Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Acquiring a Tartt taste in reading

Over this past summer, I embarked upon a personal reading challenge(in addition to a few other titles for seasonal reading); to take in all of the novels by Donna Tartt. While it may simple like a simple task,given that's she only written three of them so far, the page turning was not as easy as it would seem.

I decided to start with her first book, The Secret History, a debut that quickly gained must read status amongst literary folk. The story was told through the eyes of Richard, a college freshman at a small yet prestigious university in Vermont who was eager to shuck off his sad sack family and working class roots.

He becomes determined to join a very private class of students allowed to focus on Ancient Greek literature solely, run by oddly mannered professor Julian Morrow.

Upon a tentative admittance to the group, Richard slowly but surely wins them over and soon stumbles upon a dire secret that one member(the obnoxious Bunny Corcoran) is holding over the others in a vicious way, using them as his limitless expense account.

Soon enough, plans are made to deal with Bunny and his out of control antics that threaten to expose them all, with Richard finding himself joining in and becoming just as implicated as they are.

 This is definitely a "don't blink or you'll miss it" kind of story and yet, I found it completely fascinating and hard to put down. The atmosphere of this book put me in mind of Patricia Highsmith, who often set her insidious tales of murder and deception amongst the well to-do, particularly in The Talented Mr. Ripley as Richard's deception regarding his background and actual finances mirror that title character's drive to belong to the upper class by any means necessary, a dark path that Tartt's leading man takes as well:

 Next, I went on to The Little Friend, which came out ten years after Secret History and considered by some to be her sophomore slump. A lot of high expectations were placed on this book and to be fair, it's way trickier that TSH was in terms of story telling.

TLF is set in Mississippi during the 1970s(no specific year but the references make it pretty obvious), where twelve year old Harriet Cleves decides to spend her summer hunting down her brother's killer.

She has no real memories of Robin, who was found hanged in their backyard in 1964, yet her entire family still lives in the shadow of his death. Her parents are separated,with her mother carrying on a careless reclusive lifestyle and her sister Allison a similar dreamy existence. Her great aunts look in on them from time to time but the only steadfast presence in that home is Ida Rhew, the much put upon household maid.

Based on a misunderstanding, Harriet believes that Danny Ratliff, a childhood friend of Robin's who is now a moody adult with a criminal record and trapped in a family of meth dealers, is the killer. Teamed up with her only friend, the giddy Hely Hull, she plots to take revenge on Danny yet her quest goes awry in so many ways.

It's a strange book, to be sure, and far better than many people give it credit for. Tartt's capturing the flavor of Southern Gothic with a tang of coming of age, does make for an entrancing read but if you're expecting a whodunit solution to the mystery of Robin's demise, it's best to keep in mind that TLF is more about the journey than the destination.

 Answers are not really what the characters are seeking,despite their claims to the contrary. Whether they want to admit or not, Harriet and her circle of worn down relations(and unknowing enemies) are trying to figure out if they should continue going through the motions or strike out towards a new way of life. Think of this as To Kill a Mockingbird meets American Horror Story and you'll have the right idea about how to proceed with The Little Friend:

That brought me to The Goldfinch, Tartt's most celebrated and recent novel. The book is still riding the bestsellers lists, partly due to it winning the Pulitzer Prize last year, and has nearly an equal numbers of admirers and detractors.

Our lead here is Theo Decker, who at age 13 had the ill fortune to be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother on the day that a bomb went off, destroying lives and works of art in the process.

Theo is not near his mother when the blast occurred and during the haze and confusion, makes a promise to a dying man and brings home the painting of the title, along with a ring that leads him to an unexpected home and haven. During the chaotic times and various places that he finds himself in, Theo's only slim connection to what he lost back then is the painting that he hides and protects, not sure how and when to give it back without facing dire consequences.

You could call this Donna Tartt's David Copperfield, as the many twists and turns of Theo's life echo Dickens in a original way that I sincerely believe the author himself would tip his hat to her for. It does take some time to get through(I did go over my intended summer reading deadline with this one) but the rich descriptions and bizarrely believable characters do support Theo's strange adventures quite well there.

 The Goldfinch does have a personal resonance for me, as my long departed father was a fan of the Dutch Masters style of painting that the title art piece is a part of and in some ways, I wish he was able to read this book. I think he would've liked it enormously and we certainly would have had a great conversation about the mentions of art conservation in the story and which characters we liked best( especially Theo's buddy Boris, my dad would recognize as a few guys he ran into during his younger days).

I can see why some might not take to it, although quite a few of the naysayers may be more motivated by professional jealousy, in my opinion, rather than the quality of the content(you know who you are, I don't have to say).

There are plans to turn The Goldfinch into a film, which would be the first Donna Tartt novel to get the silver screen treatment. I just hope that a good director gets attached to this project, someone with an offbeat vision who is able to provide a panoramic view of the world for all of the major characters to romp in. A Martin Scorsese or Wes Anderson type would do justice to such a elaborately wrought yet heartfelt story:

While it did take some time to drink in all of the potent prose wine that Donna Tartt has bottled to date, I do feel the richer in spirit for it. I know there's a lot of talk about what it means to be "well read" these days and it's a good topic worth pursuing,however I think that term needs to be redefined.

Instead of striving to be "well read", we should be aiming for what I call "reasonably read". That means having read enough of what interests you for both educational and entertainment purposes to not only have working knowledge of a genre or subject but to share what you're gained from those books with others. Donna Tartt may appear to be high end but her artistry crosses many literary borderlines and rightly should be read for fun as well as art appreciation.

She's the real deal when it comes to writing and one of the few out there whose next book will be worth the wait and then some. My summer reading was pretty successful on the whole(having completed six out of the seven books that made my list) but the benefits of reading Donna Tartt are far from seasonal and I thank her greatly for sharing her engaging imagination with us all:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Outlander wedding, Gotham begins and a new mission for Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The new Batman themed TV series Gotham debuted this week and it got off to a fairly good start. As Det. James Gordon pursued his quest to find the true killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the deeper into the slimy underworld of the city he stepped into.

Yes, we had a few broad hints of future villains(and the girl playing the preteen Selina Kyle impressed me greatly) but the agreed upon stand out Big Bad here is Fish Mooney(Jada Pinkett Smith), the up and coming crime boss lady who serves up a smile and a heavy baseball bat to her enemies.

Since she is an original character created for the show, it's hard to tell just where her story lines will lead and that's a good thing. Amongst all of the predictable markers a series like this has to deal with, things will definitely be liven up with a couple of wild cards thrown into the deck:

The future Batman nemesis that did take center stage for this opening episode was Oswald Cobblepot,aka The Penquin, who is Fish's hench man until a shot at betrayal double backed on him big time.

Setting up a connection between him and Gordon  by the end of the first episode is an interesting move and hopefully will come full circle by the time this first season ends. Plus, the actor playing Cobblepot( Robin Lord Taylor)  seems to have a perfect glove like fit to this character that makes you want to see what he does next.

So, yes, I'll be visiting Gotham for some time to come and pretty sure that many other viewers will do the same. Granted, it is a big help that Gotham is the lead-in to Sleepy Hollow(which had a grand season two premiere episode) but if the writing and acting holds up, this show will be more than able to stand on it's own:

The episode that many of the book fans of Outlander  were waiting for finally aired this week, as Claire and Jamie had their wedding.

While it was set up as a marriage of convenience, the true emotions between these two were given an open forum to engage on.

 A few minor alterations from the source material didn't diminish the impact of the occasion for all concerned, not to mention that once Claire started to instruct her new husband on the ways of physical love, it was the wedding night to end all wedding nights,folks.

Outlander will have it's "mid-season" finale this upcoming weekend(due to the remaining S1 episodes still filming as we speak) and as far as I know, should come back by January of 2015.*UPDATE* it was just announced that the show will be back on April 4,2015-oh, the agony of such a wait!

 With the eager clamoring from readers and viewers alike, this romantic time traveling saga will be warmly welcomed upon it's return yet I do hope that they end this current run on a solid note:

It's a rather gloomy start for the second season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Coulson and his remaining crew are still being hunted down by the authorities and Hydra's underground network is still humming along there.

However, this opens up a lot of new possibilities for everyone as Melinda May has to take on more of a leadership role than she wants to while Skye is forced to get what info she can out of a captive Ward(who is a little too anxious to volunteer his services only to her). Coulson knows that in many ways, he is outgunned yet is willing to do what it takes to be more evenly matched on this new playing field.

 I am worried about poor Fitz, who is quite damaged from his near drowning last season(and where is Simmons, might I ask? She may have left the team temporarily for "his own good" but she needs to get back here,pronto!). Beyond that, the darker tone of the show is appropriate and should make for some engaging entertainment, with or without being tied into the next Marvel movie:


UNDER THE DOME: The second season has wrapped up for now, with some doubts as to whether or not there will be a third. As invested as I am in the characters, I can't help but admit that this season was a rather muddled mess at times. Don't get me wrong, a third season would be something that I'd watch yet it's going to take some serious writer magic to make sense out of what's left to work with here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Open Letter to Alessandra Stanley,Re: The Shonda Rhimes Situation

Dear Ms. Stanley,

I'm sure by now you are sick of hearing about your article in the New York Times the other week that featured Shonda Rhimes and yes, your executive editor made an apology of sorts(and included your take on the matter as well) yet something tells me that you really don't get the point that everyone is trying to make here.

From what I gather, you seem to think that those "Twitter people" are taking your words out of context,particularly your opening sentence that made a pun from the title of Ms. Rhimes' upcoming new drama How To Get Away With Murder using the term "Angry Black Woman." That wasn't the best use of wit on your part but I have to tell you that, beyond that opener, many of the things you said in that article were very troubling in more ways than one.

I don't use Twitter myself but even those who do read the entirety of your piece and I think it's safe to say that we were offended on several points. I'm just going to go over three of my personal beefs with the article, in the hopes that maybe you might get a hint of what has upset so many pop culture followers out there:


Yes, this distinction has been corrected recently by your editors but I still find it irksome. As a fan of the show, one of the main attractions for me is the strong female lead,Abbie Mills, that Ms. Beharie portrays here.

 Not watching Sleepy Hollow is no excuse, considering that you work for a national newspaper with vast resources and could easily double check such a reference.

Her character is a lead with just as much backstory and importance to the main story arc as Tom Mison(who plays Ichabod Crane) and also like Lucy Liu on Elementary, is placed into a professional partnership with a man that doesn't have a romantic nature to it. That in itself alone is noteworthy but I suspect that because the show she's on is supernatural based, you find it easy to dismiss. As a TV writer, you might want to be a tad more authoritative on such references:


As I read your article, this paragraph jumped out at me:

"Her(Shonda Rhimes) heroines are not at all like the bossy, sassy, salt-of-the-earth working-class women who have been scolding and uh-uh-ing on screen ever since Esther Rolle played Florida, the maid on “Maude.”

First of all, Esther Rolle was a well established theater and film actress before she received that part on Maude,which lead to a very successful spin-off known as Good Times that earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

I grew up on Good Times and her heartfelt take on working woman Florida Evans, who became a widow during the course of the series, resonated strongly with me. She was a strong solid maternal figure that reminded me of my own mother at certain points. Granted, the popularity of J.J. Walker's  character overshadowed hers to the point that she left the show but most fans agree that Florida was a much missed lynchpin that held that series together. To write her performance off as that character as just another stereotype is highly insulting and a touch elitist as well:


Some of your most controversial statements were regarding Viola Davis' age and appearance to which you have stated that Ms. Davis "said so herself in the NYT magazine more bluntly."

 I sincerely hope that you know that there is a world of difference between someone discussing their own physical appearance and another person doing so. Otherwise, I have to sigh and shake my head.

What I believe you're not recognizing is that Viola Davis is a character actress, the same way that Kevin Spacey and Steve Buscemi are. I see no difference between her starring on How To Get Away With Murder while Spacey is the lead on House of Cards and Buscemi is center stage on Boardwalk Empire. She and Mr. Spacey are both Oscar nominees and Mr. Buscemi is a Golden Globe winner just like her.

Their acclaim is based on their talent, along with their ability to be more believable as the average person than the type of actor who regularly is cast as the leading man or woman. Both kind of actors may be equally talented together but their looks can be a double edged sword. Many times, a character performer is taken more seriously than a marquee name in the same or similar role.

Also, it's become a trend for older actresses to take TV work that offers them better roles than Hollywood, from Glenn Close in Damages to Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy and Jessica Lange in American Horror Story(Ms. Lange was joined last season in AHS by a pair of powerful established actresses Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett,who will be major players this upcoming season as well). So having Viola Davis take a juicy part like Annalise Keating is not that surprising, if you keep up with what's going on, that is.

I am not a watcher of Shonda Rhimes' shows, mainly because medical dramas no longer interest me(the last one I was into was ER back in the day) and political dramas interest me not at all(have no plans to see Madam Secretary). What did engage my attention to How To Get Away With Murder was the fact that an actress of Viola Davis' caliber was headlining it. Plus, I do like mysteries and it sounds like fun.

 It is a shame that this much negative energy is being sent out as the show is about to premiere this week yet by this time next year, people may be talking about what's to come for HTGAWM's second season surprises instead of this controversy.  I have faith in Viola Davis and her amazing gifts as an actress that this will be so:

In conclusion, Ms. Stanley, what you claimed to have meant as a complimentary write-up of Shonda Rhimes' success came off more as damning with faint praise. Sentences like "Her women are authority figures with sharp minds and potent libidos who are respected, even haughty members of the ruling elite, not maids or nurses or office workers." are loaded with back handed compliments. For example, "haughty" is the type of word that describes Countess Violet's views about weekends on Downton Abbey and not in a good way.

While it is great that Ms. Rhimes is making strides that other women will be able to follow in that industry, surely you could found a better way to convey that sentiment about her and Viola Davis without sounding condescending or clueless, not to mention insulting to others in the field as well.

Accepting criticism is hard but it can help you to do better in your work. The apology that you gave was neither sincere or well delivered and I do hope that once the initial outrage has died down that you will take some time to reflect on that article. Otherwise, this will only be yet another brick in the wall that separates you from your readers and that's the last thing any writer wants.


Lady T and the rest of the home viewing audience

P.S. NYT, you guys need to step up a little more to the plate on this one. Your first attempt at damage control was well intended but still missing the mark:

Monday, September 22, 2014

A look at some of the leading ladies of Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week began yesterday(and ends on Sept. 27) and the official focus this year is on graphic novels, a genre that has been put in the spotlight by eager censors lately.

However, for LRG, our theme for 2014 is the Leading Ladies of Literature, women of all ages,backgrounds and genres who have been targeted not only what their books say to the world but their gender as well. Some might argue that many male authors have had their fair share of troubles in this department and while I do not dispute or discount that, it seems to me that some things appear to be seen as more of a threat to the status quo when the voice of dissent happens to be female.

A classic example of this is Harper Lee's one and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has a revered place in American literature. It's themes of racial prejudice and injustice were rather hot buttons topics of the day(and still are),but the tenderly touching way that the book's  child heroine Scout dealt with them made a bit of difference towards how society looked at those harsh truths.

For years, it was rumored that Truman Capote(a long time friend of Ms. Lee) was the actual author of the book, based on the stereotypical assumption that a book this significant could have only come from a man. That falsehood has long since been discredited but sadly, bias against this book has not.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a commonly assigned book for middle school to high school students yet  it's still being challenged today for "language,adult themes and conflicting with the values of the community." Perhaps if some of those objectors took a moment to listen to Scout as she innocently brings out the humanity amongst the hateful adults around her, they might see the true value of this book in any community:

Another Pulitzer Prize winning writer also has had her most acclaimed novel, The Color Purple, hassled by folks who insist that the story of Celie, an African-American woman in the 1930s forced into an abusive marriage by an abusive father was too much for readers of a certain age to take.

However, that story is a heartbreaking as well as a heartwarming look at the courage it takes for a woman to rise above her circumstances to seek her own happiness and dignity in life. All too often, women of color such as Maya Angelou,Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende and Sandra Cisneros have had their works challenged by those who prefer to sweep certain subjects under the rug and a few who would rather keep women "in their place."

Given the current attention to domestic violence in the news these days, a book like The Color Purple proves to be very timely and should be read more widely, in order to encourage empathy and perhaps provide some motivation for those who need it to get out of a bad situation in real life:

What is truly puzzling when it comes to censors is how threatened they are by books that are out and out fantasies. For one thing, just about every book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has caused cries of outrage from people who insist that the books are recruitment guides for Satanists.

Never mind that the only spell cast by this series upon young and older readers alike is the compulsion to read more, the real magic is that Rowling's books were powerful enough to overcome author gender bias. Originally, she was told that "boys don't read books by a girl" and therefore used just the first initials in her name upon publication.

Once it was revealed that J.K.(Joanne Kathleen) was a woman, that didn't slow down her book sales at all. In fact, many of her best beloved characters in the Harry Potter realm are the amazing females on the side of good(and some of her evil ones,too).

 From the dreamy sweetness of Luna Lovegood to the tough but fair Professor McGonagall and protective mother witch Mrs. Weasley, the admirable ladies on display are remarkable to behold. Yet, the one who stands out the best and the bright is Hermione Granger, whose intelligence is as fierce as her spells are and is considered the greatest witch of all time(not to mention best friend as well):

The latest fantasy series under fire is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, where Katniss Everdeen takes part in the brutal title tournament in order to spare her little sister and winds up beating the twisted totalitarian hierarchy in charge at their own game.

It does seem odd that the objections to these books include charges of being "anti-family"(doesn't saving your sister count as a positive there?) and "sexually explicit"(granted, I only read the first two books but nobody even gets a chance to kiss for long in this story) and "occult"(the story takes place in a futuristic society that relies heavily on technology). Are some of these accusations being applied, I wonder, due to the fact that Suzanne Collins is female and not expected to write about such things as violence and social upheaval?

 Katniss is a warrior maiden but also a very human girl trying her hardest to deal with the harsh challenges put in her path, both political and personal. Maybe it would be good of those people who have a problem with these books to take a closer look at the humanity that drives Katniss to lead others into a better world for all:

Now we come back to graphic novels, which have many fine women artists/writers being banned such as Alison Bechdel and Marjane Satrapi, the latter of whom created a brilliant two part memoir about the changing times in Iran during the 1970s and 80s with Persepolis.

In 2013, Persepolis was pulled from seventh grade reading list in Chicago, due to "graphic language and images not appropriate for general use." One only has to watch the news to see just how sadly appropriate a book like this for young people to get a better sense of what is happening overseas and even here at home.

The freedom to read is very precious, especially since it offers a platform to those who have no voice or who are forced by social pressure to suffer in silence. Only by gaining insight and empathy can we change the world for the betterment of all and reading is the key that opens the door. As we think about the impact of books and reading this week, let us cheer those heroines both on and off the page who rise up with the will to survive and thrive:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Outlander proposal,Under The Dome antics and Extant wraps up it's first season

Claire was back amongst the English on Outlander this week, finding that they were in some ways not that much better than her Scottish hosts.

She did have a chance of getting the garrison commander to send her back to Craig Na Dun but her outspoken nature and the appearance of Black Jack Randall nipped that opportunity sharply in the bud. I do have to give credit to Toby Menzies for his dual role as the modern day Frank and his vicious sociopath ancestor, who described the brutal flogging he gave to Jamie as a "masterpiece".

It was quite the chilling performance and even as someone who has read the book and knew what was coming, it was still a haunting scene to watch there.

Fortunately, McDougall was around to get Claire the hell out of there but in order to spare her from a repeat visit to Black Jack, she has to become a Scottish citizen. The easier way to do that is by marring Jamie, which suits more than one purpose, yet it does pose an interesting question-is it bigamy if your original spouse hasn't even been born yet?

 Then again, we do have extenuating circumstances here, not to mention a rather mutual attraction, so let's skip the philosophical debate for now, shall we?:

Meanwhile, things are truly getting tight Under The Dome, as the title trap is slowly but surely starting to close in on the town. That, along with Melanie's rapidly deteriorating condition, the need to retrieve the egg has become number one on the Chester's Mill to-do list.

Barbie managed to get his dad over to the Dome in order to negotiate a return and it does help that Melanie happens to be his long lost half sister(no joke and none of this was in the original book, so I refuse to blame Stephen King for such a left field contrivance there). Papa Barbara agreed to get the egg but had some trouble from his own men about that, yet another delay meant to drag the story line out, folks:

As an alternative way of treating Melanie was carried out, Big Jim got another major disappointment  as his reunion with Pauline was cut brutally short.

Lovelorn Lyle decided to fulfill his own prophecy by stabbing his beloved Pauline, with Big Jim only too eager to send him to "heaven" right after her. Granted, I didn't expect anything good to happen to these characters but this send-off is a tad too convenient for my taste.

 Don't get me wrong, I intend to watch the season finale next week but the "make-it-up-as-we-go-along" plotting is working my nerves a little. There's some doubt as to whether or not we get a third season, so it's best to repeat to myself, "This is just a show, I really should relax":

Extant finished it's first season last night and I hope that's it is not the last we see of this series. While the show's initial mystery had a few stiff moments, the overall plot logic was sound and the acting well done, particularly Halle Berry as the bedeviled astronaut mom who uncovered the conspiracies around her being unknowingly sent off as a potential host for an alien species.

As it is in most stories like this, the alien hybrid was vastly underestimated and proved to the greater threat but not without some reluctance. However, once we got into the who,what,where and why of the matter, the story really began to take off. The character motivations made sense,plus there were some well placed surprises along the way that kept you wondering what was going to happen next.

 Interestingly enough, the heart of the show was Ethan(Pierce Gagnon), the "humantic" robot child who made the ultimate sacrifice and turned out to be the most human of them all. At first, I thought he was going to be an annoying little kid-bot but he turned out to be very believable and engaging towards the end.

There is a open door left open for another season and with any luck, Berry and company will be able to step through it at least one more time. If not, then thank you, everyone involved, for giving us such a smartly written sci-fi adventure with heart this summer:


MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D: Season two starts up next week and so looking forward to what this new version of the show has in store for us. Should be fun and I hope that Melinda May gets more to do(and plenty of ass to kick):

Monday, September 15, 2014

Enjoying Ken Follett's triple play of The Century

The historical fiction field is a rather expansive canvas to work on yet, Ken Follett has managed to make his portraits of certain places in time stand out strong on the book shelves.

 After the success of his two fictional forays into England during the Middle Ages(Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), his current conquest of the genre covers a vast playing field of characters in more than one country as well as more than one generation.

 The Century Trilogy began with Fall of Giants, that introduces us to folks such as Earl Fitzherbert,whose ownership of coal mines in a Welsh town draws two members of the Williams family into his circle most unexpectedly. Ethel Williams winds up leaving her loved ones due to being pregnant by the Earl while her brother Billy finds himself in military regiments with the Earl as World War I is soon under way.

 The Earl's sister Maud is more of a free thinker than her brother and breaks away from the expected socialite routine both openly and secretly, as her relationship with Walter Von Ulrich, a reluctant participant in Germany's approach to war, becomes a risky matter for each of them.

 Fitzherbert's wife, Bea, a Russian princess, has earned the ire of a pair of brothers from her home country, Lev and Grigori Peshov, one of whom has fled to America while the other remains and becomes part of the Revolution lead by Lenin. What's interesting about this story is not just the engaging way that history is being presented here(although it does enlighten you about the complexities that went into WWI before,during and after) but the solid set of people behind the scenes, particularly the women.

 For example, Maud Fitzherbert and Ethel Williams,who were once employer and servant, become equals as they both find themselves working side by side for such causes as women's rights and an end to the war.

Their interest in the latter has a strong personal connection with Ethel concerned for her brother while Maud has to pretend that she is unattached despite all the while being secretly bound to Walter, a secret that Ethel does play a small yet pivot role in.

When these ladies do have a serious disagreement that affects their friendship, it is over politics rather any personal drama and yet, they both respect each other despite that upset. That relationship showcases the changing times as well as depicts a pair of strong women holding up under the pressure of such a major event as the raging war that threatens their loved ones:

I truly liked Fall of Giants and those ladies so much that I was happy to see them reunited in Winter of the World, which lands them both in Germany as the Nazi party is starting to come into power.

They're concerned for their countries as well as their children, with Maud's daughter Carla being witness to the cruelties of the Brown shirts while Ethel's son Lloyd is more than willing to fight the encroaching evil.

 The children of other characters will also be drawn into the oncoming global conflict, including the American and Russian descendants of the Peshov brothers. I am still early into WOTW(waited for the paperback edition, which just came out at the end of summer) but eager to read on and see just how WWII impacts the younger set of characters along with the older ones. I suspect that when it comes to Carla, she will strike an impressive blow against the forces of darkness that are not only engulfing her nation but many others along the way:

Fortunately, I don't have to wait for Edge of Eternity, the final installment of this trilogy as a review copy happily came my way(a full review of that book will arrive later this season). The novel hits the stores this week, so many folks should be thrilled to get this great big gift read as soon as may be.

The story lines here touch upon the American Civil Rights movement, the growing Cold War in Russia and the divided Germany, as East Berlin school teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers that her husband Hans is a covert spy who has been tracking her movements for years.

The Cold War aspects of the book promise to be extra intriguing,given the current state of affairs in that part of the world right now. Funny how history repeats itself but luckily, we have smartly written books that remind us of just that. I am looking forward to meeting Rebecca,along with the other characters in EOE, to see if she is capable of raising the bar that her ancestors have set in the previous volumes:

Even if you haven't read any of the Century Trilogy, this is a perfect time to start. Fall does lend itself to taking up historical fiction and since it will still be some time before the new season of Downton Abbey begins, these massively engaging novels are not just the right cup of tea, they're a whole set of splendid brews to savor.

I do hope that Follett's Century novels are adapted for TV miniseries, as both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End did very nicely in that format(plus Starz is fast becoming a rising star in that department).

It would be grand to have such vivid characters come to life onscreen and introduce a potential new set of readers into this new look at old world history into the bargain. We shall see, but at least we still have Ken Follett's marvelous works to appreciate as time goes by:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rebuilding that Frankenstein's monster for the modern age of pop culture

Recently, an interesting collaboration has occurred between a pair of media forces that have fittingly created an engaging monster story.

PBS Digital's partnering with Pemberley Digital(the folks behind several Jane Austen themed webseries such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved) has given us Frankenstein MD, which chronicles the experiments of Victoria Frankenstein with some help from lab assistant Iggy(plus pals Eli and Rory).

Victoria's drive and ambition make her charmingly severe but her more vulnerable side was revealed upon the news of the sudden death of camera man Robert. That shocking event is beginning to lead our budding young mad scientist down a very familiar yet interesting new path, particularly with the scientific advancements we have in place right now:

This new series is reviving an interest in Mary Shelley's  Frankenstein, one of the cornerstones of the horror/science fiction genre. Ever since the book was published in 1918, this gripping Gothic novel dealing with the struggle between science and nature has captured our imaginations again and again.

It's hold on pop culture can be traced to the 1931 Hollywood film where Boris Karloff made the monster a household name. Over the years, the not-so-good doctor and his creation have been brought back to the forefront in various guises, depending on the cultural climate at the moment.

A strong number of those revivals have rendered Frankenstein as a figure of fun, ranging from Herman Munster to Frankenberry cereal while some of those parody portrayals keep some of the creature's dark side intact(Rocky Horror Picture Show for one).  A prime example is the Mel Brooks riff on the old school monster films in Young Frankenstein, which was even turned into a Broadway musical in 2007. The loving attention paid to those details from the original 1930s movies really make those punchlines sing out with style:

Frankenstein's monster has for the most part taken over the narrative, with more and more attention given to the reanimated being's plight as he(and sometimes she) tries to find a place in the world.

The horror genre has taken to this tone rather well, with occasionally thoughtful representations of the creature as originally written. As much I love the Karloff films, the book's monster was a more verbally articulate person who was able to express his angst in very poetic terms.

For instance, in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, Frankenstein is confronted by Caliban, his first attempt at bringing a man to life, upon discovering that the doctor was trying his hand again with a budding new creation. Caliban tore apart his new sibling and demanded that a female be made for him,as his current encounters with an acting company stirred up a few romantic urges. As time went on, however, Caliban started to take a deeper look at himself and mourn his violent inclinations in a way that perhaps brought out not only his humanity but his creator's as well:

More and more often, the Frankenstein legacy has dipped it's borrowed toes into black comedy waters. Supernatural themed shows tend to have at least one Frankenstein story with a touch of humor in them, from Buffy to Charmed, along with plenty of goofy gory flicks such as I Was a Teenage Frankenstein  and Frankenhooker hitting the big screen.

Even other fear franchises have taken a part or two from Frankenstein lore. It's no surprise that Bride of Chucky placed a direct spin on it's beginning to fray plot line with Bride of Frankenstein(the movie even plays on a TV during one crucial scene) and frankly, it was for the better.

 Chucky himself has adopted the well known stitched together monster mug while his twisted bride has reinvented her look,sans the lightning bolt hair streaks. Granted, the initial film framework was still set in the Child's Play killer doll playbook but it can't be denied that this jolt of classic horror certainly breathed new life into this deadly toy story:

That's the thing about classics, they're very much like Frankenstein's monster. While you may think it's been long dead, it is all too easy to bring them back from the beyond and see something both old and new about life and art within them.

Frankenstein MD is the latest in a long line of fresh faces taken from that Mary Shelley mold and doing a great job at that. Hopefully, more marvelous monster tales from the past will find new footing in this format, if not now then perhaps in the not too distant future.

After all, no matter how you tell this tale of terror, Frankenstein still has plenty to say and think about as our science fantasies quickly become science facts.With such a brave new world ahead of us, sometimes it's smart to take a good look back and what better place to do that in than pop culture?:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Adding some new fall flavors to the TV Thursday menu

Since we're still in that slump period between the summer TV season and the new fall one, I thought this might be a good time to highlight some of the newer fare that I plan on covering for LRG's TV Thursday round-up.

Mind you, I'm not promising anything here but I do intend to give these upcoming series a fair shake and share my initial thoughts with all of you. Hopefully, this trio of new primetime dramas will become a regular part of my routing roster and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about these shows as well.

First up is Gotham, the latest reinvention of the Batman mythos. This is a prequel of sorts, as the main focus is on Detective Jim Gordon(Ben Mckenzie) who has just been assigned to investigate the murder of wealthy philanthropists Thomas and Martha Wayne.

  Along the way towards seeking the truth, Jim runs into a number of budding villains such as Oswald Cobblepot,who works for gangster gal Fish Mooney(Jada Pinkett-Smith) and young street hustler Selina Kyle.  Eventually a full roster of future Big Bads  will make their presence known as they turn the city into a haven for evil that only a true hero can and will protect.

Granted, most of the target audience for Gotham is rather well versed in the lore yet there is opportunity to create new spins on familiar characters(hey, it worked for Smallville and is currently doing so for Arrow) as well as bring to life characters from the comics that have only been featured in animated formats previously such as Renee Montoya(Victoria Cartagena) and Harvey Bullock(Donal Logue). It also doesn't hurt that this show is being paired with last season's surprise sleeper hit Sleepy Hollow, a show that I am champing at the bit for to return.

Hopefully, Gotham will exceed expectations,both high and low, and become a powerhouse series that does justice to the Batman legend, not to mention make waiting for that Superman Vs. Batman movie much more bearable:

While I am still way behind on Arrow, I do believe that my timing is right to catch onto The Flash as it makes it's debut run next month. Unlike the 1990's earlier attempt to give the Scarlet Speedster his own show, this series isn't going down the campy road(although John Wesley Shipp who played that particular Flash will have a reoccuring role as Barry's dad here).

Also, unlike the character's appearances on Smallville, he will be called The Flash and not Impulse(don't know why they felt they had to do that).

This series is sort of an Arrow spin-off, as Barry Allen(Grant Gustin) has appeared in Starling City as a forensic scientist. Upon receiving his super powers via an accident involving a particle accelerator and lightning, Barry forms his own support team to use his new found abilities to help others, along with stopping a few fellow meta humans from tearing Central City apart. This should be fun and I'm looking forward to it:

I know that Shonda Rhimes is a talented producer but due to being burnt out on medical shows(no Grey's Anatomy for me) and having no interest in behind the scenes political dramas(which is why Scandal and House of Cards do nothing for me, plus I have no intention of checking out Madam Secretary), I haven't experienced her style of TV just yet.

That all will change as How To Get Away With Murder makes it's opening statement later this month. Law school hijinks with a sharply charismatic teacher who practices the fine art of getting folks off sounds like a snappy sweet treat to me.

The big bonus,as well as drawing power, is having Viola Davis headline the cast. As Professor Annalise Keating, she truly practices what she preaches in the classroom and involving some of her students in a current murder case should raise more than a few eyebrows, not to mention be an eye-opener for those newbies as well.

It does trouble me that HTGAWM is up against Elementary on the same night and time, but since CBS is planning on Thursday Night Football(ugh), that might make it easier for me to take a few  classes with Professor Keating and see if I want to stick around for her mid-term exams:

So, keep an eye for these shows both here and on your TV and please feel free to suggest any others(except Madam Secretary, because I really do find shows like that boring beyond belief) or just share your thoughts about the upcoming fall TV season.


DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY: PBS will air this adaptation of P.D. James' Pride and Prejudice themed murder mystery this October and even if you're not into Jane Austen, you may find this miniseries event engagingly delightful:

Monday, September 08, 2014

Having a Stephen King September

Since this month happens to have Stephen King's birthday in it, the Encore movie channel is doing a cinematic celebration in his honor.

Every night in September, they're showing a different King adaptation, ranging from the 1979 made for TV miniseries of 'Salem's Lot to King's one and so far only time in the director's chair,Maximum Overdrive.

 On his actual birthday,Sept.21, there will be an all day marathon of such SK titles as Stand By Me,Cujo and Secret Window. Now, if you don't have Encore on your cable line-up, that doesn't mean you can't join in the fearsome film fest fun. Here is a short yet sinisterly sweet list of Stephen King adaptations that should put you in the right fright mood:

CHRISTINE: This 1983 take on King's evil car novel is one of the better adaptations and a fine example of director John Carpenter's scary skills. From the slick use of both soundtrack and score to the subtly smart effects that built up suspense via a flicker of headlights, Christine is a ghoulish gal that delivers the gruesome goods.

Keith Gordon plays Arnie Cunningham, a nerdy teen who buys a junky 1950's Plymouth Fury and along with the vehicle, begins to change seemingly overnight from underestimated to dangerously cool and then just plain dangerous. Reluctantly on the running boards are Arnie's best pal Dennis(John Stockwell) and new girlfriend Leigh(Alexandra Paul), who both agree that the real love of Arnie's life plans to take them to their deaths.

Christine was the first Stephen King novel I ever read; the movie was playing at the theater down my street, which had a Hallmark store right next to it that had the tie-in film cover edition of the book in it's paperback rack. I saw the movie and read the book about the same week there. While I'm not a car person, both the book and film spoke to me as a teenage outsider. As an intro to Stephen King, this is a scarily smooth ride:

CARRIE: Encore will be showing the 2002 TV remake of King's debut novel(along with The Rage: Carrie 2) but a definite must-see for any King fan is the 1976 Brian DePalma film.

Yes, it's not perfect but this movie did set the bar first and holds an undeniable place in the modern horror film canon. The key elements to the success of the original Carrie are the performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, as mother and daughter locked together in a brutal ballad of love and hate.

Both ladies earned Oscar nominations for their work here and the film still makes many a "Best of.." list today. Christine is often seen as the male version of Carrie and I think that's more than a fair comparison yet when it comes to teen terror, she is without a doubt the belle of the ball:

MISERY: For a more grown-up taste of terror, King's nightmare version of a writer trapped in literary hell is picture perfect. Kathy Bates made movie history by winning Best Actress in 1990 for her work as Annie Wilkes, the "number-one fan" of romance author Paul Sheldon(James Caan), who unfortunately was rescued from a car wreck by this dementedly devoted ex-nurse.

This was a book that many felt was unfilmable, since it's mostly a two character story(I always thought it might make a great stage play, not a musical but a real trapdoor thriller). However, the film gives enough of an expansion to the plot without compromising the intense claustrophobic atmosphere needed for the main characters, thanks to William Goldman's screenplay and Rob Reiner's direction.

 I just saw this again the other night and Bates truly soars with her character's emotional highs and lows, a deadly balancing act that could easily turn into a hammy performance. Instead, Kathy Bates showcases her talents nicely, giving us a chilling aria from a terrifyingly terrific diva:

SLEEPWALKERS: It's no shame to say that being a Stephen King fan comes with a bit of a taste for cheesy film fare and one of my personal guilty pleasures in this category is the 1992 SK script that King wrote expressly for the silver screen.

While the story does get a tad muddled at times and prone to gruesome puns on occasion, not to mention the twisted mother and son relationship of the monstrous title villains that makes Norman Bates' bond with his mother appear almost wholesome, there is something to this movie that makes it engaging to watch.

Part of the reason for that is Alice Krige, who plays Mary, the last of her vampric kind who relies on her son Charles(Brian Krause) to bring her the life force of young virgins in order to survive. She really gives this role her all and then some. Remember, if you see Alice Krige in a movie or TV episode, keep an eye on her character as more than likely, she's up to no good(and will do that well).

The movie also has several horror writer cameos(yes,King himself is included) and is credited as one of the first to use morphing effects. It's a weird one, to be sure, but rather fun in a funky way and besides, how can you not like a horror movie where a police cat is the hero?:

Happy birthday in advance, Stephen King and I hope you get all the cake you want on your special day. As for the rest of us, getting into the King groove might be seen as more suited to Halloween but such a modern master of the macabre is worth cherishing the year round: