Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, June 17, 2022

Arranging an Autumn in August Brit Lit bouquet

As some of you may know, I usually devote the month of August to a full on themed film focus and while Bad Movie Month was fun while it lasted, it’s time to embrace the new.

With that in mind, I am happy to announce the lineup for the second outing of Autumn in August , which brings a touch of fall into the latter half of the summer season.

I didn’t intend to add another theme here but British books seem to be the main connection for me here. First up is  2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a title that is quite the mouthful due to being based on two books in the late Patrick O’Brian’s historical fiction series known as the Aubrey-Maturin novels.

Russell Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey, a renowned seaman in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars whose talents at the helm of a ship don’t match up with his dislike for authority.

Paul Bethany is Stephen Maturin, a surgeon taking a navel commission for the first time, hoping to collect some interesting samples from nature during the voyage. These rather unlikely companions become good friends as they and their crew face off against fearsome forces both from and sailing on the sea.

I remember watching this movie when it was first released and how quiet the audience was, since this is the type of story that demands your full undivided attention, something we don’t always get these days. It was well worth it and should be so yet again:

Since M&C:TFSOW is set during the Regency period and Jane Austen fans do like those books as well, it only made sense to select Sense and Sensibility from 1995 as a follow up.

While I have liked other versions of this first of Austen’s works(the recent BBC miniseries was nicely done), this one is an absolute favorite of mine. 

 Emma Thompson, who also won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, as the sensible Elinor restraining her passion for Edward Ferrars(a rather bashful Hugh Grant!) with Kate Winslet playing her openly emotional sister Marianne are sheer delights on screen.

There is so much to savor in this elegantly made film directed by Ang Lee, with the late great Alan Rickman as the lovelorn Col.Brandon, Harriet Walter as the artfully awful sister in law Fanny and Hugh Laurie as the drolly beleaguered Mr. Palmer. A true treasure of a movie as welcome as a fresh cup of tea:

Speaking of Emma Thompson and sister stories, she does have a knack for them as her role in the 1992 adaptation of E.M. Forester’s Howard’s End proves in abundance.

The title refers to a country house owned by the Wilcox family , a prim and proper set who find themselves interacting with the bohemian Schlegal sisters Helen(Helena Bonham Carter) and Margaret (Thompson).

Margaret is the more mainstream of the two, which is why the late matriarch of the Wilcox family connected with her so much that she wanted Margaret to have the house after her death. 

While that wish was kept hidden from Margaret (who had no clue about that idea anyway), widower Henry played by Anthony Hopkins, winds up falling in love with her and proposing marriage.

Margaret accepts but this is no fairy tale romance as Helen’s involvement with a troubled young man sets off a chain of events that alters the course of many lives in their wake.

This is a somberly elegant film that offers subtle food for thought, making it very autumnal indeed:

To round this all out, we follow Anthony Hopkins to 84, Charing Cross Road, a delightful real life tale told through letters.

Anne Bancroft stars as Helene Hanff, a NYC freelance writer during post WWII, whose “antiquarian “ literary preferences causes her to order from London bookshop Marks and Company as well begin a lively correspondence with shop manger Frank Noel(Hopkins).

Hanff had their letters published as a memoir and adapted into a stage play which caught the eye of Bancroft and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve read several of Hanff’s books and she was a witty and warm hearted person who is well remembered for this long term literary friendship by fans the world over:

I do hope you all tune in for this frightfully British film festival of mine later this summer. Meanwhile I’m taking a brief blog break for the next couple of weeks just to get my bearings with everything going on in the world at the moment.

I do plan to return to LRG after July 4th, with a wrap up of my Sci Fi Summer reading, my Series-ous Reading review and possibly a write up on the new version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion , set to arrive on Netflix by July 15.

Now, I must confess that this particular book is the one that got me into Jane Austen in the first place, partly due to the 1995 film adaptation that I talked about for the first Autumn in August. Granted, I may be partial to that movie as it imprinted Austen onto me but I am willing to give a new take a fair chance.

The trailer that dropped this week for it is giving me and many others pause due to Anne Eliot being show as in a very goofy romcom fashion.

 Having Anne address the audience with sly witticisms about her obnoxious family is fine but smearing jam on her face to imitate her former beau Wentworth is a bit too wacky for me.

 Also, waving to him from the window and then diving down from view to dump a glass of wine on her head makes Anne look more like a Regency Bridget Jones than an Austen heroine( and I do like Bridget Jones!).

 Sure, there is plenty of humor to be found in Persuasion (casting Richard E. Grant as the incredibly vain Sir Walter is brilliant) but the theme of the story is reliving regrets and seeing if you can reasonably get a second chance is not meant to be your average Hollywood meet cute there. 

There are other positive points such as Henry Golding playing the smooth talking Mr. Eliot is fun and the visuals look lovely. I just wish that film makers would stop thinking that all Austen heroines must be Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse.

Austen created quieter leading ladies such as Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price and Anne Eliot as contrasts to the likes of Lizzie, Emma and Catherine Morland because not all characters have to be stamped out of the same cookie cutter cliche  mold in order to engage the audience on screen! With a good script and well cast actors, a low key lead can be just as compelling as a lively one in my opinion.

However, this is only a trailer intended to attract attention towards the finished project so I do plan to watch it and hopefully these silly moments are few and far between in the entire film. Let’s give this version of Persuasion a fair chance, folks and hopefully we’ll all be pleasantly surprised:


Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Stocking up on some summer reads

Between the horrid heat of the season and less than stellar headlines in the news, staying inside with some good books is becoming more and enticing there.

With that in mind, my latest library visit not only had me pick up another Christina Baker Kline novel(A Piece of the World) but a chunky new book from Marian Keyes as well.

Again,Rachel is a follow-up to her 1997 novel Rachel’s Holiday, where our title character Rachel Walsh is now a counselor at the very rehab center that ended her addiction cycle back in the day.

While she feels that her life is pretty much in order,despite a tendency to buy too many sneakers, Rachel finds that she is not over her former love Luke, who she divorced several years ago.

Luke is brought back into her world upon a death in his family and even she tries to maintain minimal contact , Rachel has to admit to herself the truth about her feelings both then and now.

I literally stumbled over this book at the library, taking a seat and pleasantly surprised to find it on a nearby display table. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Marian Keyes(did read Rachel ‘s Holiday as well as other stories about the Walsh family) and getting reacquainted with Keyes’ blend of engaging humor and well crafted drama has been well worth the wait indeed:

Meanwhile, I got a bit splurge-y and bought from both Book of the Month Club AND the Literary Guild! Yeah, feeling slightly guilty for that but I do intend to read most of them before Labor Day.

From BOMC,  I chose The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan plus Elin Hilderbrand’s new beach read, The Hotel Nantucket.

The latter location is a newly renovated establishment bought by a rich Londoner and opening up under the hopefully steady hand of Lizbet Keaton, determined to make sure that everything goes smoothly. 

While a main worry of Lizbet and her boss is getting a top notch review from hotel blogger Shelly Carpenter, there are other issues of concern such as a new employee trying to cover up a misdeed of his recent past, Lizbet’s ex showing up to rekindle their freshly ended relationship and a ghost.

I must confess that ghost character ( a young chambermaid named Grace who perished in a hotel fire or did she…?) is what sealed the deal for me on this one. 

One of my favorite TV shows this year  is Ghosts , the sitcom set at a old manor house being turned into a B&B by the  current living owners with one of them being able to see their eternally present guests, making me so eager to meet the dearly departed Grace as soon as can be:

Also got a similar duo from The Literary Guild with Alison Weir’s The Last White Rose and The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner.

When twenty two year old Ruby announces her engagement to her rather new boyfriend Gabe, things are in an uproar among her loved ones for many different reasons.

Her stepmother Sarah is worried about the haste of this impending marriage while step grandmother Veronica is thrilled to have the perfect send off to her Cape Cod house that she’s planning to sell after so many years.

Sarah’s is equally concerned about her husband’s steady distancing from her(which might be a cover for an affair) and as both sides of the family converge upon Veronica’s summer house, she begins to wonder if holding this wedding there was a good idea after all.

Weiner has been putting out a set of Cape Cod themed novels the last few years, with this one being the third, and while they are stand alone stories, it’s hard to not complete the series so to speak.

Plus, this whole summer wedding setting is irresistible for heartfelt drama and relatable laughs, a page turning package of entertainment that Weiner excels at. Much like the upcoming HBO Max remake of Father of the Bride, The Summer Place is a welcome sight to see this hectic heatwave season:

Definitely, my book shelves are overflowing with potential ports of printed delight and yes, I am thankful for that privilege.

While the fact that the real world is in a bit of a mess on numerous fronts at the moment, I am doing my best not to despair at the state of things right now. 

Instead I chose to hold onto to the notion of radical hope, that folks will work to make our collective future one that we can all look forward to with a sense of joy and achievement.

With that in mind, my stress relief includes good books and positive pop culture events like the upcoming Tony Awards this weekend. I may not be able to attend the theater yet the clips that I’ve seen of Six, the musical about the wives of Henry VIII, has me rooting for those royal rock stars to win big. 

Plus, my favorite number is Anna of Cleves with “Get Down” as she revels over her divorced status with unabashed delight, something that hopefully the cast and crew of Six share in that night:

Friday, June 03, 2022

My Series-ous Reading is holding onto His Majesty’s Hope

One of the reasons that I started this whole Series-ous Reading feature in the first place was to catch up on some of my TBR piles and get further acquainted with certain authors and their work.

Well, so far every time I’ve read on of Susan Elia MacNeal’s entries in her Maggie Hope Mystery series, such as my recent SR pick His Majesty’s Hope, my desire to read more increases abundantly.

Maggie Hope is a newly recruited British spy during the dark days of WWII and at last, she’s been given her first overseas assignment. She is secretly airdropped into Germany to be meet up with a member of the resistance movement for two reasons: deliver a pair of radio crystals and plant a listening device in the home of a prominent German agent.

For the latter, Maggie needs the help of her contact Gottlieb Lerner, who is less than thrilled about working with a rookie but is able to pass her off as his girlfriend to gain entrance to the home of Clara Hess, former star singer and vicious enemy agent.

While Clara’s connection to Maggie is more intimate than she’d like, that doesn’t stop her from carrying out her assignment or making plans to stay longer in Germany once a prime opportunity to spy on a major Nazi party figure is ripe for the plucking.

Lerner insists that she stick to the original plan but Maggie is determined to take this risk with or without him. When that initial opportunity doesn’t work out, another one is presented to her that leads to some horrifying discoveries about the ultimate goals of the current Reich.

Nevertheless, Maggie is able to get what she needs while avoiding the advances of the man she’s working for who has no idea of her true agenda and plans to escape before being found out by Clara Hess and company:

Little does Maggie know that there is a secret ally in her midst.

Elise Hess, Clara’s daughter whose nursing work leads her to work with the resistance, is helping to hide two people in her family’s attic from being captured by the Nazis. 

When Maggie is in need of refuge herself, Elise is ready to assist her along with the 
men hidden away right underneath the watchful eye of her devious mother. Despite how solid their plan is, can Maggie and her new friends get to safety before it’s too late?

Reading one of these Maggie Hope novels is like binge watching a great season of smartly written TV. There are plenty of solid supporting characters given full story arcs and nuance within these well paced pages and Maggie is such a steadfast yet mortal heroine that you would follow anywhere.

I plan to read a couple more books in this series later this year and yes, the wait will be worth it. Having the Maggie Hope novels almost makes up for the loss of the Agent Carter series (almost! Marvel, come on, right this wrong there!):

Speaking of books to catch up with, my new selection in this Sisterhood of Sleuthing is Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen.

This eighth entry in the Her Royal Spyness series has hapless noblewoman Georgiana Rannoch being whisked off to 1930s America with Claire, her diva mother, who is in pursuit of a quickie divorce in Reno. 

During their ocean voyage, Claire is offered an audition in Hollywood so a side trip is made that leads to yet another murder for Georgiana to solve.

I do love the screwball comedy energy of these books with their special guest star appearances from famous fans like Coco Chanel, Noel Coward and Wallis Simpson. This time around promises to throw Charlie Chaplin into the mix , which should be amusing in more ways than one: