Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Setting up your literary school supplies for September/October

With Labor Day weekend fast on our heels, some serious back to school shopping is under way and for those of us who have no immediate need for entering this scholastic fray, making up our TBR piles for the fall is the next best thing.

September and October do offer quite a bit of reading goodness to choose from but hopefully this little list of recommendations will outfit you with a smart set of fictional fare to showcase among your fellow students of literary lore:


 In Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut novel,The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, a merchant in Georgian England learns to make do with what he's got. Jonah Hancock has been carrying on the family business of  trade and doing rather well  in his own cautious way.

However, when one of his trading ship captains sells off all of the valuable cargo onboard for what is believed to be a mermaid, Jonah fears that his fortunes will not be around for the next generation. This turn of events forces him to team up with the most unlikely of allies; Mrs. Chappell, the owner of a well known for catering to the upper classes brothel.

As Mrs. Chappell is able to use her establishment to display Hancock's mermaid, he finds himself indebted to her in more ways than one. One of those ways has Angelica Neal crossing his path. Angelica's courtesan charms are not enough to pay her debts and so, a husband is needed with Jonah being convinced to take that role, leading to even more unexpected consequences.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was up for the Women's Prize for Fiction when it first arrived in the U.K. and will no doubt make quite the splash over here. Such a savvy look at people of the past deserves a good look by readers in the present to see just how an age old wonder can inspire the best and worst in us all(Sept):

When Carlos Ruiz Zafron's epic The Shadow of the Wind first arrived on the scene, readers were intrigued and enchanted by his cast of characters who found themselves connected by the fabled Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Three books later, the fourth and possibly final chapter has been written. The Labyrinth of The Spirits follows what may be the last case for investigator Alicia Gris to solve for the city of Madrid, the disappearance of Spain's Minister of Culture.

Teamed up with patrolman Juan Manuel Vargas, Alicia realizes that a vital clue to this mystery is a rare book hidden in the minister's home. This discovery leads to several imprisoned writers and also to renowned book seller Juan Sempere, who knew Alicia's parents very well. As she goes further in her inquiries, Alicia discovers a series of deaths meant to cover up a dreadful deception, one that could shake the foundations of a country
still recovering from a civil war.

Zafron's elegant prose and immersive characters weave a wonderful spell of a story, one that you hope never truly ends, despite this being supposedly the last-we shall see(Sept).


Author Patti Callahan explores the life and times of a female poet whose name is best known by the man she married for the second and last time. Becoming Mrs. Lewis introduces us to Joy Davidson when she is still living in America in an unhappy marriage.

Reconsidering her faith, she begins a correspondence with Oxford professor and writer C.S. Lewis, a friendship that grows with each letter between them. Joy eventually goes to England but her romance with Lewis doesn't truly start until she gets divorced and finds her own inner peace as well as artistic voice.

This trend of novels about women kept on the literary sidelines(such as The Paris Wife) that takes them into the spotlight they deserve is a good one and Callahan's contribution to this engaging genre promises to be entertaining and enlightening indeed(Oct):

The leading lady of Kitty Zeldis' Not Our Kind is sadly gotten too used to prejudice in a post WWII New York. Eleanor Moskowitz is on her way to yet another interview for a teaching position when an accident puts her in the path of Patricia Bellamy.

As luck would have it, Patricia is in need of a tutor for her ailing daughter Margaux and despite worrying about what her husband might think, she hires Eleanor, who turns out to be perfect for the job.

Patricia and Eleanor do form a friendship that isn't too held back by their social circles but worlds collide when Eleanor becomes romantically involved with Tom, Patricia's brother who prefers to ignore the restrictions that society places on him. Can these two women find their own way in life and yet still be friends?

Zeldis focuses on the Upstairs,Downstairs structure of New York society in the late 1940s with an eagle eye yet highlights the similar struggles of women expected to live up to whatever standards their little corner of the world has in store for them. A sharp look at love and friendship that hopefully uplifts both of it's heroines(Sept).


 If you can't get to Broadway, Broadway must come to you,preferably in book form. The creators of the award winning musical Dear Evan Hansen have combined their talents with author Val Emmich to write a YA adaptation for fans and newcomers alike to embrace.

Evan Hansen never meant his lie about knowing recently deceased Connor Murphy to go so far out of hand. However, his new found popularity and the emotional void that he's filling for the Murphy family makes it hard to confess the truth.

While the sudden attention grows bigger and goes viral, Evan has to ultimately decide when and to whom he reveals the real story to before that decision is taken out of his hands. This book should be as touching and engaging as the stage version with the added bonus of a soundtrack already waiting in the wings(Oct):

Author Syrie James and her son Ryan have created a new YA fantasy series, with the second entry Embolden ready to follow up where the first book,Forbidden, left off.

Claire Brennan has learned of her unearthly origins and with her guardian boyfriend Alec by her side, she hopes to be as normal a teenager as she can. However, that is easier said than done.

Between school rivalries, foes from their past and Claire developing a new power that's hard to control, this love match may not be made in heaven there. Hopefully, a little love can make things right but their relationship is a strange twist of fate to begin with.

I've read Syrie James' Jane Austen themed novels and her vampire fiction(Dracula, My Love) so I have no doubt that these books are engaging fun. Nice to see her working with her son as talent does run in the blood and collaborations of the creative kind are rewarding for writers and readers alike(Oct).

Well, I hope that last blast of summer lets you enjoy some vacation goodness and that your back to school shopping is less stressful with the promise of new reads. See you all in September!:



Monday, August 27, 2018

Getting ready for Labor Day weekend with a Library Haul

The end of summer is drawing near and so was the time for me to return my last batch of books to the library. I brought back three and took out another three, something that I wasn't planning to do.

However, I did want to have something good to read during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, that last blast of summer,as well as a book that might set the tone for my fall reading. Oddly enough, two of the three books that I borrowed have the word "beach" in their titles.

First up is Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan,which was on many Best of the Year lists in 2017 and recently was chosen to be the official "One Book,One New York" read. The story starts off in 1934, as twelve year old Anna goes on a business outing with her father Eddie to a remote house that sets the course of both their fates.

We met Anna again when she is nineteen and working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to support her mother and disabled sister Lydia, due to Eddie having disappeared from their lives five years ago. She also catches the eye of Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner with mob connections, who knows what really happened to Eddie but doesn't recognize her as that little girl he met at his beach side house so long ago.

Anna and Dexter do have a brief romance but the secrets and lies of the past catch up with them in ways that no one ever expected. I've heard a lot of good things about Egan's writing and while she is known more for her innovative short stories than straightforward fiction(this is her first novel, so to speak), I did want to give this a try. I'm on page 15 at the moment and already have a great sense of wonderful things yet to come as the pages fly by:

The next book I chose is by an author more familiar to me; Beatriz Williams and one of her latest historical fiction outings,Cocoa Beach. Most of the action is set in Florida of 1922 as newly widowed Virginia Fortescue goes over the tragedies of her life.

From witnessing the death of her mother at age 8 at the hands of her own father to first meeting her future husband Simon while being an ambulance driver on the battlefield of WWI, Virginia is no stranger to risk.

Yet there is uncertainty around Simon's demise in a fire and his seemingly more sincere twin brother Samuel is rather persistently in her orbit with an agenda of his own. While Virginia is somewhat willing to heed the warning of Revenue Agent Marshall about the dangers in her path, she has plans of her own to deal with what lies ahead.

It's been some time since I have read Williams' books and this novel looks like a good one to get back into the swing of her story telling ways. Sometimes, it's good to wait a bit and have a sweet stack of
savvy reads from a top notch writer to enjoy.

The final selection was My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. The leading lady of this modern day tale is Katie," Cat", Brenner, whose London life looks amazing on social media but is not that grand in the real world.

While dealing with troublesome roommates and scrimping to be able to afford just getting to work, Katie's tentative grip at achieving her dreams is soundly trashed by an abrupt firing from her demanding boss Demeter.

Katie winds up going back to living in Somerset with her father and stepmother, trying to help them start up a glamping(glamorous camping) business. She manages to do well there but when one of the new clients is Demeter, the urge for a little payback is getting hard to resist.

As a fan of Kinsella's Shopaholic series, I have also liked some of her stand alone stories and this humor with heart look at the difference between illusion and reality feels like the perfect late summer treat:

Well, I think that this is a pretty good literary line-up for the end of summer and the beginning of fall, about as good as the new season of Masterpiece set to air soon.  So thankful for having a library nearby to offer such reading options,especially for a long holiday weekend there. Good TV, good reads and some snacks in the shade ought to make for a nice seasonal celebration indeed:

Friday, August 24, 2018

Bad Movie Month goes Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

Welcome back for the last installment of Bad Movie Month's take on English actors in this year's "Badly Done,Brits!" series. Michael Caine is the final fellow to take a bow as we go Beyond the Poseidon Adventure with him.

This 1979 sequel to the 1972 hit movie from Irwin Allen(the Michael Bay of his day) holds the distinction of not earning any Oscar nominations, unlike many of the big budget disaster flicks that Allen churned out during that decade. Perhaps by that point, the levels of overacting from such a Love Boat type cast had become toxic to movie goers.

Caine is front and center here as down on his luck tugboat captain Mike Turner,who is quick to salvage the overturned Poseidon in order to keep his ship from being repossessed. Accompanying him is loyal second mate Wilbur(Karl Malden) and plucky passenger Celeste(Sally Field, who was at the peak of the "feisty female sidekick"  stage in her career).

Caine and Field are meant to be future love interests because of course, they don't get along in the beginning due to his dislike for her coffee making skills,at which point in the squabbling she should have told him to make it himself!

One of the turning points in their relationship is when he starts calling her "Monkey"(after a spider monkey that Wilbur use to own) as an insult but eventually it becomes a term of endearment. However, that nickname only reminded me of Dwight and Angela on The Office.

 Before they get any further in that direction, sinister Dr. Stefan Svevo(Telly Savalas, who looks like a nautical Lex Luthor here) arrives with his crew to supposedly give aid to any survivors. Both groups agree to temporarily team up but you just know that this alliance is not going to last  beyond the next twenty minutes at best.

After managing to get into the ship,which keeps exploding every ten minutes or so, they run into a few trapped folk such as nurse Gina(Shirley Knight), distraught dad Frank(Peter Boyle) in search of his missing daughter,who shows up in the company of elevator operator Larry(Mark Harmon) and alleged millionaire Tex (Slim Pickens).

 It's not hard to figure out how things will turn out as just from the opening credits, you get that huge whiff of soap opera style story telling that is about to commence:

Most of this movie follows the usual pattern of a disaster film: Tragic Death Moments, Characters Who Are Not Whom He/She Claims to Be, Sudden Romance,Pointless Fighting to be Forgiven Later After Near Death/Sudden Death Experience and Instant Back Story Moments.

Caine does his best with his "I don't want to make friends yet I can't help being a hero" character but as it turns out, Sally Field is way more annoying than him. Her character Celeste is supposed to be this quirky go-getter who happens to know just about anything that another person mentions like fine wine, college level sports and world travel.

 Yet Celeste constantly dithers around when it comes to jump across gaps(holding up a whole bunch of others in the process) and whines about a slight injury when Frank get shot during the first fire fight(more about that in a moment). One particularly annoying scene has her follow Mike down a passageway to look for escape only to take a much needed "crying moment" and complain that "This has been a bad day for me!"

A bad day for you? You willingly went aboard a sinking ship to "salvage" some loot while the folks around you are looking for their loved ones and praying to get out alive. Not to mention all of a sudden, you need to whimper about not being married and having a high IQ yet being an underachiever(I would not have blamed Mike for leaving her on the ship right then and there). Yeah, your day is much worse than anyone else's, oh right!:

This isn't really a movie you can get mad at,however. Things just get so ridiculous that you have to just go along with it.

 Svevo and his henchmen run into Mike and company later on in the story as the real reason for this soggy super villain to climb aboard this sinking vessel is revealed-he's out to steal a stash of weapons and a barrel of plutonium. Yep, every commercial cruise ship comes with just such lethal items in their cargo hold, ready for bad guys to swipe them at their convenience!

This leads to a shoot-out in the ship, where Frank bonds with his daughter's would-be suitor before his Tragic Death Moment, and then later outside the ship, where in open waters a-swimming-with- a-wine-bottle-in-hand Slim Pickens takes one for the team and shouts to Sally Field "This one is for you, little lady!" Don't worry, the bad guys get what's coming to them before the closing credits roll:

Interesting enough, Irwin Allen was planning another Poseidon sequel after this that involved survivors of the ship being trapped in a train tunnel. That project never went through but it later became the basis for a Sly Stallone movie, Daylight-just goes to show that even the most worn out ideas can find new life especially in Hollywood.

Well, that is it for Bad Movie Month this year and I thank you all for checking this cinematic schlock fest out. Not sure what the theme will be for 2019 but chances are, it'll be closer to home. Maybe Disney movies or action movies or even Disney action movies! The way those live action remakes of classic Disney animated features are going, I would not be surprised to see this SNL parody come to vivid life in a theater near you some day:

Monday, August 20, 2018

Relax with some late summer reading treats

We have two weeks of summer left, time enough to get ready for the fall but just as important, time to enjoy these warm weather days to their fullest.

A good way to unwind in the shade is by picking up a new book, one that perhaps you may not have heard of. Despite all of the attention that certain nonfiction titles are getting at the moment, there are plenty of wonderful novels just waiting to mellow you during the last of the season simmering heat.

Let us begin with a debut novel, The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker,that has it's heroine making a sudden decision to change the course of her life. Hannah Greene had planned on taking up a plum job in New York upon graduating business school but while visiting a lovely Sonoma Valley winery with her boyfriend Elliot, she feels that her savvy marketing skills would be best served there.

Part of the reason for wanting to help the winery get back on it's financial feet is William, the son of owners Linda and Everett, who also wants to head to New York in pursuit of his musical dreams. However, Hannah is not just motivated by the prospect of new love. She feels drawn to the world of wine and grape growing, a heartfelt desire that would be enhanced by having a supportive partner by her side but not totally dependent on that factor.

Hannah's choice to stay in Sonoma influences many others, including Linda, who considers what might have been with the true love of her past life. Will Hannah be able to plant firmer roots or find that her impulse to transplant her future course trapped on rocky ground?

Back in my bookselling days, I did know Miriam as a book rep and she was one of the most gracious and charming people in her field. I'm happy to see that her literary dreams have come true and hope that her special vintage of story telling becomes a welcome classic:

Also, Louise Miller follows up her engaging novel, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, with another tale of small town charm. The leading lady of The Late Bloomers' Club is Nora Huckleberry, who now runs the diner that her late parents owned and has taken care of all of the family responsibilities without the aid of younger sister Kit.

Kit is back in her life,however, thanks to an unexpected inheritance of land from a beloved neighbor, Peggy Johnson. Not long after Peggy's funeral, Nora receives an offer from a big box store chain that wants the property to build on,which Kit thinks is great but big sis is not too sure of.

To complicate matters, Nora finds herself falling for Elliot, the rep for the big box chain who returns her interest and there's a bit of mystery about Peggy's estate that needs looking into. In the midst of all of this, the local residents are divided between wanting a new business to shake things up and keeping to the old ways that made their town worth staying with.

Miller has a knack for quirkiness blended with solid character support and this book should give anyone who reads it that special Stars Hollow type of feeling indeed:

Finally, what better way to end the summer than with The Summer Wives? Beatriz Williams' latest work starts in 1951, as the newly wealthy Fisher family retreats to their summer house on the exclusive end of Long Island Sound.

While father Hugh has recently married into the well established Schuyler family, daughter Isobel spends her time flirting with Joseph Vargas, the son of the local lighthouse keeper, while maintaining an engagement with Clayton Monk, a member of the upper class.

Before summer is done with, Hugh is murdered and Joseph is sent off to prison for the crime, which many grow to believe that he didn't commit. Years later, stepdaughter Miranda returns to the island to discover the truth of that summer with help from friends old and new.
Will her inquiries heal the long ago breaches for some or open fresh wounds for others?

Williams is a master of emotionally savvy historical novels that place you dead center within a world that is far in the past yet feels as current as present day. Even if you're not familiar with the set of stories about the Schuyler women that this book is connected to, this novel will be able to provide the reader with a good amount of page turning delights:

Summer reading is it's own unique reward and I hope that at least one of these books can take you right through to Labor Day weekend with a nice last of the season hurrah there. An extra bonus is in store if you discover a new author in the bargain-or at least, one that's new to you!:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Bad Movie Month regrets asking the question Did You Hear About The Morgans?

Welcome back to Bad Movie Month,folks, with the latest installment in our series of "Badly Done,Brits!" that targets Hugh Grant in a non Bridget Jones outing.

Hugh Grant can be a delightful charmer, whether he's playing sensitive Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility or sleazy Daniel Cleaver in the BJD films. However, even his calm charisma can not save a truly dull movie and a good example of that is 2009's Did You Hear About The Morgans? 

He plays New York lawyer Paul Morgan, whose marriage to top real estate broker Meryl(Sarah Jessica Parker) is at a crossroads due to his infidelity.  We first learn of this from the opening credits, where a series of answering machine messages play over the basic black & white title cards, not a great way to engage the audience there.

Paul and Meryl,along with their harried personal assistants(one of which is played by Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss, such a waste of her time and talent here) arrange a dinner meeting to work out a reconciliation which goes nowhere. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine Hugh Grant and SJP agree to share a lunch table together, let alone a married couple!

After dinner, the two of them walk over to a building where Meryl is supposed to meet a client of hers and the Morgans witness him fall to his death with a knife in his back. They get a glimpse of the hit man who tries to shoot them-why would a hit man with a loaded gun stab his target in the back? Why would he let the guy go out on the balcony in the first place? The worst Law & Order episode is better written than this.

This leads to Paul and Meryl being sent out to a small town in Wyoming to protect them after the hit man makes an attempt on Meryl's life.

Considering that she had to climb down into a balcony to escape a killer, Meryl gives lame reasons for not wanting to leave New York  such as finding good bagels-"I don't even like the ones in Connecticut!" She's not thrilled with being sent off with Paul either but by this point, I was rooting for the hit man to find them.

It becomes clear early on that Grant is meant to be the straight man to SJP's hysterics , leading to supposed comedy bits that are painful to watch. Upon arriving in Wyoming, they met up with the about to retire U.S. Marshall and his deputy wife(Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen, who actually seem compatible together) assigned to protect them which sets off a number of small town/big city jokes that wilt and die before our eyes and ears:

You do start to feel sorry for the sheriff and his wife as they have to host this pair of whiny entitled jerks who spend most of their time either going over their sitcom standard marital woes or making snide remarks/complaints about being in the country.

While Grant's low key gripes are annoying, SJP really stands out with her constant freak-outs about not being in New York and being repeatedly stunned that everything is not like New York, from the lack of vegan food to discovering that Omaha is considered a big city-yes,Dorothy, you're not in the Big Apple anymore!:

Eventually, Paul and Meryl patch up their marriage and learn to appreciate country ways while foiling the bad guy. None of that makes this movie worth watching as listening to the Morgans' inane conversations and seeing their pitiful attempts at humor just wear you out.

One of the worst bits involves Paul dealing with a bear, which is set up from the get-go at the rural airport with all of the creaky finesse of a game of Mousetrap that you found in the back of a closet with some of the pieces missing. I was seriously rooting for the bear to take them both out for the count. Come to think of it, if the bear and the hit man had teamed up to get rid of the Morgans, that alone would make this a better film.

Another awful element of this movie is the soundtrack that is made up of generic "we wish this was a Nora Ephron film" tunes. This pointless songs either try to fill up pointless montage sequences or pointlessly are thrown into scenes to liven things up like gravy for an overcooked pot roast. Trust me, this music can not add any flavor to the mediocrity on screen:

Why anyone made this movie is beyond me and next week, I get to wrap Bad Movie month up with Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, starring iconic Brit  Michael Caine in one of his numerous disaster performances in a disaster themed film.

He's not alone here as Sally Field, Peter Boyle and a good number of future Love Boat guest stars climb aboard this sorry sequel for a soggy cinematic time-don't forget your life boats!:

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why is the idea of a Best Popular Film so unpopular?

Last week, the Academy Awards announced a trio of changes to their annual ceremony, one of which caused quite the uproar among those inside and outside of the movie industry.

Plans are under way to create a second Best Picture category, with the working title being "Best Popular Film". Just the very notion that this major honor could be divided into separate parts unleashed a flurry of outrage, claiming that this was being done in order to give blockbusters movies an award they didn't deserve since financial success is more than enough reward for them.

Well, I find that objection to be incredibly pretentious,especially since such distinctions are nothing new to award shows. The Golden Globes not only has Best Drama and Best Comedy/Musical for film, they also divide the acting categories the same way. Also, the Tony awards have Best Drama, Best Musical and Best Revival of a play and/or musical! Why is that okay but not this?

Not to mention that if you look into the history of the Oscars, you'll see that originally there were two Best Picture categories(one was "Outstanding") and that the whole point of the awards was for the industry to get recognition as an art form by giving themselves awards.

Plus, there is the well established trope of "Oscar bait", a formula for figuring what type of movie was destined to be the big winner,making the entire Oscar race all too predictable and the root of the main reason for lower ratings for the show every year:

One of the biggest complaints,however, has been that a Best Popular Film category is being created for "superhero movies" and in particular, Black Panther(which it may not be up for, as there is no word on when this new category would be in place).

Well, so what? I want Black Panther to get Oscar nominations and awards and if the odds on that are increased by adding a new Best Picture category, so be it! I want this movie to be up for Best Actor, Best Actress and especially Best Supporting Actor for Michael B. Jordan, who was denied a nomination for Creed(which was also directed by Ryan Coogler, who should be up for Best Director here as well)!

This is not because it was a superhero movie that set box office records, it is due to the fact that even film critics can't deny that this was a next level film in so many ways. It has nuanced character development, prominently featured strong female characters and universal themes of oppression with debates about how to deal with it as a society. Good story telling is good story telling, regardless of genre,which too many people fail to respect:

Speaking of genre films, why do people assume that this would only benefit superhero movies? If Best Popular Film was up and ready by 2019, other nominees could include A Quiet Place(horror films mostly get overlooked and rarely win big awards at the Oscars), Crazy Rich Asians(comedies receive similar treatment) and Ready Player One(scfi/fantasy ditto) for example.

The last time that I recall a big new award being created was Best Animated Feature, which most people said was for Disney's benefit after Beauty and the Beast was included in the regular Best Picture section.

Turns out that the first Oscar handed out for Best Animated was not given to a Disney film. In 2001, Dreamworks' Shrek won that award. Other non-Disney films that won in this category include Spirited Away, Rango and Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

While made-by-Disney animated films have won a good share of the awards(plenty if you count the Pixar wins as well), other films have benefited from just being nominated and getting that world wide attention to their work. Films such as Persepolis,The Triplets of Belleville and Kubo and the Two Strings are much better known and appreciated due to this category. Offering a spotlight to movies that are easily dismissed by genre can do more than just give the major studios more bragging rights:

Whenever they do have Best Popular Film(or whatever title is ultimately decided on) ready for prime time, in the long run, this category may turn out to be a step in the right direction instead of the cinematic misstep that many are taking it for.

Best Picture has gone from ten films being nominated to five and now back to ten, just to provide balance for the age old "art vs. entertainment" argument and now that question may come close to being settled. The best films are both art and entertainment but why does it have to be one or the other when it comes to this award?

Hollywood needs to stop pretending that the Oscars are about art and nothing more. Throwing all types of films in one bag like this is not simply comparing apples to oranges, it's comparing apples to grapefruit with a bucket of buttery popcorn tossed in there. Giving both kinds of film a chance to compete on more equal terms is the right thing to do. Stop shaming popular movies and give them their moment to shine and say "This is ME!":

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bad Movie Month gets a sitter for Bridget Jones's Baby

Welcome to our second installment of Bad Movie Month as we continue to say "Badly Done, Brits" and once again, Colin Firth is front and center for his third appearance as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Baby.

To be fair, this film is a vast improvement from Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason(it helps that the original director came back) and is mediocre at best.

Also, this third act wasn't based on one of the Helen Fielding novels that brought Bridget Jones to life. Fielding did write a third book but she killed off Mark Darcy(which outraged fans) and the movie makers decided to go with a wholly different concept.

Here, we start with Bridget attending Daniel Cleaver's funeral(Hugh Grant wisely chose not to be involved with this one) and running into Mark, who she has been separated from long enough for him to marry someone else. While she still has a few regrets over that, Bridget prefers to deal with turning 43 by going to a music festival with one of her younger co-workers.

There's plenty of jokes aimed at the younger generation here such as referring to the festival as "Sodom and Gomorrah with tofu" but the worst bit is an extended Ed Sheeran cameo that seems to never end.

It was fine enough when Bridget and her friend don't recognize him for a photo op and then see him in concert where Bridget is still clueless about who he is(and does a bit of crowd surfing, which seems rather dated) but it's not over yet as Bridget's buddy runs into him yet again and the whole thing ends with Sheeran and the work gal pal crashing a giant rolling ball into some porta-potties.

Anyway, the point of the music festival sequence is for Bridget to meet Jack(Patrick Dempsey) via falling into the mud and accidentally entering his yurt late at night. After their one night stand, Bridget hooks up with a soon-to-be-divorced Mark Darcy while attending a christening and you guessed it, she's pregnant and unsure of who the father is.

There's a long bit of sitcom contrivance as Bridget has the chance to inform each man that she's uncertain of whom made her expecting a child but she can't bring herself to do so. Of course, that big reveal moment is done in a public place(an Italian restaurant that plays a ridiculous part in getting Bridget to the hospital later on) and awkward for so many reasons:

This leads Mark and Jack to compete for Bridget's affections and audition for the fatherhood role,which at least does not end in a public slap fight.

I have to take a moment to talk about Dempsey,aka "McDreamy" of Grey's Anatomy fame at this point in his career. The character is a rich American with a matchmaking website and rather hippy-dippy in nature. With all of his supplying Bridget with healthy drinks and home decor to stimulate the baby's senses, Jack comes across as a watered down Alan Alda, which is bland on top of bland!

He does act a bit smarmy at times, even stooping to tell Mark that Bridget did not use one of her expired vegan condoms with him(a gag that makes me gag) and playing on the mistaken notion of a natural childbirth instructor that Jack and Mark are a gay couple adopting Bridget's baby. Even when trying to be bad, Dempsey is such a dull dud at it:

Firth does seem to have a little more energy as Mark Darcy here than in the last film but at times you can tell that he feels this set of worn out comedy tropes are beneath him.

Who can blame him, with the constant references to how old Bridget is(I hate the term "geriatric pregnancy" even if it's a current medical phrase) and jokes about the dissident rock band that Mark is defending in court which he even grumbles about how awful their music is and can understand why they're being repressed by their government.

As in Edge of Reason, Bridget's parents and friends are squeezed into barely-there subplots, with Bridget's mum running for council and winding using her daughter's unexpected pregnancy to her political advantage for one. Her trio of original friends are avoided mostly at first because they have families and kids(Bridget prefers to be seen as a "SILF" as in "Singleton, I'd Like to...) but Shazzer does get a little more screen time,perhaps due to the fact that the actress playing her happens to be the director-just saying!

 Anyway, more misunderstanding occur until it's time for the baby to arrive and that entire race to the hospital bit is embarrassing even on a sitcom level. Mark finds Bridget locked out of her house(in a huge pity inducing sequence that involves being caught in the rain and leaving her phone at a closed ATM) and her water breaks before they have that reconciliation kiss.

They then recruit a pizza delivery van(from that restaurant visit earlier) to drive them, only to get stuck in traffic ,thanks to protest march lead by Mark's rebel rock band and then Mark carries Bridget to the hospital,struggling mightily even as Jack catches up with them to help. It's so painful to watch that not even Emma Thompson showing up to crack wise as the baby doctor can ease this cinematic suffering:

While Bridget Jones's Baby is more watchable than Edge of Reason, it's not that much better and hopeful this will be last of Bridget and company that we see on screen.

Oddly enough, Helen Fielding is credited as one of the writers on the script for this and she wrote a tie-in book for the movie,which is not based on the book she wrote in the first place! Oh, well, we still have the first Bridget Jones to enjoy and swoon over Colin Firth with.

While Hugh Grant was smart enough to stay out of this middling mess, he has plenty of bad movies on his resume and next week, we'll be looking at one he didn't avoid,Did You Hear About the Morgans? Failing marriage comedy meets Witness Protection jokes and fish out of water skits, this movie just sounds like a smorgasbord of stupid indeed:

Monday, August 06, 2018

Some Crazy Rich reading recommendations

Late summer is often seen as a slow period for pop culture, with lackluster movies, TV reruns and the same old books served up on our entertainment menu. However, every now and then, we do get a delightful surprise and one such delayed pleasure is about to come our way.

The worldwide film premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, the first of a literary trilogy by author Kevin Kwan, is set for this week, an event that so many people have been waiting for.

It's not only due to the popularity of the novel(which is a fun read that I'm rereading at the moment) but also for having an all Asian cast in a mainstream Hollywood movie, something we haven't seen before. The closest we came to that was The Joy Luck Club(also a book adaptation) and that was back in 1993!

So far, the CRA film looks like a sleeper hit in the making and I have no doubt that copies of the book are in high demand. So, if you can't get a hold of a copy(or have already read it and the sequels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems as well), here are a few other books that share a similar style and/or tone with CRA that you might like to try:

THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD: Jade Chang's debut novel follows a family trying to literally outrun their financial troubles. Charles Wang is deep in debt and about to lose his cosmetics empire(with the stock market crash of 2008 making his money problems worse) when he stumbles upon the notion of reclaiming long lost property in China.

Packing up his second wife Barbara, he goes on a cross country trip to gather up his kids,who have yet to realize that the family nest egg is gone, in order for all of them to start anew in China. Needless to say, that idea doesn't go over too well with anyone.

The book is an engaging roller coaster ride, with humor and pathos taking their turns to enhance the twists and turns that the characters deal with. There is talk of The Wangs vs. The World  becoming a Hulu series but don't wait until then to ride this story telling train:

FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES:  While Min Jin Lee did wonderfully well with her amazing novel Pachinko, this earlier book of hers also deserves as much praise and readership.

Fresh out of Princeton, Casey Han has acquired some rather upper class tastes, such as golf and designer clothes, yet is financially unable to support such a luxury appetite.

With the help of an old friend, Casey gets an entry level position at a Wall Street firm, which brings her further into the lavish lifestyle that she longs to be a part of. The choices that she makes with friends and family along the way causes a number of ripple effects, touching even her mother, a woman just discovering what she truly wants in life.

The book has a blend of Victorian era social satire(think Trollope and Thackeray) with Edith Wharton's New York that is topped off with Lee's brilliantly unique flair for immersive character details. Even if you haven't read Pachinko(which you should), FFFM is a must read indeed:

THE WINDFALL: Diksha Basu's debut novel is mainly set in India, as Mr and Mrs. Jha are preparing to move from their working class neighborhood to the rich part of town, thanks to the sale of Mr. Jha's website which made them instantly wealthy.

As they try to adjust to their new circumstances,as well as keep up with the Chopras next door, their son Rupak is studying for a business degree in New York. While he's happy about his family's good fortune, Rupak is worried about telling them that his grades are bad and he has an American girlfriend.

This story is a lively look at manners and the social ideals that people feel they need to live up to(or down, as the case may be), with a nice bit of drama thrown in for balance. The Windfall was one of my favorite books from last year and I hope new readers will enjoy it as much as I did there:

My fingers are crossed for Crazy Rich Asians to rule the box office next weekend(and a little longer after that!) as it will increase the chances of the other two books in the trilogy to be made into feature films as well.

 Just having a wonderful book become a great movie that will undoubtedly create a wider audience(along with reaching one that has been vastly ignored for way too long a time) is reward enough yet it would be a nice bonus to make the artistic dreams of so many others come true:

Friday, August 03, 2018

Bad Movie Month is taken to The Edge of Reason with Bridget Jones

Welcome ,friends, to another installment of Bad Movie Month here at LRG where we endure the dreaded dog days of August by looking over some particularly dreadful films.

Our theme this year is "Badly Done, Brits!" featuring a quartet of English actors who have a very impressive body of work(not to mention a couple of impressive bodies themselves) yet also have an equal amount of regrettable film choices as well.

I hate to start things off with Colin Firth, truly one of my favorites. From his iconic Mr. Darcy in the BBC's Pride & Prejudice to his Oscar winning performance in The King's Speech and truly kick ass with style work in Kingsmen, Firth has proven to be a legend in his own time.

Unfortunately, our dear Mr. Firth has had the misfortune to make a few cinematic blunders as well. While his role as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones' Diary was an instant classic, his reprisal in the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason had all of the flair and flavor of a frostbitten TV dinner.

To be fair, leading lady Renee Zellweger and co-star Hugh Grant(who is getting the Bad Movie Month treatment, I assure you) are not much better as they do more than just walk through their roles again. It's more like they zombie march through them.

 Most of the plot has to do with Bridget not believing that she and Mark can maintain a steady relationship, causing several pointless fights between them based on sitcom level insecurities such as her showing up at a big lawyer's dinner with bad hair and hastily applied make-up, then losing out on a quiz contest due to her overconfidence in Madonna trivia, followed by Bridget being torn between leaving pathetic pleading messages on the phone and talking to Mark in person as he's outside her front door:

While the follow-up book by Helen Fielding(one of the four screenwriters credited here) had a loose theme based upon Jane Austen's Persuasion,similar to the P&P feel of the original BJD novel, this movie chucks that completely out the window.

Instead, we get a retread of the greatest hits from the first film which are done rather poorly, from Daniel Cleaver hitting on Bridget with sleazy requests for naughty school girl tales and professing an admiration for her "granny panties", Mark and Bridget walking home sadly after a huge fight(with mournful pop song playing on the soundtrack), plus Cleaver and Darcy exchanging fisticuffs out in public

That scene is especially sad as not only does it lack the element of surprise that the fight in the first movie did but the bulk of it takes place in a large water fountain no less. Sure, Firth is well known for his P&P wet shirt moment, however, this whole sorry slapfight is soggy for the wrong reason:

In re-watching this film(which I painfully admit to owning on DVD), the complete lack of energy for this project is incredibly clear to see.

 Unlike the lively humor and engaging character development from the original BJD, this second movie appears to have drained the life out of everybody and it's only the second one! I can understand being bored by playing a role for three,four or six times but if part two has the whole cast mentally checking out before the camera starts to roll, that's a bad sign.

Firth aside, the whole movie seems determined to just get every plot point over and done with. Most of the focus is on Bridget being incredibly clownish(I counted eight major pratfalls, three of which were on a ski slope) and the supporting characters such as her parents and trio of friends reduced to pointless cameos.

 Sure, her best gal pal Shazzer goes with Bridget to Thailand(I swear there's one scene in which everyone competes to show how loudly they can say "Thailand?!") but that's merely done so that Bridget is completely innocent when caught with drugs at the airport, thanks to her good friend picking a mysterious new boy toy who sets them up.

The entire "unjustly imprisoned in Thailand" section is cringe inducing to say the least as Bridget leads her fellow prisoners in a Madonna singalong, realizes how petty her boyfriend troubles are due to hearing about the other women's emotional horror stories and tries to pretend her issues with Mark were just as bad and when released, Bridget's parting gifts to her cellmates are self-help relationship books and fancy underwear!

That sequence of events was bad then and even worse nowadays. Almost makes Bridget slipping and sliding down a ski course( ending right into a drug store where she engages in a bad translation bit about buying a pregnancy test) look far more dignified:

The movie was a true disappointment on many levels and why I bought this DVD, I don't know(other than an excuse to gaze upon Colin Firth). The original Bridget Jones's Diary still holds up well and it would be nice to forget that this sequel even existed,alas they did make a third one,which makes part two hard to ignore.

So, I must mock Colin Firth again next week as I watch Bridget Jones's Baby for the first time. If this is my first viewing, how will I know it's bad, you may ask.

 At this point in my movie watching life, my bad movie detection skills are quite strong and just seeing the trailers for this flick(which replaces Hugh Grant with Patrick Dempsey) causes my cinematic defensive senses to begin a-tingling: