Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Haunted Halloween look at some fresh from the page frights

Granted,this isn't a very Happy Halloween for most of us out here on the East Coast but with the full impact of Hurricane Sandy behind us,we can still scare up some sinister spirits of the day.

For this year,I've gathered together a collection of fearsome folk that have ghoulishly graced the bookshelves and movie screens of yore with their chilling ways yet are not the first ones to be thought of when choosing a trick or treat costume. Each one has a bit of charm that allows them access to others but letting any of these frightening figures into your life is about as safe as ignoring "Danger,Will Robinson,Danger!":

MISS HAVISHAM: You might be tempted to feel sorry for this lonely lady from Charles Dickens' classic novel Great Expectations,whose sorrow over being left at the altar caused her such deep despair. Yet,keep in mind that no one forced her to become a living ghost dedicated to letting herself rot away,along the remains of her canceled wedding party.

Her main evil is spending the rest of her days training her ward Estella to be a hardhearted temptress and using poor Pip as the stone to sharpen her apprentice's skills with. True,Miss Havisham did regret her mode of revenge upon the world at last but her choice of redemption is definitely not recommended:

BRUNO ANTHONY: As noted in the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train,Mr.Anthony does fancy himself as a "very clever fellow"indeed and can not understand why his new friend Guy won't do him the simple favor of killing his father for him.

After all,he helped Guy out by killing his troublesome wife for him,with the sort of understanding that didn't require Guy to actually agree to this plan.

Bruno is a pleasantly persistent person who can be a delight at parties, except when his true dark side starts to show:

MRS.DANVERS Another Hitchcockian tormentor was this horrifying housekeeper from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca,totally devoted to the former mistress of Manderley so much that she was quite willing to encourage the new lady of the house into serious self harm.

Just her mere presence in the room brought chills to the spine and could make the most poised person feel nervous and awkward. Her loyalty to her previous employer would be touching if Mrs. Danvers wasn't the type of woman that despised all those who didn't live up to her harsh standards and deserved to be destroyed,in her not so humble opinion:

HARRY POWELL: This talkative fiend,from the 1955 film adaptation of Davis Grubb' thriller Night of the Hunter,claims to be a man of God but his actions are far from holy.

From preying on vulnerable widows to stalking a pair of children in order to claim their dead father's stolen money,Rev. Harry Powell's confident manner has helped him to pull the wool over many eyes ,except for a savvy old woman who knows evil when she sees it and isn't impressed by his fine singing voice either:

Best wishes to all for a safe and secure Halloween and just remember,whether it's book or film,the most terrifying place to be in tonight is within your own imagination. As one Jane Austen heroine can vouch for,too much scary reading can make you as ill as any overindulging in Halloween candy can in the middle of the night:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Feast upon a banquet of books this November and December

With Halloween only a day or two away,the time to talk about upcoming books for November and December is rather ripe indeed. Since the pickings for December are pretty slim this season,I will be offering up a few suggestions for holiday gift giving that are already available at a bookseller near you.

If like me,you happen to be within the reach of Hurricane Sandy,I would suggest that you wait until the skies are clear before taking a look at these tempting titles up close and in person. One good thing about bad weather,it provides the perfect excuse for catching up on your reading:


Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel,Flight Behavior,focuses on one of her favorite themes,the impact of nature upon humanity. When Dellarobia,a restless Appalachian farm wife,stumbles across a field covered in a swarm of monarch butterflies,she is more than ready to take that unexpected vision as a miracle.

However,others are more inclined to see this unusual gathering as a sign of ecological disaster. With the scientific community clashing with local religious leaders and the media about what Dellarobia found,she has to decide for herself what it all means. Kingsolver's work tends to offer up some food for thought in her work and here,she's truly made quite a meal for the mind and heart(November):

Herman Wouk returns to the modern day literary world with The Lawgiver,a novel told via e-mail,video chat and text about the plans to make a new film version of the Moses story.

At the center of this movie making whirlpool is Margo Solovei,a young director roped into working with Wouk(yes,he's a character in his own story here)into creating a Moses movie that outdoes the classic Cecil B. Demille edition. During these creative plans,Margo reconnects with a former love and with her faith,both of which have gone by the wayside for personal and professional reasons.

Since Wouk is one of the masters of the epic novel,it's fitting that he would write about epic film making,taking an electronic yet emotional journey along the way(November):


Memoir of the Sunday Brunch is writer Julia Pandl's fond recollections of how her family initiated her into the restaurant business.

As did her eight older siblings did before her,Julia started partaking in her father's restaurant busy brunch trade at the age of twelve and while she ultimately didn't enter the family business,the life lessons her father gave her,intentionally and unintentionally,gave her a good outlook on the world.

With a touch of humor and some tasty tidbits about restaurant life,Julia Pandl shares her love of food and family,plus a pretty mean pancake recipe or two(November):

A less harmonious family portrait is presented in William Knoedelseder's Bitter Brew,about the dynasty that launched Michelob and Budweiser beer over a hundred and fifty years ago in St. Louis,Missouri.

This tale of a family fortune spreads across five generations of the Busch clan with their contentious antics towards the business and each other,including their advertising war with Miller Lite during the 1970s. Becoming the "king of beers" turns out to be costly in more ways than one and quite a heavy crown to wear in the kingdom of commerce(November):


One of these holiday suggestions,I'm happy to say,is one that I am currently enjoying right now,thanks to a giveaway from Austenprose(Thanks again,Laurel Ann!).

Harvard University's annotated edition of Jane Austen's Emma is edited by Bharat Tandon,whose take on the lively yet not always lovable heroine highlights Austen's innovative narrative style and the underlying secrets and lies between the characters.

With numerous illustrations and photographs of prominent influences and items in the novel,plus enlightening notes,this lush presentation of Emma would even please the rather particular young lady of the title(there are also similar editions of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion available). It's good to gain new perspectives on even such an old acquaintance,as Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley would both agree:

Fashionistas should be delighted with this new biography of Diana Vreeland,entitled The Empress of Fashion by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart,as it comes on the heels of the new documentary about her,The Eye Has To Travel.

It chronicles her rise to power as the influential editor of Harper's Bazaar and later Vogue,who even when she was dismissed from the latter magazine still managed to make her considerable mark upon the fashion scene. Diana Vreeland's iconic status was hard earned and worthy of being a standard of style for others to follow in(December):

Fans of Christopher Paolini's boy and his dragon saga will rejoice upon seeing a deluxe edition of Inheritance,the final book in the series. Amongst the goodies added to this book are a full color fold out poster designed by artist John Jude Palencar,previous unseen art by the author and a new scene within the story itself.

A boxed set of the paperback and hardcover editions of the whole set of Inheritance titles will also be available but it's best to check if your intended recipient has any of them in their personal library. Even so,he or she may not mind having an extra special copy of one of their favorite books.

Those who enjoy a good mystery book as well as a great mystery TV show will find the best of both worlds with the Richard Castle novels tied into the hit series Castle starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Kavic as the combative yet compatible partners in crime solving and literature.

The Nikki Heat novels,which feature fiction within fictional versions of the leading players on the show,have become bestsellers and the newest book,Frozen Heat,sounds like the perfect stocking stuffer for a Castle fan.

I'm starting to get into the show but have to begin at the beginning with Heat Wave,the first of the Nikki Heat titles. That's fine with me,since I suspect that I will appreciate this more than the intended mystery muse of Castle's did at first:

So,stay tuned for my Best Books of the Year post coming soon and best of luck with your holiday shopping. Gift giving can be stressful yet seeing that true look of joy upon someone's face when they receive the truly perfect present is worth all of the fuss and a special gift in and of itself:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A pair of TAR superfans are sent packing,a second season of Comic Book Men and World Without End's enduring couple

The remaining teams on The Amazing Race went to Dhaka, Bangladesh,where most of them turned down the Fast Forward due to the task being collecting dead rats(James and Abba,Team Rock N' Roll ,completed it and were the first ones at the Pit Stop for their trouble).

The others went through the Road Block and Detours to finish up this leg but a couple of them didn't take the time to read the instructions on how to travel to the Pit Stop and had to go back.

That didn't hurt Team Monster Truck,although it would've been better to not blame the boat pilot for their own mistake, Rob! However,Gary and Will,aka the Super Fans,wound up last. Sorry,guys-you did your best but this just wasn't your game here:

The sequel to Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth miniseries,World Without End,has been airing on the Reelz channel for the past couple of weeks and so far,it's pretty good.

The story is set in the fictional version of Kingsbridge,England and follows the lives of some of the descendants of the previous residents that were featured in POTE. A war is under way with France,due to the manipulations of the new King's mother,and that,along with the collapse of the town's bridge that killed quite a few people,is affecting even the smallest players on this chessboard of history.

The most lovelorn pair in this series of subplots is Caris(Charlotte Riley),the daughter of a wooler who would prefer to be a medicine woman on her own terms and Merthin(Tom Weston-Jones),the son of a disgraced nobleman who now seeks his fortune upon his own merits and knowledge of architecture.

They have a lot of obstacles in their way; Caris was made to marry a man she didn't love(and who happens to be the lead architect in the area who also hates Merthin)and with much suspicion cast over her apprenticeship with a woman condemned as a a witch,Caris' desire to help others is nearly stronger than her desire for Merthin. Whether or not these two crazy kids can make this work out,they are certainly compelling to watch:

The AMC series Comic Book Men is back for a second season and if you're not familiar with the show,it's basically about the antics at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash,a comic book shop in New Jersey owned by director Kevin Smith and operated by some of his friends.

Yes,there's plenty of geek talk but there is also plenty of fun for all as the guys bargain for merchandise brought in by customers,scheme to find bargains at sales and try out new promotional ideas to expand the business(a children's birthday party at the store,for example,was as hectic as you would imagine and more so). I really enjoy the walk-in sales,especially since Walt loves to negotiate:

This being an all boys' club for the most part,pranks abound and bets are paid for with such doings as reenacting the wedding of Fantastic Four couple Reed Richards and Susan Storm. The show airs after The Walking Dead on Sundays and even if you don't watch TWD(had to give up on it myself,I just got zombied out),Comic Book Men is definitely something to catch at that hour: RANDOM NOTES: MOCKINGBIRD LANE: The revamped version of The Munsters gets a preview this Friday and it appears that they're embarking on a much more fanciful rendition than the original,particularly with the special effects. Let's hope this plays better with monster mash fans than Johnny Depp's Dark Shadows movie did over the summer:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Louise Erdrich opens a door to the dark side of maturity at The Round House

Louise Erdrich's latest novel,The Round House,is set in the spring and summer of 1988 where a thirteen year old boy named Joe is all too eager to grow up but his first taste of adulthood is a bitter one indeed.

Like most of the guys his age on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where they live,Joe is mainly into hanging out with his friends to goof around and debate Star Trek:The Next Generation lore,not to mention observe grown up event from a safe distance. However,that option is no longer available to him when one day,his mother arrives home beaten and in shock from a violent sexual assault:

With his father being a judge,Joe is confident about getting justice for his mother in the beginning yet as time goes on,the realities of the situation slowly sink in.

Due to the limited information and evidence regarding the crime,the chances for the man who did this(and it's some time before a real suspect can be determined)to face any sort of legal consequences become slim to none.

In addition,it's hard to determine under whose authority the case can be properly investigated and prosecuted at all,since no one is sure if the assault took place on state,federal or Native American land. Joe is no stranger to prejudice against his people but when it hits that close to home,the harsh ugliness of it is harder to bear:

With his family slowly falling apart and the indignity of having this crime,which has more than one victim,go unavenged,Joe decides to seek justice on his own. The only help he can count on comes from his friends,who are supportive but even that assistance comes at a higher price than any of them expected.

Louise Erdrich is known for her vivid storytelling and emotional portraits of Midwestern life,particularly of Native Americans,yet here she reaches a new artistic level of literature.

In one novel,she captures the severe devastation that a rape can bring to a family,along with the inequities of the legal system and how a young person struggles to find a sense of purpose amidst the chaos that his elders are resigned to. That's not an easy thing to pull off for any artist and yet Erdrich does it with the hard earned grace that a writer of her caliber has honed over the years, the kind that some might be foolish to think is effortless.

She also shows true insight into the mind of a teenage boy and how the bonds of friendship that he makes are just as strong as his family ties,in some instances even more so:

The Round House may sound like a sad read but there are moments of joy within it's pages,as the family life of the Ojibwe people is celebrated with all of it's benefits and flaws. This book is a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia for a time of innocence once lost and never really recovered,something that can be appreciated by more than one generation of readers.

The book is currently a Best Fiction nominee at the National Book Awards,with the winners to be announced on November 14. The Round House flat out deserves to win and I hope that judges agree with me on that by the time the awards are handed out.

This heartfelt tale of retribution and the seemingly endless search for forgiveness is a a true national treasure that will enhance public and private libraries for a long time to come and it would be nice to see such a literary gem honored in it's time:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Galleycat presents some musical riffs from their Varney the Vampire remix

As some of you know,I took part in Galleycat's first Literary Remix and rewrote a section of a Horatio Alger novel called Joe's Luck. It was a lot of fun,so when a new remix contest was announced,I put my name in the hat for another chance to mix up old school,as it were.

Plus,they chose a vampire tale this time around,a Victorian potboiler entitled Varney the Vampire and resisting such ghoulish goofiness would be as possible for me as it would be for a pack of felines to turn down a mountain of catnip.

Entries are beginning to appear at Galleycat's Tumblr page and the first one up is a musical rewrite based on Lady GaGa's "Telephone",which is pretty well done,I have to say. As it turns out,my entry is also musical related as well but I doubt all of the participants will be doing that.

However,it won't surprise me if a few more of them are sinister song fests. There's just something irresistible about blending vampires with musicals;an oddly acquired taste to be sure,like that milk and Pepsi combo from Laverne and Shirley. Granted, it sounds awful tasting but if you get the mix just right,it can be a funny yet flavorful comedy concoction.

My first encounter with vampires and music came from 1979's Love at First Bite,in the scene where the Count shows his true seductive skills to cynical Cindy Sondheim by twirling her about on the dance floor.

It's a great moment to watch but sadly,the home video version takes out their song "I Love The Night Life"(due to a dispute over the rights)which really makes that dance work as well it does,in my opinion:

The yen for vampire musicals has grown over the years,with a Broadway version of The Vampire Lestat hitting the stage,along with productions based on Nosferatu and the Fearless Vampire Killers and of course,the now classic Buffy episode where Spike got to sing his heart out.

However,the best use of this strange little sub-genre has been in the humor realm as Forgetting Sarah Marshall proved when the most popular parts of the film were centered on the leading man's desire to put on a puppet musical version of Dracula. Frankly,I'd like to see that on stage and wish Jason Siegal had done that instead of making that revamped Muppet movie(no pun intended,I swear!):

Most of the satirical stakes and arrows these days in this area are aimed at Twilight,for it's popularity amongst teenagers preferring a more romantic friendly edition of broody bloodsuckers(not to mention their moms).

As a Twilight fan myself,I've found that it's best to have a sense of humor about these things and some of the jokes are on point at times. Part of the appeal of vampire lovers is their deadly dating habits,after all.

Times and tastes do change,especially when it comes to horror so I'm sure that this trend will settle down enough to placate the fans of traditional vampire lore yet not entirely deprive us of a lovable emo vamp now and then:

Once all the entries are in,a winner will be chosen and the entire set of rewrites will be published in an e-book,courtesy of Smashwords,that will available as a free download. Good luck to all of my fellow participants and I look forward to seeing how creatively silly this vampire saga gets.

As for my musical number,I really went old school there. A very guilty pleasure of mine is the official video for "Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys,with it's transformation of the boys in the band into classic movie monsters(including a rather London After Midnight look for the vampire)and how I worked that into this story,well,you'll just have to wait and see,friends and fiends:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2 Broke Girls take on Cupcake Wars,double U Turn trouble for a TAR team and a taste of Tattoo Nightmares

Pop culture worlds collide on 2 Broke Girls this week,as Max and Caroline landed themselves an audition for Cupcake Wars,a sweet staple on the Food Network.

While the gals didn't meet any of the actual folks from that series,they were determined to get a spot on it,especially Max who's a fan of the show yet she also didn't want to be your typical cliche spouting contender.

Both of their hopes were high here but those piping bag dreams fell fast when they saw their ultra perky competition:

The girls were even more flustered when the secret ingredient theme was revealed which clearly played more in the other team's ballpark(plus Caroline's culinary skills are sad to behold).

They did wind up making a decent cupcake but naturally didn't wind up on the show. Since I also enjoy watching Cupcake Wars,this media merger was a special sugary slice of sitcom delight. Hopefully they'll do another FN related episode because this one was pretty damn fun and funny to boot:

The latest leg of The Amazing Race kept the teams in Indonesia,where a Double U Turn was lying in wait for them. This not only allowed two teams a chance to delay a couple of others,this was also a "blind" U-turn(meaning that you could tap someone out anonymously).

What really tripped up the team that was eliminated,however,was communication. Caitlin and Brittany wound up being at the back of the pack due to slow cabs and trouble with non-English speaking drivers,which benefited a team that was U Turned into staying in the game. Just a hint,ladies;when you're traveling in a foreign country,it's reasonable to assume that not everyone will speak your language(and shouting doesn't help!). Sorry you had to go but maybe that was for the best:

Spike TV premiered a new show this week called Tattoo Nightmares,where people with unfortunate body art could get it covered up with stellar new designs by one of three tattoo artists:Tommy,Big Gus and Jasmine Rodriquez.

I happen to know Jasmine,as she's a good friend of the family and her work is consistently outstanding. It's really nice to see such a deserving talent get a break like this but that's not the only reason to watch this show.

Each client tells their tale of woe about how they got the original awful tattoo(some reenactment is involved)and the before and after results are amazing. Tattoo Nightmares airs at 11:00 on Tuesdays and I hope it does well-congrats to Jasmine and best of luck!:

Preview: The Marine
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THE NEXT IRON CHEF: This season's theme is redemption,as former contenders return to earn their spot in Kitchen Stadium. Personally,I'm rooting for Alex Guarnschelli,my favorite judge on Chopped and who also does sous chef duty with IC Geoffrey Zakarian.

There hasn't been a lady in the Iron Chef ranks since Cat Cora left and Alex would be a most worthy successor to that standard,indeed:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Will it be the Battle of the Biopics for Best Actor at the next Oscars?

Most of the films released in late autumn tend to be serious subject stuff due to the serious business of earning Academy Awards nominations. As we all know,Hollywood loves to honor actors and actresses who play real life figures and this year,the fellas have it made in the shade with a triple dose of biopic star power about to hit theaters.

Daniel Day-Lewis is no stranger to historical films and biographies,so with his upcoming movie Lincoln,he gets to combine both of those strong suits. The screenplay,adapted by Tony Kushner, is based upon Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals,using only the final four months of Lincoln's life as the focal point.

Day-Lewis is backed up by a solid cast with Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln,Tommy Lee Jones as a strident Abolitionist leader and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the eldest Lincoln son. Also,it doesn't hurt to have Steven Spielberg as your director either. With a powerful buzz about Lincoln going around this year,this film could easily take over more than the Best Actor slot come Oscar time:

However,Hollywood also adores movies about movie makers and that gives Anthony Hopkins quite the sharp edge here with Hitchcock,which centers itself around the difficulties of making the now horror classic Psycho.

Helen Mirren co-stars as Hitch's long suffering wife Alma,with Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel playing Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. With HBO about to premiere their own movie about Hitchcock(that has Toby Jones as the lead),some compare and contrast will be made but for Hopkins not to get a Best Actor out of this role would be more shocking than seeing Psycho for the first time:

The man who may have the toughest row to hoe in this category is Bill Murray,continuing his streak of dramatic performances with Hyde Park on Hudson portraying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The story takes place in 1939,with FDR receiving a visit at his estate in Hyde Park,NY by then king of England George VI,in hopes of strengthening the ties between the US and Britain as WWII is hovering over the political horizon. Assisting Roosevelt in this endeavor,along with First Lady Eleanor(Olivia Williams)is Margaret Suckley,a distant cousin and intimate companion played by Laura Linney.

Murray has been part of the growing trend of comic actors turning to serious roles with a higher degree of success ,both critically and with mass audiences, than most. It's entirely possible that this may be his season to shine at the Oscars with this blend of historical drama and comedy of manners:

We'll see how things go at Oscar time but I won't be surprised to see at least of these gents anxiously awaiting to hear if he has captured the gold. Doing a biopic may sound like a surefire way to get an Oscar nom but it's all in the role you take and the importance of the person you play:

Monday, October 15, 2012

The true value of PBS

We've all heard a lot of talk about federal funding for PBS lately and how some people think it's in our best financial interest to cut it off. I won't get into the big numbers,other than to say this;yes, Sesame Street alone makes a good amount of money but that only covers that show's costs,period.

Just because one series does well on a network,that doesn't mean that program can or should pay for every other show on the company's roster. Granted,no one is outright suggesting that Sesame Street should do that but the there is an underlying implication that it's success is a sign that the rest of the PBS line-up doesn't need any of our support.

I say it does,not for any political based reasons but for the simple fact that it's presence is a boon to public education. Much like our public libraries(which are also under attack by those looking to slash funds from places that don't appear to directly affect their interests),public television was meant to be a resource for folks to tap into as a way to better improve the education of their children and themselves.

Despite what the nay-sayers claim,PBS does encourage kids to think and learn both before and after entering the school system with smartly savvy shows that treat their audience with more respect and intelligence that some of the stuff aimed at adults these days:

This isn't a "for the sake of the children" argument here,PBS is also beneficial to grown-ups as well. Whether they watch Downton Abbey,American Masters or Antiques Roadshow,knowledge about subjects such as art,history,science and literature are given in an entertaining fashion that enriches the minds of even the casual viewer.

It's particularly useful to those older folk looking to further their education and/or improve their skill set. With the ups and downs of our economic times as turbulent as they are and probably will be for some time to come,this resource is more important that ever. Even if it is only to help someone sing a better song in life,the cost is well worth it:

They say knowledge is power,which is why some may feel threatened by the existence of PBS. While I don't agree with every opinion put forth on that network,that's part of the price you pay for freedom of speech and thought in a democracy.

Once upon a time,the notion that exposure to art and education at any age was good for a person's full development was a popular one.

Perhaps,it's become old fashioned in our high tech digital world to want to explore old books and paintings but the very reason that we've become as advanced as we are is due to people simply putting their minds to learn as much as they could about the past in order to improve our present and future.

In my opinion,it can also make for better citizens by having a more informed understanding of what goes on in public office. Not to mention being able to appreciate the benefits of our free society all the more by knowing what went into creating this bastion of free expression in the first place. Many people may feel overwhelmed by the language and amounts of facts involved,which is why an accessible forum like PBS is vital to encouraging their interest in learning:

Of course,it's not enough just to expand your mind,your empathy for others along with the motivation to help them out however you can is what truly makes for a better person. This combination of head and heart is what brings forth those in our world who mark their mark in a positive way and some of those exceptionable people were the pioneers that brought PBS to the airwaves.

From Reading Rainbow to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,those few folk who endeavored to make our viewing realm a little bit brighter are still beloved even by those who seeking to limit the funding for future great shows that follow in their video footsteps.

Hopefully,regardless of how this upcoming electoral cycle turns out,the people in power will reconsider this effort to deprive our nation of such a fundamental force for good in our lives. I think they might,mainly because they want to be considered good neighbors as they and their children were taught to by a very wise man who made PBS what it is today and with any luck,tomorrow as well:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A TAR Team earns an Express Pass,a second season of Upstairs,Downstairs and The Girl soon to haunt HBO

The second leg of The Amazing Race took the teams to Indonesia,where they had the opportunity to win the coveted Express Pass(which allows you to bypass any tricky challenges).

Twin sisters Natalie and Nadiya were the only ones to tackle the Road Block task that required setting up a stand in a local fish market(everyone else went for the ice delivery option).

They were able to place the stinky goods in the correct order on their first try and happily hollered for joy when awarded their prize at the Pitstop. These gals are very enthusiastic but rather loud to say the leas. However, I guess they have the right attitude for this race, so,congrats,ladies and keep up the good work!:

Season two of the revived Upstairs,Downstairs started on Sunday,with a lot of new faces appearing at 165 Eaton Place and several familiar ones no longer in place.

Sadly,due to health issues,Jean Marsh will only be seen briefly this time around and Eileen Atkins didn't like the way her character was written so Lady Maud has been killed off for this go-round.

In her place,Alex Kingston has joined the cast as Aunt Blanche,Maud's half sister who is just as opinionated and forthright as her elder sibling was,with plenty to say about the care and feeding of both Lady Agnes and her new baby daughter:

Other new arrivals include nursery maid Beryl,who has a dark past and kitchen maid Eunice,who seems nice enough. So far,the main focus is on the upcoming war which is causing folks to take precautions and opposing political sides.

The person who happens to be on the worst side of this spectrum at the moment is Persie,Lady Agnes' little sister still living in Germany. Her brother-in-law did attempt to take her home but was literally kissed off for his troubles.

Perhaps she might reconsider that ticket back to England with things getting pretty dicey in Berlin but Persie needs to cut out the flirting,seriously! Things are brewing up enough as it is without that:

Arriving just before Halloween,The Girl promises to be a chilling look at Alfred Hitchcock's intense relationship with one of his leading ladies,Tippi Hedren(Sienna Miller). Toby Jones plays Hitch,whose interest in Hedren goes far beyond artistic license and is not unnoticed by his wife Alma(Imelda Staunton).

Tippi Hedren starred in two of Hitchcock's films,the classic thriller The Birds and the psychological suspense drama Marnie. She also is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith and I recall hearing a story about a gift that Hitchcock gave to Melanie in her childhood;it was a coffin shaped box with a doll version of her mom inside.

I don't know if that little tidbit will make it's way into this film but it's certainly a sign of just how oddly morbid the man could be.

With Anthony Hopkins about to appear as Hitchcock in a biopic next month,Jones' performance is already up for comparison but I think that each one deserves to be judged on their own merits. The Girl debuts on October 20 and should be a real treat for movie buffs and horror fans alike:


THE WALKING DEAD: Speaking of scares,Season Three of this ghoulish drama starts up this weekend and maybe it's just me but aren't Rick and friends a little too happy about setting up shop in a prison? Oh,well,guess you can't be too picky about your accommodations during a zombie apocalypse:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Sean Howe showcases the real superheroes behind Marvel Comics:The Untold Story

When it comes to the world of comic books and superheroes,two of the giants of that pop culture industry are DC and Marvel,the latter of which is the main focus of writer Sean Howe's new book,Marvel Comics:The Untold Story. He chronicles the growth of the company from it's early days as one of the subdivisions of small scale magazine publisher Martin Goodman back in the days before WWII to the changing times of the 1950s and 60s leading into the modern era.

Marvel was always known for it's eager engagement with the fans,with lively descriptions of the artists and writers in the "Marvel Bullpen" and fan clubs dubbed the "Merry Marching Marvel Society" that painted a picture of happy-go-lucky fellas bringing to life such celebrated heroes as Captain America, the Hulk,Spiderman and the Fantastic Four for the sheer bliss of it all:

The reality,however,was not as bright and shiny. While artists and writers did collaborate to mold and further define their characters beyond their powers and costumes,battles for creative control and financial compensation were waged just as heavily as any challenges faced by the Avengers or the X-Men.

Pivotal artists such as Steve Ditko and John Romita,along with writers like Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin often fought with editors and management to advance their story lines and keep up with the changing times in order to be in step with their readership. One of the most outspoken of them was Jack Kirby,whose genius was taken for granted at times and in his later years,he publicly criticized Marvel for taking advantage of his talents:

Yet,despite the office politics and personal turmoil,Marvel did elevate the playing field for comic books by persisting in emotional development for it's characters, introducing such subjects as drug addiction and racial prejudice into the fictional fray and connecting as many series as they could to one another to maintain a strong sense of continuity.

One of the reasons for some of those achievements is Stan Lee,who has as many friends and foes as any Marvel creation. His early hands-on approach to the business has taken him beyond the editor's desk to his current role as the spokesman for the entire Marvel universe,something which has not always benefited him money wise.

Nonetheless,Stan Lee's position in the growth of Marvel as a media force to be reckoned with can not be denied,even if many would prefer to write him off as just a charismatic pitchman for the company. For better or for worse,Stan Lee is the man who continues to be an idol for comic book fans of past and future generations to come:

Sean Howe tells this tale in an engaging narrative that is candid about the hits and misses on both sides of the drawing desk. His detailed research regarding the various struggles between artist and employer,along with the brainstorming sessions that shaped such story lines as The Dark Phoenix Saga and the death of Elektra really give you a true insider's perspective.

He also highlights the numerous artists who made their mark with Marvel over the years like Chris Claremont whose redevelopment of the X-Men brought that series back to life and Frank Miller's run on Daredevil that made even the most casual comic book reader sit up and take notice. Howe not only knows his stuff but is able to make it accessible to readers who may not be fully familiar with the comic book world,a rather formidable super power indeed.

Marvel Comics:The Untold Story will be released on October 9 and yes, while it does sound like the perfect pick for any fanboy or girl,even non-true believers will enjoy this truly never ending adventure. This book is also ideal for DC comics folk as well who may stick to the JLA but can't deny the cleverness of Marvel's mindset that makes the realm of comic book lore a universal delight for all:

Thursday, October 04, 2012

TAR doubles down,a second look at Vegas and Steel Magnolias bloom again

The Amazing Race started off their new season with a brand new twist to the proceedings. If the team that wins the first leg also wins the last,that couple will get two million dollars instead of the standard one million prize.

Naturally,this put a lot of extra pressure on the contestants who were sent to Shanghai,China where they had to score at least one point off of a junior ping pong champion before encountering an exotic food challenge. Nice to see TAR set that up right away there!

That Road Block had the person who didn't partake in the earlier ping-pong challenge eat frog fallopian tubes out of a pair of hollowed out papayas. An important requirement of that task was to only use chopsticks and/or not pick up the fruit with your hands. The team that forgot that rule(a pair of monster truckers)had to eat another portion of that treat,which a member of Team Chippendale referred to as "warm Jello":

The team that did reach the Pitstop first was Abbie and Ryan,who got a little unexpected help there from another team.

Amy and Daniel happened to locate the next to last clue beforehand and when asked,told Abbie and Ryan where to go. They were right behind them and while Amy regretted being so useful,it was a piece of good karma that may very well come back to that team at a future crucial moment:

The Lifetime channel is scheduled to air a remake of the 1989 sentimental favorite Steel Magnolias this weekend but a recent lawsuit by a producer of the Hollywood version of the adapted play might cause that to change.

Victoria L. White claims that no one informed her regarding this production and that she's entitled to be listed in the credits before the movie can be shown.

Delaying this movie would be a shame,especially with such a great cast as Queen Latifah,Alfre Woodard,Jill Scott and Phylicia Rashad on board here. Hopefully,all of this legal fuss will be cleared up in time to watch this new batch of melodramatic flowers blossom this Sunday:

Not only did I watch the premiere episode of the new crime drama Vegas,I also checked out this week's installment. While the show is somewhat held back in language and content due to being a regular network series,it's clearly not lacking when it comes to character development.

Newly appointed sheriff Ralph Lamb(Dennis Quaid)has a lot on his plate,with an attempted hit on a possibly pivotal witness against the mob in custody and looking out for his son Dixon( Taylor Handley),whose enthusiasm can get the better of him.

The major crime under investigation this week was a set of home burglaries targeting high rollers,with one fatality so far. Ralph took the lead on a break in the case that lead his team right into a burglary in process and Dixon turned out to be a much better back-up than expected:

On the other side of town,mobster Vincent Savino is settling into his new role as head man at the Savoy casino when an old acquaintance from Chicago is sent in to reorganize the counting room.

Her name is Mia Rizzo(Sarah Jones),the only child of a prominent underworld boss who definitely knows her stuff when it comes to money laundering. Vince is happy to see her but just how well she'll be able to play with the fellas without stepping on too many toes(not to mention calls to Daddy)remains to be seen.

Plenty of interesting intrigue on deck,plus some sweet old school decor and style,is making Vegas worth checking into for a little while longer:


UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS: Season two of this new generation version debuts this Sunday,with more episodes than the first go-round and should do well enough until Downton Abbey returns:

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Can the Oscars survive Seth McFarlane?

A big pop culture announcement was made this week,with Seth McFarlane being named as the next host of the Academy Awards in 2013.

McFarlane has been making the MC circuit lately,partly due to his big summer movie Ted becoming an overnight cinematic sensation and with the continued popularity of his animated series like Family Guy and The Cleveland Show,he's sure to get some strong viewing numbers.

However,off beat humorists like him tend to have trouble with this gig. For any Oscar host to truly do well,it takes a bit of mass market appeal and let's face it,folks;Seth McFarlane is rather an acquired taste akin to peanut butter french fried guacamole dip. Sure,he has a great gift for voices and can present an amusing musical parody but how well will his antics play on such a big stage?:

Oscar in house audiences can be very sensitive,as Chris Rock found out back in 2005,when he landed that hot spot. Despite being very funny,some of the celebs were a little peeved about some of his jokes,particularly a riff about Jude Law being in every other movie(which he was that year,Sean Penn,so get over it!).

Rock's one time only at the Academy Awards mike didn't stall his career any but the odds of him being asked to do it again are pretty low,a shame in my opinion:

Yet,even an awkward Oscar night doesn't completely rule out a return to the Kodak Theater,as Jon Stewart proved in 2008. His first run at the 2006 Academy Awards had folks both at home and in the audience less than thrilled with him,with ratings to match.

However,with such rich material as the writers' strike that had ended in time for the Oscars to mine,Stewart was able to turn that former bit of TV dross into Oscar gold. However,his workload at the Daily Show probably won't allow him to go for a third grab at that brass ring:

When it comes to the Oscars,there is such a thing as being too nice. Ellen DeGeneres discovered that during her hosting duties in 2007,when her sweet little skits such as vacuuming the red carpet and chatting up the big names sitting in the audience failed to thrill anybody.

She did her level best,no doubt about it. However,what works on a daytime talk show doesn't always hit the same sweet spot with a prime time crowd:

What the Academy really wants is another Billy Crystal,whose nine times as Oscar host made him a household favorite(until his unfortunate remarks last year that put off a lot of people considerably).

Getting someone with enough likeability and good humor who isn't bland to entertain this worldwide crowd,however,is rather a tall order. Seth McFarlane will give it a good shot,I'm sure,but if it was up to me,I would be asking Hugh Jackman to do another repeat performance.

Jackman's stint as the 2009 host was one of the best that I've seen in a long while and granted,his filming schedule may make it tough for him to return,but it certainly would be worth the extra fuss. Audiences and critics loved him that night and even if McFarlane does a bang up job,I highly doubt that he'll be as charming as Jackman was.

So,let Seth McFarlane do his thing come January but next time,perhaps the Academy will wise up and see the wisdom of bringing Hugh Jackman back. He could easily become the perfect go-to guy for the Oscars just as Neil Patrick Harris is for the Tonys,which would make these long shows seem way too short. That would be a real movie time treat to enjoy: