Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bad Movie Month hopes to See No Evil the next time around

For our not-so-grand finale in Bad Movie Month's Wrestle Movie Mania, we have the horror of seeing Kane in his deadly debut slasher flick, See No Evil. The best thing that I can say about this film right from the start is that it's less than ninety minutes(and not even a full hour and a half to boot) long.

You don't really see Kane until the first half hour but he does make his presence known during the opening credits, which have the charmingly gritty look of a Tool video. This sad story begins with two cops checking out a disturbance report at a creepy house that's blaring creepy children's choir music and things go from bad to worse.

Sure, violence is to be expected but the arm amputation that happens in the first five minutes looks so fake that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they used a prop from Spencer's Gifts there. Plus, the swooping close up shot into the first of many severed eye sockets made me wonder if someone intended to make this a 3-D film:

 Cut to four years later and surviving one armed cop Frank(Steven Vidler) and his partner Hannah(Tiffany Lamb) are leading a co-ed group of juvie hall kids into an abandoned hotel to do a little clean-up work.

This "volunteer" service is supposed to shave some time off of their sentences but given how wary of lawsuits most people dealing with kids are these days(which one of the few adults present even mentions!), this is too farfetched even for a cheesy horror movie like this. Not to mention having just Frank and Hannah as supervisors. Yes, because you only need two adults, along with a a little too nice granny type, to handle eight teenagers with criminal tendencies for a weekend,sure!

 Naturally, the teens wander off to make their drama like Kira(Samantha Noble) who is worried about one of the guys,Michael(Luke Pegler) as she turned on him during their drug dealing past. Later on, Kira has a lot more to worry about as Kane's psycho killer character becomes fixated on her and her religious tattoos. Backstory is hinted at for most of these characters but hardily developed as the killing spree begins:

Kane's killer is named Jacob Goodnight and in flashbacks, we see that he was tortured by a religious zealot of a maternal figure into becoming "the hand of God". Yep, it's that type of lazy connect the dots story telling that we get here, folks.

The whole movie is pretty pointless and dull,with story line set-ups that go nowhere. Remember Frank, the cop from the opening credits? Sure, he suddenly recalls the murderous lug that got away from him as the bodies start piling up but is there a big showdown between him and Kane? Nope! He gets hooked in the head quickly in order to spend more time on the frightened teens.

  Does Christine(Christina Vidal),who Frank said was unjustly convicted for fighting back against her stepdad become the big hero that saves the day? No, not really-she does lead the charge to rescue Kira but her Final Girl moments are stepped on by Michael, who happens to have a piece of bathroom pipe on hand for fighting.

Mostly, this movie is an exercise in grungy-gross set pieces and gory chase scenes. Even for fans of gross-out horror, this can get really boring real fast.

Kane is mostly mute during the film and watching his tormented facial expressions is almost worse than than his preferred methods of dispatching his victims, which include a grappling hook and chain, an ax and his grimy Lee press on nails to pluck out eyeballs. He doesn't make for an interesting villain at all and yet, this boringly gruesome movie managed to get a sequel. Granted, it's a direct-to-video feature but surprisingly, it got better reviews than the first one:

Well, the bell has rung for Bad Movie Month this year and much thanks to everyone who checked in and spread the good word about this cinematic slam-fest.  I also want to thank my sister Stephanie for her participation. Not only was this experience a fun sibling bonding time, I got to learn so many things such as the true significance of May 19:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Taking a trip to Paris in the fall with a paperback passport

With summer soon to be finished, there's no better time to begin planning your fall reading list. I tend to set mine up in categories and for this autumn, one of those happens to be Paris Paperbacks, novels that take place in that fabled city that will also be available in softcover this season.

One of those literary travel stops will be The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman,(Sept 6) which is loosely based upon a true story. During the 1930s, a retired courtesan named Mathe de Florian shared an elaborately furnished apartment in Paris with her granddaughter Solange.

 As the threat of WWII drew near, Solange has to help close up the apartment(which remained sealed up for several decades) and arrange for safe passage for herself and her grandmother, all the while leaving behind her own dreams and hopes behind. Yet, learning more about Mathe's past made some of the hard choices handed to her easier to bear.

Since the story showcases both Mathe's amazing past and Solange's present day circumstances, it's like getting two books for the price of one. A bit Moulin Rouge with a touch of Casablanca, this intriguing tale promises to display true romance in the best sense of the term:

Another new novel coming out around the same time also highlights a mysterious past connection in Paris. In Juliet Blackwell's Letters From Paris,  an American woman, Claire Boussard, honors a last request from her Louisiana grandma as she searches for the story behind a specially made mask.

Claire finds the Parisian shop that originally created the mask and winds up working there as a translator for English speaking clients. As time goes on, she learns more about the young model who may have been the model for the mask, a mysterious woman named Sabine who rose to fame during the 1890s.

That may not be the only link to the past that she has to follow, with Claire also discovering that the family of the current owner of the mask studio,Armand, has had run-ins with her relations over the years as well.  With so many signs pointing in a certain direction, is this the fate that Claire is meant to have or to avoid repeating the mistakes of those who went before her?

A good portion of the book reveals Sabine's life and times in the Belle Epoque period, which I think will provide a scrumptious yet solid savory story sauce that will simmer the modern day elements together nicely. Really looking forward to this stylish yet heartfelt tale:

Now, Jenny Colgan's The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris has been around for awhile in paperback but it will be a new read to me.

Also, no three course meal would be complete without dessert and this novel sounds like a real sweet treat. Anna Trent is injured during her work as a supervisor at an American chocolate factory but thanks to a chance encounter with Claire, her former French teacher, she gets an opportunity to see Paris.

While there, she manages to get a job with one of the top gourmet chocolate creators in the city, hoping not to be exposed as a fraud. As Anna learns the true art of chocolate while falling in love with the owner's son Laurent, Claire makes her own journey to Paris in order to tie up some loose ends.

Those loose ends include a former romance which has an unexpected connection to Anna's current love life. Will this reunion of friends old and new be a sweet or salty affair? I've heard great things about Colgan's tasty tales and this charming box of chocolates seems a fine place to start:

 Things do get more busy in the fall, so taking an armchair trip to Paris might be the perfect refuge from the upcoming hustle and bustle of the season. Plus, the best part of any vacation is sharing your stories about it with friends later, so why not skip right to that part? Not to mention that a book is the best souvenir of all:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bad Movie Month feels Stone Cold about The Condemned

For this round of Wrestle Movie Mania on Bad Movie Month, my sister needed to take a break, which is fine since this particular entry is rather grim.

I still thought of her as I watched The Condemned as much of the dialogue,along with starring WWE former champion Steve "Stone Cold" Austin's performance, reminded me strongly of some of those Longmont Potion Castle prank call bits that she's played for me.

The title of the movie is also the title of the so-called "reality show" that media millionaire Ian Breckel(Robert Mammone) sets up on a remote island where death row criminals from around the world are meant to fight to the death in order to entertain the online subscribers of this brutal broadcast. Austin's character, Jack Conrad, is a last minute recruit who happens to be a secret good guy.

 How do we know he's a secret good guy? Well, when Jack is first seen in this story, he happens to have a pet mouse in his crowded prison cell-how very Green Mile of him!:

As the film goes along, we learn that Jack is really a former Special Forces soldier who still does secret missions for our government. He happened to be caught during his latest one and sticking to his false ID in a South American jail when this little opportunity came along.

Jack also tries not to kill anyone who doesn't deserve it, as well as contact the love of his life awaiting him in the US who happens to be contacted by a thoughtful federal agent in return. All of this is supposed to make Jack the big hero and sympathetic, which is fine but Austin's acting abilities are rather limited and this thin string of circumstances makes him no more than an oversized action figure here.

I remember watching Austin during the height of his fame and trust me when I say that his monotone cadence is no different than when he was in the ring or later in his career hosting Broken Skull Challenge. Other than being able to say a few swear words uncensored, he's about the same as he ever was:

Granted, the movie does have some decent fight scenes and can be watchable but what really brings the whole tone crashing down are the big "Oh,look what we're doing, this is SO bad!" moments.

Sure, even an exploitation flick can have moments of reflection and make a little savvy social commentary at times. However, those sequences in The Condemned are loudly announced and done several times without significant plot or character development.

For example, the media staff of Evil Media Millionaire gets especially queasy when one of the main bad guy contestants is attacking a husband and wife team(to be fair, the more disturbing parts are implied rather than shown). However, for all their bitching and moaning, no one, not even Evil MM's regretful girlfriend, makes a move to halt the proceedings. This is repeated later, with again no one doing anything that alters the plot in any meaningful fashion.

Later, when Jack's girlfriend and their buddies at the local bar get to cheer their man on as he takes down a really nasty opponent, a newscaster takes a beat(after airing her interview with EMM) to lecture everyone about how horrible it is that everyone is watching this show in the first place.

 Look, if you're going to serve me up a plate of greasy cheese fries, don't dump a batch of baked quinoa on top to make yourself feel better. It only makes the whole thing more tasteless.

One thing that I will list as a positive for this movie is Vinnie Jones as McStarley, a truly vicious contender who eagerly puts on the best show he can. Along with EMM, he's the big villain of the story and plays his part well.

 He teams up with another contender(Masa Yamguchi, who is given no lines and no personality other than liking to wear sunglasses) and quickly targets Jack as a possible ally or enemy. Of course, they become foes and have a big showdown or two before the end credits roll.

 Towards the end of the movie(which feels longer than two hours), McStarley does turn on EMM and company, which is probably why none of them did try to redeem themselves early on there, I suppose.  At least Jones does give his all to the part and to his credit, does more than just earn a paycheck here:

Out of all of the movies that I've seen for this session of Bad Movie Month, The Condemned is not the worst of the bunch but it is blandly boilerplate with dashes of salty sleaze oozing between the cracked plot points.

Well, all good and bad things must come to an end, so before Labor Day weekend, we will be showcasing what may be the truly rotten apple in our Wrestle Movie Mania barrel, See No Evil.

This hackneyed horror film stars Kane as a brooding slasher stalking a typical group of dumb as a doorknob teenagers in an abandoned hotel. Oddly enough, I may take a brief break from this schlock to check out Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That at least is a different brand of cinematic train wreck:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Getting Gilmore Girls ready for Sept/Oct new reads

We have a small window of time left for summer, which means that the major focus for the upcoming pop culture season will be aligned with the one major event that's part of the real world as well.

Yes, I'm talking about the return of Gilmore Girls, via Netflix, and even if you can't watch it on it's official premiere date of November 25(hey, at least it's not June 3!), getting into the Gilmore spirit is as easy as walking into your favorite bookstore.

There are plenty of new titles ready to start your autumn off right and let's see on whose TBR in Stars Hollow that some of these September and October releases would be happily be waiting:

LOVE AND LAUGHS FOR LORELAI:  The reading tastes of Lorelai are a bit more pop culture inclined than Rory's, not to mention she has a fondness for celebrity memoirs.

With that in mind, I think that Jennifer Weiner's Hungry Heart would be nestled right beside the remote control at a certain house in Stars Hollow. The subtitle of this collection of autobiographical essays is "Adventures in Life, Love and Writing" as Weiner chronicles her experiences with changing family dynamics in her childhood, learning the craft of writing and dealing with society's attitudes about women of size.

Weiner's novels are a longtime favorite with me and no doubt her real life stories are just as engaging and heartwarming, with humorous notes when needed. I'm pretty sure that Lorelai would relate to her works, not to mention watch and live tweet the Bachelor right along with her at times(October):

 LITERARY AND LITE FOR RORY: You could make up numerous lists for Rory's reading but let's stick to a pair of books that would showcase both sides of her nature. For example, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett sounds right up her bookish alley.

The story is centered around the Keating family and daughter Franny in particular, as a long ago mishap at a wedding is turned into the plot of her husband's new novel. This does not go over well with the rest of her siblings, especially when the movie version comes out.

I haven't read Patchett myself but plan to check this one out(along with Bel Canto) and seeing as how her love of literature has lead the author to open her own bookstore, it's a sure bet that Rory would not only pick up this book but take a trip to Parnassus Books for some browsing time as well(September):

Speaking of bookstores, it would be hard for a bibliophile like Rory not to stop and take a look at Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner. 

The literary leading lady of this story is Nina, an English librarian looking to fulfill her dreams of  owning a small book store. Since her job has been downsized and money is tight, she loads up a bookmobile with discarded library books and takes to the road.

Nina's travels take her as far as Scotland, where she finds a number of new friends eager for good books and perhaps a chance to find her own happily ever after. Such a charming bookish romance sounds like pure catnip for Rory, as well as her fellow book lovers who enjoy a little page turning charm every now and then(Sept):

 SOME GRAND AND GRACIOUS READS FOR EMILY: We must not forget Emily Gilmore, who did find time in her busy schedule to enjoy some fine fiction. I do recall that she had a fondness for old world Russian style, so  Amor Towles' upcoming novel A Gentleman In Moscow seems to be tailor made for her.

Towles follows up his highly praised debut novel Rules of Civility with the fictional plight of Count Rostov, who is starting a long imprisonment in 1922 at the Metropol hotel ,due to his "crime" of writing a supposedly subversive poem back in his college days. The Metropol happens to be right across from the Kremlin, which makes any urge to escape all the more daunting.

As the years pass, Rostov learns to make helpful friends who help him to deal with enemies on the staff such as the Bishop, a waiter eager for advancement by any means. When one of Rostov's long time friends has need of his aid, a risk must be taken in order to live up to his true self worth. Not only would Emily Gilmore love this book, she would pass it on to Rory as well(Sept 6):

Another new work of historical fiction that Emily might enjoy, The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies takes place in Ceylon as newlywed Gwen joins her husband Laurence Hooper at his vast tea plantation.

While her reception from Laurence is cooler than she anticipated, Gwen soon finds the attention she seeks from Savi, a local artist. In addition to that, a variety of secrets and lies surrounding Laurence's first marriage, along with how the native workers are being treated, causes Gwen to resort to a few hidden indiscretions herself.

This blend of mystery, history and romance has that particular flavor that Emily Gilmore and other readers of this genre would consider to be their perfect cup of story telling tea indeed(Sept): 

TRUE GRIT FOR PARIS GELLER: It's time to check out a couple of not directly related members of the Gilmore circle and Paris Geller would be rather peeved at not being selected first in that category.

Since she matches Rory in reading intensity but had rather time consuming career plans since we last saw her, a short yet sharply written novel would be a good choice for her. Not to mention that I think she'd appreciate the marvelous brevity and style of Paulette Jiles' News of the World.

Set in 1870, a former military vet named Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living these days by traveling to remote towns and reading newspapers aloud to the isolated locals. At a stop in Wichita, he is paid fifty dollars in gold to take  Joanna Leonberger, a former captive of the Kiowa tribe, to the home of her nearest relatives in San Antonio.

Captain Kidd is less than thrilled with the job, the one thing that he and Joanna agree upon. Nevertheless, they set out together and form a bond of reluctant friendship as they face various difficulties on their journey, which is something that I do think that Paris would really relate to in more ways than one(Oct):

 SMART AND SCARY FOR JESS: Both as a troubled teen and as an indie writer adult, Jess Mariano was always the most literary minded of Rory's boyfriends(and the best of the bunch,imo, but that's another topic for another time).

Due to his interest in off the beaten track lit, Jess would certainly appreciate Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and probably have read her first supernaturally themed novel Signal to Noise to boot.

The theme here is vampires, as street kid Domingo is scraping by in Mexico City when he is claimed by the beautiful Atl, an ancient blood drinker on the run from a vicious gang of narco-vamps. Her plan is to escape to South America, ready to dispose of Domingo as soon as he's no longer of use but Atl finds herself feeling connected to him. Pursuing them both,along with the vampire gangs, is policewoman Ana, who is wondering just what the hell she has stepped in.

Creative, entertaining and sinister smart, Jess would insist that Rory read this as well. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a new spin on an old legend, Certain Dark Things promises to be an ideal Halloween treat(Oct): 

Well, this is certainly a good start for the Gilmore set and if you have any suggestions as to what any of the GG characters would love to read this year, feel free to comment below. As they say, there's never too many books unless you're trying to pack them all in Rory's backpack, that is:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bad Movie Month gets on the bus with The Chaperone

As Wrestle Movie Mania continues on Bad Movie Month, I have to ask"Why is it that when pro wrestlers become actors, they sign on for action flicks or family friendly films? And which is worse?"

Well, it is easy to understand their preference for action movies but the wholesome,"I'm just a big guy with a soft heart" genre can be quite stomach churning at times. Case in point, our latest feature film focus which is The Chaperone starring Paul "Triple H" Lesvesque. Yes, he is listed that way in the credits but let's just call him Triple H for now.

He plays Ray "Ray-Ray" Bradstone, an ex-con looking to make good with his ex-wife Lynne(Annabeth Gish, who looks annoyed at just being in this movie every second) and teen daughter Sally(Ariel Winter, of Modern Family fame). Granted, the guy is surprised to see that his daughter is not the little girl he still remembers but saying to her "You take my breath away" is a tad creepy upon such a reunion.

Ray's evidence of being a changed man includes taking advice from a radio shrink who resembles a low budget Kathy Bates and insisting that he's not to be called "Ray-Ray" anymore-"I'm Just Plain Ray!" You could play a drinking game with the number of times that either he or anyone else in this movie calls him that.

My sister found that Just Plain Ray sounded like a John Steinbeck character, which is a fair call, only there would be far better writing if even a distant second cousin of Steinbeck's was involved with this script.

 The paint by the numbers story here has Ray finagling his way into being a chaperone on Sally's upcoming school trip while also signing up for a bank robbery with a former partner in crime who set up him to go to jail in the first place.

 At the last moment, Ray walks away from his part as the wheel man to join in the field trip, which is made all the easier due to the robbery taking place less than a block away from the awaiting bus of kids! Naturally, his no nonsense approach to dealing with rowdy young people works like a charm(the kind of charm that can get you sued by angry parents, that is):

Ray goes between the two main story lines in this film with all of the subtle grace of an elephant dancing with a rhino in a china plate shop.

One has him attempting to bond with Sally while impressing her class mates and school official in charge(Yeardley Smith, who makes some really goofy faces at times) and the other avoiding his criminal cohorts, who are chasing him since the loot from the robbery happened to wind up with the luggage on the bus. Yeah, as sharp as cheddar cheese are the plot points here.

Getting back to plot A, Ray turns out to be a great tour guide at the dinosaur museum the class goes to, since they just happened to run out of docents to take the kids along(this is the actual reason given, I swear). Luckily, Ray happened to read up on dinosaurs while in prison and is as knowledgeable as any Jurassic Park sequel:

As Plot A and Plot B began to merge, my sister claimed that this movie was turning into "The Disney Channel version of Ray Donovan" and since she's seen more episodes of that series than me, I'll take her word for it.

Not only is the lead named Ray but at some point, Sally is swept up into the almost illegal hi-jinks, with some of her class mates forming an impromptu rescue team when her dad is captured by the bad guys.  A bit of mixed messaging here, as Ray does lead his daughter into a bit of criminal behavior that includes stealing the school tour bus but, hey, it was all in a good cause, right?

While I don't think a judge would buy that, the movie does end with everybody loving Just Plain Ray including his ex-wife who avoids getting a marriage proposal by a safe but dull doctor(Enrico Colantoni, who does the bare minimum of scenes in order to cash his paycheck here). Hopefully, she can tolerate the bland speechifying and hackneyed advice that Ray loves to deliver to anyone within earshot. His pearls of wisdom are more like clumps of cliches that grate on your nerves:

As to the question I started this entry with, it's my conclusion that pro wrestlers turned actors should perhaps stick more to the former than the latter, at first there at least. As Elvis once sang "a little less conversation, a little more action.please."

To that end, our next Wrestle Movie Mania feature will be The Condemned starring "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. If there is any mercy from the cinematic gods, that title will not be meant for the audience that watches this variation on The Most Dangerous Game.

 On the possible bright side, Vinnie Jones is also included in the cast and he's quite the juggernaut, bitch!:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sad to see the lights being turned out so soon for The Nightly Show

Many of us were taken by surprise yesterday, as word got out that Comedy Central had abruptly decided to cancel The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, making this week the last one for the late night series.

The network claimed that low ratings and lack of social media presence are the reasons for this but I have my doubts about that. Only a few months ago, Wilmore introduced POTUS at the White House Correspondence Dinner, a major honor that did make headlines.I think you have to be pretty well known to be chosen for such an event there.

 I also find it hard to believe that given all of the coverage that the show did on the election and especially Trump(in a segment known as "The UnBlackening") that TNS didn't have numerous fans or social media status.

However, what's done is done and here is my tribute to some of the best moments on TNS(granted, these clips might not be around for long but I did want to say goodbye somehow):

COSBY RAP: TNS and Larry Wilmore in particular took on Bill Cosby's repeated denials of wrongdoing as the charges of sexual assault against women grew into the double digits.

When at last a deposition was released that had Cosby admitting his free and easy use of Quaaludes for cocktail mixing, TNS regular Holly Walker chose to express her feelings about that in song. She deliberately chose a genre that he's known to hate just to add more fuel to her righteous fire:

THE Y FILES: One of my favorite correspondents on TNS is Mike Yard, who brings a down to earth tone to his hilarious rants. Some of his best bits include the mock debates on the "Pardon the Integration" skits or his most recent reoccurring sketches that poke fun at conspiracy theorists.

Called "The Y Files", Yard has had interesting takes on such topics as the NBA finals, Angry Birds and the current Pokemon Go craze, all of which do make for fine farcical fun:

HASHING IT OUT: One of the newest members of TNS roster is Franchesca Ramsey, who had a solid online presence before being part of the show. Eventually, she was granted a segment called "Hash It Out", where she took on many of the internet controversies and media nonsense going on along the tweets.

Ramsey rightly called out a good number of pompous fools such as Pierce Morgan(for his comments regarding Beyonce's Lemonade), Kayne West(for the creepy nature of his "Famous" music video) and Bill O'Reilly, who felt the need to clarify Michelle Obama's DNC speech regarding who actually built the White House. Franchesca, I am most sorry to see you go this soon but I have no doubt that you will be back on our screens sooner than expected:

DEFYING GRAVITY: Larry Wilmore has often championed science on TNS, with features about the space program and guests like Bill Nye. When rapper B.o.B insisted upon having a feud with renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Larry gave the latter a chance to have the truly final word on that dispute, with a mike drop for good measure:

There are so many more things I could highlight, such as Grace Parra's "Nightly,Nightly!" attempts to get all Entertainment Tonight, the panel discussions, those "Keep it 100" questions. *Sigh* So many great things on this show, it's still hard to fathom why it has to be shown the door so suddenly.

Why, Comedy Central, did you have to pull the plug before November? Given all of the evolving coverage that TNS has done on the election, having Larry and friends be on hand for the end results should have been a well earned comic victory. Sure, The Daily Show will do a good job(as they have been with Trevor Noah on board) but it won't be the same without The Nightly Show by their side.

So, with that said, best wishes to Larry Wilmore and company in their future projects. We will all miss you and think of you come Election Night, where I and the rest of us hope you have the last laugh on the media madness you've managed to make sense of this year:

Monday, August 15, 2016

A pair of literary lifeboats to help you sail through Droughtlander

With the dog days of summer barking down at us, it's hard enough to get through this lull in the pop culture season without longing for the new season of Outlander to come along.

Fortunately, I've come across a couple of books that make the waiting time that more bearable and then some. The first is a novel by kc dyer(she prefers lowercase letters for her name) called Finding Fraser. The leading lady of this story is a modern day gal,Emma Sheridan, who decides to make a bold life choice by selling all that she owns to fund a trip to Scotland.

The goal of her quest,not to mention the blog she's set up to chronicle this adventure, is to see if she can find her own Jamie Fraser, the beloved hero of the Outlander series, as a true soul mate. Emma gets plenty of opposition to this plan from her scarily sensible sister Sophia but those following her blog are eager to cheer her on. With such encouragement, Emma sails forth into the unknown, hoping at least to find a fellow who looks as good in a kilt as Jamie always does:

However, once Emma arrives, things go from awkward to worse. Thanks to a few stumbles and instances of bad luck, she finds herself far from her goals and in need of cash to further along her trip. Plus, finding her Fraser proves to be harder than expected.

At one point, Emma does land on her feet and even manages to hook up with a rugged Scotsman named Hamish. Yet, he may not prove to be her perfect match, as local author Jack Findley keeps popping in and out of Emma's path. Is he meant to be her Fraser or does Emma really need one at all?

The situations that Emma gets into do come close to over the top at times but the good natured quirks of the plot, along with many engaging characters that appeared along the way, keeps the book on a light and even keel. A nice development in Emma 's character is seeing how she falls more deeply in love with Scotland than any man(yes, she does a good bit of romance as well) and it would be fun to see a follow-up where she does return to Scotland and set up shop,so to speak.

Diana Gabaldon herself is a fan of this book, which is quite the ringing endorsement(she has a few cameo moments in the story). If you want a lively romp with a little humor and heart, Finding Fraser should be your golden ticket to Outlandish joy:

I spent a delightful weekend with Finding Fraser and now taking my time with Adoring Outlander, a collection of essays that I won from Library Thing.

Valerie Estelle Frankel edited this set of essays that discuss the success of the Outlander miniseries(Season One only) as well as the growing phenomenon of  the books themselves. Topics include the actual castles seen on the show, how Diana Gabaldon connects with her fans and the issue of genre; is it romance or speculative fiction?

If you haven't read all of the Outlander books, there are spoilers ahead(a couple of the essays deal with the Lord John Grey spin-off series) but if like me, you're willing to take that plunge then this book does have a lot of food for thought to heartily feed any fan. The opening essay alone takes on the history and beauty of Scotland, which the show itself truly writes a love letter to:

No doubt, there are acres of other Scottish themed books to ease through the time between Outlander seasons but I do recommend these two as rather satisfying way stations to relax in.

I would love to hear more suggestions for Outlander themed novels, in order to not only enjoy them but spread the good word about. It's not easy to find the passion,adventure and true romance that Jamie and Claire create on the page(and now the small screen) but such a search for literary love is always worth the taking:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bad Movie Month counts along with 12 Rounds 3 : Lockdown

As Bad Movie Month continues with the theme of Wrestle Movie Mania, my sister chose the debut film of a current WWE champion, namely Dean Ambrose. He was given the dubious honor of closing out a trilogy of action flick known as 12 Rounds, a series first started by crossover star John Cena.

By the time Ambrose was cast in 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown, such a role had the appeal of a worn out sweater handed down among a rather large family. That sort of worked out well here, since he has the acting ability of a hand-me-down sweater.

As my sister likes to point out, Dean Ambrose has a great talent for making goofy faces and the first scene in this movie that he shows up in highlights that perfectly. As his cop character is driving to work, he has a stare down with a punky Justin Bieber guy in the next lane. While the gal sitting next to her poor man's bad boy Bieber seems impressed enough to throw a wink at Ambrose, his attempting to look tough look is as intimidating as a warmed up cheeseburger:

Ambrose plays John Shaw, a cop returning to duty after the death of his rookie partner. On his day back, he notices that something is not quite right about a case that former friend and ex-partner Tyler Burke(Roger Cross) has closed regarding the death of a local drug dealer.

Quickly coming across evidence of Burke's corruption. Shaw begins a one man crusade to take him down which leads to a lockdown of the police station. Ambrose does well enough in the one on one fight scenes that he has but I've heard folks reading off of a teleprompter who sound more natural than he does with any of the dialogue here:

The whole plot of this movie is a dumbed down Training Day meets Die Hard, right down to Shaw patching up his wounds with a paper napkin and scotch tape. If you had a drinking game for the number of tired cliches this film has, you would be wasted before the halfway mark of it's thankfully short running time.

The rest of the actors in this cast do a decent job, particularly Roger Cross as the villain. With even such passable acting, Ambrose's non talent sticks out worse than a sore thumb, combined with his lumbering gait that makes him look like a drunken Frankenstein in motion. He also has the thankless task of counting how many bullets are left in his gun(apparently a gimmick that wears out it's welcome fast).

 My sis did spot a MacGyver-esque moment when Shaw uses a taser to briefly animate a corpse in order to get the gun in it's cold dead hand firing(she laughed so hard that she bit her lip!). That was as close to being original as this story got, believe you me:

Ambrose hasn't made any more movies since then, being busy with his wrestling career at the moment. That's just as well since his current range of skills seem better suited for the small screen and the square ring right now.

Next time on Wrestle Movie Mania, we veer back into alleged family friendly territory with The Chaperone, starring WWE big shot Triple H. His co-stars include a cast member of Modern Family and a well known voice from The Simpsons, plus Veronica Mars' dad, all of whom are clearly working for a pay check with this one.

At least it's not a sequel, that much I can say in it's favor. However, I suspect that in this case, that statement is damning it with faint praise at best:

Monday, August 08, 2016

Taking a look at books that come off the screen and onto shelves

We all know that there are movies and TV shows based on books(not to mention books based on the latter) but what about books within those fictional worlds that come to life in ours?

 It's sort of like that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where a device that transforms a giant candy bar into a televised image that you can pluck off the screen and eat. A little strange, to be sure, but you would want to at least try once for yourself.

Lately, I've been sampling a book from a fictional source(thanks to Blogging for Books) that is quite appetizing so far. No, I haven't seen the movie of it's origin but not due to any of the ridiculous controversy surrounding it. Although, I do like the fact that a book is a key plot point in the new Ghostbusters film and that we get to read it, even a "somewhat updated" version.

Ghosts From Our Past:Both Literally & Figuratively, The Study Of The Paranormal is a lengthy title but when you consider that it's supposed to be an academic guide for think tank folks,that makes the joke click in better. Written by Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates(with real world help from Andrew Shaffer), the leading ladies of the GB team, the book is set up into sections that detail the different types of ghosts you might be dealing with and how to handle them. It has illustrations, a quiz and input from the other members of the team as well.

There's also a section for Erin and Abby to share their first experiences with the supernatural, which I found very entertaining. The quiet humor of Erin's childhood haunting by a mean old lady from next door does draw in some strong sympathy for the character and makes me want to see the movie. I suspect that I would like this book more if I had seen Ghostbusters yet I can say that's a nice way to be introduced to this new take on the familiar scary satire:

This also reminded me of another guide book from a film, although this one was made for TV based. In the second Sharknado movie, one of the characters,April Wexler, was touting her new book about fighting those flying menaces and as it turns out, Andrew Shaffer was also on board as the author there!

How To SURVIVE a SHARKNARDO sounds as subtle as the SyFy channel movies it's based upon yet it might be more amusing that the recent entry in the series, which I happened to see the other week. Some concepts can have limited appeal and need to know when to quit while they're ahead. Since this book came out during the early stages of Sharknado's fame, it probably holds up a little better than most of the guides in this particular genre:

I do have to confess that I've enjoyed reading the Nikki Heat novels from Castle more than watching the last couple of seasons of the show. Don't get me wrong, I love the characters but you could tell that the plot lines to keep tension between Beckett and Castle were getting more stretched out than chewing gum(plus, losing some of that good flavor).

Actually, the books seem to have a life of their own, starting with Heat Wave and several more novels, with a new hardcover due out this fall. Even Nikki Heat's fictional predecessor, Derrick Storm, has had both print and graphic novel versions released with an audience happy to read them.

If you think about it, it's slightly ironic that a TV show based upon a writer needing a new literary muse has created such an iconic character that no longer needs that show to strut her stuff:

Sadly, most of these books don't have enough power to last long outside of their media place of origin. Nevertheless, many fans would want them but some are just not possible to create.

However, that doesn't mean we can't dream about them. Sure, I'd like to read that first novel that made Grady Tripp such a famous author in Wonder Boys but even if Michael Chabon did  write that, it would most likely not live up to the one that exists in my imagination.

Perhaps some things are best left in that fictional country. On the other hand, having something like a Handbook for the Recently Deceased might come in handy someday, you never know:

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Bad Movie Month takes on Three Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain

Welcome to Bad Movie Month and to our theme Wrestle Movie Mania, as we showcase a handful of wrestling superstars trying to shine on the big screen.

We're off to a bit of a late start, due to having some birthday fun with my sis(Happy Birthday again, Steph!) but trust me, our first film is not something to rush right into.

Round One of Wrestle Movie Mania gives us  Hulk Hogan strutting around in an outfit that makes him look like a character out of a MST3K flick in  3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain. Despite his star billing, Hogan is only a supporting player in this fourth sequel to the karate kiddie series who doesn't show up until about twenty minutes into the story.

He plays Dave Dragon, a live action hero for a children's show that happens to be ready for cancellation. Yet, Dave is making his last appearance at the very amusement park that our trio of junior warriors,including a techno-geek girl next door, is planning to spend the day in.

He does take a dramatic pause backstage, looking mournfully at his hairpiece, perhaps as a way of preparing to mourn the rest of his film career. Dave becomes the target of Medusa(Loni Anderson) and her army of henchmen as they take over Mega Mountain in a ransom scheme. Dave is acknowledged by head henchman Lothar(Jim Varney) as "an actor, but he could make trouble for us." Yeah,because it takes one guy in a lame Halloween costume with no weapons to stop a herd of heavily armed bad guys!

 Dave spends a lot of time in this movie being captured and knocked out, particularly by Medusa, who has a makeup job that would terrify Tammy Fay Baker.

 Her wardrobe choices range from a cheesy nun disguise that reminded my sister of the Sisters of Sin that appear at Ghost concerts to a black leather ensemble complete with short shorts, thigh high boots and a whip that she uses to take Dave down at one point.

 She also threatens to make him her "boy toy" which is both scary and nauseating at the same time. That scene came pretty close to upping the PG rating of this movie to PG-13 there, in my opinion.

Fortunately for us, Medusa and Dave mostly have a battle of wits, which means they've both evenly matched in bad puns and cliches. The banter between these two makes any episode of Adam West's Batman sound like Shakespeare:

Most of the movie is your boilerplate '90s Disney Channel set-up; the older boys are getting tired of ninja training with Grandpa and want to goof off with girls during the summer, little brother Tum-Tum still believes in being a fighter and having constant snacks(he's sort of the Theodore of the group if you're using an Alvin and the Chipmunks comparison), you get the picture.

The fighting scenes go from Home Alone antics throughout the amusement park to dull routines that made my sister check her phone apps out of boredom. However, I did find some entertainment value in Jim Varney as Lorthar, who my sis aptly described as looking like an evil John Waters.

Varney does at least commit to his performance as a out and out cornball villain, who stoops low enough to popping a kid's balloon and stealing an ice cream cone from another youngster at the park. He even has a sword fight with older brother Rocky as a girl is tied to the train tracks(okay, roller-coaster tracks but still..) and it's a shame that his mustache isn't long enough to twirl as he sneers wickedly there:

Don't despair,folks-Dave does get his hero moments, just in time to save his TV show, I might add. What a coincidence...not! Well, I guess that was in his contract, along with star billing.

This movie is as subtle as a cinder block with tons of dated references, including Dialing for Dollars and a riff on that old Tombstone pizza ad during Wild West show at Mega Mountain. I know the makers of this dreck weren't planning to make a film for the ages but the staleness of this story becomes more apparent with each pitiful pop culture reminder.

Back to Dave Dragon-I would say that his best hero scene is the one where he helps the boys launch their "instant torpedo" to save the park from a last minute bomb planted by Medusa. Hogan doesn't have to say much, he just swings that huge Mario Brothers wrench that was instantly available to him and saves us all by bringing this movie closer to the end credits:

This was the first 3 Ninjas movie that I've sat through in it's entirety(actually had to watch it twice, the horror, the horror!) and while the earlier entries are probably less lunkheaded that this, I don't think that I've missed out on much by not watching this series.

Well, tune in next time for more Wrestle Movie Mania,folks as we check out the goofy faces that Dean Ambrose makes in 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown. Yes, more sequel madness is on the way but don't worry, there will be a non-sequel or two by the time this schlock ride is over:

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Simmer down with your Suicide Squad goals,fellow fans!

We're on the eve of what could be the biggest comic book movie of the summer and it is to be expected that many of the film critics out there will and already have given their less than favorable opinions on it.

Suicide Squad has a lot to tackle, as it's a late summer release and coming on the heels of the major disappointment that was Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice. Yet, many of us feel that the movie could be to DC what Guardians of the Galaxy was to Marvel around this same time last year; a shot in the dark that paid off handsomely.

However, that good fortune might be held back from Suicide Squad due to a petition asking that the website Rotten Tomatoes be shut down(granted, the petition's author did walk back his position, saying that this was just meant to send a "message" to naysayers).

Going after Rotten Tomatoes,which merely collects the reviews out there and crunches the numbers to judge a movie's critical feedback, is simply a case of attacking the messenger instead of dealing with the actual message:

Don't get me wrong, I am all for this movie doing well at the box office and hope that's it's a fun wild ride for all concerned. However, a petition like this only makes fans appear to be immature and there's enough of that perception of comic book readers and movie goers as it is without adding fuel to that fire.

Instead, it would be smarter to encourage folks to check the movie out on opening weekend and see for themselves. A film like this doesn't need praise from professional critics, it needs fan love and good word of mouth to make it successful.

 Even people who are already inclined to see Suicide Squad might need an extra push since not everyone is on board with the casting(Jared Leto's Joker is something I'm just accepting for the sake of seeing a cool Harley Quinn as Margot Robbie looks to be) for one. And yes, there will probably be changes from the classic depictions of certain characters to deal with but flipping the script is pretty commonplace both in the comics and their film counterparts, so let's chill about that,too:

Instead of dreading another dismal DC Comics flick, let us hope for better things. After all, we do have plenty of solid actors here,including the amazing Viola Davis,the visuals seem fine and a good number of lesser known characters will be introduced to mainstream audiences,gaining some new fans perhaps.

Sure, it would be nice to have a comic book based film get both critic and audience love yet sometimes, you need to make do with what you have and make the best of it. DC Comics has been having more misses than hits in this arena which is due to how the studios have been handling the films rather than the critical response.

Sure , it would be great to have someone like Christopher Nolan back again or even a Michael Mann type of director to set these films on the right artistic course. Maybe we will see that in the future but for now, we need to relax and enjoy the show. I really think that Harley Quinn will be our breakout star and here's hoping that she gets a solo movie out of this: