Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Into the Wild: A Closer Look December 14, 2009

Into the Wild is a movie based on a book based on a true story. Sean Penn directed and wrote the screenplay for the movie, and Jon Krakauer wrote the book based on Christopher McCandless’s experiences. While the movie is well executed (I assume the book is as well), McCandless’s life choices left me feeling disturbed and disappointed, and with a lot of questions to ponder.

A Well-Made Film

  • Cinematography – From the opening shots of McCandless trudging through the snowy terrain of the Alaskan wildnerness and his mother waking up from another nightmare about her missing son, it was clear that this would be a beautiful and emotional movie. The cinematography certainly highlighted the amazing wonders of the natural world, all right here in the United States of America. I was watching the blu ray version, and I enjoyed the breathtaking views of everything from snowy mountains to waving wheat fields to winding river canyons. This aspect of McCandless’s journey – the ultimate, no limits tour of America – was inspiring, but everything he sacrificed to pursue this adventure gave the story a darker tone.
  • Soundtrack – The music enhances the viewer’s experience of the landscapes and McCandless’s rollercoaster of emotions. At Sean Penn’s request, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder took on the soundtrack as a solo project, and the results are fantastic. The songs have a consistently “grunge folk” sound that works very well for this particular story. I may have to add this album to my collection of movie soundtracks.
  • Screenplay/Directing – Sean Penn weaves the tale of this recent college graduate by jumping around in the story, rather than going chronologically. We begin and end in Alaska, which throughout the movie is McCandless’s ultimate destination, and in between we see how his journey began, how his family dealt with his disappearance, and where he went before settling into his “magic” bus in the Alaskan wildnerness. Sean Penn is no stranger to tragic stories – two of the most difficult to watch movies I’ve ever seen were Mystic River and 21 Grams – and he brought a similar tone to this movie. Even though the mood shifts among inspiring, suspenseful, humorous, and dramatic, there is always an underlying tone of loneliness and loss. So, no, this isn’t necessarily an inspiring, feel-good movie, but it is certainly well worth watching.

Before she was Bella, Kristen Stewart played along side Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild.

  • The Acting – The movie features an all-star cast, and all of them did a great job portraying their characters. Emile Hirsch played the idealistic, adventureous Chris McCandless, and he also provided narration, along with Jena Malone, who played his sister. Their parents were played by Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt. Harden was disturbing with her artificial cheerfulness, and Hurt was her abusive husband, who was usually quiet but had a simmering anger and bitterness just beneath the surface. McCandless meets many people on his trek across America, some quirky, some lonely, but all well-meaning. Catherine Keener is great as McCallum’s surrogate mother, Kristen Stewart (before she achieved international fame as Edward’s beloved Bella) plays a teenager who falls in love with him, Vince Vaughn is impressively understated (as opposed to his typical comedic role) as a man who hires McCandless to work on his farm, and Hal Holbrook is memorable as a reclusive old man who develops an unlikely friendship with him. These actors bring the characters to life so well that it was heartbreaking to see McCandless eventually leave all of them behind on his stubborn quest to achieve fulfillment in solitude.

Trudging alone through snowy terrain in the Alaskan wilderness

Christopher McCandless

So now we come to the boy himself, Christopher McCandless – or, as he liked to call himself, Alexander Supertramp. Chris wasn’t the first person to find solace in the wild. Timothy Treadwell, the ill-fated subject of the documentary Grizzly Man also comes to mind, but I am sure there are countless others. What makes McCandless’s story so memorable? For starters, it is the way he started his journey. He wasn’t just taking a summer road trip, one last hurrah before finding a job with the college degree he had just earned. Instead, he was in it for the long haul. He wanted to make a complete break from society, so he gave away his life savings ($24,000!!) to charity, cut up his credit cards and drivers license, abandoned his car, and changed his name. By doing all these things, he made himself virtually invisible. Christopher McCandless no longer existed, and so it would be impossible for his family to find him unless he wanted to be found. In my opinion, McCandless’s decision to erase his identity and go off the map was a selfish and irresponsible one. In trying to understand what he did, I’ve divided his actions into four categories below:

  • Rejecting Family – Shortly after graduating from college, Chris followed through with his plans to leave life as he had known it behind. According to the movie, his main reason for doing this was that he wanted to distance himself from his parents, who had been a negative presence in his life, from their dishonesty with him, to his father’s domestic abuse, to their desire to control his future. Perhaps he wanted nothing to do with the traditional path of an upstanding American citizen, since career and marriage had brought his family so much pain.
    • During the years of his unhappy home life, Chris took comfort in the words of writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and London, and their portraits of nature and solitude seemed like his perfect escape from his family. Maybe he had a right to disappear and do his own thing – after all, he was over 18. But just because it was his right doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, at least not the way he did it. Why couldn’t he pick up a phone and call his sister? Write them a letter? Send them a postcard? He left with no warning, and thus he, his sister, and his parents were never able to resolve their issues.
    • I’ve heard of people disowning their families and never speaking to them again, which is really sad. But in most cases, these people have other friends who become their family. Everyone needs at least one person to share life’s ups and downs with. Chris had the chance to be “adopted” into new families several times along his journey – the hippie couple, the farmer, the old war veteran… But each time they tried to get close to him, he rejected them in the name of his quest for individual freedom. Just think how his life may have played differently if he had fostered any one of these relationships. Perhaps someone would have joined him on his Alaskan adventure, or at least checked in with him from time to time. Instead, he found himself truly alone, at the time when he most needed someone’s help.
  • Rejecting Society – This is the part of Chris’s plan that I can understand the most. Sometimes it’s nice to feel invisible. He achieved that by changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, giving away all his money, and cutting up his identification. He was basically saying that he had no interest in the American dream of pursuing a successful career, making a lot of money, driving a nice car, getting married, having children, sending his children to college, etc. He had only seen the hardships that come with those choices, and so he rejected them. Even though I can understand him wanting to choose another path, his methods were still selfish. Wasn’t that his parents’ money, set aside for his education? And hadn’t they already paid his way through school? Since he bothered to graduate, he should have either tried out a job, or if nothing else given his parents an explanation for why he didn’t want to. Up until the point he became trapped in the wilderness of Alaska, his journey across America did seem exciting and fulfilling. He had no responsibility except to himself, no schedule to keep, and no limits to what he could do or see. Most people have to save up money and take time off of work to even take a small road trip, but he was able to meet new people, take on river rapids, hike mountains, swim in the ocean, etc.
  • Embracing a Life of Solitude – If Chris had been content to “establish” himself as a nomad, traveling from one place to another, one adventure to another, with some of his new friends, then I would have felt like he had a good thing going on, at least for awhile. He could have traveled with Rainey and Jan, or helped an old man live the last years of his life to the fullest by taking on Ron as his travel buddy. Instead, he left them all behind to live life alone. I can understand wanting to get away from the world for awhile, but he seemed to be in it for the long haul. He spent over 100 days completely alone, with no one to talk to, no physical contact. These are things that keep us healthy and sane! I got stir crazy just watching him go through his days of solitude. I don’t believe that anyone could find true happiness or fulfillment just by experiencing nature and not being attached to society. My guess is he eventually realized that his ideal was just that, an unreachable goal.
  • Experiencing Nature – I love nature. I always notice the full moon or a beautiful sunset, I’ve stood in awe beneath the huge, majestic trees of Muir Woods, and I would love to visit some of the places featured in the documentary Planet Earth. However, I don’t understand why he wanted to experience all these things alone. Chris came to this realization in the movie as he sat alone in his magic bus in Alaska. He had been marveling at the beauty of the mountains and the animals, but he didn’t have anyone to share his joy with. He wrote this simple, sad statement in his journal: “Happiness isn’t real unless it’s shared.” That statement was at odds with what he had believed throughout his journey – that relationships don’t bring satisfaction the way that true freedom does. It seems that Chris forgot to respect the darker side of nature. It’s not all big sky, clear water, and surmountable mountainsides. There’s a reason that humans have built homes, grocery stores, hospitals, and other comforts. You don’t always know what you’re going to get from nature, but you can always count on a warm place to sleep if you have a house, a hot meal to eat if you have a few dollars, and some medical attention when you need it if a doctor is in the area. In the end, Chris needed warmth, food, and medical assistance, but because he had cut himself off from society, he instead faced a grim outlook.

The saddest part of Chris’s story to me is how he was missing some vital information that may have saved him from his fate (I read about this part of his story elsewhere, since it wasn’t included in the movie). After about 90 days in the Alaskan wilderness, he prepared to return to civilization, but when he arrived at a river crossing, he discovered that the river was much wider and stronger than it had been in the spring. Rather than attempt to cross, or to walk along the bank and look for another way over, he simply returned to his bus. If he had had a decent map with him, or if he had walked 1/4 mile up the river, he would have discovered a hand-operated tram that would have easily transported him across the river.

I think that if he had really wanted to return to society and deal with some of the relationships he had formed and broken, he would have found a way across. Since he quickly gave up and turned around, I wonder if he was willing to accept the consequences of what could happen if he stayed in the wilderness alone. Maybe for him, it was all worth it, but to me, it looks like a life wasted. Christopher McCandless’s story is a grim reminder about the importance of maintaining relationships and respecting the power of nature.

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Twilight: The Dance Musical? October 30, 2009

No, Twilight is not being made into a Broadway extravaganza – at least not yet. But, if you will humor me for a few minutes, I’d like to propose the all-star So You Think You Can Dance lineup that would fill out the cast of a dance-infused musical version of the Twilight series. The reason I started thinking about this topic is that, as I mentioned in a previous post, season six contestant Nathan Trasoras rivals Edward Cullen’s striking good looks (translation: he’s a pretty boy). However, Nathan is actually a better fit for the role of Jacob. Let’s take a closer look at which Dance contestants would bring the Twilight characters to twirling, leaping, poppin’ and lockin’ life:

Danny, beautiful person and dancer that he is, would play the important role of Edward Cullen.

  • Edward Cullen – Danny Tidwell (season three runner-up) – As one might expect, Edward was the most difficult character for me to cast, since strangely enough, there haven’t been very many staggeringly beautiful guys on SYTYCD. In fact, I ended up going against type and casting non-white dancer Danny. He may not be pale, but he certainly qualifies as beautiful! His quiet, mysterious demeanor and rare smile make him a natural to play introspective, withdrawn Edward. Edward’s habit of running at top speed through the woods and glittering in the sun will translate well into Danny pirouetting around the stage and shining in the spotlight. Glitter away, Danny, glitter away!

Jeanine would be my pick for a dancing Bella.

  • Bella Swan – Jeanine Mason (season five winner) – The first time I saw Jeanine, I saw a resemblance to Kristen Stewart, so it seems perfectly fitting that the season five champion would portray dark-haired, fair-skinned Bella in the Twilight Dance Spectacular. She and Danny would make a fine pair as epic couple Bella and Edward.

Nathan Trasoras would make a terrific Jacob Black.

  • Jacob Black – Nathan Trasoras (season six) Nathan has the darker complexion, intense stare, and youthful charm to portray Jacob Black. He would just need to bulk up some to play werewolf Jacob. I can just see the special costume now, with the wolf represented by a furry jumpsuit and elaborate head dress. Of course, when dancing as Jacob all he would wear is a pair of khaki shorts, since he would want to stay true to the book, in which Jacob wore as little clothing as possible since changing into his wolf form always resulted in the destruction of his clothes and shoes.

Small-statured Sabra would make a great Alice Cullen.

  • Alice Cullen – Sabra Johnson (season three winner) In the books, Alice is described as “pixie like, with short spiky black hair.” Sabra is definitely petite and adorable, and has a positive, contagiously upbeat personality. Since she and Danny worked together during season three, they would have good chemistry as close foster siblings Alice and Edward.
Anya and Pasha

Our favorite ballroom partners, Pasha and Anya, would be perfect in the roles of Carlisle and Esme.

  • Carlisle Cullen – Pasha Kovalev (season three) – I was quite displeased with Carlisle’s clownish appearance in the Twilight movie, so I am thrilled to have this hypothetical chance to redeem that casting (or at least makeup department) error. Pasha is perhaps my favorite SYTYCD contestant ever, and so I had to find a place for him somewhere! Since he is now teaching other contestants choreography, thus in a sense acting as a mentor, what better role for him than that of foster father Carlilse? He brings a kind spirit and maturity to the role.
  • Esme Cullen – Anya Garnis (season three) – Esme is described in the book as having “caramel-colored hair; she also has a heart-shaped face with dimples, and her figure is slender, but rounded and soft.” I think Anya resembles that description enough, plus what better person to play Carlilse’s wife than Pasha’s ballroom dance partner? We know they already have great chemistry, so they are the perfect couple for this role.

Kayla would be convincing as undead beauty Rosalie.

  • Rosalie Hale – Kayla Radomski (season five) – This was another difficult spot to fill, since Rosalie is described as “being the most beautiful person in the world; she is tall, statuesque, and has long, wavy blonde hair.” I decided Kayla was best for the role – she is beautiful, and a bit haughty (just as Rosalie often comes across), and she also has the pale skin that makes it easy to believe her as a vampire.

I'd split up this ballroom couple, making Ryan good-guy Emmett, and Ashleigh vampire villainess Victoria.

  • Emmett Cullen – Ryan Di Lello (season six) – Emmett is described as “being tall, burly, extremely muscular, and, to most humans, the most intimidating of his adoptive siblings. He has slightly curly dark hair and dimpled cheeks.” I couldn’t think of a more fitting contestant for this role than the strongest man to ever join the SYTYCD competition, Ryan. He actually seems more like a lumberjack than a dancer, and so he would bring the necessary strength and stage presence to the role of Emmett.

Travis would win people over as Jasper.

  • Jasper Hale – Travis Wall (season two) – Jasper is described as “tall with honey blond hair, and is muscular but lean” and has the ability to manipulate others’ emotions. Travis sort of fits the physical description, and as a choreographer, he certainly seems to have put the judges and viewers under his spell. His contemporary piece that Jeanine and Jason performed last season even inspired them to kiss at the end! He was a participant in one of the most famous dances in SYTYCD history: Mia Michaels’ bench piece, which was very sweet and heartfelt. Based on his experience on the show, and now as an impressive, emotionally affecting choreographer, he would create a new group of Twilight fans: Team Jasper.

If Mollee danced as Renesmee, she'd have to dye her hair black, but otherwise she'd be set.

  • Renesmee Cullen – Mollee Gray (season six) – Okay, so Mollee doesn’t have “brown curly hair,” like the Renesmee in the book. However, you can’t get much closer to childlike than Mollee when picking from SYTYCD contestants. The judges have repeatedly called Mollee out for dancing like a child. It would definitely be interesting to see her dancing on stage with Jeanine and Danny playing her parents. Strange, indeed.

Kupono dances "evil" very well, and so he would be very suitable for the role of James.

  • James – Kupono Aweau (season five) – James, the merciless tracker who stalked and nearly killed Bella in Twilight, was too campy for my taste in the movie. Kupono can be overdramatic and theatrical, but I think he has the intensity and dedication to make this a memorable role. I immediately thought of him for this part when I remembered his deeply affecting contemporary performance with Kayla from last season, in which he personified addiction, and in the process ruthlessly held her down, preventing her from escaping his grip. That was the most powerful performance of the entire season, and so I know he can be a great villain.
  • Victoria – Ashleigh Di Lello (season six) – Victoria is the “red-haired, cat like” vampire who plots to kill Bella in revenge for Edward killing her lover, James. Ashleigh may not have red hair, but that can easily be solved with a little hair color. She already has the sultry disposition, and quite a bit of attitude (in her performances). The wardrobe department could have fun with her elaborate clothing.

Russell is my pick for vampire Laurent

  • Laurent – Russell Ferguson (season six) – The only good-intentioned member of James’ coven, Laurent is friendly with the Cullens but still has the occasional lapse into drinking human blood.  Russell would bring a serious tone and quiet power to Laurent’s character.

Picture this: Adam in a police uniform, Mary as a minor league baseball player's wife, and Nigel as a tribal elder? Say what?

  • Charlie Swan – Adam Shankman – Ok, I realize that I’m reaching with this one. I’m envisioning the role of Charlie as one of comic relief, and what would be funnier than Adam Shankman dressed in law enforcement duds, playing a clueless, “trying to be cool” dad?
  • Renee Dwyer – Mary Murphy – Again, there was a shortage of bubbly, talkative, middle-aged women to choose from, and so Mary would end up playing Charlie’s ex wife, Bella’s mom.
  • Billy Black – Nigel Lythgoe – In the biggest stretch of all, I chose Nigel to portray Jacob’s Quileute father. It’s almost as bad as John Travolta playing an overweight woman in Hairspray, but if it worked in that movie, then surely Nigel can dye his hair black, wear a fat suit, and mask his British accent.

Say hello to a dancing Mike Newton

  • Mike Newton – Neil Haskell (season three) – As those of you who read my blog during season three already know, I was never a Neil fan, so I am relegating him to this rather thankless role of the “cute, baby-faced boy with carefully spiked pale blond hair.” He can pine away for Jeanine while Danny and Nathan fight over her.

Perhaps Katee and Courtney could recycle these season three costumes while playing Twilight's Angela and Jessica.

  • Jessica Stanley – Courtney Galiano (season four) – I have nothing against Courtney, but her exuberant personality and appearance make her a good fit for the role of a “chatterbox with curly dark hair.”
  • Angela Weber – Katee Shean (season four) – Katee was likely one of the nicest contestants to ever be on the show, or at least she seemed that way, so she is a good fit to play the “tall, shy, quiet, and very kind girl” that Angela is.

So there you have it. I didn’t do a comprehensive list of characters, so feel free to make suggestions about other SYTYCD contestants who would make a good member of the Volturi, one of Jacob’s Quileute friends, etc. Also feel free to challenge my casting decisions. There are so many factors at play, that there is surely more than one dancer who would work well for most of these characters.

As for what the Twilight dance extravaganza would look like, I’m sure there would be a lot of costume changes, elaborate lighting, and variety of dance styles. The early scenes when Edward and Bella are falling for each other would have to rely on contemporary, and the showdown between James and Bella might work well as a paso doble, whereas the baseball scene might translate into a goofy broadway bit. It’s fun to imagine Twilight as a musical, and I am sure that will become a reality one day. Until then, I will have fun imagining my favorite SYTYCD contestants turning this epic vampire tale into a dance sensation…

 

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

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

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

Darkly Dreaming Dexter


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

Dearly Devoted Dexter


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

Dexter in the Dark


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

Dexter by Design


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

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

Making the Grade

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

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

 

Announcing Eclaire Fare’s New Weekly Lineup June 19, 2009

Filed under: 1980s,1990s,Books,Memories,Movies,Music,Television,Tivo — Emily @ 11:56 am
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Greetings, longtime readers of Eclaire Fare, and newcomers who are just stopping by. Take a look at my posts over the past few months, and you’ll see that I tend to have a one-track mind. For awhile, all I wrote about was Lost, and now it’s So You Think You Can Dance. To cure myself of this television tunnel vision, I am putting myself on a new blogging regimen. Read on to find out what to expect, and then check back in frequently to see how my new lineup is shaping up!

  • Music Mondays – In the two years I’ve been blogging, I haven’t written much about music. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say about artists, albums, and songs. So in an effort to branch out into this area of pop culture, I will be devoting Mondays to music-related topics. Some times I will recommend a favorite artist, others I will review an album, and others I will compile top ten lists.

  • Two-For-One Television Thursdays – Anyone who has been reading Eclaire Fare lately knows that it has been almost exclusively devoted to So You Think You Can Dance. So at least for the summer and fall, while SYTYCD is airing, you can look for two posts on Thursday – my take on the performance show (which I’ll sometimes post on Wednesday night), and my reaction to the results show.

  • Retro Weekends – I love to reminisce about days gone by, specifically the days of the ’80s and ’90s. I was raised on Saturday morning cartoons like Ghostbusters, and sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Growing Pains. I also had a respectable collection of Barbies, and a couple of Cabbage Patch Kids. In the ’90s I was watching MTV when it still showed videos, and listening to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots (while wearing my colored jeans and multi-colored shirts, of course). Every weekend, I’ll be rummaging through my memory bank to find some of my favorite ’80s and ’90s topics to talk about.

Occasional Topics:

  • Eclaire’s Book Fare – From time to time, I’ll review books that I’ve read, or highlight some of my favorite authors.
  • Movie Reviews – I don’t watch as many movies as tv shows, but when I come across one that’s really good (or really bad), I’ll be sure to let you know about it. Last summer I got in the habit of watching two very different movies in one weekend (for example, Only You and Cloverfield, Chances Are and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, etc.). You may see more of these “Double Feature” posts this summer, while the tv landscape is looking barren.
  • Now Playing on My Tivo – I do watch other stuff on tv besides SYTYCD and Lost, so occasionally I’ll let you know what else I’m tuning in to.
  • Miscellaneous – Once in a blue moon, I’ll have something to say about food, travel, poetry, or other random topics that don’t fit any of the above categories.

I apologize that my posting has been so sporadic. I know how frustrating that can be, as I am a blog lurker myself. Hopefully, you will find much to enjoy in my new line-up. If you have a suggestion for a top ten list, a movie or book I should check out and review, or any other topic you’d like to see covered on Eclaire Fare, please let me know!

 

Reading Michael Crichton: A Look Back November 8, 2008

Filed under: 1980s,1990s,Books,Memories,Travel — Emily @ 12:03 pm
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I was saddened by the news that Michael Crichton died this week, after “a courageous and private battle with cancer.” Those of us who enjoyed his writing will miss his contributions to the genres of techno thriller and science fiction. It seems appropriate to celebrate his life as an author by looking back at some of my favorite experiences of reading his work.

But first, some general observations:

  • His books have always been much better than the movies based on them. The all time worst film adaptation was Timeline.
  • My favorite aspect of his writing is the way he incorporates sometimes complex technology into adventurous and thrilling plots, in a way that makes sense and is interesting to the average reader.
  • My least favorite characteristic of his writing is that there seems to often be a know-it-all main character who must interject his grand knowledge of various subjects into the conversation, which becomes very annoying and distracting after awhile. (The worst offender of this technique was Rising Sun.) But usually I was able to tolerate this since the stories were always so fascinating.

The Books

  • Congo and Sphere – These were the first two Crichton novels that I read, and I don’t so much remember the particulars of them as I do my circumstances while I was reading them. My introduction to the world of Michael Crichton took place while I was spending a summer in Rome, as part of a semester overseas program offered by my university. I remember hearing mopeds from the street and the clinking of dishes from the hotel kitchen through the open window of my room as I read about the underwater adventures of scientists exploring a spacecraft, and about the jungle expedition of some Americans trying to locate diamonds while surviving in the midst a group of killer gorillas. Reading these books was escapism in the middle of my European escapades.
  • Timeline – This is my favorite Crichton novel. It is a satisfying blend of adventure, science fiction, medieval history, and archaeology. I literally couldn’t put the book down. I loved main character Andre Marek, and I found the idea of modern day people learning to survive in a medieval world very fascinating.
  • The Great Train Robbery – I believe this is the only audio book that I have ever listened to from start to finish. My husband and I decided we needed more than our familiar music collection for entertainment when we drove from Birmingham, AL to the Poconos in 2003 (I think it was a 14 hour trip), so we checked out The Great Train Robbery on CD from our local public library. We had a great time listening to this fascinating historical novel, which relates the true story of a group of thieves in Victorian London who, led by mastermind Edward Pierce, create and execute an elaborate plan to rob a huge amount of gold from a moving train. Crichton did a fantastic job of recreating the cultural and social atmosphere of Victorian England, gave plenty of historical context, and turned a true crime into a thrilling caper. I will always remember how we were transported into the world of the novel while we were driving through the cities of eastern Tennessee, the rolling hills of West Virginia, the drizzly rain of Virginia, etc.
  • Travels – Lesser known than most of his novels, this was Crichton’s travel memoir, and I count it among my favorite of his works. I should really read more travel memoirs, because I always enjoy the armchair tourist aspect of the experience. There was a bit of that element that made me enjoy Travels, but this book is about more than just Crichton’s physical travels – it’s also about his inner “travels,” as he ponders everything from medical school to spoon bending. The main reason I enjoyed it is because it gives insight into his inspiration for many of his novels. He traveled to some amazing places and had some unique experiences, from hiking through jungles to climbing mountains to exploring Mayan pyramids.
  • State of Fear – Published in 2004, this was the last Crichton novel that I read, and I enjoyed it. Its predecessor, Prey, was hard to get into, and was shorter than most of his novels, but State of Fear combined issues of global warming and eco-terrorism into an entertaining and interesting story. Some readers resented his blatant challenges to the assumed threat of global warming, but I thought he presented relevant data to support his claims (albeit while mostly ignoring valid evidence that others use to support the validity of global warming’s dangers). But I wasn’t too concerned with the facts. I read his novels for entertainment, not to confirm or develop my positions on social and political issues, and I thought this novel did its job of entertaining.
  • Other Crichton Books I’ve Read: A Case of Need, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Binary, Five Patients, Airframe (didn’t finish), Rising Sun, Prey
  • Crichton Books I Haven’t Read But May Eventually: Jurassic Park (the movie kind of ruined it for me, but I’m sure the book would be much better), The Lost World, Airframe (maybe I will finally finish it), Next, and his untitled final novel that will be published next year.

Michael Crichton was certainly a prolific writer, from the novels he wrote to pay his way through medical school, to the more well-known stories that made their way to the movie theater over the past decade. He will be missed in the world of books, but with his large collection of works he has left behind an impressive legacy.

What are your favorite Michael Crichton books? Which ones on my list of unread should I make sure to read?

 

Eclipse: A Love Triangle with Bite October 26, 2008

Well, a month has passed since I reviewed New Moon, the second book in the Twilight series. Once again, it took me far longer than most people to read the third installment, Eclipse. I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it! I will frame this review in terms of how this book was a vast improvement over the previous one.

Bella

  • In both Twilight and New Moon, Bella was self centered and extremely annoying. She still had her moments in Eclipse, but mostly she started to grow up and act more mature.
  • Most importantly, she finally developed a conscience. Despite having strong feelings for Jacob, she realized that she would always choose Edward over him, and so most of her actions were based on that truth.

Bella and Edward

  • There was very little interaction between these two in New Moon, since Edward was off running around in the woods of North America trying to forget Bella while she was stoically going through the motions of high school while secretly pining away for him and being miserable.
  • There were more than enough Bella/Edward scenes in Eclipse. We had nostalgic conversations about Edward’s past, serious discussions about things like marriage and becoming a vampire, and plenty of cuddling and kissing. It was nice to see them as a relatively normal couple, going through disagreements, standing by each other during tough times, and often finding that their thoughts and feelings mirrored one another’s.
  • Thank goodness that Stephenie Meyer finally spared us the excessive praise that Bella as narrator previously lavished upon Edward. (I couldn’t believe how perfect he was, etc.)

Bella and Jacob

  • At times, Jacob’s aggressive tactics for wooing (is that a word anyone uses anymore – probably not, but you know what I mean) Bella were annoying and overbearing, but I guess that was the point. Jacob is the young, fiery werewolf to Edward’s experienced, play-it-cool vampire.
  • Jacob has come a long way from the annoying kid in Book 1. I count him as one of my favorite characters in the series. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy: unrequited love, a life of servitude to his tribe, the need to tie a change of clothes to his ankle (for the inevitable next time that he changes forms and shreds his other clothes to pieces), etc.

The Cullens

  • We still don’t know a whole lot about them, but I do like that each of their “how I became a vampire” stories is being revealed over time. Each one is interesting, unique, and sad, making me more sympathetic to them (as opposed to seeing them simply as a one-dimensional character).

The Pack

  • It was a small but surprising twist to learn that the pack had grown, when more wolves than expected showed up at the meeting with the Cullens.
  • I like the way the pack can hear each others’ thoughts, and how they use that ability as a tool during hunts and battles.

The Cullens and the Pack

  • The joining of these two rival sides and sworn enemies made for an exciting climax to the book!
  • It was intriguing and somewhat horrifying to finally witness what the wolves and the vampires were capable of, in terms of violence, strength, and speed.
  • I wonder if we will hear anymore about the consequences of Bella witnessing Edward’s brutal slaying of his opponents. It’s not every day you see your boyfriend decapitate someone by “lightly brushing his lips against their neck.” It seems like that would require more than a simple “I’m fine” as a response.

The Big Reveal

  • I must admit, I was kept guessing about who was behind the planned attack on Bella. I wasn’t sure who was training the newborns, and how that was connected to confrontations the gang had had in the past. I was happy with who the big bad enemy was, and with how it was revealed. There was plenty of tension and excitement to be had, which is much more than can be said about New Moon, which garnered no more than a “huh” from me.

What’s Next

  • I foresee some eye rolling on my part during the wedding festivities in Breaking Dawn, but I am highly curious to learn if and when Bella will be changed, and even more so, how it will change her.
  • What will become of Jacob? I will be very sad if we never learn more about him than what we were given in the epilogue of Eclipse.
  • I am still troubled by the idea of Bella having to leave everything she has ever known behind (namely Charlie and Renee), when she gives up her human life. But, I suppose she loves Edward more than either of them, so the choice to be with him forever at the expense of her parent-child relationships must be a fair trade-off for her.

Bottom Line: Eclipse has been my favorite book of the series so far. I have very few complaints. My main complaint is actually unrelated to the plot. Did anyone else notice the ridiculous number of typos in the book? The book must have been rushed through editing to get it published sooner – either that or they need to hire some new proofreaders. I found this very annoying. I can’t remember ever reading a book with so many glaring simple errors (“that” instead of “than,” “the” instead of “they,” etc.).

But anyway, I’d give the book an A. Good romance. Good adventure. Good suspense. Good twists. I am glad that I pressed on through the murk and mire of New Moon so that I could enjoy Eclipse.

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Twilight: It’s Not Just for Teens August 22, 2008

Filed under: Books — Emily @ 12:26 pm
Tags: , , , ,

A teenage girl falls madly in love with a strikingly handsome, mysterious boy at her school. The fact that he’s a vampire adds some complications to their relationship. That is the premise of Twilight, the first of a four-novel series for young adults by Stephenie Meyer. It sounds awfully similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of my favorite television shows ever), but it’s actually quite different.

I just finished reading the book, and while it was far from a Pulitzer award-worthy, there was a lot to like:

  • The Vampire Mythology – I have always been interested in the vampire genre, whether it be books, movies, or television. (Remember Fright Night from the ’80s? I was totally there. As I was for Buffy, Angel, and every vampire-centric episode of The X-Files.) The standard stuff of vampire legend doesn’t all hold true in the world of Twilight (such as has no reflection in a mirror, must sleep in a coffin, can’t stand sunlight). I was intrigued by the different spin that Meyer puts on vampire lore. I won’t mention any details here, since part of the fun of reading the book was discovering what Edward was capable of, how he became a vampire, etc.
  • The Teenager in Love Motif – As I read this book, I couldn’t help but see something of my own teenage self in Bella Swan. Since she is the narrator, we’re able to know what she’s thinking, and in typical teenager fashion, much of her thought process is over dramatic and obsessive. Especially in the first part of the story, when she’s trying to figure Edward out, she analyzes every move he makes, tries to interpret the slightest of movements or the briefest of conversations. That was totally me 15 years ago, and is probably most teenage girls. They tend to get caught up in their own little universe, and the drama that unfolds therein. This aspect of the novel was nostalgic for me, adding to the fun of reading it.
  • The Setting and Atmosphere – Most of the story takes place in Forks, Washington, a place where the sun rarely shines and the rain seldom stops. This sort of gloomy atmosphere is perfect for an angst-ridden vampire and the introspective girl who loves him.
  • It’s a fun, easy read – Sometimes you just want something mindless and escapist to read. This teen fantasy thriller is just that. Last night as I was finishing up Twilight, my husband was reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. He kept saying how depressing it was, and then he read a sentence aloud to me that rambled on about a falcon killing a crane and carrying its lifeless body over the barren landscape of post-apocalyptic America . Now I think McCarthy is a fantastic writer, and I plan to read more of his books (I started with No Country for Old Men). However, sometimes you want more feel-good thrills, and less disturbing carnage and mayhem. So while Twilight isn’t as elaborate and well done as another “not just for young adults” series – Harry Potter – it’s still worth reading.

I look forward to reading the second, third, and fourth installments of this trilogy in the near future. I also plan to watch the movie adaptation that will be released in November. Should be more escapist fun!