Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 28, 2011

The good,the bad and the just okay of Oscar Night 2011

Oscar Night has come and gone,leaving in it's wake a good number of expected award winners,memorable moments and a few amusing surprises.

Hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco did their best to entertain but their two styles didn't quite mesh together. While Hathaway was as light as a feather on stage,Franco was,for the most part,as stiff as a board.

A great hallmark in acceptance speech history was made by Melissa Leo,who took her first Oscar(upon her second nomination)as Best Supporting Actress in The Fighter. Kirk Douglas was handing out the award,being charming and funny,with Melissa's stunned delight at getting it causing her to drop the F-word on live TV.

It was quickly censored,so no one other than the folks in the Kodak Theater did actually hear what she said. However,it's not as if it was the first time anyone there had such a phrase uttered in their presence or said it themselves at one time or another.

There was a little doubt about Leo getting the award due to some backlash about her taking out a couple of promotional ads to campaign for the win. However,that turned out to be a small blip on Melissa's media radar and good for her. She's a talented actress who is finally getting her due and one little swear slip shouldn't knock the cherry off of her spotlight sundae:

Most of the big wins went to The King's Speech,which received Best Original Screenplay,Director,Picture and Actor for Colin Firth who made quite a lovely speech of his own upon claiming his prize.

It's main rival,The Social Network,managed to get three awards in mostly technical categories(the exception being Best Adapted Screenplay)fittingly enough.

I did think that David Fincher might be given Best Director but the Academy voters choose to follow the usual "who ever wins the Director's Guild,gets the Oscar too" formula. That's fine with me,since I haven't seen either movie and if given the opportunity,would rather check out The King's Speech. I'm a bit of a Brit-flick-ophile,folks,much like most of the Academy apparently.

Naturally,there is some Monday morning grumbling about how "old people just can't handle this movie" and "no respects for nerds" at various websites.Fellas,you need to keep repeating to yourselves,"It's only a movie".

Look on the bright side;at least TSN won a few awards there. Some well deserving films didn't win anything(*ahem-Winter's Bone!)and many talented movie people(*cough*Christopher Nolan*cough*)weren't even nominated,so take that into consideration:

As it was all but predicted by Nostradamus,Natalie Portman won her first and hopefully not last Best Actress award for Black Swan. She was lovely and gracious in her speech,giving out heaps of generous credit to everyone involved with the film on all levels and being emotional without going overboard.

Her performance in Black Swan was beyond amazing,one of the few times where the vast amount of accolades and honors this film has been getting have been truly worthy of it. Congrats,Nat!

With her baby soon to make his or her debut into this world,Natalie has sincerely earned herself a rest there but with any luck,we won't have to wait too long to see her sparkle on the silver screen again:

The King's Speech wasn't the only film to sweep up at an awards show this weekend. Congratulations are in order to The Last Airbender,which took the Razzies by storm with wins for Worst Film,Director,Supporting Actor,Screenplay and Mis-use of 3D,the last one being a brand new category this year.

This was quite the juggernaut,with only Sex and the City 2 ,managing to score a triple whammy for Worst Ensemble Cast/Screen Couple,Worst Actress(all of the leading ladies shared in that gem)and Worst Sequel/Prequel/Remake.

It's too bad no one from The Last Airbender showed up at the ceremony-I'm sure that the fans would have welcomed them with open arms and a few creative criticisms as well:

Back to the Oscars,all in all this wasn't too bad of a show. Granted,it wasn't the best one ever yet it could have been better. One thing that would certainly help is finding the right host next year. There's a reason that folks were thrilled to see Billy Crystal show up last night,if only for a brief segment. The Oscars are crying out for a solid showman or woman to fill these shoes,so get started on the search for our new Cinderella,please,we beg of you!:

Friday, February 25, 2011

A few giggles to whet your appetite for Oscar gold

As the 83rd annual Academy Awards hover over the pop culture horizon this weekend,a flurry of preparations are in motion from both professional folks in the film industry and dedicated movie fans alike.

Parties,predictions and fashion critiques will all be part of the fun but adding a dose of parody into the media mix is just as important.

As much as any major movie watcher adores this salute to the best of cinema,a touch of tongue in cheek with a satirical gain of salt approach can really help to keep things grounded amidst the starry eyed celeb fest being presented to us:


One of the big films this year was The Social Network,that lauded the creation of Facebook. Unfortunately,some of that early adulation flickered out over time and became old news rather quickly,much like keeping up a Friendster account.

The way the tide has turned in the Hollywood waters these days,The King's Speech is destined to outdo TSN with it's trophy tally by the end of the night. Perhaps if TSN had taken on another technology related film with a strong following and combined their talents to make one huge mega hit movie,the odds would have been more in their favor. Tron:Legacy may appear to be an unlikely candidate for this proposal but,hey,it worked on South Park,people!:


Speaking of South Park,the guys did a twisted take on Inception,one of the few blockbuster films out there that didn't insult the intelligence of it's audiences.

However,they encountered a bit of controversy for not giving credit to the folks at College Humor for riffing on their Inception mockery material. Everyone involved made amends and all agree that while Inception was exceptionally well done,those plot points could at times make as much sense as a Charlie Sheen radio show rant:


A major contender in the acting categories this Oscar season is The Fighter,with Mark Walhberg and Christian Bale heading up the best lead and supporting actor arenas while Amy Adams and Melissa Leo have to duke it out against each for the Best Supporting Actress nod.

A very serious boxing movie like this tends to have a good number of bonus features when it arrives on DVD,especially if it's based on a true story. Given the realistic tones of this piece,the only lighthearted moments such a film might have would only be found in the deleted scenes.

You might think allowing such great actors to improvise would be entertainingly revealing but it might reveal way more than you'd ever want to know about the limits of their range:


Sequels are old hat in Hollywood but the unabashed love for Toy Story 3 by adults who were literally moved to tears by this last chapter in the Woody/Buzz saga went so far as to put this movie up for Best Picture and Best Animated Film,a first for the Oscars there.

However,not everyone had a such a great time out on the summer movie circuit this past season. In this Marvel/DC mash-up,Iron Man consoles Jonah Hex the only way he can-by slipping him a spiked milkshake that lets Jonah re-imagine his feature debut in Pixar mode:

By this time on Monday,we'll be basking in the highs and lows of Oscar night lore. Some will be happily collecting their Oscar pool winnings while others grumble about Hollywood phonies and vow to never watch this show again(like the Terminator,they'll be back).

Hopefully,there will be plenty to talk about and some of it even in a good way. That includes how well our pair of co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway perform their entertainment duties. If this co-hosting trend takes off,maybe next year we can have Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot do the honors in 2012. They do know their stuff when it comes to films of a certain quality and as a bonus,Ed Asner! How could you go wrong with these two,I ask you?:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TC All-Stars have a fish fry,Worst Cook winner revealed and TAR begins it's Unfinished Business

Paula Deen was the special guest judge on Top Chef All-Stars this week and in the Quickfire challenge,she had the chefs make their best take on deep fried food. Antonia wowed Paula with a deep fried salad that included avocado,a favorite of Ms. Deen's.

Alas,Antonia forgot to make two servings which meant her dish had to be disqualified.A total bummer,considering the slight controversy over the plate that was granted the win along with five grand.

Mikey Isabella not only took that misplaced win due to Antonia's mistake but at Richard's expense as well. Seems that morning,Richard was sharing with Mikey and a couple of others some of the ideas he was working on in his chef's notebook. One of them was serving a chicken "oyster"(an in between part of the bird around the wing and breast)on an actual oyster shell.

Guess what Mikey decided to make for the QF? Yep,a chicken oyster for which he had no shame in his game about using. He even had the nerve to smirk over at Richard,who was fuming but kept himself in check. Afterward,upon hearing the real deal,most of Mikey's fellow competitors agreed that he violated "chef's law" there.

Meanwhile,Paula Deen was joined by TC Master contender John Besh for the Elimination challenge which was to cook enough fish for 300 people attending a Gulf Coast charity event.

Paula and John were the hosts of the event and since this was a big crowd,each chef had a former contender assigned to help them out. Each assistant came with a particular type of seafood native to the Gulf Coast area,making the selection that more tricky.

Antonia earned herself a bit of redemption as she chose Spike and his platter of blue crabs to work with. Her crab cake served with corn and jalapeno andouille relish in broth was light and tasty,plus good enough to land her in the Top Three.

Mikey also joined her,thanks to Season 1 Tiffany and the grit encrusted Gulf shrimp that they made. He seemed to rely on her rather heavily,which got him some props but not the win this time.

Richard worked with Fabio and took a risk by adding pulled pork to his crispy snapper with citrus grits that really paid off.

Not only did he win this round,Richard was awarded a six night stay in Barbados with an extra five grand for airfare thrown in. That's right,Mikey-in your face! Karmic debts have a very high interest rate,my friend,just keep that in mind.

On the down side,Carla and Tiffany Derry wound up in the Bottom Three due to tough dealings with their partners. Tiffany had Marcel,who didn't follow her recipe plans and Carla originally chose Tre because she thought he was familiar with Southern country cooking.

Tre let her know early on that he's a city boy,which threw Carla into a tizzy. Her grouper with collard greens and chow-chow pico was a major bust. Paula in particular was disappointed with how the greens turned out. I love Carla yet she does let her nerves get the best of her too many times here.

Packing his knives to go was Dale,who had Angelo and amperjack fish to work with. The amperjack stew they managed to prepare was undone by underdone potatoes and a heavy on the mustard crouton.

Since Dale wasn't as snarky about his fellow chefs this round and was mature about the errors of his dish,I do feel a tad sorry for him as he departs. At least Dale wouldn't stoop to swiping someone else's idea for a dish(not going to forget that any time soon,Mikey,okay?).

Next week, the remaining chefs hit the snack bar and tensions tighten up even further than before. All I can say is that I'm totally Team Antonia at this point.

The second season finale of Worst Cooks in America has come and gone,with some interestingly intense moments.

Each contender had to make a three course meal for the panel of culinary experts(Marc Murphy,Donatella Arpaia and Drew Nieporent)in order to win the cash prize and their mentors did a trial run with them but were not allowed to help during the official cooking time.

The best dish that Robert Irvine taught his recruit Georg to make was the lobster corn chowder that was her appetizer. The judges loved it,even though Chef Anne thought it was a little too old fashioned for her taste:

Speaking of Chef Anne,it was a bit touch and go for her recruit Joshie there but the dessert course gave him the extra bonus points that helped him win.

Despite the fact that his blueberry nectarine crisp came out of the oven somewhat sunken in the dish and needing a little more crumbled coating,the flavors rose to the occasion for Joshie. I was glad to see him win,mainly because I prefer Chef Anne's teaching style to Irvine's:

The best part about the win was the side bet that Irvine made with Chef Anne. If he had won,she would have had to undergo a "makeunder" by changing her hair and so-called "flashy skirts".

With Chef Anne's victory,Irvine had to keep his word and become a platinum blonde,a look that doesn't work for him at all. This series is fast becoming a favorite with me and I'm looking forward to what the next season will bring to the table as well as who:

The Amazing Race:Unfinished Business upped the stakes for it's returning contenders even higher before they received their first clue. They had to run over to a nearby field and find the right marker that named their airline for the first leg,with the first eight teams winning seats on the earliest flight.

The last team to get their clue was given a U-Turn for the first Detour in their path and that went to Amanda and Kris(who lost their race originally due to a U Turn-major irony alert!). Up for grabs on this leg was the Express Pass,which lets a team skip a difficult challenge. All the teams were sent to Australia,with such tasks as scuba diving into a live tank of fish and working out a secret message via flag code to deal with.

Surprisingly,father-daughter team Gary and Mallory snagged that advantage by coming in first to the Pit Stop(Mallory is just as perkily annoying as I remember)but they were still weren't safe as the leg was far from finished. Since they left this first episode as a cliffhanger,for some folks it'll be a choice between next Sunday's show and the beginning of the Oscars-unless you chose my option and ask someone to tape TAR for you:


THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS: Speaking of the Oscars,this arthouse honorarium event on IFC will be hosted this Saturday by The Soup's Joel McHale. That choice promises to provide some much needed liveliness to the proceedings and hopefully a funny taste that's not just in your mouth:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bad movie songs say so much...

With the Oscars close on our heels,interest in the few remaining movie related awards have been peaked especially in the Golden Raspberry Awards. However,a few people are disappointed that the Razzies didn't include a much loved category, Worst Original Song.

That dubious honor was last given out in 2002,to Britney Spears' attempt at a girl power anthem,"I'm Not a Girl,Not Yet a Woman" from her equally awful film Crossroads. Granted,listening to bad music is a difficult task but it would be fun to see the Razzies pick up this pop culture gauntlet once again. As a bit of encouragement,let's look at some of the past winners that have horrified music and film fans alike:


One of the early honorees in the 1980s was this peppy little ditty called "Pumpin' and Blowin'" from The Pirate Movie,which had Kristy McNichol singing while she worked on keeping co-star Christopher Atkins breathing in his underwater search for treasure.

Backed up by crudely drawn cartoon fish,Kristy managed to warble out this tune while keeping Atkins from drowning for the most part. Strangest part out of this whole routine is that Atkins is clad in only a diving helmet and a diaper like loincloth-I know he was a heartthrob back then but this look was truly all wet in the wrong sense of the word:


The Sly Stallone/Dolly Parton musical comedy Rhinestone was a double nominee in the Worst Song category for the Razzies in 1984 but "Drinkenstein" was the one that took the award home.

While Stallone's rendition of this ode to the evils of drink was a mercifully brief scene in the film,poor Dolly Parton had the burden of performing this song in it's entirity live on the talk show circuit to promote the movie. Even with the voice of a true singer,this song can't help but stink up the place(I bet Budwiser was less than thrilled with the product placement here):


Interestingly enough,both of the big screen Addams Family movies have been winners in this particular category. Also,both songs are rap numbers which were clearly chosen by clueless studio execs looking to "hip up" the movie's appeal to younger audiences.

Between the Addams Family Values "Addams Family Whoop!" by Tag Team and M.C. Hammer's "Addams Family Groove",I thought it best to pick Hammer for showcasing here. It's the silliest of the two,in my opinion,with Mr.Too Legit to Quit not only goofing around in a cheesy graveyard set but having the actual actors from the film to join him here,proving what good sports they were willing to be in the name of movie promotion:


Not even cartoon flicks were safe from Razzie song scorn back in the day. 1994's Thumbelina was already a family friendly flop before it won for "Marry the Mole". It was the first animated film to receive a Razzie and so far,despite a pair of nominations for Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights,Thumbelina still holds that sad cinematic distinction.

Carol Channing did the vocals for Mrs. Mouse,who uses her musical charms to persuade the tiny sized heroine of the piece to take a husband strictly based on finance rather than romance. Putting the whole inter-species hook-up question aside for the moment,this is a really cynical song for a kid's movie. Maybe if you were intent on raising a gold digger,this is the lullaby to croon:

Well,there is always next year,folks. Too bad that the Razzies decided to sit out the bad song fest this time around yet maybe they could re-introduce it with a new twist. Instead of Worst Original Song,how about Worst Version of a Hit Song on Film? Sorry,Liza,but if that were the case,you'd be cleaning up at the Golden Raspberries for sure:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some springtime reading to help you March thru April showers

While the length of this winter may make you feel like the White Witch of Narnia has set up shop in your neck of the woods,spring is assuredly on it's way.

Amongst the many new pop culture arrivals blossoming for your entertainment are a bouquet of books that should brighten up your bedside reading table quite nicely. So,without further delay,let's tiptoe through the tomes and see what's fit to slip into our baskets:


Quirk Classics' terrifyingly funny take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice rounds out their scary series with the third volume by Steven Hockensmith entitled Pride & Prejudice & Zombies:Dreadfully Ever After.

As we begin our story,Elizabeth and Darcy are no sooner off on their honeymoon when they have to fight off a horde of gate crashing unmentionables raiding their village.

During the struggle,Darcy receives a most dreadful bite from one of his undead assailants and Elizabeth must choose between giving her new husband a proper beheading or seeking out a cure that is possibly being developed in London. Nothing like an amusing Austen monster mash-up to start the season off right,now is there?(March 22)

The subtitle of Cindy Jones' debut novel,My Jane Austen Summer,is "a season at Mansfield Park",which is the book that leading lady Lily Berry decides to lose herself in.

Lily has lost her mother,boyfriend and job all within a few short months and in order to rally her spirits,has decided to take up an offer by a bookseller buddy to participate in a Mansfield Park re-enactment taking place in England.

While it's all fun and games for awhile,Lily's problems are still with her and she must learn to use Austen as a way of solving them rather avoiding reality altogether.

Since Mansfield Park is the one Austen novel that deals with the perils of taking playacting too far beyond the stage,this book sounds most intriguing. If there was a live action version of MP being planned,hopefully there wouldn't as much argument over who would be cast as whom as there was for Lover's Vows(late March,early April):


In Carrie Vaughn's new novel,After The Golden Age, Celia West is not a superhero,merely the daughter of two of Commerce City's best known ones.

As an adult living on her own,she's grown used to the occasional kidnappings by archenemy types and simply wants to stay as far out of the crime fighting spotlight as possible. However,her accountant's job is not a safe haven as her bosses call her in to get the tax cheating goods on The Destructor,a major super villian,to add to the prosecution's case.

Unfortunately,Celia winds up revealing some of her troubled past and a few family secrets that threaten to widen the gap between her and her parents even more. Ultimately,it is up to Celia to find a way to save the day with her own special set of skills. Nice to see a superhero themed story with some solid female friendly plot points and a sweet tribute to the Golden Age of comics as well(April 12):

Ayla, our favorite prehistoric heroine, returns to the printed page for another adventure in Land of the Painted Caves. As she and Jondalar are settling into their home amongst the Zelandonii clan with their daughter, life has it's good and bad points.

As part of her apprenticeship to become a medicine woman for the tribe,Ayla must spend some time apart from her loved ones,which causes her to risk her health and gives a few of her enemies the chance to undermine all of the wonderful notions that she wishes to share with her new found people.

It's been some time since author Jean Auel was out upon the literary scene and what a sight for story telling eyes she is. No doubt this latest chapter of the Earth's Children saga is worth the wait for fans the world over(March):


Gayle Tzemach Lemmon,once an ABC News reporter,tells the remarkable tale of how Kamila Sidiqi,a young woman whose whole world was uprooted by the Taliban taking over her village in Afghanistan,managed to create a thriving business in the area despite the harsh restrictions put in place on women in the region.

With the men of her family fleeing for their lives,it was up to Kamila to take care of those left behind. Using her sewing talents and true determination,she created work for about 100 women in her neighborhood that helped all of them more than just financially. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana couldn't come along at a more timely moment in international affairs,so it seems.

Given the turmoil in the Middle East these days,seeing such a positive sign of hope for the women caught in the midst of these struggles is as rewarding as finding a pearl within a pile of pin needles(March):


Starting off our mystery round is the latest Chelsea Cain entry in her sweetheart serial killer series,The Night Season. Even with charismatic Beauty Killer Gretchen Lowell back behind bars,there is no rest for weary Portland detective Archie Sheridan.

As massive flooding hits the city,evidence of another serial killer at works emerges with an investigation of an older flood victim by eager crime beat reporter Susan Ward possibly connecting the two cases together.

Even with Gretchen cooling her heels,there is plenty of trouble for Archie and Susan to handle on their own which makes this book a good place for new readers to start(March).

On a lighter lit note,Jasper Fforde takes us on a new tour through a rather renovated Book World as One of Our Thursdays is Missing. With the "real world" Thursday Next disappearing from the ranks of Jurisfiction,her fictional counterpart is recruited to take her place.

The fictional Thursday's first assignment is to travel into the newer countries of Book World to settle a dispute between the realm of the Racy Novel and land of Women's Fiction before an all-out war breaks out. If this sounds like a bizarre blend of whimsy and literary satire whipped up with a dash of old fashioned mystery,by Jove you've got it,folks(March).

For a touch of noir,this debut novel by Manuel Munoz is your world premiere ticket. What You See In The Dark is set in Bakersfield,CA,1959 as a startling new thriller is being filmed starring a famous Actress and renowned director.

The frightening plot of the movie has it's reflections in the lives of small town secret lovers Theresa and Dan,whose romance ends just as tragically as the victims of the Hollywood feature being made around them.

Yes,the movie in question is Psycho but this book does more than just play off that Hitchcock riff. It uses that classic film as the background atmosphere for an original tale of love gone wrong and the consequences that linger on for the survivors long afterward. A nifty twist to what could be easily expected-watch for it at a bookseller near you(March):


Irish author Roisin Meaney makes her American debut with Semi-Sweet(originally published under the title Love in the Making overseas),which chronicles a young woman's bakery business in it's first few months.

Hannah Robinson already has a batch of doubts about opening up her cupcake shop when her boyfriend Patrick chooses to leave her. On the verge of giving up before she even starts,Adam,her best friend,insists that she at least stick it out until his birthday seven months away. If things are not doing well by then,he'll be glad to support her decision to shut the doors for good.

Soon enough,Hannah finds a great deal to distract her from brooding about Patrick and the new love of his life but will she take a moment to discover a fresh baked romance of her own? This tasty treat of a novel should whet your appetite for sweet story telling as well as cupcakes(April):

I hope that there is something for just about everyone to delight in here as well start making those serious spring reading lists up. Warm weather can be alluring for outdoor activities but that doesn't mean you should neglect your books. Get aggressive with your reading time,folks, and allow no interruptions!:

Monday, February 21, 2011

A look at madwomen on the verge of a Black Swan breakdown

Just in time for Oscar night, I watched Black Swan which strengthened my resolve that Natalie Portman will win Best Actress this year. Her subtly strange portrait of Nina Sayers,an ambitious yet timid ballerina, was emotionally memorizing.

From the need to please passion she had towards her manipulative mentor to her mother's craven control methods to rivalries both real and imagined amongst her peers,Nina dwells in a hell partly of her own making that only the goal of "perfection" is seen as her ticket to paradise.

While tortured artists are nothing new on the pop culture landscape,this film has an extra layer of depth iced on top with the mental deterioration of it's leading lady. The term "madwoman" may not be P.C. these days but it does fit the bill for describing this sub genre of female focused cinema and literature as well. Nina's dark dance of self destruction follows in the footsteps of many other fictional women lost in the maze of their own mind:

For the most parts, women suffering from mental illness in film,book or TV tend to be either victims or monsters-sort of an off play of the classic whore/Madonna complex.

Some of the sympathy for these ladies can be traced to such old school film fare as 1948's The Snake Pit or The Three Faces of Eve(which appeared nearly ten years later) and later to more modern movies which often prefer to use real life stories as source material like Girl,Interrupted.

One of the more recent depictions of a woman haunted by insanity combined both fiction and reality to create another Oscar winning role for a talented actress. Based on the Michael Cunningham novel,The Hours had at it's center spoke the tormented authoress Virginia Woolf(played by Nicole Kidman)whose best known work Mrs. Dalloway is the lynch pin for the rest of the characters to cling to as they seek shelter from the storms in their hearts.

Empathy for Woolf's struggle is keenly felt yet there is an element of "this is the price to be paid for art" swirling around her both on page and screen:

On the other side of the sanity challenged sister coin is the madwoman as destroyer of domestic harmony in all of it's forms.

Whether it's a case of "out to steal your man"(Obsession),"I'm the better mother"(The Hand That Rocks the Cradle)or "crazy bitch stole my life!"(The Roommate),the true target of these deadly divas and their campaigns of terror are other women.

The gruesome grandmother of the modern monster woman is Alex Forrest from the unexpected pop culture sensation Fatal Attraction in 1987. The phrase "bunny boiler" became one of the code terms for an obsessive woman and sparked off a series of male fear fantasies about hooking up for some thrill seeking sex only to be trapped by a fiercely determined female hellbent on keeping him in her clutches.

That misogynistic nightmare was further compounded by having both the wife and child(a daughter,by the way)being made hostages in this brutal bloodsport along with the revised ending that had the evil big city interloper being vanquished by the suburban couple under siege.

The original finale had Alex killing herself in a way that put the blame on her married lawyer lover,something that didn't sit well with test audiences. Better to properly slay the dragon lady rather than let the sullied prince suffer any more for his sins:

These two polar opposite views of madwomen have been going on for a long time with both men and women debating their relevancy in art then and now. However,another school of thought has emerged that says many of our legendary mentally distressed damsels are symbols of rebellion and emotional repression.

The most notorious of these troubled ladies in literature is Bertha Mason,the hidden in the attic first wife from Jane Eyre. More than just a nasty little secret,many see Bertha as an extension of Jane's own conflicts about conforming to the restrictive norms placed upon women in Victorian society.

When you think about it, there are plenty of examples of this internalized resistance to social expectations that women are pushed to fit into such as the locked room heroine of The Yellow Wallpaper or Lily Bart's slow side down the social ladder in The House of Mirth and even the likes of Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium series. Perhaps broadening our view of madwomen is the true cure for these sickly stereotypes:

Mind you,that doesn't mean I think we should throw all of these archetypal babes out with the bathwater. Like any persistent theme,there is an element of truth to these standard molds of madwomen but upgrading their interpretations in pop culture is the best way to offset their worst qualities.

For one thing, women are rarely shown to be empowered by a break with reality. Many a time,men are granted life changing emotional breakthroughs,for good or ill,by losing their minds while women use it as an emotional escape hatch that can swallow them up whole.

True,movies like Fight Club from the 1990s or 1972's The Ruling Class are dark social satires but it's hard to find a movie that heralds a leading lady for her dementia. While this is not behavior that we want to encourage from any person,regardless of gender, having a strong woman control her mental condition for similar purposes would be a welcome break from the norm.

One of the goals of art is to shake things up and if we want to see a real change in how madwomen are showcased,quite a few pop culture eggs need to be broken:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's try Super Powered Teens for 800,Alex!

Making it's multiplex debut this weekend is I Am Number Four,another Michael Bay produced attempt at starting a financially successful movie series. Alex Pettyfer stars as the numerical lead in question,one of nine refugee space aliens who are hiding out on Earth until their mysterious powers fully develop.

As is the way of these things,our hero is beset with challenges both emotional(falling in love with a local girl)and physical(being the next in line for assassination by agents of the evil overlords who conquered their home world).

The reviews for this film are so far on the negative side but that probably won't affect it's box office take by much. This is a holiday weekend,after all,and any excuse to get out of the house is great for the target audience here. I also suspect that many adults will want to check this out as well,since the teenagers with super powers genre is suitable for just about all ages:

Around this same time last year,a similar teen fantasy movie was released and did reasonably well on it's initial outing. Percy Jackson & The Olympians:The Lightning Thief has much in common with I am Number Four;both are based on a tailored to teens book series and have young male leads who are forced in battle due to their biological connections.

Granted,Percy Jackson deals with Greek Gods and various spot the celebrity cast members such as Uma Thurman playing Medusa and Sean Bean as Zeus,which hampered the movie somewhat. It's real drawback,however,was the overlong title.

The Harry Potter series manages to pull those mouthfuls off but it takes a touch of brevity to really make it work. Not that a snappier title would have it a better movie but every little thing counts when trying to launch a new film franchise:

Another component to the super powered teen flick is balancing the whimsy element within the plot and dialogue. Taking a not so serious approach to well known genre fare can be a welcome sigh of relief and add to the fun but like any other special ingredient,too much can completely overwhelm the final product.

While Disney's Sky High does have it's amusing moments like Lynda"Wonder Woman" Carter as the principal of the super hero high school or the whole first day screening of potential heroes and sidekicks,the movie feels too much like a pilot for a family friendly cable TV series.

Nothing wrong with that,mind you,but releasing this flick as a big screen production was like casting a sweetly small fish into an ocean of cinematic high expectations:

It would also be great if more of the these films had females at the forefront. True,the Hollywood version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't as smart or movingly metaphorical as it's later TV show adaptation turned out to be yet it did set the stage for younger women warriors to strut their stuff.

Hopefully,the dreaded upcoming reboot of Buffy will base their new tale of the Slayers more in line with the small screen edition rather than the charming but goofy original film. As it was with the first Buffy movie,Joss Whedon has little say in the matter.

If it was up to the fans,they'd prefer to stick with this early attempt than deal with a truly clueless rendering of their favorite heroine but the only thing that seems to drive away movie producers from pointless remakes is low returns at the box office. So,if worse comes to worse,at least we may have only one other big budget Buffy bomb to contend with:

Will this genre ever be more than simple popcorn movie fare? Everyone points to the Harry Potter series as the high water mark and while such standards are worth shooting for,some pop culture delights are hard to replicate on command.

The main reason that Harry Potter is so exceptional is it's uniqueness. Blending traditional story telling tropes with original concepts and characters is harder than it looks,a message that Hollywood doesn't seem to understand.

Nevertheless,there is still hope even in these weary genre waters. Judging a movie by it's trailer is about as savvy as doing so for a book and it's cover yet this teaser for X-Men: First Class does have a sparkle of freshness and energy that makes it a strong possibility for a decent superhero movie this summer.

Prequels tend to not be as good as sequels as a rule but the gang at Marvel are old hands at making everything old new again. With any luck, the super powered teen films of the future will strive to be Stan Lees instead of Michael Bays-it only takes one to lead the way:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TC All-Stars try to stay on Target;Worst Cooks share some sweetness and Idol's group sing gimmick

Top Chef All-Stars had a set of very special guest judges for the Quickfire challenge this week,namely three of the Muppet stars from Sesame Street. Telly,Elmo and Cookie Monster requested a batch of,what else,cookies with Elmo asking for zucchini or carrots to be added.

While a few of the chefs endeavored to please Elmo,most went along with Cookie Monster's desire for chocolate chip based(I'm with CM on this one)treats. The extra sweetness to this round was a cash prize of $5000,that Dale won rather unexpectedly.

He appeared to be the least inclined to make such basic goodies but his potato chip & pretzel shortbread cookies frosted with a salted caramel chocolate ganache turned out to be a real hit with the monster crowd.

The Elimination challenge took everyone to a Target store,where they had to make a meal for 100 employees using only what was on the shelves and in stock(they weren't even allowed to bring their own knives).

The chefs had from midnight to three in the a.m. to make their food and set up service stations. Once again,a cash prize was offered,this time being twenty five grand. Quite the incentive there,wouldn't you say?

A lot of people decided to play it safe and made soups,but not Antonia. She choose the bold route with Parmesan eggs on garlic crostini and an apple almond salad on the side. Eggs are tricky to cook under normal circumstances,so pulling this dish off as well as she did was impressive.

Next to her in the winner's circle was Richard,for his pork tenderloin with green chillies and apples,plus braised pork ribs and corn pancakes.

While the plate may have looked "butt ugly",even Anthony Bourdain agreed that it tasted delicious.

However,it was back-to-back victory night for Dale,earning him a total of thirty grand or, as he put it,"rent for a year."

His rib eye grilled cheese sandwiches were cooked with an actual iron,inspired by his college days,and the spicy tomato soup that went with it was an out and out delight.

I wouldn't mind Dale winning this round so much if he didn't constantly snark about his fellow contenders behind their back in the video asides. Bourdain truly hit the nail on the head when he slyly complimented Dale for his combination of "goofy and devious." I was really hoping that Antonia would win this one;she's proven herself to be quite the culinary contender here.

Onward to the Bottom Three,where Carla's curry apple soup lead the way to dining disaster. She got extremely frazzled while scouting the Target aisles(they can be a bit daunting,in my opinion,even when you're not tired)and started cooking about a half hour behind everyone else.

Her curry was crying out for some sort of protein to boost it but since she wasted so much time in gathering her items,Carla just went with what she had. Not one of her better choices,alas.

Tiffany joined her,thanks to a less than stellar jambalaya. The chicken,sausage and shrimp in it were cooked well enough but she had a heavy hand when it came to stirring in some dried spices,the kind that her mom liked to use.

Those artificial spices muted the natural flavors of the dish and dragged it down to a level of mealtime mediocrity.

When all was said and done,it was Angelo's time to go home. His baked potato soup wasn't too bad of an idea but in a moment of doubt,he added too much salt and bacon which totally botched the whole dish.

Angelo pleaded "palate fatigue" when asked by the judges if he realized the salty mess his soup was in. That didn't fly with anyone on the panel. Hey,at least he got a second shot at the brass ring,something that many TC contenders can't claim there.

Next week, Paula Deen stops by and so does a few of the former TCAS competitors to lend a hand to the remaining chefs-or will they do more harm than good? Talk about your sizzling suspense,folks!

On Worst Cooks In America,each chef had two recruits left to choose from to represent them in the finale. For their last Main Dish challenge,each recruit had to cook a special meal for the judges and the person who nominated them for the show.

Both chefs had their crew learn how to make a dessert that required flambeing. Chef Anne taught her fellas,Joshie and Carlos,crepes with chocolate chip mascarpone filling and a flambe cherry sauce.

Each guy did well but Chef Anne went with Joshie over Carlos,mainly due to Carlos' plate being under seasoned. Joshie is a tad high strung so the odds of him flaking out are strong but you never know,folks:

Robert Irvine showed his gals Georg and Kelsey how to whip up a vanilla brioche bread pudding with peach sauce. While both ladies managed to pull their big dinners off,Georg was the one chosen to go to the finale.

Too bad for Kelsey but on the bright side,her husband doesn't have to worry about getting food poisoning for supper again.

The big finale will have the last two standing make a three course meal for a panel of experienced restaurant folk in order to win the big prize. Hard to say who will do their mentor proud the best,but this should be a lively battle of culinary wits worth watching:

American Idol is the midst of the Hollywood rounds,with the group sing challenge being the major gauntlet thrown down last night. As usual,there was plenty of drama-people either not finding a group to join or being kicked out at the last minute,former lovers doing a little infighting and panic attacks galore.

One of the girl groups dared to ask Steven Tyler to come on stage with them as they serenaded him with "Some Kind of Wonderful." Naturally,this season's resident horndog couldn't resist such open adoration and while the ladies won a few bonus points for bravado,only one was sent through to the next round.

Fortunately for her,the other girls took their loss well and promised to root for their friend. Nice to see a bit of harmonious support amongst the competitive craziness:


THE AMAZING RACE-UNFINISHED BUSINESS: A fresh new season of TAR begins this Sunday with the return of many fan favorite teams that almost made it to the finish line to try their luck again.

There's a lot of people to root for but my ultimate faves are Jet and Cord(Team Cowboy),Flight Time and Big Easy(Team Globetrotters)and Kent and Vyxsin(Team Goth). With any luck,they'll all be in the Final Three-here's hoping!: