Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, February 27, 2015

Buying a movie ticket for Terms of Endearment on The Road of Rereading

The last step in my winter path on The Road of Rereading is a look at the 1984 film adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Terms of Endearment, that was written,produced and directed by James L. Brooks. It's safe to say the movie is a lot more Brooks than McMurtry as his vision is strongly implanted upon the visuals and story telling here.

That's not a bad thing, as JLB does have a knack for character driven narratives(developed well during his days as a TV writer/producer for the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show,Taxi and Rhonda) and when it came to film, was a distinctive hallmark of his style.

One of the challenges presented in turning the book into a movie was setting up the whole emotional dynamic between Aurora(Shirley MacLaine) and Emma(Debra Winger). While a novel has the luxury of dropping the reader right into a ready made reality, a film needs to build up that connection ahead of time before diving into the deep end of the plot pool.

The movie starts off with a scene of Aurora as an anxious new mother waking up her baby in order to reassure herself that Emma is still breathing.

 Then, a brief montage of scenes traces their lives from Aurora's widowhood to Emma's teen years right up to the point where Emma marries Flap(Jeff Daniels) a budding college professor with little ambition, which causes Aurora to remark to her daughter on the night before the wedding "You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage." Way to be encouraging, Mom!

The ladies eventually come around to a reluctant acceptance of the situation, compounded further when Emma and Flap move to another state due to a job offer("He can't even fail locally"-Aurora gets a lot of great lines here).

Then the narrative shifts to Aurora's love life and here is a major change from the book. While she does have a number of love struck men trailing about her,similar to the novel, Aurora's main man is a character created solely for this film and played by Jack Nicholson. Garrett Breedlove is a former astronaut who spends his time boozing it up and hitting on younger women(and who happens to live right next door to Aurora).

I suspect his character is loosely based on Hector Scott from the book, who was a former Army general who lived nearby(and while not mentioned in this film, is part of both the book and later film version of The Evening Star, the TOE sequel). Since Nicholson and MacLaine do have chemistry and her uptight character is in need of a footloose and fancy free counterpart, this works out for the best:

Emma does get her share of screen time, as her turbulent marriage and hectic mothering manages to allow her a brief love affair with a middle aged married banker named Sam(John Lithgow).

The scene where Emma and Sam meet up is completely invented for the film and it turned out to be one of those talked about moments that audiences loved. Most of us can identify with being caught short at the cash register, a minor event that can become major when the clerk decides to get nasty as the supermarket checker does in this instance.

As a former cashier myself, this lady's attitude was totally out of line and when Sam snaps at her  "Then you must be from New York!", it's an insult that is still pretty funny and slightly truthful even today. Not to mention a great way to set up an adulterous romance that makes both people involved seem like nice enough folks who just happen to need an emotional break from their regular lives:

The story arcs of both women collide when Emma receives her diagnoses of cancer, bringing them back together for the last time.

To me, the best scene from that section is not the infamous Aurora freak-out at the nurse's station("GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!), which is another Brooks invention, it's the scene where Emma says goodbye to her sons.

That sad and totally heartfelt realism comes straight from the book and keeping that portion of the story intact was a good move on Brooks' part. Winger delivers that small speech to her angry boy Tommy about not having doubts about her love for him just right, in a simple manner that's truly touching to behold:

Terms of Endearment did well with both audiences and critics, earning 11 Oscar nominations that year and winning five of them.

James L. Brooks cleaned up nicely, with wins for Best Picture,Director and Adapted Screenplay while MacLaine snagged a Best Actress award and Nicholson Best Supporting Actor.

The movie does hold up well, I'm happy to say and while Brooks did have a couple of equally well received follow-up films(Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets), his last big character driven comedy-drama Spanglish, was a true miss instead of a hit.

 He mainly works as a producer these days( The Simpsons Movie) and his last directorial turn,How Do You Know, vanished at the box office which is a shame. I don't think his best days are behind him, Brooks just needs to find the right material to reconnect with audiences again.  Movie writers who are unafraid to allow screen characters to be fully developed are a rare breed nowadays and we need them now more than ever:

As to being a good translation of the McMurtry novel, Terms of Endearment is a fine example of blending both mediums for better and worse. The imprint of TOE was a major factor towards the less than enthusiastic approach to The Evening Star,in my opinion, as more people were familiar with the original film than the original book. Nevertheless, TOE is one of those films that if you haven't seen it, you should for the richness of the characters onscreen. Also, it's fun to see Nicholson act the little devil to MacLaine's less than divine diva:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Agent Carter finishes her case, Downton Abbey almost-finale and the 87th Academy Awards

Agent Carter completed her first assignment this week and hopefully, it won't be her last. Upon the discovery of a test run of a stolen weapon with tragic results, Carter and the S.S.R. finally worked together to bring the bad guys down(plus, a little help from Howard Stark and Jarvis as well).

The plot to attack the city as revenge for a covered-up massacre due to a biochemical weapon of Howard Stark's(used without his permission) during WWII was fortunately thwarted in time but not without some sad memories of Captain America being dredged up. I have to say that this mini-series was a neat breath of fresh air,using some old school story telling with a bit of feminist flair. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be back next week but I sincerely hope this isn't the last we see of Peggy Carter and the gang:

I did manage to catch up with Downton Abbey as their penultimate season finale aired during the Oscars(more on that in a moment) and boy, was there a lot to take in!

What with Rose's wedding almost being called off due to a false scandal created by her mother, Thomas using his wily ways for good instead of evil, Mrs. Patmore getting that war memorial tribute for her nephew and Anna getting busted for the murder of Mr. Green(who apparently got what he deserved and I'm wondering why such a case received so much police scrutiny in the first place. The guy was just a valet with a string of sex crimes attached to him, not a member of the royal family after all!) made for one hell of a merry mess to clean up by next season.

The big wrap-up episode will be this upcoming Sunday, the classic "Christmas" themed special where we get a hint of what's to come.

I do hope that Edith finds some spine and tells Mary off,particularly since their father finally realized that Marigold is his natural granddaughter.

 I am so sick of Mary being such a self indulgent bitch(she's as bad as she was way back in season one at this point) and granted, Edith is no saint but it is high time that someone put Mary in her place in regards to her sister. Perhaps my wish will come true, we shall see:

The Oscars went off fairly well, I thought. Neil Patrick Harris did a great job of being host(although that bit about Octavia Spencer watching his padlocked set of Oscar predictions ran on way too long there) and the musical number were excellent, from the Best Song nominees to Jennifer Hudson's eulogy tune and of course, Lady Gaga's Sound of Music salute.

It is worthy to note that this Academy Awards broadcast was one of the lowest rated showings of the past few years. A good reason for that was not only the ultra-white selection of nominees but the lack of crowd pleasing films up for bids as well.

Look, Academy, we all know you like to pretend that your output is all about the art, no commerce during this time of year but it's pretty clear that is not the truth. I'm all for quality movies getting their due but in addition to honoring Selma with more than two nominations(Congrats to Common and John Legend), you could have thrown a bone to something that audiences were actually familiar with and I don't mean the Lego Movie either!

You're telling me that Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Eyes weren't due some consideration here? Also, a art house movie like Belle or Dear White People(which won a First Screenplay honor at the Independent Spirit Awards the day before) couldn't have benefited from some Oscar love, unlike any Wes/Paul Thomas Anderson production?

 Your audience is what makes you strive to work harder,after all and while popularity doesn't always equal quality, it does help to bring folks to the theater and sit in the seats. Without them, there's no work to be done or money to be made. Think about the future of film, folks and let that be reflected in your awards:


 SLEEPY HOLLOW: Season two wrapped up nicely, with a few welcome twists(so long, Katrina!) and while things are far from perfect, I have hope for the next time around. Give credit where it's due, they did clean up some of the debris here and created a nice reset for season three:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meeting up with McMurtry on The Road of Rereading

I'm nearly finished with the winter portion of my blog project for the year,entitled The Road of Rereading, as I only have about seventy-five pages left in The Evening Star, the sequel to Larry McMurtry's Terms of Endearment.

With that in mind, let me start with my thoughts about TOE. As I mentioned in my previous post, this novel covers a mother-daughter relationship with the less than matronly Aurora Greenway throwing her considerable emotional weight around her offspring Emma, a woman who realized early on that her marriage to the hapless college teacher Flap Horton was destined to be lackluster at best.

Emma's portion of the book is much smaller than Aurora's but her story line benefits from such succinctness. A decent chunk of her mother's section gets taken up by a sub plot involving the husband of Aurora's maid Rosie and his infidelities that lead to a bizarre accident and stabbing(none of which makes it into the movie version but that's a post for another day).

 Emma finds herself putting up with Flap's cheating on her(and she even has a brief affair of her own) but the constant grind of daily life with three kids and having to move from state to state due to her husband's job choices does take a bit of a toll on her and rightly so. Her reluctant acceptance of these situations,however, doesn't mean that she lets Flap get away with too much crap:

The big event that reunites Aurora and Emma is the news of Emma's cancer, which is depicted in very realistic terms. I don't know if McMurtry had any life experience with such an illness but those passages in which Emma is frustrated by the slow progress of the disease and how her entire family tries not to unravel too much feels incredibly true to life.

Despite it's reputation as a tear jerker,  Terms of Endearment is not overly sentimental and has a nice natural pace that allows the reader to ease into both the comforting and awkward moments that the characters go through during the course of the book.

McMurtry's great strength as a writer is his slow yet steady treatment of all of his characters, from the leads to the supposed bit players. Not a one of them is neglected in having a bit of back story or personal peccadillo that makes him or her stand out slightly in the crowd. His take on Aurora and Emma's final time together is quietly touching and a beautiful portrait of a mother-daughter connection that was always contentious yet finds a way to reach the true harmony of heart between them:

As I mentioned before, I'm nearly done with The Evening Star which takes place nearly twenty years later. Aurora is still in the midst of dealing with a number of boyfriends(a couple of whom have died on her) as well as her grown-up grandchildren.

The kids are a mess, as their father basically remarried and left them to their grandmother's care. Eldest son Tommy is in prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend during a drug deal, his brother Teddy is smart but emotionally unstable(even with a wife and son) and little sister Melanie keeps bouncing around from one bad relationship to another.

Granted, plenty of children in similar circumstances could have turned out this way, so having Emma's offspring become as restless and unfocused as she was(even with the loving emotional and financial support of her mother and best friend Patsy) is not totally surprising. McMurtry, true to his characters, doesn't get bogged down in playing the blame game when it comes to dealing with the Horton children. Rather, he allows some chance of hope for each of them to overcome whatever obstacles are in their path, one way or another:

The bulk of the story,however, is about Aurora, much like Terms of Endearment was , and this book is actually much longer than that one was. Much as I like a good long book, that length can be a disadvantage at times.

Fortunately, Aurora's charms do hold up well here,plus the narrative does shift to others in the nick of time. The main center point of TES is Aurora's affair with Jerry, a much younger man who has a pseudo-shrink position that she meets when in the mood to engage in therapy.

Aurora's desire for Jerry is complicated in that while she knows full well what she wants from him, his youth and laid back manner tends to disarm her fierce emotional armor, leaving her feeling old and vulnerable, two things that she firmly denies being:

Aurora not only allows herself to get physically intimate with Jerry, she finds herself more attached than she realizes when Emma's old friend Patsy gets involved with him,too.

Patsy is one of those characters who drift in and out of McMurtry's various novels(she even has her own book, Moving On, which I recently re-bought to read at a later date) and she winds up competing with Aurora in an almost surrogate daughter kind of way. Weird but all too true to life in some ways, there.

The Evening Star didn't resound with readers or film goers the way that Terms of Endearment did(partly due, I think, to most folks being imprinted on the movie version which won several Academy Awards). This isn't the first time that McMurtry's follow-ups to certain books have not received the same loving acceptance as their originals did. Texasville, the sequel to The Last Picture Show, for example, wasn't a hit with critics or fans and while Lonesome Dove was amazing enough on it's own even before winning the Pulitzer, the books that explored what happened to the remaining characters have their share of detractors.

Turns out, I read a lot of McMurtry back in the day and yet, there are still plenty of his books that I haven't gotten to. At some point, I didn't feel the need to read him(sort of outgrew him, I guess). Going back with Terms and Evening Star, however, was a nice trip home, so to speak and I might spend a little more reading time with him this year. His leisurely writing and engaging character development makes for a good lesson in creating your own sense of style in writing.

My winter path on The Road of Rereading will conclude with a look at the film adaptation of Terms of Endearment(I'm skipping The Evening Star, it's too tricky to locate). So far, this has been a delightful journey and I'm looking forward to the spring blooms that will lead me to the Hardy steps to be taken Far From the Madding Crowd soon:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Warming up to some March and April 2015 reads

The cold winds of winter are still howling but one sign of spring that is sure to come are the first bloom of new books upon the shelves.

 I know that most people are anxious to find something that's more likely to take them out of doors rather than keep them in but going out to shop for books should count, shouldn't it?

At any rate, here are a batch of upcoming titles for March and April that ought to put a spring in your step as you head off to embrace the approaching warmth of the new season:


 The leading lady of Cynthia Swanson's debut novel, The Bookseller, has a taste for fantasy fiction but never thought she would be caught up in a story stranger than any she's ever read.

In 1962, Kitty Miller seems to have the perfect life of a single woman; free and independent as well as co-owner of a bookstore with her best friend Frida in Denver. Yet lately, she's been having very all-too-real dreams in which she's Katherine, living in 1963 as the wife of a Danish architect with three kids.

The weird thing is, Kitty did once have a blind date set up with this man many years ago, only he never showed up for their meeting. Is this "other" life the one she was supposed to have or is it the life she's really living right now? This thoughtful take on what might have been is intriguing and should add onto the genre of "ladies viewing opposite lives" quite nicely(March):


While George Eliot's Middlemarch gets plenty of attention for it's leading lady Dorothea, there is another heroine in that writer's cannon worthy of a deeper look as Diana Souhami shows us in Gwendolen.

The title refers to Gwendolen Harleth, who is featured prominently in Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda, a young woman drawn to Deronda's kindness but forced by circumstance to marry a wealthy man that she doesn't love and is cruel to her in so many ways.

Since the original novel parallels both Daniel and Gwendolen's separate plights, this book allows Gwen to have her own full say without having to share her story with anyone else. Even if you haven't read Deronda, this different approach to the story offers it's own unique delights(March):

The series of modernized Jane Austen novels that started over a year ago continues this spring with Emma: A Modern Retelling.

The well known heroine of Highbury is handled with care by Alexander McCall Smith(best known for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series) who has her setting up shop as an interior designer.

 In addition to tending to her father's needs for health supplements and discouraging her new best friend Harriet from getting too involved with a local inn keeper, Emma also has to prove to Mr. Knightley just how right she is about everything.

While some may grumble about not needing a new version of Emma, McCall Smith's writing style is perfectly suited to this story and at the very least, provides the best excuse for taking up this timeless tale of a clueless yet clever young lady yet again(April):


As a copy writer for New Yorker magazine, Mary Norris has seen more than her fair share of grammar errors and pitiful punctuation. In her upcoming book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, she tries to impart some of the hard earned wisdom regarding proper usage of language in a charmingly humorous way.

From stories about the grammatical mistakes of all sorts that she's encountered over the years to refresher courses on the right way to set up a sentence and an inside look at the editorial life of a major publication, Norris covers the waterfront of literary language with wit and warmth(April):


  I've signed up for another blog tour this spring and just in time as Downton Abbey is about to end. Judith Kinghorn's The Snow Globe is set within that time period as Daisy, the youngest daughter of a well established family with a country estate called Eden Hall, learns that her life is not a true paradise

Crushed by the revelation of her father's infidelity with a family friend, Daisy plunges into a trio of unexpected romances, all of which could easily lead to
social ruin. Daisy is not the only one in the household courting disaster but with the Great War coming to an end, her emotional exploits could be just as damaging than any fights seen on the battlefields

This novel sounds like a true historical fiction treat and I'll be happy to share my thoughts about it this March. Particularly as it sounds a bit like the early seasons of Downton, The Snow Globe should be a welcome sight for English drama fans and romance lovers alike(March):

 Author Jennifer Chiverini continues with her Civil War series as her latest novel pairs two long time friends needing to find separate paths in life. Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule shares the story of a future First Lady and her girlhood companion, who was also her slave.

Julia Dent grew up with Jule being her best friend and maid servant since childhood, relying on Jule's better eyesight and encouragement over the years. However, upon falling in love with Ulysses Grant, Julia is determined to keep Jule with her despite his opposition to slavery.

Eventually, Jule has the chance to break out on her own with no help from her life long "friend" and the choices that both women must make will change not only their lives but perhaps the lives of others all around them. Chiaverini's fictional focus on real life heroines like this certainly makes for  educational as well as entertaining reading(March):

Hopefully, a couple of these books can provide your mind with some much needed warmth as the pages turn and the temperature goes up. Finding new reads is essential, as being at a loss for words can be as tough to deal with as the winter blues:

Friday, February 20, 2015

A bit of lackluster excitement for the Oscars of 2015

As a long time fan of the Academy Awards, I have to say that I'm both thrilled and nonplussed about the upcoming cinema salute fest this weekend. Sure, we have a great host this year(thank you in advance,NPH!) and some good movies to celebrate yet it feels a bit too cookie cutter portioned to truly chomp into.

It's not as if lousy actors/actresses were taking spots from more worthy ones or total garbage being honored over quality. Rather, the whole problem with the vibe for the Oscars this year is what many other competitive shows and their contestants often get accused of doing to win; playing it way too safe.

  By picking very niche projects to honor without livening things up with a bold choice or two, trying to rouse interest for the big categories here is kind of like choosing the least vanilla of the French vanilla cupcakes crowding the main table.

 Selma's snubs are one example but imagine the possibilities if Jennifer Aniston had been nominated as Best Actress for Cake along side Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle or Gillian Flynn for Best Adapted Screenplay and yes, David Oyelowo for Selma?

 Maybe we would have some real solid competition and more engaging Oscar talk, not to mention interesting odds for all of those Oscar night betting pools out there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating against any of the folks who were nominated but just in the main acting categories alone, the predictions are practically set in stone announcements. Plus, I do think that talented performers like J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette do deserve their place in the spotlight yet it still would be nice to see them sweat a little for it:

The biggest debate I've seen so far regarding the current batch of  nominees lately is who will win Best Picture; Birdman or Boyhood ?

I'm not surprised that it came down to these two, since The Grand Budapest Hotel is nice but emotionally remote, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are both Brit biopics and sort of cancel each other out, Whiplash is all about musicians(which draws a selective amount of support) and American Sniper,along with Selma, has a lot of controversial baggage attached to it, fair or not.

My best guess is that Boyhood will take that top prize(Birdman will most likely have Best Director and Michael Keaton as Best Actor to make up for that). Out of the two, Boyhood deals more with everyday life while Birdman is an actor's movie about the art of acting. Birdman sounds great but when it comes to something like Best Picture, the Academy does try to go for films that are a little more down to earth at times and I think this might be one of those moments.

Boyhood has that big labor of love aura about it, which makes for great press and more sentimental feeling amongst voters, in my opinion. Birdman probably relates better to the Hollywood community but they also want to have their  art house cake and eat it too:

As for the other categories, I've already said that Glory will get Best Song and my picks elsewhere are Interstellar for Sound(and other tech awards), Grand Budapest Hotel for Original Screenplay, Inherent Vice for Best Adapted and Guardians of the Galaxy for Best Make-up.

Some of the smaller categories, I don't always do well in but I think it's safe to say that Big Hero 6 should win Best Animated Feature and Feast will earn the Best Animated Short right next to it. From what I have seen of the Best Animated Short category, there are some real gems out there and it's a shame that they don't get as widely seen by general audiences:

 So,why am I watching the Oscars at all, you may ask? Well, because despite my cynicism, there is always a chance that something amazing will happen. A person least expected to win gets chosen, a particularly moving song performance or even a spectacularly awful wardrobe choice could make the night truly magical.

Plus, there is still hope that this year's less than exciting line-up will inspire Academy voters to break free from their self imposed shackles of entertainment conformity and give us a more revolutionary set of contenders to root for in 2016. Hey, why not dream a little? It's what the movies are for, after all:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Julie Klassen unlocks a tale of treasures in The Secret of Pembrooke Park

For fans of Jane Austen, finding modern day works with a Regency era setting is often a dubious selection at best but when the right sense of style and substance comes their way, much rejoicing is to be had.

Such merriment comes from Julie Klassen's The Secret of Pembrooke Park, in which it's heroine has many of the key ingredients for an Austen leading lady. Abigail Foster is the older sister who, at the age of twenty four,  is seen to be dangerously close to spinsterhood.

Her keen mind is respected yet some of the family's financial troubles of late come from a recommendation of hers' that she fears her father may never forgive her for. Faced not only with the need to retrench but to be able to provide her younger and more flirtatious sister Louisa with a proper season for husband hunting, Abigail and her father wind up accepting an unusual offer.

According to the representative of an anonymous distant relation, the Fosters have a chance at relocating to the estate of Pembrooke Park, which has not been occupied for many years, on very good terms. The house has been shut down and guarded against intruders, due to rumors about a possible murder as well as a hidden room of treasures awaiting to be claimed. Despite this strange arrangement, Abigail and her father feel they have no other better choice than to reopen the house and see what lies ahead for their future:

Upon their arrival, the house is indeed in shambles both inside and out. For some time, Abigail is left alone to sort out the mess and not before long, is able to arrange a very suitable household.

In addition to setting up home and heath, she makes friends with the Chapman family, whose gruff father Mac is the local land agent and his son William the new curate of the parish. While bonding with the Chapmans, who also have an elder daughter Leah who is sweet and loving yet fearful of letting certain secrets slip out, Abigail begins to find herself able to appreciate life again.

She had been somewhat heartbroken when Gilbert, a childhood companion learning to be an architect, appeared to have eyes more for her sister than her. However, in spending time with William Chapman, Abigail wonders if there is a chance of something more than friendship between them:

Yet, the mysteries surrounding the previous Pembrooke family residents, as well as the location of the hidden room, can not be ignored for long.

Some of that curiosity is stirred up by the arrival of an unexpected guest, Miles Pembrooke. A surviving son of the prior tenants, Miles claims not to want to dismiss the Fosters from the house, rather simply stopped by to renew his former memories of the place. His stay becomes extended, as his ingratiating manners and supposedly eagerness to connect with his relations sounds acceptable.

 However, the Chapmans suspect his true motives and not before long, Abigail notices his keen interest in searching about the house for that special room of wonders:

As Abigail and William team up to solve the numerous mysteries about them, can they discover the true mystery of their real feelings towards each other? Will finding that hidden room make their lives better or worse than they imagine?

There are plenty of questions but the pace of Klassen's writing allows you to reach the answers in good enough time. She develops her characters and situations with a solid amount of depth and flair that keeps you turning the pages in a thoughtful yet thrilling manner.

 Abigail, in particular, is an engaging heroine as her intelligence is well prized by at least two of her suitors(yes, Gilbert comes back into the picture) and her perceptions of who she meets along the way are not set in stone. In addition, certain characters who may seem to be easily set templates turn out to be more complex than one would imagine. All in all, this book is a marvelous adventure to behold.

This is the first time that I've read any of Julie Klassen, thanks to being part of the blog tour for this delightful book, and you can check here to find out how to win one of the lovely prizes being given away by the end of this tour. My thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for inviting me to this party and to Julie Klassen, whose other works I will be reading in the near future.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park offers a lively heroine as charming as Lizzie Bennet and as clever and honorable as Anne Eliot or Elinor Dashwood. Yet, Abigail Foster is her own woman in her own right and one well worth the knowing, by readers and literary admirers alike. I hope that many of both will endeavor to make her acquaintance soon:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Katrina awakens some real trouble on Sleepy Hollow, Agent Carter at the end of her rope and Downton Abbey's change of players

We're doing our TV Thursday coverage a day early,folks(due to tomorrow's blog tour review for The Secret of Pembrooke Park) but there's plenty to talk about, indeed.

For those of you fed up with Katrina on Sleepy Hollow, her latest plot line should be seen as some sort of improvement from the norm. She decided to team up with Henry and revive their old coven(using a bell to awaken descendants with witch ability) to take over Sleepy Hollow and then the world. Not a bad plan but then things got really interesting.

Due to his status as Horseman of War being null and void, Henry was able to die via a gunshot to the heart that took him out for good(for now,at least). Katrina was so heartbroken over this that her anger turned against Ichabod,causing her to cast a time travel spell to undo what she had done in order to make him a Witness in the first place.

Abbie went along for the ride,inadvertently, and  hopefully she can put things right for the finale next week. Her task won't be easy, that's for sure!I don't know if this means Katrina will be written out of the show for good(or for a little while) but at least her character is doing something proactive here.

Granted, her choices are not the best ones yet we do need a new Big Bad on the block and she might very well fit the bill here. At any rate, I do think we can all agree that keeping Abbie and Crane together is priority one for this series and if it takes ditching the witch to pull it off, so much the better:

The series run for Agent Carter is nearly at it's conclusion and there is quite a bit going on, as the forces of Leviathan are drawing closer and now have their hands on one of Stark's weapons. Peggy is finally being listened to, yet at a great cost(fare thee well, Chief Dooley) and perhaps not too late.

As much as I am looking forward to the return of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in March, this show has become a real must-watch for me and many others as well. Hayley Atwell ought to have some sort of star vehicle to showcase her talents after this or at least a major motion picture(pay attention,Hollywood!).

 It's a shame that we may not get any more good old fashioned fun and excitement like this on prime time for some time to come. From the action sequences to the humor to the shades of sexism that are as daunting to Peggy as any bad guy's evil plan, this series is one of the best of the year and for the remainder of Marvel's TV time, be a hard act to follow:

Edith's departure from Downton Abbey was short lived, as her mother was informed about Marigold and whipped up a hasty scheme to bring both daughter and grandchild back into the fold.

Sadly, it did help that Lord Grantham was distracted by the news of his beloved dog Isis being on her last legs. While no one likes having a dearly loved pet having to leave this earth, it's also pretty pathetic that Edith actually has to compete with a dog for some real attention there.

On the bright side, I'm glad that Isobel said yes to Lord Morton's marriage proposal yet sorry that her future step sons are complete jackasses with no finesse whatsoever(do hope that Branson punches one of them out by the end of the season!).

I will have to skip Downton this Sunday for the Oscars but have no doubt that there will be plenty of drama to catch up on later in the week. I'm sure Countess Violet would understand(and possibly give Mary more of a scolding about her casual cruelty towards her sister than she did this time around):


WOLF HALL: April appears to be a busy month for mini-series, as this adaptation of Hillary Mantel's award winning novels about the reign of Henry the Eighth thru the eyes of his adviser Thomas Cromwell is due in the US by then. Joining the likes of Outlander and Game of Thrones on weekends, this historical slice of fiction promises to be sinister sweet icing indeed:

Friday, February 13, 2015

50 Shades of Subtle Romance Moments

It's Valentine's Day 2015 and the big steamy adaptation of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey is out in theaters, gathering up reviews that claim for the most part that this movie is 50 shades of boring.

I guess that's not so surprising, given that the director and screenwriter opted to go more for character development than the much anticipated erotica of the books but then again, it does help to have characters worth developing in the first place.

Mind you, I didn't read any of the 50 Shades series and while I'm no prude, I do think that romance in media can be best served with a little restraint and I don't mean with ropes and chains. A little subtlety goes a long way towards stirring up some serious passion play, folks. Here are five of my favorite moments from film and TV that showcase the notion of less is more when it comes to love:

BUTTON ME UP, BUTTON ME DOWN: If you're looking for tortured romance, look no further than Edith Wharton. Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence places it's leading man Newland Archer between his sweet yet seemingly simple intended May Welland and the sorrowful sophisticated Countess Ellen Olenska, a woman who challenges him both intellectually and emotionally.

In this scene from the 1993 Martin Scorsese film version, Newland and Ellen are alone in a carriage, having met by chance that day. Newland's desire for her is so great that he slowly unbuttons one of Ellen's long gloves and brings her wrist to his lips.

That gesture has a vampirish overture to it, yet it's  also romantic as well as incredibly tantalizing to watch. The slow motion charm of their affections is only one part of this story but it is a vital element that Scorsese(who co-wrote the screenplay) uses effectively:

THAT FIRST KISS: In one episode of The Golden Girls, red hot lover Blanche was confused by the lack of interest from her current suitor in the bedroom department.

Her attempts to get him in the mood lead to the typical comedic antics but as it turns out, all the guy wanted was to have "an old fashioned romance."

 He came from the old school style of wooing a lady, which meant building up the anticipation of even something as basic as the first kiss. Blanche found herself caught by this approach and was willing to give it a try, finding not only the delayed excitement alluring but the respect given to her by this attractive as well:

DINNER PARTY SAVE: One of the sweeter moments in Bridget Jones' Diary is when Mark Darcy shows up to congratulate her on a job well done and winds up staying to help her with the disaster of a birthday dinner that Bridget is preparing for her friends.

From their banter during the cooking to Mark joining in for a meal of blue soup, gruesome gravy and a sweet to the teeth dessert, the romantic sparks fly fast and furious between them. Plus, anybody willing to endure such culinary punishment and share in the good humor amongst your friends about that is truly a keeper:

DAISY,GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER,DO: During the first couple of seasons of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai was dating Max Medina, her daughter Rory's English teacher at Chilton, which caused a number of problems there.

However, their connection was also truly affectionate as well as chaotic and at one point, Max blurted out a proposal of marriage. Lorelai felt that his proposal was made simply to solve some of their troubles and not out of pure love, for in her words "There should be music playing and romantic lighting and a subtle buildup to the popping of the big question. There should be a thousand yellow daisies and candles and a horse and I don't know what the horse is doing there unless you're riding it, which seems a little over the top, but it should be more than this."

Well, the next day, the lady got her wish as a thousand yellow daisies were delivered to her job, followed by a phone call that was over the moon romantic. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Luke & Lorelai gal all the way but you have to give Max Medina his due in the romance department here:


No conversation on this subject would be complete without a reference to Jane Austen and for my money, Wentworth's letter to Anne in Persuasion is the highest of standards indeed.

For those not familiar with the story, Anne Eliot and Captain  Frederic Wentworth were young lovers made to part from each other, mainly due to Anne being persuaded(hence the title) by a family friend that she should hold out for a better martial opportunity.

Several years later, Anne and Wentworth meet up again and both are still unattached. The depth of their feelings for one another is uncertain, given that both of them engage in a bit of flirtation with other people for awhile, not to mention that neither one is sure of the other's intentions. All that changes when Wentworth writes to Anne that his heart is still hers and if the words "You pierce my soul...I am half agony, half hope." don't move you, then I don't know what to tell you regarding love.

While I prefer the 1995 adaptation with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, there are plenty of fans of the 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones as well, so this clip that includes both films should satisfy all. Happy Valentine's Day, folks and enjoy the beauty of subtle romance where ever you find it:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fish finds a new pond to swim in away from Gotham,Agent Carter is on the run and Edith makes a big move on Downton Abbey

A whole lot of sub plots are going on in Gotham right away, with The Penguin setting up shop while Falcone gets Maroni to not kill him(for now, at least),Gordon and Bullock hunt down the father of the future villain Scarecrow, plus Gordon and new ME Leslie Thompson are dating yet trying to play it cool at work.

One sub plot that has definitely taken a strange turn is Fish Mooney's adventures on the run. Her getaway boat was hijacked by pirates and she wakes in up in a bizarre underground prison, the purpose of which has yet to be made known. In no time at all, she takes charges and appears to be planning a break out of some sort, which may be harder than it seems.

Not sure where this story line is going but my best guess is that if Fish can make her way back to Gotham with a whole new crew of minions unafraid of throwing down hard, the temporary truce between the street gangs could shatter instantly. Have to admit that Fish is an interesting lady to watch and I'm willing to see what comes next for her, especially if she's still interested in delivering payback to The Penguin:

Meanwhile, Peggy's cover was blown on Agent Carter, forcing her to fight and flee from her colleagues. It was only a matter of time before they realized that she was trying to help Stark out(who also lied to her about needing Captain America's blood) away but of course, none of them were about to give her the shadow of a doubt regarding her motives.

As awesome as it was to see Peggy kick some serious ass here, that fighting frenzy will be held against her as more evidence of her dubious loyalties. Not even Thompson, who she let have most of the credit for last week's overseas mission, will trust her here. It's interesting to note that most of the help Peggy got in her run from the S.S.R. came from a woman(her diner buddy Angie) and in the end, it was a woman who took Peggy down(Dottie, the covert Russian agent living in her building).

We only have two episodes left, so Peggy probably won't be in trouble for too long. However, seeing her take down a whole room of her fellow agents(with a little assist from Jarvis) was so worth the wait:

On Downton Abbey, Edith received official word of Gregson's death and with her family basically tip-toeing around her grief(except for Mary, more interested in showing off her new hair-do than caring about her sister!), she decided to pack up and head off to London.

With an inheritance from Gregson(his newspaper empire) and what ever family funds are available to her, she should do well yet Edith took her daughter Marigold with her and that could be a problem. It was sad as hell to see the farmer's wife Mrs. Drewe be forced to give up Marigold and for a moment, I thought Edith might change her mind and leave her with that family.

She didn't, though. How she is going to explain about Marigold's existence (a secret marriage? adoption?) to the world, not to mention her family, is yet to be seen. It's about time she left them, since all they do is offer lip service comfort or use her as the butt of jokes(Mary and Edith never did get along well yet that is no excuse for Mary's snide attitude towards her sister). Just hope this isn't a way to write her off the show and that Lady Edith gets a solid story line out of this move:


THE DAILY SHOW: Jon Stewart's announcement that he'll be leaving his faux anchor desk this year(date still to be determined) was a bit of a shock yet not a complete surprise. After over a decade of  creating the ultimate pop culture spot for sociopolitical satire, it's only understandable that he would want to tackle new creative horizons there.

Hopefully, his replacement will be hired in-house(Jessica Williams would be great or Samantha Bee) and that his final send-off is another wonderful moment of television history:

Monday, February 09, 2015

Oscar's Best Song section offers a salute to singers this season

The Best Song category is one that I tend to fuss over at the Oscars, due to the short shift that it's gotten over the years. What with lack of nominated songs(one year, we only had two!), good songs being ignored and others overly praised and/or performed, this section has seen better days indeed.

However, this time around, not only do we have a healthy number of nominated songs to choose from(with two front runners that we'll get to later), at least three of them are connected to films that highlight the struggles of singers. Quite an interesting theme and while it's not too surprising, given that musicians do vote in this category, it's a nice change of pace from the usual.

One of the songs up for Oscar gold is somewhat connected to a previous winner; the film Begin Again was written and directed by John Carney, whose 2007 movie Once received a Best Song award for it's stand out single "Falling Slowly". Begin Again is a similar story with bigger names in the cast, as Mark Ruffalo plays a disgraced record exec seeking redemption by making small time singer/songwriter Keira Knightley's character a star.

The film itself got mixed reviews and sort of came and went at the box office. However, enough folks liked the tune "Lost Stars" from it's soundtrack to grant it a spot here. Adam Levine does sing it for the soundtrack but since it was intended for Knightley's character, I listened to her version of the song. Her vocals are not bad, a decent set of pipes(no Anne Hathaway but still,..) and while some of the lyrics are head scratchers-"it's hunting season and I'm a lamb on the run?"-this is a likable enough melody to play in the background:

Beyond the Lights was another blink and you'll miss it movies this past fall, about a troubled young pop star(played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who should've gotten a Best Actress nom for her performance in Belle) in dire need of relief from the pressures of fame and her back stage mother(Minnie Driver).

While this film also gathered up mixed reviews, one of it's songs "Grateful",sung by Rita Ora, managed to find a place amongst the Best Song nominees. I admit that I only know Rita Ora by name at best but after listening to this, I would like to hear more.

This song is a heart felt number, partly due to Diane Warren writing the lyrics here, and truly beautiful to behold. This is one number that I will look forward to hearing live on Oscar night and not make a bathroom break for:

We don't always get Best Song nominees from documentaries but this last one is especially appropriate. Country music legend Glen Campbell recorded "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" as a tribute to his failing memory due to Alzheimer's disease that is the haunting theme track for the film Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me.

The film documents his farewell tour as well as the progress of his medical condition. Regardless of how you may feel about country music, Campbell's finale number is quite touching and while I highly doubt he'll be able to perform this song at the awards ceremony, this should be a truly memorable moment that night when it's turn in the spotlight comes up:

That leaves us with the two front runners and despite the intense fan love for the Lego Movie tune, my best bet would be that "Glory" from the soundtrack for Selma wins that night.

It is possible that the Glen Campbell song might gain enough sympathetic support to win instead but I do sincerely think that "Glory" is truly the definition of an Oscar winning song.

If I had to describe the sound of it, the first word that comes to mind is epic. From the soaring elegance of the music to the earnest nature of the lyrics from both John Legend and Common, this is an inspiring number that fits this movie as perfect as a glove. Not to mention that the massive snubs given to Selma might motivate some extra votes.

If this category was truly judged on quality, then "Glory" would be fiercely competing with "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" and for either song to win would be great. It still will be great for one or the other to be honored on Oscar night yet I know that someone will complain somewhere online about either victory. Let's not let that spoil the goodness of a rich selection of Best Songs to choose from for once and just relish the moments of musical glory yet to come:

Friday, February 06, 2015

Celebrating the second coming of Harper Lee

A major announcement has rocked the literary world this week, as news of a second novel by acclaimed author Harper Lee to be released this summer is stirring up all kinds of talk.

The book in question,Go Set a Watchman, was actually Ms. Lee's first novel about Scout Finch and her father Atticus. Encouraged by an editor to write more about her leading lady's childhood days, To Kill a Mockingbird became her major work instead. The manuscript for her earlier effort was tucked away with a galley of TKAM and recently discovered, much to the delight of many of Harper Lee's  multi-generational audience:

 I count myself as a very small part of this audience, as I came to TKAM only a few years ago, thanks in part to Mary McDonagh Murphy's documentary Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Discovering this book at an adult age perhaps gives me a different perspective on it's legacy than the majority of readers who were introduced to TKAM as children and teens. Having such a strong female character as Scout with an equally strong and solid father figure as Atticus Finch as emotional templates can make a reader feel incredibly protective of this special corner of the American literary landscape in a way that no other book can:

That may explain the mounting concerns and objections being raised about the publication of Go Set a Watchman on and offline lately.

 Some are worried that Harper Lee is not fully capable of consenting to the book's release due to her health issues and there was trouble a few years back when her trust(and money) was taken advantage of by an unscrupulous agent(the case was settled out of court) and with Ms. Lee's sister Alice having passed on recently, a few folks find the discovery of this earlier work "suspicious" to say the least.

While I am just as concerned about Harper Lee being properly paid for her book, I do believe that, considering the legal action taken over her copyright recently, the publisher would be even more careful as to gaining the proper permissions here(and I'm not just saying that because I get reader's copies from Harper Collins from time to time).

 Also, speaking as the daughter of a retired nurse who spent most of her professional years working with the elderly, just because a person has had a stroke and is declining in certain physical senses doesn't mean that they are mentally on the decline as well.

 Since longevity and mental sharpness seems to run in Ms. Lee's family(her sister Alice was 104 when she died and still active in the law), unless solid evidence is produced to the contrary, I am willing to take the official statements from Ms. Lee's representatives, which say she is pleased about the publication, at their word:

 The objections that truly bother me are the ones that insist that TKAM's place in the canon might be jeopardized by this new book, that maybe if GSAWM doesn't live up to the high expectations of it's more acclaimed sibling , people will no longer appreciate any of Harper Lee's work.

Some have even said they would've preferred this book to come out after the author's death and still more insist that since Lee had said that she's "Boo Radley", that her one perfect book is all that should be out there in the world. I find all of these notions to be utter nonsense.

First of all, reading a writer's earlier or uncompleted works is a wonderful way to better enhance your appreciation of their entire body of writing. A fine example is Jane Austen, who only had six completed novels yet most of her followers delight in her juvenilia such as "Catherine, or The Bower" and "Love and Freindship"(yes, she spelled it that way!). While they may not be as popular as Pride and Prejudice or Emma, these early stories are considered a bonus rather than a detraction from Austen's standing in the time honored classics arena.

And believe me, if a lost manuscript of Jane Austen's turned up, all of us JA fans would be jumping up and down with sheer giddy delight and lining up like hipsters at the Apple store for the first shot at getting a copy from our local book store on the day of it's official release. Asking for the book to be put off until Harper Lee's death is distasteful as well as disrespectful, in my opinion.

Next, I feel that the need to place Harper Lee in a special little casing where her status as a recluse artist with only one grand masterpiece is both condescending and pretentious. Any writer has more than one story in him or her and no one produces an exceptionally work of art without a good number of first drafts and half completed attempts in the process.

This myth of the isolated writer whose genius is too good for this world is a bit much and to those who kept saying "but she's Boo!" should read the book again. Boo Radley kept to himself but didn't wish to be totally shut off from society. His attempts to connect to Scout and Jem over the course of the novel show that and while his big rescue on that fateful Halloween night didn't lead to more interaction with them, it also wasn't completely out of the blue either.

If Harper Lee wishes at this stage of her life to share more of her talent with us, then we should be happy and grateful to accept what she has to offer. A lady is entitled to change her mind, after all, and I suspect she's a lot sharper than certain people are willing to give her credit for these days:

All in all, I believe we should be happy that such a double blessing as Harper Lee still being with us and that she has another book about Scout and Atticus(and possibly a third, if the rumors are true) for us to enjoy is nothing short of a minor miracle.

To Kill a Mockingbird has, since it's arrival in 1960, been a lighting rod of controversy from critics and censors alike, so it's really not a surprise that any follow-up would engender no less of a response from the pop culture world. Yet, it has also been a uniting point for many as well, bringing together those on opposite ends of the social spectrum to find a common thread of love,acceptance and hope for a better world.

So, when Go Set a Watchman does arrive at bookstores and libraries this summer, maybe it will be a time of reflective reading and a book that bridges yet another set of generations together. At the very least, it should be respected as the place where the ideals of Scout and Atticus Finch began. At any rate, Go Set a Watchman ought to be worth standing up for on sheer principle alone and I look forward to seeing so for myself come July: