Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are some sequels long overdue or just expired on arrival?

One of the big movies being pumped up for the upcoming fall film season is Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,the Oliver Stone directed sequel to his 1987 financial melodrama starring Michael Douglas as the evil template for future financial schemers,Gordon Gekko.

Gekko is back,fresh out of prison and getting drawn into his old stomping grounds via his daughter's fiance,Jacob(Shia LaBeouf)who suspects that the death of his mentor was from foul play involving hedge fund manager Bretton James(Josh Brolin).

In exchange for helping him bond better with his daughter,Gordon agrees to aid Jacob in his plan of revenge against Bretton,making Gekko more of an antihero this time around.

So far,the advance word has been pretty good for Wall Street 2 but given not only the lapse of time between films,the current economic woes of our country may be another reason that this follow-up film could find itself facing a serious deficit at the box office on opening weekend:

There are sequels that have benefited from a good long gap between films(Toy Story 3) and just as many,if not more so,that have proven the old adage "know when to say when!"(Godfather III).

Whether or not this will hold true for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or even the highly anticipated Tron Legacy,it is good to look back on past pop culture errors in order to spot the problem before things get too far out of control and over budget.

A prime case in point is Blues Brothers 2000,which basically was an excuse for Dan Ackroyd to revive his old SNL persona of Elwood Blues without the late great John Belushi at his side. Even by packing in as many musical guest stars as he could and having John Goodman try to fill Belushi's shoes,the movie wound up being two million dollars short in covering it's budget upon release. As B.B.King would have said,the thrill was definitely gone here:

Another memorable bad musical movie sequel was Graffiti Bridge,starring Prince in his role from the phenom known as Purple Rain. Morris Day and the Time also showed up on screen but a few other elements that made the original film so captivating were missing,such as a somewhat coherent script and great musical numbers.

Graffiti Bridge came not long after another Prince film flop,Under The Cherry Moon,that while it had no connection to either one of the other flicks,this sad sack singalong caused film critics to question if Purple Rain was just a cinematic fluke and Prince a one hit wonder of a movie star:

It's not only musical sequels that get the far too late sequel shaft;horror films are notorious for literally pulling people out of the grave as fodder for another chance at raking in a tidy,if not gory,profit. However,in the case of The Rage: Carrie 2,no bodies were unearthed to slap this cheesy teen fright flick together.

Now,some of you may be thinking"Uh,didn't Carrie and her mom die at the end of that movie?" and you would be correct. That annoying fact didn't stop the gang here from simply having an alleged half sister(thanks to Carrie's dad,who is conveniently absent here)who winds up attending high school where Sue Snell(Amy Irving),the survivor from the original story,happens to be a guidance counselor. What a cinematic coincidence there!

Amy Irving asked for director Brian DePalma's blessing before she did this movie and Sissy Spacek was appealed to by the new director Katt Shea to permit her likeness to be used for edited in footage from the first film. Too bad no one seemed to have asked Stephen King if he wanted this movie to exist,but then again writers are considered to be pesky creatures in Hollywood,so not so shocking that consulting the man who created the characters first would be last on the list:

"Yeah,well,those are just genre films,after all. It's not like they would do that to a serious movie." So not true,folks. 1974's period mystery Chinatown was considered a classic even during it's initial release and in 1990,Jack Nicholson reprised his role as Jake Gittes in the aptly named The Two Jakes.

Nicholson also took over in the director's chair and despite having Robert Towne on board again for the screenplay,this story that draws Gittes into the secrets and lies surrounding the booming oil industry in California had no grip on audiences or critics this second go-round.

That lack of enthusiasm and box office returns caused a possible third chapter helmed by Jack and friends to be shut away in a drawer,most likely for good. The main bone of contention seemed to be that The Two Jakes was simply a vanity piece for Nicholson,plus a long drawn out plot that went nowhere to boot.

Some say that it's a much better film than first believed and maybe so,but just watching the trailer felt tedious to me:

Time will tell if Wall Street 2 was a savvy decision or a failed leap of faith(and that goes for Tron Legacy as well,guys). Sometimes,it's best to leave a work of art alone,especially if they got it right the first time out.

The same argument can also hold true for American remakes of foreign films;as much as hoopla as the proposed U.S. version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is getting these days,many of the book's fans will insist that the Swedish film adaptations are far more authentic.

While you can't please all of the people all of the time,it doesn't hurt to take their pop culture concerns into consideration. Assuming that they'll just jump on board and sing along to your tune can ultimately make you lose some assets in both the long and short run at the theaters(Note:this end video is a tad spoilery-you have been warned):

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tim Gunn makes us appreciate the art of the tell off

This new season of Project Runway has really gotten it's act together for many reasons-going back to New York,expanding the length of the show in order to give the viewers more time to check out the work in progress(and behind the scenes hijinks)and dropping that whole "Models of the Runway" after show,which made paint drying look exciting.

However,things got particularly nasty on the last challenge,which had the designers in teams of two working on a collection with the theme and color scheme of their choosing. Team Luxe,run unofficially by Gretchen,the current queen of mean for this PR season,were the losers for this round and before they went out to be judged,Gretchen insisted that everyone agree to have an "all for one and one for all" attitude when defending their work.

Well,that went out the window fast,folks. In between contradictory ramblings about who did and didn't do a good job here,Gretchen and her cohorts went out of their way to throw Michael C. under the bus in a truly bullying manner that was hard to watch at times.

Their main problem with him is that he won immunity from the last challenge(something Gretchen and her little fashion flunky Ivy thought he didn't deserve)and consider Michael C to not be in their league,an attitude that lead most of that team to undermine Michael during the whole time they worked together.

The only person on that team who refrained from jumping on the Michael C blame train here was A.J.,who wound up going home for the lousy shirt dress that he made. The judges were less than thrilled with how Team Luxe behaved,especially Gretchen,but made their decision based on the work presented in front of them rather than their behavior.

However,longtime PR mentor Tim Gunn made his displeasure known to all of the members of Team Luxe as he went to the waiting room to say farewell to A.J. Tim is usually a rather even keeled fellow,so for him to have to scold anyone here is a major league sign that you were wrong(and not just "kind of",Ivy!). That tastefully done tell-off moment helped to redeem the emotional horror show that episode had become:

Tell-offs,whether for fictional purposes or reality show wake up calls,are fun to watch in just about every pop culture forum but TV allows those word daggers of indignation to hit the mark a bit harder in the audio-visual realm. That's mainly due to the extra time allotted to character development,which makes a real tongue lashing sting upon delivery.

As a salute to Tim Gunn for his well timed tell-off of those horrible PR contenders(who will receive the bad karma due to them in the end),here are the LRG Top Five Favorite TV Tell-Off Artists,in all of their glory:

1) Emily Gilmore

Verbal veracity is a skill that many of the characters on Gilmore Girls possess and used rather pointedly to their advantage,yet the ultimate queen of the smackdown title belongs to Emily Gilmore,who was still the undisputed champion towards the end of the series.

While Emily's vicious wit and rapid fire vocal assaults were the emotional weapons of choice when dealing with her loved ones at times,her arsenal of subtle yet slaughterhouse deadly when necessary renditions could mount a considerable defense for them as well.

Her best moment came when the mother of Rory's college boyfriend Logan made Emily's beloved granddaughter suffer through a family dinner serving of snobbery and when the truth of that night was revealed to Emily,she snapped into slick snark mode to take aim and fire:

2) Lafayette Reynolds

For a character that was meant to be short lived in the books,Lafayette's presence in True Blood has quite the long legs there. Part of the appeal of his character is his sassy straightforward and pragmatic take on both the human and inhuman dealings going on in the world around him.

For all of his charm and easygoing nature,however,Lafayette has a lot of fury that he strives to keep under wraps until he has no choice but to unleash it upon those foolish enough to insult and underestimate him.

While he's had plenty of stellar confrontations over the past three seasons of the series,many of Lafayette's fans cherish that first season throwdown at Merlotte's,where a simple order for a hamburger deluxe was turned into a cutthroat culinary experience by the simpletons at the table:

3) Dorothy Zbornak

Granted,the other three Golden Girls(and yes,even Rose)were more than capable of delivering a proper set down to those who incurred their wrath,Dorothy's innate authority and perfectly nuanced timing gave her a strong advantage in this area.

During a special two part episode,Dorothy found out that she had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,a new illness at the time,and many of the doctors she had seen were quick to dismiss her symptoms as frivolous. The most arrogant of them all,a specialist that she had made a special trip to New York to see,turned up at a restaurant where Dorothy and friends were celebrating and that prime opportunity to set him straight was taken:

4) Judge Judy

Out of all daytime court shows that rule the airwaves,Judge Judith Sheindlin and her take no nonsense and prisoners attitude towards dealing with small claims cases has earned her a legion of fans and followers who keep the show within the top ten list of syndicated TV programs in that division.

While the cases are real and dealt with in a short span of time,Judge Judy quickly cuts to the legal heart of the matter as she insists upon chucking away the baloney that's often served to her by the foolhardy folks on either side of the litigant's table:

5) Spike

Sometimes,a tell-off can be justly delivered by the worst person in the room and during the run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's spin-off series Angel,William the Bloody became the annoying voice of reason that couldn't be completely ignored.

His first major foray on that sound stage was in the third season of Buffy,when Spike came back to Sunnydale in sorrowful search of a way to win back the crazy heart of his darling Drusilla.

Buffy and Angel reluctantly offered him their assistance but when their snipes at his lovelorn state got to be too harsh for him to take,he skillfully stripped off the band aid over Buffy and Angel's gaping romantic wound and took pride in his love's bitch status:

Telling someone off at the right point in time is not an easy thing to do but very satisfying in the short run when done well. It may not be a noble trait to honor there,yet perhaps preferable to the more violent alternative to releasing long built up tension between people. However it's done,a knockout punch when least expected can certainly liven up the pop culture proceedings,just as long as you know when to stop as well as start:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bad Movie Month shudders at The Haunting of Molly Hartley

We wrap up our look at Terrifying Teens on Bad Movie Month by pushing forward the most awkward of them all,The Haunting of Molly Hartley. From the title,you might reasonably think that this is some kind of ghost story but no,that is only the beginning of the many false starts and promises that this glossy fear flick has to offer.

Our story begins(after a gruesome prelude where a teenage girl gets killed by her dad,due to wanting to get married when she turns eighteen,a very unlucky number in this movie)with 17 year old Molly,played by Haley Bennett,who has moved to a new town with her father as a way of starting after Mom took a pair of scissors to her chest.

Naturally,Crazy Mom is locked away in a mental institution that's conveniently located right outside of town(all the easier for Murder Inc. Mommy to show up later on)and Molly is suffering from some understandably natural flashbacks from that fun little incident,which includes hearing spooky voices,seeing strange images in mirrors and sudden noises that turn out to nothing more than a dog barking or mail being slipped thru the front door slot-eek,bills are scary!

At this point,the tone of the plot is being set up as either Molly is doomed to inherit her mother's mental problems and go off the deep end or that she is the target of some kind of evil plot that her delusional dangerous mother was only trying to save her from-"The darkness is coming for you!" Well,maybe paying that spooky light bill that startled Molly so much might be helpful there.

Molly heads off to her new private school,where she meets up with the standard set of stock supporting characters-Future Rich Boyfriend(Chase Crawford),Bad Girl Buddy(Shannon Woodward),Mean Girl Supreme(AnnaLynne McCord)and Spooky Christian Girl(Shanna Collins).

Things get off to a strange start as Molly has a panic attack in English class,with a bible causing her to have a major nosebleed. That's right,folks-if a bible gives you a nosebleed and makes you spaz out in the girl's bathroom,it's a sure sign of being marked by evil forces:

Eventually,both we and Molly start to see that this is a case of An Evil Destiny Awaits You,as things go on and Molly winds up breaking Mean Girl's arm over Future Rich Boyfriend,who turns out to be part of the sinister conspiracy. Crazy Mom breaks out of the mad house in order to wield a blade along with a lengthy explanation of what's really going on.

It turns out that Molly's parents sold their baby(who was stillborn)in order to have a child for at least eighteen years and then send her off to work for Satan. A couple of years later,this concept was the premise of the short lived series Reaper(with a more intently humorous theme and better writing)but that show didn't have creepy Christian characters whose only solution to Molly's moral dilemma is a one way ticket to the grave.

I'm not saying that there aren't people out there who take that eye for an eye business a little too far,but it's rather disconcerting to see the "good guys" in this narrative being more of a threat to the heroine than the villains:

Now,I'm going to do something that I normally don't for any movie review and that is reveal the ending of the film. The main reason for doing this is to demonstrate the worst aspect of the whole thing and why it was chosen for Bad Movie Month in the first place.

Also,this movie's been out for two years now and there are more spoilers a-plenty online,so if you're still reading this,you have been warned good and proper!

By the end run of the plot,Molly finds out that there is a secret society of Satan's little helpers that includes Future Rich Boyfriend and Sympathetic Guidance Counselor Lady,who tells her that the only way out of this evil indentured servitude is to break the pact by killing Dear Old Dad before the stroke of midnight on her birthday.

At the last minute,Molly turns the knife on herself but the death blow doesn't take. So,what awful evil fate embraces our leading lady there? Does she become the mother of the Anti-Christ,the new headmistress of a baby sacrificing coven or even a reality show star?

Nope-she just lets her dad rot away in the very asylum where her mother resided and goes off to graduate high school with top honors,with Now Permanent Rich Boyfriend on her arm as they happily climb into a limo and drive off into a brighter,college bound future with an upbeat song in the background.

I kid you not,folks-all of this flat footed frenzy and meandering mayhem about the horrible darkness that is after Molly and her fate is to be a rich,happy yuppie? That might have worked in the '80s but it really doesn't fly here:

Basically,The Haunting of Molly Hartley is a terror tease whose true crime is the killing of your time as you watch it. Don't be fooled by it's sleek young stars or seemingly sinister set-ups;this movie is quite the stinker. We here at Bad Movie Month hope you enjoy our Terrifying Teens series and we look forward to another fun theme for next year(the top runners in our poll were Lousy Love Stories and Vampire Vs. Werewolf). Until then,stay away from potentially satanic schoolgirls,folks-they always lead to trouble and fake out fear moments:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Top Chef D.C. tries to play ball,a True Blood romance and the new Design Star is...

Rick Moonen was the guest judge for this round of Top Chef D.C. and first on his plate to evaluate was the Quickfire challenge that had the chefs make a dish inspired by a food related idiom(some of the choices were "the big cheese","bigger fish to fry" and the always classy "hide the salami").

Ed went with "Hot Potato" and his herb and garlic potato gnocchi with spring vegetables took the win here. His prize was having this dish turned into a Schwan's frozen dinner,which I take it is far fancier than a Swanson's.

For the Elimination challenge,everyone had to work together as a team and create food that would go over well at a concession stand at Nationals Park for the crowd of folks going to see the baseball game. There was some confusion in the set-up,as Angelo had agreed the night before to be the one taking the food orders but at the last minute,kept trying to back out of it.

Kevin called him on it(and so did Tiffany,when they all went to Judges' Table)and I have to say that he was right-you shouldn't volunteer to do something like that unless you really think you can handle,plus changing your mind right before service was so not of the cool.

The dish that really went over like gangbusters was Tiffany's Italian meatball sub,that had sausage meatballs with fennel and cumin that Judge Tom especially enjoyed. Even a member of the Washington Nationals loved it so much that he wanted to have a second one to bring back to the dugout to eat later.

The big winner was Ed,once again,for his shrimp and corn risotto fritters. Eric Ripert particularly liked that they were less messy to eat than some of the other food offerings(he liked Tiffany's sandwich,too,but Eric is clearly more of an indoor eater).

Ed won a copy of Rick Moonen's latest recipe book and a trip to Australia,quite the sweet surprise there. Glad to see Ed doing so well and odds are that he and Tiffany might make it to the finale together.

I'm not so sure about Angelo's chances to go all the way there,since he's getting pretty scattershot with his dishes lately. His glazed pork sandwich had too sweet of a glaze and the bun he chose to pack his meat and fillings in acted like a sponge for the juices. The whole thing wound up as a soggy mess,made worse by the fact that Angelo runs a sandwich shop so maybe his choice of bread should have been smarter.

Kevin did himself no favors either with his chicken skewers that had sticks long enough to reach the back of your throat. On top of that,he put too many toppings on the meat itself(including shoe string fries and a pair of spicy sauces)so that folks could taste everything in one bite. That didn't work out at all,not to mention that his dish was the one ordered the least by the crowd at the ball park.

Finally packing her knives here was Amanda,who chose to serve a tuna tartare. A bold move to be sure,yet when she prepped her fish the night before,Amanda didn't add anything to prevent the tuna from oxidizing once fresh air hit it and the fish started to turn gray.

No one got sick from it but gray tuna is like brown apples-it may be alright to eat for a little while but the look is far from appetizing. It was just a matter of time before Amanda checked out,anyway but it couldn't have come soon enough for me.

Next week,the chefs are assigned to cook food suitable for space explorers and the results sound like they'll truly be up in the air.

Congrats to Emily on winning Design Star last Sunday-I wasn't quite sure that she was going to,for a moment there,since Michael's presentation appeared to be a bit more polished than hers. However,her concept is strong(make over your home to match your clothing style)and her new show,Secrets from a Stylish,starts on August 29.

This has been a rather awkward season,with several changes to the format that haven't thrilled long time fans and too much focus on personality clashes instead of design work. However,every series,reality or otherwise,goes through a tricky transition period once in a while and perhaps by the time the new round of Design Star begins,things will settle back into their former comfy groove:

Now that the cat is out of the bag regarding Sookie and her fairy origins on True Blood,along with Russell taking some freaky personal time to continue his maniac mourning period for Talbot and Eric making all sorts of plans there,let's take a moment to check out the status quo on Hoyt and Jessica.

When we last saw them,Hoyt was trying to get over Jessica by dating a mini-me version of his mother and Jessica has been dividing her time between her new hostess job at Merlotte and the shake-ups going on from vampire haters due to Russell's prime time expose of an anchorman's spine. She also seems to not have caught a clue about Tommy(Sam's shapeshifter half brother)and his major league crush on her.

At last,Hoyt was tired of playing games and wisely broke up with his annoying girlfriend,then headed straight to Merlotte's to confess his true feelings for and to Jessica. She didn't answer him right away,but when Tommy chose to get all pitbull and jump Hoyt in the parking lot,Jessica was right there with a declaration of her love and healing vamp blood for Hoyt to drink.

It may seem screwed up beyond belief,but there is something sweet about their relationship and I'm not the only one who would like to see this two crazy kids make it work:


TOP CHEF:JUST DESSERTS:Starting September 15,the ban of most of the regular Top Chef contenders' existence is the foodie focus of this sweet spin-off. TC judge Gail Simmons will be the hostess of this sugary showdown,along with input from Hubert Keller,Johnny Iuzzni and Dannielle Kyrillos.

Given the incredible variety of pasty challenges that have been showcased on other food related shows,this competition promises to be a tasty piece of competitive cake:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The latest Franzen fracus gives female writers a chance to spread some sisterly good word

As the fall book season draws near,the biggest hype from the literati circles has been for Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom. Praise for the book has been overflowing in abundance,with two major laudatory reviews in the New York Times(weekday and the Sunday Book Review section)as well as a Time magazine cover,with a feature story proclaiming Franzen to be our "Great American Novelist."

The hype machine is in full gear for Freedom and a couple of female authors are starting to take issue with the literary love fest being thrown in Franzen's honor. Jodi Picoult openly criticized the NYT for their double dose of coverage given to this book,citing the sad but true fact that women authors rarely get the same treatment while recently Jennifer Weiner joined the fray and asked her Twitter followers to name and recommend other books with similar themes as Freedom written by women.

Now,while I have full sympathy for the argument presented by both ladies and really not interested in reading Freedom(even before the parade of positive reviews),this debate really needs to take a more proactive turn.

Yes,women authors get the short end of the promotion stick many a time,whether they write serious styled books or written off as "chick lit" but we need to do more than griping if we truly want anything to be done about this.

Weiner,by encouraging her fans to spread the good word for other books,some of which may not be as well known or forcefully promoted as Freedom currently is right now,is using her internet platform as a source of sisterly support by making people sit up and take notice of other women in the literary novel field,which is wonderful to see.

Taking a positive approach to the situation and engaging in dialogue about books and women is a step in the right direction,in my opinion. It's great to see an author use her powers of perception that help her mold her characters so well be on the forefront of this reading recommendation revolution:

As why Jonathan Franzen is getting all of this adoration,my theory is that it's the literary universe's way of making up for that time several years ago when he fell out of favor with Oprah,due to his expressing doubts about being chosen for her book club and ultimately not appearing on the show. While I do think that Franzen got a raw deal back then,it's hard to say whether or not Freedom warrants such a polar opposite response from the media there.

The Corrections was an interesting read that received good reviews before his brush with Oprah(and a National Book Award to boot) but I suspect that I'm not alone in trying out Franzen's earlier work and being unable to connect with it. That happens sometimes with authors and readers;once you catch a writer at his/her prime point,it can be hard to go back to their previous books and enjoy them for what they are.

Ultimately,my verdict is that Franzen is an acquired taste that many like me may not be in a hurry to sample yet again but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to have his book be praised or sell well. Judging work by how it's received by others is not always the best way to determine it's quality-some things you have to decide for yourself:

"So,book reviews and recommendations are meaningless,is that what you're saying,Lady T?" No,not at all. What I am saying is,consider the source. Are most of the books you enjoy,either for business or pleasure,usually found in the likes of the NYT and other high toned publications or in more user friendly places such as USA Today or Entertainment Weekly?

Sure,it's nice to see a book that you really like being given the red carpet treatment by the bigwigs in the industry but in the end,that shouldn't be the sole determination of whether your reading choices are good or not. Smart,savvy reads can be found by all interested parties as long you're on the lookout for them in places that speak to you as a reader.

While I don't have a Twitter account(and in no hurry to get one),I would add to the list of titles being recommended at Weiner's hashtag and blog such well written lit chick books as The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender,Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees,which is a more seriously minded story than it's book trailer may imply but selling it with a sense of humor doesn't completely hurt:

Equality in book coverage seems to be a never ending battle but sometimes you have to stop and consider just what turf you're fighting over. Sure,it would be wonderful to have such lofty publications accept your work and give credit where credit is due,but are these really the people whose opinions matter in the long run? Also,are these folks the type you'd want to hang out with,in any circumstance,in the first place? Sometimes it's better to keep the friends you have rather than play second fiddle to snooty new ones:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are social class distinction dramas the next big wave to hit our pop culture shores?

For the next run of Masterpiece Classic,starting in 2011,plans have been made to showcase a remake of the famed British made for TV serial Upstairs,Downstairs that was a huge ratings gatherer for PBS back in the early 1970s. It have five seasons and gained a worldwide following both during it's heyday and afterward on home video.

I was too young at the time to watch the show but had always heard about it. The basic plot of the story depicts the lives of the residents of an upper class home in Edwardian England,with a good portion of the focus being on the servants who worked there. Their daily strife and overall situations were contrasted with their employers,the well to-do Bellamy family,who seldom realized how their simplest choices affect those around:

This may appear to be on the surface a very old fashioned story to revive from the PBS vaults but some themes,like certain chic clothes,are timeless in their appeal. Putting away that old dress or concept for a few years may have been a wise choice at the time but when going thru your pop culture storage,it may be surprising to see what has come back into fashion.

With the turbulent economic times many of us are dealing with one way or another,reevaluating class struggles in a fictional forum can be very enlightening as well as educational.

We often look to the Brits for this sort of thing,since their molding of the social caste system is the standard go-to template here in Western culture. There was a time where such distinctions of rank were truly life or death situations,especially for working class women who were expected to keep their virtue under lock and key. Not that men didn't have anything to worry about yet in moments of crisis,women were usually the first to be thrown under the bus:

Another interesting factor is the hierarchy set-up amongst the household staff,who take their positions in the scheme of things as dead serious as their bosses do their bloodlines.

Moving up or down the social ladder may have seemed a lot easier in that circle than in the realm of the rich and titled,however,resistance to change of any sort that threatens the status quo is a trait shared by both sets.

Rivalries and infighting over matters that would seem to be petty to an outsider are also shared habits by both sides of the social fence. One great equalizer has always been gossip;whether it's sought after or delicately spread to the right pair of listening ears,rumors and carefully whispered innuendo tends to be a universally currency that ties as well as binds these diverse ends of society together:

One of the broader changes in the social order that Americans strove to change was that rigid class system,with some degree of success over the decades. While we don't have indelible lines in the sand that force people to stay where they started out in life,social mobility hasn't been smooth sailing for everybody.

Yet,we have made a lot of progress and one of them is making the working class folk just as important as their employers in TV and movies,giving them credible story lines and great one liners. Sure,there are still plenty of snobs out there but the best way to put them in their place is a clever comeuppance from the usually down to earth hired help:

The new version of Upstairs,Downstairs is meant to be part of Masterpiece Theater's 40th anniversary season on PBS and reconnecting to that seminal series may be a real boon for longtime viewers and new ones alike.

As they say,everything old is new again and social sagas are no exception to the rule. Regardless of whether the tone is serious or satirical,social class stories do make an impression on audiences from all walks of life and sometimes,they're more needed than others to help folks find an even keel. Next to laughter,melodrama can be the best medicine or sweet relief from the stresses of day and that old English flair for such things never goes out of style:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Setting up your September and October supplies for a festive reading season

As another summer draws quickly to a close,it's time to look forward and start gathering the cream of the crop soon to bloom on bookshelves everywhere. Just like the movie industry,many major league books are timed to be released in the fall when the mindsets of the average reader tend to seek more substantive literary fare.

That doesn't mean you can't have some fun along the way. Sure,it's good to eat your literary vegetables but adding a little satirical sauce or dramatic dressing to them can make them that much more mentally flavorful.

Also,autumn can make you more appreciative of a rich and hearty read to curl up by the heater with,unlike the need to chill out in more ways than one during the sweltering dog days left to us in the summer. With that in mind,let's stir up the literary soup and see what's simmering:


Author Brock Clarke follows up his eerily amusing novel,An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England,with another literary obsessed hero in Exley. This time,it's Miller,a nine year old boy convinced that one of the comatose vets in the local VA hospital is his missing father.

Since Frederick Exley,the long deceased author of A Fan's Notes,was said to live in their hometown and is his dad's favorite writer,Miller decides that the best way to save his father is to find Exley.

He's not getting much help in his seemingly pointless quest from his therapist,whose attentions are drawn more to Miller's mother than his young patient. Clarke's offbeat yet compelling storytelling skills make this new novel of his one to watch out for.(October)

In Emma Donoghue's Room,we meet Jack,a five year old boy who has lived his whole life thus far in a confined space with his mother yet sees his surroundings as a vast and comfortable home.

His mother,however,knows all too well the truth about their imprisonment by the mysterious Old Nick and with Jack's help,plans to escape into the outer world. The two of them do manage to gain their freedom but the consequences of that is not quite the happily ever after one would expect.

This book has already been chosen for the long list for the Man Booker Awards and judging by the advance good word for it,Room is destined to receive many more literary honors in it's future. Don't dismiss Room as typical movie of the week material;this story is intended to be a honestly earned emotional journey(September):


If you're looking for a coffee table book that is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind,look no further than Food Landscapes,a collection of the amazing edible artwork that photographer Carl Warner has been delighting international audiences with.

Not only are these delectable depictions of the everyday world around us pleasing to admire,you have to marvel at the creativity that makes bread and potatoes into mountain tops,vegetable greens into forest greens and oceans made from fish and cabbage. No time like the present to start planning those holiday gifts and this picturesque picnic should be suitable for someone or two on your list(October):


Daphne Kalotay's first novel Russian Winter makes an auspicious debut as did it's leading lady Nina Revskaya,a once renowned ballerina from the famed Bolsoi who now is in her declining years and must sell her almost equally famed collection of jewelry in order to close the door on her past.

Jamming that door with their inquisitive feet is a rather unlikely pair of newcomers into Nina's life-Drew Brooks,the young auction house associate handling the sale,and Grigori Soldin,a professor of Russian studies that feels the key to discovering his true identity lies in an unusual set of gems that are in Nina's possession.

I must confess that I'm currently reading this book and so far,it's an atmospheric tale of intrigue and secrets as precious as the jewels in question. The upcoming blog tour for Russian Winter is set to make a stop here this fall,so stay tuned to learn more about this brilliant ballet of mystery and drama about to unfold(September):

Thanks to the success of the made for cable miniseries of Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth this summer,many of his fans are eager to embrace his new historical saga series that starts with The Fall of Giants.

The setting for this multiple family drama takes place during the advent and the end of World War I,as some rise to the occasion while others are left adrift in the constant shifting of events and social changes that alter their intended paths in life.

The Fall of Giants is the first of three books in Follet's Century trilogy and with any luck,should become our next literary center of attention that also succeeds on the small screen(September):


Sena Jeter Naslund is best known for her novels that reimagine the past but in her newest novel,Adam & Eve,she takes a creative leap into the future as her heroine Lucy strives to protect the flash drive left behind by her astrophysicist husband Thom,who died before his startling discoveries about extraterrestrial life could be disclosed to the world.

During her time of grieving,Lucy is asked to take on another perilous journey involving earth shattering information and finds herself stranded in a no man's land with only a delusional deserted soldier for company.

These two eventually form a bond that leads them to create their own version of Eden,one that doesn't hold together for long. This is certainly unexpected and unexplored territory for Naslund but it sounds like a trip well worth taking by the adventurous reader.(September)

The limits of sibling devotion are severely tested in The Good Sister,as Roxanne Callahan's marriage may become one of the casualties from troubled younger sister Simone's heinous crime against her family,which leaves Simone's daughter Merell in need of guidance as well .

As the media spotlight on Simone continues to intensify,Roxanne is caught between helping her sister overcome the horrors of their past and holding her present happiness together. This is the third novel by Drusilla Campbell but it may be the first to break through the main stream and cause folks to seek out her earlier works as the next book club sensation.(October)

The title character of Melissa Jones' historical novel,Emily Hudson,has some real life literary inspiration,as one of the muses of Henry James who based several of his fictional females on the exploits of his unconventional cousin Minnie Temple.

In this tale set after the Civil War,orphaned Emily must seek her own way towards pursuing her artistic intentions which are frowned upon by her strict uncle but encouraged by her devoted cousin William.

Upon hearing the news of her broken engagement to a wealthy captain still on the battlefield,Emily joins William on a trip to England where soon enough even his attentions are growing as restrictive as her uncle's once were.

As Emily tries to find her independence,the mores of society as well as her emotional connections persist in making more and more obstacles for her to endure. The flair of one of Henry James' literary contemporaries also makes it's prescience known as the thematic framework of women trapped by convention classically molded by Edith Wharton also sparkle within these pages. Fans of both authors could have a lot to talk about with this one(September):

I hope some of these reading recommendations are helpful in choosing from the vast offerings of the upcoming literary season. It's a tricky business,this selection of promising titles,not to mention the unknown affects of a well meant or over exaggerated personal review. However,the potential for giving joy(or an unexpected insight) to another reader is always worth the risk:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bad Movie Month alerts you to the stranger danger of Teenage Strangler

One of the inspirations for Bad Movie Month is the impressive mockery done to many a horrible film by the good people at Mystery Science Theater 3000,whose far reaching references and goofy riffs on minor details amused their viewers for hours on end. No BBM tribute would be complete without highlighting a feature from their vastly awful film library.

In keeping with our Terrifying Teens theme,our movie this week is Teenage Strangler,a story that begs this all important question to be answered-"Is this about a teenager who strangles people or someone who strangles teenagers?":

Our tale of teen terror(which also was released as "Terror in the Night")is set in a small California town in the mid-1960s where a rash of murders has everyone in a bit of an uproar or rather a massive wave of overacting by the blander than bland cast.

A possible break in the case comes when Betty, the witness to the latest killing,remembers a weird white mark on the strangler's jacket that resembles the logo of the local drag racing gang(too bad she didn't know any self defense moves,which would have been way more useful than screaming while her friend wound up dead with a lipstick mark on her forehead).

Unfortunately,Betty's boyfriend Jimmy happens to be a member of that gang and was out late that night in order to secretly hook up with Betty,whose parents don't approve of their relationship. Yes,this gets quickly resolved but another murder eventually crops up and Jimmy is a suspect yet again,due to his "troubled past."

While the cops are busy hassling the local young toughs(who look old enough to have kids of their own,not to mention mortgages and taxes),everyone else down at the local malt shop tries to get over these recent deaths by having a barefoot proto-hippie chick hop up on the counter and sing a little ditty called "Yipe Stripes". Guess singalongs and bad dancing was the equivalent of grief counseling in those days:

One of the hilarious high points of this film is Mikey,Jimmy's kid brother who was surely the template for Saturday Night Live's oddly androgynous It's Pat. When he's not whining about Jimmy taking the blame for stealing a bike that he actually borrowed without permission,Mikey is either falling down or on the constant verge of a crying jag. Mikey's wimpy-whiny ways actually make indie nerd sensation Napoleon Dynamite seem like a pillar of strength and seriousness in comparison:

Sure enough,the killer is discovered and the murders are solved in a style reminiscent of Scooby Doo and a bad episode of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.

It's too bad that the strangler didn't get a chance to off more of the annoying alleged kids here but then again,leaving a few of them alive to crack wise at the neighborhood greasy spoon while pretending to know how to dance to the strained strands of "Yipe Stripes" was a necessary evil there.

Teenage Strangler is a juicy joke of a film and perfect B movie fodder that was ground up nicely in the MST3K mirth mill(teamed with a silly short about early marriage called "Is This Love?")and watching Mike Nelson and the bots riff on this deservedly hidden gem helps you get through the bad acting,mild mannered car chases, a drag racing sequence that has all of the excitement of a traffic jam and of course,Mikey.

The scariest thing about this movie is not the killer or even Mikey's wail of "He didn't steal no bike!",it's that damn "Yipe Stripes" song,which is hard to get out of my head. Then again,the MiSTies had to watch this movie several times in order to get the right riffs,so my sympathies should be more for them:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Top Chef D.C. has a secret mission meal,True Blood goes off more than one deep end and The Next Food Network Star is...

First up for the competitors on Top Chef D. C. this week was another high stakes Quickfire,giving the winner 10 grand for making a Mystery Box meal. Naturally,this wasn't going to be your typical Mystery Box assignment,as more and more ingredients arrived that had to be added to the dish in mid process.

The various food items included hominy,black garlic,squid and passion fruit,which some contenders such as Tiffany wisely chose to make a stew with. Tiffany's was considered the best of the bunch by guest judge Wylie Dufrense(good to see him here again),adding more cash to her wedding budget coffer.

For the Elimination round,the chefs chose a well known dish via knife pull and had to "disguise" it while keeping true to it's original flavor profile. The hidden agenda meals were served up at the CIA,with Leon Panetta making a dramatic departure midway through.

Ed had chicken Cordon Bleu and his twist on that dish was to wrap the roasted chicken breast in the ham and serve it with a cheese croquette and onion soubise(a bechamel sauce). While it wasn't hard for the diners to figure out what the food was,they did enjoy the taste immensely.

Kelly also made it to the winner's circle here,with her take on kung pao shrimp. She had no clue about what went into the dish but by taking a few savvy notes at the supermarket and overcoming a mishap with the rice during prep,she presented a spicy shrimp broth with tempura and peanut vegetable salad that delighted everyone.

The big winner once again was Tiffany,for her deconstructed version of a gyro. Her roast leg of lamb with smokey eggplant and pickled onions was considered very "elegant" by Eric Ripert and her prize was an all expenses paid trip to Paris,sweet! It's wonderful to see Tiffany rise to the top like this and having a honeymoon along with a nice purse to begin her married life with is extra nice.

On the other side of the savory spectrum,Angelo committed a major Top Chef no-no by using store bought puff pastry for his mini pizza version of beef Wellington. Not only was the crust terrible,the meat was too salty. Something tells me that without Kenny around as his pace car in this race,Angelo is feeling a bit rudderless right now.

No stranger to the Bottom Three,Amanda joined Angelo with her less than creative take on French onion soup. She made a simple consomme with an oxtail marmalade that was so sweet,one of the CIA folk compared it to honey-lemon cough syrup. Yuck to the tenth power,people!

Going home,finally,was Alex for his tepid take on veal Parmesan. His meat was incredibly tough and the cheese tortellini on the side truly offend Judge Tom,who said he could get better food from a street vendor-ouch!

Not sorry to see him leave,folks but I hope Amanda is next. She is beyond clueless,especially with her riffs on how great Alex was. Hey,hon-this is the guy who knew you had cartilage in your chicken galantine a couple of challenges back and chose not to tell you about it. Still think he was a nice guy?

Next week,the chefs have to run a concession stand and some fussing over how to get things done leads to a bit of fighting. Guess that old saying about too many chefs stirring the pot may be coming true there!

Congratulation are in order to Aarti as the winner of The Next Food Network Star. Kudos are also due to one of her competitors,Tom,who will also be getting a show on FN this November.

Aarti was one of my favorites from the get-go and I'm glad to see that she managed to conquer her nerves in time to take the win for this season. Her show,Aarti Paarti, is set to debut over this upcoming weekend and I'll make sure that I check it out:

There was a whole lot of story shaking going on during the latest episode of True Blood that I'm still trying to catch my breath. Now that I've gotten a second wind,let's take the biggest moments one by one,shall we?

First up is Bill taking a trip to Sookie's magic dreamland,where he runs into the mysterious Claudine. She naturally freaks outs at his sudden appearance and accuses him of taking Sookie's "light" but it's really a by-product of Bill's recent overindulging in her blood.

This leads to some lightning hand action by Claudine and demands being made by Bill for the truth about his beloved. Of course,he now knows what Sookie is and just as he starts to tell her,the scene changes to another plot line. Granted,I already know what the big secret is(thanks to the books)but the suspense is terrible and I hope it doesn't last too long:

Meanwhile,back in Bon Temps,Jason is getting way over his head with Crystal and the gang down in Hot Shot which leads to Sam taking an excuse to let out some of his recent frustrations by throwing down on Crystal's nasty piece of work dad. While Jesus and Lafayette rush Crystal and her daddy to the ER(nice to see Lafayette hook up with someone so sweet but I suspect the good times won't last for long),Franklin pops up to get some closure with Tara.

While some fans would've preferred Tara to be the one to wipe Franklin off the face of the earth,her willingness to stand up to him and face the music was all that she really needed to do. Jason's shotgun surprise was a good opportunity for redemption in the shooting of Eggs and he rose to the challenge well:

For the ultimate "I didn't see that coming" moment,hats off to Russell for his really not taking the demise of his consort Talbot well at all. From carrying around the gory remains of his lover in an ornate glass jar and talking to it while scoping out his enemies to making a rather grisly TV debut to declare war on humans and the agenda of the American Vampire League alike,Russell has truly gone by-by mentally,folks.

This is one of the reasons why allowing an adaptation of a book series to have some free reign in creative content can truly pay off. Not only is this promising to be quite the wild ride,it gives both those in the book know and the TV only fans plenty to look forward to as this season reaches the end:


DESIGN STAR: We're down to two designers,as Casey lost out during the glass room challenge(I like her work the best out of the three,actually for this one). Guess I'm rooting for Emily since Michael still annoys me,however I wish it was their design work that held my interest more than their personalities: