Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Deliberately Dissecting Dexter: A Review of Jeff Lindsay’s Book Series August 26, 2009

I love the alliteration of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter book series’ titles. Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Dearly Devoted Dexter. Dexter in the Dark. Dexter by Design. They all have a nice ring to them, and are in keeping with Dexter Morgan’s cleverness and dry sense of humor. I also happen to love the books themselves, as well as the Showtime series based on them. I’m in the middle of Dexter season three, since I waited until it was released on dvd to watch it. So far I am enjoying it.

Sometimes it is hard to remember what happened in the books and what happened on the tv show, so I thought I’d take a moment to review each of the books, in preparation for the release of the fourth installment, Dexter by Design, which will be released in the U.S. next month. I will also give my spoiler-free assessment of the fourth novel, since I read it a couple of months ago. (My friend Lindsay picked up a copy of it for me while she was in England, where it was released earlier this year.)

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

  • Plot – We meet Dexter for the first time, and learn that he is a blood splatter analyst by day and a serial killer by night. He maintains the illusion that he is normal through his job, his family ties to sister Deb, and his relationship with Rita and her kids. His carefully crafted world is threatened when another serial killer starts littering Miami with dead bodies and leaving clues for Dexter to join the game. Through Dexter’s investigation into this crime spree, we learn more about his past and see him deal with the inconveniences and complications of pretending to be normal.
  • My Assessment – I’ve read plenty of serial killer/suspense novels, but none of them have stood out as much as the Dexter series. What makes it different is that the story is narrated not by the victim or investigator of the crimes, but by the criminal himself. Despite his proclivity to murder, we still like Dexter because he paints an amusing and honest portrait of life in Miami, giving a running commentary on the stranger aspects of human nature. It feels strange to be rooting for Dexter to successfully kill his next victim, but that’s exactly what happens, because in the world of Dexter, that’s what makes sense and provides closure. The first book had an excellent story arc, and was quite a page turner, with the surprising revelation of who the killer was, and the implications of that for Dexter. I also loved Sergeant Doakes as the villain who would be a hero in most books. Interestingly, I liked Doakes (and I think most people do). I respect Doakes for having the sense to recognize that there’s something not right about Dexter, while everyone else walks around completely clueless. Rita is a rather flat character in the book, while Deborah and Dexter’s sibling relationship is developed rather well.

Dearly Devoted Dexter

  • Plot – The second book finds Dexter’s extracurricular activities at a standstill because of the increasingly watchful eye of Sergeant Doakes. Before long, though, they both find themselves drawn into a new criminal case. Deeply disturbed Dr. Danco has been exacting revenge against former army colleagues by kidnapping them, sedating them, and then mutilating them over a period of several days. Dexter finds himself caught in the middle of the investigation when it turns out that Deborah’s new boyfriend, Kyle Chutsky, as well as Doakes, are among Dr. Danco’s former colleagues, and are therefore in danger.
  • My Assessment – The descriptions of Dr. Danco’s victims made me feel physically ill, particularly the first victim that was discovered with no eyelids, no limbs, and no tongue, but still alive, and making animal-like sounds. Yikes! It was also disturbing to read about characters we already knew going through similar torture. I wasn’t as enthralled by this book as the first one, but it was still entertaining.

Dexter in the Dark

  • Plot – The third book in the series took a supernatural turn, as Dexter is left feeling inadequate when his Dark Passenger (the presence that controls his urges to kill) leaves him. He spends much of the book lamenting his abandonment, learning how to function without the Dark Passenger,  and being stalked by a strange cult who sees him as a threat. There is also a murder investigation into some killings linked to the cult of Moloch, and Rita’s two children, Astor and Cody, start exhibiting signs that they share Dexter’s homicidal tendencies (presumably because of their abusive father).
  • My Assessment –Dexter had talked about his Dark Passenger in the first two books, but in this installment the DP took center stage. I was not very thrilled with this turn of events. In addition, the murder investigation was confusing and full of holes, and I never quite figured out how everything was connected. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy this book much at all. I suppose you should still read it so as not to miss some of the details of character development, but on the other hand, I think you could easily jump from Dearly Devoted Dexter to Dexter by Design. I honestly don’t know what Jeff Lindsay was thinking, with all this Moloch and Dark Passenger mumbo jumbo. By taking things the supernatural route, he got away from what makes the series so refreshing and likable to begin with – its brutally honest, funny look at the silly things “normal” people do in their daily lives, and the lengths Dexter goes to to hide his true nature.

Dexter by Design

  • Plot – At the beginning of the novel, Dexter and Rita are on their honeymoon in Paris. But it isn’t long before real life gets in the way of marital bliss, and Dexter finds his domestic and professional worlds thrown off balance once again. As in Darkly Dreaming Dexter, someone else seems to share Dexter’s views of the beauty and artistry of death. When Dexter tries to take the law into his own hands, he makes a costly mistake that sends his life spiraling out of control.
  • My Assessment – I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a few plot holes, but I was willing to overlook them since overall the book was so entertaining. (I’m guessing that Jeff Lindsay writes these books so quickly that he doesn’t have time to iron out some of the details.) Since we now know Dexter very well, I found myself very emotionally invested in the ups and downs of his world. It was interesting to watch Dexter, who is normally so on top of things, face the consequences of his errors and have to be creative to set things right again. Over the course of the series, as the wall between his forced human persona and his sociopathic true nature has been slowly worn down, he has had a more difficult time maintaining control. It is intriguing and satisfying to see how Dexter’s domestic and relational ties change his decisions and actions. I find myself hoping he will become more human, but at the same time cheering for him to succeed by his old techniques. If you enjoyed the fast pace and clever narration of the first book, and the gory descriptions of the second book, then you will find much entertainment in this latest installment. And the ending leaves the door open for a fifth book. I’ll be ready and waiting to read it when the time comes.

I just looked it up and confirmed that there is a fifth book in the works, entitled Dexter is Delicious. This novel will take Dexter into the world of cannibalism. Sounds tasty! 😉

Making the Grade

  • I give the latest book, Dexter by Design, an A. It is exciting, fast paced, and funny.
  • Dexter in the Dark was a disappointment, as it stepped away from the characteristics that make this a successful book series. For that misstep, I give it a C.
  • Dearly Devoted Dexter earns a B. It was well written, but the gory descriptions of the victims were a turn-off.
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter was a terrific introduction to Dexter and the people in his world. A+

If you haven’t read this series before, but you like your mystery and suspense fiction a little humorous, do yourself a favor and start from the beginning.


Fall 2009 Preview: NBC’s New Shows August 22, 2009

When I searched for the official fall preview on, I was surprised to learn that the peacock network is only premiering four shows this fall. And it is quite a lackluster crowd, save for one that is full of potential.

Will Avoid Like the Plague

  • The Jay Leno Show – There was much rejoicing and dancing in the street in my family when Jay Leno “retired” from The Tonight Show. I disliked everything about the show with him as a host. If many Americans feel the same way about him as I do, then NBC’s plan to showcase him in primetime five nights a week is a monumentally bad one. This show is probably the reason that they don’t have more new shows to premiere. Think of all the valuable real estate they are wasting in the 9:00/10:00 hour!

Not Interested

  • Mercy – The description from “You haven’t seen inside a hospital until you’ve seen it through the eyes of those who know it best: its nurses.” I haven’t had much interest in medical shows since Grey’s Anatomy became absurdist and House’s original team broke up, and there’s nothing that makes me want to watch this one. If the characters were compelling, or if the nurses vs. doctors theme weren’t so heavy-handed (as it seems from the promo), then it might be going somewhere good. Instead, it’s just another bland looking medical drama. Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) could do better than her role as a rookie nurse. I’ll skip this show all together, unless I’m really bored the night it premieres.
  • Trauma – The description from “An action-packed drama looking at one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world: first responder paramedics.” The only reason I would watch this show is that Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) is the executive producer. Well, that and it’s set in San Francisco. But then, it probably isn’t actually filmed in San Fran. But those reasons just aren’t enough. The promo is weak, the premise is too generic, and the cast has a few familiar faces, but none that would make the show must-see. Didn’t they make this show before, and wasn’t it called Third Watch?

Very Interested

  • Community – Description from “Community focuses on a band of misfits at Greendale Community College who form an unlikely bond.” I am very excited about this show! The preview made me laugh out loud. A lot. I love everyone in the cast, and I have a special interest in the premise since I teach at a community college. Even though NBC has hit a slump when it comes to one hour dramas, at least they are getting their comedy right. I’ll be adding this show to my must-see Thursday night comedy lineup.

That’s it. Pretty weak for a fall lineup. It’s not like the network has an amazing pre-existing lineup. I’ll only be tuning in on Thursday nights for The Office, 30 Rock, Community, and perhaps Parks and Recreation. There are a few more new shows that will premiere in the spring, out of which Parenthood looks the most interesting. Maybe I’m just not in NBC’s target demographic, but it seems to me that they aren’t trying real hard to come up with interesting new shows. What do you think?

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Fall 2009 Preview: ABC’s New Shows

Filed under: Fall Preview,Television — Emily @ 11:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

A soccer mom, a witch, and an alien walk into a bar… That’s kind of how ABC’s new shows are shaping up – an odd mix of middle America, middle-aged women, and mysterious outsiders. I feel inclined to watch at least the first episode of a few of these shows, but others I couldn’t care less about. Let’s take a look.

Not Interested

  • Cougar Town – Description from “In a small Florida town, the center of high society is the Cougars high school football team… which is wildly appropriate since this town is the natural habitat for over-tanned, under-dressed divorcées prowling for younger men.” Um, count me out. First of all, since when is Courtney Cox old enough to be considered a cougar, and second of all, I think that Richard Fish’s girlfriend Whipper was all the cougar I ever needed to see on tv. I didn’t mind a small dose of Dyan Cannon, but a whole show about these women? I’ll pass.
  • The Forgotten – Description from “In the United States, the remains of 40,000 people haven’t been identified. When police investigations reach a dead end, civilian volunteers across the country work to name the forgotten.” Oooohhhh… sounds spooky. Not really. Poor Christian Slater. How does he keep ending up with these dead end shows? At least My Own Worst Enemy had an interesting premise, but we really don’t need another “unsolved crime of the week” show. At first I thought maybe there was some strange event that resulted in the simultaneous deaths of all 40,000, but no, that would be too complicated. Instead, this is just another spin on Cold Case, which is just another spin on Without a Trace, which is just… I get all the crime drama I need from the original CSI, thank you very much. I peg this to be one of the first shows canceled this fall.
  • The Middle – Description from “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes — but Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton), well she’s some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” This seems like a feeble attempt to combine the success of Everybody Loves Raymond with the irreverent tone of Malcolm in the Middle. And sadly, it will probably be the most successful of ABC’s new comedies. But just so that there will be a little healthy competition…
  • Hank – Description from “Sometimes scaling back is the best way to get ahead. Wall Street legend Hank Pryor (Kelsey Grammer) and his wife Tilly have been living the high life in New York City. That is until Hank is forced out of his CEO job and has to move his family back home to the small town of River Bend.” Since Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton couldn’t find success on the same show, they are going the divide and conquer route. Both shows seem to be aiming for the middle America crowd, but neither looks particularly interesting. Grammer’s show seems to rely on “fish out of water” schtick. I’m not sure viewers are ready to see Grammer in the role of a family man. I know he’ll always be Frasier to me.
  • Shark Tank – Description from “From Mark Burnett, executive producer of Survivor and The Apprentice, and Sony Pictures Television, comes Shark Tank, an exciting, new reality show that gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to make their dreams come true and become successful — and possibly wealthy — business people.” So this show actually already premiered, and I saw a few minutes of it. That was enough for me to know it’s not for me. I simply don’t care about these people and their desire to get rich or richer. Plus, it has the same sort of awkward production “values” as America’s Got Talent. Lots of awkward pauses, overdramatic music, spastic camera work. I would be more interested if it were a show about sharks on the Discovery Channel. Then they’d have something.
  • The Deep End – Description from “Sterling Law is one of L.A.’s most prestigious law firms. Each year it recruits four new young lawyers from the finest law schools worldwide. It will nurture, guide and shape these recruits into the best damned lawyers they can possibly be — or else.” Even Billy Zane isn’t enough to get me interested in yet another lawyer show.

Mildly Interested

  • Eastwick – Description from “Single-handedly, housewives accomplish astonishing things… and together, watch out. In the seaside village of Eastwick, this might just be evidence of their inner-witch rising to the surface.” Based on the preview, this looks like a supernatural version of Desperate Housewives, which could be interesting. The three leading ladies – Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, and Jamie Ray Newman – seem like good casting choices. But the main reason I’m interested in this show is that it is filmed on the same external set as Gilmore Girls at Warner Bros. Studio. It makes sense, since both shows are set in small east coast towns. I toured the studio for the second time in June, and saw what was formerly the town of Stars Hollow looking only slightly different in its new role as Eastwick. Gone was the trademark gazebo, and I can only assume that its empty spot was reserved for the fountain and statue of three women that I noticed in the Eastwick preview. This show may not have enough oomph to keep me tuning in, but I’ll at least watch the pilot.
  • Modern Family – Description from “When the Pritchett, Delgado and Dunphy families agree to be interviewed by a documentary crew, they have no idea just how much they’re about to reveal about themselves. This engaging new comedy offers a ‘mockumentary’ view into the complicated, messy, loving life of three unique families.” Now this show has the potential to be very funny, but I wouldn’t say I was super excited after watching the preview – more like intrigued. Julie Bowen’s character, a mom who has a wild past, reminds me of Catherine O’Hara’s hilarious character from Best in Show, Cookie, who was married to a very mild mannered man, but had quite a colorful past that always seemed to come up in conversations. Ed O’Neill, of Married with Children fame, has aged a lot, and seems to be playing a much more low key character than Al Bundy. More like Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents, perhaps? I’ll give this one a shot. I haven’t had a decent family sitcom to watch since Arrested Development got canceled.
  • Happy Town – Description from “For the past seven years Haplin, Minnesota’s lived up to its nickname, Happy Town. Even the air is sweet with the smell of bread from the industrial bakery. Unfortunately, everything is about to change.” This one doesn’t have a premiere date set, which probably means it’s waiting in the wings until one of its predecessors (perhaps The Forgotten?) fails. The preview began with what was supposed to be an impressive statement: “From the network that brought you Twin Peaks…” Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much since it’s also from the network that brought us Cavemen. Obviously, they are trying to sell us on the idea that this is a network willing to take a risk on a strange show, but based on the preview, this doesn’t look anything like Twin Peaks – unless it’s a dumbed down, squeaky clean version. I am mildly intrigued since the cast includes Amy Acker, Steven Weber, and Sam Neill. This isn’t the type of show that lasts very long, though. I’ll watch the pilot, if it ever airs, but I will have to be very impressed to keep tuning in.

Very Interested

  • Flash Forward – Description from “A mysterious global event causes everyone to black out simultaneously for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and each person sees a glimpse of their lives six months from now. When they wake up, everyone is left wondering if what they saw will actually happen.” This sounds like an awfully vague premise to base an entire show on, but it is an intriguing one. Something about it reminds me of the opening moments of the ’90s remake of Village of the Damned, starring Kirstie Alley and Christopher Reeve, when everyone in their small town lost consciousness at the same time. In their case, it was so that the women could be impregnated by aliens or something, so the similarities stop there. The two stars I most recognize are Joseph Fiennes (perhaps best known for Shakespeare in Love) and Sonya Walger, who I’ve loved as Penny on Lost. Flash Forward is written and produced by David S. Goyer, who worked on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the short-lived but good tv show Threshold. The production values are slick, the story is mysterious, and the cast looks top notch. These are all ingredients for a winning show, but not necessarily for successful ratings. This may be the show that struggles to find an audience, but if the story stays interesting after that 2 minute and 17 second blackout, then I will stick around.
  • V – Description from “Today, the world woke up to find spaceships over every major city. The Visitors claim to have come in peace, bringing gifts of medical miracles and technological breakthroughs. They promise to do no harm. They’re lying.” Ah, I have such fond memories of watching the various forms of V back in the 80s. Ok, so I was slightly scarred by the images of a lizard-tongued baby and mice-eating aliens, but that miniseries is probably what started my interest in sci-fi. That being said, I am sure that if I watched the 80s version now, it would seem very dated, so I am okay with a remake. And based on the preview, it looks like someone is doing it right. It has an impressive cast, including Elizabeth Mitchell (the beloved Juliet on Lost), Joel Gretsch (it will be interesting to see him as a priest since he was an FBI agent on the similarly scifi-themed 4400), and Scott Wolf (who needs a breakout role since The Nine didn’t work out for him). I must say, I am pretty excited about this one. Too bad it doesn’t premiere until November 3.

So there you have it. Out of 11 shows, I am excited about two, mildly intrigued by three, and completely indifferent about six. Check back in the coming days and weeks to see what I think about the other networks’ new shows. And once the new season officially begins, look for my reviews of many of these shows’ pilots. Which of these shows are you interested in, and why? Which ones do you think have a chance for a full season pick up? And which one do you predict will be canceled first?

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Double Feature: Doubt and District 9 August 16, 2009

What do a movie about a Catholic priest suspected of inappropriate conduct with an altar boy, and one about an alien refugee camp where things spiral out of control, have in common? Not much, except that I watched and thoroughly enjoyed both of them last week. Characters and plot are more important to me than any other elements in a movie, and both of these films scored high in those areas.


  • Plot Summary from IMDB: “It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the schools’ strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community with irrevocable consequence.” The movie was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who I was amused to learn also directed Joe Versus the Volcano. That’s quite far removed from this one. Among his other writing credits is the Oscar-winning Moonstruck. The screenplay for Doubt is very strong and captivating, which seems appropriate since it is based on a play.
  • Main Cast
    • Meryl Streep – As always, she does a phenomenal job with her character. She portrays Sister Aloysius as a stern, stone-faced principal, and although she initially comes across as a villain (at least when it comes to the students she rules over with an iron fist), the audience begins to see how much she cares for the children and her fellow nuns. With every word spoken, every threatening stare, and every deliberate step, Streep was Sister Aloysius.
    • Philip Seymour Hoffman – He is always so good, whether playing an eccentric literary figure in Capote or a ruthless criminal mastermind in Mission Impossible III. So it was business as usual when he donned the clerical collar and vestments as Father Flynn. Viewers don’t know whether to despise him or sympathize with him, or how much or how little to trust him. But behind all his smiles and words of wisdom lies a strong-willed individual who is willing to take on the formidable opponent that is Sister Aloysius.
    • Amy Adams – She’s come a long way since playing Tara’s cousin, Beth, on one of the less stellar episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lately, Amy Adams seems to be everywhere, and is definitely still on the rise in Hollywood. Just this month she and Streep reunited for the comedic biography Julie and Julia, but their roles were much more serious in Doubt. Adams’ character, Sister James, is a young, idealistic nun who sees the best in her students and is more interested in nurturing them than in disciplining them. She certainly seems out of her league against Sister Aloysius and a classroom full of kids ready to walk all over her, and out of place living amidst a group of ancient, gray-haired nuns. Despite these odds, she seems perfectly happy and fulfilled with her role as one of the sisters and as a teacher, and it is interesting to see Sister Aloysius take her under her wing and mentor her on the finer points of discipline and faith. On a less rosy note, Sister James finds herself caught in between the dueling Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, and in addition to not wanting to doubt either one of them, she has a crisis of faith, since she can’t accept that Father Flynn is anything less than a noble priest who genuinely cares for the children and the community.
  • Overall Assessment – Doubt has been dubbed a drama and a mystery, but I would add to that list psychological thriller. It isn’t a thriller in the strictest sense of the word – there are no knife-wielding lunatics, car chases, or explosions. But there may as well have been, because the searing battle between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn got my heart racing, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Everything from the cinematography to the acting to the script came together to create a tense and intense, ever escalating, moral and relational conflict within the walls of St. Nicholas. “Doubt” is, indeed, the key word to this story, and by the end of the movie, everyone, including the viewer, is left unsure of what to believe.

District 9

  • The Plot: One of the reasons I enjoyed this movie so much is that I hardly knew anything going into it. Therefore, I was surprised by each and every turn in the story. This type of movie is best enjoyed if you don’t know what to expect, and so I won’t reveal much of the plot here. Instead, I’ll give you this summary of the basic premise: An extraterrestrial race is forced to live in slum-like conditions in a refugee camp in Johannesburg, South Africa, where, in the 1980s, their ship came to a halt and has remained hovering ever since. The movie chronicles the shaky relationship between the humans and “prawns” (as they are called because they look like giant shrimp), and examines such themes as injustice, greed, loyalty, and other facets of human nature. After starting out like a documentary, the movie settles into the more familiar action thriller territory, but never falls short of being a top notch sci-fi film.
  • The Cast: Over the past few days, amidst tons of buzz about District 9’s opening weekend, I’ve been asking myself, “Why haven’t I heard anything about this movie until now?” It has sci-fi classic written all over it, and it was completely off of my normally excellent pop culture radar. The simple answer? There’s not a single American actor in the cast, much less a well known actor. Typically, movies don’t get a fancy promotional campaign in the U.S. unless there’s a big name attached to the project. The big name here is Peter Jackson, but he doesn’t exactly make the talk show circuit rounds like Brad Pitt or Meryl Streep. The central character, Wikus Van De Merwe, is played by Sharlto Copley. This is Copley’s first acting role (he has some behind the scenes credits to his name), and he did an excellent job of portraying Wikus. If I recognized any of the other actors, I don’t know where from, but my guess is that they were all totally new to me, and to most Americans. But they were all terrific, and the fact that they were unfamiliar to me helped achieve the feeling that this was a documentary about real events, happening to real people.
  • The Visual Style – I’ve heard the term “faux verite” used to describe the visual style of this movie. That refers to the use of handheld cameras, news coverage (complete with scrolling text), and archival footage that, combined, make the movie feel like a documentary uncovering events that spiraled out of control. This style is reminiscent of Cloverfield, which gave a more realistic (therefore more terrifying) spin on creature features. While I enjoyed Cloverfield (see my review here), District 9 is more compelling because it asks a similar question on a larger scale. While Cloverfield asked, “What would happen, and how would people react if a giant creature paved a huge path of destruction through New York City?”, District 9 asks, “If seemingly non-hostile aliens landed on Earth, what would happen and how would the human race react?” District 9 doesn’t provide a final answer to that question, but the tale that it spins is oh so fascinating and surprising.
  • The Blood and Gore – Be forewarned: this movie is rated R for language and violence, yes, but mostly for the sometimes staggering amount of gore. I can’t remember another movie during which I’ve exclaimed “Ew!” “Gross!” “Yuck!” so often. I usually keep my mouth shut during movies in a theater, but I couldn’t help but react to many of the gory moments in this one. Let’s just say that the alien weaponry was mighty powerful, and that wasn’t the only source of the gore.
  • The Buzz – I’m happy to see that District 9 finished the weekend atop the box office, earning an estimated $37 billion, nearly $18 billion more than the next closest new release, The Time Traveler’s Wife. If everyone else loved this movie as much as I did, then positive word of mouth will continue to make this a “little movie that could.” It’s a shame that dreck like Transformers 2 rakes in hundreds of millions at the box office, while an instant classic like this has to prove itself to an unfamiliar audience. Trust me – go see this movie! If you like sci-fi, don’t mind a healthy dose of blood and guts, and just enjoy watching a well made movie of any genre, then you won’t be disappointed. And it is worth the price of admission to see it on the big screen, since like Peter Jackson’s more well known works (King Kong, Lord of the Rings, etc.) there are plenty of sweeping views and overwhelming (in a good way) sound effects – not to mention all the other special effects.

So there you have it. Doubt and District 9. Two very different movies, but both absolutely engrossing and both exhibiting excellent directing, cinematography, acting, and scriptwriting.


Ipod Shuffle: What I’ve Been Listening To August 10, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of posts about the music listening habits of my youth. I have long since graduated from dubbed cassette tapes to mp3s, but I never cease to be amazed by the still relatively new ability to have thousands of songs at my fingertips. I gravitate toward certain artists and albums when I am exercising or driving around town, but when I put my ipod on shuffle, I often come across classics that I’d forgotten about for awhile.

Here are a few of the songs that came up on my last cardio session at the gym:

  • “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty – I loved this song long before Tom Cruise belted it out on the highway in Jerry Maguire.
  • “100 Years” by Five for Fighting – Most of Five for Fighting’s songs sound the same, but I really love this one. It’s a little bit sad, but also a celebration of all of life’s phases.
  • “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw – So fun to sing along to!
  • “Until” by Sting – From the movie Kate and Leopold, this song showcases Sting’s smooth voice and features a lovely classical guitar.
  • “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne – I am still getting to know this soulful, old school singer, but this is one of my favorite of his songs.
  • “Folding Chair” by Regina Spektor – I am in love with Regina’s latest album, Far, and this quirky, upbeat song is one of the catchiest ones on the album.

And now, I’ll do the Ipod shuffle and list out the next 10 songs that come up:

  • “I Will Buy You a New Life” by Everclear – Oh, what a fun ’90s song! For some reason this one doesn’t play very often.
  • “Hate Me” by Blue October – 😦   Such an intense song, but very good.
  • “Everything’s Not Lost” by Coldplay – A Coldplay song would have to come up in the rotation. I probably have more Coldplay, Ben Folds, and Dave Matthews Band songs than anything else. (The Dave Matthews songs are my husband’s – I got tired of them a long time ago.)
  • “Peace (A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square)” by Rich Mullins – A great little slice of Americana. This folksy, humanitarian artist died way before his time, about ten years ago, but he left behind some great music.
  • “We Might As Well Be Strangers” by Keane – Cool band, but I can’t listen to their stuff and be productive at the same time. Their style is just too mellow, and makes me want to curl up under a blanket on the sofa.
  • “Good” by Better Than Ezra – A fun song from my college days. “And it’s good, a-livin with you wa-haw.”
  • “Here in America” by Rich Mullins – Who knew that Rich Mullins would show up twice in ten songs? I only have about ten of his songs in itunes! I love that this song celebrating the landscapes and people of America features an accordion.
  • “To Make You Feel My Love” by Billy Joel – Great song, but a little more dramatic than my mood right now. Next.
  • “Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes – Yay! More classic ’90s music. I had no idea what they were saying most of the time, but the music sure was fun.
  • “Yele” by Wyclef Jean – I prefer Wyclef’s Carnivale Vol II album, so I am not too familiar with this song from Carnivale. My husband introduced me to Wyclef, and I wasn’t impressed at first, but now Carnivale Vol. II is actually one of my favorite albums.

It’s probably clear from these lists that I lean more toward the lowkey end of the musical spectrum, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some louder or heavier stuff when it’s worthy of admiration. What have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations of what I should be listening to?


Twin Peaks: “I’ll Have a Giant and a Log Lady, with a Slice of Cherry Pie” August 8, 2009

A wise giant. A dancing dwarf. A red curtain. Sounds like a fairy tale, and in some ways it is, but it’s certainly a warped, offbeat one. I’m referring to Twin Peaks, the short-lived primetime drama that aired on ABC from April 1990 to June 1991. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since we last saw Agent Cooper, Audrey Horne, and the rest of the gang inhabiting this small Washington town.

I’ve spent the past few weeks rewatching the entire series (30 episodes from two seasons). I had rewatched season one about seven years ago, but hadn’t seen season two since I was 13 years old. It was interesting to watch the series from beginning to end in a short span of time, and as an adult. There are certain aspects of the show that entertained me more as a teenager (such as the Andy/Lucy plot), and others that I appreciate and understand more now (such as the grief everyone experienced over Laura’s murder). One thing that remains the same is that the scenes that disturbed me as a 12/13 year old are still disturbing now. I can’t think of any other show that can go from comical to downright freaky so fast.

For those of you who are familiar with Twin Peaks, I hope that reading this post brings back some good memories. For those of you who have never experienced the show’s oddities and intrigue, I hope that this assessment of the show will pique your interest. I will make every effort to be spoiler free.

  • The Pilot Episode – This introductory episode to the series made my list of All-Time Favorite Television Pilots. Everything about it was perfect, from the music, to the discovery of Laura’s body, to the townspeople’s reactions. As a teenager, I didn’t really understand all the fuss over this girl, but now that I am a parent, I found Laura’s parents’ reactions to her death heart-wrenching. And once I was in that emotional state, I was more deeply affected by other characters’ reactions, including Laura’s best friends Donna and James, the town doctor, and the kooky psychiatrist. The introduction of Agent Dale Cooper was also a refreshing change of pace from TV’s typical FBI agent. Instead of an arrogant, bullying fed, he was a kind, cheerful man who was in tune with things that most people were not.

  • The Music – I loved the music on this show, including the theme song, which is on my list of Best Television Show Theme Songs. I love that each character had his/her own theme song, and how the instrumental music was constantly setting the mood (more so than other shows, in my opinion), whether the scene was quirky or ominous. Take for example a scene where we are looking up at a rotating ceiling fan from the first floor. Under normal circumstances, this would be nothing to be concerned about. But somehow, this image, combined with the sound of a skipping record player and some creepy music, sets up one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire series. The soundtracks to season one and season two are available at Amazon, so you can go there to sample the music and get a feel for the mysterious and dream-like mood that it sets.

  • The Main Characters
    • Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) – MacLachlan is an unusual looking guy, with his robotic demeanor and slicked back black hair (at least it was back then), so he was well cast as this quirky, zealous FBI agent who stumbles upon – in his opinion – a wonderful little town, delightful people, and some delicious cherry pie. He comes to town to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, since there are some similarites to another murder he had investigated. Over the course of his investigation, he makes many friends, and is “visited” by some visions containing clues to the mysteries surrounding Laura’s murder.
    • Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) – Sheriff Truman just may be the most normal person in Twin Peaks. He doesn’t mind going outside the law to get things done with his Bookhouse Boys, but he also stands up for what he thinks is right. He’s also in a relationship with Josie, but other than his relationship with her, he always seems to be on the job.
      • Shelly Johnson and Bobby Briggs (Madchen Amick and Dana Ashbrook) – Shelly is a waitress at Norma’s cafe, and Bobby is a perpetually absent high school student. They are either very brave or very stupid, since they are seeing each other behind the back of Shelly’s violent, brutish, truck driver husband Leo. Shelly is one of the more likable characters on the show, but you have to wonder why she’s involved with a jerk like Bobby. Their plotline is one of the scarier ones on the show, next to the murder investigation.
      • Donna Hayward and James Hurley (Lara Flynn Boyle and James Marshall) – Before her lips were scary and she was on The Practice, Lara Flynn Boyle was on this show. Donna was Laura’s best friend, and James is a loner who spends more time riding his motorcycle than hanging out with the other kids from school, but after Laura’s murder, he and Donna become close and begin conducting their own investigation into the murder. Their relationship is very angsty and complicated, but I like them as a couple.
      • Norma Jennings and Big Ed Hurley (Peggy Lipton and Everitt McGill) – Norma comes across as very normal. She’s a former Miss Twin Peaks who owns the town diner, where she serves excellent coffee and pie, among other things. She and Big Ed, who owns a gas station in town, have been in love for years, but circumstances have prevented them from actually being together. Norma’s no-good husband, Hank, is in prison on the verge of parole, and Ed’s wife, Nadine, is, to put it nicely, mentally ill. Norma and Ed act as parental figures to the younger characters on the show, and are often approached for advice or a shoulder to cry on.
      • Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) – He is the richest man in town, and arguably the most morally reprehensible. In the world of soaps, he is the show’s villain, when it comes to business practices and relationships. He’s willing to do what it takes to get his way, and has little concern for anyone other than himself.
      • Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) – Audrey is Ben Horne’s daughter. She wears bowling shoes and plaid skirts, and dances around her daddy’s hotel lobby acting all cute and innocent. But when no one’s looking, she sneaks into a secret passageway and spies on her father, listening in on his supposedly private conversations in his office. This curiosity is what gets Audrey involved with Laura’s murder investigation and some other complications. She is a hopeless romantic, and falls awkwardly in love with Agent Cooper, who, being the gentleman he is, gently rejects her advances since she is only a teenager. Audrey is quite an entertaining character, perhaps one of my favorites on the show.
      • Catherine and Pete Martell (Piper Laurie and Jack Nance) – On the surface, this husband and wife pair seems more suited for a conventional primetime soap. They got married years ago after wealthy Catherine fell in love momentarily with Pete, a workman for her father. Their love has long since cooled off, and so now Catherine is involved in affairs and questionable business practices while seemingly simpleminded Pete is content to go fishing and make coffee for visitors.
      • Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen) – Josie is a mysterious Asian woman who is the widow of Catherine’s brother, and so she owns the Packard family lumber mill that Catherine believes should be hers. Josie also is involved with Sheriff Truman. It is difficult to figure out Josie. Is she a sweet, innocent, misunderstood woman, or something more devious?
      • Deputy Andy Brennan and Lucy Moran (Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson) – I mentioned that these two were some of my favorite characters when I was younger, and that’s because they provided the comic relief that balanced out all the dark and disturbing stuff. Andy and Lucy are both complete ditzes, and both work for the police department. Their relationship hits a snag when Lucy finds out she is pregnant, and much hilarity ensues.
      • Leland and Sarah Palmer (Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie) – Both of these actors are recognizable from other roles – Wise most recently as the Devil on the CW show Reaper, and Zabriskie as Susan Ross’s mother on Seinfeld and as Lois Henrickson on Big Love. Over the course of season one, viewers witness their different ways of dealing with the loss of their only daughter. Leland turns to big band music and dancing to mask his pain, while Sarah spends a lot of time crying, crawling across the floor, and seeing visions of horses and strange men. Theirs is an interesting psychological character study.

  • The Strange and Unusual Supporting Characters
    • The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) – The Log Lady is a woman who not only carries around a log at all times, but pets it and converses with it. No one else can hear what the log says, but she occasionally shows up at the police station or cafe to relay a message from the log to Agent Cooper.
    • The Giant (Carel Struycken) – One of the early signs that this was no ordinary show was when this giant appeared to Agent Cooper in a dream and delivered some cryptic clues about Cooper’s investigation. I’ll never forget the episode in which the giant appeared to Cooper and repeatedly said “It is happening again.” So bizarre.
    • The Dwarf (Michael J. Anderson) – Also known as “The Man from Another Place,” this dwarf in a suit appeared a handful of times on the show, mostly in Cooper’s dreams. He dances around and speaks in a strange voice.
    • The One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) – Originally he was only supposed to appear once, wandering through the Twin Peaks hospital, just as an homage to The Fugitive, but David Lynch liked the character enough to write a more integral role for him.
    • Nadine (Wendy Robie) – As I mentioned earlier, Nadine is Ed’s wife. She wears an eye patch, is feverishly working on her latest invention – silent drape runners, and possesses super strength. A lot of people complained that she was just too ridiculous, but I appreciated the comic relief her character provided.
    • Dennis/Denise (David Duchovny) – Yes, before Agent Mulder came to be, David Duchovny portrayed a cross dressing DEA agent on Twin Peaks. The role didn’t last very long, but I thought it was worth mentioning here.
    • Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) – Dr. Jacoby, the town psychiatrist, has an affinity for all things Hawaiian, and he wears eye glasses with different color lenses. He was Laura’s psychiatrist, and so he plays a role in the murder investigation. A couple of interesting tidbits about Russ Tamblyn – he played Riff in West Side Story (1961) and is Amber Tamblyn’s (Joan of Arcadia) father.
    • Bob (Frank Silva) – Long silver hair, a jean jacket, and a maniacal laugh are three things that make him a memorable character.
  • The Plots

    • The central plot of much of the series was the now well known question, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Several episodes into season two, this question was answered, and so the initial premise of the show was resolved. David Lynch actually never intended to reveal Laura’s killer, but had to change his plan due to network pressure. The show went downhill after giving viewers the answers, but I am glad that we found out the answer to the question.

    The Log Lady occasionally provided cryptic clues related to Laura's murder.

    • Another major plot centered on a business rivalry involving a planned housing development and a lumber mill. This was less interesting to me, but at least it made more sense now that I’m old enough to understand what was going on.
    • And in the tradition of more conventional primetime soaps, there were plenty of love triangles and betrayals. When I was 12, I didn’t notice that just about everyone except Agent Cooper was caught in the middle of some sort of romantic entanglement. For example, cafe owner Norma juggled her recently paroled, homicidal husband, and her high school sweetheart Ed – a situation that was further complicated by the fact that Ed’s wife Nadine was bonkers.
    • But it wasn’t just the main plots that drew me to Twin Peaks – the show’s tone and atmosphere are what really made it special. The jazzy music, the bizarre characters, the wind blowing through the trees ominously, an owl hooting outside while a lounge singer serenades the crowd at the Roadhouse. All of these things are what made the show absolutely mesmerizing and fascinating.
  • Overall assessment – I highly recommend all of season one, through about episode nine of season two. After that, the show became more uneven and absurdist, but is still entertaining. So if I haven’t convinced you to watch it yet, here are a few more reasons:
    • Unique characters – None of the show’s characters are stereotypical, and there’s more to almost all of them than meets the eye. If you like interesting characters, look no further than Twin Peaks.
    • Early 90s culture – The clothes, the hair, the technology, all represent the early 90s time period during which the show was made. I love watching stuff from my formative years and being reminded of how things were then.
    • Laughs, chills, and thrills – There’s a nice mix of humor and horror. By horror, I mean disturbing storylines and images, but nothing gory. David Lynch certainly knew how to make an audience chuckle and then shiver, and it’s this strange balancing act that makes the show unsettling.
    • Good conversation piece – Once you’ve experienced the strangeness of Twin Peaks, you will want to talk about it with other people who have watched, and they will be happy to do so. There are a lot of interesting questions and points to discuss.

If you’re new to the show, I’ll leave you with this clip that gives you an idea of its weirdness. If you’ve seen the series in its entirety, keep reading afterwards for my thoughts on how the series ended.

You are now entering a spoiler zone. I will discuss some details of the series finale, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read on!

  • The one disappointing aspect of the show is the way it left viewers hanging after the finale. David Lynch opted for an open-ended finale, in case the show got a last minute renewal. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and so some of our favorite characters were left in the most unfortunate of circumstances. Some of these situation would have been resolved in season three, but now we’ll never know. And some of the plots felt hastily thrown together and not in keeping with the show’s previous tone. Here’s how things ended (spoilers abound ahead – read on at your own risk!)
    • It was revealed that Ben Horne is actually Donna’s father, not Dr. Hayward, who raised her with her mother. In a fit of rage, Dr. Hayward, who up until that point had always been very level headed and calm, hit Ben over the head with a fire poker, leaving Ben unconscious and bleeding on the family hearth.
    • In attempt to draw some negative publicity toward her father’s business rivals, Audrey chained herself to a bank vault. Unfortunately, shortly afterward Pete Martell and his brother-in-law arrived to open a safety deposit box, the contents of which they had been dying to discover. Too bad for everyone who was in the bank that the box contained a bomb, which exploded just after they opened it. Presumably, this killed Audrey, Pete, and others in the bank. I like to think that they miraculously survived, in the tradition of soaps everywhere.
    • Josie supposedly died of fear at the same time that Agent Cooper was having a vision of Bob asking him, “What happened to Josie?” Our last image of Josie is her being trapped in the knob of a drawer in her hotel room. Say what? I hope they were going to resolve that in season three.
    • Agent Cooper entered the Black Lodge, had all kinds of strange encounters, but somehow managed to get back to reality with his new love, Norma’s sister Annie (played by a young, pudgier Heather Graham). Unfortunately, he came back possessed by Bob, and the series ended with Cooper bashing his head against a bathroom mirror and otherwise acting like a lunatic, while Sheriff Truman stood cluelessly on the other side of the door. After all that Cooper went through, it was just awful to see the show end with him being overcome by the evil that he was fighting against. Oh well. Overall, the show was still one of my all-time favorites.

SYTYCD Season 5: The Winner is Revealed August 6, 2009

Tonight’s grand finale began with the Top 20 dancers performing a group number from The Wiz. The dancing would continue fast and furious throughout the two hour episode, interspersed with plenty of not so subtle advertising for the SYTYCD tour, the upcoming movie Fame, etc.

Choreographers’ Choice – Each of the seven judges/choreographers on tonight’s panel chose one of their favorite dances from the season. This is an annual tradition, and it gives many of the top 20 dancers a chance to perform one more time, while also highlighting some of the best performances of the season. Next to the description of each dance, I’ve included my thoughts about it (in italics) from when it was originally performed.

  • Adam – Phillip and Jeanine’s hip hop routine to “Mad” by Ne-Yo (Tabitha and Napoleon) – Tabitha and Napoleon are my favorite hip hop choreographers. I love that they bring so much emotion and story to their routines. And this one was so interesting – it had me captivated from beginning to end. Jeanine kind of reminds me of Kristin Stewart (aka Bella), except she has a lot more personality.  And Phillip brings such interesting movements to any performance, plus he seems to do well with anything that’s thrown at him – I think the choreographers will love to work with him.
  • Nigel – Janette and Brandon’s Argentine Tango (Leonardo and Miriam) – I wouldn’t say that there was a lot of heat between them, but Janette did a fantastic job with all the leg work and looked great, and Brandon was a great partner. Nigel and the other judges gave them a standing ovation! And Nigel said it was as close to ballroom perfection as has ever been on the show. I had to go back and watch again after all the praise the judges gave. I liked it better the second time, and noticed Brandon’s complete focus on Janette, reminiscent of his intense stage presence in his first audition solo. I still think that I’ve seen couples dance the tango with more chemistry, but they were definitely technically excellent.
  • Debbie – Asuka and Vitolio’s waltz (Louis Van Amstel) – Louis called this more of a “lyrical, spiritual waltz.” He wants it to embody the journey Vitolio has gone on, from being an orphan, to where he is now. I am usually more critical of a dance that is touted as some sort of emotional catharsis, because often in these cases, the judges ignore technique and gush about the story (the key example being Lacey and Neil’s flower dance from season 3, which I still think was way overrated). This one started out well, very smooth and flowing, and Asuka looked beautiful and light as a feather in her shimmery dress. Unfortunately for me, somewhere along the way it fell flat. Vitolio especially seemed to drag his feet a couple of times, and there was no connection between the two dancers. Except for a couple of standout moments, it was one of those “going through the motions” routines.
  • Mary – Jeanine and Jason’s contemporary to Jason Mraz’s “If It Kills Me” (Travis Wall) – Well, now. That was a a mesmerizing, sensual routine! I’d like to see more of Travis’s work on the show, because this was great. Jeanine and Jason did a great job of conveying the relationship of these two close friends who are attracted to each other, and all the conflicting emotions that would go along with that. I even liked the heart locket prop that was tossed back and forth between them. Well done. This has been my favorite performance from Jason, and only reinforces my strong opinion of Jeanine as one of the top, if not the top, female dancer this season.
  • Mia – Kayla and Max’s Samba (Louis Van Amstel) from the top 20 episode – Kayla looked great in all that fuschia fringe. Samba requires a LOT of energy! I got tired just watching it. It was a lot of fun to watch, even though Max isn’t my favorite contestant.
  • Debbie  – Top 16 group routine hip hop/samba (Tabitha and Napoleon and Dmitri) – I just had to laugh at all that water splashing around the stage! But this was a good one.
  • Lil’ C – Caitlin and Jason’s “Jai Ho” Bollywood routine – I didn’t remember Caitlin smearing red lipstick all over Jason’s face when they first performed this. – I didn’t even recognize Caitlin behind her elaborate costume. I liked her better than Jason in this performance, but they both did a good job with the fun choreography.
  • Adam – Evan and Randi’s “butt dance” (Mia Michaels) – This was back when Evan and Randi were still among my favorite contestants. They were so cute together! I think it was when they got split up that their individual weaknesses started to show. – Mia’s description: “It’s all about the booty.” Evan is supposed to be hypnotized by Randi’s butt. She’s like a sexy poodle, and he’s lost all control of his body because he’s mesmerized by her. Interesting… It was terrific! Bizarre, humorous, but terrific. This was excellent choreography for Evan to show off his Broadway-style, and Randi looked smashing in a completely flattering pink negligee. Loved the characters, loved their total investment in the concept, love them!
  • Mary – Jeanine and Brandon’s paso doble (Louis Van Amstel) – This is the third dance by Louis that the judges have chosen tonight! I’ve never paid much attention to him, but he seems to be a favorite of the experts. – Let’s hope that this paso doble makes up for the two less than stellar ones earlier this season. And it was definitely better than those. These are the two contestants to beat, and if they aren’t the final two, I’ll be disappointed. They are the most exciting dancers to watch, and have been for most of the season. I loved their in synch twirls and kicks, and as Adam said, the way they “filled out every single thing in between with the intensity and the movement… the movement never ended.”
  • Nigel – Kayla and Kupono’s addiction routine (Mia Michaels) – It’s clear that many people in the crowd, including several of the judges, were deeply moved by this encore performance. I saw lots of tears being wiped away. – I’m not always an automatic fan of Mia’s work. (I especially didn’t like Neil and Lacey’s famous flowers in heaven routine.) In this dance, Kupono is the addiction that Kayla is trying to get rid of. And in Kupono’s defense, I’d imagine it was difficult for him to portray addiction in this performance, when his family experienced the hardship and destruction that it leads to. Their performance did, indeed, convey a lot of emotion, and they danced it very well. Mia did a nice job of creating a powerful interpretation of the grip of addiction.
  • Tyce – Brandon and Janette’s disco routine (Doriana Sanchez) – Oh no, not disco again! I am often annoyed by all the strutting and white pants. As usual, I wasn’t wowed by the choreography, but the two lift and spins were rather impressive. Janette looked cute in her little pink dress, but Brandon was quite tacky looking in his sleeveless vest and butterfly collar.
  • Mia – Melissa and Ade’s breast cancer routine (Tyce Diorio) – How nice to hear that Tyce’s friend is now cancer free. – This piece is about a woman who has breast cancer. They danced it well, and it moved Nigel to tears. Melissa was totally in character, conveying weakness and frailty and pain, and Ade was a strong partner, as always.
  • The Top 8 Dancers and the Judges – Mia Michaels’ Chorus Line routine – It would have been nice to see the judges do a little more dancing than they did, but it was nice to see them on stage anyway.

Countdown to the Winner

  • The third runner-up: Kayla – No surprise here. She’s an amazing dancer, but I didn’t expect her to win, since she’s somewhat lacking in the likeability and personality categories.
  • The second runner-up: Evan – Whew! Dodged a bullet there. I was going to get nervous if Cat had called out Brandon’s name. All is as it should be. The final two dancers are Jeanine and Brandon, and they both very much deserve to be there.
  • The first runner-up: Brandon
  • The winner: Jeanine!

That’s a wrap. Another summer, another season of SYTYCD. I loved both Brandon and Jeanine, so having them as the final two was perfect, and Jeanine really did deserve to win. Now we have less than a month to relax and take a break from dancing before season six kicks off on Sept. 2. Hope to see you back at Eclaire Fare then!