Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Why remaking Mildred Pierce is actually a good idea

Filming is under way for a new version of the classic 1945 film Mildred Pierce,as a five act miniseries for HBO ,set to debut in 2011.

Kate Winslet plays the title character,a part made famous by Joan Crawford,who won an Oscar for her performance as the doting divorced mother that did more than she should have to make a perfect life for her eldest and ultimately ungrateful daughter(Evan Rachel Wood takes over the role originated by Ann Blyth).

Normally,I would be bemoaning yet another remake of a Hollywood classic,however in this case,it would be more of a benefit to the original work to have a fresh edition of it made in a time period with less creative constrictions placed upon it.

The 1945 adaptation starts off similar to where the James M. Cain novel does,with suburban homemaker Mildred finally kicking out her shiftless husband,not only because of his professional failures but his fooling around with another woman in the neighborhood. She winds up becoming a waitress and eventually the owner of a chain of restaurants,thanks to a little help from a couple of men in her life.

Part of Mildred's motivation to do well in life is to help Veda,her firstborn who grows accustomed to getting what ever she wants and putting on airs of entitlement. (There is a younger daughter who passes away conveniently enough that all of Mildred's maternal focus becomes fixed on Veda). Mildred's love and devotion is sadly repaid with betrayal,by those she loves the most-your typical melodramatic irony at play.

Where the film veers off from the book is the fatal shooting of Mildred's new husband,who has been cheating on her with Veda. Mildred is considered one of the suspects and held at the police station telling her life story,trying to take the blame for the crime. By the end,Veda is revealed to be the killer and Mom Mildred tearfully watches her beloved brat being carted off to jail.

Without giving too much away,I can safely say that there is an act of violence but no murder in the book. Some of the reason for adding in a murder mystery into the plot of the film is due to the Hayes code of morality enforced upon mainstream movies back then, which demanded that bad behavior from fictional characters must lead to punishment by the end credits. The Cain novel had a more realistic ending but showing that to the general public was a bit too daring for Hollywood in those days:

Don't get me wrong,the 1940s version of Mildred Pierce is a damn good movie but without being hampered by a needless moral to the story spin on things,this new miniseries could really bring James M. Cain's words to actual life on screen.

This isn't the first time that someone tried to do a more authentic remake of Cain's work;while the 1946 adaptation of his most infamous novel,The Postman Always Rings Twice had very suitable smolder from John Garfield and Lana Turner as the scheming lovers who conspire to do away with their husband/boss in order to be together and claim a nice bundle from his life insurance policy,some of that heat was tempered down by the Hayes office as well:

In 1981,a remake of the movie was made by director Bob Rafelson,who cast Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as the leads. The movie wasn't kindly looked upon by either critics or audiences,due to direct comparisons to the first film.

While the new adaptation did stay truer to the steamy sexuality between the main characters(and some of the finer details of the book),it lacked some of the subtle seductive energy from the 1946 version. Also,Nicholson and Lange appeared to be given their parts more due to their resemblances to the original performers than any actual chemistry sparked between them. It's not a bad movie,yet it could have been so much better than it was:

For this new take on Mildred Pierce,I have much higher hopes. For one,the miniseries format will allow for a full expansion of the novel and development of the characters. Also,Todd Haynes is the director and screenwriter here,who has shown his flair for period pieces with his tribute to Douglas Sirk films of the fifties with Far from Heaven.

To many people,the main bone of contention will be Kate Winslet vs. Joan Crawford as the leading lady. Kate and Joan are worlds apart in their acting styles and sensibilities,which should be taken into account.

However,Joan does still command a strong following,even with those Mommie Dearest insights into her personal demons. In my opinion,Joan Crawford did the best performance of the material as it was scripted for her time and Winslet will most likely do her best rendition of a screenplay written in a much more modern era of film making.

While I applaud the cinematic powers that be for finally doing a remake that is artistically justified for once,I advise them to not to bother with a remake of Double Indemnity.

The 1944 noir version of that Cain story does true justice to the author's vision and needs no improvements. Granted,Cain himself would care less(he once told an interviewer who complained that Hollywood had "destroyed" all of his books,"No,they're still there." while pointing at a shelf of them)but sometimes,you need to quite while you're ahead of the game. I don't want to inadvertently give someone a bad idea,but it's good to not leave certain things unsaid:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

TAR teams have a puzzling experience,Idol sings Shania and TC Masters make a Modern Family meal

In this last round before the Championships on Top Chef Masters, the five chefs recruited here-Debbie Gold,Jody Adams,Rick Tramonto,Maria Hines and Susur Lee-were given making creative fruit plates as a Quickfire challenge.

This was also a high stake QF,so the winner was automatically placed in the Championship round along with receiving five grand for their charity. Jody won the top honors here,for her fig and walnut tart with pomegranate syrup and zabaglione on the side.

The Elimination challenge was to make a favorite family meal in a modern way and serve it up as lunch for the cast and crew of Modern Family,a popular sitcom that I've never watched but have heard good things about. The chefs were encouraged to make food that would please as many tastes as possible,a reasonable request considering that there were a number of kids in the cast included at the lunch tables.

Jody followed up her fruit plate with braised chicken thighs served with mushrooms and semolina. It went over well for the most part(I think Julie Bowen from Modern Family was a little confused about the sides)and got some respectable points from the judges and the diners. The main flaw seemed to be that it was over salted slightly,which can kill a dish fast but fortunately wasn't lethal this time around.

Rick Tramonto had been a guest judge on regular Top Chef,so there were high expectations for his food. His escarole with white beans and sausage was a real crowd pleaser but the big debate was whether or not the truffle oil added to the beans could be tasted enough.

The judges also quibbled about the "modernness" of the dish-while I've never eaten that particular meal,some things are good enough on their own merits without fancy changes being made. True,the challenge was to update the flavors but Rick appeared to me to want to make a plate that he knew everyone would enjoy across the board and in that,he succeeded.

The big winner for this challenge was Susur Lee,who was peeved that his "east meets west" fruit plate didn't go over well with the QF judges(Gail Simmons and a professional food photographer). That motivated him to bring his crossover culinary style on even stronger for the Elim with a roast chicken with farce curry(farce in this case meaning a type of stuffing) and mint sauce,with polenta and grits,plus a tomato jam on the side for vegetarians to go for instead.

Despite the powerful heat of the mint sauce,the dish went over well with one and all and earned Susur the last spot in the Championship round that begins next week. Those should be fun,especially with a Quickfire challenge that tests their teamwork as well as their cooking prowess. Let the games begin!

On the latest leg of The Amazing Race,the teams were given an additional Road Block(which means only one member can complete the task)in Shanghai,which was daunting for many reasons. They had to complete a giant puzzle in an outdoor stadium and then handed the finished pieces to the folks cheering them on the stands. If the puzzle was done correctly,the flipped over pieces would reveal a section and seat where their clue could be found.

It was rough going,with gusts of wind scattering the pieces several times and Team Buddy Cop wound up coming in last. Lucky for them,this was a non-elimination leg so they're still in the race.

The guys will have to deal with a Speed Bump for the next go-round and they'll need plenty of luck(as Team Cowboy seems to have in abundance) to stay on the path towards the million dollars. They're a good team but occasionally over confident at times. They have a good shot at being in the Final Three,so perhaps this small setback will help them stay focused:

It was Shania Twain week on American Idol,yet the fellas seemed to do much better than the ladies with this particular playbook. Lee pulled off "Still the One" very handily and even Aaron wasn't half bad with "You've Got a Way"(he still bores me to death,however).

I know that Big Mike landed in the Bottom Three yet again,but for the life of me,I can't figure out why. His take on "It Only Hurts when I'm Breathing" was breathtakingly beautiful and I do agree with the judges that Mike had a nice Luther Vandross vibe going there. The guy is an old school romantic,something which is really needed on the music scene these days. If Big Mike makes it to the finale,we may have a couple of major heart stopping moments on deck from him:

On the girls' side,Crystal did a good but not great performance of "No One Needs to Know"(hey,you can't knock it out of the ball park every time,okay?)and a sad farewell was bidden to Siobhan,for her less than stellar take on "Any Man of Mine." As much as it pains me to do this,I have to hand her a Sanjaya award as a parting gift.

It wasn't that she didn't sing the song well,it was the lack of spunk that sunk Siobhan's ship here. I listened to the original version but even before I did that,it was obvious that Siobhan was being too ladylike with the Miss Independent energy that the song needs to carry it off.

She's a true talent so I'm sure this won't be the last we see of her. My advice to Siobhan would be to buck up a bit more when given criticism and not to overly rely on that powerhouse scream of hers. You're a lovely singer,sweetie-let your confidence level rise and ring out:




SAD NEWS FOR SEEKER FANS: Word on the street is that the show will not be granted a third season,due to it's parent company finding no takers for the series. This is really a crying shame,since Legend of the Seeker has been a great little fantasy series that has grown in leaps and bounds with characterization and plot development.

Yes,I know that there have been numerous changes from the books,which have irked some of the fans but honestly,you guys need to get over that. Look at True Blood-that show has more creative freedom,due to being on HBO,and has tweaked plenty of elements from the books upon which it was based(changing races of certain characters, adding new ones,keeping someone alive when he was supposed to be killed off,etc)and both the author and most of her fan base are thrilled with the way the show's been going.

Why? Because even with the alterations,the original theme and intent of the source material is still there. The same hold true for LOTS,and a little more love would be useful here in the show's hour of need.

Some of the fans are not giving up on LOTS without a fight,planning to increase the petitions to save the series. Perhaps this is a losing battle but,hey,stranger things have happened and maybe with more of an outcry from the audience,someone might listen and seize LOTS from the jaws of cancellation. It's worth a shot,so go for it,true believers!:




Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Round out National Poetry Month by sharing a table with Dorothy Parker

One of my favorite Jane Austen characters,Anne Elliot from Persuasion,once advised a mournful young man to take a little more prose than poetry in his daily reading,seeing as "it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly."

While I quite agree with Anne's assessment,I had to do the reverse,since poetry has been seriously lacking in my literary diet for quite some time now. In looking for a suitable style of verse that would be entertaining and engaging,Dorothy Parker seemed to fit the bill rather smartly.

Parker is not a wholly unfamiliar figure to me,or anyone who enjoys lively wit from women in writing. Her short stories and monologues such as "Big Blonde" and " A Telephone Call" are mainstays of The Portable Dorothy Parker(a new edition of which I recently received as a birthday gift)which does include samples of her poems,most of them being of the short and snappy form for which she became infamous for.

However,I thought it was high time that I should seek out more of her lyrical work and decided to take on a currently compiled collection of her Complete Poems,with an introduction by Marion Meade,the latest scholar of Parker's artistic output. Meade certainly gives a lot of insight into Parker's personal motivations for her life choices as well as her writing,showing us a woman who adored being thought of as clever but resented any attempts to turn her into a one trick pony:

Dorothy Parker was a humorist,first and foremost,but she also used her sharp observatory skills to showcase the pain and regrets of life,particularly in love. Parker had one than one troubled marriage and bad romances on her plate,not to mention a history of depression that lead her to a few suicidal incidents and excessive drinking.

Nonetheless,she did possess a knack for wordplay that rightfully earned Mrs. Parker(as she preferred to known,even after her divorce)a seat at the Algonquin round table with the likes of Robert Benchley,Ring Larder and James Thurber,friends she made via her writings for magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Parker was also a screenwriter for a time,mostly a contributor and co-author to film scripts,including the 1937 version of A Star is Born that won a Best Original Story Oscar.

She had several poetry collections published in her lifetime which did become bestsellers with such wry titles as Enough Rope,Sunset Guns and Death and Taxes. Despite her success as a poet,Parker felt that she hadn't achieved the true heights of artistic status by not writing a novel.

She tried many times,but never could finish one;it just wasn't her foray but with a generation of contemporaries putting out their version of the Great American Novel,you can see why Dorothy thought she was severely lacking in that department. Her greatest strengths were in creating brief but meaningful moments on page,a talent that looks easier than it actually is.

Her feisty ways and saucy one liners were better appreciated by later generations in more than one media medium. The production company for the popular female friendly show Gilmore Girls was called Dorothy Parker Drank Here for a good reason. While the ladies on that series didn't have as morbid sensibilities as Mrs. Parker,they did share her love of dialogue and amusing verbal skills to off play their anxieties and quirks:

With the horn of plentiful poems that Parker has provided us with,pinning down just one to sum her up is next to impossible. However,I do think that this particular set of verses seems to be equivalent to Jane Austen's line about the "fine bits of ivory" comparison of her own writing:


Little things that no one needs --
Little things to joke about --
Little landscapes, done in beads.
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore--little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.

Lonely she may have been,but Dorothy Parker's influence on women,writing and the art of poetry was certainly not little indeed. Her legacy is far reaching,with many fine folk happy to celebrate her contributions to the advancement of wit and sardonic wisdom to the literary world. While Mrs. Parker certainly would have shrugged off some of the praise heaped upon her by modern day admirers, she also would've been swallowing a smile down with her martini:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Harvest your beach book reading early with the cream of the May/June crop

As we are heading for the better part of spring,with summer only a few short steps away,the time has come to start selecting those all important vacation books for your warm weather reading. Even if your prime cooling off spot is at home under the A/C,having a good read on hand is invaluable to your mental relaxation mode.

We do have quite the array of genre goodies to choose from,as well as a couple of crossovers that stand out from the pack. Whichever way that you go,be sure to keep a couple of proper bookmarks along side the sunblock(bending back page corners is just plain wrong,in my opinion),you won't regret it:


Thanks to the folks at Good Reads,I was able to read an Advanced Copy of Justin Cronin's The Passage and my only qualm about that is not having the opportunity to be introduced into this amazing book's engrossing world of imagination for the first time.

This book is meant to the first of a trilogy and the wait for the next two volumes should be more intense than it was for both the Harry Potter and the Twilight series combined. Don't be mislead by that statement,folks;this is a grown-up book all the way but a savvy teen could enjoy the epic journey started off here as well. I've said plenty about The Passage,now it's up to you to take that first step(June 8)


Speaking of Twilight,Stephenie Meyer is coming out with a new story about one of the supporting players in the series,just a few weeks before the latest film adaptation of the Twilight saga hits theaters.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner focuses on one of the newborn vampires created by Victoria,who decides to build an army in order to raid both the Cullens and the werewolves in Forks who stand in the path of her vengeance.

Bree does have a brief moment in the sun,so to speak,during the action packed showdown in Eclipse but no doubt,the highlight of her story will be the emotional struggles she faces as a newly powerful being with unchecked bloodlust. A portion of the proceeds from this book will be donated to the Red Cross(which is rather fitting)and should give those waiting in line for the midnight preview of Eclipse something fun to kill the time with(June 5):

Another popular vampire series that we're eager to see back on screen is True Blood(which returns to TV on June 13)but for those of us following the adventures of Miss Sookie Stackhouse in print,Charlaine Harris will have the next book in stores well before then.

Dead in the Family has Sookie mourning the loss of a long-lost and newly found relation as she struggles to maintain peaceful relations with her vampire and were connections. To make matters even more complicated, some of the Fairy folk whose feathers Sookie ruffled the last time are not totally gone from the scene.

While it may be awhile until some of these details make their way onto the show,Sookie is one interesting gal who has truly earned her fan following in all guises,making her one to watch wherever she goes(May 4):


The fast talking team of Lomax and Biggs strike again this spring with another mystery title,courtesy of Marshall Karp. Cut,Paste,Kill gives the pair of L.A. police detectives quite a challenge as they hunt for a serial killer who has an elaborate signature.

Each of the victims has a personalized scrapbook left by their body,detailing their bad deeds which seems to be the motivation for this spree of vigilante justice. While there appears to be more than one helping hand eager to assist in solving this case,Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs both know better than to trust an all-too-willing source.

In addition to this growing series,Marshall Karp is also collaborating on a mystery tale with another big bestselling author,James Patterson. While I look forward to seeing how that turns out,it'll be great to see more Lomax and Biggs books coming down the pike. Karp is one of those nice guys you hear about that deserve to finish first(June 8):

Unfortunately,we won't be getting more from Stieg Larsson due to his untimely departure from this earth but at least his literary legacy seems to be taking firm root with readers. The final book in his Millennium trilogy,The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest,is set to be released by the end of May.

As investigating computer hacker Lisbeth Salander lies in a hospital bed,recovering from a gunshot wound to the her head,she plots her strategy in not only dealing with her injuries and upcoming legal actions against her but in getting the last word with the forces that made Lisbeth so vulnerable to attack. While Hollywood plots to remake their own versions of these books,the original film adaptations should be made as widely available as their print counterparts.

No need to fix up something that works right in it's intended format,just to resell to the masses. I suspect that if Stieg were still with us,that would be his take on the matter(May 25).


Brunonia Barry made a dazzling debut last year with The Lace Reader and returns to the literary forefront with The Map of True Places,which has another female lead dealing with the ghosts of her past. Zee Finch is given a sorrowful reminder of her mother when one of her therapy patients that resembles her greatly makes the similar choice to end her own life.

Zee leaves her practice and goes home to Salem,reuniting with what's left of her family and seeking a route to reclaiming her happiness. Barry loves to set her stories in Salem and blends some of the local history into her narratives,adding a touch of historical spice to her intimate tales. Her first book was quite a heady brew and flavorful to boot,making her work definitely worth having a second cup of storytelling tea with(May 4):

Sally Gunning's new novel is an out and out period piece,with quite a bit of spunk and sparkle growing within it's heroine. The Rebellion of Jane Clarke takes place in Boston during the early days of the Revolutionary War,as Jane goes to live with her ailing Aunt Gill and is exposed to some of the tensions and violence that is sprouting up all around her due to the debate over who should rule the American colonies.

Things come to a head when Jane is a witness to the infamous Boston massacre(which had five men die at the hands of British soldiers)and must openly choose where her loyalties lie. A number of true life historical figures make appearances in this book and bring some authentic flair to an engaging narrative that showcases what life was like for a young woman of that time caught in the crossfires of social and political change(June):


The gang at Quirk Classics is still on the warpath with more literary remixes,this time tackling a hallmark of Russian literature with Android Karenina. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters' co-author Ben Winters adds his vivid imagination into retooling the timeless romance of Anna,Vronsky,Kitty and Levin as part of a high tech world of robot butlers and literally out of this world settings.

The love story aspects of the book have to compete with the rise of the machines against their masters,which should make for some interesting scenes on page. It does make sense in a strange way to ramp up the robot action here,since as the old saying and Pat Benatar song goes,love is a battlefield(June):


Actress Alison Arngrim is best known as Nellie Olson,the mean girl rival of Laura Ingalls on the beloved family show Little House on the Prairie.

Instead of bemoaning her fate as a former child star,Alison has embraced her claim to fame with a humorous one woman show and now a memoir due out this summer,Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,which goes over her adventures in Hollywood and beyond.

It's truly refreshing to see someone celebrate her status as a love to be hated character with such good spirits and witty bluntness. Even if you've never watched Little House,Alison's book promises to be a breath of freshly fierce air on the TV nostalgia circuit(June):

Hopefully,a few of these books should be a welcome relief from the doldrums of summer movies and TV that may be full of hot air hype instead of solid popcorn entertainment.

Then again,if you really want some movie magic this season,another singalong release of Grease is scheduled to hit the multiplexes,complete with subtitles for the song lyrics,which is sort of like reading. Even without words on the screen,Grease is still the word which will allow a sweet summer soundtrack for beach reading:

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Top Ten things I learned from Kick-Ass

As part of my birthday celebration this past weekend,I checked the new superhero themed movie Kick-Ass to see if it lived up to more than it's name. While it did take some time to set up the main action of the story line,the film succeeded in taking it's audience on quite the wild ride.

The origin story basics are well put into play,as moody teen Dave(Aaron Johnson)decides to become a real life superhero,despite his lack of extraordinary powers,fighting skills and access to high tech gadgetry(the closest he comes to a special advantage is more tolerance for pain due to nerve damage from an early attempt at crime fighting).

By being in the right place at the wrong time,Dave manages to gain fame as Kick-Ass,thanks to a couple of viral videos of a showdown at a gas station parking lot. In his stumble to success,Kick-Ass is blamed by local crime lord Frank D'Amico(Mark Strong)for the rash of robberies and murders against his minions.

That little vendetta is being waged by a pair of stealthier costumed avengers,Big Daddy(Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl(Chloe Grace Moretz),who cross paths with Kick-Ass and offer him assistance,if needed. Dave sees right off that this whole gig is way over his head and he'd be better off focusing on his new found girlfriend(who at first thought he was gay)instead of playing in these rough waters.

However,the emergence of another hero on the block,Red Mist(Christopher Mintz-Plasse)draws Dave back into the game and leads him towards a dangerous end run. Enough about the plot,let's talk about some of the sidelines to this cinematic comic book creation.

Yes,Hit Girl is quite the show stopper and the scene stealer but she does play well with the others. The relationship between her and Big Daddy is oddly touching and disturbingly funny at the same time,with Nicholas Cage giving a rather understated performance(for Nick Cage,that is).

However,Dave's various plights throughout the film,as well as those of Red Mist,aka Chris D'Amico the wannabe gangster son,give the audience identifiable Everyman types to root for and deliver on the laughs and the angst without resorting to campy antics. The action sequences and situations are wonderfully over the top with a slight edge of realism to balance things out. This is at heart a rock'em-sock'em superhero story and meant to be taken that way.

For any concerned parents and/or those with delicate sensibilities,take the R rating at it's fullest meaning here,folks. It's not as viciously violent as some movies I've seen but this is not at all for youngsters in need of family friendly entertainment.

For the rest of us,Kick-Ass is just that and with there being talk of a sequel,we may have the kick start that the comic book adaptation genre needs right now to get more quality graphic novels take that giant leap to the silver screen without falling(or needing 3-D). To sum this all up,here are the Top Ten superhero lessons to be learned from the example set by Kick-Ass:

10) It is sad but true that more people want to be Paris Hilton than Spiderman:

9) Things are NOT under control if your best henchman insists on needing a bazooka to solve the problem at hand.

8) When setting up a website to promote your superhero status,make sure that your IP address is untraceable.

7) It's hard to hear questions from your disgruntled partners in crime when you're locked in a giant microwave.

6) Practicing your superhero shtick before hitting the mean streets is a good idea:

5) A cool car is impressive to fans and fellow crime fighters alike:

4) Online purchases always look different upon receipt,especially if the photo on the website doesn't show the Gatling gun attachments.

3)One of the biggest regrets you may have while facing the point of death is not finding out how Lost ends.

2) Taking a shot at close range is about as painful as a punch in the chest:

1) Butterfly knives make great birthday presents:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Delight in the Day of the Book!

To my happy surprise this morning,I discovered that in many parts of the world,today is International Book Day(aka Day of the Book). In Barcelona,this literary celebration is combined with the festival of St. George,which serves as their Valentine's Day,so giving out books and roses is the order of the day.

Also,since William Shakespeare and Cervantes both passed away on April 23,that makes this month a extra special remembrance for readers. In honor of this day of literary love, I have gathered together a few clips that will hopefully make a lovely book bouquet with rosy representations of romantic reading from many ports of call.

First up is Shakespeare,with the English Rose of his plays being Romeo & Juliet. Granted,this is a love story with a less than happy ending(unless your tastes in love run to the morbid)but this story of two star crossed lovers has never gone out of style over the centuries and has been reinterpreted in many story telling forms including a couple of musicals and even lovelorn vampires.

Despite the unhappy outcome for these two crazy kids,there are those who enjoy imagining a better romantic result,not only for Shakespeare's fantasy lovers but the man himself,whose true mistress of his heart was the theatre:

Naturally,our next book blossom is Cervantes' Don Quixote,that crown jewel of Spanish literature which is all about how reading can affect your heart and mind. True,the main character is extremely deluded about the reality around him but considering how much more colorful his imagination makes the world and people that cross his path,it's not such a bad trade-off there.

Quixote has also gone thru the reinterpretation mill and not just in book form; most people are familiar with this story under the title Man of La Mancha,the classic musical that encourages folks to take leaps of faith in order to achieve their dreams,even quantum ones:

When it comes to romance,you can't overlook the French but with so many fine examples to choose from,the best bet is to pluck from the word garden of Alexandre Dumas. The Three Musketeers is known as an adventure tale but trust me,there are plenty of broken hearts and flowers to satisfy any couple looking for a good romance to watch on date night.

I must confess that the only print version of the novel I've read was a children's adaptation back in the day. However,even then,I was intrigued by the character of Milady de Winter,the silver tongued seductress who lured many a man to his doom with her fierce feminine wiles. She came close to trapping D'Artagnan in her love games but fortunately he saw her true colors(and brand of dishonor)in time:

For our next posy,we waltz over to Russia for a taste of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Even tho that period of time when counts and princesses were the fashionable folk to see and be seen with is long gone,this tale of tormented romance still resonates with many reading generations.

Interest in Anna Karenina has been revived more than once,with the latest example being Oprah making it a summer selection of her fabled book club and with the upcoming release of Quirk Classics sci-fi remix of it,titled Android Karenina,sparks are sure to fly. The music may change but the dance never really does:

Finally,our last flower brings us back to America and one of Edith Wharton's tales of Old New York,Age of Innocence. Out of the many stories of sorrow and regret that Wharton penned in her lifetime,the love affair that never was between Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska was the most heartbreaking of the bunch.

It's intrinsic elegance, in describing both the forces without and within that are determined to keep these two soul mates apart yet steadily drives them together until that one fell swoop is dealt,is what makes the story rise above it's potential soap opera setting and gives it that tight little punch you can't dodge away from in time. The Age of Innocence is a darkly ironic title for a novel about recalling the beauties of a past era but not being able to wash away the painful price paid for such luxuries in the end:

I hope this set of scented stories helps you get into the spirit of the day. Book love is wonderful to share with others and for a lucky few,can lead to finding a long term reading partner in crime. As they say,love is the ultimate mystery,so reading a few dozen thrillers is just as likely to help you find romance as hanging out in a singles bar is(and oddly enough,probably safer):

Thursday, April 22, 2010

TC Masters go pub hopping,Idol gets charitable and a former Hero makes an entry in The Vampire Diaries

The contending chefs on Top Chef Masters this week had faced off on each other before in Season One and some of them still had something to prove to the other. Rick Moonen,Graham Elliot Bowes,Mark Peel,Wylie Dusfresne and Jonathan Waxman were mostly cordial but Ludo Lefebrve was his usual charming self,especially with Rick Moonen(more on that in a moment).

The Quickfire challenge had the chefs make a dish to be paired up with a martini and the judges for that round were Gael Greene and the Real Housewives of Orange County(I don't watch any of those Housewives series but I think the ladies had more experience in judging the drinks rather than food). Jonathan Waxman won,for his pork tenderloin and shrimp stuffed with poblano and avocado butter.

That not only gave Jonathan five grand for his charity but an advantage for the Elimination challenge. The chefs had to make their version of classic pub food that would be served at an Irish bar and grill to the patrons as well as the regular judges. Jonathan got first pick of the plates and chose shepherd's pie.

He did a basic rendition of it,with lamb and veggies covered in a mashed potato and Parmesan cheese puree,that everyone loved. Jonathan seems like a very down to earth kind of guy,so it was good to see him have a double victory here by winning more money(ten grand)for his cause(Citymeals on Wheels)and get a spot for the champion ship round.

Joining Jonathan there will be Rick Noonen,for his fish and chips. Rick chicken fried sable fish and served it with twice fried potatoes along with lemon comfit tartar sauce and a fennel salad,sort of a gourmet doppelganger dish. While there were a couple of complaints about the potatoes,his plate went over well with the crowd and the food critics at Judge's Table.

The worst of the bunch was Ludo's take on Irish stew. He had no love for the dish and tried to get fish and chips at first but Rick had already chosen called dibs on that. Ludo spent a lot time whining about how it wasn't fair,since Rick is known for his culinary expertise with fish,and that he never gets to make French food on the show. Dude,first off,this is only the second season and second,isn't fish and chips more of a British/Irish tradition?

Ludo expressed his contempt for Irish stew(saying it was a dish with no taste or love both aside and to his fellow chefs) and it certainly showed on the plate. His vegetables were raw and the beef tenderloin was sitting in a watery mess of Guinness and roasted peanuts-who adds peanuts to an Irish stew? Granted,I'm of Irish descent and not fond of corned beef and cabbage but even I know that peanuts don't belong in that stew.

Onward to next time,where the main challenge is to make lunch for the cast and crew of the hit sitcom Modern Family. Hopefully,it will be a tasty time for all concerned:

The American Idol theme this week was inspirational songs,with Alicia Keyes as the guest mentor. It was all part of the yearly "Idol Gives Back" show that showcases the various charitable causes that the show gives to and raises money for.

For the most part,the performances were pretty good but not spectacular and in a couple of cases,rather underwhelming(Casey,Aaron,you guys wound up in the Bottom Three for good reason this time out-got to step up your game,fellas!).

There was one singer who stood out from the rest and yes,it was Crystal. Her performance of "People Get Ready" was divine and if she wasn't so authentically sweet,you could almost hate her for such constant excellence:

Due to the charity vibe this week,the Sanjaya award will stay in it's box and we'll just wave goodbye to Tim on his way out the door(finally!). However,I do want to put in a good word for my girl Siobhan.

While I do agree that she's lost her stride over the past few weeks,she really sounded like she was back on track with "If You Believe" and the judges were way too harsh on Siobhan for what reason I don't know. Siobhan sang that song in a lovely fashion and moderated her high vocals(something that many people have been telling her to do,since hitting those high notes has become a trademark of hers)nicely,yet she got dumped on,big time.

Please give this performance another listen and see if you hear what I hear(not trying to make a pop culture riff with that line,I swear!):

The Vampire Diaries certainly gets it's fair share of interesting guest stars and last week, David Anders(last seen on Heroes)dropped into town as Elena and Jeremy's never-do-well Uncle John who seems to be a threat to both Damon and Mystic Falls,since he has more than one secret agenda on his list(plus one of the nifty invulnerable to harm rings that keep cropping up on the unlikeliest of folks).

That drama bomb is merely one of many,with Stefan fighting off his new found taste for human blood,Matt getting sick of his slutty mom's antics,Jeremy snooping in Elena's diary for more info than he should get in one sitting and Elena stuck in the middle of the madness as always. This show is a lot of things but one of them is not boring,folks. Also,unlike some series that keep on teasing but never delivering the genre goods(V,this means you!),The Vampire Diaries knows how to entertain their audiences by not letting up on the horror and the heartbreak:


LEGEND OF THE SEEKER: Looks like we'll be getting two Darken Rahls for the price of one,as a bold impostor makes his move to claim the dead tyrant's throne and blackmail our heroes.

However, even in magical kingdoms,identity theft is still risky business(especially when the guy you're pretending to be is on the payroll of the Keeper of the Underworld):