Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Childhood Memories July 5, 2011

Filed under: 1980s,Books,Memories — Emily @ 6:01 pm

My three year old son has recently become very interested in books – not the super short board books or picture books, but real storybooks. I love that I can sit and read to him, and he’ll actually sit still and listen, fully engrossed, until the story is over. And then, he will ask me to read it again, or to read another one. His new found love for stories made me nostalgic about my favorite books growing up. On a recent visit to my parents’ house, I rummaged around in the closets and dug out some treasures from my childhood. Since I couldn’t take them with me on the move to California (the suitcases were already going to be packed full), I took pictures of them instead. Here are a few of my favorite books, plus a few other things, from my early years:

Do you remember loving any of these books and toys? What were some of your favorites?

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Mixing Things Up with Netflix Instant Watch November 4, 2010

Filed under: 1980s,Memories,Movies — Emily @ 3:36 pm
Tags: , , , ,

While we have had access to Netflix Instant Watch for over a year, we didn’t really start using it until this past summer. This week I fell even more in love with it after discovering tons of children’s programs that appeal to Benjamin (namely Dora, Caillou, and his latest craze, The Backyardigans). I’ve also developed an interest in the PBS news program Frontline, since Netflix offers several of its episodes via instant watch. Here’s a run down on the various instant watch titles we’ve been watching over the past few weeks:

  • Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – I had already watched this once, when it was available on Hulu, but it was worth checking out again. It reminds me how talented and funny Neil Patrick Harris is, and how much less interesting the tv landscape is without a Joss Whedon show.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – My biggest complaint about this movie is that it was simply too long. Surely the director/editors could have figured out a way to trim the middle section by a half hour or so. I was fascinated by the first hour (seeing “old man” Benjamin learn to walk/talk/read, etc.), bored by the second (almost to the point that I gave up on the movie), and satisfied by the last 45 minutes (especially the way Benjamin grieved the impending loss of life as he knew it, since he would soon be a child). It’s definitely an unusual story, and I wasn’t sure what it would look like for someone to be born as an old man. They way the story was written made it all make sense. This movie is entertaining because of its concept (a man who is born old and goes through life aging backwards), but it felt like they were trying to make it into a Forrest Gump type of epic. So on that level, it failed – that is, it didn’t feel grandiose enough to me. The acting and writing  weren’t that great either. Still, Brad Pitt’s old man to young man make up was rather convincing, and I was emotionally invested in the story enough that I cried at the end. If you have nearly three hours to spare, this one is worth watching. I had to watch in three or four installments, but I’m glad I finished.
  • Frontline: Digital Nation – For the past couple of years, ever since I joined the Facebook culture, I have been fascinated by this topic of how technology is affecting the way we communicate and interact with one another. So I thoroughly enjoyed this report on just that – how smart phones, Facebook, online gaming, etc. are changing our relationships and daily lives. As a college English teacher, I was interested in the segment about how students are “multitasking” in the classroom – texting, Facebooking, and googling while also taking notes or listening to a lecture. It was interesting that a research study found that these students weren’t as good at multitasking as they thought. Doing so many things at once greatly diminishes their ability to retain information, to concentrate, etc. I also enjoyed the segment about online gaming. It focused on the way that gamers form online communities and friendships, and sometimes evenmeet their future spouse in the game. I do wish the reporters would have investigated how these online relationships affect these individuals’ “real life” relationships. Something just seems wrong about being so absorbed in a fantasy world, even if you are “meeting” the same people there every day. Doing so makes them miss so much of the physical world around them!
  • Teen Wolf – Yup, a classic Michael J. Fox ’80s movie. I’m pretty sure a teenager watching this movie today would think it was awful. I must admit it is pretty bad – maybe “campy” is a better word. But if only for nostalgia’s sake, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. One of my favorite thing about watching old movies is getting on IMDB and finding out what the actors have done since. In the case of Teen Wolf, most of their careers fizzled out by the end of the ’80s (it was released in ’85 – the same year as The Goonies). Doug Savant of Desperate Housewives had a minor role as one of teen wolf’s basketball teammates, but other than him and Michael J. Fox, no one else has had much success since. It was interesting to learn that Jerry Levine (the wolf’s goofy sidekick Stiles) has gone on to a successful career as a tv director, working on such shows as Life Unexpected, Monk, and Everybody Hates Chris. Who knew that someone who started out car surfing in Teen Wolf would go on to succeed behind the camera?
  • Babies – This documentary was surprisingly fascinating. I expected it to be cute, but it also managed to provide a lot of insight into the similarities and differences of babies in different cultures – all without a single line of narration. A camera crew followed the lives of four babies from birth until they were about one year old. The babies lived in the San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia, and Namibia. There was a recurring contrast of the U.S. and Japanese babies’ sterile, perhaps overprotected environment, and the Mongolian and Namibian babies’ less structured, more “anything goes” environment. Of course, you can’t base your view of an entire culture’s way of raising a baby based on one family, but still it was eye opening to see things like the Mongolian mother cleaning her baby’s face with breast milk and the Namibian mother putting mud on her baby’s head.It was strange to see families living so “in the wild” even in our modern world. The Mongolian family seemed to be farmers, and they lived in a one room hut in the middle of their fields. The baby would crawl right out the opened door and hang out with the cattle. One time he was sitting in a basin for a bath, and a goat walked up to the door and started drinking the bath water! The Namibian mother was always shown sitting with other mothers and children, outside, with dust blowing around them and flies buzzing around. She was shown nursing the baby and her older child at the same time, and the atmosphere was very relaxed. They let the babies put rocks in their mouth, crawl around in a stream drinking from shallow water full of sediment, etc. Such a stark contrast to the hippie San Fran parents who were taking their daughter to some kind of New Age music class (“The Earth is our Mother and provides for us all…, or something like that), or the Japanese mother taking her daughter on play dates at the park with all the other moms/babies/strollers/baby wrap. This was a fun movie to watch with Benjamin. He was just as fascinated as I was!
  • The ‘Burbs – This Tom Hanks comedy/horror movie from 1989 is one of my favorites from that decade. I have watched it so many times, and yet I still thoroughly enjoyed it this time. First of all, it is simply funny. Sure, there are some cheesy moments, but the predicaments that these curious/paranoid neighbors find themselves in are very awkward and amusing. Secondly, there’s a lot of truthful commentary here about how things really are in the suburbs. People often wonder about the “Boo Radley” of the neighborhood – the one who doesn’t mow his lawn, take out his trash, ever go anywhere, etc. (Yeah, we have one of those.) It’s fun to see characters in a movie actually do the investigating that most people would never actually do in a real life situation. Tom Hanks has had tons of success as a dramatic actor, but I really prefer his older comedy movies (Big is another of my favorites). And if these reasons aren’t enough to love The ‘Burbs, just remember that it features Corey Feldman and Carrie Fisher, as well as that creepy red-headed kid (Courtney Gains) from the original Children of the Corn! I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie and not like it. Please leave a comment if you disagree with me.

So that sums up what I’ve been watching lately. I have about 40 more titles in my queue, many of them documentaries and episodes of Frontline. But my favorite instant watch titles are those that take me back to my younger days (in addition to the ones listed above I’ve watched Flatliners, Soapdish, and Interview with a Vampire, and have Clash of the Titans, Police Academy, and Clueless in my queue). I hope that Netflix will continue to add new ’80s and ’90s movies to Instant Watch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will enjoy revisiting them! Let me know what you’ve enjoyed viewing on Instant Watch.

 

Recently Purchased on iTunes October 26, 2010

Filed under: 1980s,1990s,Music — Emily @ 10:13 am
Tags: ,

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finally gotten around to buying some new music on iTunes. I received a couple of iTunes gift cards last Christmas, so it was about time! Having $50 to spend on music is a big responsibility for someone who almost never buys music (and no, I don’t “steal” it either – I just tend to listen to what I already have). So how did I decide what to spend it on? First, I listened to Pandora and wrote down the names of songs I particularly enjoyed. I also paid attention when people on Facebook praised certain groups and artists. And finally, I dug deep into my memory banks to think of some old school classics that I’d enjoy having on my iPod. Rather than buying entire albums, I decided to mostly purchase individual songs so that I could have more variety. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, but I still have $18 to spend!:

  • Mumford and Sons – Sigh No MoreI just purchased this album this morning; in fact, I’m listening to it for the first time right now and loving it! This group is so different from anything on the radio right now – refreshing, creative, folksy, yet modern – all at the same time. I’ve always liked a good folk music sound, and it’s even better when combined with other sounds. (Think Nickel Creek, Regina Spektor, Rich Mullins, etc.) I’ve heard good things about the Avett Brothers, too, so I will be buying some of their music in the near future.
  • Sara Bareilles – “Gravity” – I first heard this song a couple of seasons ago on So You Think You Can Dance, during Kayla and Kupono’s emotional “Addiction” performance. The song stuck with me as much as the routine did, so I’m glad to own it now.
  • Muse – “Uprising” and “Supermassive Black Hole” – I like Muse enough to buy their albums, but these two songs are a good start for my collection. Muse has a sharp, satisfying sound, and perhaps sadly, they represent some of the “heaviest” music in my collection.
  • The KLF with Tammy Wynette – “Stand By Jams” – Remember this classic late ’80s song? “Their justified, and their ancient, and they drive an ice cream van…” I have no idea what it was about, but the combination of country and dance music sure was catchy!
  • The Killers – “When You Were Young” – I really like the lead singer’s voice, and perhaps this group reminds me of the best of the ’80s, since they have a synthesizer/Duran Duran-ish sound. Plus, it’s fun to play this song on Guitar Hero! 😉
  • Joshua Radin – “No Envy No Fear” – This is one of the songs I discovered on Pandora. It has a sleepy, pleasant sound. I think I’ve heard it on a tv show, too.
  • Jay-Z and Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind” – I was reminded of this song when the kids on Glee sang it a few weeks ago. No offense to Rachel, Finn, and the gang, but this is one of those times when I prefer the original over the Glee-i-fied version. This is a fun one to sing along to.
  • Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – This song has been played everywhere. I first heard it on the “Wizard of Oz” themed episode of Scrubs. Such a beautiful version of the classic song, and it makes me happy every time I hear it. 🙂
  • Christina Aguilera – “Ain’t No Other Man” – I admit it: I like a good Christina song every now and then! They are catchy, and the girl can sing. I’m sure I’ll purchase a couple more of her songs eventually, but for now this is it.
  • Britney Spears – “Toxic” – Let’s consider this a nostalgic purchase. Britney songs have always been catchy, so why not add a couple to my collection? For the record, though, she doesn’t have a particularly good voice – she’s just well-produced.
  • Brandi Carlile – “The Story” – This has been in my Pandora rotation lately, and when I investigated where I’d heard it before, I discovered it was featured in a Grey’s Anatomy promo, and a GM commercial during the Olympics. I love her voice – similar to Melissa Etheridge, and this is just a good song.
  • Beyonce – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” – Ever since the Glee episode where Kurt led the football team in a dance number to this song, I can’t help but smile when I hear this song. It’s fun to dance and sing along to, and that’s enough reason for me to buy it.
  • Missy Elliot – “Lose Control” – This isn’t my typical choice of genre (most of my music is of the “chill around the house” variety), but I wanted to add some songs that will be motivating during a workout. Since this is one of the songs played during my cardio kickboxing class, I know it will keep me moving on the treadmill or stair stepper, too!

So there you have it. How should I spend my remaining $18? I am open to suggestions!

 

Remembering As the World Turns September 21, 2010

Filed under: 1980s,Memories,Television — Emily @ 3:54 pm
Tags: , , ,

The "As the World Turns" opening logo, as it appeared in the 1980s

Some warbled, dramatic music and a slowly rotating Earth – that is the As the World Turns intro that I remember from my childhood. It was the era of the Snyders and their farm, the Lily/Holden/Dusty love triangle, the James Stenbeck who always (shock!) returned from presumed death, etc. Growing up, every afternoon between 1 and 2 p.m. my mom was watching As the World Turns, which means that most days, so was I.

I stopped watching the show years ago, except for the summer after graduate school when I was unemployed and got sucked back in to day time tv again for a few months. The beauty (or perhaps tragedy) of soap operas is that even if you haven’t watched the show in ten years, you can pick right back up, since there is always a core group of characters who have grown up or grown old on the show. And so, from time to time (as in, once every few years…), I have read the weekly update in the newspaper, and know what’s going on in Oakdale.

I’m not sure whether to be sad, pleased, or indifferent about the apparently imminent death of all soap operas. Several soaps have left the air over the past few years, and new ones aren’t replacing them. Apparently more people want to watch judge shows than soaps now. As the World Turns was the latest soap to fall victim to this trend – it aired its final episode last Friday. Out of nostalgia, I watched the finale.

What is a fitting send-off for a show that’s been running for over 50 years? Certainly not the uneventful, dull episode that the writers came up with. I suppose they were focusing on closure for those Oakdale residents who managed to survive to the end without being murdered, dying of a rare disease, going to prison, getting amnesia, etc. Here’s what I gathered from the finale:

  • Jack and Carly are happily married – again – and have a baby on the way, not to be confused with the baby that Jack recently discovered he’s not the father of.
  • Lily and Holden are once again having problems (in fact, it looks like they are separated/divorced), but it looks like these true loves are going to find their way back to each other again.
  • Lucinda and John Dixon rekindled their love for one another while in Europe, and they plan to live the rest of their days enjoying each other’s company, much to Lisa’s chagrin.
  • In the strangest development, Barbara Ryan is happily involved with a much younger Henry, and they seem to spend their time dancing to disco music at home, even with a disco ball and multi-colored lights. She even dissolved her partnership in her fashion company with her son, Paul. Luckily, Paul had been about to do the same thing. They have now “set each other free,” and Paul is happily involved with Emily.
  • Emily’s much younger sister, Allison, moved away with Tom and Margo’s son Casey. I couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing. Surely they are older than college aged by now.
  • Margo was quite distraught about her youngest son leaving home, but Tom helped her focus on the positive, and now that they are empty nesters, they conveniently switched homes with Katie and Chris, who just got engaged and are planning to fill a house up with kids.
  • Coincidentally, Katie and Chris’s condo once belonged to some guy who died and was in a relationship with Luke (Lily’s son). The guy’s heart was transplanted into Chris, so Luke came over to listen to Chris’s heartbeat with a stethoscope.
  • Bob Hughes retired as Chief of Staff at the hospital, and the show ended with him leaving his office saying , “Goodnight,” with a globe spinning on his desk.

It was weird to see everyone (except Luke – bummer for him) so happy on a soap. That’s actually why it was so boring. Soaps thrive on tragedy, intrigue, and drama. If I had been in charge of the finale, I would have included a shocking or untimely death, an unexpected revelation, and most importantly, plenty of cameos of former characters. Since they episode was centered around Bob’s retirement, why not have a huge retirement party and have some old familiar faces come to town for the event? I don’t know who’s alive or dead, but what about some of the other Snyders, or Craig Montgomery, or Lucinda’s other daughter Sierra. What ever happened to Nancy Hughes? Even if they couldn’t afford to have cameos, or couldn’t figure out how to work these characters into the finale, they could at least have ended with an epic video montage. I certainly would have enjoyed that.

Cast of As the World Turns

Random Memories of the Show

  • Actors who have gone on to success – Not that being on a soap opera doesn’t spell success as an actor… But, some of the faces I remember are Meg Ryan as Craig’s first love, Betsy; Marisa Tomei as one of Lisa’s many children, Marcy, I think; Julianne Moore as Bob and (Lisa’s?) twin daughters Frannie and Sabrina (am I remembering their names correctly?); William Fichtner as Josh; etc.
  • Duncan’s castle – ATWT wasn’t the only soap to feature an exotic setting. Other shows had deserted islands, king’s palaces, or villain’s secret lairs. But I was intrigued as a child by the idea of Duncan McWhoever’s Scottish castle on the outskirts of Oakdale. I remember that he was originally involved with Barbara, then Shannon, then Barbara. And somewhere along the way he had Kira as a foster child (played by Lauren Hill from the Fugees). Who could resist a Scottish man’s charm? I wonder whatever happened to Duncan, and to Jessica and their daughter Bonnie.
  • Casey’s death – Not young Casey, but his namesake – the Casey that much older Lyla married. Lyla was Craig and Margo’s mother. Whatever happened to her? I need to do some Wikipedia reading! I don’t remember what sort of illness he had, but I remember very well how emotional the episode was where Margo decided to grant his wish for an easy death by pulling his plug. 😦
  • The Pond – Ah, the Snyder pond – site of secret rendezvous and romantic starlit dates. All the Snyder kids hung out here at one time or another.
  • The Yacht Club – The site of summer teen drama – all the high school kids would hang out here and get involved in all sorts of shenanigans no doubt.
  • The Snyder family tree – See below for my thoughts on this fun, ongoing mess of a geneology.

Family Tree Game

  • My favorite thing about watching a soap was always trying to plot out the complex family trees. It was best not to dig too deep, or you’d discover that someone was actually married to his sister, or that his stepdaughter was his aunt, or something else bizarre like that. My favorite family tree was always the Snyders, so just for fun I’d like to try to list everyone that I remember by memory. I’ll include a link to the actual family tree when I finish.
  • Emma Snyder – the matriarch! She seemed to spend all her time standing at the kitchen counter giving her many children advice, or just listening to them lament about all their problems. Her children:
    • Seth – I believe he was the oldest
    • Iva – She was adopted, so it’s okay that her brother, Holden, married her daughter Lily. Oddly enough, Lily was the result of Iva being raped by Josh (played by now successful character actor William Fichtner), yet somehow Josh was accepted into the family when he married Ida’s sister, Meg.
    • Ellie – My favorite actress who played Ellie was the one with the short dark brown hair. I don’t really remember what she did on the show. Mostly she just popped in and out of town for visits.
    • Caleb – I think he was one of the sons, but he may have been a Snyder cousin. I do remember that he was married to Julie, and that one night Holden got drunk and slept with her, resulting in a child, or some such.
    • Holden – Ah, the heart throb of Oakdale. I remember him best when he was young and always working in the stables, when he wasn’t swimming in the pond with Lily or having romantic picnics with her. As far as I can tell, he’s the only Snyder who stuck around until the end of the show.
    • Meg – Yeah, I can’t remember what she did either. The sisters never had much to contribute, I guess.
    • Angel – I think she married into the Snyder family. Maybe she was married to Caleb and then Seth for awhile.
  • Let’s see how I did with my Snyder family tree – Pretty close. As I suspected, Caleb was a cousin. I forgot that Holden also married Angel. It’s crazy how many marriages, divorces, and illegitimate children are represented in this family!

Let’s face it: soap operas are about as cheesy and over the top as tv gets. And you can fast forward through a one hour episode and catch all the “important” stuff in about ten minutes. Everything is so drawn out – the long pauses, the contemplative stares or daydreams, the dramatic zoom-in close-ups, etc. The writing is pretty elementary, the acting is usually not great, and the stories are usually predictable. Still, there’s a certain charm to soaps, and it seems like there should still be a place in the world for them. Really, what’s the difference between me finding comfort in a primetime show like Parenthood, and a stay at home mom of the 1980s keeping up with the lives of the Hughes and Snyders in Oakdale? Well, I could think of a few… But hats off to As the World Turns for entertaining millions of women (and some men, too) for over fifty years!

What are your favorite memories of As the World Turns, or any other soaps that you watched?

  • For more As the World Turns nostalgia, visit this website, which does actually feature a video montage that includes some of the old school scenes I would have liked seeing in the finale.
 

Spring Movie Roundup May 21, 2010

The tv season is winding down, but since I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts about shows like Lost, 24, and Fringe, I’ll share my thoughts on some movies I’ve watched recently:

  • Rain Man – This Oscar-winning movie from 1988 was fun to watch, as much for the 80s cultural references as for the well developed story. Since I was only ten years old when the movie was released, I’m not sure I had ever watched the whole thing before. It was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Dustin Hoffmann won best actor, and the movie also won Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Most people these days still associate Tom Cruise with his “crazy phase” from a few years ago, with the sofa leaping on Oprah and whatnot. I don’t have much of an opinion about Cruise as a person, but he has been in a lot of good movies that represent a variety of roles. Some of my favorites include Collateral, Minority Report, and A Few Good Men. In this movie, Cruise and Hoffmann are a great team with good acting chemistry. The 80s cars, clothing, music, billboards, etc. were a nice backdrop to a story that would work well during any time period: self-centered Charlie discovers he has an older, autistic brother – Raymond – and during a cross country journey the two brothers develop an unlikely bond and Charlie’s perspective on the situation changes. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s also worth a second look.
  • Soapdish – This campy comedy has been on my rewatch list for awhile, since my appreciation for all things Robert Downey, Jr. has increased over the past couple of years. The character Downey plays (a spineless producer for the show) in this soap opera parody isn’t very likable, but the movie is entertaining and represents the flavor of early 90s cinema (it was released in 1991). It features an appropriately histrionic Sally Field and Kevin Kline, a fresh-faced Elisabeth Shue, and a pre-Lois and Clark/Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher. The convoluted story, which involves a power struggle between soap divas, a love triangle, and a surprise paternity revelation, is understandably ridiculous – as it is a soap opera parody, but the main characters are just likable enough that it also works as a romantic comedy. I watched this through Netflix Instant Watch – if you are home one night with no tv shows to watch, this is a fun way to pass the time.
  • An Education – This movie caught my eye only because author Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. I always enjoy his books, which include About a Boy and A Long Way Down, so I was curious to see how his knack for creating interesting characters and situations would translate to the big screen. While the movie lacked appealing characters, it definitely presented flawed, complex individuals. The story centers around a 16 year old girl, Jenny, who falls for a much older man, David (he must be in his late 30s). The disturbing thing to me is that her parents actually encourage the relationship. David is a charming guy who sweet talks his way into Jenny and her parents’ lives, and the audience spends most of the movie uncertain about his true intentions/motivations. The title of the movie refers to how this experience affects Jenny’s world: she certainly learns some life lessons, and she also begins to question the goals that had always been straightforward before meeting David – to finish at her prep school, make it into Oxford, and study English. After becoming involved with David, she comes to regard school as boring and leading to a dull future, and regards life with David as exciting and full of possibility. If this movie were set during modern times, it would play out a lot differently (for example, Jenny’s parents would probably have David arrested instead of inviting him over for tea!). But, I can only assume that things were different in 1960s England, which is the time period during which we see Jenny’s story unfold. This is not a feel good movie, but it’s not a complete downer either. It’s worth seeing for the excellent writing and acting, and because it makes you think about the expectations society places on young women when it comes to getting an education and finding someone to marry.
  • The Proposal – I was surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s far from Oscar worthy, but its entertainment value is off the charts. I smiled or laughed just about all the way through it. The story is your typical cliched romantic comedy fluff: New York editor Margaret forces her personal assistant, Andrew, to agree to marry her when she finds out she’s about to be deported to her home country of Canada. The business arrangement soon turns into something more as they take a weekend trip to Alaska together to share the “happy news” with Andrew’s family. Not surprisingly, we learn that Margaret isn’t the evil witch that everyone thinks she is, and she learns that there’s much more to Andrew than she had given him credit for. The real fun in the movie can be attributed to the “fish out of water” aspect of city girl Margaret adapting to life in the Alaskan wilderness, whether she’s dancing with Andrew’s grandmother (scene stealer Betty White) in the woods as a tribute to the gods, trying to prevent a hawk from stealing her cell phone, or enduring special attention during a performance by the local male exotic dancer (Oscar from The Office in an unlikely and hilarious role). But Bullock isn’t the only thing to love about this movie. Everyone was well cast, and I was really charmed by Ryan Reynolds, an actor who I had previously written off as someone who specializes in a brand of silly movies I have no interest in. It turns out that in addition to being quite attractive, he is a pretty good comedic actor. The final thing I’ll say about this movie is that parts of it were filmed on location in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I went on vacation a couple of years ago. It is a quaint, scenic little town close to Boston, and I loved it. I recognized the red barn that is a Rockport landmark, in the scene where Margaret and Andrew climb into a boat to ride to his family’s house. Seeing familiar sites in the movie made me happy. As far as romantic comedies go, this one is a definite winner, and one I could watch several more times before tiring of it.
  • The X-Files: I Want to Believe – As an avid X-Filer, I should have watched this movie in the theater, but I heard so many negative reviews of it that I kept putting it off. It’s not that the movie was bad – it just wasn’t great. For me, it was enough to see Mulder and Scully together again, investigating a string of mysterious disappearances. It was nice to see them years after the events of the series finale, settled into a comfortable domestic existence, with Mulder “hiding out” from the feds and Scully working as a medical doctor. A supposed psychic’s discovery of a human limb buried in a field, and his insistence that he is having visions of a woman’s abduction, leads the FBI to enlist Mulder and Scully to help investigate a case that involves a serial kidnapper, black market organs, and a connection to the psychic network. Many fans of the show were disappointed that Chris Carter didn’t take this opportunity to provide more answers to the show’s many unresolved conspiracy theories and alien investigations, but I was entertained. I agree with a review I read that the movie played out like an extended “episode of the week.” Was the movie as memorable as X-Files: Fight the Future? No. Is it worth watching again? No. But it was comforting to revisit these old “friends,” so I’m glad that I watched it.
  • Where the Wild Things Are – What an odd little movie this was. When the trailers first surfaced on the internet, the buzz among people of my generation was crazy. We grew up reading this book, and now Spike Jonze, the mastermind behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, was bringing it to the big screen! When the movie actually hit theaters, the buzz turned into more of a shoulder shrugging, “eh, it was okay” attitude. I even heard some people say it was depressing. There was debate about whether this was a movie intended for kids, or a movie geared toward the 30 somethings who first made the book popular. It seems to be a mix of both. The shenanigans of Max and the “wild things” he meets on the island are very silly at times, but Max’s home life that leads him on his adventure, and his complex emotions about his life and relationships, can only be appreciated by the adult audience. Most kids’ movies don’t delve beneath the surface to explore the reasons that a child is feeling lonely, alienated, or neglected, and this movie did an excellent job of that. However, I think the movie would have been better if Jonze had chosen one specific direction rather than dividing his vision between the two extremes.
  • Up in the Air – I had been looking forward to this George Clooney movie for awhile, and was curious to see if it would live up to all the Oscar hype. It was very good, but not at all what I was expecting it to be. The writing, acting, directing, soundtrack, cinematography were all top notch. The story was clever and kept me completely engaged. My husband and I appreciated the business traveler aspect of the movie, since he travels quite often for work and is familiar with the never ending sequence of airport security checks, hotel key cards, airline/hotel/rental car points, etc. It was the tone of the movie that was a surprise. I was expecting it to be a dry comedy, and it was at times, but there was a persistent theme of loneliness, isolation, and even despair that made it difficult to watch, particularly as it neared its end. I wasn’t sure what to take away from such a movie. It left viewers with no hopeful message, and really no message at all. We weren’t sure what to think about where the main characters ended up. As the credits rolled, I just said “huh” and felt a little gypped. Despite my disappointment with the direction of the plot, there is much to appreciate in this movie, so if you can handle your comedy with some twists, turns, and drama, give it a look.

Next on my movie list are Dear Frankie, my current Netflix rental, and Iron Man 2, a necessity for me to watch since it stars my beloved Robert Downey, Jr. What have you seen lately?

 

Holiday Movie Roundup January 19, 2010

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, I watched several movies – some funny, some exciting, some nostalgic. From Chevy Chase to Robert Downey, Jr., from Christmas miracles to mastermind detectives, I enjoyed all of these movies:

  • Yes ManI enjoyed this Jim Carrey comedy more than I expected to. It had some hilarious moments, particularly those involving John Michael Higgins (Best in Show) as Carrey’s friend who had been transformed by the “Yes” program, and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) as Carrey’s hopelessly awkward boss. It was also nice to see Bradley Cooper play a nice guy for once (he is also the reason that I will go see The A-Team this summer). The basic premise is that Carl (Carrey) has been living a pointless, lonely life, in which he makes excuses all the time in an effort to not have to do anything or spend time with anyone. After encountering an old co-worker, Nick (Higgins), who has been transformed into a Yes Man, he finds himself learning to leap into new possibilities. The story takes many interesting turns as a result of Carl’s newfound willingness to say “yes.” As with most male-centric comedies these days, there were a few unnecessarily crude moments, but aside from that, my only complaint is the age difference between Carrey and his love interet co-star, Zoey Deschanel. He is 18 years older than she is – practically old enough to be her father! Maybe Carrey was playing someone younger than his real life age of 47, but the age difference just made the pairing seem “off” to me. Despite this flaw with the casting, this is an amusing movie that’s worth renting.
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I watch this movie every year during the holidays. It is definitely my favorite Christmas movie, and I consider it a classic (as do many children of the 80s). Cousin Eddie’s words of “wisdom,” a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfuss playing the yuppy next door neighbor, the grandmother reciting the national anthem during the family’s mealtime prayer… What’s not to love? And as crazy and over the top as Clark’s lights display is (the entire house is covered in lights), it seems like these days people really do go to such lengths in an effort to outdo the neighbors. I hope no one ever tries to do a remake of this movie, because it needs to stand alone in all its comic glory.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceI’ve read all the books twice, and have seen all the movies, so it drove me crazy that I had to wait so long to watch this sixth installment in the film series. (We never got around to seeing it in the theater, for various reasons.) Well, it was worth the wait. I thought it was fantastic. The special effects, the adaptation from book to film, the acting… I was especially touched by the deepening friendship between Harry and Hermione, and the beginnings of romance between Ron and Hermione. These relationships worked because of good chemistry between the actors, and a good script for them to work with. I was also impressed by Draco Malfoy’s turmoil over the dark task he was assigned by Voldemort. It’s interesting to see these actors growing up on screen, and for the most part, their acting improves with each film as well. I look forward to the next installment!

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were terrific as Holmes and Watson.

  • Sherlock Holmes – Color me impressed by Guy Ritchie. I haven’t always been a fan of his work, but his distinctive directing style worked very well for this fun update on the classic detective. Of course, all the credit can’t go to him. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were perfectly cast (and looked great!) as Holmes and Watson. It was fun to see a buffer, more rugged Holmes than the traditionally more subdued and proper one. The ending left things open for a sequel – I’ll go see it if it happens.
  • Avatar – We had hoped to see the movie that everyone’s talking about at the IMAX, but when we got there it was sold out. We “settled” for regular old digital 3D, and we weren’t disappointed. While the story didn’t wow me (it’s been called a rip off of Dances with Wolves or Pocahontascheck out this amusing comparison), the special effects and 3D amazed me. The picture was so clear, and the world of Pandora so richly and completely imagined, that I was mesmerized from beginning to end. I especially loved the night scenes, when all the plant life was glowing, and with the 3D effects, I felt like I was right in the middle of it all. This is definitely a movie that should be seen in the theater, and in 3D, to be fully appreciated. While I liked it, I don’t think it deserves the Oscar for Best Picture. Let’s not have another Titanic on our hands, where a movie is given the top honor because of great special effects, while ignoring some pretty big problems with other aspects of it.
  • Daybreakers – I actually just watched this movie last weekend. In case you aren’t familiar with it, it stars Ethan Hawke and is a vampire/science fiction movie. It’s set in the near future, at a time when vampires have become the majority in society. They control the government, they are news anchors, they run corporations; children go to school and the cities come to life during the night, while everyone sleeps during the day. The problem is that with the human race nearly extinct, the vampires are running out of their blood (aka food) supply. Thus begins a race to find a blood substitute, but Ethan Hawke and some other rebels hope to find a cure to restore the human race. The movie was entertaining, and the vision of a world run by vampires was interesting. It was much gorier than I had expected (lots of exploding bodies, spurting blood, flailing limbs, etc.), and the end of the movie was a bit too campy for my taste – not to mention that the plot kind of fell apart. So, if you are interested in the vampire/sci-fi genres, you should check this one out, but perhaps you should add it to your rental list instead of going to the theater.

What movies have you seen recently? Any thoughts on the ones mentioned here?

 

V: Then and Now November 12, 2009

Back in the 1980s, reptilian aliens arrived on earth dressed in fake human skin and red jumpsuits, and speaking in warbled voices about promoting peace and the betterment of the human race. Twenty-five years later, the aliens are better at disguising themselves (through some sort of human skin cloning procedure), and they sound and dress just like humans, but they are still using the same manipulative techniques of telling people what they want to hear.

The Cast of the New V

I am thoroughly mesmerized by both the 1980s miniseries and the new tv series that share the title of V. This single-letter creeped me out big time when I was younger (especially in its recognizable format of oozing red spray paint on a black background. I was five years old when the first miniseries aired in 1983, and six when the second one aired a year later. I am surprised that I watched them at such a young age, and it’s no wonder that I was disturbed: aliens eating gerbils and mice and taking out their fake human eyeballs to reveal yellow lizard eyes, people ripping the fake human skin off of alien visitors, and then there was the birth of the inter-species twins – one a seemingly “normal” baby with a forked tongue, and the other a full-fledged lizard child!

The creepy logo of the original V miniseries

But of course I watched V! Everyone did at the time. According to creator Kenneth Johnson’s website, the original miniseries drew an audience of 80 million viewers! I know that my family tuned in to every episode of both miniseries (from what I hear we should pretend like the short-lived tv show follow up never happened). The new ABC version has now aired two episodes, and while it hasn’t drawn anywhere close to 80 million viewers (more like 10 million), it has created a lot of buzz and has received a near unanimous two thumbs up from critics.

In preparation for the new show, I recently watched SyFy’s marathon of the original V miniseries. I am amazed but pleased that the show has stood the test of time! Sure, there are plenty of blatantly 80s music, cheap special effects, and melodramatic moments (a la all those ’80s primetime soaps), but the story and the characters are fascinating! As a child, I didn’t pick up on the Nazi allegory. But as an adult, the parallels are obvious: the V’s persecution of scientists (just as Nazis targeted Jews), the recruiting of Friends of the Visitors (similar to Hitler’s youth), the swastika-like emblem on the V’s uniforms and flags, etc.

The new version seems to have abandoned the parallels to the Nazi regime, and instead frames the arrival of the visitors in the more timely concerns of our post-9/11 world, namely the threat of terrorism and the difficulty of fighting it. I found it especially interesting that FBI agent Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell) was investigating a terrorist cell that actually consisted of alien visitors. This is a smart change from the original: rather than the spaceships’ appearances marking the first time the visitors came to earth, the new version reveals that many of the visitors have already been here for years, living secretly among us, while plotting a human takeover from within our ranks. That’s actually much more disturbing than in the original (which was pretty creepy, too, as I mentioned earlier). At least in the original version the resistance fighters could easily identify the visitors by their weird voices and distinctive uniforms. As for the new version, how unsettling to think that these aliens look exactly like us, and there’s no easy way to know that they aren’t human. Erica had worked with Dale for seven years, and while he seemed like a nice guy, he was all too eager to kill her when she got too close to the truth.

While the social/political allegories differ, the main theme remains the same: the struggle to preserve the human race and to convince the world that the visitors’ supposed agenda is not what it seems, and that they and their message are indeed too good to be true. Both shows also play out like a suspense thriller, mixed in with a bit of drama. The easiest way to compare/contrast the remaining characteristics of both versions is to take a look at the main characters:

  • The Leader of the V’s

    Formidable foe Diana wasn't as friendly as the new version's Anna.

    • Then – Diana – Jane Badler was so distinctive in this role that she is easily recognizable, probably even now, as evil, conniving, ambitious Diana. She was a ruthless leader who had no qualms about destroying an entire race, using mind control to extract information from a prisoner, or even murdering an innocent priest. Still, though, if she had been dressed in an evening gown instead of her alien-issued red uniform, she could have easily blended in with the ladies on Dallas or Knots Landing.

    Anna is the "too good to be true" leader of the V's.

    • Now – Anna – I am amazed by Morena Baccarin’s transformation into short-haired, blinky-eyed alien leader Anna. I hardly recognize her as the actress who played Inara on Firefly. I have been impressed by her captivating and commanding portrayal of a charming and devious leader. Her interaction with reporter Chad Decker has been great, and her “behind closed doors” plotting against the humans has been disturbing but well played. She brings a strange allure, combined with a certain amount of creepiness, to the role that was mostly melodramatic campiness in the original.
  • The Leaders of the Resistance

    Mike and Julie were the resistance leaders of the 1980s miniseries.

    • Then – Cameraman Mike Donovan and Scientist Juliet Parrish – Mike was played by the beastmaster himself, Marc Singer, while Juliet was played by Faye Grant, who is known more now for being married to 7th Heaven alum Stephen Collins than for any of her post-V roles. Mike was the more interesting character, since he was usually the one infiltrating the V’s ship and exposing their true faces, but Juliet had the responsibility of leading the resistance when she didn’t even know anything about being in charge. Regardless of which character was more interesting, they were a duo worth rooting for, and I’m sure the ’80s television audience was pleased when they became romantically involved.

    Erica and Jack are the modernized leaders of the resistance.

    • Now – FBI agent Erica Evans and priest Jack Landry – There’s not much chance of the new dynamic duo hooking up like Mike and Juliet did, since this time around one of them is a priest. I like the changes the writers made in the main characters. A scientist and a camera man wouldn’t have as much influence as an FBI agent and a priest, considering the scenario presented in the new version. As an agent, Erica has access to files concerning the visitors, and as a priest, Jack will be presented with many challenging scenarios. How can a priest, who vows to do what is right, be honest, and keep people’s deepest problems confidential, among other things, be involved in a movement that will no doubt involve deception and bloodshed? On the other hand, if he chose not to act, he would be turning his back on a huge threat to the safety of God’s children. I really like his character so far. I know Joel Gretsch best for his role as an FBI agent on The 4400, and while I was skeptical about seeing him as a priest, he has done a good job, and he has great chemistry with Elizabeth Mitchell. It’s strange for me to see Mitchell decked out in makeup, nice clothes, and with perfect hair, since for the past couple of years she’s been stuck on an island looking pretty rough, as Juliet on Lost. Since we last saw her in extreme peril on that show, it’s nice to see that she has landed a juicy role on V. I really like Erica, but I do wish she weren’t such a clueless mom! She should know that her son’s “promise” to not get involved with the visitors doesn’t mean much.
  • Trouble-making Teens
    • Then – Daniel Bernstein and Robin Maxwell, visitor Brian – So far there is no human villain in the new version that matches teenaged Daniel’s despicable, self-serving ways. While he was busy working his way up the ranks of the V organization, his parents were tortured by Diana and his grandfather was packed up into a pod as future food for the aliens. Basically, he was willing to step on anyone and everyone for his own selfish gain. I hope that the new version will give us a human just as worthy of being despised as he was. As for the young love storyline, the ’80s version gave us sweet, love struck Robin, who fawned over visitor Brian like he was the latest teen heart throb. Unfortunately for her, Diana turned that budding relationship into a mating experiment, and Robin went through all the trauma of teen pregnancy, compounded by the many unusual side effects that went along with carrying and giving birth to alien offspring.

    I doubt that an alien-human hybrid born on the new "V" would look anything like this precious lizard baby from the original version.

    • Now – Tyler Evans and visitor Lisa – I am quite curious about how the new version will develop Tyler’s crush on visitor Lisa. So far, Lisa seems to be a relatively good-natured alien, but then again, looks can be deceiving. In the original, Brian seemed nice and genuinely interested in Robin, but it turns out he was just as power-hungry as Diana. The possibility and consequences of alien-human offspring don’t seem as monumental in the new version, since it seems like it would have already happened, what with so many visitors already being integrated into human society. I wonder how the writers will address this issue. But I’m gektting way ahead of the story here. Right now, Lisa is simply Tyler’s motivation to get involved with the Visitors.
  • The Ambitious Reporter
    • Then – Kristine Walsh – Kristine’s professional ambition, and willingness to step on anyone for the sake of her career, made her an extremely irritating character. I felt no sympathy for her until her one redeeming moment, when she finally stood up for what was right.
    • Now – Chad Decker – Oh, Scott Wolf. I loved him as Bailey on Party of Five, but wasn’t sure what to make of his more grown up character on Everwood. So far I am intrigued by his portrayal of the ambitious but slightly good-intentioned reporter. I hope he doesn’t fall into the same sticky web of power and fame that Kristine did. I’d prefer that he join the resistance and work against the V’s from the inside. After all, they need someone with an inside connection.
  • Human-friendly visitors
    • Then – Willie (and his waitress girlfriend Harmony), Martin – I really liked Martin in the original. He was the noblest of the visitors – willing to risk his life for the sake of doing what was right. So far there isn’t a character like him on the new version. Willie and Harmony were almost comic relief. I was amused to discover that Robert Englund, best known for playing horror icon Freddie Krueger, played such a dopey, gentle-hearted character. He and Harmony’s relationship was really sweet, especially after she still accepted him despite learning of his true appearance and eating habits.
    • Now – Ryan Nichols (and his human girlfriend Valerie Holt) – Ryan is definitely not comic relief. He is intense about everything from picking out an engagement ring to answering his cell phone to sneaking off to a mechanic’s shop to get his reptilian arm repaired. I like him, though. I’m not so crazy about Valerie, mainly because she’s not very interesting so far. I have a feeling she won’t be as accepting as Harmony if she finds out the truth about Ryan.

    Dale is Erica's not-so-human FBI partner

  • Dale Maddox – There is no counterpart in the original to this visitor disguised as a human FBI agent. In a way, I suppose he is the new version’s Kristine Walsh, since Kristine and Mike were close until she basically went over to the “dark side” (Dale and Erica are close professionally speaking until he reveals his true nature and disappears). It makes sense for the writers to introduce an entirely new character to be the leader of sorts for the terrorist visitors who have infiltrated human society. I look forward to seeing more of Alan Tudyk in this role, especially since Dollhouse, on which he played the villainous and basically insane Alpha, has now been canceled. It is strange to always see him in these bad guy roles, since he was such a goofy, likable character on Firefly (may Wash rest in peace…)

Many questions remain unanswered for the moment on the new series:

  • What is the Visitors’ true agenda?
  • Do the Visitors plan to eat the humans, steal all the earth’s resources, destroy the earth, or all of the above?
  • Is Tyler going to be a lizard-baby daddy?
  • Will any more of the supposedly human characters be revealed as Visitors?
  • Will reporter Chad Decker hold on to his journalistic integrity (is there such a thing?!), or will he become a media puppet through which Anna will spout propaganda to the public?
  • Will the writers pay homage to any classic V moments, such as Diana swallowing a gerbil, or Mike ripping off the fake human face when he fought one of the aliens?

Hopefully, the new show will have a chance to find its footing and tell its story before it gets canceled. It is worrisome that there was a drastic ratings drop from episode one to two. I suppose it’s good news in a way that the show only has two more episodes to air before going on a planned hiatus until the spring. Perhaps by then viewers will be ready to tune in again after months of anticipation. If not, then at least we always have the truly classic original to return to for a complete and satisfying tale of manipulative, lying lizard visitors from outer space and the human resistance movement that brought them down with a lot of heart, hope, and helium. (In case you don’t recall, hot air balloons were an important factor in the humans’ final battle with the visitors…)

What do you think of the new V so far? I’ll leave you with a scene from the original miniseries that really disturbed me as a child, but which I now find quite amusing, particularly because of the dated special effects.