Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, March 30, 2018

Setting up an edible Easter crime time buffet of books

As the old saying goes, you do learn something everyday and from one of the folks taking part in the upcoming Spring Into Horror readathon(which starts on Easter Sunday), I learned about the Norwegian tradition of paskekrim.

Since the Easter time in Norway is a bit longer than it is in the U.S.(about ten days), one of the big things that people like to do over there as part of the holiday fun is read crime fiction. From classic Agatha Christie to modern day thrillers, murder mysteries are an essential element of the spring time entertainment; even the TV stations show marathons of British mystery shows!

That inspired more than one of the TBRs that my fellow Spring Into Horror reading friends have put together, as well as this write-up featuring foodie mystery series. After all, whether you're celebrating Easter,Passover or any other holiday this season, food is a key ingredient and curling up with a cozy mystery that happens to whet your appetite and your imagination is a bountiful bonus:

DIANE MOTT DAVIDSON: The reigning queen in this category, DMD has seventeen novels and counting in her culinary crime fighting series, along with tasty recipes tucked within.

The leading lady of her books is Goldy Schulz(aka Goldy Bear), a divorced mom who started up a catering business in Colorado and manages to do well despite running into dead bodies in between gigs.

 Her books boast a tasty sense of wit and whimsy, especially with titles such as Catering to Nobody, Dying for Chocolate, The Cereal Murders and Crunch Time. I know from my bookselling days that DMD has a strong fan following and for good reason-with recipes as smartly crafted as her plots, her savory stories are worth the creative cooking time for:

JOANNE FLUKE: While she has written books under different names and in different genres(romance,YA thrillers), Joanne Fluke's most popular work has been her Hannah Swenson stories.

Hannah is a baker with a shop called The Cookie Jar who can't help avoiding strange disappearances and murder cases as she strives to make her culinary dreams come true. The titles of her books alone could fill a pastry display as the murder cases include Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cherry Cheesecake, Fudge Cupcake and Blackberry Pie.

Fluke's Hannah Swenson books have even been adapted into Hallmark Channel movies(known as Murder She Baked) and the author is even known to make batches of chocolate chip cookies for her fans. How could you resist something as literally sweet as that?:

 ELLIE ALEXANDER: One of newer authors on the scene, she likes to add a bit of Shakespearean flair to her books starting with her leading lady named Juliet Montaque Capshaw.

Juliet(who prefers to be called Jules) has returned home to Ashland,Oregon upon graduating culinary school in order to help her mom run their small town bakery,Torte. While getting over a failed romance and perhaps finding a new love, Jules also discovers that she has a talent for solving murders as well as making souffles.

I love the punny flavor of her titles: Meet Your Baker, Caught Bread Handed, On Thin Icing and Till Death Do Us Tart. What can I say, I'm a sucker for foodie wit:

CLEO COYLE: After reading about all of this perilous pastry, what sounds better than a nice cup of coffee? Granted, I'm a tea drinker but still....

 Cleo Coyle(the pen name of husband and wife team Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini) has poured out seventeen cups of well brewed mysteries set in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. Said coffeehouse is run by Claire Cosi, formerly a housewife from New Jersey.

Wanting to reclaim her past life, Claire takes a job as manager at The Village Blend despite having her ex-mother-in-law as her boss.

While dealing with the offbeat staff and even more offbeat regulars, she stumbles across a murder or two during brewing sessions. This certainly feels like a series that you would read during a Gilmore Girls marathon, if you ask me:

I wish you all a Happy Easter and Passover and even if you're not joining in the Spring Into Horror reading party, do give yourself the gift of time to enjoy some fabulous foodie mysteries. At the very least, you should be able to check out those Murder She Baked movies,which sound like a real sweet treat to suspensefully savor:

Monday, March 26, 2018

Are you ready for Ready Player One?

One of the most anticipated book to screen adaptations of the year for many is Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline's debut novel, set in a not too distant future where the only good life for anyone is found online.

That hidden paradise is called OASIS,with free access to all, something major corporations would like to stop. Complete control over the OASIS can only be had by the one person online that can find the trio of hidden keys and clues that deceased creator James Halliday has placed within this world of wonders.

Our hero Wade Watts is a young man whose impoverished life motivates him to track down Halliday's keys as thoroughly as possible, right along side the numerous "gunters"(egg hunters) out there. When one day he comes across that first key, Wade's whole world changes and his quest may change one than one realm of reality.

I fondly remember reading this book back in 2011, enjoying the creative thrill ride that Cline was giving us, which had plenty of 80's nostalgia playing a key part in the background of the OASIS, not to mention providing vital clues for Wade and company. It was the kind of story that did seem to be impossible to become a movie, given the various copyrights involved, which was part of the fun of it:

However, having Steven Spielberg take on this book did help quite a bit in getting RPO to the big screen. After all, some of his own works were referenced(but will not be in the film) and this particular type of pop culture tale is pretty much center square in his cinematic ball park.

I know that there is a bit of backlash already, even before the movie has arrived in theaters later this week. Some are less than thrilled with the book's writing style, others simply see this as geek fan fare.

Well, as someone who is clearly not perceived as the target audience, I think you might be surprised at what's underneath the surface of the initial story if you truly give it a chance. If not, that's fine but do keep in mind that if this adaptation does well, it might open the door for other books in this genre to get some serious Hollywood attention.

For example, I would love to see Holly Jennings' Arena novels as films. The first novel is set in 2054, where online sports teams are big business but the toll of competition hits the players hard.

Kali Ling, one of the first female competitors to lead her own team(due to the unexpected death of their captain) is placed under severe stress as the pressure to make the finals of the acclaimed RAGE tournament increasingly mounts.

With the help of a new player, Kali is able to create a steady center for herself and use that new found courage to rebel against the secrets and lies that the team manager has forced them all to live with.

The second book in the series,Gauntlet, has Kali running her own company and having to deal with the pressures of management along with game play.

What looks like an opportunity for a wider audience,however, turns out to be a trap. Offered the chance to try out a newer version of immersion pods that are essential for competition, Kali discovers that this advanced tech is able to tap into the minds of her teammates, using their biggest fears as challenges during the tournament.

How to fight back without being pushed out of the gaming world is the real game that she has to play and in this arena, there's no do-over. These books are smart and savvy entertainments that would make for great fun on film, if only given that green light that could be lit by a prior blockbuster movie:

 Granted, this is stretching things a bit but I do believe that the possible success of RPO could also lead to more small screen/streaming adaptations as well.

 Even acclaimed author Neal Stephenson has said that his own books would be best served in miniseries format and I know that his legion of fans would love to have even just the Baroque Cycle series of novels in live action form.

Sure, Westworld is doing well as a series and I'm looking forward to seeing the new HBO remake of Fahrenheit 451. Yet, it would be nice to see a new source of original material in the sci-fi/speculative fiction/ fantasy realm get showcased on a major media platform. Game of Thrones is almost over and we do need something good to fill our time with:

I'm not sure how soon I will be able to see Ready Player One(hopefully it's still in theaters by the time my birthday rolls around) at the movies but I will be rooting for it to do well nonetheless.

I think that part of the appeal for me is that in some ways, a reader is a bit like a gamer; we enter different worlds created by others and take on new personas as the story unfolds before us.

 As we make our way,slowly yet surely sometimes, towards the end, our journey can be merely entertainment yet if the use of imagination by both creator and user is at peak levels, so much more can be achieved.

 Perhaps I'm being a little too dreamy eyed about this. However, I know in my heart that a good book can turn into a good movie if placed in the right hands and Ready Player One does feels as if that cinematic spell has been properly cast:

Friday, March 23, 2018

More Marvel-ous times ahead of us at the Movie Trailer Park

Despite DC working on a few more big screen projects such as a Wonder Woman sequel and an Aquaman movie, it's no surprise that Marvel is continuing to rule the cinematic roost. With that in mind, let's look over their current stack of trailers:

Following up the ground breaking and box office records setting success of Black Panther, the next hot ticket item on deck is Avengers:Infinity War that brings just about every prior Marvelverse character together in order to defeat the universal threat that is Thanos(Josh Brolin).

I know plenty of jokes are already being made about how supposedly "never done before" this movie match-up is but you do have to admit that getting Iron Man,Thor,Spiderman and all of the Guardians of the Galaxy(along with a huge host of others) onscreen at the same time is a neat trick to pull off there:

Not too long after that, DeadPool 2 will be out and about, giving us more of that wacky Wade Wilson R-rated charm. Here, he has to protect a young mutant from Cable(Josh Brolin again, why does he get all of these cool MCU roles?), who is out to destroy the kid for an unknown purpose.

To that end, Wade sets up a gang of other young mutants(including a certain high powered yet silently sarcastic one from the last film) to aid him in this mission. Yes, the love of his life Vanessa is also here, along with that feisty roommate of his who says quite the memorable line in this trailer.

A movie like Deadpool is hard to repeat but it appears that they're keeping tongue firmly in cheek yet again and hopefully, this second wild ride will be better than before:

Just in time for summer, another superhero sequel with a humorous yet less intense tone will be popcorn ready.

 Ant-Man and the Wasp gives our leading man Scott Lang(Paul Rudd) a partner in crime fighting as Hope Van Dyne(Evangeline Lily) takes on the mantle and high tech suit of the Wasp, a persona once meant for her mother.

I have to admit that the first Ant-Man movie was one that I was prepared not to like but found myself enjoying immensely. This second outing promises to be just as much fun and how can you resist a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser being used as a weapon against the bad guys, I ask you?:

Honestly, the only non Marvel trailer I saw out there was The Incredibles 2 and since that happens to be a Disney/Pixar production, it's not entirely free of that cinematic connection.

The story line for this long awaited follow-up has former hero Mr. Incredible(voiced by Craig T. Nelson) playing Mr. Mom as his equally super powered wife Elastigirl(Holly Hunter) is back in the crime fighting game.

While she's trying to be a good reason for regular folks to trust supers again, her hubby is getting to know the powers of his kids better(including multi-talented baby Jack-Jack) and figuring out his place in the possible new world order.

 I do find the plot to be rather sitcom-ish for this sequel yet, the original film did have some of that vibe as well, using it to subvert the norm. Hopefully, that will work out well this time around:

 As much as I do want to give DC a chance, Marvel is still way ahead of them in the movie making arena and while I look forward to the next Wonder Woman movie(for the record, Kristen Wiig should make for an interesting Cheetah), my expectations for any other good DCU films are quite mid range at best there.

Meanwhile, I need to check out Spiderman: Homecoming sometime soon as Venom is set to appear onscreen this fall. Granted, Peter Parker is not going to be in this one but those two are going to cross paths at some point(especially if Venom spins a nifty cash catching web at the box office),so ought to catch up while I can!:

Monday, March 19, 2018

Building a stack of mysteries for the latest Spring Into Horror

Spring is officially supposed to begin tomorrow(despite yet another snow storm on the horizon) but for some of us, April will be our starting point as the Seasons of Reading readathon known as Spring Into Horror will be underway.

For the whole of the month, you are encouraged to read at least one scary book and you are not limited to horror. Mystery, suspense and other thrilling genres are also included in the bookish fun.

A good portion of my SIH reading list is devoted to Agatha Christie, with a pair of Poirots and one Miss Marple to round things off nicely.

Since Death On The Nile is destined to be the newest movie remake, I just had to have it on hand. I did see the original 1978 film,starring Peter Ustinov as a rather charmingly droll Poirot. It's been awhile since I saw that version yet I might not rewatch that particular one during this readathon.

The made for TV Poirot series with David Suchet did take that classic story on and it should be interesting to see his rendition of the character, as so many of the Christie fans consider him to be the ideal actor for the role(plus, Emily Blunt was in this one as well, quite the extra special treat indeed!):

  I'll also be checking out The Body in the Library(which would make for a fine film adaptation,if you ask me) with Miss Marple, along with meeting Poirot again for Evil under the Sun.

Yes, I did enjoy the big screen version of this with Ustinov as well(actually watched it again a couple of months ago and it holds up rather nicely). The story onscreen is wickedly entertaining but I do wonder if some of that delightful cattiness is reflected in the book.

Part of the fun of the film is seeing Diana Rigg as a former glamor girl square off against Maggie Smith, her one time rival. No doubt that bittersweet past between the characters is part and parcel of the overall mystery and yet, how much of that grin and bear it false front they exchange in public will be displayed on the page is something I have to look forward to:

In the non-Christie section of my SIH list is Sue Grafton's first big mystery, A is for Alibi, and a much more recent book, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.

The bookstore of the title is set in Denver where Lydia Smith is pleased to work, selecting great recommendations for her regular patrons. That joy is shattered one night as she discovers that one of those constant readers has chosen the store as the perfect place to end his life.

As it turns out, he also left Lydia what there was of his worldly possessions, a box of marked up books that appear to be in code. With the help of a new friend, Lydia sets out to learn the truth about this man's demise, a truth that might also clear up a mystery from her own past as well. I've heard plenty of good word about this debut novel and eager to do some page turning detecting here.

The most massive undertaking of this particular readathon for me is going to be The Terror by Dan Simmons. Not only due to the length of the book(which is 955 pg count in mass market paperback), it is also about to air as a series on AMC later in March.

The plot is a blend of historical fiction and horror, as the crew of the ironically title ship,lead by Sir John Franklin in 1847, find themselves dealing with more than the strain of being caught in Arctic waters. This expedition seems to be hunted by an unknown entity whose purpose is unclear but it's intentions are truly deadly.

When I mentioned that the show would be airing soon in a previous post, several Seasons of Reading folks expressed their excitement about it as fans of the books and I caught that fever mighty quick. It should be fun to read and watch this story unfold at the same time:

Spring into Horror starts up on April 1(no joke!) and lasts until the 30th. There is still plenty of time to sign up and you can always follow along at Facebook and Twitter(#Spring Horror).

One of the best things about a readathon like this is seeing what everyone else is planning on reading. It's a good way to get a sample of fearsome fiction beforehand, seeing what might be your ideal chiller or perhaps something to scarily savor another time:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Marching into Women's History with some female focused reads

Since March happens to be Women's History Month, I thought that it would be a good idea to highlight a few new books by female writers who deserve their time in the spotlight this season.

Starting with a debut novel, Julia Sonneborn gives Jane Austen's Persuasion a modern twist or two with By The Book. Her leading lady is Anne Conroy, who teaches 19th century women's literature at Fairfax College.

While being somewhat happily settled into academic life, the arrival of Adam Martinez, her former love who she left upon graduation, as the new president of Fairfax has Anne in a whirlwind of emotion.

Can she establish a good working relationship with Adam without stirring up those feelings from their past? Will new writer-in-residence Rick Chasen become the romantic cure for what ails her or will his own bad blood with Adam make things worse? On top of all that, can her good friend Larry's actor boyfriend ever learn more about Jane Eyre than from the monster mash movie version he's starring in?

Having a new take on Persuasion(my favorite Austen novel,btw) is always a joy and no doubt some plot elements will be quite different from the source material. However, if the all important letter scene from the original can be pulled off just right, By The Book will have fulfilled the title's promise perfectly:

Next up is Greer Macallister's Girl In Disguise, a novel based upon the true story of the first woman to be hired as a Pinkerton detective.

As a widow in need of an income in the 1850s, Kate Warne didn't want to rely on easy sympathy and instead made a case to Allen Pinkerton that having a woman among his crime fighting crew might offer some distinct advantages.

Giving her a chance to prove herself, Pinkerton partners Kate with Tim Bellamy, who finds working with a female troubling at best. Over time, she does gain a few allies but often times, her mistakes are given harsher scrutiny than those of her male colleagues.

Macallister blends the reality of her main character's life with enough vivid imagination to make the story as riveting as an all-out fictional detective saga. With details that include working on security for Abraham Lincoln(before and after he became president), GID provides plenty of page turning action for those looking for a smart satisfying read:

If you're in the mood for something with a truly topical theme,Jennifer Clement's latest novel Gun Love should fit the bill nicely,unlike most of the characters in this turbulent story.

Fourteen year old Pearl has learned to live with a lot of things such as ever changing location of her family home with her clueless mother Margot, which is currently a car permanently parked at a Florida trailer park. Guns are a regular part of trailer life due to alligator infestation as well as one of their neighbors being in the illegal arms business.

When a newcomer named Eli decides to charm his way into Margot's affections, a rift between her and Pearl develops that is made worse when Pearl is forced to make a dangerous decision that truly means life or death.

 The dark charms of this narrative echo our present day dilemma over gun culture but this is not meant to be a mere diatribe. Jennifer Clement gives us a older than she wants to be heroine with a haunting grace that reminds me of  Ree Dolly in Winter's Bone, sort of spiritual sisters of suffering who could teach us all a lesson in learning to do the right thing for the situation at hand:

Being on the look out for new female voices in literature is something that ought to be done year round but Women's History Month is a fine time to make an extra effort in that department.

Many of the best books by women are sadly neglected over the years from their first publication and become lost to time. Fortunately, there are those loyal readers and writers who strive to keep those books alive and are more than happy to introduce to the next generation, a true act of sisterhood indeed:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Springing ahead with a sizable Library haul

With back to back nor'easters hitting my neck of the woods(with another one on the horizon for tomorrow), planning any sort of outing is difficult at best,especially an entertainment related one.

Fortunately, this past weekend provided some much needed relief from these dreary late winter dregs and I was able to make a trip to the library. My haul was pretty hefty, as I took home four books(two of which are written by the same author-more on that soon!).

First up was The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan , in hardcover no less! Most of the time, the Colgan novels that I've seen are in paperback, which is great, but reading one in hardcover is a nice change of pace there.

The story is set on the Scottish island of Mure, where hometown girl Flora Mackenzie returns from London reluctantly. The legal firm she works for has a client who wants to make major changes in the community and would prefer a local to negotiate with the residents.

Trouble is, Flora is not the most popular person in town, having left after a harsh exchange of words at her mother's funeral. Regardless, her father and brothers do take her in and when things go badly, Flora discovers a passion for cooking that leads her to opening up a seaside restaurant. Should she make a go of it in Mure or see if those burnt London bridges can be rebuilt?

Colgan is truly gifted with a flair for making small towns come alive on the page, with characters that feel real enough to be walking down your own neighborhood streets. So far, the book is a lively read and one that promises to warm my heart during the chilly days to come:

Next, I came across Carnegie's Maid by Marie Bendict, a historical fiction that sounds quite intriguing. The leading lady of the story is Clara Kelley, an Irish immigrant who takes up another identity upon landing in America, due to a mistake made by customs.

Using the higher status unexpectedly granted to her, Clara is able to gain a position as a lady's maid to Margaret Carnegie, whose sons Andrew and Tom are meant to do great things.

Clara and Andrew form a friendship based on a shared intellectual interest, with the possibility of his detecting her true identity. However, their bond must be kept hidden,even though they know that it can never enter the realm of the romantic. Since Carnegie founded many a good library in his day, it seems fitting that I get the chance to read this engaging novel about him from a library.

Now, we come to the pair of books written by the same author that I just couldn't resist. Both are by Mary Simses, with the first one being The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe.

When Ellen Branford decides to grant her grandmother Ruth's dying wish by delivering a letter of apology to the man whose heart she broke about sixty years ago. Ellen chooses to given the letter over in person.

Upon arriving in the town of Beacon,ME, she finds herself in need of rescue from a fall off of a pier and is saved by Roy, who sweeps her off her feet in more ways than one. With Ellen being engaged to another man, this causes a few complications, not to mention learning more about Ruth and that past love of hers.

Turns out, this book was adapted into a made for TV movie(renamed The Irresistible Blueberry Farm) not too long ago and it might be fun to check that out as well:

The Irresistible Blueberry B&C was Simses' debut novel and by the sheer luck of library shelving, her other book happened to be right next to it that day.

The Rules of Love and Grammar has copy editor Grace reexamining her life as a trio of troubles shakes up her regular routine. To get a chance to clear her head, Grace goes home to her folks in Connecticut with the stated reason being plans for her father's birthday.

While there, she runs into her former high school sweetheart,  a well known film director who is making a movie right in their hometown. As Grace tries to regain his attention and refocus her life, she soon realizes that not everything can be fixed by a flick of her red copy edit pen.

Usually, I don't pick up a pair of books by someone I've never read before,library or otherwise. However, upon looking through one of them at a quiet table in my local library reading lounge, it became clear to me that not getting both that day would be a literary regret that I didn't want to have:

So, hopefully by the time that I will have finished with all of these books and bring them back, spring will have finally sprung some wonderful warm weather upon us. As much as I enjoy the frosty delights of winter, it would really be nice to not have to cuddle up under a heavy blanket to avoid the seemingly everlasting cold outside(although a good book at hand does help ease the chill a bit):

Friday, March 09, 2018

Looking for a better Book Club to join at the movies

When books and movies are mixed together, it can be an entertaining flavor combination, like peanut butter and chocolate.

However, when not blended together well or with the wrong set of ingredients, the whole thing can fall apart faster than a rushed to the oven souffle.

That latter foodie metaphor is the feeling that I got from watching the first trailer for the movie Book Club, due out this spring. It stars a formidable quartet of actresses(Jane Fonda,Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen) who play a group of long time friends going through various midlife issues who also form a book club.

As a way to "liven things up", Fonda's character decides that they all need to read Fifty Shades of Grey and judging by the obvious open mouthed reaction shots in this trailer, the book magically awakes their collectively dormant sex drives. I'm far from being a prude but I find it hard to believe that these ladies have no idea about what's in that particular novel.

 The Fifty Shades trio of books have been part of the cultural conversation for several years now and the movie version has already aired on cable, both basic and subscription(with the final film adaptation arriving in theaters not so long ago). Already my suspension of disbelief has snapped within the first minute of this teaser:

Maybe it's just me but the faux pearl clutching is annoying yet only the cherry on top of my intelligence insulted sundae here. With Fonda doing a spray-cheesy version of Blanche from Golden Girls that sticks Bergen into a dour Dorothy position to Keaton and Steenburgen both battling it out to be the off color Rose of the group, the comedy goes downhill fast at a sorry sitcom speed.

The most aggravating is the choice of book; Fifty Shades is a lazy pick from writers who I suspect haven't read that series and weren't creative enough to make up a sexy novel that peaked the interests of their characters. Not to mention that it's a book that misrepresents the romance genre along with the erotic novel sub genre. Plus, I am sick of the whole "women reading dirty books" stereotype combined with the "older women feeling sexy" mockery.

I'm also pretty sure that none of the women in this movie have a real conversation about the book's contents and in my opinion, if you call a movie Book Club, I expect to have some scenes where they talk about the book at a meeting! And yes, you can do that with a sense of humor. From what I'm seeing in this trailer, there are SNL skits with better jokes and more depth than this movie has to offer:

Part of the problem here is that this is an original screenplay(written by people who probably think that a book club is just an excuse to drink wine and gossip) rather than based on an actual book.

There are plenty of good novels with a book club theme( even a few with a "naughty books" focus) ripe for adaptation out there. One that was made back in 2007 is still a favorite of mine, The Jane Austen Book Club.

Based on Karen Joy Fowler's book, this tale of five women and one man who explore the works of Jane Austen is everything that Book Club appears not to be. A well nuanced story with fully developed characters that has humor and heart mixed in at the right spots, plus plenty of book discussion scenes.

Some might think that Jane Austen in the title means low key romance and mild plot points but they would be so wrong. Adultery, divorce,betrayal and a couple of May/December romances(one a possible student-teacher hook-up) are part and parcel of this smartly mature film.

It also boasts a respectable cast of actresses, from Kathy Baker to Emily Blunt,plus Maria Bello and Lynn Redgrave(in a small yet pivotal role). In fact, this movie gives both the male and female characters here a good amount of emotional development,something you don't often in most movies of any genre. A special bonus is that director Robin Swicord also adapted the screenplay, making this book truly come to life onscreen with such special care:

No doubt, some would tell me "Oh, lighten up! Book Club is just supposed to be a fun movie, a girl's night out kind of thing. Plus, look at all of those great actresses together in one film!"

Fun is fine but not when it's being condescending and that is the vibe that the trailer is giving me here. Maybe the entire film is different from what is showcased in this trailer but I highly doubt it.

Also, given the credentials of the leading ladies involved, I would prefer a project that made the best of their talents instead of provide drawing power for a script that has one of them blurt out things like "Do you want to be spanked?' and "Do you want to tie me up?" at off putting moments. Also, having a character be a respected judge who can't shut off the sexy online ads at  her work computer in front of a younger assistant is so face palm worthy.

Fortunately, there is a better book club movie due to come out later in the year and it happens to be based on a very good book. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society will star Lily James as a writer in post-WWII London who seeks out the reading group of the title. That bunch of readers held up each other's spirits during their island's occupation by enemy forces and protected one another as best they could.

If you want to check out Book Club when it comes out in May, I hope you have a good time at the movies. As for me, I'd rather wait and buy a ticket to Guernsey for a better take on book clubs and good hearted readers on film:

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Oscars 2018:signs of change or still the same?

Well, another Oscar night has come and gone, leaving in it's wake the usual set of happy winners, trying not to look disappointed nominees and a few memorable moments.

One of the latter for me was Jordan Peele getting Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, the first African American to receive an Academy Award in this category.

As a fan of the movie as well as his now classic comedy series Key & Peele, this win was beyond wonderful and frankly, I wasn't sure if he would get it.

My hunch was that Greta Gerwig was going to be the winner here since the Oscar folks would want to give her something for Ladybird(which they didn't as it turned out).  I knew that Peele was a long shot to win anything for this film, due to it being a horror movie that some Academy voters didn't watch or consider an "Oscar worthy" movie.

However, Get Out overcame some of that genre snobbery when it came to writing. In a film that holds more than one type of terror within it's framework, story structure and dialogue become all the more meaningful in order to convey the growing levels of tension. That tone of quiet fear and unspoken menace can be tricky to develop on page and screen but Peele's screenplay balances those much needed highs and lows nicely:

Plenty of people were upset about Ladybird not winning that night but my biggest regrets were saved for Mudbound, which should have gotten way more nominations to begin with.

Mudbound deserved to be up for Best Picture,Best Actor(Jason Mitchell),Best Director and a whole slew of other categories. Yes, I knew full well that Mary J. Blige for Best Supporting Actress(along with Best Song, that she sang beautifully) was the longest of shots but they could have at least made some more Hollywood history by giving cinematographer Rachel Morrison the win.

Having the first woman to win in that category would have been a fine tip of the hat there to the MeToo/Time'sUp movement, not to mention open the door for other women in that field to follow through. Dee Rees really ought to have been up for Best Director and at one point, I thought she might get Best Adapted Screenplay(it went to James Ivory instead).

On the other hand, Rees was honored at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before, receiving their Robert Altman award for the film and giving an amazingly awesome speech. Perhaps one day, the Academy will be fortunate enough to center their spotlight on her for the next wonderful film she is bound to give us in the future:

The show itself was fine, with host Jimmy Kimmel doing a solid humorous monologue and his bit with other Oscar attendees handing out candy to a surprised movie theater audience was entertaining enough.

However, I think the Oscars in general could use a little more spontaneity in their proceedings(and I don't mean that envelope mix-up from last year either!) from time to time. A major reason that the ratings are going down for the show is that everyone involved takes themselves way too seriously when it comes to the films they choose to celebrate.

Sure, stuff like The Post, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are typical "serious" Oscar fare, along with the occasional quirky/indie flavored offerings like Ladybird and The Shape of Water to round things out.

Yet, they continue to ignore the films that mass audiences truly take to such as Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and just about any Marvel movie. Yes, some of them do get their place in the cinematic sun during the technical categories, which is rightly so, but would it be so terrible if those genre features were also respected for their acting, writing and directing?

A little leeway in these areas would not only bring better ratings but also bring more people into the film world fold, seeing that the art of movies is not just formal wear. Take a hint from presenters Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, folks-taking off your fancy shoes and being real with your audience can be the best way to get them on your side:

Congratulations are in order to The Shape of Water, for it's wins including Best Director and Best Picture, Coco for Best Animated and Best Song, Alison Janney for Best Supporting Actress in I, Tonya and Frances McDormand for her leading performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I have to catch up on all of these movies but am in no doubt of their quality. However, there is more noteworthy material out there that wasn't recognized and while you can't cover the entire entertainment waterfront with one show, it's always good to strive for the better next time out.

Much like art itself, the Oscars need to evolve with the times and while giving a little focus to the issues of women, people of color and the LGBT community here is good, that has to be backed up with way more inclusion reflected in the nominations. Don't rest on your laurels, my movie making friends-work towards making real progress on and off screen:

Friday, March 02, 2018

Checking out some good books to watch on TV this season

While the spring season is bringing us cinematic joy at the multiplexes, there are plenty of small screen delights to savor at home as well.

 A good number of them are also based on books, giving you that two for the price of one value to your entertainment and here's a little list of those waiting in the wings to light up your viewing pleasure time.

Speaking up of lighting up, HBO plans to air a remake of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 this May, with Michael B. Jordan as Guy Montag, the unquestioning fireman whose drive to be the best book burner  is challenged by a new person in his life.

Michael Shannon(The Shape of Water) co-stars as his commander and it's clear from the trailer that this futuristic tale of censorship and totalitarian rule has been well adapted into a meaningful look at the troubled times that we're currently facing now:

 For another slice of social commentary, Starz has a miniseries adaption of Howards End on tap for April.

It boasts a nicely solid British cast with Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel, the seemingly more sensible sibling of a formerly wealthy family that has fallen on hard times, Tracey Ullman as her eccentric Aunt Juley and Matthew MacFadyen playing Henry Wilcox, the widowed patriarch of a family suspicious of his growing relationship with Margaret.

 E. M. Forster's searing look at England's class structure also offers a welcome dollop of melodrama and romance,making that metaphoric medicine go down a touch sweeter and the characters all the more emotionally engaging:

If you're in the mood for a childhood classic, PBS is planning to have Louisa May Alcott's Little Women visit us in May. A cast of young newcomers plays along side such venerable performers as Emily Watson(Marmee), Angela Lansbury(Aunt March) and Michael Gambon(James Laurence).

As someone who has adored this book since her own childhood days(still have the copy I was given for Christmas back in the day!) and has yet to see an adaptation much to her liking, I have high hopes for this one indeed.

This will be a three part miniseries, with the first episode airing on Mother's Day. That's a nice touch and a lovely way to celebrate such a timeless tale of mothers and daughters together:

For those seeking something a bit more modern, Starz is setting up the bar for Sweetbitter. Based on the 2016 novel by Stephanie Danler, our leading lady is Tess(Ella Purnell), a young woman new to New York and the fast paced world of fine dining.

Taking a job in one of the most high end restaurants in the city, Tess gets overwhelmed rather quickly but with the help of bartender Jake(Tom Sturridge) and waitress Simone(Caitlin Fitzgerald), starts to find her way.

Sweetbitter is intended to be a regular series for Starz, with the first of it's half hour episodes due to air on May 6. With the author herself on board as one of the producers and writers, this could be a show that really sticks to your ribs there:

It's nice to find good books being adapted for a wider audience and having it become possibly must watch TV is such a bookish bonus as well. There's many more out there that I haven't covered but my one last literary reminder will be for Dan Simmons' The Terror coming to AMC in March.

This is scary historical fiction, with an ice locked ship and a crew being stalked by a deadly unknown entity and for my Outlander friends, Tobias Menzies is a member of the crew,along with Ciaran Hinds late of GOT and a character called Lady Silence. That sounds so intriguing that I can hardily wait to tune in: