Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 28, 2015

Preparing for a new year of books with these January & February reads

I hope you're all having or have had a very happy holiday season and are getting ready to tackle another new year of great reads.

No doubt, many of you received some wonderful books as gifts but does that ever stop a determined reader from seeking more literary goodies to stack on their shelves? Not to mention the gift cards to your favorite bookstore that were stuffed into your Christmas stocking or slipped into a greeting card.

This handful of January and February titles should be a sweet incentive to greet 2016 with a sense of hope and a promise of page turning delights to come:


 Speaking of page turning delights, I happen to be enjoying one right now as Katarina Bivald's debut novel, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, is an ode to the pleasures of reading with friends.

When former bookseller Anna travels from her home land of Sweden to meet her American pen pal Amy in her small home town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, the first big surprise that comes her way is the discovery that Amy has passed away. The townspeople are insistent that Anna spend her vacation at Amy's house, as that is what she would have wanted.

While she is reluctant to accept the hospitality of this dwindling town without any form of payment, Anna winds up settling down for a while and ultimately decides that the best way to honor Amy's memory is by starting up a used bookstore with her friend's vast library of literature.

The residents of Broken Wheel are not usually inclined to read but in order to stop the neighboring town of Hope from mocking Anna's efforts, they begin to rally around the book shop and with a few helpful suggestions, find a few books that change their lives for the better. This novel is a sheer joy so far and I hope that anyone who loves books rushes out to read and pass it along to others. Bivald writes like a seasoned pro and captures not just the fun of reading but the offbeat charms of small town America as well(January 16):

  Another book inspired novel is about to come from Iain Pears, one that sets up different realms of reality that connect to form a story telling whole.

 In Arcadia, one of those worlds is in Oxford of the 1960s, where English professor Henry Lytten is working on a fantasy novel. His young neighbor Rosie happens to enter the fictional world that Henry has created, where she meets Jay, a young boy about to begin an apprenticeship but the path to that world have been created by a device from a dark future brought forth by Angela, who has her own reasons for making this all happen.

Pears is best known for An Instance at the Fingerpost, another elaborate tale of wonder, and this book sounds like an intriguing challenge. It also sounds a bit like Cloud Atlas meets The Neverending Story, quite the entertaining mash-up, if you ask me(January):


The world of ballet is far from the gentle graces of the dance,as Sari Wilson's Girl Through Glass artfully shows us. Mira enters the competitive field of New York City's ballet scene at age eleven in 1977, fueled to excel at all costs.

Her struggles are linked to Kate, who returns to New York upon receiving a letter that offers closure for a dark part of her past. Once a dancer herself, Kate's scholarly path was not her first choice but one that she thought would satisfy her artistic dreams shattered by a hidden truth.

The beauty of ballet and it's less lovely side has been highlighted before yet Sari Wilson's tale takes a deeper look into the emotional toll that it takes on it's female dancers and displays just how much pretty can hurt(January):

 Award winning author Elizabeth Strout returns with My Name is Lucy Barton, where the title character is slowly recovering from a serious operation. Being bed bound, she can't avoid a visit from her mother, who Lucy hasn't spoken to in years.

While mother and daughter attempt to catch up, a few old wounded memories are opened up, revealing an emotional infection that is more painful than the physical one that Lucy is suffering from.

Strout's writing tends to be painfully good, which can make it hard to read at times but her work is the type of inner agony that is worth going through the fire for(January).


 Renowned writer Herman Wouk has reached that point in his life when an autobiographical look back at his past seems to be most fitting, as the subtitle of his upcoming memoir, Sailor and Fiddler, is "Reflections of a 100 Year Old Author."

The first half of the book goes into his days in the Navy, which inspired his prize winning novel The Caine Mutiny, and the latter details what embracing his faith has done for his life. Wouk also talks about the real life influences that aided him in his other works since as Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke and the Winds of War saga novels.

 His keen wit and sharp insights are definitely as timely as ever, giving readers a real opportunity into seeing what goes into creating such memorable characters as Wouk's infamous Captain Queeg, a man trapped in his own rigid state of mind. Such richly written people are worth learning more about as well as their creator(January):


 Katy Simpson Smith's Free Men follows a trio of desperate criminals that form an unlikely bond as they make their way through the backwoods of the American South in 1788.

Bob is a chatty fellow who comforts himself from the sorrow of his time in slavery with his tall tales while Cat is hardily much of a talker, yet his own sad stories of the past are quite a mouthful.

 After the two of them meet up with  Istillicha, A Native American seeking restitution for his tribe's losses, the three new companions run into a group of travelers in an encounter that leaves six men dead and three men on the run from an eager bounty hunter. This lyrical tale of troubled men running into trouble promises to be a journey worth taking(February):

Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country goes further ahead in time, as former Korean War veteran Atticus Turner leaves 1954 Chicago to search for his missing father in New England.

 Accompanied by his Uncle George, who puts out a safe driving guide for African Americans on a regular basis, and old school friend Letitia, Atticus discovers that his father is being held captive by The Order of The Ancient Dawn, lead by a vicious father and son act who also have big plans for Atticus in their ritual pursuits.

This blend of horror fantasy with real world social problems should be a smartly scary look at what terrors lie beneath the surface of Americana. Certainly sounds like a hair raising read on both counts(February).

The new year should be a happy one for books, at least, and a good way to start that off is by having a nice after-holidays shopping spree. Don't feel bad if all you bought for your fellow readers was a gift card-it is hard to choose the perfect present for that special bookworm who seems to have everything there:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Setting up the LRG Christmas Eve jukebox

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone(and happy holidays to those who enjoy other festivities this time of year) and I hope you all will have a good time with your loved ones. One of my blog traditions is to set up a few music videos that share my sense of the spirit of the season, not to mention leave you with some entertaining as I take a mini-break.

Let's start off with a modern day classic from Run DMC. "Christmas in Hollis" is just flat out fun to listen to. Back then, no one could have predicted the lasting power of this funky tribute to Santa or that Run would end up with a show on the Cooking Channel(which is pretty cool culinary watching,btw) but some future pleasures are best appreciated with a touch of surprise:

 Next, we have a double dose of Jimmy Fallon that begins with this unexpected singalong from his SNL days. When this musical skit first aired, it was just seen as a one and done but amusement factor from fans was so high that "I Wish It Were Christmas Today" has been replayed quite a few times.

The simple charm of Fallon, Chris Kattan, Tracey Morgan and Horatio Sanz with their trusty keyboard and guitar plucking is what makes this silly song a true holiday traditional tune:

Fallon's love of music has carried onto his Tonight Show gig, with him and The Roots taking up classroom instruments to join in with many of the musical guests. For the holiday season a while back, Mariah Carey sat in with them to belt out "All I Want for Christmas is You", one of her signature songs that plays out very well in this setting:

For something slightly different, we turn to 80's icons Hall & Oates as they have a little house party to share with friends a bit of that "Jingle Bell Rock".

Not only does the song hold up well(as it should, given the numerous cover versions of JBR) but the mock hokey tone of the video here really adds to the fun:

Again, I wish you all a happy holiday and LRG will be back before the new year begins, with a couple of preview posts and some New Year's Eve tunes too.

For now, we will close out with the heartfelt joy of a "Patrick Swayze Christmas" and be delighted that one good thing that we can count on is a return of Mystery Science Theater 3000(hooray for the Kickstarter campaign success!) some time in the new year:

Monday, December 21, 2015

An entertaining elegy for The Death of Superman Lives

Out of all of the comic book film adaptations that have come and gone over the years, most fans would hold up the 1970's Superman movies as the gold standard to which all other versions must be measured against.

While there have been new cinematic takes on the Superman legend since those days, the one film that still generates a lot of buzz is the one that was never made. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Jon Schnepp went in search of the reasons behind The Death of Superman Lives or as the subtitle puts it, What Happened?

Back in the late 1990s, Warner Brothers looked into the possibility of reviving Superman on screen, some time after the dismal failure that was Superman: Quest for Peace. The plan was to adapt the popular "Death of Superman" saga from DC comics that revitalized interest in the iconic hero. At least three scripts were written, one of them from director/writer Kevin Smith, a smart choice given his knowledge of the genre. However, his first meeting with producer Jon Peters was the first of many red flags to be waved on this road to movie making madness:

Smith's script was abandoned as soon as director Tim Burton was attached to the project, who wanted to do a different take on superheroes that would challenge him a bit more than his previous success with the Batman films.

However, Burton's casting choices for this film started off on a truly wrong foot as Nicholas Cage was set to be Superman(he also wanted Christopher Walken to play Brainiac) and when a few photos leaked out of the redesigned super suit that Cage had done costume tests for, fans were quickly in uproar.

Jon Schnepp was actually able to include footage of those costume tests in his documentary, along with interviews with major players in this undertaking like Tim Burton, Jon Peters and Academy Award winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, who really did take this project as a real creative challenge:

Schnepp also talked to the two other screenwriters who were called forth as well as the artists and designers who worked for two years on the concepts that both Tim Burton and Jon Peters wanted for the film(Peters still has one of the demo models displayed at his house).

You have to hand it to Schnepp not only for getting most of these people to speak freely about a failed project(Nic Cage was not one of them) but to present the long and strange process that went into preparing Superman Lives in a way that's not mocking the hard work that was put into this production.

He shows a sincere interest in what might have been, even when Jon Peters(who openly admits to putting a staff member in a headlock and bringing in his kids to give critiques on the work in progress) stops to take a business call during their interview. Peters alone is a hoot, with his bizarre take on what should be in a movie like this. One of his ideas was to make Superman's cape a weapon that he could throw at people "to cut off heads", I kid you not!

Fortunately, the testimony is nicely balanced out by likes of producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and screenwriter Wesley Strick, who was tapped by Tim Burton to make his vision for the Man of Steel come to life on the silver screen:

Eventually, the studio pulled the plug on Superman Lives, due more than likely to the projected budget(which would've been amazingly high back then) and a string of flops that year that made the powers that be hesitant to go forward with such a risky production.

In my opinion, that was a wise decision as neither Burton or Cage were suited(pun sort of intended) for a Superman film and the ever-changing tone of the scripts would have made this movie more infamously awful than Batman and Robin.

The stories behind this story are worth checking out as they give an authentic account of how Hollywood works, both for good and bad. The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened is available to watch online and on demand(the Showtime channel has it on their line-up, which is how I came across it this past weekend).

Jon Schnepp's enthusiasm for exploring what might have been a truly unique version of Superman makes this documentary a charmingly geeky delight to behold and certainly offer some fantastic food for thought when it comes to making a superhero shine on screen:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The bliss of having a Bookish Secret Santa

This holiday season, I did something that I haven't done since I was a kid; signed up to be part of a Secret Santa group. One big change from the ones I took part all those years ago is that this was a book themed exchange, with the option of adding other items into your parcel.

This particular exchange was arranged by  Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading, who paired off all of the participants and encouraged us to blog about what we received.The response has been great so far, with some folks even taking photos of their gift packs and putting them up on the official Facebook page for the group.

 Since my tech skills are rather primitive when it comes to that, I decided to go the blog post route. My Secret Santa giver was Sandy Smith Nawrot and I'd like to start this round-up off by saying a very sincere thank you to her for this bounty of bookish goodness:


For this Secret Santa set-up, you were asked to give a list of desired titles and one of mine was Career of Evil, the third novel in the Cormoran Strike detective series written by J.K. Rowling(aka Robert Galbraith). It was the only hardcover that I put down on the list and seeing it as I unwrapped the first gift was truly a pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately for Strike and his trusty assistant Robin Ellacott, the surprise package they find waiting for them at their office happens to be a human leg. Strike not only takes this gruesome delivery in stride, he can easily think of four people from his past who would send him something like that.

I truly love this series,as the writing is smart and crisp as well as proof positive that Rowling's imagination is boundless and not to be tucked tightly away into a genre corner. I'm holding off reading it for the moment, due to trying to finish a couple of other books up, but not for long as this is a devious delight worth savoring during the holiday season:


Another query for the Bookish Secret Santa was if you wanted anything that was out and out Christmas themed and my answer was yes.  I did get a pair of holiday related gifts in my bundle, one of which was a book entitled The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas by Julia Romp.

It's a true story about the mother of an autistic son, who bonded with a stray cat that they adopted and named Ben. Her child had never really connected with animals before yet to her amazement, Ben became a special part of his life and hers as well. As the title says, Ben did go missing for a brief time but the family was happily reunited with this beloved cat. Since I love cats(we have three of them in my house), this story sounds like a lovely seasonal treat indeed.

My other Christmas related gift was socks, which I really appreciate as my feet tend to get very rough. This particular pair is infused with aloe and Vitamin E, making them incredibly comfortable to wear around the house.

Socks have gotten a bad rep as holiday gifts yet that image has begun to change over the past several years. If you think about it, socks are truly something that you always need new ones of, especially around this time of year.

Plus, as Mr. Bean has shown us, socks are a solid part of what makes Christmas the joyous time that it can be:


Cats made a most welcome appearance in this gift package. Along with the book mentioned above, a lovely Christmas card with a cuddly kitten was included as well as a gorgeous cat and mouse bookmark designed by Cynthia Gale.

Bookmarks feel essential when giving books(I included one in the package that I sent) and this lovely silver and gold piece is beautifully distinctive among the paper and tassle trimmed ones that I own.

The last yet far from least bookish gift I got was The Book Lover's Calendar for 2016. It's a page a day calendar that brings back some memories for me. Back in my bookseller days, we used to order extra editions of this particular calendar to give out as gifts to customers who spend a certain amount with us during the holiday season.

We sold some, of course, with the regular box calendars but also keep a good supply of them under the counter to award those special shoppers who were glad to get an extra gift for their efforts.

The Book Lover's calendars are great bibliophile gifts, as each page offers reading recommendations for those looking for something to read while waiting as patiently as possible for their favorite writer to finish working on their next book:

My heartfelt thanks to Sandy for her generous gifts and happy holidays to you and yours. Thank you also to Michelle for setting up this Secret Santa for book folk. I'm happy to report that the person I was assigned to received her gift package and really liked it(Happy Holidays,Heather!). Books may not seem like exciting presents to some people but for readers like me, getting a new book is like having Christmas every day of the year:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Having a Jane Austen birthday party that is Emma approved

Today, we celebrate the 240th birthday of Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors whose influence upon literature and the role of women in society is still being felt in pop culture.

Since this is also the 200th publishing anniversary of what many consider to be her masterpiece, it only seems fitting that my blog post party in her honor be hosted by Emma Woodhouse.

Second only to P&P's Elizabeth Bennet in fan admiration(despite her creator's claim that no one but herself would like very much), this title heroine ,with her overindulged sense of superiority that is readjusted for the betterment of her character, has become quite the iconic as well as ironic lady in Austen land.

There have been several film versions of Emma(mostly made for TV) and a couple of modern day reinventions that have become just as beloved as the classic version of the story.

To start things off, we have a look at the opening credits for the most recent BBC/Masterpiece edition of Emma, starring Romola Garai who had Jonny Lee Miller as her Mr. Knightley.

While I was not thrilled with some of the creative choices made here(too much backstory given to characters meant to have a bit of mystery about them, for one), this is a enjoyable take on the novel and the credits are rather elegantly done:

 It's not just for Emma herself that we take to this story; the many amusing characters such as overly cautious Mr. Woodhouse, charmingly naive Harriet Smith and the goodhearted Westons are part and parcel of what makes the fictional village of Highbury such a literary high spot.

In the Pemberley Digital webseries, Emma Approved, one of the most beloved characters was given a thoughtful modern makeover. The talkative Miss Bates was introduced here as Maddy, an accountant with her own small business and hobby of making homemade preserves that have interesting flavor combinations.

Much like the original, Maddy's devotion to her mother and niece Jane Fairfax, along with her chatty demeanor, made her a family friend that Emma was happy to help, although not when it came to taste tasting her latest creations:

Not every character is likable here, which can be just as amusing but for very different reasons. Some of them start off as potential pals like the flirtatious Frank Churchill or the always agreeable Mr. Elton but all too soon, their true colors begin to appear and not to their best advantage either.

Mr. Elton's real intentions towards Emma are revealed in a carriage ride after a Christmas party that allowed him to take in too much of the host's good wine. However, his feelings of disdain for Harriet Smith, who Emma had been hoping to pair him up with, were soberly delivered.

When it comes to on screen versions of Mr. Elton, one of the best and most humorous performances belongs to Alan Cumming in the 1996 theatrical adaptation that had him pitching woo to a less than enthused Gwyneth Paltrow:

As to Mr. Knightley, my favorite performance comes from the BBC made for TV version(adapted by Andrew Davies) with Mark Strong playing opposite Kate Beckinsale.

Mind you, I like what Jonny Lee Miller(who also played Edmund in the 1999 Mansfield Park movie) did with the role and Jeremy Notham was suitably charming along side Paltrow. Yet, since the Beckinsale Emma is my preferred version of the book, Mark Strong goes right along with it.

He does take to the serious elements of the character rather well and may come across as harsh at times but when it's time for Knightley to show his more softer side, Strong provides plenty of romance there, tempered with good sense of course:

So, happy birthday to Our Dear Jane and a most happy anniversary to Emma, whose celebration will continue throughout the next year to come.

Having a December birthday is tricky, especially when it comes so close to Christmas, and I do wonder if Austen was inspired by that dilemma when she wrote that whole holiday party chapter of the story. Emma does get a sincerely unwanted gift there, thanks to Mr. Elton, that nearly wrecks the festive nature of the day not just for her but for poor Harriet as well.

Let us cheer up from that gloomy thought with a lively dance number, always a good choice in any Austen story. This sassy salute to Clueless set to the tune of "Fancy" ought to be a merry method of ending things on a good note:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Seeing what awakens when the new Star Wars film finally arrives in theaters

As the day grows closer for the official theatrical release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's pretty much impossible to ignore this imminent pop culture arrival anywhere you look.

Whether it's TV,magazines or internet chatter, the renewed interest and active energy of fans is one power source that just about all media loves feeding on as well as feeding to us. Considering the increasing bad news that the real world offers more and more often these days, it's no wonder that folks would find a galaxy far,far away to be a safer place.

I do think that having a new yet familiar cultural phenomenon like this could be the best thing for all of us right about now. Star Wars has the cache of being a franchise that people of all ages and backgrounds know so well that getting back into the realm of the Jedi and the ways of the Force is not daunting, even if you haven't seen the much despised prequels:

Speaking of the prequels, there are still a good number of fans out there that feel betrayed by them and are reluctant to join in with the frenzy surrounding The Force Awakens.

 I really can't blame them, especially since I found those movies to be complete and utter cinematic messes too, yet that doesn't mean that we should give up on the whole series there. Look, any long running film franchise is bound to have a couple of clunkers there(ask any horror fan) and Star Wars is no exception to that rule.

Yes, Jar Jar Binks is the worst(second only to Hayden Christensen's balsa wood level of acting) but on the other hand, not everyone liked the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi either. At the very least, those unnecessary prequels do give us a chance to take some joy in hate-watching them:

 Having a fresh new chapter of Star Wars is a prime opportunity to look back at the original trilogy and see what made it so great.

 Much like The Force Awakens, the first set of films were a blend of old and new, combining classic story telling tropes with new technology that created a modern mythology into which audiences eagerly tapped into.

I was one of those early fans and I admit that at first, I had no interest in this Star Wars movie that everyone was talking about. However, when my parents took me and my brother to see the first film, we were all enchanted by this amazing world and it's cluster of characters such as the timidly intelligent C-3PO, Han Solo and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca, the brave and bold Princess Leia and the ultimate Big Bad, Darth Vader.

Vader was a favorite of my father's and to this day, I still have one of the Star Wars themed gifts that I gave, him a ceramic mug shaped like the Sith Lord's helmet that I came upon in a thrift store. Part of my love for villains comes from my dad, who also enjoyed Jabba the Hutt as well, and I'm sure that we were not the only ones that made the Star Wars saga a family affair:

With The Force Awakens, that comforting bond of cinematic wonder is back to unite both old and new generations, friends and family, into a shared experience that could help us to not only take a little shelter from the real world storm but to reassess our attitudes about life as well. We could start with attitudes about fandom, for one. In order to survive , such a powerful force needs to be inclusive, which means getting over some of the seemingly set in stone stereotypes about who is "supposed" to be a fan and who isn't.

Why should it matter when you got interested in Star Wars or how, the important thing is that you like and/or love the series and want to share that joy with others. To those geek gatekeepers out there ready to pounce, you are  so not the fans that this or any other series are looking for.

Being overly particular about who you deem to be "worthy' of sharing your fan space  with is not what any hero you admire would do. Unless your goal is to be an out and out minion of small mindedness, I think you know what side of the Force is the right one to be on.

A new Star Wars should be a time of celebration and I truly believe that it will be, yet it would be a true achievement for pop culture if all fans were accepted without question. May the Force be with us, with popcorn and light sabers at the ready:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Getting a glimpse of future award show glory via the Golden Globes

The nominations for the upcoming Golden Globe awards(due to be presented on January 10, 2016) were announced this week and while most people will be going over the meaning of who was chosen and why, I'd like to see further ahead into where this early honor will take some of these contenders.

While it's no surprise that movies like The Martian,Joy or even Trainwreck were given big nominations, for a small film such as Room, this could truly be the start of something big.

Based on Emma Donaghue's novel, this very true to life story is told from the point of view of Jack, a five year old boy who knows only the limits of the small space he and his Ma have been held captive in by a man they call Old Nick. When Ma senses that their prison is about to become an even deadlier trap than it already is, Jack is called upon to help them escape into the wider world.

How they deal with life after their time in Room is a huge part of story and told in a sincere manner that elevates the plot from becoming a cheesy ripped-from-the-headlines potboiler that it could all too easily have been. I haven't seen the film yet but I did find the book to be amazing and thrilled to see that the adaptation is up for Best Drama, Best Screenplay(by Donaghue) and Best Actress in a Drama for Brie Larson, who I hope will be seated among her sister nominees on Oscar night as well:

On a much lighter note, The Peanuts Movie was included in the Best Animated category and I fervently hope that it has a real shot at the Oscars for a win.

I know the big front runner at the Globes and no doubt with the Academy will be Inside Out, which earned plenty of critical acclaim along with a tidy profit at the box office. I'm sure it is a worthy nominee but it's also the predictable one.

  Another big boost for Inside Out will be that it is an original screenplay and not based upon an existing multimedia franchise like Peanuts. Plus, it's a Pixar movie and they have had a nice track record when it comes to earning the major awards.

 However, what The Peanuts Movie does have in it's favor is that it stayed authentic to it's source material, both in visual and in story telling, something that gets quickly taken for granted when it comes to this genre.

Yes, The Peanuts Movie is a nostalgia trip but it also shows that you don't need to pointlessly update material with flashy gimmicks and celebrity voices in order to capture the simple charms of the original format. This film is a love letter to fans of Charlie Brown and friends for more than one generation and it deserves some Academy Award winning love in return:

 On the small screen front, the Starz series Outlander is up for three Golden Globes, including Best Drama and Best Actress for Caitronia Balfe as Claire, a twentieth century woman who steps into a circle of stones in Scotland and finds herself trapped over a hundred years in the past.

The show, based on the abundance of Diana Gabaldon novels, caught on with audiences rather well and a good part of the reason for that is Caitronia's performance as a woman quite out of time in more than one realm of reality who nevertheless stays true to herself and those she loves.

 As much as I appreciate the other nominees in this category, the leading lady of Outlander deserves a win or at very least a spot at the Emmys next year. She's a real talent that we have yet begun to see blossom onscreen:

What has been making headlines is Lady Gaga taking one of the two nominations for American Horror Story: Hotel. Granted, she's working with a role that was more than likely written to suit her strengths as an actress but Gaga is truly slaying as The Countess here.

While she's not about to make anyone forget the work that Jessica Lange has done in this dark anthology series, Gaga uses her natural charisma and visual presence to make this character come alive, so to speak.

AHS:Hotel does drag a bit at times(especially with the Ten Commandments Killer plotline) yet whenever the focus shifts to The Countess and those she deals with, the tension is hard to bear but you want it to last as long as possible like a sticky sweet treat. That alone should get her an Emmy when the time comes:

We'll know soon enough how all of the nominations that I mentioned and the ones that I haven't turn out but there is one in the latter category that I pray doesn't lead to anything better and that would be 50 Shades of Gray being up for Best Song. Nothing against Ellie Goulding but the only pop culture honoring that I want this flaccid flick to receive is a through roasting at the Razzies:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The mid season finales of The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, plus a Supergirl upgrade

With most of the TV season winding down for the holidays, this will be the last entry in the LRG TV Thursday schedule and what better way to end this run by looking at a couple of mid season finales?

Let's start with The Flash, as this Christmastime episode had the Weather Wizard break out Captain Cold and the Trickster(so great to see Mark Hamil indulge in his evil side!) in order to gang up on their mutual fleet footed adversary.

  Things got pretty complicated there, as Cold wanted nothing to do with the plan but gave Barry a semi-friendly heads-up, Joe's partner Patty had personal reasons for wanting to take down the Wizard and the ultimate villain plan involved threatening kids with gift wrapped bombs.

While that last part is typical bad guy fare, I have to say to the Weather Wizard "Really? That's the best you can do? All of your atmosphere altering powers, plus a wacky willing-to-do-anything ally in your corner, and your big scheme is to blackmail your enemy into letting you beat him down in public?"  Weak tea, Weather Wizard, seriously:

The true Big Bad here is of course Zoom, who succeeds in blackmailing his world's version of Harrison Wells to do his bidding.

 Since Earth-2 Wells has a legitimate motivation to go along with this plot to build up Barry's power so that Zoom will have more to steal(his daughter being held captive), I'm a bit more sympathetic to his plight but  Barry is still going to be hurt in more ways than one when this betrayal comes to light.

All in all, this has been a pretty good season up to now and having Wally West arrive to join the family should make for some interesting plot twists as we go forward. I do like that E-2's Jay Garrick is slowly becoming part of E-1's Team Flash(not to mention Caitlin's obvious crush on him) and the change in the dynamic of Barry's offbeat frenemy relationship with Leonard Snart,aka Captain Cold, who was not around much for this mid season breaking point. That's mainly due to setting up the Legends of Tomorrow series and how fun was that Arrow/Flash crossover that gave us Hawkgirl?

The next time we check in with The Flash, we'll also have to be ready for that show and with all of the other superhero themed series on TV these days, overload is a real possibility yet if the quality levels keep going up ,it'll be so worth it:

Meanwhile on the Marvel front, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wrapped up their current arch by having Coulson hitch a ride with Ward and his team as they used Fitz to track down the ancient Inhuman that the remaining powers that be in Hydra plan to use as their way back to the top.

Both Fitz and Simmons have really grown in strength over these past season, what with Jemma doing her best to survive on that abandoned planet and Fitz overcoming his physical problems to not only get her back but using his mental capabilities to try and rescue Will(shame about what happened to him), his rival for her affection. Seeing Fitz not take any more crap off of Ward was damn fine to watch, even if he had to back down there:

Despite what Coulson did to Ward(which reminded me of Kill Bill Vol. 2's Five Point Palm bit), this won't be the last we see of that particular bad guy. How Daisy(they need to call her Quake soon!) is going to take that new development, I don't know but she and May will now have monstrous ex-boyfriends to bond over.

 A lot to deal with as the new year looms and they did tie up a few loose ends for the most part. However, when the show comes back in March, I wonder if any of this will tie into the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.

Well, for now at least, we do have a new season of Agent Carter to look forward to in January. With Peggy having an adventure in L.A., some movie magic is bound to happen and waiting for her to kick some Hollywood ass is as hard as holding off on opening your Christmas presents until morning:

Supergirl received a vote of confidence from the network recently, as a full season run was approved for next year. While the show is far from perfect, with clunky dialogue at times and a need for subtlety in their girl power messages, there is a lot more merit to this series that is worth expanding upon.

For one thing, both Kara and her foster sister Alex have character arcs that are not always directly tied into one another, which allows each of them to deal with their own struggles and triumphs without one overshadowing the other. Also, Cat Grant maybe cartoonishly bitchy at times yet in her own weird way, she's the best critic and mentor that Supergirl has on her side, although unknowingly but still...:

 The action sequences have been well done for the most part(Red Tornado was rather awkwardly done but his takedown was nice) and while there should be a main villain arch set up here, the story lines are being put into place rather well.

Maxwell Lord is clearly meant to be Kara's Lex Luthor and her evil aunt Astra,who will be focused on during the mid season finale next week, makes for a suitable General Zod, only with a lot more personal connection for Supergirl in facing off on that foe.

Sometimes, the best plot points on this show have an everyday tone to them, as when Kara had to deal with backlash involving the way she handled a road rage incident. While the need to control her anger is a serious one, that guy did throw the first punch there and was lucky that Supergirl only knocked him down a little, if you ask me:

As the show goes on(and with any luck, gets a second season), some of these rough spots will be smoothed away and we'll really get to see what Supergirl can do. I admit that I was not a big supporter of this show at first but this is one of those times that I'm happy to be wrong about something.

Plus, when a show like this gets to introduce a big character like the Martian Manhunter(another secret that Alex has to keep, which will cause some more sibling problems) as well as this, it should be supported by the fans with steel hard strength. Give Supergirl a chance,folks, if you haven't already and you may be as pleasantly surprised at how good it is and can be:


GOTHAM: Despite my disappointment at the early demise of a potential Joker and the barely fulfilled potential of major menace Theo Galavan, I am still determined to tune into this show. With the Penguin and the Riddler now becoming fast friends, plus the promise of Mr. Freeze arriving as soon as February, Gotham is not out of wicked times to be had there. So,let us ring in the new year with the second half of the-is season to the sounds of a chilling chime of devious delight:

Monday, December 07, 2015

Peeking at some future film goodies in the 2016 section of the Movie Trailer Park

I know that we still have a few more big movies to look forward to in the remainder of 2015(including a certain awakening force), it's hard not to peer off into the movie trailer mist to see what awaits us in 2016.

To begin with, we have another trailer for Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice that shows us Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent verbally sparring, a mutual threat that looks a lot like Doomsday being created by Lex Luthor(so non-canon!) and a brief yet amazing appearance by Wonder Woman.

While I'm still not sure about how good or bad this movie might be, one element that is already irritating is Jesse Eisenberg's take on Lex Luthor. While I can overlook a Lex with a full head of hair, having one that is always "on" like a bad comedian who never leaves the stage is the worst. The guy is as subtle as a chainsaw cutting through an ice cream cake.

 Seriously, if you thought Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey were a bit hammy, Eisenberg's vocal inflections alone make those prior villain party platters seem more like mildly flavored spam. With lines like "If man can't destroy God, then the devil will!" and making goofy menacing faces at everyone, this version of the iconic Superman nemesis is not a good sign of things to come:

Fortunately, we have the promising Captain America: Civil War trailer that shows a break between Steve Rodgers and Tony Stark, due to former Winter Soldier Bucky regaining full mental control of himself and being targeted as a scapegoat for the evil deeds of Hydra.

Other heroic allies come into play, as Black Widow, The Falcon and War Machine take sides while new heroes such as Black Panther make their presence known. While I haven't read the comic book series that this story line is based upon. the other two Captain America films were smartly written and engaging entertainment, so I have zero doubts regarding this one:

 In the Expected Sequel department, the third film in the Divergent series Allegiant will be part one of the finale(part two is titled Ascendant) and our heroine Tris is happy to leave the city that oppressed her and her friends so much but it turns out, the world outside is perhaps even dangerous.

Granted, this dystopian teen saga is no Hunger Games but it is interesting nonetheless and I am at least willing to see it through to the end. While Kate Winslet is no longer around to strut her villainy stuff, we do get Jeff Daniels as a dubious ally, not too shabby.

Since the adventures of Katniss Everdeen are over, there's still time to check out the books(written by Veronica Roth) that this saga comes from and catch up with Tris Prior and pals as they tackle the high tech deception of their elders together:

In the Unexpected Sequel section, we have The Huntsman: Winter's War on the way this spring, which is supposed to be a prequel and a sequel all in one.

It seems that Queen Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman had a sister(Emily Blunt), who uses a certain frozen type of magic,  that set up her own separate magical kingdom. Upon hearing about her sibling's demise, the Ice Queen(yep, that's her name) sends for the magic mirror in order to bring Ravenna back from the beyond.

The Huntsman naturally decides to go after this sinister sister act with the help of some new allies, including Jessica Chastain as a warrior maiden. Now, I enjoyed Snow White and the Huntsman but not enough to really long for a follow-up but I guess it made pretty decent bank for the studio to greenlight this. Should be fun yet not quite a must-see, in my opinion:

All in all, there should be plenty to talk about when it comes to fantasy/comic book themed films next year and hopefully, plenty of popcorn to go along with them.

One film that I am anxious to see is the Austen zom-com Pride & Prejudice & Zombies that brings to undead life the Seth Grahame-Smith classic monster mash on screen. Zombies are not my favorite fear factor but getting the chance to see the Bennet sisters do battle with the "sorry stricken" along side Mr. Darcy just sounds like a ripping good time to me.

Plus, having Downton Abbey's Lily James take on Elizabeth Bennet while Game of Thrones players Charles Dance and Lena Headey(a Lannister family reunion!) do their part as Mr. Bennet and Lady Catherine De Bourgh is a trio of British cherries upon this engagingly English silly sundae, so serve me up this scary sweet delight in the new year,please!:

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Ending the Road of Rereading with a cinematic look at Little Women

To cap off this final leg of my Road of Rereading journey, I watched two of the more current adaptations of Little Women and we begin with the 1994 big screen version that starred Winona Ryder as Jo March.

 She wasn't the only big name in the cast as Susan Sarandon played "Marmee" March, with Claire Danes as the darling yet doomed Beth, Kristen Dunst as Amy(Samantha Mathis played the older version of the character) and Christian Bale was Theodore "Laurie" Laurence. Not a bad line-up, especially with the screenwriter and the director both being women(Robin Swicord and Gillian Armstrong), for a female centric project like this.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous eye candy even in scenes with natural lighting. From snowy evenings to sunlit days, the film is heartwarming enticement and that the actors involved appear to have a bit of a bond with each other helps to bring the family spirit of the story come alive on screen:

Being a two hour film, certain character development details are swept under the rug(it's hard to see how the elder Mr. Laurence becomes fond of sickly Beth all of a sudden if you haven't read the book) but the key elements that devoted readers look for in a Little Women adaptation are here, such as Jo selling her hair and Meg having her Vanity Fair temptation.

One of the creative choices made with this screenplay has the March sisters(and their mother at times)express sociopolitical opinions that the real life Alcott family had in their day, which works sometimes but not at others.

 Speaking of Vanity Fair, Meg's hesitation to get as glammed up as her more financially stable friends is due to personal pride issues, not really outrage over the abusive treatment of silk workers as that sequence would have you believe. Trini Alvado is fine as Meg but this speech just feels a little out of place with the whole intended tone of the original story:

Despite those flaws, this take on Little Women is pleasant viewing that is best appreciated by those already familiar with the book. It's not a bad introduction for newcomers but the glossy atmosphere of the film might make it seem more of a romance than it actually is.

One of the best points in this movie's favor is Christian Bale as Laurie, he and Ryder truly seem to have chemistry between them that makes Jo's necessary rejection of him all the more painful to watch, although Jo having Gabriel Bryne as Professor Bhaer later on is not a bad consolation prize there:

The best way to retell a story like Little Women is in series form and the Pemberley Digital adaptation The March Family Letters gives this old fashioned novel a proper modern day setting with smartly written twists. The girls start up a vlog in order to stay in touch with Marmee, who is part of the Canadian military, and it's a hoot right from the beginning.

Having Jo(Alex Kerr) be a struggling student filmmaker is a great way to update the character and bring those theatricals of hers fit right in with the storyline. Seeing "The Witch's Curse" in separate parts is a fun treat that adds a break from any plot tension nicely:

Other present day touches include Beth being a guitar player who writes her own songs, Amy trashing Jo's computer hard drive instead of burning her manuscript and Meg(Jessica Allen) falling in love with Joan Brooke(Alejandra Simmons),Laurie's tutor.

Yes, Meg is gay in this version(and btw, Beth identifies as ace aka asexual) and if you have a problem with that, then you are not a true romantic at heart. This love story is played out so beautifully and sweet, not to mention that it makes perfect sense that a 21st century version of the March sisters would be more diverse in more than one department. Seeing Meg and Joan finally express their true feelings and have that first kiss is such a joy to behold and yes, I do think Alcott herself would approve:

My only complaint is that the series ended way too soon and in a very sad place,with Beth in the hospital. Yes, I know how that part of the story goes but still....

Since TMFL is a Canadian production that Pemberley Digital distributes, I'm not sure if there will be a season two but I'm not alone in sincerely hoping for that to be so. There are so many other plot lines to have fulfilled such as Laurie's crush on Jo(that should be an epic scene!) and rest of Meg and Joan's relationship. Perhaps we will see more of this delightful show next year but for now, I will show you the glory that is Camp Laurence:

Well, this Road of Rereading is complete and I hope that everyone found some of my literary revisiting entertaining at the very least. I am planning a new blog project for 2016, sort of a book battle with such categories as Blood Sucking Dramas(Twilight vs The Vampire Diaries), Literary Insiders(James Michener's The Novel vs. Olivia Goldsmith's The Bestseller) and Goth Girls(Louisa May Alcott vs Victoria Holt).

 Should be fun and if you have any suggestions for a book vs book bout, please let me know! In the meantime, thank you all for checking out my Road of Rereading series and let's look forward to more good times with fiction and not just in a galaxy far,far away: