Sunday, October 31, 2010

10 FAVORITES (8) - Halloween PART IV: CANDY!!!!


Happy Halloween Everyone! Today's blog post is dedicated to that all-important part of the scary holiday: CANDY!!!!!! Let's face it, it's the candy that makes Halloween many people's favorite holiday. What other time of year can you go into Target or Wal-Mart and get massive bags of candy at discount prices? Okay, maybe Valentine's Day. But on Halloween, it's dark, spooky and cool. In honor of all that, this week's edition of 10 FAVORITES is devoted to the sweets that I love. When it comes to candy, everyone has their personal favorites and these are mine. So, if you disagree or would like to share your favorite candies, feel free to comment (nicely!).


Willy Wonka Candies (Nerds, Runts, SweeTarts, Gobstoppers and Laffy Taffy)
If you're like me, you grew up watching the now classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder as the titular eccentric candy maker. The Wonka Candy Company was created to promote the film and their best candies are the ones listed above. My brother was (and IS) a great fan of Nerds, while I loved Runts and we both enjoyed SweeTarts!

Gummi Bears
Yes there are also Gummi Worms, Gummi Fish, Gummi Dinosaurs and what have you. They are all variations on a theme and it is the classic Gummi Bears that put a smile on my face. Cutesy, yes, but soooo good!

Milk Duds
This is my go-to "Movie Candy." Anytime I go to the movies, I get a box of Milk Duds no matter what kind of movie! No wonder they love me in Hershey, PA!

Candy Corn
Probably one of the most generic candies on the list. There's no particular brand I love over the other. Whether it be Brach's or Jelly Belly or whatever, Candy Corn is a delicious favorite.

Had you asked me to make this list 10 or 15 years ago, M&M's would probably be higher. But they are still on the list and these classics (be they Plain or Peanut) are a staple in my family.

It has been in recent years that Snickers has become a bigger favorite of mine. It certainly was a huge favorite of my Mother (may she rest in peace). Maybe in time, it could make its way to #1!

Red Vines
Red Vines are just plain good. Whether in a box at the movies (my other candy at the movies!) or in a big Costco-size bucket, Red Vines rock!

Kit Kat
This candy combined a chocolate candy bar with a wafer cookie. How much more could you ask for? Plus, it was one of the few candies that had a great commercial jingle to go along with it ("Give Me a Break!").

Mike N Ikes
I don't know how I got into this candy, but once I did...boy, did I!!! They are like Jelly Beans, but not. I don't know what it is about them, but I just love them.

Hershey Kisses
This is just a standard. One of the first candies I just adored. Both of my grandmothers had Kisses in their candy dishes. I loved asking for a Kiss and getting a foil wrapped chocolate!

Reese's Pieces
Amongst my friends and family, I think I am in the minority but I LOVE Reese's Pieces. Maybe its the chocolate. Maybe its the peanut butter. Maybe its the E.T. connection (Product Placement! Woo Hoo!). But no matter what it is, I absolutely love them.

So, there you have it: My 10 FAVORITE Candies. I hope your favorite is on this list somewhere and if not, let me know. And in the meantime...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

10 FAVORITES (7) - Halloween PART III: Magical Creatures

It is Halloween season and we are now on the 3rd installment of 10 FAVORITES' tribute to the holiday. After vampires and witches, we now shift to the magical creatures of folklore and fairy tales. We've had so many worlds of magic over the years from Oz to Narnia to Middle Earth to Hogwarts to beyond. Each land took their take on different creatures from the fairy tales and legends that have enchanted our childhood and have been Disney-ized in our culture. But who are the most important magical creatures? Well, today's 10 FAVORITES will answer that question and remind us all of the powerful beings that did everything from delight us to frighten us to just plain thrill us.


The Hobbits are the heart and soul of Middle Earth. J.R.R. Tolkien created characters that were agriculturally dependent and grounded in their traditions. The only reason these great characters are Honorable Mention is because Hobbits are primarily exclusive to Tolkien's world. They have become part of the cultural lexicon because of the series and do not really extend beyond it.

The tiny Irish imps who protect the Pot O' Gold at the end of the rainbow are deeply rooted in Celtic myth. They have since been a huge part of movies (like Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People) or musicals (like Finian's Rainbow) and not to forget college sports or a complete breakfast (both pictured below).

These mythical creatures have been the fantasy of little children (especially little girls) everywhere. The horses with the unique horn atop their head have been depicted in art, film and literature to great acclaim (used in everything from Harry Potter to My Little Pony). Their healing powers and pure blood have fueled legend of these creatures that many fanboys and fangirls still believe in.

One of the most beloved and romantic legends is that of the valiant Knight who slays the dragon and rescues the fair maiden. Dragons have always had a mystical aura around them and they have ranged from being dangerous monsters (see Harry Potter) to intelligent creatures (see Eragon) to trainable companions and lovable pets (see How to Train Your Dragon or Pete's Dragon, both below).

Probably the most violent of all the creatures on this list, werewolves have had a long history as one of the big-time classic movie monsters (alongside vampires and mummies). Thanks to films like An American Werewolf in London and the Twilight series, werewolves have become sensitive creatures who are victims of their circumstance and cannot help the horror that ensues in their presence.

The mystical world that Scheherazade weaved in her tales for her king, Shahryar, was made more fascinating by the presence of genies. Genies could be anything (and if you watch Disney's Aladdin, you believe that!). They could be terrifying or humorous or kind or endearing or even beautiful (Barbara Eden...YOWZA!!!).

These lovable little guys have helped shoemakers, dragon-fighters and even the Big Guy in red. In some cases, they are sidekicks and in others, they are henchmen. In Tolkien's world, they are more human-like and have great powers and skills (plus they look like Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom!).

Halloween always tends to bring out our fascination with the afterlife. Ghosts have been a big part of the cultural lexicon (I mean, Jennifer Love Hewitt whispered to them!). Some of the best ghosts (and most prominent) came from comic books (see Casper) and a Victorian short-story related to a different holiday (no, Jane Austen did NOT write an Easter story!).

Jack defeated one. David did too, with just a slingshot. Harry Potter befriended one (well, a half-one). Giants are (forgive me) a huge part of folklore. Fairy tales and the Bible have us fearing these imposing figures. Recently, giants have become gentle and friendly (they even play basketball!)

While not technically magical themselves (with the possible exception of Rumpelstiltskin), these creatures do evoke a world of magic and legend. For many of us, Snow White was one of the first fairy tales (and even films) we saw as children and so the Seven Dwarfs became staples in our pop culture. Dwarves even appear in Tolkien's world with great strength and powerful fighting skills.

With waves of their wands, fairies have delighted audiences all over the world. Disney has even branded the term to create a new franchise (much like their Disney Princess franchise where Peter Pan's Tinkerbell is at the center). Other fairies in folklore have been useful aides to our heroes or heroines (like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Pinocchio). We even call them "Fairy Tales!"

So there you have it, the 10 BEST MAGICAL CREATURES in folklore and legends. If you're thinking this list is a little Disney heavy, well, there is a reason for that. Disney has been the company that has influenced our culture and our mindsets for what seems like an eternity. Next week, our Halloween lists continue, as 10 FAVORITES will cover the best Candies!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10 FAVORITES (6) - Halloween PART II: Witches & Wizards

It is the second week of October and this month's 10 FAVORITES are dedicated to the holiday of Halloween. The icons, the images, the symbols and the monsters all define the day. This week, I focus on people with magical powers. In short, the Witches and the Wizards of our cultural lexicon. Witches have been part of our history since...well, since forever. The very idea of witchcraft and wizardry has perplexed philosophers, enchanted children, excited audiences and even angered the religious community. There are so many famous magical characters but I have narrowed my favorites down to my usual list of 10 (11, if you count the Honorable Mention!). So, with a wave of my wand, let's begin!


The Wizard of Oz, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Okay, let's get this SPOILER out of the way. He isn't really a Wizard. He's just a guy from the Midwest who landed over the rainbow in the Land of Oz and was declared its new ruler. But just the power and cadence of his name within the original L. Frank Baum story (and the many adaptations of said story including the beloved 1939 edition) means things will be resolved. For many of us, he was the first Wizard we new about and we have no other name for him other than "The Wizard."

The White Witch, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Witches and Wizards are powerful beings and, like the Great and Powerful Oz, this Witch ruled a magical world. But her rule was an iron fisted rule filled with cold Christmas-less winter and she terrorized her subjects by turning lawbreakers (as she deemed them) into stone. Her cold emotionless demeanor (perfectly portrayed on film in 2005 by the brilliant Tilda Swinton) was equalled by her hatred for the Christ-like lion Aslan and all the good he represented in the C.S. Lewis created Narnia.

Sabrina, Sabrina: The Teenage Witch
This series has its fans and it has its detractors. But the charming and innocent titular Witch first appeared in a series of comics (created by the people behind Archie). In the 1990's, she transported to Primetime TV (ABC's TGIF night) where the spunky Melissa Joan Hart took on the role and played it for almost an entire decade (going way beyond teenage years!). The success of the series prompted an animated version that also was quite popular with the Saturday morning crowd.

Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty
As I said when I talked about Sleeping Beauty in my 100 Movies List, Maleficent is one of my all-time favorite Disney villains because of her motivation. Sure, she takes it WAY too far, but we all get upset or angry when we feel slighted or snubbed. Maleficent has such massive power and pure anger that she declares herself the "Mistress of ALL Evil!" and no one dares contradict her.

The Witches of Eastwick, The Witches of Eastwick AND The Halliwell Sisters, Charmed
I put these two trios together because they represent the modern fantasy about Witches and covens. Men and boys everywhere (at least the ones born in my generation and after) think about the sensual and out-and-out hotness of both of these sets. The first (which appeared in John Updike's novel and its 1988 film adaptation) are just three women who have a strong connection and (subconsciously) call upon a devilish and charming man to turn their world around. The latter (which appeared on the smash-hit WB series that has legions of fans) was another Eastwick-like coven that fought demons and villains while still trying to deal with everyday life.

The Sorcerer, Fantasia
Sure, some of you may be wondering why this guy (who does NOT speak a word in Disney's musical masterpiece sequence of The Sorcerer's Apprentice) is so high on my list. Let me explain. As a kid, this guy frightened me. The darkness of his first appearance, the coldness of his glare, and just the manner in which he enters the room intimidated me. For me, Wizards were either kindly like the phony Wizard of Oz or this polar opposite, who could put the fear of God into the sweet and iconic Mickey Mouse.

Samantha Stephens (and her mother, Endora), Bewitched
Bewitched is one of the most beloved series of the 1960's. Elizabeth Montgomery's sweet and resourceful Samantha and Agnes Moorehead's catty and sarcastic Endora were immense reasons why the show was (and IS) so popular. We always loved when Samantha would twitch her nose or snap her fingers AND we grinned (with guilty pleasure) when Endora would purposely get her daughter's husband's name wrong!

Gandalf the White, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I just think Middle Earth was a better place because of wise and powerful beings like Gandalf the White. He was a magnificent wizard, a great fighter and companion, and a beloved grandfather figure who could advise and make decisions. In my opinion, he is the best character in the series and competes to be one of the greatest characters created in literary history. J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical opus was brilliant enough on the page and was brought to even greater heights when Sir Ian McKellan played the part of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's grand film versions.

Merlin, The King Arthur legend
There have been so many adaptations of the Arthurian legend from action films to TV series to musicals to animation to even Monty Python! Throughout the many adaptations, Merlin the Wizard tutor of the young Arthur has been an integral part of the legend. To many, Merlin is considered the ultimate Wizard, which is very understandable. But there are two franchises that eclipse the power of this mystical sorcerer (for me, at least).

Harry Potter (and Friends), The Harry Potter series
J.K. Rowling's tremendously successful franchise has gotten children (families, even) reading again and they are all fascinated by the Wizarding world of Harry, Ron, Hermione and all of their friends and teachers. Even the last two films in the franchise (Rowling's seventh and last book is being split into two parts to cover as much as they can of the 700 page novel) are so eagerly anticipated that the studio is sticking to the announced release date (despite not being able to convert the first part into 3D in time).

The Wicked Witch of the West AND Glinda the Good, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz AND Wicked
The Wizard himself was an absolute phony, but the two Witches in Oz (each from different sides of the spectrum, at least in Baum's version) were the true powerful beings in the land. The Green one was wicked, villainous (or misunderstood depending on which version you pay attention to) and just HAD to have those shoes! The Good one was beautiful, kind (or stuck-up, once again, depending on which version you pay attention to) and taught us the final moral of Dorothy's journey. Plus, how many Witches, who serve as supporting characters in one of the most beloved books/films of all-time, get to be the stars of their very own Broadway smash-hit musical?!?

So, there you have it: The Best Witches and Wizards from Pop Culture. Next week, more magical beings as I explore the many magical creatures from folklore, fairy tales and modern films. Enjoy October and...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

10 FAVORITES (5) - Halloween PART I: Vampires

It is the month of October and October is the month of Halloween. In honor of the beloved holiday, I am devoting the entire month's worth of 10 FAVORITES to all things Halloween! Each week, I will give you my list of favorite vampires, witches, magical creatures and (to top the month off) candy. So for the first Halloween list, I decided to pick the most popular monster in media history. Vampires are everywhere: In movies, television, books and even stage. But who are the best vampires in the lexicon of pop culture. Well, as it is a matter of subjectivity, everybody has their personal favorites, including a media critic like myself. So here they are:


Edward Cullen, The Twilight Saga
I'm gonna go ahead and put this out there. I have not seen nor read any part of The Twilight Saga. I have managed to avoid the popular franchise since the very first of Stephanie Meyer's books came out. And before the cries of "FOUL!" come forth, I am offering this proverbial olive branch and recognizing the influence and power this particular character has had on our culture. Now, this may not be good enough for the Twi-hards out there, but seeing as how I have never read the books or seen the movies, it would not be fair of me to put this character above the ones I am familiar with. So Honorable Mention will have to do...for now.

Bela Lugosi's version of Count Dracula, Dracula
You may be wondering why Count Dracula is so low on this list. Do not fret! Mr. Lugosi's interpretation is not the only one that makes this list. And the only reason this iconic edition of Bram Stoker's infamous character is only #10 is because the 1931 film is hard to watch for some people. For die-hard cinema fanatics, it is an absolute treat. But for those who don't watch a lot of classic 1930's B&W films, it is jarring and a little bit dated. But Lugosi's version is the icon we ALL are familiar.

Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows
This show was one of the most intriguing soap operas in TV history. The character of Barnabas, the 175-year-old vampire, first appeared in the show's second year (played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid). The series then took on a massive cult status that still survives to this very day, prompting a new film version of the show starring Johnny Depp as Collins to be released in 2011. We shall see Depp's new take on the role in the coming year, but Frid's version is highly memorable (and obviously influenced by Lugosi's Dracula).

Nosferatu, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Director F. W. Marnau's 1922 silent classic is the first time the vampire myth was ever brought to the screen. Allegedly, the director was so dedicated to telling the story that his title character was purportedly played by a real vampire (Max Schreck).

Bill Compton, True Blood
The Vampire of the Bayou! In a world where Vampires and other creatures roam the Louisiana landscape alongside humans, Bill Compton, a vampire who tries to live a normal life, falls in love with spunky psychic Sookie Stackhouse. The gory and sexy HBO series has been a cable favorite since its debut in 2008 and Bill and Sookie have become one of TV's favorite couples (played by real-life married couple Stephen Moyer and Oscar-winner Anna Paquin).

Count Chocula, Count Chocula Cereal
First introduced in 1971 (alongside the strawberry flavored Frankenberry cereal), Count Chocula was the mascot for the self-titled cereal made up of chocolate flavored corn flakes and marshmallows. The mascot (very highly influenced by Bela Lugosi) would appear in commercials with the tagline "I vant to eat your cereal!" until the commercials stopped airing in the early 2000's. The cereal can still be found on grocery store shelves these days, though mostly around Halloween as the character (along with his Frankenberry and Boo Berry companions) and his cereal sell best at this time.

Angel, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer AND Angel
This vampire was so awesome as a male lead (sort of) on one show that he spawned a whole series unto himself. Joss Whedon's Buffy and Angel both have a huge cult following and actor David Boreanaz (now the star FOX's hit Bones) has a large part to do with that. His steely, cool demeanor and his brooding presence made the character a fascinating and complex bad boy.

Lestat de Lioncourt, Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles
Anne Rice's sensual and bold character first appeared in her breakthrough novel Interview With the Vampire (1976). His enigmatic character and passionate presence is not to be denied. Almost a decade later, Rice followed her successful novel with Lestat's biography, The Vampire Lestat, which (in my opinion) was not as good as her first novel, but you could see she was trying to give the character a rich background. The character has been the definition of the modern view of classic vampires, especially the interpretation in the 1994 film version of Rice's first book, where Lestat is played by Tom Cruise (in one of his most intriguing performances).

Blade, The Blade Comic Books
The vampire hunter who is a vampire himself is one the coolest comic book characters ever. Whether it is through his touching and heartbreaking origin story (which is really too complicated to go into detail here) or his butt-kicking action-packed movie moments (where the character is perfectly played by Wesley Snipes), Blade is one of Marvel Comics most powerful and most underrated characters.

Count Von Count, Sesame Street
Too many people, this one doesn't "count" as a real vampire. And to be fair, they might be right. I mean, we never see him devour human flesh or suck human blood. The only vice this beloved character has is his obsessive need to count!. But all of that aside, he was the first vampire-like character most of us (as kids) ever came across. Like Barnabas Collins and Count Chocula above, his creation was highly inspired by Bela Lugosi's interpretation of Count Dracula and we all just love him for it. Here, let's count together!

Gary Oldman's version of Count Dracula, Bram Stoker's Dracula
It's pretty obvious that Bram Stoker's character is the most important and most fascinating vampire in media history. For me, Gary Oldman (now famous for being part of the Harry Potter franchise and Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot) gave the most complex and the most powerful performance as Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola's stylish, sexy and bloody 1992 film version of Stoker's novel. Oldman's performance is full of villainy and blood-curdling revenge but also filled with pain and suffering that we, the audience, see why Winona Ryder's Mina Murray falls for the charming stranger she knows as Prince Vlad.

So there you have it, the 10 FAVORITE Vampires from pop culture. Next week's Halloween 10 FAVORITES will cover the powerful sorcerers that make us shiver. It's the 10 FAVORITE Witches and Wizards for next week's installment.