Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, October 30, 2015

Second thoughts about Supergirl

When the first trailer for CBS' Supergirl hit the pop culture radar, I was one of those who expressed serious doubts concerning the seemingly romcom vibe of the series,making one of the few female driven superhero shows turn into a camp fest.

However, in the interest of fairness(as well as positive buzz) I did watch the pilot episode this week and have to admit that maybe I sounded the alarm a little too soon. I'm not completely convinced about the show's good intentions but upon watching the pilot, am willing to see some merits here.

 Mind you, a couple of the scenes that had me wincing in my seat(Cat Grant's defensive speech about using the term "girl" for one) are still there but the overall set-up of the series puts those moments in the minor spots that they deserve and focuses more on Kara's choice in stepping out as a superheroine.

What strongly sells the show is leading lady Melissa Benoit, who is easily believable as Kara Danvers, who arrived way too late to protect her younger cousin Kal-El(the time lapse is explained by Kara's ship getting rerouted into the Phantom Zone) and settles for living a normal life. However, with her cousin going great things for the world with his powers, she feels compelled to follow in his flying footsteps there.

Benoit does a nice take on the Clark Kent style of goofiness and glasses to conceal her alter ego, mainly because that's sort of who she really is. Also, her relationship with her adopted sister Alex(who sort of sabotages Kara in the beginning but comes around just in time to help her save the day) is clearly a supporting character pillar that the show plans to lean on often has the feel of a true sisterly connection, something that plays to both of their advantages in handling the first Big Bad in their path:

Speaking of family, it's a nice tip of the hat to cast Helen Slater and Dean Cain as Kara's adoptive parents but I hope that they get more than a brief cameo during this initial run.

 While The Flash chose to have John Wesley Shipp(who played the Flash in the nineties and came on board this new version as Barry Allen's dad) depart from their current season rather quickly, they did make good use of him while he was there.

The pilot had a lot of setting up shop to do, as they went through Kara's origin story at a quick pace through the opening credits, giving us a Kara who is already integrated into society. That's a good place to start as we've seen the whole "newcomer to Earth" scenario more than enough times with Supergirl in live action fare. Making her a part of our world from the jump helps to establish more of a connection with the character rather than just have a powerhouse presence barreling down at us:

 Another big plot arc that was put in place was having a pack of escaped criminals from the Phantom Zone(whose jail followed Kara's ship to Earth) preparing a major scheme against their current home world and targeting Kara, with their leader having a very personal connection to her.

That sounds like a fine place to start out but I do want to see some twists and turns with that narrative to keep things fresh. Since we have the same production team that made Arrow and The Flash work so well on the CW, there is a good chance that this won't become a stale formula that halts the show in it's tracks.

 Meanwhile,  having Jimmy("James") Olsen work with Kara as a supportive ally and possible love interest is a solid check mark in the plus column.

Turning this traditional Superman "geez,whiz!" sidekick into a mature and yes, sexy, supporting player is the right note to take. Kara's buddy from work Winn is clearly meant to be more of a friend,even he doesn't know it yet, and it would be best for him to become the Xander to Kara's Buffy.

James and Kara do have sparks from the get-go and I'm pretty sure that I am not the only one to see the partnership potential between these two, romantic and otherwise:

Granted, this is only a pilot review and it'll take a few more episodes to convince me that my early fears weren't warranted but so far, Supergirl has made a good first impression in her debut outing.

Mind you, I'm not giving up on Gotham,despite the early demise of a promising villain, which means that I'll be keeping an eye on Kara and friends a day or two later than most regular viewers of the show. Still, if  the character development and the season long narrative continue to go up,up and away, I might place a certain super villain city in second place on my TV schedule. We shall see.

 For now, if Supergirl is not hampered by network busybodies and is allowed to soar like her CW counterparts(not allowing crossovers is just ridiculous,people, really!), this maiden of steel could be the one to shatter some serious glass ceilings for other super women of fiction to be able to take the main media stage. That's a heavy burden but one that is worthy of Supergirl to take on:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Georgette Heyer,Star Wars and other pop culture gems unearthed at my local rummage sale

In my area, there is a nearby church that holds a rummage sale at least twice a year, once in the spring and then again in the fall. The autumn sale was this past weekend and many a time I have found some amazingly awesome items in the pop culture category, something I like to share with you here.

The book section is the one that I hit first, with DVDs, vinyl records and VHS tapes also included in that wide sweeps of tables surrounded by overflowing boxes. It's fun to spot titles that I've already read, not to mention multiple copies of formerly popular books(Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs was well represented this time out) but it's even greater to grab up those books you've always meant to read but haven't gotten to yet.

To my delight, there were several Georgette Heyer books available and while most of them were current Sourcebooks reprints, I did snag a small softcover reprint of Venetia from Harlequin, complete with ad insert for "The Readers' Service", which offers you a choice of either romance or suspense.

Don't get me wrong, I like the new Sourcebooks editions but it's nice to have a handy little paperback version with good old school cover art as well-the golden yellow background is so inviting! Venetia has a heroine that "never thought she would have a London season" until fate gives her a rake to reform, a classic trope of Georgette Heyer's that ought to be entertaining to explore.

While there were some of Heyer's mystery novels, I decided to stick with her Regency/historical fare that was available, so in addition to Venetia, I bought False Colours(which sounds like double trouble fun) and Royal Escape, the latter which follows English king in exile Charles II as he hides out from the forces of Oliver Cromwell.

I know that Heyer's historical novels get a bad rap from some(I still have An Infamous Army on a "must try again" TBR pile) but as Charles II reminds me greatly of Forever Amber, that took place during his reign and has the randy monarch make a brief appearance in the plot, Royal Escape has some appeal there and might be that one non-Regency Heyer book that breaks through for me:

I bought three other books as well, one of which is the first novel in Eloisa James's Essex Sisters series, and a mystery that I later learned was attached to Midsomer Murders.

Faithful Unto Death is book five in Caroline Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby series that was adapted into a popular made for British TV series that began airing in America on the A&E channel back in the late 1990s. DIC Barnaby has had two generations of crime solvers who work with local law enforcement in the seemingly quiet towns of Midsomer county.

This particular book became episode four, which looks into the disappearance of the wife of a local businessman undergoing scrutiny for his latest financial deal that has bottomed out all too quickly. I've never watched Midsomer Murders(which is still in production and available on local PBS stations and Netflix) yet I'd like to give it a try. Faithful Unto Death sounds like a good way to see if going to Midsomer is a ride worth taking:

The last of my non-Heyer book purchases was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a  Victorian era fantasy tale about Celia and Marco, a pair of magical apprentices meant to battle one another for the sake of their mentors but who wind up falling deeply in love instead.

This novel has gotten a lot of praise from critics and fans since it's debut in 2011 and I have been on and off curious about it. The book does sound like my cup of whimsical tea and the fact that the author began working on the book during National Novel Writing Month is impressive. I'll probably save TNC for my winter reading( a list that is growing long here) and join in the carnival fun as the snow flies:

 The DVD offerings at the sale were slim pickings at best, but I did find a nifty bit of nostalgia to buy. The 30th anniversary edition of Schoolhouse Rock! had both discs intact, plus the companion booklet that features lyrics for the most popular songs in this educational series.

Schoolhouse Rock was something I looked forward to on Saturday mornings as a kid, sandwiched in between episodes of Superfriends and various Hanna-Barbera cartoons. As a poor student of math, I was always able to remember the five times tables thanks to SHR's "5,10,15,20..." musical clip.

Of course, the grammar ones were big favorites of mine, with "Conjuction Junction" and "Lolly,Lolly,Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here" making my love of reading and words that much more fun to have. I must admit to spending a late hour or so in watching many of these mini doses of knowledge that helped educate a couple of generations far better perhaps than what is being presented to students these days:

You never know when or where a pop culture gem is going to turn up and for me, a real find was among the household ware as I was able to buy a set of four Star Wars Burger King glasses.

These drinking glasses were given out during the first theaterical run of the original trilogy and I have a glass that represents each film. One is an Empire Strikes Back(with Lando Calrissan front and center) and another is a Return of the Jedi with Luke Skywalker shown in lightsaber ready form.

The other two are both from the first movie and are duplicates, which I didn't mind at all since Darth Vader is one of my favorite villains from those films.  Having two of him(with Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin at his sinister side) was such a treat to behold! Given the current interest in the SW franchise due to the upcoming new cinematic chapter to this saga, this was truly a sign that the pop culture Force was with me:

Yes, I did buy non-related-to-pop-culture stuff(although that little tableaux from A Christmas Carol sorts of counts) but the true pleasures of a sale like this is in discovering such unexpected little treasures. Shopping in any remote locale gives you that hope of the perfect to your situation purchase, one that makes the hazards of any trip worth your while, whether it's a tag/yard/rummage sale or an off to the side store. That joy of discovery is something that you really can't buy, yet is worth more than gold or a gold record for that matter:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Warming up to some upcoming Novemeber/December reads

We're getting close to the big holiday shopping season that will be followed by those cold,snow stormy days and nights which make having a good book to read essential for your entertainment purposes.

Sure, there will be plenty of bestsellers to choose from(and I'll be mentioning a couple of potential ones here) but sometimes, the better choice is the lesser known. A few of those titles will crop up in this preview for November and December, hopefully making your book buying a little bit easier:


 Let's begin with some big names, starting with Stephen King whose upcoming short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, is a mix of previously published work and new material.

King really loves the short story genre, so it's not surprising that one of the tales in this book involves an e-reader linked to an alternate universe that has more Raymond Carver stories than ours. Other sinister story lines include a man and his dog at the end of the world, a spooky little boy with a propeller beanie and a man reliving his life over and over, making the same mistakes along the way.

As grandly lengthy as his novels can be, King does know how to make a short story sing out with bittersweet beauty and pain, something that not every writer can do well. If you're up for small slices of solid good writing, this is your one-stop shopping,folks(November):

In Dean Koontz's upcoming novel Ashley Bell, a young woman named Bibi Blair is given only one year to live, a diagnosis that she takes with the attitude, "we'll see." Her complete recovery astonishes doctors yet a mystery woman believes that Bibi has been spared in order to protect the unknown Ashley.

Bibi has no idea why she's been chosen for this task but soon has no choice in the matter as a powerful cult leader makes her a target for trouble. In pursuing Ashley, Bibi pools her inner resources to save the day for both of them and maybe many others.

It's been awhile since I've read Koontz but his writing does hold that page turning magic and this book sounds like another pulse pounding good time to be had by all(December).


 While Agatha Christie is renowned for her multitude of mystery novels, she also had a thriving set of plays in her portfolio of suspense as well. In Curtains Up, Julius Green explores the passion that Christie had for the theater and the impact of her play writing upon that world.

Her interest began in childhood and extracts of her early work is included in the book, along with revelations about some of the creative choices she had to make in giving her plays their own separate attention from her increasingly popular detective series featuring Hercule Poirot.

Green also adds some correspondence between Christie, her theatrical agents and producers, including exclusive letters from Sir Peter Saunders who was a major man behind the scenes. For Christie fans and theater folk, this book should be perfect catnip to suit those who adore the art of her Mousetrap(December):


 In Avenue of Mysteries, John Irving introduces us to Juan Diego, a successful novelist whose memories of childhood come back to haunt him during a trip to the Philippines.

The time period of his past that is featured heavily in his thoughts is when he was fourteen and living in Mexico with his psychic sister Lupe, whose visions of the future drive her to make a decision that alters the destiny of her and Juan Diego in more ways than one.

Irving's novels do tend to touch upon the metaphysical at times, with varying success, and it looks as if Avenue of Mysteries takes a firmer grip on that genre aspect here. Should be interesting to see how far he goes with that element this time out(November):

The leading lady of Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover is Alma, who was sent to America at age 8 in order to escape the rising forces threatening her family in Poland at the start of WWII.

As she grows up, Alma bonds with both her cousin Nate and the son of the family gardener Ichimei. Over time, her feelings for Ichimei turn romantic and are returned yet they must hide their love from society at large. Nate helps with that, to some extent, but can not prevent Ichimei and his father from being interned by the government.

During her old age, Alma moves into a rest home yet receives an interesting correspondence that may possibly be from her former beau. Could a reunion of the heart be possible? Allende is fond of multi-generational stories and this seems to be one that displays her artistic soul at it's best(November):


 Julie Klassen goes old school again with her upcoming novel, The Painter's Daughter, as her heroine Sophia Dupont is torn between love and honor.

Abandoned by the amorous Wesley, Sophia finds herself with child and in need of a husband to make things right. Wesley's younger and  much more responsible brother Stephen steps in to offer a marriage of convenience, with the dubious advantage of her becoming a widow due to his upcoming call to duty in fighting Napoleon.

While Sophia does accept Stephen's proposal, she doubts that her love for Wesley will ever end. However, when Wesley does finally return from Italy, she is surprised to discover that her feelings for Stephen are just as strong. Klassen's knack for engaging period novels with classic flair make The Painter's Daughter a fine fictional portrait for any literary gallery to showcase indeed(December).

The Seafront Tearoom by Vanessa Greene has a trio of female leads, all of whom join forces to find tearooms other than the title one to be prominently featured in a local magazine.

Journalist Charlie adores the Seafront but is willing to take the suggestions of single mom Kat(who wants to protect the place from tourist traffic) and Seraphine, a French au pair, in seeking out more suitable secluded getaways for her article.

As the ladies travel forth, they bond over shared secrets, dreams and love of a good cup of tea. I'm not familiar with this author but this book sounds like a soothing pot of simmering delights that certainly could warm the heart and mind(December).

 Well, I hope that one or more of these titles winds up in your holiday shopping cart or as a gift wrapped surprise for you this season. I know how cliche it is to say that books are a gift you can open again and again but it's said so often for a good reason.

A book is one of those things that don't require you to be a certain size, have a license or own the right pair of matching shoes for. Granted, not every book may be right for you but chances are, it will be a perfect fit for someone else and you can't say that about everything, even gift cards:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A new foe arises in Gotham, The Flash slows down for a family affair and how S2 of HTGAWM is going

While the presence of Jerome is still missed on Gotham, there is plenty of devious plotting going on as Penguin is forced into obeying the orders of Theo Galavan, who is keeping his mother prisoner.

One of those orders involves arson on a grand scale, so Cobblepot's number one henchman Butch has Selina give him an introduction to the Pike brothers,whose sister Bridget was an old friend of hers.

When one of the Pike boys is taken down by the cops, Bridget is reluctantly recruited as their new front man and finds that fire setting is rather liberating. After another confrontation with the police that leaves one officer fried, Bridget is quickly abandoned by her so-called "family", she takes off with Selina and judging by next week's trailer, they plan to become partners in crime.

Bridget's role as Firefly(a villain who has been portrayed by men in two different incarnations) is an interesting twist here and one that I hope develops as a more than a two or three episode nemesis. We could use some serious girl power on this show, even if it's on the wrong side of the law:

I know that some folks were worried about the fast pace of the first two episodes of The Flash, particularly in setting up the multiverse elements of the main arc, but this week, things went back to a more leisurely pace in character focused story lines.

As Joe struggles with the need to tell Iris the truth about her mother, who is not dead and back in town, Barry and the gang wind up assisting Captain Cold and his sister, with one being threatened by their vicious career criminal father into committing robberies with dear old Dad in order to protect the other. Those two stories mirrored each other nicely and also set up a possible redemption arc for Captain Cold(who is meant to join up with the upcoming D.C.'s Legends of Tomorrow series).

The whole "Earth 2" story was not ignored, as Jay Garrick agreed to stick around for a whole in order to prevent Zoom from attacking Barry(not to mention Caitlin has a serious crush on him there!).  All in all, this looks like The Flash will be in fine form as the rest of this season rolls out:

 With several episodes of season two having aired, How To Get Away With Murder has proven to still be an addicting show. So far, we've had the cliffhanger murder mystery from last time solved(yet known only to a few), Famke Janssen show up in a great guest star role as a former college friend/lover of Annalise and a new enemy in the form of a bitchy DA determined to take our leading lady down.

The big tease this season has been a series of flashforwards(in contrasts to the flashbacks of S1) where we see Annalise bleeding out in a mansion and seemingly abandoned by her students.

 This near death experience is connected to a major case  that has the firm defending a pair of adopted siblings accused of brutally killing their rich parents(and yes, there are also accusations of an illicit romance as these kids are not related by blood to each other). Is this all a soap opera? Yes and no, as the tension arising from the situations,along with the dialogue at times, does bring HTGAWM up to a higher level of must-see TV. It's certainly retained that element of "what the hell just happened?!" that made the first season so engaging and hopefully, that pace will be well maintained:


HOME FIRES: This PBS series about how small town women in WWII England are coping with life and dealing with the internal politics of their community organization is really quite the gripping program. Based upon a nonfiction book, this fictional take on such a small corner of that world relates to so many wider subjects like domestic abuse, fraud against the government and the march of progress being fought by those more comfortable with the status quo that it does deserves a broader audience out there and I hope that it's getting one:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

As the Force Awakens, should we have New Hope for Star Wars VIII?

The big pop culture event this week is the release of the first major trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, set to arrive in theaters on December 18.

Already advance ticket sales have gone through the roof, hell, they've shattered several ceilings with predictions that this film will launch a whole new era in fan history. While I want to believe that TFA is a sign of good things to come, I can't help but to insist that we proceed with a little bit of caution here.

Don't get me wrong, I do like Star Wars(original trilogy, that is) and this new trailer certainly looks promising, especially since we have some fresh faces as our main characters and old school favorites like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia on board as well. Luke Skywalker is not really seen here but that doesn't mean he's not present(my hunch has to do with a mysterious masked figure who claims,"I will finish what you started..." then cut to a melted version of Darth Vader's mask. Has the son taken up the way of the father?).

All in all, this does appear to be quality sci-fi fantasy fare and having J.J. Abrams at the helm is another sure sign that this new step forward for the Star Wars saga could be a ride worth taking:

However, like the song says, "don't get fooled again!" as many of us greeted the Star Wars prequels with the same hopeful spirit and were tossed into pits of utter despair at the utterly awful results.

All three of those movies, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and in particular, Revenge of the Sith, were needless back story that had only one good fight scene worth watching. Yes, they may have had a few fun moments but those were very brief indeed.

There are so many targets of derision to be found in the prequels, from Hayden Christenson's wooden acting that even managed to stifle his co-stars to plot holes that you could fly a Millennium Falcon through(yep, just erase those droids' memories, why not?) but the one truly worst thing about those movies that everyone agrees on is the introduction of Jar-Jar Binks, a character who we all simply hate, there is no love:

 With any luck, that won't be the case here yet we do have to be concerned about the influence of Disney, who now owns the Star Wars franchise. One thing that both George Lucas and Disney have in common is the ability to mass market their creative properties to the hilt and you could almost say they're natural multimedia allies.

However, it is rather odd that ABC's Monday Night Football was the chosen on-air platform for the first full trailer to be showcased in and yes, sports fans can enjoy Star Wars,too but there are certainly other more fan friendly shows that this could have been aired during.

While I don't think Disney will deliberately try to tweak Star Wars into something that it's not in order to  fit into their mouse shaped template of perceived profit, sometimes a too warm of a welcome is just as disruptive:

Despite my doubts, I do believe that this new Star Wars could be a great boost to not only it's established franchise but to the wider genre realm of science fiction/fantasy within the mainstream.

And to those idiots trying to stir up trouble by claiming this film is "anti-white," and that an African American storm trooper is a bad idea, you all need to SHUT THE HELL UP. NOW. Considering the legacy of stereotyping to be found in the Star Wars universe alone, that nonsense needs to be shut down right quick, troll or no troll.

Anyway, I'm more than willing to give Star Wars VIII a fair chance and with any luck, the faith of the fans will be amply rewarded. After all, when it comes to Hollywood and sequels, things could be infinitely worse and usually are. At least we don't have to worry about having two Chewbaccas in a new Death Star(I hope!):

Monday, October 19, 2015

As Girl Waits With Gun, more fabulous fictional females join her on the reading circuit

One of the best things I did this past weekend was finish up Amy Stewart's debut novel, Girl Waits With Gun, which is a creative cocktail of fact and fiction. Based on a true story set in Paterson,NJ during the year 1914, our main heroine is Constance Kopp, the eldest of three sisters living on their own at a remote farm.

While making a trip into town, Constance and her sisters Norma and Fleurette have their horse and buggy rammed into by a speeding motor car driven by Henry Kaufman, the spoiled rich owner of a silk factory who fancies himself as a bit of gangster.

Instead of paying for the damages to the Kopp sisters' buggy(which comes to fifty dollars), Henry refuses to take responsibility and after Constance confronts him and his thuggish friends at his factory, a reign of terror begins.

Kaufman and his pack of hoodlums threaten the girls by making late night drives to their place, tossing bricks wrapped with vicious notes in their windows(that include plans to kidnap youngest sister Fleurette) and even attempt arson at one point. It soon falls to Constance to seek out official help from the authorities, most of whom are reluctant to tangle with a well connected business man.

Fortunately, Constance is able to gain the trust and assistance of a local sheriff in making a case against Kaufman but also finds herself to be a rather capable detective as she looks into a situation involving another woman who has run afoul of Henry Kaufman, only this time a child is at stake.

Amy Stewart is best known for her nonfiction works(The Drunken Botanist, whose research lead to the inspiration for GWWG) but her first try at fiction is a true success. I'm very grateful to Library Thing for granting me such a fine prize as this to read.

 Stewart's capable ease at evoking Constance and her family(as well as the other characters she runs into) shows her to be a real proficient in this department. Her sure and steady hand makes the tension in the story soar while keeping some solid ground for her characters to find their way and the world she sets up here is one that I would like to return to again.

While I know that this isn't meant to be a series, Girl Waits With Gun does have the flair of such fictional feisty female crime fighters such as Miss Phryne Fisher, who I think Constance would get along well with, even if she's not as much of a party girl. Both ladies share a keen set of wits and plenty of savvy to deal with trouble at their doorstep, despite what the men about them might think:

That isn't the only book I completed lately with a compelling leading lady with real world ties; The Paris Wife by Paula McLain has the first wife of Ernest Hemingway tell her side of the story.

Hadley Richardson's quick romance with Ernest began in the States but once they were married and he was determined to get more serious about his literary ambitions, Paris became a second home to them. The love between the two of them was so strong that it made their growing circle of friends(which include F. Scot and Zelda Fitzgerald) rather envious and yet admiring at the same time.

However, their relationship was far from perfect and they had their struggles even before Hemingway decided to fall with love with a mutual friend of the couple. I've read A Movable Feast and a few other books about that period of time in Paris where writers flocked to Shakespeare and Company, so  many of these names such as Gerald and Sarah Murphy(a well to do couple that hung out with this crowd) were familiar to me.

I never was big into Hemingway,other than AMF, and part of this story goes into the inspiration for his first major novel The Sun Also Rises,which is interesting and makes me want to pick that one up.  Despite that, Hadley's emotional journey as she battles self doubt and is torn between supporting Ernest unconditionally and finding her own personal joy, is the real heart felt tale being told here and told very well:

The Paris Wife I had on loan from Booksfree(the Netflix of paperback books) and one of my next borrowed titles from them is Fannie Flagg's The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.  It's been awhile since I read anything by the fun and free spirited Flagg and this one promises to be a hoot with heart and a bit of history.

When Sookie Poole seeks a way to handle her troublesome mother, a hidden secret regarding her own past is discovered that leads her to find a quartet of feisty sisters who during WWII ran their own gas station, Three of the sisters also flew transport planes for the U.S. military as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Having a much overlooked part of women in service history blended into this novel is a nice tip of the hat there and should make for a really engaging read that I'll be watching my mailbox for:

Not all of my preferred reads are female focused within the historical fiction genre but that section of the bookshelf does have it's charms. Lots of good writing in that category, not to mention various ports of call from America to France, England and beyond.

As we speak, I'm already planning my list of Winter Reads and one of them will be Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle. Granted, I've read quite a few novels about the wives of Henry the Eighth(most of them by Philippa Gregory) but this story gives new focus to Katherine Parr, the last of his brides who managed to keep her head there.

The Tudor court is hard to resist for writers and readers alike,so add yet another historical fictional miss to my pile of awaiting books and while such books are mainly fiction, they do offer some insights into actual history that make it more fun to learn. It's a tricky line to walk yet as long as the balance between both ends is clear, having a royal romp or two is fine to enjoy:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Grooving to some toe tapping trick or treats for Hokey Halloween Musical Fun

With Halloween only a couple of weeks away, now is the time to begin getting into the mood for some scary fun. Part of the joy of this sinister time of year is in small scare nostalgia, especially if your notion of horrifying entertainment is more about treats than tricks.

To set that tone, I have pulled up a short yet spooky playlist of songs that make for a mildly haunting good time. First up is the theme for the upcoming Goosebumps movie with the subtle title of "The Bumps Gonna Goose Ya!" Featuring the film's big star Jack Black, this happy slice of singing cheese is flavored with 1990s goofiness:

Speaking of the nineties, a forerunner in the cinematic cheddar singalong category is MC Hammer's "Addams Family Groove" that has nearly the whole cast joining in for some seriously silly promotional party time:

 When it comes to marvelously mild All Hallows Eve fare, Disney is tops in that department and while the recent made for TV movie Descendants isn't really a fear factor type of story, it does have some fine musical moments of evil.

One of the best numbers belongs to Kristen Chenowith's Maleficent as she offers some noteworthy advice to her troubled teen daughter by asking "Don't you want to be Evil Like Me?" :

Of course, the go-to these days for Disney Halloween fun is Hocus Pocus, which has become the cackling counterpart to A Christmas Story in terms of repeat seasonal viewing. Hocus Pocus is definitely more on the scary side than Descendants but Bette Midler's musical magic as she and her back-up sisters hit the stage with "I Put A Spell On You" is just as charmingly chilling as Chenowith's menacing mother-daughter act(if not more so):

For our finale, pop culture parodies do tend to offer some engaging earworms here. Speaking of such, with the multitude of plays on Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" airing online this year, the one that stood out the best was KFace's Harry Potter themed "Dark Lord Funk".

Giving the wizarding world's greatest menace a mike,plus a giant snake and a posse of Deatheaters ready to help him strut his wicked stuff ,was a stroke of parody brilliance. Not to mention that the song itself is pretty funky fun to boot:

 While Twilight has a bit of new attention to it these days, it's good to keep a sense of humor about it and to that end, this amusing complaint about the new wave of "Emo Vampire" is worth a chuckle or two:

So, as you prepare for your Halloween hijinks, just remember that your personal level of pop culture fright may not be shared by all yet we all like to have a good scare or two sometimes.

The Goosebumps movie may not your cup of terrifying tea(I was much too old for the books by the time they came out) but it should be a nice bit of old school mixed with new cool that will bring back enough menacing memories there at the movies this weekend. Have fun,folks and beware as you go in for the scare!:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Watching East of Eden unreel on The Road of Rereading

To fully finish up with the summer portion of my Road to Rereading series, I must take a look at the two film adaptations of Steinbeck's East of Eden, starting with the well known 1955 Hollywood version.

 That movie focuses on the latter half of the book, making Cal Trask(James Dean, in his first role and the only one of his three films to be released during his brief lifetime) the central character as he struggles between love and jealousy of his brother Aron(Richard Davalos) over gaining the affections of their father Adam.

Cal's anger is fueled by learning the truth about his mother Cathy(played by Jo Van Fleet, who won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for this performance), who is not dead as his father always claimed but alive and well,of sorts as she runs a brothel in the next town. While he does get a sympathetic ear from his brother's girlfriend Abra(Julie Harris), Cal grows tired of his father's repeated rejections and takes his revenge by throwing the harsh light of reality in both Aron's and Adam's faces:

 Despite the changes from the book(such as deleting the character of Lee, the Trask family servant and moral guide), director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn truly succeed in bringing the print bound world of John Steinbeck's novel to vivid life on film.

Using the second half of the story makes dramatic sense, as it allows the younger characters to discover the mysteries of their elders' past to full effect as well as explore their own emotional turmoils along the way. Kazan also makes you feel as if you've walked into the pages of the original book with the richness of the scenes and the intensity of the actors who bring a strong believably to dialogue that could become easily stilted sounding.

While East of Eden didn't win a lot of Oscars(other than Van Fleet, although Kazan did win the Golden Globe for the film that year), it is considered one of the best American films of all time by the American Film Institute, not to mention by audiences who still appreciate the value of the film today. It certainly holds up after all of these years, not only as a fine example of James Dean's talent but as a sincerely rendered slice of Steinbeck lore:

In 1981, ABC aired a miniseries version of East Of Eden, starring the likes of Timothy Bottoms and Bruce Boxlietner as the first set of Brothers Trask along with Jane Seymour as the devious Cathy Ames. The miniseries format allows the story line to stay truer to the source material, which is a plus, yet it is a little hokey when it comes to the actual story telling.

Granted, I've only watched Part I(which is over two hours long) and yes, I knew to expect the dramatic pauses for commercial breaks and some over the top acting. However, the male leads are a bit bland at times and the dialogue they're asked to render does sound awkward coming out of their mouths.

 However, Jane Seymour really shines as Cathy, whose dark nature is given full reign as her wicked ways are highlighted in much the same manner as her literary incarnation.

 She was quite the small screen temptress back in the day(way before her Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman stint) and she's fun to watch as she seems to be having a good time with this character.
She did win a Golden Globe for this role and judging from what I saw of her as the younger Cathy growing into her own brand of evil, Seymour truly earned it.

I will watch the rest of the miniseries,which is available on home video, to see how the rest of the book is played out(and Lee is definitely included here, another reason to watch) but I think it's safe to say that Cathy is the sinister shining star of this take on Steinbeck's saga:

With that, my summer selection is done and by November, I'll be heading into my final seasonal selection which is an old favorite of mine. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women may not have been the apple of her author's eye but this sisterly tale still has charms for many generations of women and girls.

For the media portion of this reread, I'll be featuring the recent Pemberley Digital webseries The March Family Letters, along with the 1994 film version starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale.

There's an embarrassment of riches when  it comes to adaptations of Little Women and while the 1994 film does leave out a lot, it has a good amount of merit to it(plus, I still own the official popcorn bag!) that makes it worth a rewatch. And, yes, I do want to be Jo but am more like Beth in some ways and Meg in others. See you soon on this last leg of The Road of Rereading, with the delightful March sisters in tow:

Friday, October 09, 2015

Enjoying a bit of Misery with Stephen King this Frightfall

As my scary read for the Seasons of Reading Frightfall readathon this week, I went with one of Stephen King's more grounded terror tales, Misery, where a popular genre author is trapped in more ways than one.

Paul Sheldon's disdain for his literary heroine Misery Chastain, who has made him rich and famous but not considered a "serious" writer, leads him to kill her off in the latest book, a decision that he comes to regret as a car accident leaves him to the limited mercy of his "number one fan", former nurse Annie Wilkes.

Annie's cheerful nature and complete worship of Paul's talents are a thin veil for the vicious, angry and emotionally disturbed nature within her. Paul is suspicious enough when Annie has taken him home to heal from his various wounds(including two badly broken legs) and not bothered to inform anyone of his whereabouts but when Anne gets to the end of the new Misery novel and discovers that her beloved heroine is dead, some of her true fury is unleashed.

Once some of her anger has quelled, Annie then decides that her purpose is to help Paul right that particular wrong by forcing him to burn the manuscript of a non-Misery book that he has just finished, in order to bring back from the dead her favorite character in a story just for her.

Paul's pain at destroying the book he wanted to write is bearable compared to his growing fear of Annie and increasing addiction to the pain pills that she feeds him. As he struggles to stay on his captor's good side, his view of Annie goes from appeasement to anger to trembling terror, seeing her at times like a cruel goddess that demands to be obeyed, like a character out of an old school H. Rider Haggard novel:

The battle between Paul and Annie is full of pitfalls such as a clunky typewriter that throws it's keys at the worst times, Annie's mood swings and the risk of being discovered by outsiders before the book is finished, which could hasten both of their demises.

For Paul, a big part of the problem at the beginning is figuring out a way to revive Misery that Annie will accept. His first crack at it doesn't fly with her, as she may be a Constant Reader but not a gullible one. As demented as she is, Annie is right about the continuity errors that make a life saving blood transfusion for Misery totally unbelievable and under normal circumstances, most readers would want the same respect for their intelligence there:

King himself has said that much of Misery was inspired by his own battles with drug addiction and those parts of the book where Paul wrestles that particular beast do ring out true. However, the one addiction that ties both him and Annie together is the one for which there is no cure; writing and reading.

As much as Paul despises Annie(and for a truckload of good reasons there) for going back to creating the adventures of Misery and friends, he also comes to realize that maybe even a genre darling like her is worth living for. Misery, as ironically named as she is, does provide an escape for her readers and especially her writer, who finds that she is his best protection and greatest weapon against his number one fangirl:

Misery has been adapted into a successful film that earned Kathy Bates an Oscar for her performance as Annie and coming soon to Broadway is a stage version that will star Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.

 When I read the book the first time, it wasn't hard for me to picture it as a play, given the limited setting and two main characters balancing for control there. The movie, as great as it is, does make you forget how violent the story actually is. Believe it or not, the infamous "hobbling" scene in the film is practically sedate when compared to the gruesome doings in the book(not to mention a couple of other gory moments later on down the road).

One of the big bonuses of the book is getting to read Misery's Return, the book that Paul is frantically working on, to the point of writing in longhand at times. It becomes a real gothic romance, aptly reflecting the torment of it's creator, that reminds me of those Victoria Holt novels from the 1970s and 80s, with their heated over the top blend of love and danger:

Misery is a story that resonates so strongly with people even today and most likely for generations to come due to it's all too real villianess. The strength of Stephen King's best characters is in just how human they are, making even someone with psychic powers like Carrie feel like the sad soul next door who you may relate to yet want to avoid at the same time.

In an odd way, Annie Wilkes has become something like her beloved Misery Chastain, a classic fictional figure whose name is instantly known to her fans and her quotes a part of pop culture lore. Granted, Annie never sought fame for herself, particularly due to her sinister impulses being the kind best kept in the dark, but she's right up there with the big boys of horror and fortunately, in no need of sequels to keep her legend going.

So, this Halloween, a truly frightening costume choice would be Annie Wilkes, either with her hobbling hammer or from- the- book bloody axe. To paraphrase Wednesday Addams,  a homicidal maniac looks like everyone else and that is one threat most folks never see coming, even if they declare their number one fan status loud and chillingly proud:

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Gotham loses it's wild card, The Flash sets up season two and AHS:Hotel is open for business

Well, I wasn't the only one who thought that Jerome was meant to be our Joker on Gotham as many of us were sad to see his reign of terror come to a sudden end.

It does make story sense that Theo Galavan would quickly dispose of such a loose cannon of a pawn, once his own big hero moment was established at the charity benefit turned hostage situation.

However, it is a shame since Cameron Monaghan's performance fit this fictional world like a glove and I personally wish that he was the one playing the Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. One thing is for certain and that is Jerome lived up to his father's prophecy of leaving a lethal impression upon the citizens of Gotham for a long time to come:

On the other hand, this season is subtitled "Rise of the Villains" for a reason. The Joker(or prototype version, if you will) is not the only dangerous card in the deck. As Theo and his sister, along with Barbara who appears to be playing her cards with both of them, are busy scheming, future threats lie in wait.

From the promos for next week, it appears that our Penguin pal Oswald is planning a major move and could mean extra trouble for Jim Gordon and friends(especially the one buddy who paid Cobblepot a little visit this time around):

Season two of The Flash got underway this week by clearing up some of the loose threads from the former season finale. Barry struggled to deal with his guilt over who really saved Central City(a sacrifice made by one half of the duo who make up Firestorm) and insisting on being a lone wolf hero but it quickly became obvious that his team needed to get back together.

The new dynamic has Dr. Stein replacing the evil Dr. Wells as well as including Iris into the mix, which are all changes for the good. The irony of Barry's father finally being released from prison only to leave his son yet again for the greater good was to be expected but it would've been fun to have him around for a couple of more episodes there.

Anyway, we are going to see some interesting new action soon as the alternate Earth heroes and villains start to make their presence known. Having Jay Garrick(the Earth 2 Flash) drop in at the end was a great set up for what's to come. Glad to see Barry back in fine form and looking forward to catching up to the fastest man alive as much as possible:

And it wouldn't be autumn without an over the top season opener from American Horror Story, whose Hotel setting was quite the death trap for several guests.

 The plot points are rather sketchy as a brutal serial killer targets a mournful police detective, the title hotel appears to have a new owner unaware of the gruesome nature of his purchase and Lady Gaga is a vampire queen called The Countess who keeps a secret playroom for her creepy vampire kids and has a broody romantic partner who is not happy about the change in management.

Have to say that out of all the bizarre and bloody business going on here, I liked how Gaga handles her character. The sequence alone where she and Matt Bomer(who plays her night stalking companion) engaged in a bout of synchronized sexual romping and blood feeding was well timed enough to qualify for the Olympics! Her performance in this first episode is mainly visual, with minimum dialogue which may work best for the remainder of the season but we will see. For now, this hotel hell is worth checking into:


THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW: I've been watching this latest season online as PBS in New York tends to air the episodes at odd times. However, if you're in the mood for a culinary competition with tasty challenges and polite manners, this is definitely your sweet spot: