Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Fringe: A Show You Should Be Watching January 21, 2011

Filed under: Fringe,Television — Emily @ 4:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

A young woman loses herself in her job as she tries to escape the ghosts of her past. A father learns to depend on the son he has been estranged from for years, as the son struggles to forgive his father for a life altering act committed years ago. Meanwhile, mysterious events are taking place all over the world, and a team of scientists and investigators use unconventional methods to solve crimes, save lives, and sometimes even save the world!

This is a very basic synopsis of the excellent scifi show Fringe, which returns tonight after its winter break. If you have never watched before, do yourself a favor and start catching up! Fringe is currently in its third season, and it just gets better and better. It’s the only show I consistently watch the night it airs, and it’s also the best scifi show currently on tv. Here are my thoughts on why you should be watching Fringe, too.

  • It’s a worthy successor to The X-FilesWhen The X-Files ended, I doubted that any other scifi show would captivate me as much as it had. Then along came this tale of FBI agent Olivia Dunham, who finds herself working for a division that investigates strange, seemingly inexplicable cases. She works alongside Dr. Walter Bishop, a brilliant scientist who uses unconventional investigative methods and spent several years in a mental institution. Tagging along as a “supervisor” for his father is Peter Bishop, and he and Walter are still working through all sorts of family baggage. This trio is joined by a few other team members, and together they investigate the strange, unimaginable, and sometimes horrific events tied to the Pattern. Instead of Mulder and Scully, we have Olivia, Peter, and Walter. Instead of aliens and government conspiracies, we have shape shifters and other world conspiracies. But both shows have a satisfying blend of character development and mysterious cases/freaks of the week.
  • Olivia – Olivia is an interesting and likable heroine. She loves her job and is committed to doing her best. She genuinely cares about the people she works with and the victims she encounters in her investigations. The writers have been slow to reveal details about her past, which makes her a somewhat enigmatic figure when it comes to her emotions, her mindset, and her relationships, or lack thereof.
  • Peter and Walter’s father/son relationship – This pair is one of the most entertaining on tv. John Noble and Joshua Jackson have great chemistry as the bickering father and son who obviously care for each other, even though they don’t always see eye to eye. Peter exhibits great patience with his socially dysfunctional and mentally unstable father, and Walter has proven how much he loves his son, even though some of his actions have been questionable. Some of the funniest, as well as the most heartwarming, moments on the show happen when these two are involved. And I should mention here that I totally have a crush on Joshua Jackson in this role. I was never a huge fan of Pacey when he was on Dawson’s Creek, but Peter is so charming, funny, and handsome that it’s hard not to love him. I even named my second child Peter, not completely because of this show – but it was definitely what gave me the initial idea for the name.
  • The Observers – Ohhhh, weird bald guys, wearing suits and hats, who show up at important or significant events in history. Count me in. The verdict is still out on who these guys are, what their ultimate goal is, and where they come from. But part of the fun of watching Fringe is noticing their appearances. It’s usually very subtle – they may be standing at a bus stop in the background, may walk past other characters, etc., but when they do show up it’s usually a signal that something important is about to happen.
  • The alternate universe – I don’t want to say much about this development, since it didn’t surface until late in the second season. Let me just say that it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the show, and has resulted in a highly entertaining and exciting season three.
  • Rich mythology – The Observers and the alternate universe are only part of the intricate mythology of this show. The X-Files had a rich mythology, but the writers never resolved much of it. Fringe has done a more satisfying job of answering some questions, so that viewers aren’t as frustrated by the new questions those answers create, or the questions that are left unanswered. The first season didn’t supply much information – it was more about the case of the week, as well as getting to know the characters. But as season two progressed, we learned more about the other world, and after several episodes that only hinted at the secret of Peter’s past, the shocking truth was finally revealed, and that secret has led to all sorts of complications. So, yes, there are many complex details to figure out, but the show can also be enjoyed on an episode by episode basis.
  • The musical episode – When a show comes up with an unusual episode, I am sold. Buffy the Vampire Slayer succeeded with “Once More, with Feeling,” its musical episode, Angel impressed me with its “puppet” episode, and last season Fringe satisfied me with its version of a musical episode. It was part story time, part old school private eye, part musical – and I loved it! Agent Broyles played piano and sang a smooth jazz number, Olivia sang a beautiful ballad, and Walter even conjured up some singing corpses. It was weird, but it worked. This episode proved that you never know what you are going to see when you turn on Fringe.
  • The details – One of my favorite aspects of season three has been the amount of detail provided about the alternate universe. JFK was never assassinated, avocados are an endangered fruit, writing instruments have been replaced by electronic devices, etc. These sometimes subtle, sometimes large details give this other world a distinctive look and feel. If you are interested in reading about more of these details, check out this page on Fringepedia about the parallel universe.
  • Genuine chills and thrills – The CSI intros, infamous for being gross and shocking, have nothing on Fringe. A woman giving birth to a baby who ages 80 years and dies within a few minutes? Sure. A mad scientist who collects the donated organs of a deceased ballerina to put her back together again as a marionette dancer? Why not. A victim whose facial orifices close over, leaving him a faceless corpse? Well there you have it. The incidents, the investigations, and the discoveries never cease to shock, perplex, or surprise. Needless to say, the writing team is very creative and imaginative. The one hour episode flies by every week – so much is happening, and it is so entertaining.

I had a hard time writing this post. I really wanted to convey how much I love this show and why, but I didn’t want to give away too many details in the process. Much of the fun of watching Fringe is in the not knowing, not having all the information, not completely understanding what’s happening. I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough that you will give the show a try. Set your DVR for Friday nights at 8 p.m. central time! Let me know what you think after you check it out.

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Football, Ballet, and the Wild, Wild West January 19, 2011

Filed under: Movies,Television — Emily @ 3:20 pm
Tags: , ,

Football. Books adapted into movies. Oscar nominees. Here’s how I’ve been entertaining myself during the winter hiatus that most of my tv shows are in.

  • Friday Night Lights: Seasons 3 and 4 – I am so in love with this show. I’m ashamed at how non-committal I’ve been to it all these years. I’d watch, and really enjoy, a few episodes, but then let ten pile up on my Tivo, end up deleting them before I watched them, etc. Not really sure why I didn’t just sit down and watch every episode I could get my hands on. It’s so, so good! This time around, I fell in love with Tim Riggins, a bad boy with a good heart, and even found myself welcoming new characters with open arms (I’m usually resistant to change when old characters are replaced with new ones). From Eric and Tami Taylor’s realistic marriage and parenting challenges, to Matt Saracen’s struggle to deal with his dysfunctional family, I enjoyed every aspect of these two seasons. Apparently the fifth and final season is still airing on Direct TV, so I’ll have to wait a few months to see how it all ends.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire – In a recent post I talked about how much I enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s trilogy about the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander. So I was pleased when I discovered that the Swedish film adaptations of the first two installments were available on Netflix Instant Watch. The first one, Dragon Tattoo, was just as thrilling as the book. It was a great translation from page to screen. The second, Played with Fire, was equally entertaining, but was a little rough around the edges. (Some of the important plot points were rushed through or skipped, and it seemed pretty low budget.) Apparently I am far from tiring of this trilogy, since I am looking forward to the American movie version, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network), which will star Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Christopher Plummer as the Vanger family patriarch, and newcomer (at least to me) Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Should be a good one!
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – This movie taught me a lesson that I should have learned a long time ago: I am not a fan of movies based on graphic novels. Let’s review the earlier hints I should have taken: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – What a silly, silly movie; A History of Violence – all I remember about this one is the ridiculous cheerleader scene; 300 – No amount of slow and/or fast motion battle effects could impress me enough to finish this one; Watchmen – three of the most miserable hours I’ve ever endured (accidentally watched the extended version…), and I was completely puzzled by the story. And so we come to the Michael Cera action comedy about a slacker musician who can only date the girl of his dreams if he defeats her seven evil exes. I was so overwhelmed by the clever recreation of a comic book and homage to video games, and so underwhelmed by the plot and dialogue, that I turned this one off after 40 minutes. Obviously I did not fall into this movie’s target demographic, particularly since I’ve never even glanced at a graphic novel. I really thought I would like the movie – I can appreciate movies that are “different” (say, for instance, Stranger Than Fiction, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but this one was just too busy – all bells and whistles, no substance.
  • Black Swan – What to say about a psychological thriller set in the world of ballet? It was everything I hoped it would be: a magnificent, frightening, beautiful mess that deserved a standing ovation as the credits rolled. Natalie Portman was terrific as dancer Nina, who slowly unravels under her enormous desire to be perfect in the starring role of Swan Lake. And Barbara Hershey was almost unrecognizable, but fantastic as Nina’s controlling mother. She sent chills down my spine with a subtle shift of her eyes, and made me gasp with some of her creepy interactions with her daughter. The music was beautiful, the effects were appropriately weird, and yes, there were some shockingly graphic scenes that helped establish Nina’s spiraling emotional/psychological state. It’s one of those movies that blurs the line between “real” and “imagined,” which gave it a dreamlike quality. Should it win Best Picture? The subject matter seems a bit too campy for such high accolades. But it’s definitely deserving of some sort of recognition for setting a new standard of quality for psychological thrillers.
  • True Grit – Now here’s a movie that has Best Picture written all over it. Strangely, though, there’s been little Oscar buzz about this latest product of the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men, Oh Brother Where Art Thou). I don’t even like westerns, but I loved this movie. I fell under its spell from the moment an orchestral version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” started playing in the opening scene. It’s a beautiful old hymn, and its lingering presence, in different forms throughout the movie, helped create a very satisfying tone of quiet resolve. The song also matched the rugged beauty of the Indian territory that Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn, and Laboeuf traversed on their hunt for Tom Chaney. I was very impressed by all of the actors. Hailee Steinfeld was terrific as 14 year old Mattie, carrying herself like a young woman with more maturity and intelligence than her age would suggest. Jeff Bridges proves, once again, that he plays drunken, past their prime heroes very well. Matt Damon really surprised me with his unusually funny role as a Texas ranger who was a little too proud of himself and his home state. These three also had great chemistry (as well as some great dialogue to work with). Josh Brolin used an unusually high-pitched voice as the villain, and it made him even creepier in the role. Like some of the Coen brothers’ previous movies, this one was a strange mix of heavy themes and oddball humor. The result: not your typical Western, but a perfectly entertaining and epic drama. And it’s much more than just a revenge movie – it’s a beautifully told story of persistence, endurance, and camaraderie.

I’ll be taking a big step down in quality when I watch my next Netflix movie. Yes, The A-Team is far from Oscar material, but I’ll give it a look since Bradley Cooper (my beloved Will Tippin from Alias) is in it. I also hope to watch a couple more of the Oscar hopefuls before that awards show airs – perhaps The King’s Speech, The Fighter, and The Social Network. What movies have you loved or hated lately?

 

2010: Year in Review January 1, 2011

Filed under: Books,Fringe,Glee,Lost,Memories,Movies,Music,Television — Emily @ 5:24 pm

2010 was a year that marked the birth of my second son, which has made it decidedly more difficult for me to maintain this blog. Perhaps one of my new year’s resolutions will be to post more frequently. We shall see. Blame it on pregnancy ditziness, blame it on newborn phase sleep deprivation, but whatever the cause, much of 2010 is a blur, especially the entertainment world. I do remember saying goodbye to, and shedding some tears for, one of my all-time favorite shows. I also remember the wrong person winning American Idol, the soap opera I grew up on coming to an end, and Christopher Nolan continuing his movie-making magic. Here’s a bullet point list of the best of times, worst of times of 2010.

  • Good Reads
    • Stieg Larsson’s Girl trilogy – I read all three of these books in 2010 and found them completely riveting. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a satisfying blend of suspense and mystery revolving around the enigmatic Vanger family. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was a conspiracy-filled investigation to clear the name of the wrongfully accused, and The Girl Who Played with Fire was a satisfying ending to the trilogy with its expose of a secret organization and Lisbeth Salander finally finding some peace. I have watched the Swedish movie adaptations of the first two novels, and they were surprisingly good (meaning the transition from page to screen was pretty accurate). I hear there are American versions in the works, but since the trilogy is set in Sweden, and so much of the plot revolves around Swedish politics and culture, I don’t think they will be as good.
    • Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City – I don’t usually read historical non-fiction, but I was fascinated by this book, which blends the story of an infamous serial killer with the city of Chicago’s efforts to prepare for and host the 1893 World’s Fair. Larson knew when to elaborate and when to summarize, to make this a quick and interesting read. Word on the street is that there is a movie in the works, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to play serial killer H.H. Holmes. Should be a good one!
  • Good Movies
    • Shutter Island – Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, he has completely redeemed himself for Titanic. Yeah, I guess I should have gotten over that about ten years ago, but I lost over three hours of my life to that movie!! It took me a long time to forgive him for shouting “I’m the king of the world” and such. This year, he only impressed me, starring in two of my favorite movies. One was Shutter Island, adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel. I knew it would be good when I saw that it starred DiCaprio, along with Mark Ruffalo (one of my favorite character actors) and Ben Kingsley. This one was terrific in the theater: the scenery, the music, the everything. The ending surprised (and disappointed) some people, but Martin Scorsese did a great job with every single detail, from beginning to end, and I was impressed.
    • Inception – The only person who outdid Scorsese this year was Christopher Nolan, who continues to amaze me with his ability to intrigue and entertain. Inception is the last movie I saw in the theater before my son was born, and I haven’t been back to the movies yet! What a terrific experience that movie was: the sights, the sounds, the story… the whole package. I look forward to giving it a second look soon.
  • Good Music
    • Mumford and Sons – Their Sigh No More is the only complete album I purchased in 2010, and I love it. From the mainstream hit “Little Lion Man,” to the solidarity of “Timshel,” to the poetry of “The Cave,” everything is worth listening to and enjoying.
    • Glee – Nothing is more fun to listen to than songs from Glee. They are fun to sing and dance along to, in the car, the kitchen, or anywhere else. The second season has been a little lackluster, but I’m still enjoying last season’s hits – most notably “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Borderline/Open Your Heart,” and “Alone.”
  • Good TV
    • Breaking Bad – After three seasons of it receiving awards and accolades, we finally jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon, zooming through the first two seasons on DVD. Now we are anxiously awaiting season three, and hope it will reair on AMC before the dvd release. Bryan Cranston is truly amazing in this role, one that is about as far removed from the dad on Malcolm in the Middle as you can be. I’ve had several people tell me they don’t want to watch the show because it sounds depressing (actually, I think I was one of those people before I watched it!), but the show balances out the heavy themes (cancer, drug addiction, deception, etc.) with lighter moments. We so enjoyed this show that we decided to try out AMC’s other original series. We quickly lost interest in Mad Men (well made, yes, but no likable characters!), but immediately took to the new zombie drama The Walking Dead (too bad there were only six episodes in season one…). I was also interested in Rubicon, but since it was canceled after one season, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it.
    • Fringe – I continue to love this sci-fi investigative show. The story arcs are imaginative, the characters well drawn, and the details thorough. This season has been all about this universe vs. the alternate universe, and I appreciate all the little details that the writers throw in about alt-universe (JFK was’t assassinated, they no longer use writing pens, avocado are a rare fruit, etc.). This show even inspired the name that I eventually chose for my son (Peter).
    • Lost – I couldn’t do a year end post without mentioning what is probably my all-time favorite show. I throughly enjoyed the final season, although it took me awhile to come to terms with the way it ended. The show had a great run, though, so I don’t miss it now. Too much other tv to watch anyway.
  • Good Sports
    • The Saints won the Super Bowl! – After years of embarrassment, followed by some years of “almost, but not quite,” the Saints finally had their moment of glory as Super Bowl champs, by winning a handful of crazy games. It was oh so sweet to celebrate with them after all those depressing Sunday afternoons growing up in Louisiana, watching the ‘Aints.
    • Duke wins the NCAA championship! – What a rare thing, for two of my teams to win championships during the same year! I have been a Duke fan since 1991, the year they won their first championship. I’ve followed their ups and downs ever since then, and was pleasantly surprised when they were the only #1 seed left standing for the Final Four last season, and added another championship to their collection. Go Blue Devils!
  • Disappointments
    • Velva Jean Learns to Drive – This book was okay, but I was really unhappy with how it ended.
    • The Event – I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from NBC, since their action/suspense shows usually fail, but this show was just one, big convoluted and implausible mess. I tried to watch it, but gave up on about episode 5 or 6. I suppose it will last for awhile, but I won’t be tuning in to this failed hybrid of 24 and Lost.
    • So You Think You Can Dance: Season 7 – When I first heard that the show was mixing things up by pairing new contestants with all-stars, I was super excited. And as much as I loved seeing Pasha, Mark, Kathryn, etc., their presence made it nearly impossible to pick favorites among the newbies. We couldn’t enjoy power couples, and I was usually too busy watching one of the all-stars do their thing to notice how the actual contestants were doing. Throw the ridiculous number of injuries in, and the uneven number of guys and girls during the second half of the season, and it was an epic failure. There were still a few memorable performances, but none that I can think of right now.
    • Lee beating Crystal on American Idol – Every year I only half watch the spectacle that is American Idol, and last season, my one eye open quickly pegged Crystal the only one with the total package amonst the weak top ten. As much as I liked Lee (he was a nice guy, after all), he wasn’t nearly as talented or comfortable on stage as Crystal. Like all previous contestants, their post-Idol successes or failures will determine the real winner (a shout out here to the one and only Jennifer Hudson, who was voted off way too soon on her season of Idol).

So what were the best and worst moments in 2010 entertainment for you?