Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

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?

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Thoughts on Last Week’s TV September 30, 2009

I had trouble keeping up with primetime tv’s official fall premiere week, since I was out of town (read: away from my Tivo) from Thursday to Sunday. I’ve finally finished watching most of the shows I recorded, and am ready to give my brief opinions on each one. Here we go…

  • So You Think You Can Dance – I had been underwhelmed by the season six auditions until this episode, which showcased a couple of unique performers – most notably the first guy. When he walked out in those golf pants with that goofy grin on his face, I was expecting the worst, but instead he was fantastic – a quirky, cute, Evan-esque dancer. It’s old news now, but I am looking forward to seeing Adam Shankman as the fourth permanent judge on the show. He is such a lively, encouraging presence on the panel. I’m anxious for the actual competition to begin, but at the same time, I’m enjoying these shorter episodes!
  • Glee – I’ve already written at length about this episode here. “Preggers” was my favorite show of the week.
  • Eastwick – I watched this pilot episode mainly because the show is filmed on the old Gilmore Girls set a WB Studios in Burbank. I’ve toured that set twice now and was interested to see how it looked on tv. Unfortunately, the set was the most interesting thing about this “Desperate Housewives meets Bewitched” concoction. A couple of notes about the Eastwick, formerly Stars Hollow, set: it was weird to see Lane’s yellow house in the background shots of the town square, and I’m pretty sure that Rebecca Romijn’s character’s art gallery is in Luke’s Diner. What a shame that such an iconic location is now home to such mediocrity. A show about witches and magic should have at least a slightly dark tone, but Eastwick was all about being cute and funny. But if cute and funny is what the writers are going for, it’s not really working. I was appalled with how self-absorbed the three main characters are. For example, the “mother of five” witch was acting like she was the victim after she struck her husband with lightning! Maybe instead of using her powers to make the ground rumble and lightning come from the sky, she should be using them to help her husband overcome his obvious problem with alcohol. Oh well, this is a fantasty show. It’s just not my cup of tea, and I won’t be watching it again.
  • Cougartown – Simply awful. Atrocious. I may have laughed one time. I only watched it in the first place to see just how bad it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as the train wreck that was Cavemen, but it was pretty close. What is Busy Phillips doing on this show? Why is she friends with Courtney Cox’s character, and how old is she supposed to be? I am confused because I’ve been watching her on Freaks and Geeks recently. I know that show was made ten years ago, but on it she played a high school student, and now she’s playing a young professional who hangs out with cougars? Weird. “Gross” is the best word I can use to sum up this show.
  • Modern Family – This show has a lot of potential. It gives us a peek into the lives of three very different families: a seasoned married couple (no nonsense, yet paranoid mom and a dad who thinks he’s cool) with three children, including a potentially wild teenage daughter; a gay couple who just adopted a baby girl; and an almost senior citizen (a hilarious Ed O’Neill) who is married to a much younger, fiery Latin woman who has a son just as passionate as she is. It turns out that they are all related, too. I laughed many times during the pilot, including the scene in which the dad accidentally shot his son, his daughter’s boyfriend, and himself with a pellet gun; and the scene in which Ed O’Neill was mistaken for one of the mall walkers because of his wind suit.
  • Fringe – This wasn’t one of the strongest episodes ever, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. We learned that Olivia has developed some sort of super hearing from her interdimensional travel. As for the main story about a mutant human who was killing the locals, it was very much like an X-Files episode. It reminded me of the one where Doggett and some new female agent went underground to investigate a reptile man who blinded his victims with venom so he could kill them. While Fluke Man was the nastiest X-Files creature ever, this mole rat scorpion boy was pretty gross, too.
  • FlashForward – I was highly intrigued by this show, am am interested to see how it will develop. It is reminiscent of Lost’s first season: there are many likable characters who we will learn more about a little at a time; all the characters have been brought together by a catastrophic, and unexplained event; and there is a ton of information that we don’t have yet. How creepy was that one guy walking around at the baseball park when basically the whole rest of the world was unconscious? Who was that?! I look forward to seeing what role Dominic Monaghan will play.
  • Vampire Diaries – I already shared by thoughts about this episode here.
  • The Office – I didn’t enjoy this episode as much as the season premiere. Too much of Michael being socially awkward, not enough interaction among the rest of the staff. I did, however, enjoy the unusual pairing of Toby and Dwight on their undercover mission to find out if Darryl was telling the truth about his work related injury. I loved that Darryl’s sister looks just like him, and that Toby got a chance to do something besides get insulted by Michael. I also liked Andy’s impromptu description of the makeshift cheese tray. Very random and amusing.
  • Community – Episode two of this new show introduced us to the hilarious Spanish teacher, Sr. Chang. My main problem with this comedy so far is that the funniest moments are always in the previews. The result is that when you watch the episode, nothing surprises you – kind of like when a movie trailer gives too much away. The show will be more successful when I laugh more often and am pleasantly surprised by jokes that weren’t in the promos.
  • Dollhouse – The season premiere left me feeling confused, as if I had missed an episode from last season. The thing is, I didn’t, so I hope they will fill in the blanks later on. The most compelling character now is Dr. Saunders, played by Amy Acker. I am curious to know who she was before she became a doll. And Acker is once again playing a tragic figure, as she did on Angel, since we already know her ultimate fate (if you watched the 13th episode, which didn’t air on tv). 😦   Why can’t they show the whole cast in the opening credits? Is it really necessary to see Eliza Dushku in 50 different costumes? She is only one small piece of the larger puzzle, and there are much more interesting aspects than her character. Oh, well. I’m glad that Paul Ballard is now her handler. Should add an interesting dynamic to their relationship.

Still on my Tivo from last week are a couple of other new shows (The Good Wife and The Forgotten), as well as the season premieres of The Mentalist and How I Met Your Mother. I’ll get around to them eventually. What were your favorite and least favorite shows last week?

 

Retro Weekend: Best One-Hour TV Show Theme Songs (Instrumental) July 18, 2009

Last weekend I listed the Best Instrumental TV Sitcom Theme Songs. This week, I’m sticking with the instrumentals, but moving on to one hour shows. I couldn’t just say “Best TV Drama Theme Songs” because some of these shows don’t fit into that genre. Remember that these aren’t all necessarily great shows – they just happen to have some of the most memorable, most show-appropriate, or catchiest theme songs. Once again, rather than try to list a top ten, I’ve just organized them in roughly chronological order. Thanks again to Television Tunes, for taking me on a trip down tv theme song memory lane.

  • Dallas – No, I didn’t just include this long-running primetime soap because I live in Dallas. This show was a bit too before my time for me to be a fan – plus I simply don’t care too much for soaps. But the theme song has that special 70s vibe, mixed with a bold, clean brass section reminiscent of old TV westerns. It’s a nice blend of city and country, and perfectly fits the show.


  • The Price is RightMaybe I’m weird for throwing in a game show theme song to this list, but hearing this song transports me right back to my babysitters’ house, or to summers at home, when I was growing up. It is the epitome of ’70s-’80s game shows with its happy go lucky tune and hip horn section.
  • Knight Rider – Please let me emphasize that I am talking about the original show, not the feeble attempt at a remake last year. Back when David Hasselhoff was still cool, he had a show with a really cool theme song. The guitar, the uber-80s synthesizer, the beat track… it’s all good. There’s a voiceover on the opening credits, but I think it still counts as an instrumental.


  • Twin Peaks – I have recently been rewatching this series on a cable network called Chiller. It is at times bizarre, at times disturbing, but almost always fascinating. The opening theme is beautiful and melancholy, and sets up the strange contrast of a small town with quirky inhabitants and the sinister forces at work in their midst. All the music on this show was excellent, from the distinctive musical score for each character (I liked Audrey’s jazzy song), to the songs performed by a musician at The Roadhouse.


  • Law & OrderI lost interest in this show long ago, and never even watched a couple of the spin-offs in the franchise. My favorite was always SVU, but the original had the best version of the theme song. The tone is melancholy, gritty, and hints at the seedy underbelly that the criminal justice system deals with. I like how the music changes when the opening credits shift from the police to the district attorneys.
  • The X-FilesThe whistling, the spooky chords. What’s not to love about this theme song? I used to whistle along to the opening credits. I guess it counts as an instrumental since there aren’t any actual words.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer This is a theme song that I didn’t like at first, but after years of listening to it, it’s one of my favorites. The funky rock sound is perfect for a show about an epic hero who is sometimes more interested in making the cheerleading squad than in slaying vampires. Plus, it’s just fun to listen to.
  • DexterI wish I could have found a video of the actual opening credits, because that really enhances the experience of the song. A healthy dose of Cuban guitar, mixed with some violent images of bacon frying, shoelaces being tied, someone shaving, etc. The song, combined with the opening credits, are perfect for a show that has a sociopath posing as a regular guy.
  • Friday Night Lights – I’ve fallen behind in watching this show, but I still love it and its theme song. The video below contains the song, but not the actual opening credits. The pictures that are included of the characters give you an idea of the heart of the show: a small town community, a coach who is dedicated to his family and his team, flawed high school kids doing the best they can with their circumstances, etc. The guitar-driven theme has a slow and steady pace that is fitting for the small town setting of this show, with just a hint of an edge to it, since there are bad boy characters like Riggins and Smash on the show.
  • Fringe – This was my favorite new show last season, and it has a brief but perfect theme song. Like the X-Files theme that came before it, this song, penned by J.J. Abrams himself (what can’t he do?), is mysterious and haunting. The string-heavy melody hints at the show’s main focus – scientific occurrences just on the fringe of possibility.

So, which iconic theme songs did I leave off of this list? Which ones do you agree/disagree with? Next weekend I’ll move on to Best TV Sitcom Theme Songs with Lyrics.

 

The Best of The X-Files February 4, 2009

The X-Files is number two of “My Top Ten All-Time Favorite TV Shows.” And deservedly so. For nine seasons, viewers followed Mulder and Scully into the world of bizarre, disturbing, and not-of-this world phenomena. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried, sometimes we covered our eyes, sometimes we couldn’t believe our eyes, and sometimes we simply didn’t know what was going on. The mythology didn’t always fit together nicely (the alien-human hybrid business and such were never quite resolved), but the show was top notch when it came to the memorable characters, the freak of the week plots, and perhaps most notably, the chemistry and ever-evolving relationship between Mulder and Scully. After browsing through tv.com’s X-Files episode guide, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite X-Files episodes. I couldn’t pick just ten, so instead you get twelve.

  1. “Pilot” (Season 1) – The one that started it all. Newly paired agents Scully and Mulder headed to small town Oregon to investigate some unsolved murders, possibly linked to alien abduction. I loved that they returned to this town years later, and that Billy Miles reappeared as a super soldier in season 8. While watching the pilot, it was clear that this show had a lot of potential, and that potential was realized over the show’s nine year run.
  2. “Humbug” (Season 2) – This episodes has Mulder and Scully traveling to a Florida town inhabited by circus and sideshow performers to investigate the death of the Alligator Man. It was bizarre and hilarious at the same time, but there was also some social commentary about Otherness in our culture.
  3. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (Season 3) – This episode came together beautifully and is one example of how The X-Files could be poignant when it wanted to be. Mulder and Scully enlist the help of a psychic (wonderfully portrayed by Peter Boyle) when they investigate a serial killer who targets fortune tellers. The episode is well written, finely tuned, and has an ironic conclusion.
  4. “War of the Coprophages” (Season 3) – Who knew that cockroaches could make for such entertaining tv? From Scully’s jealousy over Mulder’s attraction to Dr. Bambi, to the cockroach that crawls across the tv screen, this episode is a great example of The X-Files’ special blend of humor and horror.
  5. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (Season 3) – There are two sides to every story, or in this case, even more, as we get conflicting versions of the same tale about two teenagers’ supposed abduction by aliens. The narrative structure is what makes this episode a classic. We go back and forth from the science fiction writer’s office to the various versions of what happened, slowly putting together the pieces along the way. Very fun episode.
  6. “Home” (Season 4) – Sometimes the X-Files’ brilliance was its ability to unsettle us or make us gasp in horror. This episode about a reclusive, homicidal, and inbred family, complete with a matriarch who is kept hidden under the floor boards of the dilapidated house, certainly fits in that category. Unfortunately, this episode isn’t for everyone. This happened to be the episode that was airing when I tried to convince my college roommate that she should watch the show. I didn’t know what the episode was going to be about, but by the time it was over she wanted nothing more to do with The X-Files ever again. For me, though, this episode is yet another instance of The X-Files doing what it does best: providing its viewers with genuinely terrifying stories told in the most unsettling of ways.
  7. “Leonard Betts” (Season 4) – There was nothing funny about this episode, which revolved around an EMT who (literally) loses his head, but proceeds to walk out of the morgue, grow his head back, and begin killing people who have cancer because he must feed on cancerous tumors to survive. Gross? Yes. Fascinating. Yes, again. This episode also blindsided viewers with the revelation that Scully had cancer, as Betts had her cornered in an ambulance and said quite matter of factly, “You have something that I need.”
  8. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Season 5) – From decapitated heads and tumor-eating EMTs, we make the unusual jump to Jerry Springer and a “monster” who loves Cher. Filmed in black and white, this humorous episode was also a heartwarming one, as Mulder and Scully investigate strange happenings in a town whose residents believe that a two-faced monster has been impregnating women. As usual, things are not what they seem, and by the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully are helping a misunderstood and abandoned son of a mad scientist realize his dream of attending a Cher concert, and viewers are treated to the sight of our favorite FBI partners sharing a dance.
  9. “Bad Blood” (Season 5) – This may be my favorite X-Files episode of them all. It is just so funny! It finds humor in unexpected places, like vampire fangs, pizza delivery guys, hotel beds, and small town sheriffs. I love the way the episode is structured, giving us Mulder and Scully’s very different accounts of the same events. Luke Wilson is fantastic as Sheriff Lucius Hartwell – adored by Scully and ridiculed by Mulder. The episode has many twists and turns, and manages to surprise us in the end.
  10. “Arcadia” (Season 6) – The first part of this episode plays like a “what might have been,” had Mulder and Scully met under different circumstances, gotten married, and found domestic bliss in a planned community. It was amusing to see them go undercover as Rob and Laura Petrie. The episode shifts from humor to horror once it becomes clear that the missing residents didn’t just move away. This neighborhood takes its rules and regulations a little too seriously, as Mulder and Scully soon discover. The ensuing chaos was fun to watch.
  11. “Daemonicus” (Season 9) – This episode was my favorite of the Doggett/Reyes era. There’s no denying that the show lost a lot of its magic when Mulder left, and never got it back, even when he returned on a recurring basis. But, I still enjoyed the last two seasons – just not as much. Doggett was a great character, and Reyes was rather interesting, too. This episode stands out because it was a return to the good ole days of creepy, disturbing plots. The opening scene of the old couple playing chess, followed by the scary masked guys, was only the beginning of this chilling episode.
  12. “Existence” (Season 8 Finale) – This season finale could very well have been the series finale. It was riveting, suspenseful, and satisfying. It was more like 24 than a typical X-Files episode, from the epic showdown between Skinner and Krycek, to Scully having to give birth to her baby in an abandoned town. The closing shot of Mulder and Scully together, holding the baby in between them, would have provided a small amount of closure (I say “small” since there would have still been tons of unanswered questions about government conspiracies and alien races). Instead, the next season got all muddled down in Scully’s baby being a chosen and special child, and eventually the writers had to shut that story down by putting William up for private adoption. How convenient. Anyway, I think this would have been a good place to stop the series, perhaps with a movie to wrap things up. However, we still got some pretty decent entertainment out of the last season.

Based on my review of the episodes, I think that seasons three, four, and five were the strongest ones for this show, and seasons seven, eight, and nine were the weakest. Despite the show’s ups and downs, just about any episode of The X-Files is better than most of the sci-fi/paranormal shows that have been produced since its era. Only now, with Fringe, does the television landscape have a show that is potentially as well made and intriguing as The X-Files was for nine seasons.