Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Karma comes a-callin' on True Blood, Food Network Star gets their Rachael Ray on and more head scratching moments Under The Dome

As the final season begins to wind down on True Blood, more solid plot points are revealed as Pam and Eric team up with the defunct corporate head who hired the Yazuka to hunt down Sarah Newlin.

Turns out, Sarah is the carrier of the Hep V antidote(which she drank during the big in-house battle) and killing her outright may not be in everyone's best interest. Case in point, Bill who had a less than successful meeting with a greedy lawyer over settling his affairs(loved the way he took her out) and his time is running out faster than most Hep V patients, perhaps due to catching the virus inadvertently from Sookie.

Those storylines are well worth pursuing, along with Lettie Mae and Lafayette's Tara visions(which may be helpful for tying that emotional knot up well) but can we hurry up with Violet taking her anger out on Jason and Jessica by going after Adlyn and her soon to be stepbrother sub plot already?

 So sick of Violet, just stake her and be done with it! Bill and Sookie doing this sad dance towards his True Death seems like the perfect way to reach the finish line here and if he does get a miracle cure, it better be earned, no rabbit out of the hat business!:

The Final Five contestants on Food Network Star went to New York this week and after a warm-up challenge involving live TV presentations, they had to prepare for the really big task ahead of them on the Rachael Ray show.

Each of them were assigned a family with a food dilemma that they had to solve via a demo on RR's program. A lot of them didn't do well with the savory solutions(who thinks to add strong spices to kid friendly food,Nicole?) but my man Lenny did a great job with his budget friendly meal. He even had a "wardrobe malfunction" that didn't distract him or the audience from the hearty chicken dinner that made him a winner:

Loreal, on the other hand, made a complicated dish for a couple looking for a quick and easy alternative to fast food that lead her to being sent home.

She's a real sweetheart and her "butcher babe" persona is fun as all get out but Loreal does not know how to talk about what she does and that is a crucial component here. I wish her well and hopefully she'll make a comeback in her pursuit of culinary stardom in the near future:

Next week,the Final Four are tasked to make 30 second spots for their possible show and pretty soon, viewers will be asked to vote on who should get the green light. It's no secret that I'm rooting for Lenny(Luca is too bland for my taste while Sarah and Nicole are about even to me) but he could get a bad case of nerves that might jeopardize his chances and I'm not trying to jinx him, I swear!:

Life in Chester's Mill is wacky as usual Under The Dome, as Big Jim's current misdeeds were forgiven as Julia tries to unite the town with a food drive that gets bombed by not-so-secret supporters of Big Jim(I don't make this stuff up,folks).

 Also, no sign of Lyle yet Junior and his murderous uncle may have found out where he went. Turns out that mysterious locker where Angie died(and Melanie knows the combination to) has an entrance to a secret tunnel hidden in the back of it.

Where that bad boy leads to is the plot of the next episode and I truly hope that this is going somewhere significant or at least weirdly interesting. Not giving up on the Dome here but do want a semi-decent pay-off, plot wise, before the season is over:


OUTLANDER: We're only a week away from the debut of this Starz series based on Diana Gabaldon's series of time travel novels that have a British war nurse go back to 17th century Scotland for adventure as well as the true love of her life. If you have any way of seeing this show, do make haste to do so next Saturday by all means:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rebecca Mead hangs out with George Eliot to live My Life in Middlemarch

For readers, there are certain books that are considered not just classics but milestones in our lifelong literary journey. While some of them may be seen as  mainly the reflections of a certain time period or the personal musings of this or that author, the true masterpieces tend to resonate to more than one generation and amongst those select few is George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Writer Rebecca Mead takes us on her personal path through the life of the mind she still experiences with that particular book in My Life in Middlemarch(which I received from Blogging For Books in exchange for a honest review). Mead first read the novel during her young student days,where she felt very much like Dorothea Brooke, the heroine of MM.

Dorothea is  a studious sort who wishes to prove her worth instead of simply settling down to the expected society marriage like her sister Celia. Instead of taking up with her wealthy neighbor Sir James Chattam, she marries Edward Causbon, an elderly scholar who is forever working on a book that he will most likely never finish. You could almost say it's what it would be like if Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet was as pedantic as her sister Mary and decided to marry Mr. Collins:

Mead not only talks about the novel, she also blends a bit of biography about George Eliot(aka Marian Evans) who was well respected for her writing but caused a few eyebrows for her living in an unofficial married state with George Henry Lewes.

There are points where Mead compares some of her experiences to Eliot, as such the possibility of becoming a stepmother as Eliot was to Lewes' sons and other times, she discusses her travels to see some of the places and things that still remain from Eliot's life and times such as Nuneaton House, where she grew up and a statue of the author that stands in the town square:

 I must confess that part of my reason for reading this book was to see if it would encourage me into actually reading Middlemarch.

I have read a couple of George Eliot's other renowned works(Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda,which I highly recommend) but Middlemarch is held up as her greatest work and for a person like me who is big into English literature, it feels almost like a crime that I haven't read it yet.

However, Mead provides an inviting voice into that realm of author fandom that doesn't get as much attention perhaps as Jane Austen or even Charles Dickens(one of Eliot's contemporaries). Her tours to sites that have been greatly changed by the modern world are amusing at times as some of them have been less than faithfully preserved.

 Also, by going through the paces of the large plot  and vast array of characters that make up Middlemarch, she presents the book in a manner that is more accessible to a new reader. There is more to the story than Dorothea's love life, although seeing if she and her cousin by marriage Will Ladislaw get together is a sweetly strong enticement there:

So, I have to say that My Life in Middlemarch did the trick for me and Middlemarch will be included in my fall reading schedule(as soon as I am finished with Wives and Daughters,that is). I can't say how well Mead's book will go over with those already into George Eliot but I suspect that they won't be entirely disappointed.

I think what Rebecca Mead intended for her take on Middlemarch to accomplish was to get folks talking about and reading and/or rereading this most personally influential novel and in that regard, she seems to have done well. Books about books are alluring to readers but books about books and the people who love them are the very best literary company of them all:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is the new look for Wonder Woman a sign of better things to come from DC?

Tons of pop culture flowed forth from San Diego Comic Con this past weekend but the biggest surprise of all was the reveal of the design created for Wonder Woman in her upcoming major motion picture debut in Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice.

Now, I know full well that a good costume alone does not a good performance make(or a good movie for that matter) but this sharp warrior woman tone given to our beloved Amazon Princess here truly gives me hope. While the color palette is not as bright as we're used to seeing for WW, this more Greco-Roman look fits the character perfectly and the sword is a nice touch.

 I'm not familiar with Gal Godot's acting abilities(she was in three of the Fast & Furious flicks, along with small parts in 2010's Date Night and Knight & Day) but am willing to give her a chance here. After all, superhero roles are best done by actors who are not enormous movie stars to begin with and Godot certainly has quite the formidable face on in this poster. We won't know until the movie comes out in 2016 yet I think it's safe to say that this may be a real turning point for DC Comics on the big screen and perhaps for the better:

It's no secret that Marvel has dominated the silver screen and that if not for the last Batman trilogy, DC wouldn't have much of a cinematic imprint these days.

 Man of Steel did well enough to launch the current upcoming team-up movie but the gang at DC still has a lot of work to do just to keep up with the Spidermans and Avengers in the neighborhood.

DC's best adaptations of late have been on TV, with the success of Smallville making out a path for a show like Arrow to follow. Taking a more grounded approach to the comic book source material, Arrow has a strong following amongst old fans and new, plus in addition to it's third season on the way(I so need to finish watching Season One!), a spin-off will soon be joining it's ranks. Unlike the previous attempt to bring The Flash to life on his own, this new series avoids camp like the plaque and promises to be a rising star on the CW horizon:

That's not the only network where a DC Comics presence will be felt. On Fox this fall, a prequel series for Batman called Gotham is slated to roll out and it does look intriguing.

The show centers on a young James Gordon, the future police commissioner, who is just a new detective assigned to investigate the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne(and yes, a young Bruce is here as well) in addition to getting a handle on the mob bosses waging their own private war for control of the city.

New characters,such as mobsteress Fish Mooney(played by Jada Pinket Smith), will be along side well known Gotham folk in their earlier incarnations and that includes The Penguin(who will be working for Fish), The Riddler and Cat Woman. We'll also be seeing characters that were created for Batman: The Animated Series(hello, Officer Montoya!) and comic book stalwarts like Harvey Bullock as well.

 To some, this may be "Batman without Batman" but not really, in my opinion. Origin stories are the bread and butter of the comic book world, as newcomers to the fold need to be introduced to the mythos in fresh new ways. I intend to visit Gotham when it premieres on September 22 and hopefully, it'll be worth a good long stay:

I really do want this crop of DC adaptations to do well,especially Wonder Woman, because as much as I like the Marvelverse, seeing a Justice League movie some day is a pop culture goal that many of us are striving for and I would like it to be a good film to boot. Don't let us down,DC Comics, this could be your time to shine, so as Ru Paul might say, don't f**k it up!:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

True Blood parties on,Food Network Star puts on a show and Big Jim is in trouble again Under The Dome

With the few last episodes of True Blood being pretty solemn, it's only understandable that the gang at Bon Temps would want to shake those sorrows off with a good old fashioned house party.

Granted, drama still crashed the festivities in both good ways(Andy proposing to Holly,nice!) to bad(Willa getting stabbed by a desperate for vampire blood Lettie Mae) to potentially dangerous (Jessica having revenge sex with Jason and his hyper maintenance girl friend Violet's seemingly calm reaction. That's not going to end well at all).

The best part didn't even happen at Sookie's, as Eric and Pam figured out where Sarah Newlin would be that evening(a political fund raiser to beg her parents for help). The Yazuka broke in during the rally and ran into Eric just as he had Sarah in his clutches, which caused  Eric to spare her for a moment as one of the hitmen had killed a lady friend of his in the past. I do wish he had disposed of Sarah first but it still was an awesomely awful moment there.

The misery isn't over yet, as Bill found out that he has an active strain of the Hep V virus and next time on True Blood, things are looking dire for Eric and Pam as well:

A team challenge was given to the culinary contenders on Food Network Star  this week, after each person had a chance to enjoy a one of a kind dining experience in Vegas.

The challenge was to make a four course meal that had a theme and a special presentation added in during service. Emma and Sarah were team captains, due to their being on the bottom last time, and Sarah's group did well enough to not only redeem her but head to New York for the final stage of the game.

Emma,however, gave the judges a lackluster experience despite having Lenny and Loreal on her team. It seemed to be that Emma's theme of "food of the gods" didn't click with them and that was clearly reflected in both the food on the plate and the intros to each dish. Lenny, I'm rooting for you yet you have to be more flexible as time goes on in order to win! Next week, they all have to go through the Racheal Ray gauntlet(it's become a tradition on FNS) and Lenny should do well here:

Oh, Big Jim, I knew you couldn't be a good guy for long. On Under The Dome this week, he and new hench woman Rebecca had plans to get the local population down to a minimum in order to keep what resources are left by spreading a homemade virus.

To be fair, Rebecca did the initial dirty work on her own accord but it wasn't hard to convince Big Jim to get on board with the program. Fortunately, Julia was on the case and had the two of them hauled off to jail before any major damage was done. Still, I have the feeling that all too soon, the notion of "thinning the herd' may start to sound good to a lot of the town folk and that Big Jim will find a way to work that to his advantage:


TOP CHEF DUELS: Arriving this August, past competitors will have one on one battles in the kitchen to see who is truly the best. For fans of TC, this is a summer TV treat to savor:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The future is so blight,it has to wear shades in Edan Lepucki's California

There has been a lot of advance attention given to California,Edan Lepucki's debut novel,thanks in part to Stephen Colbert,that many people will naturally wonder if there is something worth reading here. Well, I'm happy to tell you that there most certainly is.

The story takes place in a not-too-distant version of America, where society has been slowly yet surely disintegrating over the years. Due to drastic changes in weather and economic breakdown that has driven the social classes miles apart, people are either abandoning the major cities to find a new life out in the wilderness or holed up in specially guarded "Communities" to avoid dealing with the chaos growing outside of their doors:

 When we meet husband and wife Cal and Frida, they have been living on their own for about two years now, with very little contact from the wider world.

Thanks to Cal's skills in gardening, the two of them have managed to make a somewhat livable home for themselves. The nearest neighbors having died mysteriously, Cal and Frida have taken over their house and look only to the occasional trades with August, a traveling peddler, for any possible upgrades to their current semi-primitive lifestyle:

 Their secluded existence is in need of change,however, once Frida suspects that she's pregnant. Based on some knowledge passed on to them from their former neighbor, they head out to search for any signs of society still left.

When they come across The Land, a small contained community that lives rurally but peacefully, Cal and Frida strongly hope that this is their ticket to a better place to start their family. Despite their initial awkwardness as they try to fit into this new set of people, many unspoken things are causing doubt about The Land becoming their permanent home.

Even with the somewhat happy discovery of a presumed to be dead friend and relative amongst the residents, they both grow suspicious of certain elements such as no children to be found at all and an unusual fear of the color red. As they each learn on their own more about what has happened to the collective group on The Land that lead to their present way of doing things, Cal and Frida began to wonder if there is truly safety in numbers after all:

 Yes, I did buy this book from Powell's, in sympathy with Colbert's cause but regardless of how it came about, I was pleased to stay up late at night to complete California.

While at times the secretive actions of certain characters seemed to be put in place to prolong the plot, the pace of the book was steady and purposeful, earning it's interest in what would happen next with a honest sincerity.

Lepucki also provides some engaging food for thought as her indirect descriptions of what caused the world as we know to appear to end with a whimper mirror many of the issues we're facing right now. This blend of genre material with literary fiction has an interesting flavor, much like the cakes that Frida finds herself being able to bake for her friends on The Land; a fanciful recipe made into a home style treat for all to enjoy.

California does make for a thoughtful read and many book clubs are sure to list it amongst their selections  this season and beyond. It is good to find that a strongly hyped book can live up to it's press as well as offer the reader a glimpse of a lost world that,with any luck, will one day never be ours:

Monday, July 21, 2014

To be or not to be the song of summer for 2014?

Over the last several years, the whole concept of "the song of the summer" has gone from a subjective thing to a major league pop culture concern. Most of that shift in entertainment emphasis is due to the money to be earned from claiming such a title but it can also be a way of drawing taste lines as well.

As I've said before, my musical preferences are rather mainstream at best(people like me are the reason Greatest Hits CDs exist) but as I'm not a teenager or completely out of touch with what's going on in that section of pop culture, my picks for best song of this summer season are quite the mixed bag to be sure.

HAVING SOME MANDATORY FUN: For the past week, Weird Al Yankovic has been releasing a video a day from his new album "Mandatory Fun" and his level of hilarity is both as high and low as always. A good number of the songs are pitch perfect parodies of popular hits,such as Iggy Azlea's "Fancy"(which has been deemed by some to be the SOTS) and Pharrell Williams' "Happy".

 While I enjoy his take on "Royals" by Lorde, I do agree with many of Weird Al's fans that the best of the bunch is this righteous riff on grammar that plays off that obnoxious "Blurred Lines" in a most engaging manner:

MALEFICENT MISUNDERSTOOD?: With parodies in mind, one of my pleasures this year has been  discovering the AVbyte brothers and their collection of Disney princess themed mini-musicals on YouTube.

Released just in time for the Angelina Jolie version of Sleeping Beauty this past spring, this singalong of classic Disney villainesses lamenting their bad press is charmingly wicked indeed:

A MARVELOUS MOVIE MIX: Songs from movies have been prime SOTS material, even when they use old school hits and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film is playing this dance card nicely.

Since one of the characters,Peter "Star Lord" Quill , happens to be an Earthling kidnapped by space aliens as a kid, his lingering connection to our world is in the mix-tape in the Walkman  that he managed to bring with him. 

 Peter protects that tape at all costs and it's a good thing,too as the tunes assembled on that tape are an awesome collection of songs, including "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways and Norman Greenblaum's "Spirit in the Sky".

However, the mix-tape tune that played in the very first GOTG trailer was "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede and interest in that 1968 classic was reborn, putting it back on the Billboard charts. One of the many signs that this movie may be the surprise hit of the summer, not to mention getting a new generation to appreciate some excellent rock n' roll:

L.A. LADY OF COOL: Lana Del Rey's latest album, Ultraviolence, has gotten a number of mixed reviews but I still say she has some sweetly scary pipes.

One of the singles from Ultraviolence is "Shades of Cool", which has a shimmery sound that highlights the languid allure that the singer has for the man of her dreams here.

The video features well known tattoo artist Mark Mahoney as the object of affection and the entire look and feel of it puts me in mind of David Lynch, if he had directed the previous season of Mad Men, that is:

Finally, if you pinned me down to it, my true pick for the SOTS for 2014 is John Legend's "You & I(Nobody in the World)".

The song was released this past April,off of his 2013 album Love in the Future and the video(which came out on July 10) has received much acclaim for it's portrayal of all physical types of women and girls celebrated for their own brand of beauty.

It doesn't hurt that Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox is featured here but the overall impact of both the song and video is beyond her celebrity presence. I applaud John Legend for taking what could have been a typical love song for the woman in his life(his wife, Chrissy Tegen) and extending that sentiment to all women everywhere. Kudos to you, sir, for bringing a touch of true class to your art.

Even without the video, the song itself is a tender and touching melody that celebrates the love and joy of being with that special someone in your life and given the real world tragedies occurring all around us these days, this is an emotion that we need to hold fast to,folks. It may too romantic for some but hey, a little romance can only help,not hurt and that's true for all seasons:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Some Marvelous changes and a sad day in Archie's Riverdale

A lot of big changes being announced in the comic book world lately and two of them were introduced on very mainstream forums. The ladies of The View were privileged to reveal that this fall, Marvel would bring us a female Thor.

The new story line will debut in October and as the folks at Marvel put it, she is not "Thorita, Lady Thor or She-Thor", this warrior maiden will actually be the new incarnation of the Norse god(or goddess, in this case).

For those of you wondering how this is possible, it's important to remember that the power of Thor lies within the hammer Mjolnir that bears the inscription "whomever holds this hammer, if he be so worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

 That caveat will now include women and there is a precedent for this as Wonder Woman herself was once able to wield the hammer during a Marvel/DC crossover a few years back. Much like Green Lantern's power ring or the sword Excalibur, the hammer of Thor is an object that reflects the inner nobility of a person and only then it will allow him or her to use that power for the good of others. Quite a change-up and one that definitely has people talking:

A few days later, a new Captain America was announced on The Colbert Report, as the current plot line has Steve Rodgers losing his super serum abilities and rapidly aging.

 Therefore, his partner in arms The Falcon(aka Sam Wilson, who many of us first met on screen in Captain America:The Winter Soldier this spring) will take up the "mighty shield."

As Sam is African American, this is another major switch-up and a welcome one. Much like Thor, someone else has had to take over for the original Cap(Bucky Barnes,aka The Winter Soldier) and it is a choice that makes sense.

The essence of Captain America is in his determination to protect the innocent and enforce justice for all and yes, the costume and weapons are easy to pass on,much like Batman. These new versions of Thor and Captain America won't be reflected in the current movie versions but hopefully some day, Hollywood will catch up to the comics.

 Diversity in such iconic pop culture figures as these are truly needed to reflect all segments of the audience and not just the stereotypical white male nerd out there. Nothing against those guys, but they are not the only paying customers waiting in line and pre-ordering tickets, media moguls. Wake up and smell the century,people!:

Speaking of keeping up with the times, a sorrowful event has occurred in all places, Archie comics. In the spin-off series, Life With Archie, the title character has been killed by taking a bullet for his friend Kevin Keller, a gun control advocate who was about to give a speech.

As the regular teen Archie series will continue, along with an Afterlife with Archie(yep, he's a zombie in that one), the character is still around but this act of self sacrifice is a sadly beautiful salute to why fictional folk matter.

By showing us the best as well as the worst in human nature, they can inspire their readership to strive for the better in real life. No doubt plenty of people are grousing about the "politics" of the situation(much as they did when Kevin Keller was introduced as gay and later married his life partner in a highly controversial issue) and grumbling that this isn't the same safe Riverdale High gang they grew up with.

Well, you know what? Any form of long term entertainment needs to reflect the reality outside of it's pages in order to hold anyone's interest, particularly new generations of readers and I for one applaud Archie comics for refusing to stay in the way back machine.

  And yes, Riverdale may not be the same sweet safe haven it once was but neither is our world, folks. This isn't the first time the comic book realm has talked about the consequences of gun violence*cough*Batman*cough* and maybe this story is only a drop in the bucket here, but with enough drops, that bucket can become overflowing mighty quick:

Change to any familiar form of pop culture can be hard to adjust to and yes, sometimes those changes are temporary in order to rack up sales and revive interest among old fans and new. However, the good that can come about from these transitions is all worth it,as new creative ideas are allowed to spring forth and take us in amazing directions that will lead to better adventures for us all.

 So,whether it's a new story arch, persona or simply a different actor taking over a role, the best way to deal with comic book changes is to embrace them sincerely. Singing the same old song can get boring and that's the last thing a comic book should be:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tough talk on True Blood,Food Network Star faces the dial of doom and Masters of Sex returns

Finally,the gang on True Blood acted smart this week and made plans to take down the Hep V vamps hiding out at Fangtasia(it took them long enough!). They got some unexpected help from Eric and a very reluctant Pam, who stopped by on their way to find Sarah Newlin and do what Jason should've done last season.

Seeing the origins of Fangtasia in flashback form was fun, as it turned out that the place was originally a crappy video rental joint(assigned as punishment by the Authority) and future flunkie Ginger was once a budding film scholar who had most of her brain power zapped by Pam's constant glamoring.

 Also helped to see that secret back way into Fangtasia that came in handy for the rescue. Eric is still awesome, even in walking dead mode, and hopefully Willa will get over herself to make peace with him before all is said and done.

 What was best of all was seeing Sookie going forward in a  take-no-prisoners stride . Her blunt talk with Jessica about getting over her self starvation as penance for draining Andy's three fairy daughters was just the right slap in the face that Jessica needed. Don't get me wrong; it was a shame that those girls fell prey to the whole fairy blood allure for vamps but as Sookie succinctly pointed out, there are way bigger fish to fry at the moment:

This may be the start of a strong upswing for the show,which I'm keeping my fingers crossed for. Even with the immediate threat gone from Bon Temps, there is still more trouble ahead and perhaps a cure that will save Eric in time(a girl can hope,can't she?):

The remaining contenders on Food Network Star made it to Vegas,where they learned that their number would increase as Luca rejoined the competition. He didn't seem to be the most likely guy to survive Star Salvation but I guess he improved greatly since we last saw him.

Once that was settled, the culinary contenders were tasked to make a dish for a pool party that had all of the guests given handheld meters( known as "the dial of doom") to register their approval or disapproval of  each person's presentation. Then, booths were set up for the food to be handed out, along with poker chips to place in a counter at each station. The contestant with the highest amount of chips would be declared the winner.

That honor went to Lenny, for his tasty sliders and keeping his promise to belly flop into the pool. A bit much, perhaps, yet the guy has such an infectious good nature that you can't blame him for playing to the cheap seats on this one.

Going home was Chris, who is a nice enough fellow but just can't get across his foodie passion in promos like this. It was a pretty close decision, as Emma and Sarah were on the chopping block with him( I would have sent Sarah home, due to her barely getting anyone to taste her food). Oh, well, the show must and will go on as the next challenge requires even razzle dazzle from the cooking crew still here:

Masters of Sex began it's second season with it's two leads carrying on with their lives separately in public while meeting together in private, as in a regular standing appointment at a hotel under false names.

Bill's career path seemed to be halted for awhile but with the help of his wife and the husband of a former study subject, he landed a brand new position that will fund his study as well. It would be nice if he tried to warm up to his newborn son and stop being bitchy to his well meaning mother but hey, one thing at a time.

Virginia, on the other hand, has to fend off creeps at work who think she's open for business,so to speak, and sell crappy diet pills to make ends meet at home.

Clearly, she's getting the worst of this deal and while I can understand her deep attraction to Bill(not to mention the social conventions of the time period), she does deserve way better than this and I hope that we don't have to wait too long for her to either receive that or realize that by the end of this seasonal run:


UNDER THE DOME: Dwight Yokam showed up this week, as Lionel Chumley, a local barber who still holds a torch for the late Mrs. Big Jim. It looks like he might stay around awhile and not just because of the dome but due to a mysterious message to Junior from his perhaps still among the living mom(knew Sherry Stringfield wasn't just a one shot cast member here!):

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sizing up season one of Orange is the New Black

One of my pop culture goals this summer was to catch up with the first season of Orange is the New Black, the acclaimed Netflix series that has just been nominated for several Emmy awards.

Since I don't have the streaming option on my Netflix account(which will be discussed further in a moment) and have a one disc at a time deal with my rentals, it took me some time to watch the entire season on DVD,plus read the memoir by Piper Kerman upon which this show is based. With both book and show completed, I have a few talking points to go over.

 No, I don't intend to do a full recap or run down a list of plot line preferences and favorite characters since that has already been covered both online and off. Instead, I have about three topics that reflect my initial impression of the show and hopefully not sound too newbie to the seasoned fans:

BOOK VS. SERIES: I started reading the book(on loan from Booksfree) about three episodes into watching the adaptation and yes, there are differences between the two.

The show is a somewhat fictionalized account of Piper Kerman's(called Piper Chapman here) real life incarceration for slightly over a year, thanks to being named by a former lover for being a courier of drug money ten years prior.

Many of the dramatic story lines played out on the show didn't exactly happen to real world Piper yet you can see the inspiration for some of them within  the pages.  Also, most of the names were changed for the series,which is somewhat ironic given that they were already changed in the book to protect the women's identities.

However, I don't see that as a flaw. I'm at the point in my reading and viewing life where such transitions are acceptable if well done and they are in this instance. Piper's retelling of how actual life in a women's prison is nothing like the exploitation movie nonsense that often comes to mind when this subject comes up and offers a real nuts and bolts look at how the system does and doesn't work for these women once they're in and out of jail.

Piper Kerman is a consultant on the show and has no problem with the more TV drama approach taken with the source material, since it makes the whole subject much more relatable to people. I quite agree and glad to have read the book,which tells it's own compelling tale, as well as being entertained by it's TV bunkmate:

COMEDY OR DRAMA?: As I mentioned earlier, OITNB has been nominated for the upcoming Emmy awards this summer in several categories,including directing(yes, that Jodie Foster!) and most of the actresses along with leading lady Taylor Schilling.

However, OITNB is competing in the comedy section and most folks would agree that the show is more of a "dramedy", that hybrid of humor and pathos that many of our beloved hour long series fall into such as Mad Men and The Sopranos. The reasoning behind this is simple show business as the drama categories are heavily packed as it is and the chances for a win are far better in this arena.

If I had to be forced, I would say that OITNB is really a drama with some comic relief moments than a comedy with serious scenes attached to it. The show does and can flip the script on that tone,often in just one scene alone, and if this strategy works to get some of these talented folks their trophy, more power to them. If Laverne Cox doesn't get an Emmy,I won't be alone in throwing my pie at somebody(unless of course, one of her co-stars such as Uzo Aduba gets it instead): 

DVD VS.STREAMING:  Even tho I am a lady of limited means, I could probably switch over to streaming but then I would have to give up my DVD option on Netflix and that I can't do.

I know streaming is the "in thing" and all of that, yet I do have a TV with a DVD player built in(and yes, I don't have Blu-Ray either) and it would be such a waste not to use that. Plus, taking my time with a show like this has plenty of pop culture benefits.

For one thing, it allows the viewer to savor the rich nuances of the characters as they interact with each other and have a moment of their own, along with the ongoing story lines, plus build up a hearty appetite for what comes next. While finding out what happens to Piper and Alex or Red and the kitchen crew is only a search engine click away, holding off from such easy answers is a test of discipline( I must confess to looking up season two highlights once I finished with S1).

I'm not knocking binge watching,particularly since OITNB is as hard to put down as a bag of nacho cheese chips. I did spend a few weekend nights with the ladies of Litchfield and it was a blast yet it was good to have some down time,too:

So, I look forward to season two when it hits DVD and even season three, which is due out sometime next year(no official date has been confirmed yet).

OITNB is and was excellent TV/web series that is changing the face of entertainment and I'm happy to finally be in the mix. It's nice to discover that something so trendy is actually worth all of the hype and then some.

 The real cherry on top of this saucy sundae is how many wonderful actresses from old school diva Kate Mulgrew to indie darlings like Natasha Lyonne and Taryn Manning and fresh faces like Uzo Abuda, Samira Wiley,Dascha Polanco and the lovely and amazing Laverne Cox are given their turn to strut across the stage. It's a pity that it took a show about prison to set many of these emerging talents free and with any luck, Hollywood will sit up and take notice:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Facing the true death on True Blood,Food Network Star goes commerciall and Extant takes off

Another main character bit the dust on True Blood this week, as Alcide was shot through the heart during a rescue attempt for the botched bait plan that Sookie and Bill dreamed up to find their missing friends.

Seriously,people-get to Fangtasia already! Isn't it fairly obvious by now where the horde of Hep V vamps are hanging out and storing their portable meals? *sigh* Poor Alcide; Sookie was right when she told Bill that her love for him wasn't as strong as hers,which made his passing all the more bittersweet to bear:

As much as you're expecting a good sized body count for the final season(so long, Mrs. Fortenberry,see you Under The Dome!), it was a shame that Alcide didn't get to do much more here. Then again, he got more time than Tara and yes, still not completely over that!

Anyway, from the promo for the next episode, it does look as if someone finally realized that Fangtasia might be a good place to check for those pesky Hep V vampires. Hopefully, the rescue squad gets there in time to actually save somebody,geez!:

On Food Network Star, the contenders had to get very commercial  as their challenge was to create a product for marketing,including a 30 second spot to be filmed.

Their ads were done before a green screen with the catch being that they had to use a randomly assigned background. That threw off some folks like Lenny(The Great Wall of China overwhelmed him a bit) and Emma,whose French persona in Paris came across like a bad Pepe Le Pew cartoon.

Chris,however, had a good product idea with flavored butter coins and pulled his Indiana Jones style promo off well enough to earn a win for Best Concept. Loreal won the challenge by using her natural wackiness for the giant tomato farm setting she was given(plus, naming her sauce DANG! was cute and catchy). Reuben was sent packing for fumbling his moon landing presentation-dude, all you had to say was "The flavor(of my sauce) is out of this world!" to at least stick around a little longer. Such an easy A,seriously.

Well, next week the remaining contestants head to Vegas and find out who survived Star Salvation. Maybe they'll see Reuben again, maybe not:

Another sci-fi centered show appeared on the CBS summer line-up this week and it's debut is rather promising. Extant stars Halle Berry as Molly Wood, an astronaut in a not too distant future who has just returned home after a year long solo mission in space.

As she is adjusting to being back on Earth,not to mention home and work, a shocking surprise turns up in her blood work;Molly is pregnant. Due to her isolation and infertility, the only possible answer to how this happened lies with a 13 hour time lapse on board the ship during a solar flare incident.

Molly is determined to keep a lid on this strange new development from both her superiors at work and her husband,who is busy trying to get his new line of empathic robots(the prototype he has been raising as his son) the funding to expand further. So far, there are a good number of plot balls being juggled in the air but the cast and writers seem to have a good grip on them for now. I'm going to keep up with Extant and hope that the signs of intelligence that are flashing here stay steady and strong:


UNDER THE DOME: With his near death experience, Big Jim appears to have turned a new leaf and is actually cooperating with his former enemies.  I don't think that will last long but it should be interesting to see how much of  the "New Big Jim" we and the rest of Chester's Mill can all take:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Why so many folks are in a Fever Pitch about the World Cup

I am as far from being a sports fan as Bobby Flay is from being a vegan,however I do have some some insight into what makes people so diehard invested in that arena and that is partly due to Nick Hornby.

In 1992, Hornby published a memoir called Fever Pitch, which chronicles his life as a fan of the British soccer team Arsenal(which has a success rate similar to the New York Mets from what little I know). His interest started as a kid first as a way to keep a reluctant bond with his divorced father but it was not before long that he didn't need that as an excuse to watch the games.

The book has been made into a film twice, with the  1997 British version being the preferred one for my tastes and granted, I haven't seen the American one but for a Jane Austen gal like me, Jimmy Fallon can in no way replace Colin Firth.

 Hornby wrote the screenplay for the first adaptation and turned the basic story into a romantic comedy, where affable schoolteacher Paul Ashworth winds up in a relationship with new colleague Sarah(Ruth Gemmell). She, of course, finds his interest in soccer to be sophomoric at best yet can not help falling for him all the same:

Sarah does try to accommodate Paul's sports love needs but does get exasperated as Arsenal appears to constantly be number one on his priority list. Even the news that Sarah is pregnant seems to only moderately shake up  Paul's world.

While he's happy to get married and start a family, his laid back approach to preparing for that huge life change gets on her nerves. She really wants him to be as passionate about their relationship and long term goals as he is about Arsenal making it into the championships(the story takes place in 1988-89, which was a "miracle" season for the team) and it's a classic case of miscommunication between the two of them:

This may sound like the typical boy vs girl type of plot but as time goes on, you get the sense that Paul's devotion to Arsenal is not all about clinging to a childhood level of emotional comfort.

Paul's love for his underdog team is a testament of faith, much like someone's devotion to a church or political stance or even a comic book franchise. It can be overindulged in at times and be a substitute for what's lacking in your life but it can also be a touchstone that guides you towards your better nature and keeps your hopes alive in the midst of unexpected chaos. Paul and Sarah both seem to realize this separately and by the time the big game is on, a whole community of other people in their lives are also connected by this one possible shining moment.

Hornby was smart to make his personal story over in a fictional fashion and while I don't know how successful the US version was in that regard, a true bonus to the first film is having Colin Firth. He brings not only his own special brand of charisma to the role but a nice down to earth, regular guy energy to the part that makes it stand out completely from his Mr. Darcy persona. Speaking of Darcy, Mark Strong is also in this movie as Steve, Paul's soccer buddy. For Jane Austen admirers, this is a special treat to have both Mr. Knightley and Darcy together onscreen:

So, with all of the World Cup hoopla going on as we speak, I watched the movie again(yes, it's part of my DVD library as the book is in my personal book collection) and it still holds up nicely.

It is available at Netflix in DVD format(buying it may be tricky but not impossible) and if you are wondering what all of the fuss is about with the World Cup these days, the 1997 movie does explain it all for you. Reading the book is also a viable option and yes, doing both is highly recommended.

 "I am so sick of hearing about soccer,why should I watch a damn movie about it?!" is a reasonable question to ask but if it is on your mind that much, this is a perfectly fine pop culture way to purge that urge.

One time many years ago, I left my house in frustration over the World Series taking over the TV time, a big annoyance when there's only one television available, and wound up at the movies seeing, you guessed it, a baseball film. Believe it or not, the movie(which if I recall correctly was Major League) did actually entertain me and made going back to a household of cheering men more bearable. The hair of the dog and all of that.

Plus, Colin Firth is that spoonful of sugar that makes the sports medicine go down rather smoothly here. Even if you're not into Jane Austen or sports, Fever Pitch does offer a rousing good time that entertains as well as enlightens you about a whole side pocket of fandom that unites more than it divides,which is what such devotion is truly about: