Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, August 31, 2015

A sinister salute to Wes Craven and his legacy of cinematic horror

It was truly sad to hear of the passing of director/writer Wes Craven last night, who at the age of 76 had to take his final bow due to brain cancer.

Known to some as "the father of Freddy Kruegar", Craven already had made his mark in the horror film genre early on with the likes of 1972's The Last House on the Left and in 1977 with The Hills Have Eyes.

His unique vision did get him both an audience and positive critical response but it was that particular nightmare come to life via a certain deadly dream man that brought Craven into the mainstream.

A Nightmare on Elm Street became the starting point for one of the most enduring horror film franchises in Hollywood history, making New Line Studios "The House That Freddy Built", and for good reason. Not only this take on dreams make a significant change in the teen terror trend of the 1980s, it also launched the career of actor Robert Englund, the man who gave Craven's monster vividly frightening life:

Craven only directed two other films in the NOES series, each time making exciting new twists to his original terror tale. His last word on the whole Freddy phenomenon was neatly done in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, where the actors from the first movie were being haunted in the real world by the dream demon they helped to create.

That movie was vastly underrated by the fans when it arrived in theaters but critics gave it sterling reviews and it has turned into a cult classic of sorts. With it's meta story line and amazing visual tricks, Craven really breathed new life back into the almost formulaic Freddy:

  Craven did venture outside of the horror realm, with thrillers like Red Eye and the 1999 drama Music of the Heart, which was the only one of his films to receive Oscar nominations.

However, some of his stand alone horror films did offer interesting insights into sociopolitical fears such as The Serpent and the Rainbow(which had the backdrop of Haiti's dictatorial government at the time in it's zombie story) and The People Under The Stairs, that took aim at the Reagan years.

The plot follows a young man named Fool who enters a notorious house in his neighborhood seeking treasure, only to find a gruesome twosome that called themselves "Mommy" and "Daddy" who were far from the ideal parents of TV sitcom land.

The metaphors for the class warfare and exploitation of minorities during that time period(which still holds up today, sadly enough) is neatly folded into the journey into an all too real heart of darkness for both Fool and the young girl he encounters, Alice. One of the hallmarks of Craven's writing is that he created flesh and blood characters for his audience to care about, not just stick figures ready to be gorily knocked down:

 Most of this current generation of movie goers know Craven from the Scream series of films that flipped the slasher genre on it's head and into a meta knife wielded by the ever changing Ghost Face Killer. The film has been turned into a TV series, which is doing well enough to have a second season greenlit already.

Most of the Scream movies(with the pointed exception of Scream 3, a badly done entry indeed) made slick statements about not only how we perceive the cliches of any fictional formula but how it changes our outlook on reality as well. Take for example, the opening kill of Scream 2, set in a movie theater where a hapless audience member gets more than she bargained for.

 At the time, no one thought of a movie theater as a dangerous place but, sadly due to real life, this scenario is more terrifying now than perhaps it was back then. The obliviousness of the engaged audience is what adds to the terror and while I'm not trying to trigger anyone, it is telling that this was a nightmare that people thought could only happen in a movie:

Granted, not every Wes Craven film hit the ball out of the park. For every horror home run, he did have his fair share of swings and misses, with the likes of Shocker, Vampire in Brooklyn and most recently, My Soul to Take.

However, the man did have a sense of humor about himself and his work, judging from the cameo appearances he made in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back  and Castle. Also, Craven's misfires were for the most part, attempts to do something different creatively. That's not something Hollywood often encourages anyone working in any genre to do and you have to give the man kudos for trying there.

The work of Wes Craven did inspire many of his fellow artists and will continue to do so long after his departure. He may have had doubts about his mark upon the genre yet many of us out there who appreciated the intelligent approach that Craven took to his films will make sure that those who come after us don't forget. Sorry to see you go, sir, but best wishes on your new adventure, which should be a wonderful dream come true in a better world:

Friday, August 28, 2015

What Show Me A Hero says about the past and present of a city

Having Yonkers as my hometown was a major reason that my family and I started watching the HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero, which airs it's final chapters this upcoming Sunday night. The six part story,based upon Lisa Belkin's nonfiction book, tells the tale of the housing fight in the city that took place in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

The city of Yonkers had been found guilty of deliberately keeping both public housing and public schools apart by racial lines(in more than one court) and were dragging their feet in dealing the court ordered compliance to build housing on the mainly white east side.

Attempting to take hold of the situation was Nick Wasicsko(Oscar Issacs), a young politician who ran for mayor using an anti-housing campaign at first but upon being elected, soon realized that all of the legal options had been exhausted to stave off the inevitable.  In a way, opponents of the housing thought he was their "Great White Hope", due to his past experience as a police officer and a lawyer but once they realized that he wanted them to deal with the reality of the situation, that good will was gone in a flash:

Wasicsko not only had to deal with City Council meetings that were dominated by raging protesters, he also had to negotiate with resistant council members(some of whom refused to even consider a compromise) for spots in their districts for the housing,including an agreement for Catholic church owned property that was quickly reneged on.

On top of that, he tried to deal with the anger of Judge Sands, who was so fed up with Yonkers' stubborn refusal that daily fines that threatened to bankrupt the city were imposed. All of this lead to a losing re-election with his main political rival on this issue, Henry Spallone(Alfred Molina) who was pretty much the Donald Trump of that campaign:

The whole series isn't just about the political fight, it also deals with the regular citizens on both sides of the conflict.

 From east side resident Mary Dornan(Catherine Keener) who begins to have doubts about the direction of the housing resistence to Norma(Latanya Richardson Jackson), a retired home care worker whose own health problems are being ill served due to where she lives, how this legal battle does and doesn't speak to them over time is an important part of the story.

The casting here is incredibly solid, ranging from Bob Balaban as Judge Sands to Winona Ryder as former councilwoman Vinni Restiano, plus Ilfenesh Hadera as single mother Carmen, torn between raising her children in the relatively stable environment of her home town in the Dominic Republic yet needing the better financial opportunities available in New York,despite being able to only afford the less than safe for her kids housing in Yonkers. Kudos to all involved for keeping the humanity of the situation a vital component here:

 A good portion of SMAH was filmed in Yonkers, which gives me and my family a weird sense of nostalgia as we try to figure out where certain scenes take place in. We also remember little things like the local newspaper of the day, The Herald Statesman(which has been long gone, we now have The Journal News).

The housing fight took place during my late teens and the school integration had already affected me as I was a member of the last graduating class of my high school. To be honest, I had no idea that we weren't already integrated as the part of town that we lived in was diversely populated(and still is). That is how divided the city of Yonkers was at the time, that there were young people like me who had not clue one that we were racially divided.

I say "in those days" but it's eerie to hear some of the arguments being presented in SMAH still having echoes in the racial conflicts of the present day. From "those people will ruin our way of life!" to "why isn't anyone asking our opinion about this?", some of these same debates are happening all over the country, from small town meetings to huge political rallies.

True, many things have changed for the better but some are getting worse and in looking back at the sad social history of Yonkers, you can see that the old saying "those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them" is being proven true yet again. This should feel like an old fashioned story of a time thankfully long gone by and yet, SMAH feels like a fresh slice of modern life.

As the final episodes of Show Me A Hero are about to air, I feel that this series has done well by this story and remained true to what happened in Yonkers back then. It may not be the pretty picture that some would like to see of this city but then again, the truth never is.

Yonkers may sound like a terrible place to live and it's not a bed of roses at the best of times. However, like just about any other city in America, it has some moments of unity, neighborly good will and hope for a better future. Show Me A Hero gives us a chance to look back both in anger and in the promise of a new day. For that, we have to thank producer David Simon and his cast and crew for highlighting such a turbulent  time period that may perhaps offer some perspective on the way we are now:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Female Friendly Flicks abound in the Fall Movie Trailer Park

It may not be easy to find films with strong female leads and story lines just about any time of year but sometimes, the fall season does offer more opportunities for such movies to make their presence known at the box office.

For example, literary adaptations are very fall friendly and we have at least two of them on the way with solid leading ladies at the helm. Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is based upon Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, which recounts a budding romance between a young department store clerk and an older woman.

Set in New York of the 1950s, director Todd Haynes is practically picture perfect for this film, which has already won two prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, with one going to Rooney Mara for Best Actress. The book is said to semi autobiographical and seeing an adaptation of Highsmith's work that isn't a murder mystery should be interesting. Also, it would be nice to see Blanchett and Mara get a matching pair of Oscar nominations out of this:

Saoirse Ronan is the headliner in Brooklyn, adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin's award winning novel. She plays Ellis Lacey, an Irish immigrant seeking a better way in that particular borough of New York in the fifties who finds herself having to choose between new loves and old loyalties.

She's backed up by a set of fine supporting players such as Julie Waters and Jim Broadbent , not to mention that this story seems to have the look of a big budget film done with some indie flair.

 I haven't read any of Toibin's work but his reputation is a good one and if this movie is an indication of the quality of his story telling, I won't be the only one seeking Brooklyn out at my local book seller:

 For something a bit more modern day, Julia Roberts stars in Secret In Their Eyes, where she plays Jess a FBI agent stunned by the murder of her daughter and then outraged when the local DA Claire(Nicole Kidman) has to let their best suspect go due to a technicality.

Years later, Jess is estranged from her former partner Ray(Chiwetel Ejiofor), who nevertheless comes back to town with a fresh lead on the case. However, a major secret that involves more than one person could be unleashed with devastating consequences. Jess's only goal,naturally, is to get justice for her child no matter what.

While this is an American remake of an Argentinian film(which won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in 2010), many people are going to see this with fresh eyes. Comparisons will be undoubtedly made between both films but hopefully, this one stays true to the intent of the source material(the 2005 novel by Argentinian author Eduardo Sacheri) as well as the first film did:

For a laugh, we have another onscreen double team of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Sisters, as a pair of dippy siblings who have been summoned to clean out their former childhood bedrooms so that their parents can finally sell the house.

Not thrilled with that idea, the girls decided to throw a farewell party in order to make the best of things. There's quite the cast of comedians here, including Samantha Bee, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch, along side actors like John Leguizamo, Dianne Wiest and James Brolin(who happen to be co-starring in a new TV series called Life in Pieces this fall) and for some damn reason, John Cena shows up, don't ask me why.

Don't get me wrong, I like Amy and Tina but this may be a take it or leave it kind of movie. Might be fun but it would help if the trailer didn't give away so many of the jokes there:

For sheer Oscar bait,however, I do think that Suffragette fits the bill nicely. Carey Mulligan is one of the major stars in this story about the women's rights movement in England during the late 1900s and early 20th century, which was pretty brutal at times.

Meryl Streep is on board as Emmeline Parkhurst, one of the influential leaders of the movement while Helena Bonham Carter plays Edith, one of the more radical members.Turns out that Bonham Carter is a descendant of H.S. Asquith, who was Prime Minister during 1908-16 and a huge opponent of the suffragettes. Nice bit of irony in that.

The movie will be in limited release this October in the US and probably in wider distribution after the Academy Award nominations are out but I hope that we don't have to wait too long for something this awesome looking to be readily available.

Doubts aside, we do have some films on the way that focus on women to look out for at the multiplex and if any or all of them do well with both critics and audiences, our cinematic blessings this season will be great indeed:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad Movie Month lets Marky Mark show us the meaning of Fear

For our finale in this year's Bad Movie Month theme of Sorry Singers On Screen, we turn to Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg in 1996's Fear, his first leading role in a film.

Marky Mark played David, a twenty something guy that is dating slightly rebellious Nicole(Reese Witherspoon), who is only sixteen. David and Nicole's developing relationship is troubling her dad Steven (William Peterson) , who is rightly suspicious of his daughter's seemingly polite and sincere new beau.

Early on, the dynamic that places Nicole in the middle of a very twisted love triangle between David and Steven is established in a secret car on the side of the road confrontation scene as Marky Mark reveals his dark nature to dear old dad. The undercurrent of competition between these two is especially creepy, as Nicole almost seems to be simply an excuse for the two of them to show off their alleged manliness there:

It takes Nicole awhile to catch on that David's bad news, even when she witnesses him beating up her platonic male friend Gary out of supposed jealousy and gets a black eye herself in the bargain.

That does cause a riff but as soon as Steven forbids her to see David, she immediately rushes back to him. Only when Nicole spies on David at the house he shares with a pack of sleazy looking dudes(one of whom is dating her gal pal Margo,played by Alyssa Milano), that she buys a clue about just how messed up her misunderstood Romeo is.

That leads me into the female relationships in this movie, which are absolutely terrible. Not only do they fail the Bechdel test, as nearly every conversation between any of the female characters involve either David,Steven or both, but a strong amount of slut shaming goes on here.

 From Nicole's stepmom(Amy Brenneman) who critiques her step daughter's make-up as "slutty" and then later on bonds with her by helping to cover up that black eye from David, believing the lame excuse that the injury came from volleyball during gym(which she truly buys, based on some later dialogue). Yeah, great parenting skills there, lady!

Worst of all, Nicole peeks into David's house and sees her friend Margo getting high on the lap of her grimy looking boyfriend(and I do mean grimy, he looks like a pile of oily rags come to life) and then David forces Margo to say she wants him, which ends up with him throwing her over his shoulder in cave man fashion and taking her off to his lair.

Nicole is naturally upset at seeing this and quickly breaks things off with David. However, she also gives Margo the cold shoulder and when confronted by her, accusing Margo of "betraying" her! Now, I would buy this a lot better if Nicole had found out that Margo and David had been together via a third party but she saw the whole damn thing!

 Yes, you could make a case that women in these situations do tend to turn on each other rather than the guy(as daytime court shows provide proof in abundance of that) but I really don't see the need for that to be in this way for the story,such as it is, to work. Since the screenplay had some uncredited co-writing help from director James Foley, I wonder if that choice was decided upon the visual impact on screen rather than the right emotional development for the characters involved.

Anyhow, back to Marky Mark, who starts going off the deep end at this latest rejection. From carving "Nicole 4 Eva" on his chest(which he never shows off to the object of his obsession, something that I think a demented suitor might want to do) to stalking his former lady love in a bathroom stall, it's clear that we are now in the Fatal Attraction portion of the film:

Steven, while concerned for Nicole, seems more upset when he finds his car trashed by David, who leaves a note saying "Now I popped both of your cherries!"- yeah, not too subtle with the symbolism there, dude.

This leads to Steven trashing the already trashy house that David and his funky bunch(who are some sort of criminal gang) and then a full on assault on Steven's home, which is supposed to have the best in security, ensues. Too bad that Nicole didn't mention that she gave David the code to the alarm way before he and his boys started storming the castle!

Yep, we've got a little Straw Dogs mixed into this mess, which doesn't make things any better but does provide a special scare moment for David at the front door peephole, which I think we all know all too well by now:

Despite the bad reviews, Fear did very well at the box office and still has a bit of a cult following to this day. Nevertheless, the underwritten characters and cobbled together plot points do make it a solid stinker.

 Marky Mark has gone on to bigger and better acting gigs( better is pretty debatable, as his stints in The Happening and Ted 2 can attest to) but his over the top performance in Fear is a noteworthy step on his cinematic career ladder.

Thank you all for checking out Bad Movie Month with me and yes, there are possible plans for the 2016 theme in the works, but let's see how things go in the new year. As we say farewell, our last Sorry Singer musical number is the infamous roller-coaster scene, set to the tune of "Wild Horses" by Sunday.

 Marky Mark did have one of his rap songs featured briefly in the movie but this is the song that everyone remembers. Yeah, nothing says true love like holding hands on an amusement park ride, even if it's not exactly another hand being held:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Filling up your fall backpack with some September/October new reads

With back to school season nearly upon us, the time to shop for new pencils and notebooks is now and what better to hold all of that scholarly loot in than a new backpack?

For those of us who simply need an excuse to buy seasonal items, picking up some of the new literary releases due out this September and October is more than enough of a good reason.

Those hardcovers do get heavy, after all, not to mention having a book on hand during the the cold days to come will be a great way to keep your mind warm with thought:


Many of us became fans of Gregory Maguire from his series of novels about the Land of Oz, starting with Wicked. However, in his upcoming new work, After Alice, Maguire takes on Lewis Carroll's beloved heroine by seeing the effects of her strange trip upon two other characters.

When Alice's older sister realizes that she's disappeared, the search for her lost sibling turns more than one world upside down. Meanwhile, a friend of Alice's named Ada winds up following her down that rabbit hole and having her own set of odd adventures while trying to keep up with her.

Maguire's knack for turning well known tales into amazingly original stories makes the promise of this new look at Wonderland sound like a true treat for readers and fantasy fans alike(October):

 Ellen Herrick's debut novel introduces us to The Sparrow Sisters, residents of a small seaside town in New England where the witchy ways of Sorrel, Nettie and Patience are mostly tolerated by the locals.

Patience's skills as a healer seemed to be affected by the arrival of a new doctor, whose mysterious past draws her to him. When a mix of her special herbs is blamed for a local tragedy,along with a bout of blight spread around the area, hints of an old school witch hunt threatens the fate of all three of the Sparrow women.

Perhaps with the help of some of the town women, Patience can brew up a solution to all of their troubles but will that help her chance for romance with the doctor? An enchanting mix of heart felt drama and mystical energy should make this dose of practical magic taste seasonally sweet(September):


 Comedian and actor Bill Murray has become the stuff of pop culture legend these days, with legions of new admirers devoted to just about every aspect of his life and times.

To that end, writer Robert Schnakenberg has put together The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, a biographical encyclopedia of the man's contributions to the real world and unreal realms of Hollywood.

Filled with stories about his numerous pranks(such as a special phone call he's compelled to make whenever he watches Road House), detailed analysis of his films and insights from friends and foes alike, this handy tome is the perfect ticket to ride for anyone willing to know more about the cultural impact of what some call "the Murricane"(September):


 In Alexandra Curry's debut novel, The Courtesan, a legendary figure from Chinese history is brought back to fictional life once again. Jinhua becomes an orphan at the age of seven when her father is executed for supposed treason and is sold to a brothel to prepare for a much lower position in life than she was going to have.

As soon as she is old enough, Jinhua is made a concubine to a government official whose travels to Europe expose her to a wider world of possibilities. That new perspective helps her to gain some independence but the  looming threat of the Boxer Rebellion may be both a blessing and a curse.

Sui Jinhua has been the subject of plays,ballets and opera in China and having her story told for a brand new audience should be a true show stopper:(September)

 Sara Donati takes us to a bygone age in New York with The Gilded Hour, as a pair of cousins attempt to use their medical talents to improve the lives of the downtrodden in their midst.

Dr. Anna Savard is determined to protect a quartet of orphaned siblings from being pulled away from each other while her cousin Sophie's practice is hindered by prejudice from her biracial background and the political ambitions of Anthony Comstock, whose morality campaign also threatens to put Anna's work at risk as well.

Donati(aka Rosina Lippi) is best known for her Into The Wilderness series and while this new book has a slight connection to that saga, it can be enjoyed as a stand alone work. Invoking that "age of innocence" with a fresh narrative, The Gilded Hour promises to make many hours of reading this book a glorious experience indeed(September):

 A backstage look at old school Hollywood is the spine of the story told in All The Stars in the Heavens, as Alda Ducci leaves the convent life behind and lands a job as secretary to actress Loretta Young.

Young's career is on an upswing when she is cast along side Clark Gable in the 1935 adaptation of Call of the Wild, sparking a illicit affair(due to his being married already) that lasts for years. While Alda is happy to help Loretta in any way she can, doubts concerning this secret romance make her job that much harder for her.

Adriana Trigiani does have a gift for weaving the elegant atmosphere of the past into a vibrant new narrative and this take on silver screen legends and those who follow in their wake is right up her literary alley(October):


 There is one concern that all women, regardless of age,race or social status, have in common and that is hair. From worrying about the length to the need to dye or not to dye or the appropriateness of one style over the other, hair is a defining issue for females whether they like it or not.

Author Elizabeth Benedict has gathered together twenty seven stories that make up her new collection Me, My Hair and I, from a wide variety of fellow feminine authors such as Adriana Trigiani, Marita Golden, Jane Smiley and Bharati Mukherjee. Each story offers a very different take on hair that shares the joy, sorrows and sometimes laughs about dealing with hair.

Hair might seem trivial to some, but struggling with the social norms that mark certain types of hair "good" or "bad" has a lot more impact on people that you might think. This book certainly ought to make both beauty parlor and barber shop talk a bit more insightful there(September):

These should be enough to get you started on your backpack book packing but don't forget to make room for more along the way. There's no point in making your reading bundle fit together oh so right if you leave out something important there. Just be mindful and remember, any excuse to read is a good one!:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Focusing on some fall reading

With the end of summer heading our way, many of us are planning to switch mind sets as autumn tends to bring about interest in somewhat more serious genre fare.

That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a little lightheartedness,especially with the news these days, yet fall reading does paint a mental picture of good long books to be savored while curled up under a warm blanket with a cup of hot tea by your side.

I'm still working on my fall reading list(while trying to finish up a few remnants of my summertime TBR), however I do have a few titles that are definite must reads for the season. Here's a sample of what I plan to tackle while waiting for the leaves to change color:

ARMADA:  Ernest Cline's follow-up to his sleeper hit Ready Player One(which is being turned into a Steven Spielberg film as we speak) has gotten a mixed reception yet I'm willing to judge it on it's own merits.

The story line has high schooler Zack Lightman finding himself more than prepared to handle a space alien invasion of Earth, due to his impressive skills at a certain video game. While he and his friends are excited about having a chance to showcase their gamer talents in a way that will earn them true respect, Zack wonders what the real endgame is going to be both sides of this battlefield.

I did enjoy RPO and know full well that this novel is strongly influenced by the movie The Last Starfighter(a flick that I also have fond feelings for), so despite the nay-saying, Armada looks like ideal back to school reading for the win there:

FROG MUSIC: Historical fiction really calls to me in the fall and I've had this book on my shelf ready and waiting for a while now,so the time to take it up is nigh.

Emma Donoghue's novel is set in San Francisco during a summer heat wave that brought about a smallpox epidemic in 1876. Smallpox is not the cause of Jenny Bonnet's death in a railroad saloon,however. A mysterious gunshot through a saloon window ends her life and only her good friend Blanche is interested in finding the killer.

Donoghue has done historical fiction before, with her best known being Slammerkin, and I highly recommend Life Mask, which highlights the secret struggles of a female sculptor in Victorian England. I'm hoping that Frog Music will have just as lively a literary tune as those books did and then some:

LITTLE WOMEN: Changing my summer selection for my Road of Rereading to East of Eden is proving to be the right decision as I've made much more headway in that than in my first choice,Daniel Deronda.

Even watched the James Dean film version already and yes, it was great but more on that soon. Meanwhile, my final selection still stands as Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of sisters is one of my favorite go-tos,especially in the fall.

As to the film adaptations I'll be watching for that round, I'm sticking with a look at the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo(just saw her in Show Me a Hero the other day and she was awesome!), plus the Pemberley Digital series The March Family Letters, which is what inspired my whole rereading project to begin with.

 I sincerely hope that there is more of that web series to come, as they did leave off in a sad place with many questions left to be answered. We shall soon see, I suppose:

INTO THE WILDERNESS: I'm way behind on a few book series, due to real world stuff, but that's not stopping me from taking on a new(to me) one.

Sara Donati's saga begins in New York of 1792 as newcomer Elizabeth Middleton discovers an unusual ally in her quest to provide schooling for all of the children in their remote mountain village.

While Nathanael Bonner, a white man raised by a Native American tribe, knows all about being an outsider, he and Elizabeth share a personal passion for each other that sets the whole community against them, perhaps even more than her educational goals.

There are six books in this series and I happen to have the first two in ARC editions from my bookseller days. I've already bought the following three(used copies) in hopes that seeing them there on my shelf will spur me on to complete the series. A vain hope but, hey, any excuse to buy books is a good one, right?

Why the sudden interest in Donati, you may ask? Well, I did just receive a review copy of the author's upcoming novel for September entitled The Gilded Hour(a stand alone story with a tiny tie into the ITW series), which I will be reviewing and it's always nice to discover a fresh new passion, much like Nathanael and Elizabeth did, and be able to go all the way with it:

 My fall reading list is still a work in progress but I think it's shaping up nicely. Picking a good book for any time of year isn't as easy as it seems but taking the time to make a few smart choices does tend to pay off  in the long run. Best of luck to my fellow fall readers in their literary quests!:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bad Movie Month meets up at the Crossroads with Britney Spears

Our next Sad Singers On Screen spotlight this season on Bad Movie Month falls on Britney Spears, as her 2002 film debut in Crossroads takes the stage. Much to my surprise, this movie has been the most watchable one of the bunch so far.

That doesn't mean that this is a good movie at all, it's that the sour story lines go down a little easier with the overwhelming sweetness that's sprinkled in. Britany stars as Lucy, one of a trio of school girl chums who went their separate ways during the high school years.

They reunite after graduation to dig up an old box of memories, a vow made eight years prior, and upon rediscovering their old dreams, decide to go on a road trip together. Sounds nice, right? Well, trust me, folks-this is a trap!:

 That set-up is intended to lower your mental guard and accept such things as Lucy being considered a nerd who only wants to go to medical school to please her father(an overbearing Dan Ackroyd).

Yet, for a girl supposedly smart enough to be the class valedictorian who intends to have a double major in college, we never get to hear her big graduation speech or see her show any interest in becoming a doctor. Also, she certainly doesn't dress or act like a bookworm and while I'm not saying she should gotten all frumpy, Britney's character is decidedly not a Rory Gilmore type at all.

 The only signs of Lucy's alleged intelligence are being able to use a calculator to figure they don't have enough money for car repairs,knowing what's wrong with the car in the first place(her dad's a mechanic, so I will let that one slide) and writing poems in a notebook that she carries around everywhere.

Yes, she does read one of those poems aloud and it happens to be the lyrics for "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", a tune so wretched that it won Worst Original Song at the Razzies the following year. Strangely enough, Lucy is often given a chance to sing despite the fact that her pregnant pal Mimi(Taryn Manning) is the one with the musical ambitions here.

 For example, the car that the girls and their token guy Ben(more about him in a moment) happens to break down in New Orleans and luckily, one of the local bars is having a karaoke contest that could win them enough cash to fix their vehicle! As fate would have it, Mimi gets stage fright and guess who takes over the mike? Why, our dear oh-so-shy Lucy, of course!:

Lucy does find love on the road with Ben(Anson Mount), a guy who all of the girls first believe is a convicted killer, something that maybe one of them should've verified before getting into his car there.  As it turns out, Ben went to jail for helping his stepsister cross state lines to get away from their abusive step dad.

 It's a rare back story that allows a guy to look noble while violating the Mann Act but the penned by Shonda Rhimes' script has her signature blend of soap opera drama and chick flick whimsy. The only really bad thing Ben does in this whole movie is throw a hissy fit when the girls take over driving duties while he sleeps. Uh, isn't it a good plan to switch drivers while on a cross country road trip? Dude, seriously, lighten up!:

 Meanwhile, Lucy has a disappointing reunion with the mother who ditched her when she was three ( played briefly by Kim Cattrell, whose face is set in "Where the hell is my check?" mode) and Kit(Zoe Saldana) catches up with her fiance, who has been avoiding her like the plague.

 In a real daytime soap twist, Kit's beau is not only cheating on her but was the guy who took advantage of a drunken Mimi and got her pregnant!  That revelation is followed up by the horribly classic trope, Convenient Miscarriage Via A Fall Down the Stairs. Yeah, they went there, with a sadly lit shot of Mimi's falling key chain tumbling downward. The soundtrack even had a "All My Children" vibe to it at that point.

That mix of melodrama within this vanity project gives it a bizarrely bland aftertaste, sort of like potato chips dipped in tapioca pudding. That blandness also describes Britney's acting ability, which goes from blah to merely mediocre at best. Certainly, that style is what helped her to get a Worst Actress Razzie, making Crossroads a two time winner there.

 Despite the negative critical response to the movie, it did make a tidy sum at the box office on opening weekend, then fell hard and fast from there.  It did earn enough to cover the film making budget and then some, with most folks saying "Well, it was better than Glitter!" Not really much of a compliment but sometimes, you have to take what you can get there,folks.

Tune in for our last stop on the Bad Movie Month tour, as Marky Mark shows us his definition of Fear and until then, let us all be grateful that Britney has mostly stuck to singing(apart from a couple of cameo roles) for the foreseeable remainder of her career:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bad Movie Month goes From Justin to Kelly as well as from bad to worse

Welcome once again to our Bad Movie Month celebration of Sad Singers On Screen and we have a two-for-one deal here with From Justin to Kelly, reluctantly released in 2003.

I say reluctantly because the studio was already planning a direct to video release before the movie hit theaters. In fact, movie houses were threatening not to show it due to the haste of the home video date and perhaps they would've done all of those ticket buyers a real favor if they had done just that.

The movie stars both the winner of the first season of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, and the runner-up, Justin Guarini, whose characters happen to be named Justin and Kelly! Yep, that's the first sign of lazy writing,folks, when you can't even be bothered to think up fictional names for your leads.

We met Kelly as a struggling singer/waitress, who has a guy named Luke pining for her but of course, she won't give him the time of day and besides, he'll do for a convenient romantic blocker later on in the story. Kelly's gal pals insist that she go off on spring break with them,mainly because they need someone to drive them down to Florida and since taking time off from a waitress job is just that easy, off they go!:

Kelly and friends run into Justin and his buddies, who happen to run a party planning business that promotes tasteful events like a whipped cream bikini contest.

The two of them meet and supposedly fall instantly in love, which is hard to believe as Justin and Kelly have all of the chemistry of wet cardboard and a soggy box of matches. Most of the main plot has them being prevented from truly hooking up, due to misunderstandings mostly caused by a scheming frenemy of Kelly's and surprise,surprise, Luke shows up to challenge Justin to a hovercraft race for Kelly's heart!

 The tone of FJtK is very much like one of those long running sitcom episodes, where the whole gang goes off on a spring break/holiday adventure. An episode like that is usually a ratings stunt but they do tend to work as everyone has their special little sub plots(such as one of Kelly's friends finds love with a waiter and a nerdy pal of Justin's keeps missing his meeting with an internet girlfriend) while the main drama is all about our leading lady and man making a major love decision.

The trouble with that is by the time a sitcom gets to that level, we're already invested in the characters and willing to go along with the ride at a new locale. Here, we're meeting this people for the first time as they sing and dance in a boringly basic style and such a forgettable first impression does not make for a movie even at the short amount of running time here(less than a hour and a half) worth paying good money for:

The music for FJtK redefines the term banal, as the worst offender on the soundtrack is a neutered rendition of "That's The Way I Like" and uh-un,uh-un, you won't like it at all!

Also, the musical numbers themselves are weirdly inconsistent. Either they're done in a "hey, let's sing and dance!" mode like Grease or "This is just a look into my inner thoughts" style, which probably explains why during a love duet between Justin and Kelly on a boat, neither of them are looking at each other.

That scene is so frustrating, as they're both staring straight ahead from opposite ends of the boat(and they're the only two people on board) while singing about their attraction to one another and they don't make any eye contact at all! Sure, Kelly pauses to speak in actual dialogue and turns around to look at him but not during the song! Justin's driving the boat so he has an excuse there but come on!

You want me to buy that they're falling head over heels in love and neither one takes a second to snatch a secret loving look over at their immortal beloved? Simon Cowell would find that worse than cruise ship singing there.

From Justin to Kelly was such an amazing film flop that it received a special Razzie award for Worst Musical of Our First 25 Years, quite the dubious honor indeed.

Kelly Clarkson has pretty much disowned the movie and who could blame her. Fortunately, her music career has made this stinker a mere road bump on her resume.

 Kelly has limited her acting appearances since then to guest spots on TV shows like Reba and country music themed specials,with some voice work for cartoons like King of the Hill and Phineas and Ferb, which is smart of her. That episode of Reba she was on was pretty funny, especially when some of the cast did a great impression of the AI judges panel:

Justin, on the other hand, has remained in the runner-up position. He has kept on with his music and done stage work along with parts in small films, his current mainstream gig being the new spokesman for Diet Dr. Pepper.

To be honest, even if From Justin to Kelly had done better(perhaps in an alternate universe), neither Kelly or Justin were destined to have much of an acting career. No doubt the studio was hoping for a modern day Frankie and Annette beach movie but some cinematic dinosaurs are best left buried in the sand.

Tune in next time on Bad Movie Month, when we walk down those Crossroads with Britney Spears and while you're waiting, maybe the taste of a Diet Dr. Pepper will be strong enough to quench the bland aftertaste of From Justin to Kelly:

Friday, August 07, 2015

Taking an unexpected trip with some literary friends

They say that books are a journey of the mind, turning you into an armchair traveler which is not as bad as that sounds. For one thing, you avoid  having to deal with the hassles of planning a trip as well as the hazards that come with an unexpected one which can throw some daunting challenges in your way.

 For example, I just finished reading Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen, where a sudden journey leads to a roadside accident that causes a major role reversal.

Lady Marianna Mayfield is most annoyed at her husband Sir John for deciding to relocate them once again, this time in the Devonshire countryside, with no hint of where exactly they'll be living or any of their regular servants to accompany them. She knows full well that this is Sir John's attempt to keep her away from her lover Anthony Fontaine, who she vastly prefers.

 Marianna has no choice but to go, yet the reappearance of her former paid companion Hannah Rogers gives her the chance to have a familiar face to join them. During the long carriage ride, a slippery road causes an overturn, leaving Sir John and one of the women beside him gravely injured.

When that lady manages to regain her senses, she realizes that her identity has been mistaken yet is not quick to clarify things right away. For one thing, she has a bit of a secret that affects more than one person and only wants time to recover fully.

I don't want to give away any more than that but I will say that there is more than one love triangle and the decision to stay or go is not easily made. Klassen has a flair for Regency set tales, such as The Secret of Pembrooke Park that I had the pleasure of reading earlier this year, and Lady Maybe is a fine follow-up in the spirit of that story.

The plot does get a tad melodramatic towards the end but the characters are so engaging that you become more than willing to overlook such minor stumbles. There is a element of moral ambiguity here that enhances the book but is not too far from more conservative style that the author is known for to truly estrange her from fans of her previous work,in my opinion.

Lady Maybe is a solid entertainment that should delight historical fiction fans, especially those who like a little tormented romance added into the mix:

At the moment, I'm reading about another unexpected trip, Nina George's The Little Paris Bookshop, the store in question actually being a boat on the river Seine. Jean Perdu is known as the "Literary Apothecary", a man who can match a book to each customer's mood and whose recommendations are meant to heal their spirits.

Perdu has a secret sorrow of his own, a wound of the heart that promises to never close. Yet, the discovery of a long lost letter spurs him to action. He pulls up anchor and sets forth to the town of Avignon, to see if that long ago love is truly gone for good.

Accompanied by a young and reluctantly famous writer named Max, Perdu takes a truly sentimental journey that may open up a real future for him and more than one new friend. This book is just oozing with charm, even in such small scenes as a dinner preparation or simply taking the stairs up into an apartment building where several neighbors are encountered before reaching your front door.

Even if you're not a Francophile, which I'm not, the flavor of France is warmly appealing  and practically wafts off the pages. Thanks to the folks at Blogging for Books, I get the chance to explore the bookish streets of Paris from my own small corner of the world:

Right now, I'm eagerly watching my mailbox for my new book rentals from Booksfree to arrive, one of those titles being Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown.  And yes, there's a really unexpected trip included in the plot.

The story is set in 1819, where chef Owen Wedgewood is given the culinary challenge of his life. Captured by pirate queen Mad Hannah Mabbot, she commands him to make her a fine meal every Sunday at sea or else, he'll be serving up supper at Davy Jones' locker.

Owen does the best he can with the meager supplies the ship has to offer and some of their stops do provide him with interesting ingredients. However, Mad Hannah's quest for vengeance threatens to make all on board wonder if each dinner will be their last. From what I have heard about this book, there is a strong amount of old school cookery that flavors the story line nicely and I'm really looking forward to tasting the words of this culinary Scheherazade :

While expecting the unexpected is a bit of a contradiction in terms, it does make for a more interesting story there. It also makes your stay-cation plans much more enticing, even if those involve camping out at your favorite book store which is not as glamorous as it seems. Then again, books do have an allure that the best holiday spots just can't duplicate:

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Poldark finale, Food Network Star goes live and Jon Stewart signs off from The Daily Show

The two hour finale of the first season of Poldark certainly had a lot of heartbreak but one good thing did come out of it; Verity ran off with Blamey and is now his wife! Good on her and to hell with Francis, who took it as well as you'd expect a whiny jackass like him to take it.

The rest is a mountain of bad news as Mark Daniels killed his cheating wife, Francis and family became seriously ill(even the servants were sick,so Demelza stepped in to help them out), passing that on to Ross' household where poor baby Julia Grace passed away and Demelza nearly joined her as well.

On top of that, the Warleggans were able to crush Ross' copper company by threatening his business partners who banked with them with financial ruin(along with buying up all of the available copper in the area).  Despite all of that, Ross and Demelza managed to hold on to each other in such troubling times:

Mind you, that love was strongly tested as Demelza revealed her role in helping Verity and Blamey. Ross really should not have blamed her for Francis ratting him out to George Warleggan; that was bound to happen, regardless of anything she said or did in that department.

It was good of Elizabeth to come over to nurse Demelza,especially after she got sick from taking care of that side of the family in the first place. However, Elizabeth needs to watch her step with George Warleggan, who is out and out pursuing her romantically. A little bold there, considering that she's married and while her husband is a jerk, he's far from ready to make her a widow anytime soon!

Fortunately, Ross was well distracted by a shipwreck that injured the purse strings of the Warleggans to calm his nerves until Demelza recovered. That relief was short lived,however, as the show ended with Ross being arrested and literally pulled out of his wife's arms. On a cliff, no less! A cliffhanger on a cliff, hard to beat that for a memorable finish. Well, this certainly leaves us wanting more and by next year, we'll be passing around the Poldark dish yet again with glee:

The four finalists on Food Network Star had a challenge that tested not only their individual presentation skills but their ability to work well with others.

The guys had to create dishes for a "Summer Live!" program and interact with each other during each demo, in front of a live audience. Right out of the gate, Eddie did great with a good dish and sharing his warm easy charms with his fellow contenders.

Jay and Arnold did well, although Jay's rather unfinished looking dessert was saved by a strawberry bourbon cocktail. Alex wound up being eliminated here, mainly for his choice of a bacon ramen soup as a summertime family reunion meal. It might have worked, if Alex had properly explained why he went with that but words failed him, along with the food.

He went off to Star Salvation and faced off against Dom and Rue, with the winner to rejoin the competition on this Sunday's episode. I truly hope that Rue is the one to return, as even the Star Salvation judges say she's really improved during her time there. I do like Eddie, Jay and Arnold but it would be nice to have a gal come back to the party:

Tonight is the final appearance of Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, which is oddly appropriate as another political comedy of sorts will be airing live on another channel(let's be real,folks-most people are only going to watch that debate for cheap laughs, myself included).

Stewart's legacy is an impressive one, as his take on the news of the day, assisted by numerous talented comedians like Samantha Bee, John Oliver(who now has his own wonderful HBO show), Larry Wilmore(whose The Nightly Show is a must-watch) and one of my current favorites, Jessica Williams, was engagingly out of the box and then some.

From his lively challenges to the social norm to championing the cause of much needed reform to the VA's health care system along with support for those suffering from 9/11 related illnesses, Jon Stewart has done well with what his detractors would consider a bully pulpit.

 Granted, the man's not perfect but at least he does acknowledge his errors, something a few others in the field might want to consider doing themselves(yes, that means you, Bill Maher!).

I'm not sure when Trevor Noah will take over the hosting duties but I am looking forward to seeing what new direction he'll take TDS in. To Jon Stewart, thanks for the laughs and please feel free to stop by for a chat or two, as the crazy train we're all on is showing no signs of stopping any time soon:

SPECIAL BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT:  This is my last TV Thursday post for the remainder of the summer season,due not only to the dwindling amount of programming to discuss but some personal family issues as well. My mother is having surgery next week and will need some chemo follow-ups, so I feel that cutting down on a few of my online activities is a wise decision.

I'm not shutting down this blog or putting off any of my other writing projects altogether. Bad Movie Month will continue and there will be some book reviews, plus my bimonthly book preview post.  I'm just putting aside a couple of things that really don't need my full attention right now. Thank you all for checking into my TV Thursdays,which will resume sometime this fall. Have a good rest of the summer, folks but stay tuned for more TV talk in the near future: