Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, January 31, 2014

One less song to be sung at this year's Oscars

As some of you may know, I take an eager interest in the Academy Awards,with a special fondness for the Best Song category that was in danger of being rather unappreciated lately. Well, now we have quite a bright spotlight shining on that particular section of the awards show these days.

Many eyebrows were raised when the theme song from "Alone Yet Not Alone"  was nominated,since it was barely released into theaters(it had a nine day run in order to qualify for the Oscars) and speculation about the influence of it's composer Bruce Broughton,who was a former governor of the Academy and a current executive member of the music branch, in making that happen.

It turns out that Bruce sent out a few e-mails(about 70) to certain friends of his who are eligible voters to urge them to nominate his song,which happens to be a no-no. This week, the Academy announced that the nomination for that song was now rescinded,something that has never happened before:

This decision has ruffled quite a few feathers,with Bruce Broughton claiming on his Facebook page and elsewhere that he did not nothing wrong and that he's the victim of a campaign to "discredit his song".

 Online petitions are already being sent as we speak to protest this  and accusations of bias due to AYNA being a faith based film are flying about fast and furious. Amidst this minor note brouhaha, I feel the need to say something sensible here and that is this:

Mr. Broughton,as a grown man and an industry professional, you know very well that what you did wasn't right. Yes, other Oscar campaigns in the past(and probably still in the present) have gone to extremes to get their films nominated but that is no excuse for you to do what you did.

As a former Academy governor and current music branch member,you should know that you are automatically held to a higher standard and by e-mailing voters listed in your personal Rolodex(as you yourself claim), you are using undue influence to obtain preference for your work. To insist that it was merely "grass roots campaigning" is as absurd as movie stars using Kickstarter to finance their pet projects(and yes, I know some of them do).

I also don't buy your claim that a "simple e-mail" from you to one of the many people on your personal friends and contacts list wouldn't sway anyone's vote. Either you're actually naive or you think the rest of us are. Sounds like a bad case of sour grapes to me.

 To the folks claiming religious persecution here,may I remind you of a certain little movie called The Passion of the Christ which received several Oscar nominations? That film was more widely seen than Alone Yet Not Alone and far more controversial in nature as well as media scrutiny and yet it was still put up there.

To tell the truth and shame the devil, that song didn't really have much of a chance of winning in the first place. Like a lot of other Oscar races, this category is pretty much down to two frontrunners, either U2's "Ordinary Love"  or " Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen.

 Hard to beat out Disney in this category,folks,especially since this song is getting a lot of love from fans of all ages. While it is a shame that Joni Eareckson Tada(the original singer) doesn't get her moment on stage there, the award is given to the writers and you can thank one of them for making her lose out on this opportunity to share her talents on such a grand scale.

By the time the Oscars are over, this kerfuffle will another footnote in movie award show history and hopefully it won't set a bad precedent for future nominees. Maybe it would be best if we all just sang along in renewed harmony to let all the bad vibes go:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Top Chef makes it to Maui,AHS:Coven conclusion and Downton Abbey's Isobel rising

Part One of this season's Top Chef finale began last night, with the Final Three being introduced to their fourth contender from Last Chance Kitchen.

It was Louis,coming off of an eight in a row winning streak,who joined them in Maui to perform the last Quickfire challenge that would win one of them ten grand.

The challenge was to make something innovative with Spam,a popular menu item in Hawaii. This has been done before on a previous TC season and it's kind of hard to have to pull off a redo,if you ask me.

Well,Nicholas managed to earn his first and last QF win for his Spam broth that pleased guest judge Sam Choy. Before the Elimination Challenge was announced, two announcements were made:1) this would be a double elimination and 2) the winner of this challenge would receive an advantage for the second half of the finale. Not too much pressure here,do you think?

For the Elim, each chef had to use "canoe crops"-foods transported by canoe in the traditional Hawaiian fashion. That gave them an assortment of starchy veggies such as sweet potato and proteins of fish,chicken and pork to work with.

In addition,the food had to be cooked outdoors and during the prep time, a brief storm appeared which impacted a few of the dishes that the judges,including a very pregnant Judge Gail, had to sample.

Louis and Nina wound up choosing the same fish(opah) for their plate,which caused her to worry about how her food would hold up under such a culinary compare and contrast.

Turns out her worries were unnecessary, due to Louis' fish portions having consistency issues. The flavors of the sweet potato and coconut sauce on the fish were great yet with some folks getting half cooked fish while others had well done knocked him out of the running. 

Nina's opah had taro root and coconut puree with a spicy kick that was almost too much for some of the judges.

However,her dish shined in comparison to Louis,so she'll be in the Final Two next week! I am really happy for her and my only regret is not Nina is not going up against the other great gal in this competition.

Sadly, Shirley was asked to pack her knives due to her pork dish being overly sweet. Part of the reason for that is a good portion of the tumeric puree made for the plate had to be dumped(it was watered down from the unexpected storm during prep).

She was the only one to cook a meat,which could have given her an edge but lead to her defeat instead. *sigh* Team Shirley is mournful today.

That leaves Nicholas to face off against Nina next week, While his opakapaka with crispy chicken skin had a little too much jalapeno for some, at least his fish came out evenly.

While I would've much preferred Shirley or even Louis(who did fight hard to earn a place back in the game), I am confident that Nina can take the whole shooting match here. Best of luck to both chefs and high hopes for a good finale!

American Horror Story: Coven had their finale last night as well, starting with a musical number by Stevie Nicks(I kid you not) and the battle to select the Supreme ended up with Cordelia taking the throne of power. Fiona did make a last minute visit,with a nicely done farewell to her daughter and a fitting fate awaiting her in Hell.

I did suspect that she might be the one tapped for the dubious honor here(especially in the next to last episode during a vision Cordelia had where her demise was markedly different from the other potentials) and the whole ending had sort of a shiny happy feeling to it,except for poor Misty Day and mean bitch Madison,that is.

This is the first season that I've ever watched AHS(which is heading for a fourth and possibly fifth go-round),so perhaps the rambling tone of the story telling is to be expected.

However, as much as I liked many of the crazy diva moments of the show and pleasantly surprised by some twists and turns(Queenie surviving her head shot a couple of episodes ago was one), I feel a tad let down. Perhaps my expectations were too high here yet I still think that if the plot points had been more concise and a few of the queen bee antics toned down, we might have gotten a season well worth the early hype and imagery that sold it hard to new as well as regular fans:

 With the Anna assault business coming to a head on Downton Abbey(glad Bates got Mrs. Hughes to let him in on what was up there) for the moment, let us a take a moment to consider Isobel Crawley's current character arc.

As Matthew's mother, it is only natural that her grieving process be very different from Mary's and one other thing that each lady has in common with this rather sad connection is that each of them has to find a way to re-enter the living world.

Friends and family,particularly Dr. Clarkson, have urged her to go back to her charity work and she's done so,slowly but surely. An unexpected source of encouragement is our dear Dowager Countess Violet, who can't help but debate with Isobel over her methods of social improvement while going along with some of them just the same:

Isobel's emotional struggle to reconnect to life are a small part of the show but her quiet stoicism is admirable, plus I like the idea of her and Violet becoming cranky old gal pals together.

 Granted, watching her former daughter-in-law considering the notion of romance again can be painful but Isobel has enough good sense to let Mary find her own way in that department without packing her any bags for a guilt trip.

Part of me wonders what she would think if Tom and Mary were to hook up(all three of them have loss of a loved one in common, not to mention both Tom and Mary are single parents right now) because I wouldn't be surprised if that happened. Knowing Isobel, she'd probably be the only Crawley supporting the match, if that is in the cards there:


THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: Ding dong,Katherine is gone but not completely. As expected, she used that body swiping spell of her long lost daughter's to take over Elena's body but her original casing is apparently needed to make the exchange permanent. That's going to be a problem tonight as Damon has already dug that grave(he's so fun when he's in "I don't give a damn" mode!):

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Fearful February debut for Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires!

I'm happy to announce that my latest ebook is preparing to make it's grand entrance next month,just in time for Valentine's Day.

 Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires tells a very different version of Mansfield Park(which is celebrating it's 200th publishing anniversary) as modern day descendants of the Bertram family discover a secret stash of letters that Fanny wrote to her sailor brother William but never dared to send him.

The three sets of letters describe how Fanny comes to realize that Mary and Henry Crawford have fangs even sharper than their wits,making their constant presence at Mansfield more frightening than daily visits from Aunt Norris.

Fanny has only surety of purpose and a specially sharpened keepsake from her recently departed Uncle Norris(who also leaves behind a couple of useful reference books as well) to protect the only home she knows and loves,not to mention her beloved Edmund. Can she save her loved ones from the clutches of the Crawfords or will she have even more difficulty in keeping Lady Bertram awake during tea time?

As you can see,my book is intended to be a mix of horror and comedy with a good dose of drama added into the mix. My theme is Jane Austen meets Buffy,which hopefully I do credit to both:

Some of the humor in the book comes from Willie E. Bertram,a good natured fellow who is one of the present day descendants of the former residents of Mansfield.

His sister Susan May finds out they have property still in England and travels there from the current family home in Florida to reclaim what's left of the place and perhaps turn it into a filming locale for future Downton Abby types of TV shows.

 Willie,however, feels that the real money is in selling Fanny's story(which is found amongst the numerous items at the estate) to make some of that Twilight cash. He's more of a zombie fan but sees the potential in marketing to the Hot Topic crowd.

 His biggest ambition is to get a movie deal and have his favorite actress Angelina Jolie star as the vampire Mary Crawford. I do agree that it's high time she play a bloodsucker,after all she certainly has the flair for scare,as her upcoming turn as bad fairy Maleficent promises to be:

Speaking of the Crawfords,part of the reason that I wrote this story was to showcase this sinister pair of siblings as vampires.

 They both possess the alluring looks and easy charm that is practically a trademark for vamps and I always found that part about how the Bertram girls considered Henry to be rather plain at first but all too soon found him rather attractive enough to fight over quite suspicious!

My favorite version of Henry Crawford is to be found in the 1983 BBC miniseries version(which also has the best of the horrid Aunt Norris  in Anna Massey as well) where he was played by Robert Burbage. However, I do not deny the appeal of the actors who have portrayed him in the other MP adaptations and rest assured Henry fans, he does have his moments to shine in FP:SOV to his best advantage:

Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires is scheduled for sale on February 11 and pre-ordering should be available soon. I'm planning a special post on that day and hopefully,a special giveaway item will be ready by then,so stay tuned!

Samples of the book are available for reading at the official Smashwords page and further updates will be made available at my Facebook page,The Austenite Adventures.

 I am profoundly grateful to my sister Stephanie for creating the cover art for this ebook(as she has so generously done for my previous ebook efforts) and look forward to hearing what my fellow Jane Austen admirers think of my attempt to give a gothic edge to Mansfield Park. I'd like to think that Jane would somewhat approve,as she did like a good gothy read every now and then:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Broadway goes to the movies,take 97!

Along side the many other new pop culture delights that folks look forward to sampling this year,Broadway plays have their fair share of fans eager to embrace all that the stage has to offer.However,the theater is not immune to following certain Hollywood trends such as adapting previous hits into remakes,especially where musicals are concerned.

 Sometimes, this works out well (I particularly enjoy the musical version of Legally Blonde) and other times, just as badly as any other box office flop(Stephen King's Carrie has not fared well either on stage or that dismal recent remake). I have at least three upcoming Broadway bound-Hollywood based shows on deck for us to examine the possible merits and misses of:

ROCKY: Yes, that Sly Stallone classic is being sent to the stage this season and there will be songs along with the blood(probably not much blood at that). This show was created in 2012 and had a successful run in Hamburg before being brought over to the US. I find it hard to take a musical version of Rocky at all seriously(it sounds so much like a comedy skit) but who knows, it might surprise us all:

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY: Now,this I wish was a joke yet sadly it's not. The Robert James Waller novel rears it's ugly head into the pop culture wild once again as a musical and does not have the sense to at least use the screenplay of the Clint Eastwood film adaptation,which made this sentimental hogwash much more palatable.

 Granted, my bias is personal as TBOMC is one of the few books that I actually hate(at least I didn't have to pay to read that damn thing,a relative all too willing loaned me a copy that he didn't want back) and is also one of the few films that is actually better than the book. Judging by this love duet from the show "Falling Into You", the Broadway version seems to be soaked in the cloying sap of self centered romance that the book had in annoying abundance:

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY: The 1994 Woody Allen period piece about the dangers of putting a play together seems to be tailor made for an actual Broadway production and I can truly see this working.

Using the original script and incorporating songs from the twenties and thirties, the show is set to star Zach Braff as the hapless playwright David Shayne, with Marin Mazzie as the pretentious diva Helen Sinclair(she of the infamous "don't speak!") and Nick Cordero as mob henchman Creech who gets overly involved in the development of the play.

The only stumbling block I can see is with audiences familiar with the original film doing a lot of compare and contrast between the leads here and their movie star counterparts. Considering that Dianne Wiest won an Oscar for being Helen Sinclair, any actress that follows is going to have a tough row to hoe(not to mention the guys stepping into the shoes of John Cusack and Chazz Palminteri):

 Broadway taking it's musical cues from Hollywood won't end any time soon(not as long as seats are still being filled) but it would be fun if they got a little more adventurous with their choices. After all, with the price of tickets these days,I think audiences would feel it worth their while to check out something like Evil Dead: The Musical somewhere else than Vegas. Come on, I'm not the only one who wants to do the Necronomicon on Broadway!:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Top Chef gets ready for the end,Sleepy Hollow's first season sum-up and dire doings at Downton Abbey

We are so very close to the finale for this season of Top Chef and the Final Four contenders were made very well aware of it going into the last Quickfire round.

 It was a two part QF,with the first challenge coming from Judge Gail who tasked them to make a perfect bite that would literally fit onto a cocktail fork.

The fellas won this challenge,Carlos with a grilled shrimp and Nicholas for a deckle of beef with a purple potato chip,so the ladies sat the second half out.

Judge Tom then had them choose between an eggplant and a pepper to highlight in a dish. Immunity was off the table but the chance to win a new car was quite the carrot on the stick there.

Carlos won the car,thanks to his red pepper soup with fennel and basil. Nicholas felt bummed that he was the only one left in the game who hadn't won anything yet but hey,dude, let that be a motivator for you!

The Elimination Challenge was to make a dish that reflected each chef's time in NOLA and to also add your own spin to it. A summery supper,in other words and three other prominent chefs joined the judges and Emeril,including TC Masters winner Douglas Keane,for that all-important meal.

Nina had big plans for her plate,especially an Italian mini pasta with ricotta cheese, yet forgot to add that extra item to her dish before service.

She was quite upset over that but it turns out that was a blessing in disguise. The speckled trout with baby veggies was perfect on it's own and landed her a spot in the finale. See,Nina, you did fine,relax!

Shirley also has a guaranteed place in the finale and was deemed the overall winner of this challenge.

 Her black drum fish with butter sauce was truly enchanting and the judges loved her mix of Chinese and New Orleans style. I'm rooting for either Shirley or Nina to take the whole shooting match but if pushed, I will admit to being a bit more on Team Shirley.

 She's a sincerely sweet person and it would be good for someone nice to win a reality competition show every once in a while(Nina is a nice person,too!).

As for the guys,Nicholas was in danger of leaving once again due to a lack of seasoning on his dish. I kind of have to go with Padma on this one as she pointed out that being this close to the finale should make you more on your game about something that basic.

However,the flavor profile on Nicholas' trio of cobia,bass and tuna comfit was enough to squeak under the finish line for now.

That left Carlos as the one who had to pack his knives to take on Louis(who has had an amazing winning streak) in Last Chance Kitchen.

There didn't seem to be that much wrong with his twist on a tamale(using seafood mousse instead of corn) but the judges did say that the mousse wasn't completely broken and perhaps they were just unimpressed. The two part finale will take place in Maui and let's keep our fingers crossed for the ladies( Team Shirley and Team Nina!).

Sleepy Hollow wrapped up it's first season with one hell of a bunch of cliffhangers(liked that Secret Bad Guy twist reveal at the end!) in a two part episode that has fans clamoring for more.

With Abby trapped in Purgatory,Katrina handed over to the Headless Horseman and Crane imprisoned underground in a coffin,plus Jenny and Captain Irving taken off the playing field, things do look dire there for the forces of good.

However, I have faith in the show for a logical escape for all of these characters unlike a certain other supernatural program(which I'll get to in a moment) and real interest in a second season.

I hate to compare and contrast but between Sleepy Hollow and AHS:Coven, it's hard to ignore the fact that the one series with a fairly conventional genre set-up(witch school) is chock full of plot holes and character inconsistencies while the show with the more far-out premise(Headless Horseman as harbinger of the Apocalypse) has a much steadier hand at the story telling tiller. Both use humor when needed but SH clearly has the upper hand in world building,plot momentum and character development.

It also says a lot for network television when a show like Sleepy Hollow proves that they can nurture
well written genre fare just as good as their basic & pay cable competitors can. Hopefully, this will lead to better shows all around,particularly by next fall when Sleepy Hollow returns:

In the mean time,Downton Abbey is chugging right along with their parade of plot lines including Lady Edith's overnight visit to her still married lover(which her aunt scolded her about,being more concerned with appearances than anything else) and Tom getting out of a potentially messy situation with Edna.

Seriously,Edna played her hand with all of the subtlety of an anvil;one night with a drunken Tom and you're claiming a possible pregnancy? Any schemer with sense would've let some time go by before dropping that bomb. Kudos to Mrs. Hughes for nipping that thorny rose in the bud good and proper!

Speaking of Mrs. Hughes, she is certainly the bearer of dark secrets as Anna insists on keeping what happened to her unknown to everyone else,especially her husband.

Granted,that time period wasn't known for respecting a woman's rights as the victim of a sexual crime and Mr. Bates might very well kill a man who violated his wife(and I wouldn't blame him one bit) but seeing Anna suffer like this is heartbreaking.

It would be best if she let him know what occurred sooner rather than later,as Bates is the type of man to look into the matter on his own and misunderstanding could easily arise from such an investigation-let's just hope the truth comes out in the right way:


THE WORST COOKS IN AMERICA: A new season of the Food Network competition between Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay, as to who can train a hopeless case in the kitchen into a culinary whiz the best ,is due to arrive next month. The early episodes are the most fun for food follies:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Some sweet and savory reads to warm your winter appetite

During these chilly days(another snow storm is on the way in my area as we speak), going out for your entertainment needs is a less attractive option and while there's plenty on TV, a good book is always your best bet.

Thanks to Library Thing and their Early Reviewers program, I had a light and lively read on hand for the recent frost fest,The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch. The leading lady of this novel,Sugar Wallace, is a displaced Southern belle whose travels have taken her to New York to set up shop for her remarkable batch of bees.

Wherever she goes, Sugar spreads her special brand of good cheer(including an insistence on manners) to those who need it as easily as the honey that her bees create. Her newest neighbors include a grumpy pair of elderly folk,Ruby who starves her body while she also starves for love and Nate, a shy young man with a talent for pastry. During her campaign to assist her new friends, Sugar literally runs into Theo,a former big shot lawyer with a taste for loud shirt and instant surety than he is meant to be the love of her life.

Sugar firmly resists any attempts to fall in love,as her past experience with romance lead to a break with her family back home in Charleston,but all of her friends,Theo and even the current queen bee of her hive(named Elizabeth the Sixth) are determined to make Sugar accepted the devotion that is due to her. It's a charming story that is sweet but not cloying,so if you like romance with a touch of whimsy, The Wedding Bees is a honey of a read:

Upon looking at the list of other works by Sarah-Kate Lynch at the beginning pages of The Wedding Bees, one title sprang out as somewhat familiar to me and sure enough, that book was tucked away amongst my huge stacks of yet to be read ARCs from my bookseller days.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers takes place in Ireland,where the fate of a dairy farm famed for it's remarkable cheddar is in the hands of two unlikely souls that come together. Abby is the granddaughter of  one of the long time owners of Coolarney House who has returned to County Cork mainly to get over the cheating ways of her husband while Kit,an American stock broker,needs to dry out and recover from the double loss of his wife and child.

 The two of them know next to nothing about farm life or cheese making but with the encouragement of their new set of friends, set about to revive Coolarney House and maybe discover a new love with each other. Nice to find a new read that was waiting for you all,plus I love cheese and this certainly sounds tasty in every sense of that word:

This discovery only made my mouth water for more female friendly foodie novels,so one of the additions to my book rental list at Booksfree was Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients.

A well respected restaurant chef named Lillian holds Monday evening cooking classes,where the magic of culinary arts are imparted to her students in more ways than one. Amongst her newest set of students are Claire,an overwhelmed young mother, and a troubled married couple,Tom and Helen,who hope to recapture the romance of their earlier times.

There is a follow-up book to this one called The Lost Art of Mixing,which I also included on my list and while not all of her novels are food based,I think Bauermeister could become a real treat to savor on my reading menu:

Food and books are fun any time of the year but during the long winter days, they can be a real relief from the harshness of life and weather. Just like a great recipe, a good book can be a well known formula that can offer a fresh appreciation of it's delicious elements and only a connoisseur of sour grapes would begrudge you a single bite or page turn:

Friday, January 17, 2014

A few first impressions of the 2014 Oscar race

Yesterday morning, the race for the Oscars officially set off as the nominations for the 86th annual film awards ceremony were announced.

As usual,there were a number of surprises both good for some and bad for others. To many, it wasn't a shocker that certain movies such as Lee Daniel's' The Butler, Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks wouldn't make the cut with the likes of 12 Years a Slave,American Hustle and Philomena were waiting in the wings.

What did shock me was seeing "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" actually receiving an Oscar nomination(for Best Makeup/Hair). Granted, it was along side The Lone Ranger and The Dallas Buyers Club,which will probably win, but did it have to be honored at all? The latest Hobbit movie alone certainly could've taken it's place!

Anyhow,here are some of my initial thoughts regarding this year's crop of Hollywood hopefuls and a few predictions that are subject to change:

BEST ACTRESS BRAWL:  At the moment,this is a two woman contest with Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock being strong contenders for the award. Both Judi Dench and Meryl Streep(with her Susan Lucci status in this category) as past winners are pretty much place holders here.

However,Cate and Sandra might very well get taken out of the game by Amy Adams ,who ironically enough plays a stealthy con artist in American Hustle.
While I haven't seen this movie(or a lot of the nominated films,as I am a lady of limited means), I do know that Amy has built up a solid resume of work that combines both indie fare and box office blockbusters,plus a good amount of good will,which helps in situations like this.

She may turn out to be the bridesmaid again but my pop culture instinct tells me that this time around, Amy Adams could be the Oscar winning bride this season:

BEST SONG BALLY-HOO: I am happy to see that five songs were nominated for Best Original Song this time out,what with this category getting the short end of the musical stick over the past few years.

While there will be folks grumbling in the cheap seats about Inside Llewyn Davis not qualifying for any spots here(now you know how I felt about a certain song from The Bodyguard not being tapped for this honor!), there is plenty to enjoy with Pharrell Williams offering up "Happy" from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and a bit of unexpected controversy with one of the other nominees.

The theme song from a barely released film "Alone Yet Not Alone" made the cut,which is baffling a good number of music fans but an explanation can be found. Turns out the songwriter of this tune was once a president of The Society of Composers and Lyricists as well as a current governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences,aka the folks who run the Academy Awards. Quite the well connected fellow,wouldn't you say?

Despite that kerfluffle, the odds-on favorite to win is "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen,even with Bono winning the Golden Globe for "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Nothing against the latter but Bono can be a real pretentious ass and after losing out on an Oscar to Eminem several years ago, his entitlement level for this prize is rather high, I'm sure.

 "Let It Go" is a wonderfully rousing song that celebrates being different and embracing your true self, making it the better choice for the win. Plus, if they get Idina Menzel to sing it live, that will be the cinematic cherry on the Oscar night sundae:

BEST PICTURE BLOW OUT: We have nine films up for the ultimate prize and with so many of them to choose from, I'm actually starting to miss the days when there were only five to deal with.

Well, let's take a look-see at what we got; American Hustle does seem to have a lot of love from the industry,given it's sweep at the Golden Globes and will most likely take home a few trophies but not completely sure the Academy voters will adore it's dark cynicism all that much. Ditto for The Wolf of Wall Street,which earned Jonah Hill a Best Supporting Actor spot and Leo DiCaprio is no doubt savoring the possibility of his first Oscar as Best Actor.

Her,the Spike Jonze film about a guy falling in love with his computer system, is frankly a hard film for me to take seriously as it's main story line is too much like a subplot from The Big Bang Theory and I suspect I'm not alone in that.

Philomena and Nebraska are both small yet sweet natured stories about older folk,which could resonate with many of the voters but perhaps not with the full majority of them. Gravity was a thoughtful blockbuster, a double whammy that makes it a rather odd duck  as well as a long shot for a major win.

 Dallas Buyers Club is also bound to get a trophy or two that night(Matthew McConaughey is a front runner for Best Actor and Jared Leto has a good shot at Best Supporting) and perhaps Captain Phillips might get one as well( it would be nice for Barkhad Abdi to win for his first time out) however the momentum for either of these films to take the top honors home is hardly noticable.

Therefore, my best bet would be on 12 Years a Slave to win for Best Picture and I hope that several other Oscars are able to join it(particularly for the actors as well as Best Adapted Screenplay by John Ridley). Insiders say that Best Director might go to David O. Russell for American Hustle while 12 Yrs get the Best Picture trophy,which has happened in times past.  However,the Director's Guild award hasn't been handed out yet and that is a better indicator of who will win in that category.

It's not only the cultural aspect of the film that shines an unforgiving light on the subject of slavery in America that makes this story so compelling;12 Years a Slave also has a universal connection in that the leading man(in this based on a true story piece) is a person confronted with a completely new reality to exist in and must use all the resources of his inner self to not only survive but persevere.

12 Years a Slave is a next level achievement and I feel that the time is right for the Academy to acknowledge that. Yes, I haven't seen it yet but as a lifelong follower of the arts, I know true quality when I see it in any context:

There is still plenty of time before the big night to sort this all out,with more award shows to up the ante or downplay the momentum for many of the contenders. While I wish we had a more engaging host than Ellen DeGeneres(she's nice enough and did a decent job the last time she had the gig but a Neil Patrick Harris type of MC would certainly jump start the ratings), she will be a pleasant relief from Seth McFarlane's shenanigans at least:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Top Chef has a turning point,Sleepy Hollow's demonic sister act and the Anna situation at Downton Abbey

For the Quickfire challenge on this week's episode of Top Chef, food truck master Roy Choi came in to judge the quality of the personalized po'boys(a NOLA classic sandwich) each culinary contender was tasked to make.

Roy wound up talking to them like a real truck driver,as he was sorely disappointed with how the food turned out and simply said "you guys f--d up"(which was quite a change of pace from the usual guest judge commentary and a tad refreshing, I might add).

However,he did like Shirley's po'boy enough to give her the win and what may be the last immunity left here.

 She sauteed the catfish served between "two pillows"(as Padma called the bread) and had ginger,mirin and garlic for the glaze with a crunchy cabbage slaw that gave it a nice texture. Shirley has been quite the superstar this season and I am strongly rooting for her to make it into the TC finale.

Then Jon Favreau showed up to deliver the Elimination challenge and after teasing the chefs about dumpster diving,told them that they had to make a dish that reflected a turning point in their culinary lives.

Favreau,who is making a movie about chefs,also informed them that their food was to be served at Cafe Reconcile,which is a teaching restaurant for young people. Apparently Emeril is a big sponsor of the place and it would've been nice if the chefs had to work with one of the culinary apprentices there as well, in my opinion.

Nina had to change her meal plan in midstream,as the heat of the kitchen at Cafe Reconcile made her pasta too chewy for her intended dish.

She went with fettuccine with charred calamari and crab meat,going for simplicity as her turning point inspiration Scott Conant( a regular judge on Chopped among other achievements) taught her.

Nina learned that lesson well since everyone at judges' table adored it to no end. I thought she might be the winner of this challenge but fortunately, she was second only to another great competitor.

Shirley pulled off a two-for-two as she won this round,for a seared snapper with a crustacean broth that the judges were literally lapping up.

Carlos did well enough with his pork belly and sweet potato puree to join the ladies in the Final Four,which left it down to Brian and Nicholas as to who would be sent to Last Chance Kitchen.

Nicholas looked like a sure bet to be tapped out,as his ahi tuna was rather bland and even if the toasted quinoa that was to be added hadn't burnt before plating, it still wouldn't been great.

Part of the problem was the various preparations of carrots created for the dish,including a plain slice of carrot on top of the fish which did not impress anyone. Nina's right when she says that he over thinks his food-sometimes,less is more!

However, Brian's chicken anticucho with twice done potatoes and walnut pesto earned the full ire of the judges instead. Granted, Emeril did have a few underdone potatoes on his plate but the real offense seemed to be that Brian chose skinless,boneless chicken breast as his protein.

I for one prefer skinless chicken breast(bones are an either/or with me) but the judges,particularly Judge Tom, found that choice to be uncreative and insulting,much like the Razzies with an Adam Sandler movie. So, we have a Final Four for the moment and soon enough,the LCK contender will join them to fight til the finish in the finale set in Hawaii. Good luck,gang!

Speaking of a gang in need of luck,the crew at Sleepy Hollow faced quite a tricky nemesis this week with a body jumping demon.

 That unholy creature demanded Washington's bible in exchange for sparing Captain Irving's daughter from it's wrath and it turned out that this particular demon was no stranger to Jennifer,as she had been possessed by it several years ago.

A good portion of this next to last episode for the season had much to do with the relationship between the Mills sisters and I'm glad that this broken bond appears to be repairing itself for now.

The two part finale airs next Monday,with Season Two in production as we speak. Despite the early misgivings many had about this show, Sleepy Hollow has become a lively pop culture phenomenon that demonstrates the power of steady story telling and solid world building,something that a few other shows could learn from(yes,AHS: Coven, I mean you! Like what you've done with the place but seriously, a few plot point touch ups are in order):

Now,we have a very sad situation to discuss concerning Downton Abbey and what happened to Anna this week.

During a house party where an opera singer was performing for both staff and guests, Anna was sexually assaulted by a manservant who works for a potential suitor of Mary's. The scene was shown as discreetly as possible yet viewers in America are just as upset about this as were the DW watchers in England were when this first aired.

While Downton is considered by some to be a delightful getaway from the harsh realities of life, part of it's appeal is in reflecting some of the harsh realities of that time period and even on great estates both in England and elsewhere, such terrible events did and still do occur.

Being such a beloved character on a show like this means that a lot of suffering is sent that person's way in order to heighten the dramatic impact and while I hope this plot development doesn't cause anyone's emotional wounds to be opened unintentionally, trusting the cast and writers to carry this off respectably for all involved is the best solution.

 Those of you interested in Mary's upcoming romances will get plenty of that as well, I'm sure. In the mean time, let us take the DA folk at their word as to how the Anna situation will be resolved:


GAME OF THRONES: Season Four is due to arrive in April and oh,what a time that will be! Get ready for some major game changes here(I will spoil nothing) and a few welcome surprises: