those vocal coaches you went to because they seriously ripped you off:

The Most Disturbing audition award goes to Andrew Fenlon,whose creepy Clark Kent vibes ticked Kara off(at least until she kept insisting that he needed a spanking-what is up with that?!) while his off putting rudeness even rubbed Simon the wrong way. I don't know if he intended to originally audition for AI or a crime show since he certainly would be a shoo-in as an UnSub on Criminal Minds,no question about it:

There's always an unexpected breakout star that hits the pop music scene with a vengeance despite not getting a Golden Ticket from his/her performance. In the tradition of Hung and the "I am your brother" dude,here is the next big YouTube sensation,ladies and gentlemen. I give you General Larry Platt and his unforgettable rendition of "Pants on the Ground"-your life will never be same afterward:


PROJECT RUNWAY: Season 7 returns to NYC,with Nina Garcia and Michael Kors back in regular rotation on the judges' panel. Thank the fashion gods for that,they were sorely missed last time and hopefully,the designers are truly "stacked,packed and ready to attack" everything that comes their way: