Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oscar nominee parodies a-go-go

Oscar fever is well underway,with one slight hitch. The Golden Raspberry awards(aka The Razzies)have decided to move back their nominations and their awards ceremony,which usually tagged along side the rest of the regular film award crowd.

They'll announce their nominees on February 25 and give out the prizes on April 1. While it is fitting that the Razzies be handed out on April Fool's Day,the risk of being late with the punchline is one that is taken with this move.

Then again,movie parodies can be fun just about any time if done right. Let's look over a few mock versions of this year's Oscar contenders and see if any of them are potential Razzie contenders:

A major player for this Oscar season is Moneyball,the insider baseball flick with six nominations under it's belt. Movie critics and sports fans alike adore this based on a true story depiction of how the manager of the Oakland As teamed up with a statistical analyst to recruit less expensive but more reliable athletes that would lead them to victory.

The folks at SNL,however,decided to go down a rather realistic path in showcasing their version of the film. To be fair,this mock Moneyball is somewhat backed up by several memoirs and a few Congressional hearings:

Meryl Streep's performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady has gotten more than it's standard share of Oscar buzz,causing people to wonder if she'll be the one to take the gold home this time out.

However,would those same folks be cheering if another iconic diva of stage and screen were the headlining heroine of this film? A very intriguing notion to consider,hey,moi?:

Another front runner in this race, War Horse is a real throwback to the golden hued yesteryear of Hollywood,right down to the old school look and sound of it.

Part of this movie's appeal is in the promotional package it comes in and getting every detail perfectly in tune with the tone of the piece was vital. Especially when it came to the narrator of the trailer,who needed to enunciate each word correctly:

Serious cinema lovers waited quite a while for directer Terrace Malick's latest epic,The Tree of Life,which helped to make it an arthouse darling. The movie did rack up a good number of film festival prizes as well as accolades but it didn't resonate with regular movie-goers in the same way.

The quality of all involved in this film is not in doubt but as the trailer indicates,many saw this story as a confusing mix of metaphysical musings and a Midwestern family drama that doesn't settle as well as popcorn butter topping does during the course of an afternoon matinee:

Before Oscar night,we'll have many more parodies to choose from,I am sure.Having a sense of humor about something you love keeps you on balance and makes you appreciate that format much more,in my opinion.

Meanwhile,if Billy Crystal is feeling overwhelmed by the large number of nominated films to sing about,he might want to sign this little guy up(as a warm-up act,at the very least):

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thrity Umrigar makes you appreciate The World We Found

It's been too many years since Armaiti has seen her three best girlfriends,Kavita,Laleh and Nishta,when the four of them were student activists during their college days in Bombay of the late 1970s. After her move to the U.S.,loosing touch with the girls became all too easy.

Getting the old gang back together is an idea that all of them placed on the back burner,particularly since their old revolutionary spirit has died down since then. Armaiti decides to reunite them but insists that,instead of her returning to India, the three of them visit her in America.

This request is mainly due to her health;Armaiti is slowly dying from an inoperable brain tumor and wants to have one last wonderful time with her old companions. Despite their drifting apart from one another,her friends are eager to share what time they can with Armaiti as soon as they can:

However,the girls have more to deal with than sorrow over the impending loss of their dearest friend and joy over seeing her again. Kavita's love for Armaiti is more than platonic and this situation causes her to consider being more open about her true romantic nature.

Nishta is trapped in an oppressive marriage with her college sweetheart,a man who deals with the prejudice that his religion receives from society by embracing the most extreme elements of it. Her life is so closely monitored that even thinking about seeing Armaiti seems like an impossible dream.

Laleh also married her college boyfriend,Adish,but their union is a far happier one even with the regrets about giving up on their former ideals and settling into a contented middle class life. As memories both good and bad surface for each of them,their reconnection becomes vital and plans of action must be made for this one last chance to be together:

Thrity Umigar's fourth novel,The World We Found, is a rich,engaging portrait of former friendships and former times that are defined by where these experiences took everyone involved for better or for worse.

The story sounds dreadfully sad at first,but as you get deeper into the minds and hearts of the characters,you can taste the sweet along with the bitter. One of the best components of the book is that all of the players are well fleshed,including the men. Even Nishta's controlling husband is given some space to showcase his point of view,which doesn't justify his behavior yet allows you to understand why he does what he does.

One of the strongest relationships amongst this cast is between Laleh and Adish,a couple who are each other's true yin and yang. Each of them are solid characters on their own but together,the two of them nicely display a realistic love that allows forgiveness for well intended errors as well as constant devotion:

The World We Found is a thoughtful look at how the more things can change,the basics can still remain the same. This novel should be high on the list of must reads for book clubs everywhere and is now available at a bookseller near you.

Even if you've never one of Umigar's novels before(this is my first time reading her work)and feel a little daunted by something that looks so serious, fret not. Her pace on the page is well measured but not rushed or too leisurely,not to mention that her themes of friendship and love,particularly female bonding, are universal,regardless of time,place and tradition:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Downton Abbey is not the only realm where Dowager Dames rule

Out of the many characters ,both upper and working class,that are featured on Downton Abbey,the one that everyone relishes hearing from the most is Violet,the Dowager Countess.

As played by the enchanting Maggie Smith,this grand dame is a formidable yet off putting charming woman in her own way. Her opinions on the right way to proceed in any circumstance are not always agreeable nor are her attitudes regarding new people,places and things rather open minded.

However,you wouldn't dream of shutting her up. Either from respect,fear or amusement at whatever is bound to be delivered from her vast mental resources,any quip from Dowager Countess Violet is to be treasured:

The term "dowager" simply means a widow of considerable financial means but it also implies a strong influence amongst those in her vicinity when it comes to the manners and morays of the day.

Dowagers have held their own within pop culture circles throughout the years and with the current craze for Downton Abbey types,this is a fine time to showcase some of the most memorable of these venerable ladies.

Jane Austen created a truly iconic dowager in Pride & Prejudice, when she introduced the Lady Catherine De Burgh. Darcy's determined to have her share of the conversation aunt has many admirers for her take no prisoners approach to life.

Whether she's passing judgment on the musical talents of her guests or shocked at opinions given by decidedly young people,Lady Catherine is quite the original. A good score of talented actresses have portrayed her on film and my personal favorite is Barbara Leigh-Hunt's version in the 1995 miniseries, a real gem of a performance:

In the novel and film adaptation of Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm,many of the traditional melodramatic types from English literature of the 19th century were set up for satire and no mercy was given towards Aunt Ada Doom,the demented matriarch of the Starkadder clan.

Her reclusive nature and constant rants about seeing "something nasty in the woodshed" as a child allowed her to dominate the entire household and be as catered to as a queen.

Her rule slowly came to an end with the equally determined influence of great niece Flora Poste,who managed to bring all of the Starkadders out into the wider world. Even Aunt Ada became a better person from such forcefully gentle nurturing and dropped that whole woodshed business once and for all:

England is not the sole source of dowagers;plenty can be found on our shores as well. The most beloved of The Golden Girls was Dorothy's mother,Sophia Petrillo,a woman whose finances couldn't always be verified but her sharp tongue was a real asset.

While her dubious wisdom was regularly petitioned for,Sophia was capable of enjoying life just as much as her daughter and roommates did. When called to action,however,she was the best defense against an increasingly challenging world:

Even through visits from Nana Mary on Roseanne weren't as frequent as everyone would have liked,any episode with her was one to watch. Nana Mary was a favorite amongst every member of the Connor family,despite the occasionally embarrassing comments that came along with her.

It's hard not to like Nana Mary,who is a free spirit yet set in her ways. She may be a sweetheart but not when it comes to sharing her potato salad recipe. After a few minutes with her,you can clearly see where the sense of humor in that bloodline came from:

Dowagers can come in all sizes,shapes and incomes,yet one trait is truly necessary.
Her presence on any scene should be able to discomfort someone. If the mere thought of her imminent arrival doesn't set off alarm bells with at least one person,then she's not doing her job.

You wouldn't want to do without her for that reason as well. Having such a delighting demanding diva on hand makes any pop culture occasion a really regal treat:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top Chef TX 's chicken sandwich showdown,TAR's new teams and a Downton Abbey duet

Before the next round of Top Chef Texas began,the remaining competitors were visited in the break room by Charlize Theron,who wanted to thank them personally for the wonderful food made for her evil queen feast.

Charlize confessed that she's a total TC geek and was thrilled to be part of the show,as well as get to talk to the chefs. They were wowed by that and so was I.

The next day,Cat Cora(who will be hosting a cooking competition show on Bravo called Around the World in 80 plates) joined Padma for the Quickfire challenge. There were three teams of two and all of them had forty minutes to de-vein two pounds of shrimp,shuck a crate of corn and make pasta noodle. With the remaining time,they had to cook a dish featuring those three ingredients.

Grayson and Chris were the last team to start cooking but their plate of fettuccine with roasted corn and shrimp won this challenge. Immunity was not on the table but they got to split ten grand,which was pretty sweet.

Paul and Edward might have beat them if Paul had gotten the shrimp on the plates before time ran out. Fortunately,Ed wasn't mad at him for that since they had to go up against each for the Elimination Challenge.

Each team had to make head-to-head dishes that would be served at a food drive/block party for at least two hundred people. Once they decided on their main course and sides,Padma then tasked them to make a light version(since this challenge was being sponsored by Healthy Choice).

The Top Three for this Elimination round were chosen by the diners,which I think the judges were less than thrilled about in some regards. Grayson and Chris went with a chicken salad sandwich and hers was deemed better,partly due to the fact that she made her sandwiches to order.

Grayson also used olive oil mayo(a low amount)and wheat buns,plus a watermelon salad with arugula,pumpkin seeds and feta. The judges thought it was just okay and in particular,Judge Tom told Grayson that she needed to be more ambitious than that.

She defended herself handily,pointing out that her other competitors went with meatballs and barbecue,not the most daring culinary choices out there. I'm with Grayson on this;after all,this was a block party and most folks would expect a nice sandwich at such a venue. At least Judge Tom accepted her counterpoint with good grace:

Speaking of good grace,Ed and Paul both went with Asian barbecue yet it was Paul who was declared the winner by the diners and the judges. He used turkey for his kalbi,served on lettuce and made an eggplant white peach kimchi for his side.

He won fifteen grand,which increasing his cash winnings on this show seriously. It's a good thing that Paul is such a nice guy and not a braggart at all. The jokes made about him raking in the dough from his fellow chefs seemed to be kindly meant,a positive thing to see on a competition like this.

The big problem with Ed's barbecue(other than the meat being too chewy)was that he automatically assumed that Asian style was healthy by default. His kalbi had beef short ribs on homemade bread and a kimchi chipotle puree with pickled cucumber.

Making his own bread earned him a bonus point with the judges but Ed's insistence that he did so as a healthier alternative to rice didn't fly. Dude,they're both starches,that's like switching bacon for ham.

Despite going down the healthy road,Chris had to pack his knives and head off to Last Chance Kitchen(where Beverly has finally broken Nyesha's winning streak). He made the crucial error of preparing his sandwiches ahead of time,causing them to dry out.

While he did make a tofu mayo the judges liked,the watermelon salad that Chris served had pineapple ice that didn't melt well enough. He did try to toss Grayson under the bus by saying that she didn't select ingredients as healthy as his for her chicken salad but fresh made sandwiches are preferable to dried out ones,sorry!

Next week,Pee Wee Herman stops by and yes,everyone is going to the Alamo! The catch is that they have to go by bike,which makes the proceedings that much more interesting,to say the least:

Quite a few changes on Downton Abbey,as Isobel stormed off to France upon being bucked by Lady Cora over who was in charge of the convalescent patients residing in the house and Ethel was given instant notice by Mrs. Hughes,upon being discovered with one of the officers in a truly compromising position.*sigh* I knew this would happen and yet,hope that she isn't totally abandoned here.

The main romantic focus of this particular episode,however,was Mary and Matthew. Everyone is still wanting those two crazy kids to get together but,for the time being,they remain apart in more ways than one.

As Mary is determined to let Matthew go and find happiness elsewhere,reports of him and William being missing in action caused her heart to still beat wildly for him. Even Edith was considerate of her sister for once and gave Mary a heads-up on the situation,which her father wanted to conceal from her as long as possible.

As overwrought as this love story is,you couldn't help getting a little choked up as Matthew made a well timed reappearance at the concert Mary was singing at and joined her for a duet:

That relief will be rather a short one,as next Sunday's episode puts Matthew and William back in the trenches and things may not turn out quite as well. Daisy's doubts about her love for William seemed to mellow when he was unaccounted for,so I hope that he isn't sacrificed to save Matthew. One heartache shouldn't outrank the other:

A new season of The Amazing Race is set to begin on February 19 and the list of teams has been announced. Amongst the contenders this time are a married couple in the Army,two female Federal agents,a pair of former Big Brother contestants and a couple of clowns.

No joke,one of the husband and wife teams are professional clowns,the kind who work for Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey circus. Right off the bat,I love these two and rooting for them to laugh all the way to the finish line before hitting the bank:


LUCK: HBO is about to air another dramatic series involving gambling,only this time it's set in modern times. Dustin Hoffman stars as a horse racing enthusiast just out of prison who is looking to get back in the game. With stellar back up support from the likes of Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina,this could be a real wild ride:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why are 2 Broke Girls being held to a different standard that The Big Bang Theory boys?

There have been several articles recently about a press tour panel for 2 Broke Girls that went extremely awry. While the show has become a hit for CBS,it's also the target of strong criticism regarding it's content.

The show's creator,Michael Patrick King,and the leading ladies of this new sitcom(Kat Demmings and Beth Behr)were given a stream of accusing questions from the audience of reporters and critics about the racial and sexual humor on the show.

Things turned ugly,with heated remarks being exchanged by MPK and a few of the reporters. Some of those comments went on a personal level,which wasn't cool for either party to engage in.

What appears to be the main bones of contention between the 2BG crew and the critics was the supporting characters on the series who are mostly defined by stereotypes(the socially awkward Han and Oleg's constant sexual overtures)and that too many risque references are slipped into the dialogue on a regular basis.

Also,many people wish that the diner portions of the show were reduced and more focus placed on the growing relationship between the two leads,Max and Caroline. While some of this criticism may be valid,it might have gone over better had the folks presenting their opinions had used a little more tact and a touch less aggression. More flies with honey,as they say:

As a fan of 2BG,I do agree that not every joke,whether it's about sex,ethnicity or social status,hits the mark and it would be nice to see more character development amongst the rest of the cast. However,this is season one and as with other television series,it does take time for the kinks to be worked out.

What puzzles me,through,is the level of outrage. For example,I've been watching The Big Bang Theory in syndication and noticed that they get away with a lot of the same behavior that 2 Broke Girls are being put on the spot for. There are stereotypical characters(socially awkward Raj and Howard's persistence in hitting on every attractive female he sees)and humor that pushes those boundaries quite a bit:

There's also plenty of off color sexual humor and granted,2BG is more openly raunchy in that department,both shows are still going beyond the wink and nudge approach here. Why is there no problem with a subplot on TBBT where Howard used a robot arm as a sex aid and had to be taken to the hospital but people freak out when Max insists that Caroline has bought herself a "vagina bed"?

Why is it upsetting when Max makes a double entendre about "rear deliveries" and okay for Sheldon to use the term coitus frequently? This isn't a slam against The Big Bang Theory(which I like) but I'm starting to wonder if the critics would be as sensitive to these troublesome elements on 2BG if the title was instead 2 Broke Boys:

After all,both shows are on the same network and I'm reasonably sure that many of the other comedies on CBS such as How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men skirt similar issues. Crude jokes,on the whole,seem to be more acceptable on TV and film when they're coming from men than women. It's also a matter of taste yet what's gross for the goose should be gross for the gander as well.

I just find it a little bit disturbing that a sitcom that features a pair of independent females who are more interested in creating a better life for themselves than finding the perfect man(although romance is not out of the question)is getting hassled for the same material that just about every other friendship based sitcom starring guys gets away with.

Also wondering if some of this nitpicking has to do with class;maybe some people have no trouble with this type of humor when it comes from upper middle class males than working class women:

Eventually,this tempest in a TV teapot will blow over and if folks are willing to give 2 Broke Girls another season or two,some of these problems may solve themselves over time. Listening to suggestions on improving the show would be in the best interest of all concerned but that doesn't mean 2BG should take any crap off anybody either. If you want a bitch pass from these girls,you're looking at the wrong menu:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Plenty of shock and awesome on parade at the 2012 Oscar nominations

Bright and early this morning,the nominations for this year's Oscar race were announced with the usual amount of fanfare and there were a good number of surprises to be found on the list,both good and bad.

Some were surprised to not see certain names up for contention such as Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor for J. Edgar and Trent Reznor for the score to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo(The Artist is nominated in that category,which will irk Kim Novak even more,I'm sure).

Others were amazed at seeing certain films like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Tree of Life receive as much love as they did from the Academy,considering the lack of major attention from most of the major movie related award shows this season. Since both of those films are big league critical darlings(Tree of Life more so than EL&IC),it's not that startling to see them here.

Let's take a tour of some of the highs and lows of the Academy Award competition laid out for us and map out our routes towards rooting for the truly best to win:


It was to be expected that the children's fantasy film Hugo would get some noms but no one anticpated that it would lead the pack with 11 nominations,including Best Picture and Best Director.

Granted,Martin Scorsese did win a Golden Globe for his directorial work here,making not only his first film for children but his first 3D one as well. As far as I know,a 3D movie has never been given this type of honor before and it could very well set a precedent,mark my words.

Hugo is normally the type of film that does well in the technical categories(where a strong portion of it's nominations lie)but rarely acknowledged in the major league sections of the show. Given that a key plot point is the revival of cinematic passion in innovative filmmaker George Melies,Hugo can be rightly seen as the little brother of The Artist(which racked up a respectable ten nominations),so perhaps this should have been expected all along:


Many movies still playing in theaters get a nice boost at the box office if they become major Oscar nominees and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo truly needs that shot in the arm. It earned five noms,including a juicy Best Actress spot for Rooney Mara as the current incarnation of iconic heroine Lisbeth Salander.

Given the lackluster reception from audiences and doubts about follow-ups being filmed,this was the golden gift basket left on this film's doorstep. While Mara's chances of beating out Meryl Streep and Viola Davis are slim to none,having this role become her first Oscar nomination is not a bad way to go next level with her career:


A very pleasant surprise during the Oscar nominations was hearing Melissa McCarthy announced as one of the Best Supporting Actress contenders,due to her breakout role as the brash Megan in Bridesmaids.

Folks were keeping their fingers crossed for her but the odds weren't in McCarthy's favor,since comedies(especially raunchy ones)tend to get short shift from the Academy. Bridesmaids also landed a spot in the Best Original Screenplay category,giving co-star Kristen Wiig a sweet escape from the curse of SNL stars stuck in bad movie hell.

I'm somewhat torn about Melissa McCarthy's nomination,since I am a big fan of her work but on the other hand,rooting very much for Octavia Spencer to take the gold home here for her excellent performance in The Help(with Melissa and Octavia happening to be good friends,no doubt they'll be supporting each other that night).

Well,the best I can do is wish good luck to both ladies and having already seen The Help on DVD,adding Bridesmaids to my Netflix queue is my next step. After all,the parts with Melissa should be hilarious and that alone will make it worth checking out:


Speaking of The Help,while it's great that three of the main actresses from the film are nominated and that the movie is up for Best Picture,it is disappointing to not see any other nods here. Certainly,it could have been included in the Best Adapted Screenplay section or Best Director.

There was plenty of room to add The Help to Best Original Song,since there are only two tunes up for that award. That's right,two songs for the entire category;are you kidding me,Academy? Granted,this wasn't the greatest year for movie songs but if the Golden Globes can come up with five,you should have been able to do better than that!

Those two songs,by the way,are both from children's movies. "Real In Rio" comes from the animated feature Rio and the other is from the new Muppet film entitled "Man or Muppet?".

Nothing against singing Muppets,but surely there were just as many worthy songs from grown-up films to be competing for this award,such as Mary J. Blige's theme for The Help, " The Living Proof" ,that deserved to be nominated. I swear,Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect than Best Song does these days:

Oscar night is on February 26 and one thing is for sure,having Billy Crystal back as the host is a truly welcome relief. It's been awhile since he took the Oscar stage but this should be like coming home for him. Getting him to come back this time was a sheer stroke of luck,so with that in mind,let's rejoice in his return and hope that he might want to stick around until the right replacement appears:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mix and match movies with Oscar and TCM

The nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards will be announced tomorrow morning and while we don't yet know which film is bound for Oscar glory,it's not too soon to see which former Academy competitors made the cut for Turner Classic Movies' month long salute to the business called show.

TCM's 31 Days of Oscar begins on February 1st,and their theme this year is travel,as in covering films set in locations both international and domestic. From the movies already slated for airtime,I thought it would be interesting to see if pairing up a film from back in the day with one of potential nominees for this year would be a challenge.

Well,it was tricky but I think that some of my picks for Oscar related double features should go together well,like peas and carrots. Take a look and see if I paired these past and present wonders off right:


For this season's big critical darling,The Artist,most people would head straight for one of the many film versions of A Star is Born. However,with the plot of The Artist being about the crash and burn of a Hollywood icon,the more intriguing choice for me is 1965's Inside Daisy Clover.

Natalie Wood plays the title character,an ambitious young woman who abandons her mother to a mental home in pursuit of stardom during the 1930s in Hollywood. She becomes an overnight sensation and marries another actor(Robert Redford)who can't return her love in any possible way.

The only thing they truly have in common is being controlled by Ray Swan, the head of the movie studio(Christopher Plummer)who doesn't care how miserable they are as long their contracts are fulfilled.

All of this pressure leads to Daisy having a big league nervous breakdown which involves blowing up a beach house. Sounds pretty over the top but in this day and age,Daisy would be a TMZ dream come true.

The film won two Golden Globes and received three Oscar noms for it's trouble. Inside Daisy Clover has become a cult movie classic,saluting the bizarre nature of fame as much as The Artist does,only in a louder and wackier way:


It's hard to tell if Brad Pitt's sports film Moneyball will get any love from the Oscars but the odds are favorable that a few nomination bones will be tossed to it. The tone of Moneyball is radically opposite to the one set for baseball films in The Pride of the Yankees back in 1942,with Gary Cooper in the leading man but there are a few dots that can be connected here.

Both films are based on true stories that were written as nonfiction works by journalists,with one being a sports writer(Paul Gallico)and the other happening to write about sports more than once(Michael Lewis also wrote the book that was the basis for The Blind Side).

Also,each story is about radical changes to how the game of baseball is perceived,with Lou Gerhig's valiant stance to keep playing as long as his health allows him in order to not let the team down and Billy Beane's determination to make his team better by taking the unorthodox advice of a economics student in acquiring new players that cost less but are greater assets in the long run.

While Moneyball isn't as beloved as Pride of The Yankees(which ended up with ten Oscar nominations,including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cooper),the critics loved it enough to make a difference that will hopefully pay off this award season. I don't know much about sports but these two films certainly sound like home runs for baseball fans to me:


The Help is a film that I personally hopes shines at the Academy Awards this year and when looking the TCM 31 Days list,Guess Who's Coming to Dinner stood out like a lighthouse beacon. Both films take place during the sixties and challenged the racial stances of the day right in the homes of regular folk.

While interracial dating was a controversial subject in 1967,by the time a remake of GWCTD was filmed in 2005,turning the story into a comedy instead of a drama felt more natural to the movie makers. However,the power of the original film starring Sidney Poiter,Katherine Hepburn(who won Best Actress)and Spencer Tracy has not been diminished over time.

The Help has it's own share of controversy,with many people feeling that both the book and film are more of a step back than two steps forward in discussing race relations. Many others,including myself,would prefer to agree to disagree about that and want the stars of this engaging film,Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer,to be respected as well as nominated for their work here.

Making a movie that pleases everyone is an impossible task,but weaving real life struggles with fictional thread to create a story quilt that speaks to all is the challenge that both of these films faced and succeeded at quite handily.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner earned ten nominations and won two,which was great but let's root for The Help to do a little better than that:


Between the second season of Downton Abbey and the Steven Spielberg boy and his horse tale,War Horse,nostalgia for World War One has become the order of the day. Fitting the bill nicely for this brand of melodrama, 1944's The White Cliffs of Dover starts in WWI as an American girl marries a British army officer just as the war begins.

During their time apart,she has a son but has to raise him alone when her husband is killed in action. By the time WWII starts up,their boy is ready to follow in his father's footsteps as a solider with a loved one of his own to leave behind.

With the only romance in War Horse being a platonic one between a young man and the horse he reluctantly gives up for service during his country's time of need,the sentimental value may not be quite on the same level as The White Cliffs of Dover. Yet,both are touching and inspirational in their unique fashion that appears to suit the audiences they were made for.

The White Cliffs of Dover got a technical nomination at the Oscars that year,for cinematography,and it's a safe bet that War Horse will claim what it can from those categories this time around. Given it's pedigree,perhaps War Horse will be able to rise up a few Academy heights that White Cliffs only dreamed to reach:

By this time tomorrow,we'll know who is up for what in this Oscar race(and yes,I'll be putting in my two cents worth as well). Regardless of which films are chosen,many of them are worth watching and even if you don't have TCM on your dial,the majority of the movies to be shown next month for their Oscar fest are available for rental.

Celebrating the art of film is a lovely way to start the new year and like selecting a menu for a proper feast,being choosy about what to feed your brain with is not a bad way to go here:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Booking some Downton Abbey downtime

With the second season of the acclaimed British series Downton Abbey in full swing on our American TVs,fans are flocking to bookstores and libraries to find something suitable to read to fuel their fascination with this time period.

There are plenty of tomes to choose from,ranging from direct tie-in pictorials to historical accounts and novels set in and around that era.

To make that search a tad simpler for you(and the person enlisted to seek out such noteworthy titles at your local library/bookstore),I have whipped up a short list of suggestions that should be as useful as any hints dropped by Dowager Countess Violet as to proper procedure:


With one of the main dilemmas facing the Crawley family being of who Lady Mary should betroth herself to in order to maintain respectability and a fortune,the works of Edith Wharton are practically a must-read here.

Wharton not only covered the social stigma of not making a connection that pleased both head and heart,she showcased the struggles that both men and women dealt in this polite game of matchmaking for money that benefited no one in the end.

Much like Lady Cora did in her youth,the heroines of Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers(another writer completed it in 1993)were American heiresses who sought English noblemen as mates. The exchange of new money for old titles was considered a fair bargain in those days,without any regard for the real price that would be paid by each party over the years:


For a true behind the scenes look at what living and working in a grand house was like back then,your best bet is Margaret Powell's Below Stairs,a memoir of her time in "service" written in 1968. Powell spent eleven years as a member of the staff of a notable family during the 1920s,working her way up from kitchen maid to cook.

Her recollections of the vigorous chores and secret scandals that affected both sets of residents within the household were a real breakthrough in discussing the inequities of those days.

Her book was also one of the inspirations for the classic Upstairs,Downstairs series back in the seventies and Powell was truly delighted with how the show portrayed that time in her life. Julian Fellowes,the writer/creator of DA, names Below Stairs as one of his go-to reads in making this world come to life and it's nice to see such a literary legacy passing on to more than one generation:


Whether your favorite characters are above or below the stairs,it's the dramatics of their situation that keeps you going. John Galsworthy embraced that firmly in his series of novels that became known as The Forsyte Saga,which chronicled the life and times of an upper class family during the early part of the Edwardian era in England.

The lives and troubled loves of the title clan were considered entertaining and artistic,bringing it's author a Nobel Prize for Literature and numerous adaptations for radio,television and film.

At least two made for TV miniseries were made from these stories(the most recent being in 2002,with a follow-up in '03)while Hollywood chose to turn only one of the books into a complete movie called That Forsyte Woman in 1949. It's a shame that this film doesn't seem to be available on DVD,since it sounds like a picture perfect treat for avid Anglophiles:


With this season of Downton dealing with WWI,the demand for books concerning that major moment of history has been tremendous. For a well written fictional viewpoint on that subject,Ken Follett's Fall of Giants couldn't have come at a better time.

The five families that are the focus of this novel are from different parts of the world stage but England is represented with folks at both ends of the social spectrum in that time period.

Another plus in FOG's favor is that Follett does his homework very thoroughly when it comes to his historical fiction,so at least you'll be getting some good informational seasoning in this storyteller's stew:

Some might wonder why the likes of Downton Abbey has hit home with so many people in our modern era but it's not so puzzling to me. Historical fiction,whether it's in book or film form,allows one to look back at the changing circumstances that our predecessors faced in their time and how they chose to deal with them. In some ways,things have both changed and yet remained the same.

Also,it is fun to see such things as intense romance,family drama and smartly written dialogue be the stuff of pop culture chic for the time being. Seeing the cutting remarks of Dowager Countess Violet be acclaimed as cool as anything uttered in a Tarantino movie thrills me to no end and hopefully,this cultured vibe will spread it's influence beyond books and film:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top Chef TX prepares a queenly feast,more doings at Downton Abbey and SyFy's second season of FaceOff

Eric Ripert joined Padma for the Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef Texas this week and they revealed a brand new gimmick to the proceedings.

The chefs had to grab three ingredients off of a conveyor belt to make a tasting dish. They were allowed to wait for something good to be sent out but that would cut into their cooking time.

That strategy wasn't much of a help,as Chris kept an eye for lobster but his dish turned out to be a dud. Beverly had a good amount of ingredients but forgot to plate one of them before time ran out,which was a shame since her dish would've won if not for that fatal flaw.

Lindsay won by default,with her bouillabaisse of grouper,fennel and Pernod. She received immunity and probably a sense of vindication from the last challenge. She wasn't thrilled completely with her win(since it was sort of a runner-up deal due to Beverly's error) but sometimes,you have to take what you can get there,hon.

The Elimination Challenge was wicked good,with the chefs tasked to make a seven course goth feast for Charlize Theron,in honor of her role as the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Charlize described her character as a serial killer and encouraged the chefs to go all out in creating thematic edible goodness. She also appeared at the Judges' Table with Judge Tom,Padma and Emeril.

When it came to gorgeous Goth presentation,Chris was all aces here. He made a "poison" apple that was frozen with liquid nitro and filled with cherry pie to make it look beautifully gruesome when sliced open.

Gummi worms and rice krispies(a stand in for maggots)were added as Grimm garnishes and the flavors were wickedly wonderful. Judge Tom praised Chris for properly using molecular gastronomy here and all of them were enchanted by this terrifying treat.

Despite Chris' grand execution of his sinister sweet,Paul won this round for his "enchanted forest" salad with foie gras,bacon,pumpernickel and pickled cherries.

What put him over the top was the beet juice hand print that he made on each plate(yes,he wore gloves). That simple touch was the piece de resistance for the judges.

With everyone on their A game here,picking a loser was extra hard but the judges did manage to find what fault was there.Grayson's black chicken did look as slaughterhouse as she had hoped for but the quail eggs didn't quite gel with the overall dish.

The pickled beets on the bottom did make for a great bloody presentation and the flavors worked but her insistence that the egg was supposed to represent the dead baby bird cut out of the chicken was a bit much.

Beverly was the one to be banished and sent off to Last Chance Kitchen(good luck there,since Nyesha is really cleaning house in that neck of the woods!). Her halibut was meant to represent Snow White triumphing over the evil of red curry and black forbidden rice.

Although her fish was well cooked,the sauce was too sticky and her presentation was too mild to match up to the fierceness of her competitors. Perhaps a fairy godmother will send her a savory spell that will bring her back to the competition.

Tensions and temperatures should rise next week,as the chefs have to pair off and play beat the clock to prep their food within the allotted time before making their dish for tasting. That's only the beginning of their troubles this round but it'll be tasty to watch:

The war comes even closer to home on Downton Abbey,as the estate is opened up for wounded enlisted men to recover from their battle ground injuries. While Cora and Isobel played power games over who would be in charge of DA,Lady Edith made her own quiet contributions to the care of the soldiers that won her praise from a visiting general.

Glad to see her blossom like this and hopefully this will signal a positive turning point for Lady Edith in future story lines. She's not the only young lady whose horizons are expanding due to the new arrivals. New maid Ethel is a little too interested in checking out the officers and mark my words,that is going to lead to a whole lot of trouble:

Meanwhile,Bates may not be at Downton but he's closer than anyone thinks to the neighborhood. Anna spotted him in the village during one of her outings and after some helpful detective work(courtesy of Lady Mary's connections with her newspaper magnate beau),she finds him working at a pub nearby.

Bates is still trying to get a divorce from his vicious wife and hopes that by taking the time to gather enough evidence against her,the end of that marriage can come without certain sordid details about the Crawley family from being exposed.*Sigh*the devotion between these two is so sincere that it's total torture to see them on the brink of true happiness yet cruelly delayed:

SyFy channel has been showing their second season of their competition series,Face Off,which has make-up artists vie for top honors and prize money. I didn't watch the first season but so far,I'm hooked into this display of movie/TV make-up magic and the promising folk who are devoted to keeping that tradition going.

The first episode had a Wizard of Oz challenge,that let the artists do their own take on four of the classic characters(Scarecrow,Cowardly Lion,Tin Man and Wicked Witch of the West). Many of the looks were hit or miss but some of them really rocked the house.

For this week,the challenge was to make fish creatures that would hold up underwater. That requirement threw a couple of the teams off,especially the one that had a "shark lawyer" whose three piece suit got soggy really fast.

The team that won chose a lyretail fairy basslet as their fish person and it came across rather strikingly when the model went in the tank. She had a bit of a space alien aura to her appearance as well,an unintentional bonus.

Watching how costumes like these are made is one of the best things about Face Off but naturally,there is some infighting amongst the contestants. You really can't get away from that on a competition series,I suppose,yet it's far better to focus on the work than the worry,in my opinion:


WORST COOKS IN AMERICA: Season three will debut in February,with reigning champ Chef Anne squaring off with Iron Chef Bobby Flay and their teams of culinary misfits. Should be some fabulous food frenzy to watch and I hope that Flay can roll with the punches: