Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Turning the autumn leaves of your September/October new reads

The unofficial end of summer is almost here and I know that I'm not the only one waiting to pull out those comfy sweaters and warm up a nice cup of hot chocolate to enjoy the evening chill with.

The fall season has plenty of new pop culture delights to savor such as potentially award winning films, the return of our favorite TV shows and a crop of new books ripe and ready for the reading.

For September and October, the air is filled with spices(and I don't mean pumpkin spice!) such as newly sharpened pencils, sweet apple cider and the crisp scent of paper pages being slowly turned for one of these engagingly fresh reads before you:


Ann Patchett gives us a fictional tour of The Dutch House, a home shared by more than one generation of a family whose relationships are in part shaped from taking up residence there.

When Cyril Conroy buys the elaborate 1920s mansion for his growing family, his young wife Elna feels so oppressed by the rather stately manor that she leaves in search of a better, more emotionally fulfilling life. However, her two children, Maeve and Danny, are left far behind.

The kids receive little comfort from their remote father and not much from their new stepmother, who loves the house so much that she insists upon claiming the property for herself alone upon the death of her husband. Despite the dark cloud of sorrow that follows them around, Danny and his sister Maeve prove to have a stronger foundation than the house where most of the memories of their lives were made.

Patchett has a remarkable talent for painting quietly vivid portraits of people set in vital places in their lives and this upcoming exhibit should be the literary masterpiece indeed(September).

Speaking of masterpieces, Elizabeth Strout decides to have her readers visit Olive, Again, as in Olive Kitteridge, her dry witted heroine from the 2008 award winning novel of interconnected short stories.

Ten years later, Olive is still showing the rough side of her nature yet can't help being part of the everyday world. Her second marriage has it's ups and downs, her son Christopher is in and out of her life and a former student or two pop up when least expected.

Even with her hackles raised, Olive has much to offer to others and while acknowledging her own shortcomings, is not at all about to give into complete despair. This feels like a welcome return and with any luck, we'll get another wonderful HBO adaptation out of it to boot(October):

In the follow-up to her previous novel set in 1880s New York , Where The Lights Enters by Sara Donati traces the path of two cousins, Anna and Sophie, who are pursuing their medical dreams as best they can.

While Sophie decides to channel her grief from the loss of her husband through using her inheritance to create scholarships for other women seeking to become doctors, Anna has concerns both within and out of her control.

In addition to losing custody of her foster children, she is worried for the safety of her detective husband Jack, who,along with his partner Ollie, is searching for a ruthless serial killer.

 The victims of his vicious wrath are desperate women in need of a safe solution for their unexpected pregnancies, which makes most of the authorities less than sympathetic to their plight. Nonetheless, Anna and Sophie are determined to save the women in their care from such horrors but what risks will they and Jack take that won't endanger them as well?

This blend of historical fiction with serial killer sinister storytelling offers great insights into the difficulties that women both back in the day and sadly, in our day and age, still face yet not without some courage and dignity to accompany them on this heartfelt journey(September):


In Bob Proehl's The Nobody People, a father named Avi realizes that his daughter Emmeline's uniqueness is more than just a personality quirk. She and many other young people are displaying extraordinary abilities such as telekinesis, invisibility and unusual mechanical prowess that leads to fear and persecution.

While Avi is able to find a school that can help Emmeline learn to use her gifts safely, others are not as fortunate, with some being hunted down by secretive government forces.

To make matters worse, the violent action of a pushed too hard young man with otherworldly powers puts everyone in this new community in jeopardy. Can Avi save Emmeline from such threats or is he simply to step aside and let what happens, happen? Proehl intends to follow this up with another book and I hope that we see it sooner rather than later(September):

When less than romantic heroine Miranda enters The House of Brides, she gets quite the rude awakening and then some. In Jane Cockram's debut novel, our leading lady is taking a nanny job under false pretenses as she's more interested in the titled home than watching over the three siblings living there.

Miranda's late mother Tessa once wrote a one and done novel about the place and since Miranda herself is in the unhappy position of needing to stay out of the spotlight for now, pretending to be the new nanny for her distant relatives seems ideal.

Yet, nothing is what it appears to be and when push comes to potential lethal shove, Miranda has to gather up what courage and cleverness she possesses in order to save the day and then some. This seems to have a flavor combo of Rebecca meets The Nanny Diaries and that could hit the right sweet spot for many a reader out there(October).


 It may feel too soon to be thinking about winter holidays but I get the feeling that we're really going to need some extra holly jolly vibes this year. A good place to start is The Mistletoe Matchmaker by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, set in Ireland where a young lady named Cassie is not looking for love yet it finds her anyway.

Cassie is happy to spend this special time of year with her grandmother Pat in the small town of Lissbeg where her father grew up. She even has friends in the community and joins the new writing group at the local library.

However, there are tensions hovering all about her that make this festive season feel less than bright. Also, getting the attentions of the charming and handsome Shay is very nice indeed but should she think that his notice means more than local hospitality? A lovely holiday themed story that highlights both family and romantic love sounds like a nice bookish gift pack to me(October).

If you prefer a taste of mystery with your seasonal sweetness, A Cup of Holiday Fear from author Ellie Alexander is the one to order up.

This tenth entry into The Bakeshop Mystery series has Jules Capshaw and friends getting ready to celebrate Christmas in all of it's edible glory.  While her family bakery Torte is doing well and then some at this time of year, Jules wants to take a time out for a bit of real holiday feasting.

Setting up a Dickensian feast for all of her family and friends sounds perfect and while the food is nicely delightful, the weather outside is growing naughtily frightful. Even more menacing than the snow storm is the sudden death of a dinner guest, which makes Jules have to take off her Santa hat to put on a detective cap to solve the case.

I do love this cozy little series and not shy about saying that I do have this book on pre-order and plan to save it for a Christmas themed readathon later this year. This book is truly a great gift to give to yourself as well as other fans of cozy mysteries looking for a little lightness before the new year arrives(September):

Hope you all have a great Labor Day weekend and ready for the fresh fall season ahead of us. I know that there are plenty of great things to look forward to, including the arrival of Downton Abbey to the cinema and another fabulous film visit with the March sisters(which really looks awesome!):

Monday, August 26, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail ends Bad Movie Month by breaking Red Dawn

At last, we reach the end of Bad Movie Month as our special theme of Avengers:FilmFail has felt as long as an infinity war and now, it's great to finally be in the endgame.

Our last entry shines a less than divine spotlight on Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor, in the 2012 remake of the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn. Just like the original, this new edition has a PG-13 rating but beyond that,there's not much of an improvement over the first film.

Let's start with the opening credits, which gives us a CNN style cliff notes version of world events, showcasing North Korea as the next major threat( the first script had the Chinese attacking us but the producers soon realized that having them as the adversaries would make it hard for this movie to do well...in China).

Then it gets all Friday Night Lights, as our leading man Jed(Hemsworth) is back home after serving in Iraq and watching his little brother Matt(Josh Peck) screw up the big football game. Of course, Jed and his dad(who happens to be the local sheriff) are all supportive of Matt, who has a cute blonde girlfriend who is,naturally a cheerleader  and there's a cute girl named Toni(Adrianne Palicki) who finds Jed to be cute as well.

Toni and Jed keep running into each other during the course of this movie as a potential romantic couple but their brief moments together are as meaningful as two people who meet cute in any cheesy TV commercial, not to mention I've seen better writing in Hallmark Channel movies:

The next morning, the town is under invasion from North Korean forces who follow a WWII style of attack, with parachute jumps and soldiers on the move! Seriously, we're about fifteen minutes into this movie and already the boom-boom-boom has begun.

Jed and company flee to the woods, with the enemy in hot pursuit and yes, I have so many questions. For one, how is it that once they get to the family cabin in the woods, everyone immediately knows where all the guns are stored inside? I mean, some of the weapons are in kitchen drawers and other offbeat spots but nobody seems to need to ask where any ammo is or anything like that!

Also, more importantly-why are the occupying army so worried about a bunch of high school kids lead by one ex-soldier? You'd think that with the mayor and the sheriff under their control, that would be more than enough to maintain control of a small town, plus they're the ones that have the armored cars and rocket launchers on hand!

Anyway, after his dad is nobly taken out by the main captain of the invasion troops, Jed decides to turn his kid brother and their band of CW show extras into a resistance squad who call themselves Wolverines(after their high school mascot, not the X-Men character). Speeches and training montages follow:

Granted, it's been a long while since I saw the 1984 Red Dawn but this movie felt like it was on fast forward the whole time-click, a training scene-whoosh, a raid on the town,bam, a major raid being screwed up by Jed's brother looking for his captured girlfriend, boom, new rebel allies show up!

Plus, as Drive In Theater expert Joe Bob Briggs might say, there's not much plot to get in the way of the story. At one point, it's mentioned that the NK invaders were being backed by Russia-why would Russia need to use North Korea as a military beard? Then later, during a big battle scene in town, two of the teen Wolverines take refuge in a sandwich shop and decide to rob the frightened staff for food! Uh, hello, you're supposed to be the good guys, remember? Stealing from your fellow captive townsfolk is not in the playbook there!

A lot goes on but it's hard to care about any of the characters since I've seen Colorform sticker figures with more personality. Sure, they try to add a few lighthearted moments, such as tricking a guy into drinking deer blood, but none of that jells at all.

Hemsworth does what he can here but his acting muscles are not strong enough to give any substance to the paper thin plot points. He does fight the NK captain that took out his dad at one point and gets to deliver the line "You f**ked with the wrong family!", which would have held some weigh had Hemsworth and the bad guy in question been able to exchange a little dialogue beforehand or at any time in the movie!

Mainly, this movie is made up of noise and fury, signifying less than nothing but wasted screen time. The only good thing I can say about this movie is that it's short, yet far from sweet:

Oh, wait-I can also say in it's favor that it does have a few memorably bad lines like "Marines don't die-they go to hell and regroup!" and "It's a vital piece of military equipment, not your porn stash!" Other than that, this movie is as memorable as cotton candy with the bad aftertaste of nostalgia porn left on your cinematic palate.

Well, I thank you all for sharing this awful movie journey with me and hopefully, my theme for next time will be more mirthful and less deep hurting. In the meanwhile, I am happy that this cycle of Marvel movies have done so well and I look forward to what lies ahead(although taking Spiderman out of the MCU is a dumb idea,Sony!). With any luck, we will see a brighter tomorrow both on and off screen:

Friday, August 23, 2019

Taking some cozy mystery comfort in my High Summer reading

Having the High Summer readathon in August this year was a great idea, as the steaming heat from the outdoors(not to mention the sweltering headlines in the news) really makes you want to find a nice spot of shade to enjoy a good book in.

A good portion of my completed reads for this challenge brought me to the cozy mystery section and yes, all of these titles do have a touch of foodie fun.

First up was Murder Lo Mein, the third book in Vivien Chien's Noodle Shop series, where leading lady Lana Lee is now the manager of her family's restaurant. She finds herself actually liking the responsibility, particularly now that her hovering mother is well distracted by the arrival of Lana's grandmother who is more than a match for her own daughter!

However, the big event on the horizon is the annual Asian Noodle contest, where Ho-Lee Noodle House appears to be in the lead, thanks to amazing chef Peter. Unfortunately after an early round of competition, one of the judges(a notoriously nasty food critic) is found dead at an after party. To make matters worse, he received a strange fortune cookie message which sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Lana winds up going into mystery solving mode, complete with her best friend Megan by her side along with other pals old and new as another judge is taken down. When Lana finds one of those frightening fortune cookies slipped into her purse, the search for the killer becomes less appetizing but necessary to save her own life, not to mention the contest!

I really love the world building that Chien does here, making the Asia Village mall as lively and connected as any small town(really hope that Mahjong Matrons get in on the mystery action at some point!), plus the network of female friendships that Lana has is great to see.

 Also, I like it that her relationship with police detective Adam Trudeau got a bit more deeper here, giving him a solid backstory that elevates him from the usual overprotective boyfriend role in this genre.

What's really great in finishing this tasty third helping of the Noodle Shop Mysteries is that book four, Wonton Terror, is due out in just a few days! Yes, I did pre-order this one and will be eagerly awaiting it at my mailbox as much as Lana waits for her new favorite doughnut shop in Asia Village to open it's doors for another delicious treat:

Next, I took a book off of one of my other reading lists(Series-ous Reading, which I'll get back to this September) to dive into as it's set in a very vacation friendly location.

A Crime of Passion Fruit has Ellie Alexander take her bakeshop heroine Jules Capshaw back to the high seas as a temporary pastry chef onboard the cruise ship where she first met her estranged husband Carlos.

As it happens, it's a good time for Jules to be away from her beloved hometown bakery Torte, due to an expansion of the premises during the slow season, plus her hard working mom Helen is given a free trip(along with her police detective beau known as the Professor) as part of the deal.

While Jules finds herself enjoying the time back on the boat, along with seeing her mom finally get a chance to relax and have fun, the unexpected death of a young woman causes everything to swerve off course. None of the crew or the passengers seem to know who the woman was or how she got on the ship in the first place and by heading to the nearest port to get official assistance in the matter, the ship winds up in the path of a vicious storm.

Can Jules keep her feet steady enough to solve the case and keep her kitchen afloat? Well, for one thing, it's good to see our leading lady in another setting,especially the one that has the most significance to her marriage and makes up a strong portion of her backstory. While we do hear about what's happening at Torte(thanks to e-mail) while she's away, having Jules maintain her own sense of self elsewhere is great to see.

I do like the bond that she has with the Professor, as he fully respects her crime solving skills and doesn't patronize Jules at all. It's very father-daughter but not at all a substitution for Jules' actual connection with her late father.

Speaking of bonds, Jules makes a major decision about her relationship with Carlos and while I'm still not happy with him for withholding important information from her, I do admit that he is trying to make up for that as best he can.  I do have happily have more Bakeshop Mystery books to read and look forward to another recipe for page turning pastry goodness indeed:

 Last in this category but miles away from least, The Whispered Word by Ellery Adams is a welcome sequel to the first book in her new series The Secret,Book and Scone Society.

When book shop owner Nora discovers a mysterious young woman hiding in her storage room, she instantly decides to help her out anyway she can. Her fellow society members agree, including baker Hester, who lets the newcomer who calls herself Abilene work in her pastry shop.

While Nora is more than willing to give Abilene the time and space she needs, too many unanswered questions crop up that cause Nora to wonder if there's any connection between her new young friend and the death of a cantankerous customer whose obnoxious son is also causing trouble around town.

Abilene does seem like a person in need of help but she displays quite a few talents that only raise more questions about her origins-in addition to baking, she has amazing artistic display skills(she arranges a gorgeously creative window tableau for the book store overnight) and when making a deal to have her own apartment above the new business in town, Virtual Genie,  she also possesses a keen flair for appraising clocks and watches:

Virtual Genie also appears to be too good to be true, as it's appraisal services for online sales of  various valuables puts on a good show but are they as reliable as they claim to be? Nora and her SBS band of gal pals might have a lot on their plate here yet these ladies are no strangers to compassionate multitasking there!

I do like the developing friendships between the leading ladies, who might disagree on occasion about certain things but still remain the best of buddies. While Nora is more or less the central figure in these books so far, I do hope that one of our other society sisters such as June or Estella gets a chance to headline one of these stories.

With the third book due out next year(The Book of Candlelight), perhaps we'll see that happen. Regardless, this is a lovely series that blends cozy mystery with female focused fiction that charms as well as renews the spirit.

We do have another week to go with the High Summer readathon and from what I've seen, everyone involved is having a wonderfully bookish time! Thanks again to Michelle Miller for making this happen and best literary wishes to all out there.

My plans for the rest of this week include finishing up Meg Wolitzer's The Wife and basking in The Golden Hour with Beatriz Williams, plus not getting any snack stains on my book pages.

Some treats are just too risky to be shared with books but luckily, books are flavorful enough on their own to enjoy( and some snacks have to be handled with caution, that's all!):

Monday, August 19, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail misses a Due Date for laughs in Bad Movie Month

Yes, folks, we're halfway through our Bad Movie Month journey and our Avengers:FilmFail theme brings us to the Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.

Now, Downey can be very funny, when given the right material, and his comic talents have bolstered up some rather flimsy films in the past. However, there was no amount of super powers that could turn a boring bromance movie like Due Date into worthwhile entertainment.

Granted, the movie did do well at the box office when it was originally released in 2010 but most of that success can be attributed to Downey's Iron Man fandom(the second sequel came out earlier that year) than any real attempt at making this sorry mess work.

Downey plays Peter, an architect determined to get home in time to witness the birth of his first child, with wife played by Michelle Monaghan,who was also the love interest in Playing It Cool(the Captain America entry in this series). Does she have really bad luck in picking these roles or what?

Anyway, Peter runs into Ethan(Zach Galifianakis), a weird guy with a French bulldog in tow, at the airport. As Peter and Ethan keep bumping into one another, including an awkwardly gross encounter involving overhead baggage on the plane, things get worse for our man Peter.

Before he even gets on board, an accidental luggage switch has him under suspicion as a drug mule(how they let him on the plane after a quick phone call is beyond me) and then when Ethan starts making comments about terrorism, it's Peter who gets zapped by security. I know this is supposed to be dark humor but some jokes just don't work these days and airline terrorism is a subject best disposed of there:

 After they both get tossed off the place, Peter and Ethan wind up traveling to L.A. together, since Ethan wants to a) spread his father's ashes that are in a coffee can and yes, a bad coffee brewing scene crops up later and b) become an actor. Oh, and he's a big fan of Two and A Half Men and you bet, there's a pay-off on that towards the end!

Peter, not having his wallet on hand, decides to put up with Ethan for as long as it takes to get back to his wife(Monaghan is fortunate enough to literally phone in her performance) but so many wacky hijinks get in their way!

From being beaten up by an irate Western Union clerk(Danny McBride) to stopping by for "glaucoma medicine" being dealt by Juliette Lewis, where Peter has to watch her obnoxious kids(and accidentally on purpose, punching one of them) and then winding up unintentionally crossing into Mexico to be detained by the border police, which so does not play well in this day and age, Ethan and Peter get on each other's nerves and mine to boot!

Since the director Todd Phillips also made The Hangover, this movie was said to be a cross between that buddy adventure and the John Hughes' travel comedy Planes,Trains and Automobiles. Sadly, I also see a bit of The Odd Couple here, with Downey trying to be a more polished Felix Unger and having Galifinakis being the stoner version of Oscar Madison.

Trouble is, Downey comes off as a major elitist jerk who makes things worse for himself rather than a good hearted fussbudget and Galifianakis seems to be a character in a tired SNL skit most of the time, which doesn't help in building any chemistry with his co-star.

 That lack of connection between the two just makes jokes that involve drugs, self pleasuring as a form of sleep aid(and the poor dog is dragged into that bit,too!) and suspecting that Peter's wife may be having a baby with one of his friends(Jamie Foxx) seem vulgar and unoriginal instead of cutting edge:

Even when the movie has their leading men in scenes that are supposed to be bonding moments, the guys give off a strong going through the motions energy.

One of those moments is in a men's room, where Peter tries to give Ethan a chance to work on his acting by setting up scenarios for him to riff on. It's like watching the worst episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? where an actual toilet is on the stage, ready to flush away this awful demonstration of bad acting:

Well, Due Date was definitely one to miss and if I may take a moment for a personal complaint-I hate it when you're made to watch a bunch of trailers on a DVD before getting to the menu to start the movie! It's like the studio is saying "Hey, we know this movie is so bad that you might stop watching it before the halfway mark so look at these ads first!"

Yes, Due Date is one of those DVDs and making me sit through trailers for cinematic crap like Hall Pass doesn't put one in the mood to enjoy this dismal attempt at comedy.

Thank goodness, the next entry is our last one, Chris Hemsworth,aka Thor, in the 2012 remake of the 80s action movie Red Dawn, the first PG-13 movie to be released, a dubious honor at best. Hopefully, there will be some memorably bad lines in this one as my sister and I goofing around on the phone that night was much better dialogue than any to be found in Due Date:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail tries Playing It Cool for Bad Movie Month

Welcome back, folks, for another round of Bad Movie Month where our theme this time out is Avengers:FilmFail, reminding those stars of the less than super roles they've played in the past.

Sadly, I have to highlight Captain America himself, Chris Evans, for the alleged romantic comedy Playing It Cool, which I call alleged due to this being neither one of those two categories.

Evans plays a screenwriter with no name(seriously, he is never called by name by anyone and the same goes for his love interest, which I'll get to in a moment) who has to finish punching up a romcom screenplay before he can work on the action film that he's more interested in.

Evans gets pressured by his agent(Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon) to hurry up, with promises of getting to go on location to pick up attractive women and yes, I'm being polite here. Let's just say his descriptions are gross on the level of a 80's sex comedy and leave it at that.

Anyway, Evans mopes around, reading trashy magazine articles as research because his history of bad relationships makes it hard for him to write about love. First off, shouldn't a screenwriter watch a few movies set in this genre instead? Hell, TCM alone has plenty of classic material to inspire a decent script!

During his moping, Evans goes to an event with one of his buddies(Topher Grace) and winds up meeting a mystery woman(Michelle Monaghan) that he's instantly attracted to. No, she also has no name either and you would think that a first meet would be the time to introduce yourself, right? Well, they hit it off and for some reason, decide to have fun by randomly hitting on older people at the party. This is supposed to be cute and funny but it comes off as really weird and mean instead:

Evans keeps trying to meet Monaghan again in a lengthy sequence that is made extra tedious with pointless narration. See, this movie wants to have it both ways; complaining about standard movie tropes while using as many of them as possible to pad the story line.

In addition to endless narration(Sorry, Chris Evans but even you can't make boring cliches sound interesting), there's also bits where our leading man imagines himself as the main character in other people's stories, which gets amazingly awkward when one of his friends relates a plot line from a K-drama!

At one point, Evans talks to his grandfather(who conveniently dies later on so that he can find Meaning in Life and Love) who takes a break from calling him a term related to a cat to tell the "how I met your grandmother" tale that a)Evans and Monaghan pop up in as the leads and b) turns into an actual cartoon about WWII, which had me wondering if I was watching a bad episode of Adult Swim!

In between his attempts to woo Monaghan, Evans hangs out in weird places(a gun range and then a bowling alley straight out of The Big Lebowski) to consult with the motley crew that make up his friends such as Grace, who is also a screenwriter that leaves copies of Love in the Time of Cholera in random spots, claiming that it's his "art." How the hell is someone else's book YOUR art?! Granted, Evans calls him on that at a later time but Grace's argument seems to be somehow justified nonetheless.

Along with Grace, Evans hangs out with Aubrey Plaza,who sounds like she's intentionally over enunciating her lines and Luke Wilson, who enjoys giving crappy advice. By the way, these characters do have names but I don't care to give them. Trust me, they're not worth knowing:

Evans and Monaghan do wind up in a relationship, which is complicated by her already having a boyfriend(Ioan Gruffudd, the original big screen Mr. Fantastic). It's very on-again, off-again and oh so boring beyond belief!

The dialogue itself is so mind numbing that I found myself wishing I was watching a Lifetime made for TV movie instead. At least those movie have memorably bad lines!

Given the number of reasonably well known actors that pop up in this dismal film such as Patrick Warburton, Beverly D'Angelo(very briefly) and SNL's Kyle Mooney, I'm guessing that the writers and/or the director were pretty well connected to get this movie off the ground but also given the fact that this dull as dirt clunker was shelved for a couple of years, their considerable clout ran out once someone who was not their friend took a good look at the end results!

For one thing, it's hard to sympathize with Evans' plight as he is pursuing a woman who is seeing someone else and the little that we see of the other guy, his only fault seems to be that he's not as cool as Evans:

Also, I find it hard to root for a romance that begins with a first kiss right after the gal tells the guy how she buys birthday cards for herself to send from her dead dad(who killed himself right before her birthday,btw). Kind of sets a morbid mood there, in my opinion.

Yet that revelation clicks with our leading man because his mother left him as a child with a goodbye note attached to his favorite cereal and after hooking with Monaghan , Evans can eat Captain Crunch again. That just leaves a weirdly unpleasant taste in my mouth, sort of like peanut butter and sushi.

Anyhow, the rest of the movie falls into the usual cliche pit, complete with racing through the city to stop Monaghan from Marrying The Wrong Guy and I swear, for a hour and a half long film, this whole end bit felt longer than a Ken Burns miniseries!

Well, hopefully the next installment in Avengers:FilmFail is not as torturous as we join Robert Downey, Jr. on his road trip with Zach Galiafinakis  in Due Date. We shall see,folks, but my expectations are lower than before after watching this moanworthy mess:

Friday, August 09, 2019

Scooping up some sweet late summer book releases

I know everything's been rough these last couple of weeks, not to mention dealing with the humid dog days of summer, but there is one joy that we can cling to with certainty and that is books.

August does have the reputation for being slow and sluggish, especially pop culture wise, but there are page turning treasures to be found and with this being National Book Lovers Day, it's the perfect time to recommend some new books.

First up is The Wedding Party, the newest romcom from Jasmine Guillory. Theo and Maddie share a friendship with Alexa(the heroine of Guillory's The Wedding Date) but little else in common, each finding the other barely tolerable. That all changes when one fateful night, the two of them become one in the intimate sense of the term.

This leads to a continuing yet quiet relationship, where they both agree to keep Alexa and other mutual acquaintances in the dark about their new found appreciation of one another. However, when Maddie and Theo are both invited to Alexa's upcoming nuptials, they decide to make that occasion their endgame. However, will they both want to stop playing by then or take things to the next level?

I really love how Guillory is creating this interconnected world of friends and lovers that doesn't require you to read each entry in exact order. Also, her stories of people trying to make love work with all of the everyday issues around them are so engaging, using heart and humor to keep the plot lines on an even yet entertaining track. Yes, this is one party you want to get an invitation to!:

If you're feeling the flavor of mystery, Vivien Chien has a fourth helping of her Noodle Shop Mystery series to serve up soon. Wonton Terror takes Lana Lee and the Ho-Lee Noodle House folk to the Asian Night Market that marks the start of summer for Cleveland.

While the festival is fun for many reasons, Lana and friends find some tough competition for their famed menu from a new food truck, Wonton on Wheels. Since the owners happen to be long time friends of her parents, Lana feels that this will be a friendly rivalry at best.

However, an unfortunate attack on the food truck leads Lana back into sleuth mode which tests the new levels of trust made with her police detective boyfriend Adam. Worse yet, the investigation becomes very personal as a few secrets from the past are added to the suspenseful stew of events. Can Lana solve the case without stirring the family pot too much?

I just finished book three, Murder Lo Mein, the other day and already have this next one on pre-order. This is such a charmingly delightful series that it's hard to wait for another visit to Ho-Lee Noodle House at Asia Village but this side trip to the night market will be worth my patience indeed:

If a mix of mystery and 1930's screwball comedy is more your style, Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen might do the trick.

The latest in the Her Royal Spyness series takes Lady Georgiana "Georgie" to Kenya on honeymoon with her beloved Darcy. While she's thrilled to go, some of her traveling companions are less than welcome such as former frenemy Rowena Hartley and her brother Rupert, visiting their newly ennobled father Lord Cheriton.

During their stay, Georgie and Darcy also run into the obnoxious Wallis Simpson(still hunting down Prince Edward), get invited to an overnight party that's wilder than expected and find their host Lord Cheriton as a meal for the big cats of the title the following morning. Can the newlyweds have some romantic moments together while dealing with the outdoor and indoor dangers about them?

This is a great series for those who like Downton Abbey and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries that just bubble over with fearsome good fun. Reading out of order is fine but once you try one of these dashing adventures with the sweetly sassy Georgie, you will go back for more!

For full on historical fiction that's female forward, you can do no better than Philippa Gregory, who is launching a fresh saga set in England during a time of turmoil.

The leading lady of Tidelands is Alinor, a midwife with two children who has to fend for herself as her fisherman husband has vanished to who knows where. With her skills at herbal remedies, she can make a decent living but in England of 1648, Alinor has to walk a fine line or be accused of witchcraft by the Puritan forces  who have recently taken over the country.

To complicate things further, she meets James, a Catholic priest in hiding who is still loyal to the exiled court of King Charles, now living in France. By helping James, Alinor may be able to gain some favor that could help her family yet she risks her heart by falling in love with him. Turns out the feelings are mutual but so are the dangers from the rising political tides beyond their control.

Gregory has a deft hand when it comes to showcasing strong women in history and with this first in a new series, promises to give us heroines of the past who can inspire us to hold fast to the fights we face in the here and now:

I hope you all can delight in National Book Lovers Day and embrace some cool breezes before summer is truly over and done with. As for me, I do like making book recommendations when I can but even my list of picks gets rather overwhelming-then again, this is a good problem to have!:

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Bad Movie Month premieres Avengers:FilmFail on The Island

Welcome,folks, to this year's Bad Movie Month, our annual salute to sorry cinema.

Our theme for 2019 is Avengers:FilmFail, due to the overwhelming success of the MCU that culminated in the triumph that is Avengers:Endgame, it only seemed right to remind ourselves of the less than stellar performances that four of the big players in this series have given us in the past.

First up is Scarlet Johansson, aka Black Widow(and also known as "ScarJo"), a lady who has been rather vocal about her choices when it comes to film roles. Too bad she wasn't that particular in 2005 when the script for The Island came her way. Trust me, she would've been better off playing a tree than in this big,loud and stupid mess, courtesy of Michael Bay!

Johansson is the co-star here, playing Jordan, the best "friend" of Ewan McGregor's Lincoln where both of them are confined to an enclosed facility due to the outside world being contaminated by some sort of virus/plague/whatever(it's never really explained).

Lincoln is having weird Altered States on acid type of dreams but his biggest worries in life are not being allowed to have bacon at breakfast, a left shoe that goes missing and a cranky guy on his morning elevator ride who complains that he still hasn't been chosen to go to the island!

The breakfast issue gets somewhat solved, as Jordan uses her charms on the food server lady to get some extra portions and the guy complaining about being stuck in the facility, which is pretty much a luxury hotel set-up, is dealt with but we never find out about that shoe. Some mysteries are best left alone, I guess.

Everyone in the jump suits is just waiting for the lottery to announce that he or she gets to go to the title location, the one place on earth still safe to be at. Of course, it's not what it seems to be and when Jordan's number is called, Lincoln is sad to see her go. Particularly since he's always told to "watch the proximity" whenever he gets too close to Jordan like home schooled teenagers at a chaperoned prom:

The big secret is that there is no island, it's just a ruse to keep them in line as they're all clones who are considered "products" due to the mad science doings of Sean Bean, made for rich folk to use as spare parts.

There's a whole lot of stupid that you have to buy into here, as later in the film, it's explained that the reason for making a little community for the clones is to keep the organs functioning but couldn't that be done another way, like making headless bodies, for example? If you have the tech to make full grown replicas of human beings that takes less than an hour, I would think that this wouldn't be that hard to figure out there!

Also, the clones are supposed to be as educated "to the level of a fifteen year old" but for what purpose? There's no mention of brain transplants and in the beginning of the story, we see a clone class reading Dick and Jane books-if they're supposed to be refugees from a pre-existing world, why would they have to start with the basics?

In addition to that, they're intended  to be not "programmed" for sex yet early on, there's a pregnant clone lady who turns out to be an unknowing surrogate mother. How is that explained to the others and if you're supposed to repopulate the world, why would you be discouraged from sex? No wonder that at least Lincoln caught on to the false front but perhaps if Sean Bean and company had just given him some bacon every now and then.....

Anyway, Lincoln saves Jordan from the organ chop shop and the two of them venture out into the real world and this being a Michael Bay movie, the first point of civilization they arrive at is a strip joint!

There, Lincoln finds Steve Buscemi(one of the workers at the clone farm who hangs out in secret with him) using the men's room and yanks him out of the stall to confront him about the whole "I live in Sector Five" story that Buscemi has given him over the years. Yes, this does lead to an unfortunate misunderstanding about meeting in the men's bathroom from a guy who walks in on this-so not funny then or now- and thankfully, it's brief!

Buscemi is no stranger to cashing a paycheck in cinematic crap like this(he was a welcome sight to see in Con Air) but it's a thankless task in this movie to be the one to let Lincoln and Jordan in on their doomed clone status. He's forced to drop truth bombs such as "Just because people want to eat hamburger, that doesn't mean they want to meet the cow."

 Too bad he couldn't say what my mom(who kindly suffered though this movie with me) said when constantly asked by his unexpected guests, "What are we?" Idiots for being in this movie, that's what!:

Granted, expecting this movie to be at all original is perhaps asking too much, considering that it was sued for copyright infringement by the makers of the 70s B-movie Parts: The Clonus Horror(settled out of court before the trial began).

However, it is down right criminal how underwritten Johansson's role is. At one point in the story, she makes a video call to her original version's home and the OG Jordan's little boy answers,saying his mom is in the hospital . He then asks Jordan "Mom, is that you?"

That thread is dropped quicker than a hot potato and the closest we get to a conclusion is when Sean Bean mentions that the OG Jordan is comatose and brain dead, making the intended organ harvest pointless but still planning to do it anyway. Uh, hello, sub plot much?

Why not have Jordan and Lincoln ,who are betrayed by Lincoln's original source material-a real creep who leers at Jordan like she's a piece of Wasbu beef-find the kid and maybe the husband of the first Jordan to help them out? Maybe set up a love triangle between Lincoln and Jordan's husband, who is torn between saving his wife and being attracted to the fresh new version of her? I know, I know, this is a Michael Bay movie, no character development allowed!

Still, the best she gets is being able to read lies in people's eyes,along with killer kick boxer moves that come in handy for the endless chase and destroy sequences that make up a good portion of this flimsy flick. Given that this movie runs nearly two and a half hours, I think that dropping one or two action scenes would've allowed for a little more nuance, even if hover bikes are involved:

As you may guess, The Island was a major flop at the box office with it's failure blamed on marketing rather than the lazy story telling and over reliance on blowing things up real good.

It was not only a waste of ScarJo's time and talents, this movie also gave fine actors like the late Michael Clarke Duncan and Djimon Hounsou not much to work with. Sean Bean did his fair share of mustache twirling as the villain of the story, with wince worthy lines such as "We have a product on the loose!" and the classic cliche, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out" when having that all too expected showdown with Lincoln.

You might think that ScarJo would try to steer clear of badly written sci-fi scripts after this but given that she later starred in the likes of Lucy in 2014 and then Ghost in the Shell(a wrong choice for so many reasons) a couple of years later, clearly the answer is no to that question! Well, if you persist on making the same mistakes over and over again, you need a thicker skin to handle the blowback, honey.

Join us again for another Avengers:FilmFail when we see Chris Evans aka Captain America, try his hand at romantic comedy in 2015's Playing It Cool. The good news is one of his Avenger co-stars, Anthony Mackie, is in the movie and the bad news is that this film was sitting on the shelf for a long while, making it perhaps staler than it already was: