Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nora Ephron and her best gal pals,Meryl and Meg

It was a sad day for writers earlier this week,as Nora Ephron passed away at age 71. Nora was one of those women in the entertainment industry who others wanted to emulate without envy. Her humorous essays and stage plays gave her a pretty solid stronghold as it is in literary circles but her forays into film are what helped to make her a household name.

In saluting her life and times,I thought it would be good to focus on two of the actresses that she wrote wonderfully witty dialogue for and directed in more than one film. Nora's golden girls were Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan,a couple of ladies who just about anyone in Hollywood would clamor to work with and rightly so,in part thanks to Nora.

Nora worked with Meryl first,as screenwriter for the 1983 drama Silkwood but their next project together was very personal in more ways than one. Meryl starred with Jack Nicholson in the 1986 marital satire Heartburn,which was based on Nora's novel about her bad romance with Carl Bernstein.

The movie was directed by Mike Nichols but Nora adapted the screenplay and despite the mixed reviews,was fond of recommending Meryl as the perfect person to portray you on screen:

It took a while for these ladies to team up again,but fortunately it was for what is now Nora's last film(as writer and director),Julie and Julia. Meryl played legendary celebrity chef Julia Child,in a stunning performance that many folks felt was Oscar worthy that year.

Nora once again adapted the screenplay,not only from Julie Powell's foodie memoir but from Child's autobiography My Life in France,which broadened the story telling portion of the movie quite substantially. She also used this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the great joys of her life,food in all of it's culinary glory:

Nora's connection to Meg Ryan began with an original screenplay for the 1989 romcom When Harry Met Sally,which was inspired by conversations with the film's director Rob Reiner.

While most folks instantly think of that classic deli scene(and the ab lib provided by Reiner's mom at the next table)whenever this movie is mentioned,the true strengths of the story lie in the conversations between Ryan's tightly wound Sally and Billy Crystal's supposedly footloose and fancy free Harry.

Their relationship lives and nearly dies yet is born again via the spoken word,with Meg showing her verbal chops which was a big help in breaking out of the ditzy blonde mold that she might have been easily thrust into at that point in her career:

Meg further cemented her witty woman ties to Nora in 1993's Sleepless in Seattle,which brought them both in touch with Tom Hanks,who partnered with Meg in the ill fated flick Joe Vs. the Volcano a couple of years later.

The three of them happily reunited in You've Got Mail,which was a modernized version of a classic Ernest Lubitsch comedy,The Shop Around the Corner. Nora co-wrote the screenplay with her sister Delia(who also worked on previous projects with Nora such as Michael and Mixed Nuts and later a stage adaptation of Love,Loss and What I Wore)and directed this lovely tribute to New York and it's literary legacy.

In addition to the film's 1940s style of rapid dialogue exchange,elements from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice were blended into the love-hate relationship developing between Meg's indie book chop owner Kathleen Kelly and her business rival but e-mail Romeo,Hanks' Joe Fox. That extra bit of flair is what makes this movie such a gem to watch more than once:

Many people upon hearing this sad news feels as if they have lost a dear friend,having gotten to know Nora Ephron through her books,films and blog postings over the years.

While her departure is something that all who knew her either personally or professionally(as well as from her art),wish had been delayed for just a bit longer,it is good to remember that her words of wit and wisdom are destined to live on beyond all of our lifetimes and should inspire generations to come.

It also says a lot about Nora Ephron's character that she always worked so well with other women and had a wonderful reputation as a friend to all. Through her friends like Meryl and Meg,Nora's legacy promises to plant the seeds of such artistic harmony that hopefully others will happily harvest:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

True Blood's Pam has Maker's remorse,Food Network Star gets grilled by the media and TLC's Craft Wars

The Tara situation on True Blood is getting worse by the minute,as a now coherent but overwhelmed by blood thirst Tara has fled from Sookie and Lafayette's dubious protection.

Desperate to find her,Sookie heads over to Fangtasia to ask Pam to use her Maker power to summon Tara but Pam is more concerned about Eric's disappearance,which Sookie did promise to look into there(Eric and Bill,btw,are still in the clutches of the Vampire Authority that in it's wisdom,chose new vamp Steve Newlin as their spokesperson. That is not going to end well,in my opinion).

Pam and Sookie come to blows over this and fortunately Tara was able to take refuge with Sam for the night(and most of the day)while this debate was going on. Glad to see Sookie finally be able to use that glowing hand blast of hers on command and I must say that Pam's texting speed is most impressive there:

Pam's indifference to Tara won't last long,I suspect,due to all of the flashbacks that she's been having lately regarding her own turning with Eric.

Granted,Pam wanted to become a vampire and went to some extreme lengths in order to persuade Eric to become her Maker while Tara was only turned as part of a bargain,both ladies do have fiery tempers in common which could help to form a bond between them. Hopefully,that connection will begin before Tara's attempt to fry herself gets too hot to handle:

The main challenge for the contenders on The Next Food Network Star this week was particularly daunting,as the teams had to go forth without their mentors to face the press.

Each person had to make a "perfect one bite" dish and do a timed presentation in front of a panel that included two Entertainment Weekly writers and an Entertainment Tonight correspondent.

Story telling was encouraged strongly here,yet that was a stumbling block for a good number of people such as Emily,who wound up in the Bottom Three and ultimately was sent home for her resistance to personalize her Retro Rad theme.

I felt bad for her,since Emily appears to be a real sweetheart and it seems as if she has a truly sad back story that she doesn't want to get into for the cameras(for which I can't blame her).

Martita's 30 seconds of dead air was more of a foul,in my opinion,but this dismissal doesn't necessarily mean the end of the road for Emily in this field. She has a warm personality that just needs a little more polishing before she can truly shine. This competition was only the beginning for her,I hope.

Next time,the remaining team players head to Miami for the South Beach Food and Wine Festival,where they cook for Paula Deen and family. Fun in the sun is not going to be on the menu for these folks,trust me on this!:

TLC debuted a new competition show this week called Craft Wars,starring Tori Spelling as the hostess with a panel of judges that awards ten grand to the person who can do the best work in the main challenge.

For the first episode,that challenge was to make a children's play house using school supplies(a crew of helpers and a wood working shop was provided to each contender). The little red schoolhouse that Cheryl made was amazingly good,even with the lack of interior items(other than the "monster backpacks") for any kids to play with inside.

It was certainly better than Christy's school bus design,which looked like little kids had put it together during recess. While she was wise to use chalkboard paint on the inside and to make an apple shaped cork board as well,the entire outer appearance deserved a C plus.

Before that round,there was an early challenge where a third contestant named Traci competed with the other two to make a sports bag out of sports equipment. Traci's downfall(and nearly also Cheryl's)was the use of spray glue,something that you wouldn't think of as a tension causer and yet here it was:

Craft Wars looked like fun to me and I think we ought to encourage TLC to do more shows like this than some of those more salacious ones*cough Sister Wives*cough. Even if you're not that crafty or into Tori Spelling(who does a decent job here),this series should be a campy cool refuge from the heat of the summer time TV season:


HELL'S KITCHEN: I've been keeping my eye on former Chopped champion Roshni on this season and sadly,despite her switch to the Blue team,she was sent home this week. Roshni did do some good work but her one bad night at the meat station caused her new team to turn on her.

Don't feel too bad,Roshni. At least you stayed out of most of the fray and personality wars being raged amongst the others,which puts you one step ahead of them all:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some page turners to pack for your July/August reading vacation

Whether your summer holiday plans are to head to the beach,visit a few tourist attractions or simply stay at home,there are plenty of good books coming out to keep you busy during your leisure time.

Usually,I try to add in a nonfiction title in my list of upcoming books for the season but with all of the real world action going on these days(and in the news),I think we could all use a little break from that.

Not that I am discouraging any nonfiction reading there,yet I have found some of the best lessons in history to be learned from smartly researched novels and to that end,let's begin with...


Early word of mouth on Amanda Coplin's debut novel,The Orchardist,has been astoundingly good and this happens to be one of my most anticipated reads of the summer. It's set in the first half of the 20th century where loner William Talmadge is more than content to tend his fruit crops and do as little as possible with the rest of the world.

A pair of runaway pregnant sisters,Della and Jane,intrude upon his land and hospitality yet instead of turning them away,Talmadge winds up becoming their protector. That new found friendship is shattered when the men assigned to hunt the girls down arrive for a vicious showdown.

The rough and ready flavor of this book is blended with heartfelt emotions and characterizations that promise to make this literary crop of words a true bounty indeed(August).

The Kingmaker's Daughter is the latest entry in author Philippa Gregory's new series about the royal families involved in the War of the Roses and should be an engaging read,even if you haven't read the previous novel to it,The Lady of the Rivers.

The title refers to the Earl of Warwick,who has no shame in using his daughters Anne and Isabel in gaining political power with the court of the Yorks. When the new king marries the widow of his enemies,the Lancasters,the Earl manipulates his youngest daughter Isabel into a secret marriage that ends in an uprising with unexpected consequences.

Anne's story is more familiar to most,with her marriage troubles becoming a key plot point in Shakespeare's Richard III,a story that connects well to this one and is just as worthy of being retold(August):


Emily Arsenault's Miss Me When I'm Gone is a little bit mystery,little bit family drama as soon to be mother Jamie is charged with being the literary executor of her recently departed best friend Gretchen Waters,who was working on the follow-up to her women of country music themed memoir,Tammyland.

At first,it seemed that Gretchen was attempting to write a male companion piece to Tammyland but her research lead her to investigate the unsolved murder of her biological mother,Shelly,as well as finding her real father. This hunt for answers may have lead to Gretchen's "accidental" death and could bring about serious danger for Jamie in taking up when her former friend left off.

I am currently reading this book right now(thanks to the good folks at Library Thing)and this tale of regret and rediscovery is as irresistibly alluring as any classic country tune(July):


Author Jennifer Weiner takes some of her Hollywood experiences to create a nifty new novel,The Next Best Thing,where Ruth Saunders thinks that her six year struggle to make it as a screen writer has finally paid off.

At first,having her sitcom idea approved for production is like a dream come true but it soon turns into a nightmare,as Ruth has to deal with egotistic actors,demanding studio executives and a crush on her boss,who doesn't seem to notice at all.

As if that weren't enough,Ruth also has to handle her seventy year old grandmother's impending wedding. Weiner is a master hand at whipping such diverse story elements into a delightful fictional froth that is sure to please all audiences and this new novel sounds like a much needed antidote to the reality show soap operas crowding the TV landscape this season(July):

Short story writer Karl Tao Greenfeld takes on the novel with his debut offering,Triburbia,in which a group of fathers in the Tribeca section of NYC become fast friends as they take their kids to school together and then later hook up for breakfast at a local diner.

The mix of men ranges from a ambitious chef obsessed with the perfect frittata to a memoir writer with authenticity issues regarding his work. Their inner lives,along with those of their wives and children,are explored through an entire school year with interlocking stories that showcase their emotional growth or lack there of.

While I'm not familiar with his previous work,Greenwald's look at men of a certain age sounds like a welcome walk in the park to take(July):


For the adult fantasy fans out there,Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night is as much of a welcoming sight as the sixth book in the Game of Thrones saga would be.

This second volume in her All Soul's Trilogy has witch historian Diana Bishop taking a trip back in time with her vampire partner Matthew Clairmont to retrieve the mysterious Ashmole 782 manuscript in Elizabethan England. Diana is also in dire need of more magical education yet both objectives of her journey are as equally difficult to reach.

With there being some time before we get a new chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire,diving into Harkness's realm of witchcraft and wonders should be a most refreshing respite indeed(July):

Carrie Vaughn also heads over to merry old England with Kitty Steals the Show,where her werewolf DJ heroine runs into some international paranormal politics while speaking at a conference in London.

As Kitty struggles to figure out the nuances of The Long Game(a vampire strategy that has been going on for centuries),she winds up with a few more enemies on her plate than she bargained.

Kitty's adventures both as a reluctant celebrity and an unwilling pawn of vampire folly are intriguing but it's her human heart that helps her to make new allies and keeps readers devoted to her perilous journey(July).

Kelley Armstrong,meanwhile,is now wrapping up her Women of the Otherworld series with Thirteen,that brings together many of her past leading ladies such as young sorceress Savannah Levine,half demon Hope and psychic Jamie Vegas.

All of them are reunited in order to make a stand against those who want to unleash the pure forces of darkness upon humanity. This final battle promises to be a rousing read but don't despair of seeing any more of Armstrong's talents. Chances are that she has only begun to fight(July):

I do wish you all a happy holiday in the sun and hope that some of these suggestions find their way to your TBR piles before Labor Day arrives. There are tons of recommended reading lists available to pick and choose from,yet it may still be tricky to find that special book,so be as selective as you can,folks!:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sailing the high literary seas with Patrick O'Brian

Some years ago,I treated myself to a box set of Patrick O'Brian's complete series of Aubrey-Maturin novels,which numbers twenty books in all(plus his unfinished book aptly titled 21)in five hardcover volumes. It was,even with the discount pricing,one of the most expensive book purchases I had ever made.

Part of the reason that I ventured to pick up this set was it's stylish look(not to mention being a sucker for sewn into the binding ribbon place holders)but also due to the high level of acclaim that these tales of the British navy set during the era of the Napoleonic wars have garnered from both readers and critics alike over the years.

The series first began in the early seventies in England and later came over to America around 1989,with Master and Commander as it's starting point,the book that I am now finally reading in earnest.

Why the long delay? Well,for one thing I do tend to shop for books the way other women shop for shoes;a quick impulsive mood can lead to a lot of piled up goods that have only been tried once or twice before being left aside for another time and/or given away.

I've worked on that behavior since then and have had some success there,yet refused to give up this large set of books that were barely touched. Such a notion was even harder to consider after seeing the movie Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World,which is based on several of the novels and starred Russell Crowe as gruff yet gregarious Captain Jack Aubrey whose friendship with the stiff and seemingly starched Doctor Stephen Maturin(played by Paul Bettany) has been the driving focal point of the series:

That film was incredibly captivating and my memories of sitting in the movie theater with an entire audience for over two hours that kept quiet enough to pay attention to every detail furthered my resolve to keep the entire set.

The biggest attraction,however,was the Jane Austen connection. O'Brian cited her as one of his inspirations,which makes sense given that the novels are set during her time period. Jane had two brothers in the Navy,whose presence could be seen in at least two of her novels,Persuasion and Mansfield Park.

The main love interest in Persuasion is Captain Wentworth, a man who,according to one character,"had little but himself to recommend him" to a young Anne Eliot. After being reluctantly rejected by his lady love,Wentworth went to sea and made his fortune,returning home to now find a suitable wife. Despite his many prospects,Anne is still his first choice yet the two of them take their time in rediscovering those former affections.

The naval influence is strong in Persuasion,with many of the best people in the story either in uniform or connected by marriage to a man in service. Since it was Austen's last completed novel,it was good of her to pay such fine tribute to the kind of good natured folks that her brothers no doubt brought into her life and enlivened theirs:

The same can not be quite said about the appearance of naval folk in her earlier novel,Mansfield Park. Although Fanny's brother William is a decent sort of fellow who appeared to be maturing into a good man via his time in service,his promotion in the ranks is due to the not entirely selfless influence of Henry Crawford,whose uncle is an Admiral with moral habits that caused Henry's jaded sister Mary to find better living arrangements acceptable for a single young lady of means.

During Fanny's visit to her decidedly lower income family in Portsmouth,Henry did pay a visit to the Price household that included running into her former seaman father,a man who clearly couldn't hold his liquor for too long.

Seeing where Fanny's birth family came from and currently was in life caused a hint of second thoughts regarding his courtship of her,in my opinion,and may have been a motivating factor in Henry's renewal of interest in courting Fanny's now married cousin Mariah. Mansfield Park is not meant to be disparaging of the Navy but one must take the bitter with the sweet in most situations,including military service and it's affects on all concerned:

Knowledge of Austen is helpful in trending these waters,however I suspect that my copy of Jane Austen and the Navy will be even more useful in understanding the nautical terminology and customs of the day.

I've taken to reading a little bit each morning(a habit that I've begun of recently and beta tested with a pair of rereads)and so far,the story has kept me going back for more.

It will take a good long while before I reach the end of this entire series but my confidence in doing so is much higher than ever it was. When I do reach the true end of this seafaring saga,it will be with the joy of listening to a fabulous musical number conclude with a note of truly earned triumph(or an extended reading merit badge,which ever comes first):

Friday, June 22, 2012

Vetting the back-up brigade for Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter

Out of the three big movies opening up this weekend,only one of them has any connection to politics and that semi-historical epic is called Abraham Lincoln,Vampire Hunter. Based on the monster mash-up novel by Seth Grahame-Smith,this re-imaged journey through the life of one of our most popular pop culture presidents seems to have plenty of vampire slaying action to please any popcorn movie audience.

Yet one does have to wonder what sort of administration a POTUS dedicated to the destruction of the undead would need to assemble in order to get the job before reelection time kicks in. After all,even an eliminator of evil who fights like an army of one should have someone watching his back,especially if his day job is running the country:

To that end,here are my candidates for the various positions on the staff of this rather specialized presidential cabinet:

VICE SLAYER:BLADE Now,I know most of you will be saying "Whoa,what about Van Helsing?" Since our VP must be an American citizen according to the rules of law,our best bet for a true blue battler in this category is Blade,a man who like Abe Lincoln shares a family related reason for taking on this momentous task.

Not only are his warrior skills and loyalties unquestionable,Blade knows how to handle himself in any sanguinary situation,whether it's a formal occasion or an underground club full of blood bathing vamps:


While this legendary slayer is not quite old enough for the second in command spot,she more than possesses the required field time to qualify for a spot in this administration.

Her vampiric body count is most impressive(despite a couple of fanged fellas that were granted amnesty in exchange for their cooperation)but Buffy also has experience in dealing with other supernatural menaces and a band of trusted allies who bring a mixture of magic and bravery into the fold.

In addition,Buffy is no stranger to infighting and to mounting a major force of action when faced with a serious threat to the public good. Plus,her connection with the British based Watchers' Council could prove useful for overseas operations:

CHIEF OF SLAYER STAFF:VAN HELSING Here is the perfect place for this world renowned monster hunter to be,as a chief adviser and organizer of Lincoln's inner circle of slayers.

Despite his lack of official citizenship,Van Helsing's amazing record earned in Europe should be enough to land him such a key position. His knowledge in this field alone makes him a valuable asset,plus his ability to persist in achieving the immediate goal of the moment has proven to be useful in accomplishing the primary objective of any mission:


This former Death Dealer has spent most of her existence defending vampires but she has proven to have a change of heart,so to speak,when faced with an enemy that did threaten the greater good for all citizens.

Her tracking abilities and detective skills would serve this administration well,particularly when it comes to infiltration. While Selene's experience has mainly been geared towards Lycans(aka,werewolves),those techniques are easily adaptable to rooting out the vampire nation in our midst:

While there may be others just as qualified,the majority of vampire fans would agree that this band of well staked warriors would protect our nation from conquest by those who live by night and sleep by day.

Hopefully,Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter will do our country proud at the box office by Monday,yet it is a pity that a certain school teacher from Mystic Falls is no longer amongst the living to serve at Lincoln stake/ax swinging side. Perhaps some of his cohorts listed in the Vampire Diaries might be persuaded to do their paranormal patriotic duty:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The True Blood troubles just keep on coming,The Next Food Network Star tries an Iron Chef twist and The Aquabats Super Show!

The second episode of this season's True Blood had Sookie and Lafayette doing the best they could to calm down new risen vampire Tara,without much help from Pam(other than commanding her new charge not to feed on them).

Tara's feral state lasted for at least a day,with Sookie seeking a little home protection and Lafayette having second thoughts about bringing his beloved cousin back to life this way. Those regrets and precautions were all well and good,but there is no turning back now:

Meanwhile,Eric and Bill are prisoners of the Vampire Authority,who believe that our blood drinking boys may be part of an extremist group called the Sauginistas. The true reasons for not speaking up involve protecting not only Sookie but Eric's vampire sister Nora(they had the same Maker),who didn't want to expose her connection to her blood brother.

The three of them were brought before the inner circle,where Roman(an excellent evil turn by Christopher Meloni)opened up the debate on whether or not to give the guys the True Death. The vote was not going their way but Bill was smart enough to offer them up as bait to capture Russell,who has emerged from his concrete grave.

That bought them some time,which I hope they use wisely as Roman is most definitely not playing around about ending them both here:

The star challenge on The Next Food Network Star this week was for each team to run a stand in a mall food court. They were given a certain type of cuisine to prepare,with Team Giada thinking they had a smooth ride with Mexican food,since Martika specializes in that.

However,Linkie was in trouble from minute one,when she confessed to the group that she had "no idea what they serve in Mexico for dessert." Seriously? Even I know about flan,for goodness sake!

The challenge was given an Iron Chef level by guest judge Geoffrey Zakarian,who brought in the secret ingredient that at least one of the contenders had to put in their dish:chicken livers,yum!

The team that did the best work was Alton Brown's(about time there!)and they won this round,which meant that one person from Bobby's team and one from Giada's had to face off on the Producer's challenge to stay in the game.

It was between Nikki and Linkie,with Nikki softening up her "Girl on Grill" approach by being "The Grill Next Door" and Linkie making a solid dish but fumbling on her camera presentation. Team Giada lost another member but I don't think their mentor minds all that much. From the grimaces she kept throwing in Linkie's direction,you could tell that she wasn't thrilled with her(Giada is not subtle in her body language at all).

Next week,the remaining teams have to meet the press and hopefully they handle that better than say a certain 30 Rock star(what a maroon,in the worst sense of the word):

One of my favorite new guilty pleasures has been to watch The Aquabats!Super Show! on the Hub network. Yes,this is a kid's show with a mixture of live action and animation that follows the zany adventures of a crime fighting rock band.

The band has actually been around for quite some time and garnered a cult audience and plans to turn their act into a TV show have gone on for several years. It was well worth the wait,as this series is a nice throwback to the days of Sid and Marty Kroft,with it's own unique touches of wacky whimsy.

The first season of Aquabats has finished up already,but you should be able to catch it in reruns over the summer. Look for it and taste the burger rain:


JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK: Caught this little gem on the SyFy channel a couple of weeks ago and it is as awfully awesome as you might expect. Best line of dialogue:"Joey Fatone just got eaten by a shark!"-priceless:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A diversity debate amongst the TV debutantes

The new ABC Family series Bunheads got a bit of unexpected attention after their premiere episode aired,thanks to a Twitter comment. Shonda Rhimes,the creator of such popular programs as Grey's Anatomy,Private Practice and Scandal,chose to add her two cents about the casting choices of the show with this tweet:

"Hey @abcfbunheads: really? You couldn't cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?"

This criticism was seen as an attack on BH creator Amy Sherman-Palladino(best known for Gilmore Girls) and she has responded to it by saying that it's been her experience that most women in her profession are not very supportive of one another to begin with and that she had a limited amount of time to pull Bunheads together,which may explain her choices regarding the cast:

Similar complaints have arisen around the new HBO series Girls which,unlike the small town locale of Bunheads,is set in Brooklyn,NY. While many critics did applaud the strong female focus of the show,many found the lack of ethnic characters disturbing.

That's not the only fault to be found with this dramedy that comes across to some as just a hipster version of Sex and the City, yet it also came upon the heels of it's debut episode. Even after a few episodes,folks are still divided upon the merits and failings of Girls,with creator Lena Dunham promising to work on these issues in season two:

On the opposite end of the social spectrum, Michael Patrick King received a lot of flack for the humorous content of his new CBS sitcom,2 Broke Girls,a show that rightly has a diverse cast since most of the series action takes place in a greasy spoon diner in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and is female centric to boot.

A good portion of the critiques were about the ethnicity jokes,something that other programs on the same network also indulge in without so much as a raised eye brow. It's enough to make a TV viewer wonder if the whole cliche about damned if you do and damned if you don't is really that much of a cliche:

While it is important to have diversity in TV and films,there are those who dislike placing a "token" character in the mix just for the sake of looking more open minded than the show creators may be. I also find it interesting that a lot of this criticism has been tossed at female friendly shows,a genre that's had it's own tough row to hoe in pop culture.

Personally,I'm more interested in watching something like Bunheads or 2BG than Girls and yes,some of the points raised about all three are worth discussing and dealing with. However,it would be nice to see a little unity on what matters most with any fictional format and that is the reality being presented here.

An urban setting would naturally demand that a through blend of different races,creeds,sexual orientations,etc be represented while a small town or remote part of the world may not. That doesn't excuse anyone from excluding whole pockets of humanity from their storytelling circle but the criteria for this should be what is best for the main theme of the show in question,not to simply fill an agenda or use one group as the punch line for the other.

We may someday see a pop culture world where these issues are a true thing of the past,yet for now the wise choice might be to let the good stories take us as close to that realm as possible by allowing their characters to show us the world in their own way:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some merry modern romps with Jane Austen

The love for Jane Austen related entertainment may not always appear to be in vogue but as they say,it never dies,it only multiples. To that end,let us look at a few of the latest displays of Austenmania that possess a decidedly modern twist.

The biggest sensation of the moment is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,an online series in which a certain Miss Bennet is filming entries in a video diary of her life and times,with particular interest in seeing her big sister Jane hook up with a fellow named Bing Lee(who,of course,is in possession of a large fortune).

Other P&P characters are featured here,such as Lizzie's good friend Charlotte and pesky younger sister Lydia(Kitty and Mary are not included,directly into the story at least)who I suspect will demand a spin-off series of her own soon:

Also,more and more clips from Sex and the Austen Girl,based on Laurie Viera Rigler's Jane Austen Addict novels,are now arriving at YouTube,giving more Austen fans the perfect opportunity to view them in all of their amusing splendor.

The entertaining compare and contrast between what was available in Jane's day and ours in practical terms such as clothing,hygiene and make-up alone is enough to warrant repeat viewings,in my humble opinion:

For those who more inclined to reading than viewing Jane Austen themed delights,Cecilia Gray has an E-book series for teens entitled The Jane Austen Academy which has six heroines attending an all-girls school that is about to admit boys.

This allowance of young men in their scholarly midst is causing a bit of an uproar,not to mention prime opportunity for romance. Each book will focus on one Austen leading lady,with the first book Falling for You,beginning with Lizzie Bennet naturally and I am happy to see Fanny and Anne included as well:

If your school days are far behind you,Lori Smith's The Jane Austen Guide to Life may be your cup of sensible tea.

This tidy little tome offers up some interesting insights into the morals and morays of Austen's time and how they might be applied to our internet searches for love and reality show role models for proper behavior.

The Regency era that Jane took her cues from does have some disadvantages from a modern perspective but on the other hand,I would rather follow the examples set by Elinor Dashwood and Anne Eliot for dealing with potential disasters than Snooki or any of the "Real" Housewives:

So,until the next wave of Austen TV/film remakes,we do have a good number of alternate Austen fare to fulfill our need for elegant entertainment. Not to mention the next season of Downton Abbey,which is just as inspiring despite not holding the distinction of being adapted from a book. Yet,that hardly diminishes the pleasure of any parody which charmingly combines both sides of that English pop culture coin:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A fresh drop of True Blood,a Mad Men medley and tastes like team spirit on The Next Food Network Star

The new season of True Blood picked up right where they left off last time,with Bill and Eric looking to make tracks after offing Nan,Arlene and Terry dealing with an unwanted guest and Jason learning that not only is Rev.Newlin a vampire,he also has a thing for him.

However,the biggest plot point to me was the fate of Tara,shot dead in Sookie's kitchen by a vengeful Debbie(who met her own violent end at the hands of Our Miss Stackhouse). Pam happened to pop in as Lafeyette discovered the tragic demise of his cousin and he begged her to turn Tara.

Pam had some serious doubts about doing so,yet upon the promise of a favor or two from Sookie,she reluctantly agreed to give it a try. At first,it seemed as if the transformation had failed but soon enough,Tara rose from her vampire grave in what appears to be a feral state:

Since this new twist is far and away from the books,I'm anxious to see how this addition to Tara's character development works out. Unlike some folks,I like her a lot and am happy to see her back in a potentially more powerful position than ever before.

There's quite a bit to anticipate this season and starting by the next episode,we'll have Christopher Meloni on board as Roman,a major player in the Vampire Authority who isn't too thrilled with Bill and Eric at the moment:

The team challenge this week on The Next Food Network Star was for each group to appear on a TV special with Guy Fieri and demonstrate a few themed recipes. Team Alton had Halloween while Team Giada was given a football party and Team Bobby got kid meals.

Only one team had to face the Producers' Challenge and that was the Alton Brown crew. A map of the U.S. was used as a dartboard and each person had to make a dish that represented the state they landed on,plus a camera presentation.

Then it came down to Judson and Martie for the judges to decide who to send home and Judson was handed his walking papers. That was such a shame for many reasons. First off,Martie has yet to control her babbling brook of speech problem(which cut into one team mate's time during the main challenge)and she pretty much copped out when it came to the Producers' segment.

She wound up with Pennsylvania and wasn't happy to not have a southern state so the best that Martie came up with was a mushroom stuffed with cream cheese(due to a couple of suggestions from her mentor Alton). *sigh*In any competition,you can not always expect to be able to play to your strengths,sometimes you have to roll with the choices given to you. Martie totally dropped the ball,no question about it.

Judson may have had some presentation troubles,but he was finding his way and I truly believe that,allowed the opportunity, he could have made his weight loss POV work. Judge Susie really seemed dead set against Judson but Alton showed a lot of empathy towards him. Maybe Judson will get a show,someday because I'm not the only one that feels he deserved another shot:

Next week,the chef contenders have an Iron Chef style challenge with a very Chopped quality guest judge,so things should definitely get heated in more ways than one:

Mad Men wrapped up their fifth season as most of the characters tried to tie off loose ends as well. Don did his best to ease his guilt over Lane's death while Pete saw the end of his brief affair with poor doomed Beth and Megan struggled to figure out how to make her acting dreams come true.

It was good to see Peggy run into Don(hopefully that will happen often next season) and Joan get more pro-active with her new partnership position. As for what the future may bring,it seems as if Don will go back to his former philandering ways which is not a great progression for him but I'd rather watch a Don Draper tryst than check out Roger Sterling's acid trip end game:


BUNHEADS: I watched the debut of ABC Family's new series,helmed by Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino,about a Vegas showgirl(Sutton Foster) who ditches her less than stellar lifestyle by marrying a male admirer and possibly getting a gig teaching in his mother's dance school. Kelly Bishop plays her mother-in-law(who is a tad wackier than Emily Gilmore but just as entertainingly intimidating)and the two of them alone are a real treat.

The pilot episode was pretty promising and GG fans as well as folks into dance related tales should like this series,which feels as cozy as a good beach book only it has a beat you can really get up and dance to:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not ready to roll with Rock of Ages

The big movie release this upcoming weekend is Rock of Ages,an adaptation of a successful Broadway show that uses a variety pack of songs from the eighties to thread together a story about the music scene of that time period.

The tunes chosen here are tried and true numbers such as "Paradise City" and "Wanted,Dead or Alive" and the cast is a mix of singers(Mary J. Blige,Julianne Hough),actors(Catherine Zeta-Jones,Paul Giamatti)and celebrity types(Tom Cruise,Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand).

Now,I know the stage musical has a strong enough following that caught the attention of Hollywood and earned it a greenlight,yet I have serious doubts regarding how well this is going to do at the multiplex. Part of my problem with it is too many celebrity faces in the cast,by that I mean an actor or actress who is more well known as themselves than any character that they've played over the years.

That distinction is crucial because it can break the suspension of disbelief that an audience needs to truly engage in whatever story is unfolding before them. Let's be real,folks;are you going to see Stacee Jaxx singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me" or Tom Cruise pretending to be a rock star?:

Another problem is the music,which has been plucked from various artists like Guns N' Roses,Bon Jovi,REO Speedwagon and Journey. Each song comes from people who were contemporaries in that field around that time,it is true,but that doesn't mean that the music from each of them will blend well automatically. For most musicals to work,it helps to have one vision and one voice that unites both the story and the songs in plot point harmony:

A good example of what I'm talking about is Mamma Mia!,which came out in 2008 and did great at the box office despite having to compete with The Dark Knight that summer. First off,all of the music came from ABBA and since that group tended to connect love and pathos(not to mention party time spirit)in their whole range of songs,the unity was there right from the start.

It was also a boon to the production that the entire plot was in your standard love story/comedy of errors genre and that most of the cast was made up of newbies and character actor types. Yes,Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth are typical leading men but the biggest star power in this film belonged to Meryl Streep,who is able to go beyond the surface and then some.

The level of nostalgic love for this music is just as high as it is for the songs selected for Rock of Ages,however Mamma Mia feels like a fully composed five course banquet while ROA comes across more like a self serve buffet whipped up at the last minute:

To be fair,I haven't seen Rock of Ages in any format so my instant dislike of the film may be way too harsh. However,it's hard to ignore that tingling from my storyteller sense that is screaming out loud,"Danger Will Robinson!" big time whenever I see a ad for this one. The ultimate decision will be up to the fans and the ticket buyers this weekend,not to mention the critics who will have their say.

In a way,I sort of wish that director Adam Shankman had chosen something more like his last big music based film,Hairspray,a movie turned into a musical and then back into a movie. Granted,that twisty turn subgenre does annoy me at times but it can work. Imagine Legally Blonde;The Musical hitting the theaters instead this year. That sounds so much better,even to a jaded pop culture gal like me:

Monday, June 11, 2012

The case of The People Vs. George Lucas

Last week,I read a review at Saturday Night Screening(a blog that covers the best of the worst in film)that intrigued me so much that I had to go out and rent this flick for myself(via Netflix). It was a documentary entitled The People Vs. George Lucas and as someone who owns both Trekkies and Trekkies 2,my curiosity in seeing Star Wars fans on film was rather peaked.

The People Vs. George Lucas is not as fan friendly,however,as the film explores the love-hate relationship between Lucas and a large portion of his fan base who have grown discontented with him over the years.

Most of that anger sprang from the trio of prequel films(Phantom Menace,Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith)released more than a decade after the last film in the original trilogy,Return of the Jedi,with some hatred left over for the fourth Indiana Jones movie that Lucas had a hand in:

Faithful fans are more than miffed over the weakness of the prequels and the persistent presence of Jar Jar Binks(who hold the distinction of most hated character in the series),they are also not happy with Lucas' remastering of the original films and his efforts to keep them out of the hands of future generations.

Plus,some of the tweaks given to both the new films and the old(the "who shot first,Han or Greedo?" argument and midi-chlorians)have offended the story telling sense of many a viewer. Some,of course,argue that Lucas is a prisoner of his fame and fortune,not to mention the high expectations of his followers and business partners.

While he may be a frustrated artist at heart,Lucas also played well to his strengths as a marketeer which helped him to amass the pop culture empire he now has,which is quite the feat in the pre-internet world that he had to work in and you can't help but admire him for that. However,a little humility would serve him well in reviving some of that former spark,perhaps a few viewings of that infamous Star Wars Holiday special could do the trick:

I must admit that many of the fan debates are pretty legitimate complaints to me,although I do not subscribe to the "George Lucas raped my childhood" screed which I do find offensive. Folks,if you want to be taken seriously in any argument,it helps to expand your vocabulary and use the appropriate terms to express your outrage-"decimated" for example,may be a bit much yet is far more reasonable than the R-word in this instance.

That aside,part of the problem with Lucas and his fans is underestimating their collective intelligence. To Lucas,the Star Wars saga may just be simple
popcorn fare but the reason that science fiction and fantasy resonates so strongly with fans is that it challenges their imaginations and encourages deep thought about life and the consequences of choices along the way.

That might sound silly to some who only see space wizards and laser swords in the hands of the debaters,however,if you look beyond the surface of special effects,there are plenty of savvy schools of thought in session there:

The People Vs.George Lucas does give both sides a fair shake and the one thing that everyone agrees upon is that George Lucas make an indelible mark on pop culture history that,for better or for worse,can never be erased. There is hope for the better,still,with Lucas putting his clout behind Red Tails,that his time to dazzle us is not yet done. With any luck,that will happen before we're stuck in another Death Star with two Chewbaccas: