Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Shining a spotlight on pop culture racial issues

Ever since the Oscar nominations for 2016 were announced, the main focus of the conversation has been the serious lack of diverse candidates, from the all-white acting categories to the male dominated directors' category.

With this being the second year in a row that the Academy has blatantly overlooked major films and performances by and about African-Americans, the calls for a boycott(lead by actress Jada Pinkett Smith) have been met with a good amount of support but also a sad supply of scorn as well. One of the worst commentaries came from Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling, who during an interview given in France claimed that the protest was "racist to whites."

 She's not alone in that belief, so let me say this;pointing out that one group in particular is getting more prominence than others,to the point of excluding those others, in accolades is NOT racist!

Another line of defense in this argument is that "Should it be about talent?" Of course, it should and when talented people such as Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan and F. Gary Gray are being left out when they have been given nominations for other awards for their work this year in the film industry, what other conclusion can you come to other than racism as to why they were snubbed?

 This isn't a one time coincidence, this is a pattern of behavior that has become so predictable that even a comedy series like The Nightly Show can make accurate predictions of who is not going to be nominated:

Many other groups are well known for being left out of and/or poorly represented in the nomination game,such as women in the directing category and people in the Asian and Latino communities. As a longtime Oscar watcher, I recall when The Last Emperor swept the awards back in 1987, getting Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

Sounds great, right? Well, the odd part was that none of the Asian actors and actresses were nominated. The exclusion of leading man and lady John Lone and Joan Chen, who both gave sterling performances, for Best Actor and Actress didn't make many waves back then. However, having Peter O'Toole up for Best Supporting Actor, when he played a very minor role in the movie, spoke all too loud and clear as to why that happened.

I have nothing against Peter O'Toole(who didn't win) or think that anyone has to be taken out of the nominee list in order to make room for someone else to be included(except maybe Charlotte Rampling, her elitist attitude leaves a bad taste in my mouth), that's not what this is about. It's about giving everyone a fair shot as much as possible.

I suspect that some of the unspoken thoughts about this include the notion that "well, we just gave them something a couple of years ago! Do we have to do that all of the time?" This isn't a favor being conferred, folks,this is simply treating all artists as equals in their field, a sign of respect that should not have to be campaigned for.

Granted, the Oscars are not the most important thing in the world but they are an international goal post in the film world that does reflect the industry as  a whole. While it's good that the Academy is now working to make substantial changes for future nominees, it's a shame that talented people are still being made to wait in the wings:

These issues are not just in Hollywood,however. Most recently, uproar over a children's book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, about a father and daughter working together in the kitchen and needing sugar for the cake to be a success,  has caused it's publisher Scholastic to withdraw it from distribution.

The father and child in question were slaves, with history showing that the father Hercules escaped many years later and found freedom while his daughter Delia remained in bondage for the rest of her life. That fact is noted in an afterword in the book but the rather cheerful illustrations and overall tone of the story seem to downplay the grim truth of these real life characters' lives.

This comes on the heels of a similar controversy with another children's book last year from a different publisher. A Fine Dessert also detailed the work put into making a special treat for a family celebration, with the slaves that made it seen happily enjoying the leftovers in a closet.

I am sure that the authors and illustrators involved in both projects had good intentions here yet when it comes to story telling for such a young audience, it's extremely important not to sugar coat the hardships of slavery. Whether or not the characters that you focus on were enslaved in a household or in the fields, depicting that time period in a way that gives the wrong impression on history to grade school audiences is undermining to the educational process.

Some people are not happy about Scholastic's decision, feeling that it's a form of censorship. In my opinion, there is a world of difference between choosing to withdraw a book that has misleading information and preventing another viewpoint from being made available to readers. If there were children's books about the Holocaust that depicted that time period in a all too cheery light, I don't think that people would be so resistant to taking them off the market the way they seem to be with this book:

There have been strides made in pop culture towards showcasing diversity but many more need to be made and supported by the mainstream as well as people like you and me. You don't have to make a big production number out of reading or watching more diverse content yet it wouldn't hurt to take more of an innate interest in seeing what else is out there on the cinematic and literary landscape that could not only be enlightening but entertaining as well.

 Let's all try to open our minds to art that expands our pop culture horizons and maybe that will help our society to do so out there in the real world. Variety is the spice of the life, after all, and if we can't take a chance with our fictions, how can we remedy some of the sad facts that face us in reality?:

Monday, January 25, 2016

A musical take on A Winter's Respite of reading

While I did wish for snow during the Seasons of Reading readathon, entitled A Winter's Respite, this past week, I never intended to have such a plethora of a storm land on my doorstep like it did on Saturday.

However, I did manage to finish two of the three books that I had set aside for this literary event,so goals were pretty much met. The third book(which I'll talk more about in a moment) is one that demands taking your time with and it will be on active duty on my current reading pile.

In discussing all of the books I took on for A Winter's Respite, instead of a straight on review, I decided to chose a theme song for each one that reflects how it made me feel. First up is Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, chosen for brevity and as part of my year long reading goals.

The basic story chronicles a period in which journalist Jake Barnes follows along his restless companions(most of whom are trailing behind Lady Brett Ashley, a charismatic divorcee) as they drink and party in Paris and Spain.

 Their trip to Spain is centered around the running of the bulls in Pamplona and a handsome young matador that upsets the already unstable love triangles involving Lady Ashley. It's a rather moody story that perfectly illustrates the whole "Lost Generation" vibe of the post WWI era and sets the standard for disillusioned youth; frankly some of the conversations held here could just as easily fit into the dialogues of the beatnik/slacker/hipster twenty-somethings present and yet to come.

For a suitable theme song, Madonna's "Take a Bow" felt right. True, it does help that the video does focus quite a bit on bull fighting but the vivid details are similar to what Hemingway describes in the novel and Madonna's period outfits enhance the Lady Ashley aspect of the story. Also, the song itself talks about a broken romance and Lady Ashley's longing to be both a free spirit and yet part of someone else is the soul of the novel, in my opinion:

The other book that I completed was Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, one of those stay up until the wee small hours of the morning reads. The reluctant heroine of the book is Libby Day, a lone survivor of a family massacre who takes on the search for the truth of what happened that night motivated by payments from a crime solving group called The Kill Club.

In the beginning, Libby is only interested in the money as the charity trust fund she's been living off of is nearly empty and her emotional scars prevent her from finding a steady job or even a steady life. She is still convinced that her brother Ben,who she testified against when she was seven, is guilty as charged and serving the prison sentence that he deserves.

However, Libby starts looking into things without asking for payment as questions about what really went on back start to arise and upon visiting Ben in prison, she knows that he is hiding something or someone that could explain everything. The ending might be slightly over the top but not enough to distill the power of the overall narrative and character growth of Libby.

For this theme song, I went with Madonna again, as her theme song for the 1986 movie At Close Range "Live To Tell" felt like the perfect match. Since the death of the fictional Day family took place in the early 1980s and At Close Range involves dark family dealings, the song's haunting lyrics seemed to be well echoed in Libby's struggles to discover the truth.

 I know that there is a film version of Dark Places which didn't get great reviews, but I will still see it at some point. In the meanwhile, this second dose of Madonna fits the gruesome bill as neatly as a suspect glove:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was the first book that I chose for the readathon but it is the one left standing as AWR wound down. It's not due to a lack of interest on my part, believe me.

Much like the title setting, the story requires you to take your time strolling through the plot attractions and getting a good look at the characters as the sights and sounds of the lush prose invade your senses. The center ring showcase belongs to Marco and Celia, a pair of  talented young magicians set against each other since childhood by their mentors.

This duel of the fates challenges them both, yet the ultimate goal of this competition has not been revealed to either of them. At the point of the story that I'm at, Celia and Marco now know that they are each other's opponent but are only pushed by their mentors to do more with their powers. Since Celia is being trained by her father(who is presumed dead yet is still present due to his misfire with a spell) and Marco is an orphan plucked from obscurity with a girlfriend in the circus who informs him of any updates with the show, the stakes are quite personal here.

This time, I chose Jessica Lange's cover version of Lana Del Ray's "Gods and Monsters" as the theme music for the book. With this song being performed early on in the fourth season of American Horror Story, subtitled Freak Show, that siren allure of the piece sounds like the right background music for the place that I am at so far in this tale of magical wonders:

I hope that everyone else who took part in A Winter's Respite had as much fun as I did with their reading and that they didn't have as much snow to deal with as we did on the East Coast this weekend. Oh, well, soon enough we'll be complaining about the cruel heat of summer and looking to cool off with a good book or two, I'm sure:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Downton Abbey hears wedding bells, Supergirl has an awkward friend moment and Agent Carter heads out to Hollywood

 We're in the midst of the final season of Downton Abbey and already, a big wedding has thankfully taken place. It was getting to be touch and go for Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson as Lady Mary's determination to overrule the bride's wishes about the locale brought a few unspoken tensions to light.

What with that and the trouble in finding the right bridal outfit(I was really mad at Cora for taking out her anger about that hospital business at Mrs. Hughes for trying on that coat when it was Mary yet again who was to blame for that miscommunication), those wedding plans were starting to look pretty dodgy there.

However, this is the last season after all, so once the proper apologies were made and kind gestures followed them up, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Carson and Hughes are sweetly stern people who should make a real power couple in the long run there and I hope by the finale episode, their future together continues to look bright:

It was great to see Tom return with Sybil, as his time in Boston only made him long to be back at Downton, yet I do hope that more attention is given to Edith during these last episodes.

She seems to have a shot at a real romance with Bertie, the fella who eagerly joined in to help Edith pull the magazine together at the last minute after she finally fired that horrible editor. With a flat in London, a business of her own and her child safely by her side, I think it's time that Edith left the family homestead and make a better life for herself elsewhere.

Her Aunt Rosemund would certainly be helpful in that department, as she's been urging her favorite niece(in my opinion) to take charge of her own life and seems to be the only one in the family who believes in Edith's personal potential. Come on, Lady Edith, you're more that prepared to be a modern woman,for your time, that is:

On Supergirl this week, our Maiden of Steel had to recapture an escaped Toyman but that mission had a personal edge to it. Turns out her friend Winn is the son of that particular mad man and hates his father for the terrible deaths that he caused,due to seeking revenge for stolen toy ideas.

Kara was able to offer a sympathetic ear and restraint in going after Toyman for Winn's sake, however that situation got awkward rather quickly. Winn, not wanting to keep his emotions bottled up like his father, expressed his true romantic feelings towards Kara and found out that they were not reciprocated:

Naturally, this has put a huge crimp in their relationship and while Toyman was finally caught and sent back to jail, there is still residual damage between the two of them.

I really hope that this rift is mended in a healthy way for both characters, as it's important to show audiences that a romantic rejection is an obstacle that can be overcome and allow a good friendship to be maintained.

I point over to Buffy the Vampire Slayer for proof of this as Xander had a major crush on Buffy from day one and despite his jealousy over her obvious preference for Angel, was able to set those feelings aside in order to help save the day by the end of the first season.

 In fact, Xander became not only one of Buffy's best friends, he was a solid ally in the fight against evil and found love more than one on his own.

 Granted, all of that was not without screw-ups and angst along the way yet by the time the series finale came around, Xander was still standing with two of his best friends who happened to be female. Having Winn turn to the dark side over this would be a terrible development and perhaps the show runners are not planning to go there but I do know that there are shippers out there who are already blaming Kara for not being with "the nice guy".

Guess what, gang-she is NOT obliged to be with him in that way. If you've been watching the show, it's crystal clear that Kara is into James, who is now back together with Lucy Lane, and that she has always seen Winn as a good friend and nothing more. Kara and Winn do need time to get over this faux pas and seeing them decide to stay friends is a positive path that someone who truly cares about the characters would want them to take:

On a lighter note, Agent Carter is back for a second season and things are looking brighter already as Peggy is sent off to L.A. to deal with a mystery involving a frozen lake in a heatwave and a death that may be a key link to a conspiracy involving an alien power source.

Seeing Peggy back in action is grand fun, especially since Mr. Jarvis is by her side and we get to meet his lovely wife Ana, who is pure fun. Nice to see more female characters on the show and that a sense of humor promises to be threaded into the proceedings.

 Some of the plot points being set up here appear to  be tied into the current story line on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D(which will be back in March) and while continuity is fine, I do hope that this season of Agent Carter will allow our leading lady to take a few bold moves of her own accord here:


DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW: The superhero all-star series starts tonight and should be a blast, especially since we have a few villains on board with this time traveling team for the ride. Most of these comic book characters may not be familiar to new viewers but I think that if the acting and writing are well done, they may be household names in no time flat:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Finding colorful ways to look at life

As the daughter of an artist(as well as a sister of one), I'm familiar with a lot of the cliches about "struggling/starving" artists, those who paint and/or draw and do their best to make ends meet by their pen and paintbrush.

However, Molly Crabapple's memoir Drawing Blood turns those preconceived notions inside out. Crabapple(a name given to her by a friend) grew up with a mother who worked for thankless years as an illustrator, only to be out of work when the greeting card company went out of business.

That didn't stifle her urge to draw, which she did during just about every waking moment, even on her travels overseas where she stayed at the legendary bookstore Shakespeare and Company for a time.

Coming back to the US, she took courses at FIT while doing everything she could to get her art work noticed. From a photo model to one of the Suicide Girls to becoming an activist with the Occupy Wall Movement, Molly's driving goal is to have her work speak for her as well as to others out there feeling the same way.

I'm only partway through the book right now but Molly's blunt honesty about how women in the arts have to work extra hard to make their voices heard and talents properly appreciated has the welcome clarity of truth ringing throughout the pages. All of the chapters featured her illustrations, making her words come to even more vivid life in the telling and while I haven't finished it yet, Drawing Blood promises to be a read that I'd recommend to anyone looking for an authentic portrait of artists today:

My talents in the drawing area are rather limited but I have been curious about this whole coloring books for adults craze that's risen up lately.

 So, when I was given the chance to try out one of these books for myself(courtesy of Blogging for Books), I asked for a copy of Cats in Paris and picked up a pack of coloring pencils to join in and see what the fuss is all about.

Illustrated by Won-Sun Jang, the book features a series of line drawings with the title felines in various places around the city of Paris, including the infamous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, as well as other pictures of cats suitable for adding your personal choice of color scheme to.

I'm in the middle of coloring a page that has the cover art of a cat lovingly lounging on a bookshelf at Shakespeare and Co and have to say that it's kind of relaxing to simply deal with selecting what shades of blue, green or red would look best on the books. In thinking over the many myriad of hues that I've seen on book covers over the years, that alone puts me in a mental happy place of literary joy.

Sure, some people find this whole thing silly and childish yet on the other hand, a lot of illustrators are getting well paid work out of this and more power to them. Won-Sun Jang's sketchbook designs are delightful and if you love cats and Paris, this coloring book will make you purr with pleasure indeed:

People seem to forget that art is not just meant to be displayed in museums and fancy galleys; it's true purpose is to be accessible to everyone and to be found in the most unexpected places. Whether it's a sidewalk drawing, comic book page, sugar decorated cake or the fill in the blanks opportunities of a coloring book, art is something that can be the best way to describe your inner vision of life to the world.

 For both young and old alike, art is a gateway to the realm of imagination that can color your life in beautifully sweetly strange ways that better reflect your reality. So, like a wise young man once said, stop and look around,especially at art, or you might miss what's happening right in front of you:

Monday, January 18, 2016

My favorite Alan Rickman roles

More sad news from last week, as word that Alan Rickman passed away at the age of 69. Along with the loss of musical great David Bowie and metal  meister Lemmy from Motorhead, this was the third of our artistic Englishmen to leave our company so far this year.

It is almost too great of a loss to bear yet we are all the better for having the time and talent that they did share with us.

Rickman did a lot of theater work and BBC performances before becoming known to international audiences, his big break-out role coming to him at age 42, showing that your moment to make your mark can arrive at just about any time. As my salute to this amazing actor, here are a handful of my personal favorite film roles of Alan Rickman:

HANS GRUBER/DIE HARD: This was the part that made him a household name in many places and it was a role that he was initially reluctant to take.

As Hans, Rickman displayed many of his best aspects as an actor; a steely coolness combined with sharp intelligence, not to mention a sinister sense of humor. It did lead to more bad guy work, something that Rickman wasn't thrilled with as typecasting can be extremely limiting to an artist. Nevertheless, he did some of his best work being bad.

 One of the best scenes in the movie is when Hans and John McClane finally meet face to face, with Hans quickly whipping out an American accent and seeming to fool his troublesome foe with a bit of play acting. That little stand-off highlighted the very different approaches of both actors but also showed just how well they could work together:

COL.BRANDON/SENSE AND SENSIBILITY:  The more tender side of Rickman was amply displayed in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's tale of emotional duality.

Having re-watched the film recently, it is amusing to note how younger sister Marianne wonders that her elder sibling Elinor can enjoy the "polite affections" of even tempered suitor Edward and yet after being burned by the change of heart in her flashy beau Wickham, she finds the subtle charms of supposedly "infirm" Col. Brandon to be  quite sufficient.

Rickman portrays this devoted man who would much prefer to suffer in romantic silence rather than interfere with the happiness of his beloved, even if she falls for someone that is truly unworthy, as a steadfast sort who is not without his moments of deep passion and despair. When he is at last welcomed into Marianne's heart, we share that bliss with him in a properly pleasing way:

METATRON/DOGMA: Kevin Smith's religious comedy had some of the most offbeat casting of any of his films yet having Alan Rickman as the voice of God was a truly divine decision.

Some of his best snarky humor came forth, as the angel who had to send the heroine of the piece,Bethany, out to seek the two wayward heavenly exiles before they inadvertently destroyed the world.

One of his best scenes is his initial entrance, being ticked off about Bethany's quick use of fire safety techniques yet having no idea of who he is. "You people..if there isn't a movie about it, it's not worth knowing, is it?"-a lament that, with a slight adjustment for the times, still applies today yet the dulcet tones of Rickman's voice gives that line much more of a sharp zing;

SEVERUS SNAPE/ HARRY POTTER SERIES: More than one movie going generation will remember Rickman best as the Hogwarts potions master who always seemed to have it in for Harry Potter and friends.

However, during the course of cinematic adaptations of J.K. Rowling's wizard saga, his true motivations behind his behavior were brought to light. In the end, Snape was understandably misunderstood yet his real merits were appreciated by the one person to whom it mattered the most.

Rickman's physical presence could be very menacing when he chose it to be and it was certainly a valuable tool in his acting kit when called upon to make Snape the central focus of any particular scene, such as Harry's first potions class. It was clear from the start that Rickman didn't intend to treat this part as merely a paycheck for a kid's movie but an actual role worth giving his all to:

These and so many other movie characters such as blase sci-fi actor Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest or the scene stealing Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, made Alan Rickman a joy to watch and a good sign of at least one engaging performance in any film.

I do hope that we won't have any more sudden departures from the pop culture stage to mourn for a little while there. Losing someone as incredibly talented and special as Alan Rickman is hard enough to handle as it is. By Grabthar's Hammer, he shall be missed indeed:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Taking A Winter's Respite of Reading

With the holiday weekend coming up, many of us will use that time to tackle a reading challenge or two and I intend to do so myself.

Beginning on January 18th, the Seasons of Reading midwinter readathon entitled A Winter's Respite will be underway, giving all of us who participate until the 24th to complete as much selected reading as possible.

Usually for these readathons, I stick to just one book but decided to challenge myself and take on three titles(it helps that one of them has a rather slender page count). If I complete at least one or two of them, that will be good enough for me but who knows, I might manage to finish them all. We shall see, I suppose, so here are my three AWR selections for your perusal:

THE NIGHT CIRCUS: I've heard great things about this debate fantasy novel by Erin Morgenstern and happened upon a Canadian paperback edition at a rummage sale last spring(which looks very similar to the US one) that has been sitting on one of my many TBR piles for awhile now.

Therefore, this readathon is the perfect opportunity to check out this fable of Celia and Marco,two star crossed lovers trained to battle each other with magic yet wind up falling under the spell of love. Add the circus environment that these two grow up in and this sounds like quite the enchanting literary treat:

THE SUN ALSO RISES: I did set one of my goals for the year to give Hemingway a chance and now that the book is here in my home, taking it up during a readathon seems the right time to give it a page turning whirl.

The story of Jake Barnes and his dissolute companions as they make their way through Europe is said to be a tragic love story as well as a look into the mind set of the Lost Generation, those disillusioned young people affected by the social changes brought about by WWI.

Either way, or perhaps both, the novel has held up for a good long while here and it's brisk pace should suit my literary needs this week. Maybe I'll even see the film version of it, if I can find it on Netflix, that is:

DARK PLACES: This book does have a film version that's in my Netflix queue but I want to read it first. This is an early novel of Gillian Flynn's(written just before Gone Girl) that has another offbeat leading lady at the helm.

Libba Day is known as the sole survivor of a family massacre, which her brother Ben was sent to prison for, due to her testimony. Twenty five years later, a group who call themselves The Kill Club contact Libba in order to get more information about the night in question.

They want to prove that Ben is innocent and she's willing to help them as long they pay her for her trouble. As Libba digs into that dark night of terror, she discovers things that she never knew before and finds an answer that may be more shocking than she or the Kill Club ever imagined. I am intrigued, to say the least:

That's my unlikely trio of AWR books,folks; wish me luck! I do think this will be a nice change of pace and a good way to settle into the post holiday season. My only small complaint is that we have no snow in my neck of the woods.

Mind you, I'm not asking for a blizzard or anything like that. Just a couple of solid inches that would allow for a snowball fight or a lovely sleigh ride(not that I have a sleigh, it's simply the idea of having that option available). Oh, well, perhaps my fellow AWR readers will enjoy some snowy goodness on their book journey this week and I can be happy for them as we all read together:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sighing over the Oscars and not in a good way

The nominations for the 88th Academy Awards were announced this morning and as usual, not too many surprises both good and bad. As a longtime fan, I should know what to expect by now yet I can't help hoping for sweeping new changes and faces to crop up in certain categories.

While there were a few noms that pleased me greatly, there are also far too many exclusions and odd choices to balance that out properly. Sure, it's great news that The Revenant got 12 nominations(guess Leo will finally get that Best Actor award he's been wanting for so long) and we all knew movies like The Martian, Inside Out and Joy would be well represented here.

However, that doesn't excuse the Academy for yet another year of "what the hell?" type of nominees, especially since this list proves just how out of touch they are with audiences and critics alike:


Let's start off on a positive note, as there were a few nice surprises. I did anticipate that Saoirse Ronan would be included in the Best Actress category but not that her movie Brooklyn  would also earn a Best Picture nod as well as Best Adapted Screenplay. For a little movie like that, it's a huge deal.

 Also happy that Room was given four nominations, including Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, not to mention Brie Larson being a major contender in the Best Actress section.

 While I haven't seen the film yet, the novel by Emma Donoghue was an amazing read and not a story easily made into a movie, so for all involved, this is quite the artistic success.

Plus, I think that Larson has a real shot at winning the Oscar. Jennifer Lawrence already won one,as did Cate Blanchett recently, so no dire need to give either of them won. Charlotte Rampling is a grand actress but chances are that this will come down to either Ronan or Larson.

They're both wonderful character actresses but I do believe that Brie's performance, as a woman finally freed from captivity and struggling with living in the regular world along with her child, might edge Saoirse out:


Once again, we have a batch of vanilla candidates in the acting categories and just as sugary white films under consideration as well. Why the love for Steve Jobs? Nobody cared to see it when it was out at theaters and for good reason, many of us don't feel sorry for or relate to a millionaire computer genius who's a reluctant dad.

Both audiences and critics connected better to films such as Straight Out of Compton(which was mostly overlooked) and Creed, that gained it's white co-star Slyvester Stallone a Best Supporting Actor spot but ignored leading man Michael B. Jordan.

 Don't tell me it's due to Jordan being in the summer flop Fantastic Four; if Eddie Redmayne can be up for both a Razzie and an Oscar(which he is) just like Sandra Bullock was when she won for The Blind Side, there is no real reason other than bias or Hollywood snobbery that caused Michael B. Jordan to be shut out of this category:


Mad Max: Fury Road  did get an impressive number of nominations, ten in all, including Best Picture and Best Director. However, most of the other noms were in technical categories and none for acting, much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the latter didn't even get a Best Picture nod.

At the very least, Charlize Theron should have been up for Best Actress, as her performance as Imperator Furiosa was one of the most influential female roles this year. That character was widely debated, discussed and admired as a solid, strong woman who many felt was the true lead of the film, not Max.

I refuse to buy that's due to the film being science fiction sequel; Siqourney Weaver got a Best Actress nomination for Aliens back in '86, so there is president here. Come on, people, get with the program, seriously. This was one of the most celebrated roles of the year, pay some respect!:


My other complaints about the Oscar nominations aren't as big, although The Peanuts Movie being left out of the Best Animated Feature race is a pretty big slight there.

One of my biggest fears came true; a song from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is up for Best Song. Now, I know that "Earned It" by The Weeknd is probably not going to win since there happens to be a Bond movie tune up against it, but you guys couldn't let Megan Trainor's "Feel Better When I'm Dancing" get that spot?

 Yes, I'm bitter about the Peanuts Movie but come on, 50 Shades is a movie that's already garnered enough Razzie nominations that it may very well sweep those dubious honors without getting an Oscar nod in the bargain:

Well, I will still watch the Oscars and hope for the best, as much of it that there is. One thing is for certain and that is returning host Chris Rock certainly has plenty of material for his opening monologue this time out. I won't be the only person at home rooting for him to take all of Hollywood to town this time out, even more than he did previously. Yes, having Rock take the mike that night might make the show worth watching indeed:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The pop culture magic of David Bowie

A sad start to this week as well as to this year came as news of the death of David Bowie made the media rounds. At the age of 69, he was still going strong with his music, releasing an album,Blackstar, on his birthday that of this writing, is about to hit the top of the Billboard charts.

Bowie was more than just a singer, however; he was many things to so many people and whether you knew him as the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Jareth, the Goblin King, he left an indelible imprint on the pop culture landscape that will never fade away.

Bowie's music and flair for outrageous fashion statements are what first caught the attention of  both the mainstream public and the counterculture, due to the fact that he was the type expected to show up in unexpected places. At first glance, someone with the unique creative style of Bowie would be the last person you'd expect to see doing a Christmas song with old school crooner Bing Crosby or be a headliner on Soul Train, yet he always seemed right at home wherever he went:

Bowie's talents also extended to film, where he became known for an eclectic number of roles such as the distraught space alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, doomed vampire John Blaylock in The Hunger and Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ.

For many of us, his role in Labyrinth as the cruelly charismatic Goblin King is an all-time favorite. While the offbeat Jim Henson film wasn't popular in it's day, it has grown into a cult classic that continues to inspire audiences with it's magical use of creativity, not to mention being one of the few female driven fantasy pieces of that time period.

Bowie did a marvelous range of songs for the movie that still hold up on their own, from the closing credits number "Underground" to the haunting "Within You", and one of my personal picks is "Dance Magic", which is just flat-out toe-tapping fun:

Bowie also contributed songs for other movies such as The Falcon and the Snowman and Absolute Beginners(which he produced and had a minor role in). One of those songs was even reused for a particular scene in an Oscar winning film.

One of the few merits of the 1982 remake of Cat People was the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder and it's theme song "Putting Out The Fire" written and performed by Bowie. The song was played over the end credits, which some thought was a bit of a throwaway for such a raw yet elegant melody.

Quentin Tarantino felt the same way and used that song for a sequence in his WWII set film Inglorious Basterds that highlighted the preparations of the story's unsung heroine Shosanna as she set the stage for revenge against the Nazi regime. The song,like many others in the film, was obviously not of the time period yet it was perfectly suited to the character and her mission to come:

Bowie's music has lent itself to meta use in other places, including TV where his song "Golden Years" was the theme for a short lived Stephen King series.

Most recently, two of his tunes were musical bookends for twisted chanteuse Elsa Mars in the fourth season of American Horror Story, subtitled Freak Show.

 That season freely took songs from other time periods despite it's setting in 1952 but with fitting irony, Elsa's finale had her performing "Heroes", which wrapped up not only her story but those of the remaining players in that strangely sad saga as well:

The loss of David Bowie is huge, especially to his family and personal friends, all of whom I and countless others out there send our deepest condolences. However, his artistry leaves a wonderfully weird legacy that all of us can appreciate and emulate.

 His collaborations with others, not just with his contemporaries like Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury but new generation artists such as Trent Reznor and Arcade Fire prove what a generous person he was with his time and talent. That shows that he had character and didn't just play one on stage.

It is perhaps the destiny of David Bowie to leave this world but still remain among us as one of our pop culture muses who will always grant the gift of musical magic to those that truly seek it. As sorry as it is to see him go, David Bowie has certainly earned his final bow upon our stage and as much as we would love an encore, his rest from that is well deserved:

Monday, January 11, 2016

Booking a look at the teen cinematic scene for the Movie Trailer Park

As we begin the midwinter movie season, one genre that gets catered to at this time(right into early spring) is the teen book adaptation. While it's supposed to be for young adults,  it's no secret that plenty of us grown folk read these stories or at the very least watch the films with just as much interest as they do.

No need to pretend otherwise, not to mention that sometimes, they're way entertaining that what's meant for "adults", so let's take a gander at what's due at the multiplex for that PG-13 audience:

THE 5th WAVE: Based on the first of three books by Rick Yancey, Chloe Grace Morentz plays Cassie, a young women whose regular life has vanished thanks to an alien invasion that has stripped humanity down to it's bare essentials. Hoping to rescue her younger brother from a camp controlled by "the Others", Cassie joins up with Evan, a local rebel planning to fight back as best he can.

This sounds like a welcome change from the standard dystopian fare that we've been getting for this audience and having Hit Girl take on some space invaders could be a lot of angsty fun. Not to mention having another female focused sci-fi drama to engage with now that The Hunger Games are finished, in my opinion, all signs point to positive box office numbers for this film:

DIVERGENT:ALLEGIANT: Speaking of the usual genre fare, we do have the last chapter of Veronica Roth's series to look forward to, divided into two films. In this beginning of the end, Tris and company find out what is beyond the wall that's isolated their city for so long and discover that things may be even worse than they imagined.

I do like this story and willing to check out the conclusion but I do think it's safe to say that the gloomy futuristic teen tales could take a break both from the bookshelves and the movie screens there. If a great story in this vein is still out there, fine, but it is getting to be worn out around the edges:

 THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS: For something completely different, we have an adaptation of Katherine Paterson's award winning novel about a defiant girl in foster care who comes to love the family she's with just as her biological family comes to claim her.

The adult cast has plenty of star power, with Kathy Bates playing Trotter, Danny Glover as Mr. Randolph and Octavia Spencer as Gilly's teacher Miss Harris. I do dimly recall a made for television version of the book but that was quite a long while ago.

The book itself, I've read several times during my youth and it was a good story well told but I do wonder if this version has some modern day updates. I'm not too sure about how that might alter the plot points but glad to see Gilly get the big screen spotlight here:

PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES: Yes, I know, this isn't technically a "teen" movie but it is a universal truth that any feature film focused on fighting the living dead will draw a decidedly youthful audience to attend it.

Between teens who like Jane Austen and the ones that dig zombies, this could be their Reese's  Regency peanut butter cup of  gruesome delights. Seth Grahame-Smith's monster mash-up of P&P did invite newcomers to the Austen ranks and this movie certainly promises to create a fresh dose of Janeite buzz for a little while at least.

All I'm saying is don't count this one out just yet, especially since Lily James has escaped Downton Abbey to be our kickass Lizzie Bennet:

All in all, the teen book to screen scene should be entertaining for more than one audience but regardless of age, it'll be most helpful not to drop any book spoilers for the non readers in the crowd. Wait until the closing credits to get into any discussion about how this and that was changed from the book or no one will want to watch anything with you in the film going future:

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Celebrating an After Holiday Book Haul

As much fun as it is to get presents(and give them) during the holiday season, it can be even more enjoyable to treat yourself to a sweet little spending spree during the seasonal shopping aftermath, especially if you have a gift card or two to burn.

Thanks to a nice gift card that I got in my holiday stocking, I was able to make my biggest purchase at Better World Books to date; six books and a DVD! I had no idea that they sold movies as well, such a nice surprise. My multimedia haul arrived this morning and it is truly a great way to begin your day by having a beautiful box of books to open up:

YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE: This Herman Wouk novel is said to be based on the rise and fall of author Thomas Wolfe, as it chronicles the instant literary success of the title character as he is wined and dined by both New York and Hollywood upon the release of his debut novel.

I've read Wouk before but this is one of his big books that I haven't gotten into (along with Marjorie Morningstar) and would really like to. There is a small following for this book as a small indie rock band is named after it and there was a film adaptation made in 1964, starring James Franciscus with Suzanne Pleshette as his leading lady.  It might be hard to find the movie but at least I have the book on hand to indulge myself in:

 BECOMING JANE: I chose quite a few writer themed books in this buying bout(included two Hemingway related titles) and the one movie I added in follows along those lines as well.

Granted, I know that Becoming Jane is far from an accurate portrayal of Miss Austen( the made for TV BBC film, Miss Austen Regrets is superior in that regard and I do have that one in my cinematic library).

However, Anne Hathaway does give a good performance as Our Dear Jane and her onscreen chemistry with co-star James McAvoy as Tom LeFroy is suitably sparkling. Yes, there is a blending in of Pride and Prejudice in the story line that is completely unnecessary and true, Austen never meet Anne Radcliffe, as they do here, but there are moments of sweet romance and times that Hathaway channels a bit of that sparkling Austen wit that we all know and love, so it is totally worth while to include Becoming Jane to the English Lit section of my DVD collection:

AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST: For something rather different, I went with the novel that Iain Pears first become notable for, this elaborate murder mystery set in 17th century Oxford, England around the death of a collegiate don.

The story is told from four differing viewpoints, each of which could be an unreliable narrator,  all of whom have different reasons for being involved in this case yet their sleuthing can not prevent  an innocent party being sentenced for the crime, or so it seems.

 Since I do have an advance copy of Pears' upcoming new novel Arcadia, this felt like a good time to try Instance as well. When it came out in 1997, the book was favorably compared to The Name of the Rose, another scholarly mystery that I recall well, so this should be an entertaining challenge to engage with:

A DOUBLE DOSE OF KATE MORTON:  Having nearly finished The House at Rivington, I am eager for more of Morton's solid story telling magic and was happy to gain two more of her titles for this haul.

The Distant Hours is centered around the finding of a long lost letter from one of three odd sisters living at Midlerhurst Castle during WWII. Edie, a London book editor, is surprised to learn that her mother Meredith stayed there as an evacuee during the war and even more so at her reaction to finally receiving that letter.

Turns out that there were a number of strange goings-on during Meredith's time at Midlerhurst, including the disappearance of a young soldier who was engaged to one of the daughters of the household. This story promises to be out and out Gothic, in the best sense of the term, and should be a wicked blast to read:

The Secret Keeper promises to be just as enthralling, with it's leading lady Laurel having witnessed a shocking crime in her youth that still haunts her to this day. Upon returning home fifty years later for a family celebration, Laurel is determined to discover the real truth behind what she saw back then and to learn more about the people from her mother's past who were part of it all.

I also have Morton's The Forgotten Garden(which I picked up elsewhere) and should be rather sated with her works until her newest one, The Lake House, arrives in paperback. In the meanwhile, I will be happily completing The House at Rivington in order to dive into another one of Ms. Morton's page turning delights:

Starting a new year with new books(even if they're old) is great but as they say, waiting was the hardest part. As convenient as it is to buy books online, keeping an eye out for the mail to drop off your literary goodies is something that all the advanced technology can't erase.

Not even drone deliveries will ease that special book lover's tension, it will probably add some new ones to the mix! Regardless, I am happy to have my books arrive safe and sound to snuggle on a shelf until their time comes to be read. Some things are definitely worth a little bit of wait worry: