Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

New Moon is a Half Thrill September 26, 2008

It’s been over a month since I finished reading Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, and you may be surprised to learn that it has taken me that long to make my way through the second book in the series, New Moon. (Most people devour these books in a matter of days, not weeks.) I was rather enthusiastic about the first book, but I can’t say the same for the second. Was it entertaining? Yes, mostly. Was it as intriguing as the first? Not really. As thrilling? Not even close.

The Characters

  • Bella – Oh, Bella, how we love to hate you and your self-centered ways. Seriously, does anyone like her? She simply isn’t a likable person. She doesn’t appreciate all the people in her life who care about her (Charlie, Renee, Angela, Mike, Jacob). She only has room in her heart to love one person – Edward. So far, she sounds like many other teenage girls, but Bella’s self-absorbed mentality is driven into the ground in this book. I almost decided to quit reading the series, when I was about 100 pages into New Moon. I didn’t know if I could handle any more of Bella’s whining, miserable moping, and shameless self pity. I also grew weary of the repetitive plot of the first half of the book: Bella pretends to be normal, but she has a hole in her heart, so she hangs out with Jacob all the time to numb the pain. And hang out she did. Everyday the same thing. Things didn’t get interesting until we learned Jacob’s secret. Two other characteristics of Bella really bother me: her extreme clumsiness (which always conveniently instigates lots of drama) and her complete cluelessness (she can’t grasp that Edward really loves her, despite all the obvious signs). I think the author needs to do more to make Bella likable, because I’m not seeing a lot of reasons that Edward, the most perfect guy in the world, would fall so hard for her.
  • Jacob – Jacob was slightly annoying in the first book; he was a scrawny teenager with a hopeless crush on Bella. My opinion of him remained unchanged in New Moon until around the time that he “got sick,” went into exile (from Bella) for a couple of weeks, and emerged an older-looking, huskier guy. Putting some meat on his bones and some hair on his chest (well, on his entire body in this case) seemed to have the effect of giving him a backbone. I much preferred this new and improved Jacob, even though he made Bella miserable. Actually, I felt bad for Jacob, having to deal with his transformation and adjust his life accordingly, but these developments made his character so much more interesting, and that’s all that kept me reading through the middle part of the book. Random note: for some reason I pictured Jacob looking like Jared Padalecki (from Supernatural and Gilmore Girls). I don’t know why. Maybe because their names sound similar, or because Padalecki was scrawny in Gilmore Girls and is much bulkier now on Supernatural.
  • Alice – Alice was really the only one of the Cullen family that had much face time in New Moon, until Edward’s reappearance. The other members of this vampire clan had little more than cameos. How will they handle that in the movie version? Anyway, back to Alice. She was certainly a breath of fresh air when she arrived! She brought some life back into Bella, and she was the catalyst that jump started the plot into its final climactic segment.
  • Edward – I lament the huge absence in this book of our favorite vampire as much as anyone. But it was sad to see him on the edge of despair when he did appear. At least we didn’t have to see his side of the misery during his and Bella’s separation. But, by the end of the novel we had our wry, beautiful boy back, albeit with an extra dose of lovesick sappiness. Really? He wants to marry Bella?
  • The Adults – In this book more than the first, the grown ups acted like grown ups, looking out for the best interests of their kids. Billy tried to shield Jacob from the pain and awkwardness of being around Bella after his life changing transformation. Charlie tried to protect Bella from Edward after watching how his departure affected her. On the other hand, the author hasn’t painted Bella’s mom, Renee, as a very responsible person. She barely spoke to Bella during the course of this book. It makes her seem like an immature person, that while her daughter was going through traumatic boyfriend troubles, she was busy gallivanting around with her baseball-playing husband. Hmmm, I wonder where Bella gets her one track mind.
  • Everyone Else – I was glad that we didn’t see much of the school crowd this time around. They are all pretty one dimensional, so Bella’s one night out with Jessica, and her night at the movies with Mike and Jacob, were plenty of the high school social scene for me. The one extended scene involving Sam, his fiance, and the other guys in “the pack” was interesting enough to make me hope for more about them in the next book.

The Plot, a.k.a. “Not Much to See Here”When I rehashed the plot in my mind, I realized that not much happened in this book. It boils down to this (WARNING – BLATANT SPOILERS AHEAD):

  • Edward and the Cullens leave Forks because Bella gets a paper cut.
  • Bella is devastated and shuts down for months (I did like the technique of the months passing as the reader turned the pages – October. November. December. January. – that spared us more of Bella’s lamenting)
  • She finally resurfaces and attaches herself to Jacob as a coping technique, shamelessly abusing his romantic interest in her to fill her time and feel wanted.
  • Jacob suddenly distances himself from her, and it soon becomes evident that he is a werewolf.
  • The pack of werewolves, and Bella, learn that red-haired vampire Victoria is trying to sneak into Forks to kill Bella as revenge for Edward killing her mate, James. (if I had to hear one more reference to Victoria’s flame red hair in the distance…)
  • Bella’s response to knowing a vampire is after her again is to go out to the beach alone, and to jump off of a cliff.
  • Alice has a vision of Bella’s cliff dive, mistakes it for a suicide attempt, and after a series of unfortunate events, Edward hears the (untrue) news that Bella is dead.
  • Alice and Bella race to Italy to save Edward from the Volteri by proving to him that Bella is still alive before he steps out into the sunlight and blows the cover of the 1,000 year old vampires.
  • Alice and Bella get to Edward just in time, and after a brief conference with the Volteri, they all fly home to worry about turning Bella into a vampire another day.
  • After much conversation and cuddling, Edward finally convinces Bella that he will love her forever and will never leave her again.
  • Jacob brings Bella’s red motorcycle to Charlie’s house in an attempt to get Bella grounded (she already was) so she can’t see Edward, but his plan fails, and after some tense moments in the forest behind Charlie’s house, he runs off, leaving Bella with Edward, and believing that he can never be friends with her as long as she is hanging out with bloodsuckers, much less if she becomes one of them.
  • The End

So, that was the plot in a nutshell. There were several different things that happened, but none of them were particularly exciting, and were a far cry from the exciting cross country hunt of Twilight, which saw Bella in imminent danger and the Cullens playing various roles in coming to her rescue. The first book was also more interesting in that we were introduced to Meyer’s new spin on vampire lore. She tried to do the same in New Moon with werewolves, and while it was interesting, it wasn’t as fascinating as the vampire mythology she created.

What’s Next? – There were several loose ends left at the end of New Moon:

  • The Cullens have to decide if they will turn Bella into a vampire, as they promised the Volteri, or if they will risk the consequences of failing to do so.
  • Bella will have to come to terms with losing Jacob’s friendship over her vampire love, or she’ll have to get really clever to figure out a way to rekindle their relationship.
  • The werewolves and the Cullens will both have to keep an eye out for Victoria, who no doubt will resurface from that water where her flame red hair was bobbing up and down while Bella was nearly drowning cliff side.
  • Bella will have to decide what her next steps will be, now that she’s on the cusp of adulthood. Will she go to college? Will she marry Edward? Or will she just become a vampire and worry about the rest for eternity?

Despite all my complaining, I do still enjoy the books, so I look forward to the final two installments. My two ongoing issues with the books are 1) Bella, and 2) The way that Stephenie Meyer write’s Bella’s narration, decisions, and motivations. There is still time for the tide to turn, though, so we’ll see.

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2008 Emmy’s: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly September 22, 2008

Recipe for Disaster:

I sat down last night and watched the Emmy Awards, mainly to cheer for 30 Rock, Dexter, Lost, and Neil Patrick Harris. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the winners, slightly annoyed by some of the others, and horrified by some of the host and presenter bits. Thankfully, I watched the show the way an awards show should be watched: in super speed mode on my DVR. Here are my reactions, starting with the positive.

The Good

  • All the love for 30 Rock – This little gem of a show deserves every award that it received. Those awards included Best Comedy, Best Actress in a Comedy (Tina Fey), Best Actor in a Comedy (Alec Baldwin), Best Writing in a Comedy, etc. It was consistently funny last year, always clever, and often outdid its more popular NBC sibling, The Office. If you aren’t watching this show, you should be!
  • Pushing Daisies’s “Pie-lette” winning for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – This show is so unique in the television landscape, and it goes against typical Emmy trends for it to be recognized, so I was thrilled that it won something. The “Pie-lette” was pitch perfect. I look forward to catching back up with this show this season – (my Tivo ate the last few episodes of last season – before I could watch them – in an act of rebellion against the writer’s strike). Perhaps this Emmy win will bring in a few more viewers.
  • Boston Legal not winning anything – I know there are fans of this show out there, but I get so irritated when, most years, it walks away with at least a couple of dramatic Emmy’s that I believe more dramatic shows should have won. Sure, dramatic episodes are submitted to the Emmy voters, but this show is mostly a campy comedy. I dreaded hearing William Shatner’s name called when his award came up, but thankfully it did not. Instead, someone from Damages won. No doubt that is a more intense, dramatic show.
  • House winning for writing – House is a show I only watch occasionally, but I am always aware that it is a smartly written show. So I was happy to see it win here. Besides, it was sweet that the winner mentioned that his baby boy was born the day after he turned in the episode. That was a big week for him!
  • Steve Martin’s introduction to the Honorary Emmy winner Tommy Smothers – I am always a fan of Steve Martin’s deadpan comedic delivery, and he didn’t disappoint here. I can’t say the same for Mr. Smothers, whose acceptance speech went on too long and was too scattered.
  • Josh Groban’s tv theme songs medley – Oh my goodness! This may have been the single best moment of the night! I have always been a fan of theme songs. I even own two compilation albums with classic theme songs from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So I was highly entertained by Groban’s “all in” performance. The normally all business, professionally-trained tenor really hammed it up, didn’t take himself too seriously, but always sang his heart out. Some of my favorite moments: his high-pitched and frantic “I’ll Be There for You” from Friends, his cheesy Love Boat theme, the random “Law and Order” interludes, Animal being “taken” during the X-Files theme (and Groban yelling out “No! Don’t take me!”), and The Jeffersons theme with the gospel choir (I always love choral backup) that morphed into the hilarious Baywatch theme (with Groban doing the whole “running arms” thing that was the show’s claim to fame). In case you missed it: Josh Groban’s TV Theme Song Medley at the Emmy’s

The Bad

  • Jeremy Piven winning Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy… Again – So he has won in this category three years in a row. I am sure he is funny, but I just think that Neil Patrick Harris so deserves recognition for the perfection that is his role as Barney on How I Met Your Mother. Who knew that one day we would know him as the guy who suits up and says “Awesome!” instead of as the kid wearing big sneakers with his scrubs, and a stethoscope around his neck? Honestly, this was the only award I was upset about. Based on recent Emmy history, that’s really saying something.
  • Don Rickles presenting an award with Kathy Griffin – Apparently this guy is a tv legend, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was painful to watch him hog the camera while poor Kathy Griffin kept trying to get in her lines from the teleprompter. Not to mention that I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying anyway. Despite my discomfort in watching this time wasting segment, I am glad that he won an Emmy for his variety special. It is always nice to see the older generation be recognized, and not forgotten, by the younger skewing Hollywood of today.
  • Heidi Klum’s “surprise” wardrobe changeI saw this coming from the moment the five “reality show host” hosts walked out on stage. I roll my eyes any time a beautiful woman is used as a prop in this way.
  • Heidi Klum’s earrings – I’m referring to the earrings that went down to her shoulders and looked like they weighed ten pounds each. It was painful to watch her head bobbing around with these heavy weights. I winced every time she said a line. I hope they were clip-ons!
  • Laurence Fishburne’s red jacketI’m not sure how I feel about Fishburne replacing William Petersen on CSI, but I can say with certainty that Petersen totally outdid Fishburne in the wardrobe department for the Emmys. Petersen looked very sharp, whereas Fishburne looked like he had stepped out of a mid-90s In Living Color skit.
  • The Famous Sets running bit – Sure, it was nice to see the Seinfeld set, but after that, the various sets seemed more unnecessary filler, less nostalgia for the past.
  • The lead up to Best Reality Host – This may have been funny on Saturday Night Live, but there simply wasn’t enough time to warrant it here. I don’t think anyone cared enough. Sure, it pointed out the ridiculous nature of reality show elimination results shows, but was it necessary? No. (As an aside, I suppose Jeff Probst was the best choice to win out of these nominees, but my vote would have gone to the always refreshing Cat Deeley on So You Think You Can Dance.)

The Ugly

  • The Laugh-In Tribute – Was this supposed to be funny? I didn’t laugh a single time. The comedy was awkward, and the players’ delivery of the lines made me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
  • Cynthia Nixon’s dressThis was the only dress that I found completely atrocious. It looked like she was wearing a gray towel, like she had just stepped out of the shower. This “dress” did nothing to complement her body shape. She was all shoulders and collarbone. Yikes. Why in the world did People magazine peg her one of the best dressed? Granted, their photo of her in their gallery makes the dress look better than she did on stage, but still.
  • Jennifer Love Hewitt’s hairWhat was up with that?
  • Paul Giamatti’s acceptance speech – I only caught the end of his speech when he won for John Adams, but it sounded really awkward and bad. An Oscar-winning actor should be able to do better.
  • Most of the presenter banter – The writers really dropped the ball this year on providing decent material to the celebrity presenters. I am sure most of them felt really stupid saying their lines.
  • The Five Host Gimmick – This was such a monumentally bad idea. First of all, I don’t think any of these guys (and girl) have the charisma and comic timing that are a requirement of a good awards show host. Instead, they each represent their own special brand of cheese. Well, Heidi Klum isn’t so much cheesy as just not a commanding presence. I can’t think of any of their jokes that didn’t fall flat. The worst moment was the opening moment, when they all commented that they didn’t prepare anything, and that they were going to stick with that. Not a good way to start the show. It did nothing to instill confidence that we were in capable hands for the night.

How about letting Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart co-host next year? I always find them highly entertaining. They would definitely set us on a better path than this year’s not-so-fantastic five.

I didn’t mention some of the other major winners above. How about former Malcolm in the Middle dad Bryan Cranston winning best actor in a drama for his lead role on Breaking Bad? I am (embarrassed?) to say that I have never even heard of this show. But how nice for a guy who seemed doomed to play goofy roles to win one of the most coveted awards? And another AMC show, Mad Men, which I don’t watch (but perhaps should!) took home a few awards as well. So did Damages and Samantha Who. So congrats to all the winners. Now we can dig our heels in for the new fall season of tv. ABC is dubbing it National Stay at Home week. Well, I stay at home most of the time anyway, so it won’t be any different for me. Unfortunately for ABC, though, I won’t be watching any of their shows except for Pushing Daisies. This fall I will mostly be tuned to NBC, for Heroes, 30 Rock, and The Office.

Did I miss any good, bad, or ugly moments from the Emmy’s? Comment away.

 

Bones: What’s All the Fuss About? September 18, 2008

Filed under: Television — Emily @ 11:22 am
Tags: ,

I was just over at TV Gal reading people’s comments (mostly grumbling) about Bones. There sure are a lot of fair weather tv fans who like to complain any time they get the chance. Now sometimes complaints are called for, but I like to give the writers and producers a chance to follow through on a story before I start to be all doomsday about it. So, let me take a moment to share my opinions about what is happening so far this season on Bones.

The Break Up

The only thing I have thought is really dumb this season is the sudden breakup of Angela and Hodgins. I don’t think it was necessary. There was nothing to justify it. But, that’s why I don’t search for my main enjoyment in a show in the relationships. I am definitely not a ‘shipper. And there are people complaining about Bones and Booth going around in circles, but I hope they don’t get romantic, at least not any time soon. It works better to save the fireworks for the final season. (See Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, and Sydney and Vaughn on Alias.) If the writers put the characters together too early, it never works out. (Remember how painful it was to see Luke and Lorelai be separated most of the final season of Gilmore Girls, or how annoying it is to watch the on again/off again relationship between Meredith and Derek on Grey’s Anatomy?) So for now, I believe it’s better for Bones and Booth to be friends with great chemistry. I enjoy watching their relationship as it is.

Rotating Lab Assistant

The other thing people are complaining about is the “lab assistant of the week” bit. I am actually entertained by this. It’s like how Murphy Brown used to have a new secretary every week. People complain that it’s been done too much, but if it’s done well, I don’t mind. It is better than what the writers did on House last season, when they introduced way too many new characters as he searched for a new team. That was over the top. I like to see how new characters interact differently with the core cast. Plus, knowing each person will only be around for one episode prolongs the finality and disappointment that fans will feel when a permanent replacement for Zack joins the team.

The Elephant in the Room

So, one of our forensic team’s favorite co-worker and friend suddenly turns into a serial killer’s apprentice, is discovered, and is shipped off to a mental institution. Does anyone seem to care? Not as much as you would expect them to. It would make sense for the writers to address Zack’s departure more directly than they have, but my guess is that they are having to wait until he is available for an episode, so they can do it right. I read an interview with Hart Hanson, and he said they planned to do some “Hannibal Lecter” type stuff with Zack from the mental institution. I’d imagine people will gripe about that as well. Zack seems more like a fun-loving geek than a cannibalistic serial killer, so it will be interesting to see how they play that.

Dr. Sweets

I love his character! He always puts a smile on my face, and I thought his sudden connection with last week’s lab assistant was sweet – loved the phone call he made to her at the end of the show. People are also complaining that the show is too goofy, but that’s the main reason I watch it. I recently started watching CSI again, and while I find it very entertaining, it is quite gruesome and dark at times. So Bones is a nice change of pace. There’s no other crime procedural like it on the air right now. Dr. Sweets lends a lot of humor to the show’s light-hearted tone. My least favorite character is actually Cam. I had a hard time accepting her as part of the team when she first joined it. I like her better now, but she is definitely the most serious of all the characters.

Bottom Line

Maybe the reason I am not bothered by the new developments is that I don’t have much to compare the new season to, since I only saw a few episodes last season. I don’t miss Zack too much because I wasn’t attached to him. I am not devastated by Angela and Hodges break up because I didn’t watch their relationship evolve. And I am not desperate for Bones and Booth to hook up because I have only watched the show on a casual basis, and have enjoyed their funny, flirtatious interaction on a surface level.

I have TNT to thank for my renewed interest in the show, since I started watching reruns on that network over the summer. Now I have a season pass on my tivo and look forward to watching the season develop.

 

Celebrities and Their Muppet Doppelgangers September 15, 2008

Muppet and celebrity lookalikes. This is a fun topic that I had never really thought much about until I came across a hilarious blog post that finds similarities between Kermit the Frog and Christian Bale (who would have thought?!). I’ve provided a couple of examples of the Kermit/Bale comparison below, but the full post (with tons of pictures) can be viewed by clicking here: What Do Christian Bale and Kermit the Frog Have in Common? Then, read on for my take on some more accurate muppet/celebrity comparisons.

This got me thinking, what other celebrities have a muppet doppelganger? I’ve compiled the results of my investigation below.

Animal and Bob Goldthwait:

Sam the Eagle and Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court):

Scooter and Jon Cryer:

Fozzie and Richard Pryor:

Janice the Muppet and Drew Barrymore:

Beaker and Carrot Top:

Miss Piggy and Anna Nicole Smith (during her overweight years in the 90s):

Rowlf the Dog and Aaron Neville:

And here’s a comparison that I saw made elsewhere – Gonzo and Adrien Brody:

This is kind of fun! Can you think of any that I’ve missed? Let’s face it. All of these celebrities look more like their muppet counterparts than Christian Bale looks like Kermit.

 

Lars and the Real Girl: A Review September 11, 2008

When I first saw the preview for Lars and the Real Girl in the theater, it looked like a quirky, offbeat comedy. Not so much. Sure, there are funny awkward moments, and on the surface the movie is about Lars’ unconventional relationship with a doll. But the real heart of the story is centered upon a man working through issues of loneliness, abandonment, and fear of loss, and upon the family and friends who love him enough to go above and beyond to help him recover.

“We Are Family…”

The way the entire town rallies around Lars (and Bianca) reminds me of the citizens of Stars Hollow on the television show Gilmore Girls. Those folks were always there when Lorelai and Rory needed them, and they were always quirky and entertaining to the viewing audience. In Lars and the Real Girl, we don’t get to know the townspeople very well, but we do get a sense that they care deeply for Lars. Some of my favorite town rallying moments: the lady giving Bianca the church flower arrangement, Gus’s co-workers joining Lars and Margo in a game of bowling, and the church ladies coming over to “sit” with Lars during a difficult time.

The Actors and Their Characters

  • Ryan Gosling (Lars Lindstrom) – This was so much better than his previous movie, Fracture, in which the development of his character made no sense to me. As Lars, he portrays all of this delusional man’s ups, downs, and breakthrough moments in impressive fashion.
  • Emily Mortimer (Lars’ sister-in-law Karin) – Although this Brit has been in tons of movies over the past decade, I know her best as Phoebe, Jack Donaghy’s “Avian Bone Syndrome” fiancee. She’s hilarious in that role, but as Karin she has a chance to really flex her acting muscles. One scene has her looking incredulous while trying to maintain her composure when Lars brings his new (doll) girlfriend to dinner, another scene has her chiding Lars for accusing her of not caring, and another has her desperately trying to force Lars into some social activity, with the ultimate result of her tackling him in the driveway.
  • Paul Schneider (Lars’ older brother Gus) – Schneider is becoming the next John C. Reilly, now that Reilly seems to have abandoned his role as a character actor to become a slapstick comedian (see Step Brothers, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Talladega Nights, etc.). I preferred Reilly in movies like Magnolia and The Good Girl. But getting back to Schneider, I first saw him in Elizabethtown, where he played a small town, fun-loving, wannabe rocker. Here he is a blue collar family man and a loving husband, doing what he can to help his brother while also feeling like he’s responsible for Lars’ delusion, since he basically abandoned him when he was still a child.
  • Patricia Clarkson (Dr. Dagmar) – This small town family practitioner, who doubles as a psychologist, certainly knew her way around a delusional man! Clarkson played it calm and collected as the sly Dr. Dagmar. I loved how she was able to have sessions with Lars without him ever knowing it, since he was just “keeping her company” while Bianca received her weekly treatments. One of my favorite things about this movie was seeing Lars gradually letting go of his delusion and re-embracing people as a result of these sessions.
  • The Love Doll (Bianca) – I just had to mention Bianca here. She really was a realistic doll. Sometimes when she was in the background of a shot, I would almost think I saw her eyes or lips move. But, she was just an inanimate doll (albeit well-dressed and with great hair). Kudos to all the actors who had individual scenes with her, of course most notably Ryan Gosling, who had to portray a delusional relationship with her. Mortimer and Schneider, and really all of the townspeople, had the task of interacting with her in a way that showed that they knew she was a doll but were pretending she was real. How many movies require that of an actor? I can’t think of any.

A Movie in a Class All Its Own?

While this is the first movie I’ve seen that revolves around a guy and his Love Doll girlfriend, I wouldn’t call it completely unique. It reminded me of a couple of other movies – Elizabethtown and The Station Agent.

I count Elizabethtown among my favorite movies. I love the music, the characters, and the story. The similarity to Lars and the Real Girl is in how its main character, Drew (Orlando Bloom), has to come to terms with certain aspects of his life. While Lars feels lonely and abandoned, Drew blames himself for his loneliness because he basically abandoned his family to pursue his career. Over the course of the movie, Drew slowly accepts his mistakes and starts to see the world in a new way. Rather than placing ambition and career success on a pedestal, he comes to value family, love, and life’s simple pleasures (like dancing in the forest, driving cross country, and listening to a song that perfectly fits a moment). The two movies also share a similar small-town setting, as well as a host of likable characters who rally around the protagonist.

The other movie that I was reminded of was The Station Agent, which shares similar themes of solitude, loss, and unconventional relationships. The Station Agent is about Finbar McBride (played by Peter Dinklage), a city-dwelling dwarf who moves to a rural area when his only friend dies. His plan is to live a life of solitude in an abandoned train station, but instead he finds himself befriending a trio of other lonely souls: a Cuban hot dog vendor, a grieving artist, and a free-spirited young woman. Incidentally, Patricia Clarkson (Dr. Dagmar in Lars) plays the artist in The Station Agent. I liked how that movie showed how friendship and social contact can help hurting individuals work through and come to terms with their situations. Lars left me with a similar feeling about the power of human connection.

So, my assessment of Lars and the Real Girl is that it is a movie well worth watching. I give it a letter grade of A. And I’ll keep my eye on Ryan Gosling and Paul Schneider, who are both becoming impressive actors.

 

Fringe Takes Cows, Water Tanks, and Viewers to New Places September 10, 2008

Filed under: Television — Emily @ 8:36 am
Tags: , , , ,

Opening scene of nervous passengers on a plane? Check. Creepy music? Check. Unexplained phenomena? Check.

Wait, was I watching Lost? Not at all. Fringe is just the latest creation from the mind of J.J. Abrams. Some may call it recycling, but if it works on one show, why not transfer it to another?

That being said, Fringe is no Lost. While the pilot episode had me intrigued and willing to tune in next week, it didn’t amaze me the way the Lost pilot did four years ago. Read on for my assessment of the pilot.

(I’ve tried to keep things spoiler free, so if you’re trying to decide whether or not to watch the show, it should be safe to continue reading.)

Things to Love

  • The X-Files vibe – There has been a large hole in the television landscape since Mulder and Scully ran off into the sunset. Lost only partially fills this hole, but Fringe has the potential to follow proudly in the footsteps of my favorite sci-fi show. The X-Files dealt more with other worldly mysteries, so Fringe’s investigations into the outer limits of science and technology is somewhat different. However, the tone is still the same: unsettling, fascinating, sometimes gory and horrific. (Does anyone remember that X-Files episode about the human-sized parasite that lived in the sewers and attacked people? Yikes!)
  • The Opening Scene – This aspect of the show really did borrow heavily from Lost, but with a very different end result. These airplane passengers didn’t have it so good as the Losties who crash landed on a mysterious island. Instead, a supposed insulin injection pen and one very nervous passenger set off a lightning fast epidemic that was both frightening and disgusting (the special effects were very realistic).
  • Pacey is back! – Oh, I’m sorry. I mean Joshua Jackson. It’s just that I’ve only known him as Pacey Witter, best friend to Dawson and boyfriend to Joey, on Dawson’s Creek. Pacey would feel right at home on this show, aside from the strange happenings. In fact, Jackson’s character, Peter Bishop, could be an all grown up Pacey, with his fast, smooth talking ways. The only difference is Peter has a genius IQ, whereas Pacey was always a little intellectually-challenged. Anyway, I like Peter Bishop, and Jackson is great for the part. (Does anyone else think that Jackson is like a 20-something version of George Clooney?)
  • The Mad Scientist – That would be Dr. Walter Bishop, played convincingly by John Noble. Fans of 24 may remember him best as Anatoly Markov, the Russian president in Season 6. Here he is great as the sometimes brilliantly lucid, sometimes mad as a hatter, father of Peter Bishop who has been institutionalized for over 15 years. It will be interesting to learn more about why he was institutionalized, but for now his main purpose is to assist Olivia Dunham in her investigations. He also provides a certain amount of comic relief – his strange requests included ginger ale and a cow. I liked the moment where he and his new lab assistant, Astrid, were sitting with the cow, eating Chinese food. I like that he has a basement lab, too. Seems appropriate.
  • The Surprises – I suspected that things were “too good to be true” for Olivia and her secret FBI lover John, so I wasn’t surprised when he was injured and exposed to unknown toxic substances. But I was surprised by several things about this storyline after that, most notably his appearance and things not being what they seemed. There were other unexpected moments as well. The chase of the suspect was almost Matrix-esque, with all the leaping over buildings and such.
  • The Creative Moments – I like the way certain scenes were filmed. When Olivia was injured in the blast at the storage facility, the screen went white, and we experienced what she experienced, as she went in and out of consciousness, to flashes of light and muddled voices. Also interesting and different was the scene in which Olivia “makes contact” with John from her drug-induced consciousness awakening in the water tank.

The Verdict Is Still Out

  • Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham – She seems to be rather new on the tv scene, and since I am familiar with most of the other actors on the show, she is starting off with a disadvantage. I like her and her character okay, but need to see more to form a better opinion.
  • The Love Connection – I don’t think this is the kind of show that needs to create a romantic angle to its lead characters. I’m talking about the long, lingering looks between Olivia and Peter. First of all, Olivia has just had her love life shattered by a series of unsettling revelations. Second of all, they have some important work to do! I don’t think there’s time for the distraction of an office romance.
  • The Conspiracy – I was always able to overlook the problems with the X-Files conspiracy theories, because the show itself was so intriguing. Fringe has the potential to do the same, but it may also be capable of creating a conspiracy that makes sense, since its grounded in the pseudo-realities of science and technology. The trail of clues seems to begin at Massive Dynamic, with creepy mechanical arm lady, Nina Sharp. Massive Dynamic is another similarity to Lost (the Dharma Initiative) even down to the ad that followed the show. I’m willing to run with it, for now.

So, all in all, Fringe is a show with an intriguing premise and the potential to keep viewers mesmerized. What did those of you who watched the pilot think of it?

 

Hairspray: A Hyperactive Musical September 9, 2008

I recently watched the latest version of the movie musical Hairspray, which was a remake of the original 1988 version written and directed by John Waters. I’ve seen bits and pieces of that version, starring Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, but not enough to say which one is better.

One thing I can say is that the 2007 version, directed and choreographed by Adam Shankman, is a lot of fun. I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie and not smile. I especially enjoyed the first 30 minutes of the movie as we got to know the characters through a series of clever, cute songs, my favorites of which were “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “Ladies’ Choice.” I loved the constant references to hairspray, particularly the giant cans of it on the Corny Collins Show set and the commercials they would produce about it. I also was amazed by the all-star cast, most notably:

  • Nikki Blonsky – Her enthusiasm as Tracy Turnblad was contagious. She was perfect for the part of a “pleasant plump teenager” on a mission to teach Baltimore a social lesson. Her portrayal turned what could have been a super cheesy role into a fun, entertaining one. I loved how she was fully invested in the dancing, whether while in detention with the “negroes” or while making a splash on the Corny Collins Show.
  • James Mardsen – Speaking of Corny Collins, how great was it to see the very attractive Mardsen in such a charming role? I know him best from his work in the X-Men movies, where I couldn’t even see his nice eyes, so I was thrilled to see him, hear him sing, and watch him dance in this movie. He played a completely likable character, which I hear isn’t always the case for him (see The Notebook, for example).
  • Queen Latifah – It’s strange for me to see her playing the role of a mother to teenage children, since I still think of her as being in her 30s. Wait, she actually is still in her 30s, so she was playing older than her age. That makes me feel better. Regardless of whether or not she was age appropriate, she made the most of her character, Motormouth Maybelle.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer – This actress hasn’t been in too many movies this decade, so it was nice to see her again. She was great in the role of Velma Von Tussle, crazed stage mom to Amber Von Tussle (played by Brittney Snow). She created just the right balance of sultriness, self-centeredness, and misplaced ambition. Her character was very reminiscent of another crazy stage mom – Gladys Leeman, played by Kirstie Alley in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Both go to great lengths to help their daughters be winners, but in the end both fail miserably.
  • Amanda Bynes – I’ve never really paid much attention to this actress, but I really enjoyed watching her as Penny Pingleton, Tracy’s sheltered, yet apparently passionate friend.

Now to the things I didn’t like:

  • Some of the actors, or at least the characters they played – I wasn’t impressed by Zac Efron. I guess I’m too old to “get” what all the fuss is about. He was fine for the part, but it wasn’t a stand-out performance. Christopher Walken’s talents were also mostly wasted in the dull, jokester character Wilbur Turnblad. My guess is that Jerry Stiller, who played Wilbur in the 1988 version, was better-suited for this role. Incidentally, Stiller made a cameo in this version as a plus-sized clothing store owner. Ricki Lake also appeared briefly as a talent scout. One final role that didn’t wow me was Brittany Snow as the reigning Miss Teenage Hairspray. Her character didn’t require her to do much more than look annoyed whenever she wasn’t getting screen time on the Corny Collins Show, so it’s difficult to judge her acting.
  • John Travolta was SCARY as Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mother. I understand that every other version of this musical also has a man playing the part, but seeing Travolta in a fat suit and makeup was just wrong. I found it completely distracting. Needless to say, any scene he was in was among my least favorite. The worst of all was the scene where Walken and Travolta danced on the rooftop singing “You’re Timeless To Me.” Whatever.
  • The second half of the movie dragged and got a little bogged down in the “after school special” style social message. It was a nice message about racial integration and standing up for what is right, but it took away from some of the fun that the first part of the movie exuded.
  • Some of the songs were a bit too hyperactive – High energy is usually a good characteristic for a musical to have, but “frantic” and “hyper” are words I would use to describe Hairspray. That is going overboard a bit. On the pivotal group song and dance, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” is seemed like the music got faster and faster, out of control, and overbearing. I remember feeling that way when the finalists on So You Think You Can Dance performed to that song. Frankly, it was annoying then and still is now. Had they slowed down the tempo and turned down the volume just a bit, I would have had a more positive reaction. Louder and faster doesn’t always translate to better.

So is this a movie worth watching? Yes, I think so. Especially if you answer “yes” to the following questions:

  • Do you enjoy musicals?
  • Do you like to see the little guy (or in this case, the big girl) have his (her) moment in the spotlight?
  • Do you like movies that put a smile on your face?

I’m looking forward to watching Mamma Mia (the movie version that was released this summer) when it comes out on video. I’d imagine it’s more feel good fun.