Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elephant Song

After journeying through the Utopian vs. Dystopian saga of the Hunger Games, I have now entered the dimensions of the Wilbur Smith novels. As a welcoming ceremony for entering a new literary dimension I leaved through the authors Standalone novel, i.e., novel that doesn't form a part of any of his other series...Elephant Song......and I was pleasantly surprised.

So far I have only read a few literary works, young adult, paranormal, fantasy, detection, sci-fi and few more so coming across Elephant Song felt as a coming-of-age novel, as the book focuses on the reality of life and had a much more of adult content than what I had previously read. It is also the first book that I am having a difficulty to write about so bear with me as I try to give words to my thoughts.

Here is how the summary goes:

The rangers closed in, firing steadily. Within minutes all the adult animals were down. Only calves still raced in bewildered circles, stumbling over the bodies of the dead and dying. Six minutes after the first shot, a silence fell over the killing ground on Long Vlei...... 

In the blinding light of Zimbabwe's Chiwewe National Park, Dr Daniel Armstrong, world-famous TV naturalist, films the slaughter of a herd of elephant. In London, anthropologist Kelly Kinnear is forced into violent confrontation with the shareholders of the most powerful conglomerate in the City of London, warning them of the destruction of an African country.

Now the time has come to act. Together, Armstrong and Kinnear forge a passionate alliance - and begin the fight against the forces of greed, evil and corruption attacking a land they both would give their lives to save........Combining breathtaking realism and thrilling suspense, the world's master storyteller takes us on a journey deep into the heart of a wild, magnificent continent, threatened forever by the destructive hand of man.     

When I first bought the book from a book fair in the city, I had no inkling as to what I was about get myself into, Wikipedia pretty tells us the whole story so I had to forgo the urge to see the details about the book and prepared myself to be surprised because I had heard a lot about the particular talent of the Mr. Smith as a master story-teller. And I must say it was pretty much surprising, captivating, dark and all the harsh and cruel realities of life. 

It is pretty much clear as to what the story is about from the title, elephants. Specifically the majestic beasts of the African continent. The author takes us on a journey through his pen into the heart of the Africa, its jungles and towards all the hardships faced by its people on a day to day life but it is also a novel that points us to the increasing imbalance in nature resulting from not only economic gains but also by greed. Elephant Song is still an exceedingly well written novel with a well thought out storyline. Many of the scenes invoke rage and disgust, while the scenes such as that which gives the book its name create emotions of deep loss and sadness. This book is not an environmentalist reader, though it does have strong themes of it, nor is it a conservationist reader, though it has strong themes of that as well. 

Wilbur Smith through the medium of this book has defended the hunting of elephants and the controlled sale of game products - including ivory - as the only way to save Africa's wildlife. Writing in the an issue of African Safari Magazine, Smith plunges into the controversy over ivory sales which has pitted government, animal rights activists and conservationists against each other worldwide. The South African adventure-novelist says it was atrocious that Kenya burned several million rands (the South African currency) worth of tusks to support a total ban on trade in ivory in an attempt to end poaching. It was like taking money that could have been better utilized for conservation and setting fire to ithe writes.

The book also has strong undercurrent of corruption in the high offices. An African disease or the author's statement that if you have black governments managing their country exclusively for black tribes-people and wildlife becomes undesirable, then we're going to lose it. Smith's argument was that if you try to convince a subsistence farmer with a large family that the elephant or the lion is a beautiful animal and should be conserved, he will think you are out of your mind. The buffaloes graze on the grass that he needs for his cattle, a crocodile probably killed his grandmother and the leopard is killing his goats. You have to prove to him that the wildlife is of value and that it is worth his while to make some sacrifice. He says people will protect the animals if it can be shown that they will benefit from the money earned from hunting or sales of wildlife products. 

As to the characters of the story - it is clear that Dr Daniel Armstrong is the protagonist, so he gets a much more page time (can't write screen time because we are reviewing a book). He is seen developing throughout the book as opposed to the others. We first see him doing his job of shooting footage for his new independent “Africa – Dying” series. After a life changing experience we see his life turn about. It is vengeance that drives him to do the things he does for the precious loss of life very close to him. While Kelly Kinnear comes in very late toward the end but it is seen that she also plays a pivotal role in the confrontation that takes place towards the conclusion of the plot.     

It is a typical tale of economic gain balanced against the ecology and a bygone way of life. A novel says much of the times that we are in. Greed and personal gain at someone else's expense.  Clearly well defined by the blurb on it back cover by the daily mail - "Sex, money, ambition, fear and blood.......and emotional stampede


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet

No other writer lends himself to so many different film interpretations as William Shakespeare, whose plays have spawned musicals (West Side Story), teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You), even cartoons (though not credited as such, Hamlet is an obvious source of inspiration for The Lion King). The latter genre is used again for a peculiar take on Romeo and Juliet, put together with CGI under Disney's Touchstone banner.

Gnomeo and Juliet is the latest animated re-telling of the classic Shakespeare’s classic tale of woe (that of fair Juliet and her timing-challenged Romeo). I definitely did not have high expectation from it seeing as the original manuscript a.k.a. Romeo & Juliet is not my favourite play besides it being not exactly applicable to the current generation on a lot of levels but have to say this animated re-telling was clearly a surprise.

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean...The film begins with an amusing homage to these lines, before we really get into it. The garden gnomes of two neighbouring backyards, the Red Gnomes and the Blue Gnomes, have an ongoing rivalry as to who's garden is best. They constantly try to sabotage each other and dislike each other immensely. After a lawnmower race in which Tybalt the Red gnome (voice of Jason Statham) beats the Blue gnome Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy), Gnomeo and sidekick Benny decide to sneak in by night and vandalise the Red's garden. Meanwhile Juliet (Emily Blunt), protected and thought too fragile by her father Lord Redbrick, is desperate to prove she is otherwise. Gnomeo and Juliet meet, and the rest is history as they say.

The Shakespeare jokes herein feel like they have a point and purpose, especially when a character voiced by Patrick Stewart turns up to effectively demolish the fourth wall and talk about the relative merits of the Bard's storytelling. And, on the whole, it is something better than expected. However, it's not above borrowing certain tropes and story beats wholesale from other animated hits. For instance, one scene involving the flamboyant plastic flamingo, Featherstone, is straight out of Toy Story 2. Surprisingly, though, as much diminished impact as there is when you recognise that scene, there is an impact nonetheless.

At least, the film does a stand-up job of ingratiating you with the characters on show beyond anything you could ever have reasonably expected from a film called Gnomeo & Juliet. There's a nice sense of jeopardy established in how fragile the characters are. As in Toy Story, they're inanimate objects that come to life, and thus are perfectly breakable.

Presumably, it's Elton John's name that attracted such a starry cast, perhaps more so than the Disney banner. James McAvoy and Emily Blunt fill in for the lead roles originally taken by Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet, but they're pretty interchangeable. There's more pleasure in hearing the tones of Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, oddly, Jason Statham. If the prospect of Jason Statham (finally) playing a gnome doesn't sell your ticket right now, nothing can. Along with Statham, there's another genuinely funny vocal turn by none other than Hulk Hogan, whose voice is instantly recognisable and entirely appropriate for the cameo in question. British TV stars Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant all put on slightly sillier voices for their respective turns, and each become slightly annoying at certain points in the film. Crucially, though, each of them managed to make me laugh at least once.

The whole thing is a camp, colourful and deeply eccentric affair. So eccentric, in fact, that there's a sense of jeopardy throughout that's often lacking in other CG animated affairs. It's more eclectic than certain other films, and as mentioned, the source material looms large. If you assumed this is no good on first impression, you wouldn't be the first. One of John Lasseter's first acts when Disney acquired Pixar was to shut this production down.

Of course, the film can't follow the original play exactly - this is a kids movie! It's not a tragedy, it's a comedy. This is where I expected to be let down - I honestly didn't think I would find it funny, but I'm glad to say for the most part, I found this film charming and funny. It could have been funnier, but the younger audience will love it, which is the important thing I suppose.

Shakespeare fans will have fun spotting the little references to the Bard's works (including a cleverly worked in quote from Macbeth of all plays). I did. For instance, the owner of the Blue Gnomes is Miss Montague (Romeo's family in the play), while the owner of the Red's is Mr. Capulet (Juliet's last name). The owners themselves hate each other. Spotting the celebrity voices is fun too. Michael Caine is Lord Redbrick, Maggie Smith is Lady Bluebury (I didn't notice this) - I particularly enjoyed Patrick Stewarts brief appearance as a statue of Shakespeare, with whom Gnomeo has a brief conversation. Shakespeare was a smug guy. The voices were all well cast, and the animation is of a good quality.

It might not appeal to its target audience as much as it would entertain an older crowd who are largely more cynical about it. But i found it fairly good.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Original Song: New Directions goes in a New Direction!

Phew! finally Glee is back from Holiday. Yup folks that week's episode typically and rightfully named 'Original Song' was definitely a lot more cohesive that the preprocessor that was 'Sexy' and is definitely one of the best episodes of Glee this season. 

So gleeks regionals are here once again! This year New Directions went in a new direction by performing completely original songs. With “World War Sue” coaching Aural Intensity and Blaine and Kurt leading the Warblers, New Directions was up against some stiff competition and needed a competitive edge. Though their initial attempts at song writing were hilariously bad (“Trouty Mouth”, “Big Ass…Heart”), New Directions ended up with three terrific songs.

Let’s first summarize this entire episode in a nutshell, shall we? Due to more ill direction under Schue, the club found out that My Chemical Romance refused to grant them the rights to anthem out to SING at the competition. Sue, of course, is behind all this. Apparently her affair with the drummer led to the cease and desist order (we find out later that this is entirely fictitious) and is her opening salvo in World War Sue. New Directions won Regionals (I know right?) because they somehow managed to compose two original songs before the weekend. Amazing use of those rhyming dictionaries kids. The ironic/stereotypical judges (Kathy Griffin as a Sarah Palin/Christine O’Donnell lovechild, Loretta Devine as a caricature of my beloved Sister Mary Clarence and Rod the Anchorman) all thought that was enough to send the club predictably towards New York and Nationals.

That said and done, let's now break down the catalogue one-by-one shall we?

Starting the episode with Maroon5's MISERY by the warblers gave every sign of a powerful and riveting Glee episode and then finally addressed a long-running query of a lot of fans(me included) - Why the heck does Blaine get every single Warblers solo?

From there the episode delivered one winning performance after another, focused on actual relationship and character developments and proved one indisputable fact: Lea Michele, the power house of the show. Rachel's "Get It Right" was the highlight of the hour, as it did a lot more than merely showcase Michele's pipes. It spoke to the evolution and struggle of this girl, someone who has gone from cute to irritating to the most obvious MVP candidate.

Blaine and Kurt didn't preach to the audience in any way. They simply acted like two students falling for each other, as writers resisted the effort to just throw these two into a relationship from the outset. After Kurt’s touching rendition of “Blackbird,” Blaine seemed to see Kurt in a whole new light. And judging from the reaction on Twitter (“THEY KISSED” was a trending topic tonight), fans are ecstatic. Blaine even shared the spotlight with Kurt during “Candles.” It must be loveAnd then a second kiss because, come on, it's Darren Criss!

On to the 'World War Sue' front or the 'Not so stupidly named' Aural intensity front. Sue did her homework on the judges and decided to go with Sonseed’s “Jesus is My Friend” in order to impress tea partier Tammy Jean Albertson (guest star Kathy Griffin) and Sister Mary Constance (guest star Loretta Devine). I think the nun summed it up nicely: “I didn’t even like to be pandered to when I was a stripper!” Sue’s pandering ultimately backfired, and she took her anger out on the poor, drunk Lieutenant Governor’s wife.

The Quinn-Finn-Rachel love triangle took an interesting turn tonight with the revelation that Quinn thinks she and Finn have a future together in Ohio, while Rachel’s talent will take her on to bigger and better things. That explains why Quinn is obsessed with becoming Prom Queen—she thinks she’ll peak in high school and also shows us the fact that without her cheerleading outfit and the prom crown she's unsure of who she actually is. But with plenty of meaningful looks between Finn and Rachel, I think Quinn might be losing him but that better not happen cause well i'm sick and tired of Finchel, they totally suck(sorry to all the finchel shipper i'm just stating a point). Rachel needs a new boy-toy or somebody old....well it has been rumoured that Jonathan Groff returns for the final four episodes of this season...hope that happens.....GO ST.BERRY. 

And...how 'LOSER LIKE ME' we so good wasn't it?? Yes, context can really change things! I honestly didn’t care for this original song in isolation, but watching it all come together in this episode, this kind of grown on me a bit. It still sounded too High School Musical for my taste, but the visual and the Sue-esque undertones really had me enjoying the whole performance. This song made more sense now.

Lastly i'd like to take up the point of MVP - First New Directions don’t like her. Then they do. The hot and cold treatment the glee club gives Rachel confuses and disgusts me. Awarding her the MVP was simply another way of saying “We only like you when you’re useful.” 

And i'm not wrong with a much more screen time for the Warblers this episode marks their end on the show, something about the end of the contract for using that school's premises. This also means that Kurt would also soon be returning to home-ground with Blaine in tow(rumored). Cue in for a 4 weeks skip(i know FOUR WEEK.....they r trying to kill us!!!) Glee returns on April 12th for the next episode of the season 'A night of neglect'.


Monday, March 14, 2011


Finally, finished the final book of the Hunger games Triology, Mockingjay. It definitely proved the most common theory about triologies where the introductory novel is supposed to be amazing, the middle book like treading water and the conclusion an explosive end. This eulogy definitely proved the fact that out of the three books The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the last i.e., conclusion was definitely the one to look out for.

Here is how the summary goes like,

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss' family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding. It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems has had a hand in the carefully laid plans - except Katniss. The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to except responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost. 

For the first two books, I think most of us readers have all been laboring under the assumption that Katniss Everdeen would eventually choose one of the two terrific men in her life: Gale, her childhood companion or Peeta, the one who accompanied her to the Hunger Games twice. She'd pick one of them and live happily ever after with him, surrounded by friends and family. Somehow, along the way, Katniss would get rid of the awful President Snow and stop the evil Hunger Games. How one teenage girl would do all that, we weren't too sure, but we all had faith and hope that she would. 

This book had very fast paced and hard to put down, like the rest of the series. I read it very swiftly, with few breaks. Some of the supporting characters develop beautifully in this book. Finnick especially really rounded out in this book. Because you care about a lot of the supporting characters, you really care if they die. That's a big thing for me. When reading a book about war, I don't want to feel like I'm trapped in one of those shooting video games, where a death only means more points. In this book, most of the deaths were gut wrenching. You REALLY felt their loss. That might upset some people, but for me it was one of the strong points of the book. There also were deaths where you didn't care, because both you and Katniss were too numb at this point. That also was a strong point for me. It made the war feel that much more real and horrible. The war is not simply about good guys and bad guys. There are numerous shades of grey. District 13 is more than just the good guys sweeping in. 

But the plot does have a few weak point. 

In fantasy and science fiction, the main character's inner struggle has to mirror the world's outer struggle. The series is about revolting against an evil, freedom suppressing government and instating a new one in its place. Therefore, Katniss has to move from being an extremely resilient and unpredictable pawn to being in full control of her life. Otherwise the full meaning of the revolution is weakened, if it is not reflected in the emotional journey of the character. But instead Katniss remains an unpredictable pawn, manipulated by outside forces, struggling to retain her identity when she has no true control over her life. That she's manipulated by 13 rather than President Snow only adds salt to the wound. She's far too passive, in the book where she should be the most active. She can only react, not act. She reacts to others decisions, never making her own. 

That's fine for the first two books. But in the third book Katniss needs to mature. She needs to develop as a character, and really have control over her talents and her future. She needs to undergo the emotional journey of the revolution, and be the human face of what is happening in the country. But that doesn't happen, hence my problem with the book. Instead, Katniss is plopped into yet another situation where she is manipulated and used for others advantage, and she has to survive. This time it is being District 13's Mockingjay. Katniss is used to spur the other districts into revolution. At first she doesn't want to be the Mockingjay, because she doesn't trust District 13. Then, after seeing the realities of the war, she decides to go ahead with it and be their Mockingjay. All right. But it's past time for Katniss to decide to be used by other people. She needs to shape her fate for herself at this point. We've had two books where she had to survive others decisions. Now she needs to start making her own decisions. But the most she does is set conditions. 'I'll be your Mockingjay, if you don't kill the other victors". She doesn't decide her be HER Mockingjay. She doesn't make the revolution her own, the way Gale does. That is Katniss reacting to District 13's needs, not acting based on her own. 

"Mockingjay" relentlessly strips aside those feelings of faith and hope - much as District 13 must have done to Katniss. Katniss realizes that she is just as much a pawn for District 13 as she ever was for the Colony and that evil can exist in places outside of the Colony. And that's when the reader realizes that this will be a very different journey. And that maybe the first two books were a setup for a very different ride. That, at its heart, this wasn't a story about Katniss making her romantic decisions set against a backdrop of war. 

Also, speaking of Coin's death, that also bothered me. I was glad Katniss shot her. But Katniss doesn't sit there and think: 'Coin will be a really bad leader. She wanted to do another Hunger Games! She'll be just as bad as Snow once she gets the power. I have to stop her any way that I can!' Instead, Katniss lets herself get manipulated by Snow to kill Coin. Then she's put on trial for her life, and she doesn't even get to defend her decision at her own trial. Instead, she's not even there. Other people decide that she can live. She never argues for her life. Other virtually nameless people do, behind her back. 

This is a story of war. And what it means to be a volunteer and yet still be a pawn. We have an entirely volunteer military now that is spread entirely too thin for the tasks we ask of it. The burden we place upon it is great. And at the end of the day, when the personal war is over for each of them, each is left alone to pick up the pieces as best he/she can. 

For some, like Peeta, it means hanging onto the back of a chair until the voices in his head stop and he's safe to be around again. Each copes in the best way he can. We ask - no, demand - incredible things of our men and women in arms, and then relegate them to the sidelines afterwards because we don't want to be reminded of the things they did in battle. What do you do with people who are trained to kill when they come back home? And what if there's no real home to come back to - if, heaven forbid, the war is fought in your own home? We need our soldiers when we need them, but they make us uncomfortable when the fighting stops. 

Let’s face it Mockingjay really portrays the reality of the situation as to how the people treat or view our soldiers.

And all of that is bigger than a love story - than Peeta or Gale. And yet, Katniss' war does come to an end. And she does have to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out where to go at the end. So she does make a choice. But compared to the tragedy of everything that comes before it, it doesn't seem "enough". And I think that's the point. That once you've been to hell and lost so much, your life will never be the same. Katniss will never be the same. For a large part of this book, we see Katniss acting in a way that we can only see as being combat-stress or PTSD-related - running and hiding in closets. This isn't our Katniss, this isn't our warrior girl. 

I realize many out there will hate the epilogue and find it trite. At first, I did too. But in retrospect, it really was perfect. Katniss gave her life already - back when she volunteered for Prim in "The Hunger Games". It's just that she actually physically kept living.  There is this quote from an HBO series, don't remember the name "The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it."

But how do you go from that, to living again in society? You really don't. So I'm not sure Katniss ever really did - live again. She just ... kept going. And there's not really much to celebrate in that. Seeing someone keep going, despite being asked - no, demanded - to do unconscionably horrifying things, and then being relegated to the fringes of society, and then to keep going - to pick up the pieces and keep on going, there is something fine and admirable and infinitely sad and pure and noble about that. But the fact is, it should never happen in the first place. 


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Move over RPATTZ, for the prince of YA movies!!

Should RPATTZ be worried?

Now that is definitely an interesting question. It could mean certainly a lot of things but here we are being more specific. After the hustle & tussle with the resident badass-heartbreaker of the highly acclaimed and mysteriously paranormal THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, Ian Somerhalder for the EW magazine's Sexy Beast poll which was won by Somerhalder. It seems Pattinson has suddenly got himself another adversary in the form of another fellow Brit actor......wait for it.....none other than the number 4/ Daniel/ John/ Kyle/ Bradley/ Freddie and what more, Alex Pettyfer.

Pettyfer is fast becoming a favourite of the audience or to be more specific his female audience. Pettyfer first appeared in the adapted screenplay the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. After his brief stint in this young adult spy manual (only the first novel because now he is not of the right age to portray for the role), he then play the handsome and lovable British in WILD CHILD, Freddie Kingsley; then appearing as the cocky Bradley in TORMENTED. After than we know him as the superhuman, attractive and brooding Loric alien on I AM NUMBER FOUR and his recent release BEASTLY (book of the same name by Alex Flinn) where he play Kyle Kingston and his alter ego the beast, a new age adaptation of the classic Disney fairy tale 'Beauty & the Beast', besides Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris and Mary-Kate Oleson.

This is not all he has also been offered the lead roles in the Mortal Instruments series as the male protagonist Nephilim (half man & half angel) Jace Wayland/Herondale, in the Hunger Games as the male district 12 tribute, the king and compassionate Peeta Mellark as well as the role of Thomas J Ward in the book adaptation of Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles which is at present known as the Seventh Son. But nothing has been confirmed as of yet as to what he has chosen to portray next.

While RPATTZ is also no less popular, he came into the film industry in Vanity Fair but he garnered acclaim from the Twilight franchise. He has also some pretty grown up roles coming up in Water for Elephant, Bel Ami etc….alongside academy award winners Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz (Water for Elephant), and academy award nominated Uma Thurman (Bel Ami).

While it is true that Robert Pattinson’s popularity sky-rocketed through the Twilight franchise and he is definitely more popular but it can be seen that Alex Pettyfer is soon becoming the prince of YA or young adult genre book adaptation.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Catching Fire

Onto the next book in the hunger games triology, CATCHING FIRE, there would only be one thing on your minds "the capitol or specifically president snow can't be any more twisted than this".

Here is how the summary of the book goes by -

 "Against all odds Katniss has won the hunger games. She and her fellow tribute from district 12 Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all she has returned to her family and her long time friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol - a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create. Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she can't stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, then the consequences will be very high."   

Let me now put forward a point that is very common with triologies......... that damn book in the middle! You know how it goes - the first book is dynamite, because it's all new and there's so much to discover...so much to learn about. The last book is explosive too, since we find out what happens "in the end." But the book in the middle . . . well, it's sorta like treading water. It's a place holder, filler maybe, a way to stall the reader until the good stuff can start. 

Hunger Games was exiting and compelling; we found out about Katniss's world slowly, which drew us into it completely. My guess is, the final book will be equally engaging - after all, we'll learn all about District 13, we'll find out which of her two suitors Katniss will finally choose, and we'll get a glimpse of what lies in store for the Capitol and its totalitarian government. But Catching Fire is not exactly summed up as a disappointment but something like a so-so plot. Nothing much happens. The plot can be summed up very succinctly - unrest grows slowly in the aftermath of Katniss and Peeta's Hunger Games victory. That's just about it. Katniss can't make her mind up about Peeta and Gale, she can't make her mind up about whether or not to rebel, and she can't make her mind up about who to really trust. In the end, not only is there no resolution, but little progress is made toward one. 

The story picks up a few months after the end of The Hunger Games just before Katniss and Peeta are meant to begin their tour of the Districts as champions. From there things only go from bad to worse as Katniss' actions during the Hunger Games come back to bite her right in the ass thus endangering everyone and everything she holds dear. Saying too much more about it would spoil the ride and, believe me, you'll have a lot more fun with the book the less you know going in. 

Katniss’ bold move at the end of THE HUNGER GAMES has put her and everyone she loves in a dangerous situation. Witnessing Katniss and Peeta’s defiance has sparked rebellion in some of the districts and the President of Panem is not happy. He makes it clear that it is Katniss’ responsibility to put a stop to the unrest in the districts by proving her defiance was a result of her love for Peeta and not done to overthrow the government.

I loved the introduction of the new characters/ fellow Hunger Games competitors, Finnick, the overly dramatic/ overly gorgeous male who knows he is super gorgeous and flaunts it whenever possible, yet who has an extremely serious side as he is willing to risk life and limb to keep Katniss and Peeta alive, and Mags, an elderly woman who no one, save for Finnick, can understand and who also is more than willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, and Beetee and Wiress, the super geeky, yet extremely intelligent competitors (who I believe would have won the Hunger Games hands-down had the games went on as originally planned)... Heck, I even didn't mind Johanna, who in real life I would consider to be a gigantic bimbo. But I also loved the old characters, such as Haymitch, as we saw a completely new side of him, that being when he was a competitor of the Hunger Games and I really think that knowing that helps us to understand why he is like the way he is now, and Cinna, what he did for Katniss, well, I don't think that in a million years she would be able to thank him enough.
One thing I will say though is that just as Catching Fire capitalizes on the many strengths of The Hunger Games, it also proves to really push one of the major weaknesses into the forefront. That weakness being the execution of the romantic sub-plot as it concerns the rather limp love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. 

What makes this romantic conflict, in my mind, fail on just about every level is the almost complete lack of development of Gale as a character. As he only appears in either book for very limited periods of time, most of what the reader knows about him is told rather than shown. Thus as the story moves forward it becomes more and more difficult to identify with and understand Katniss' underlying distress in regards to her feelings for Gale and how they conflict with her feelings for Peeta(we also only see more of Peeta than Gale...). Often the conflict feels completely unnecessary, especially when Katniss has worked out several very solid reasons why she doesn't want to romantically involved with anyone at all thus providing quite enough conflict without the triangle.

But, to be fair, at the end of the day the romantic conflict is just a sub-plot and the main focus of the novel is on the fallout of the games and the stirrings of rebellion within the districts. So really, my complaint is a minor one in the grand scheme of things. Catching Fire is a hell of a fun read with an fantastic mixture of adventure, romance and intrigue. The themes, while mature, are never so mature that I would feel uncomfortable in recommending the series for teenagers as well as adults. 

At last Catching Fire definitely is a book that is not lacking the attraction of its predecessor but also a book that you don't want to miss reading to get to the conclusion. So it definitely plays the part of the interim as well as sprouting such plot points that would make our blood run cold reading of the extent that the Capitol can go to extract revenge.  


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A glee-ful "sexy" substitute----but an equally lackluster episode

The title aptly sums up my views about this weeks Glee episode SEXY. Yup, the "Sexy" substitute a.k.a. Gwyneth Paltrow is back on Glee and this time she is not subbing for spanish class or english class or taking over glee club but subbing for sex-ed class. Ya, Glee is feeling preachy again which also involves some dirty dancing......and it seems like also taking a holiday.

Although this episode also had a lot of pros. Namely, The songs were great, the story moved along, relationships developed, and the series finally gave voice to the lesbian feelings of a certain two glee clubbers. Other than some highly inappropriate things going on that would never be allowed at a real high school,

At various times, this episode of Glee was fun, profound, humorous, romantic and simply random. Shall we go over some of the finer points of the episode.

Really wish every day were a Holly Holiday. Gwyneth Paltrow is perfect in this role, bringing an energy and snark to lines about wet hugs and sex tapes with JD Salinger, while sexing up performances such as "Do You Wanna Touch Me." Just great times all around any time she stops by.

Paltrow's first appearance last fall was a resounding triumph, so of course Glee wanted her back. Last night, Holly discovers, while teaching health class, that the students at McKinley are very ill-informed about physical pleasure and its consequences, especially members of New Directions. This is best evidenced by airhead Brittany (Heather Morris) believing she is pregnant because a stork is building a nest outside of her window, and Finn (Cory Monteith) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) worrying they can get HIV from salad after Holly shows them how to put a condom on a cucumber. Those aren't exactly realistic happenings, but I sure laughed heartily when Brittany shared why she thought she was with child after panicking her boyfriend, Artie (Kevin McHale).

Oopsie! i think i forgot to add the finer points of the element of Frustration.  It's not so much that I hate when Glee preaches, it's that it does so in an unrealistic manner. Emma and Carl have never had sex?!? Brittany thinks babies come from a stork?!? These quirks are funny when used in a one-liner, but they become irritating when used as actual plot points. 

Definitely loved Burt's speech to his son and, while I take issue with Santana's revelation of love to Brittany (more on that below), I must applaud Naya Rivera's performance during "Landslide" and also during her big speech.

In the romantic view point - Will doing the tango with Holly? Hot. Holly finally admitting that she should open herself up to a relationship that lasts more than 36 hours? Vulnerable and sweet. 

Holly is likely to return again, as she enters into a relationship with Will before the closing credits. The chemistry between the two is palpable, especially in their duet of "Kiss", though Holly's hesitation for dating the Teach is also warranted. She tends to go for less serious pairings, while his dating experience is limited to his high school girlfriend and a guidance counselor who won't even touch her husband, which we'll get to in a minute. I guess Holly just has to fall for the Schuester charm in the end, though. I don't believe it will last very long, the least of the reasons being Paltrow's continued availability (or lack thereof), but it's nice that Will will get a chance to be with someone so cool before he is roped back into the inevitable drama to come.

Santana came fully out of the closet, Carl and Emma broke up and Quinn made her intentions clear to Finn (as well as her return to total bitch-dom). But Glee often feels like a hodgepodge of events and scenes thrown together around a weekly theme.

One second, Santana can't open up, the next second she's breaking down by singing a few lyrics. We haven't seen Carl in months, and then, just as suddenly as he appears behind the drums, he's gone again. Blaine and Kurt run into Sue in the coffee shop and are instantly convinced they need to sex up their routine, complete with bubbles that resemble... let's just say... something very personal to guys? It all just felt random and under-developed.

So, after all this we have the regionals episode next week, which is coincidently title "Original Song"- yup the two original songs by glee that came out with the last glee album features on the episode. So stay tuned.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I am Number Four

Waited a long time for this after reading the book and yup i finally get to see it not in theater but on the internet and it definitely proved to be a good entertainment under the young adult category where i fall in. 

Anyways whats done is done lets get on with the plot now shall we,

The movie springs up from the book by the same name by the duo James Frey & Jobie Hughes written under the pseudonym of Pittacus Lore who coincidently happens to be a character in the novel but we don't see him on the film. Directed by D.J. Caruso, got to givee it to him, he sure knows a thing or two about finding and cultivating young talent. In 2007, he picked a fresh from Disney Shia Labeouf to headline his Rear Window homage Disturbia, which sent him on a path to super stardom. Now four years later he’s doing the same with British actor Alex Pettyfer who stars as the title character in his sci-fi action flick I Am Number Four.

What’s interesting with this bit of backstory is that Dreamworks bought the film rights to ‘I Am Number Four’ before a final draft was completed of the actual book. They wrote various versions of the script which they shared with Frey who wound up using many of their ‘suggestions’ to put into the final version of the book, so for those who think the film followed the book faithfully, it’s more that the book followed the movie version more faithfully. Interestingly enough, even the ending was Dreamworks idea which wound up becoming incorporated into the final book so having a pseudonym for this book series is smart since it sounds like many hands are in the pot creatively saving Frey more embarrassment of not having written them all himself. 

Let's break it down now shall we,

John/Daniel/Number 4(Alex Pettyfer), a mysterious teenager who is smart, brooding, handsome and athletic but doesn’t fit in at his new school. He and Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who poses as his father but is in reality his alien warrior/ protector, have just landed in Paradise, Ohio. It is a small town where they hope to exist under the radar and evade their enemies, Mogadorians, a group of space assassins in long black coats and deeply scarred and tattooed heads. 

John and Henri constantly change their identities; that’s life on the run. They do their best to appear normal, a tough gig considering that they look perpetually freaked out and behave in a hyper vigilant manner. 

Three other beings like John have been killed and John is Number Four, and will be the next to go in the mythic order of things.  Pettyfer and Olyphant carry it off well.

Back at school, John is bullied, and despite his spectacular physique and mad fighting skills, allows it.  I don’t know I’m buying what they’re selling, but nonetheless this is the position in which he finds himself.  John befriends the perpetual bullying victim Sam (Callan McAuliffe, an Australian who also scores with a Yankee accent) who becomes his warrior in the soon-to come epic battle against the Mogadorians.
John meets and falls for Sarah, played by Glee’s Dianna Agron who also doubles as Pettyfer’s real life girlfriend(although there have been recent news that they broke up). Sarah is a loner who obsessively photographs her environment and the people in it. But his opening up to her seems to give him special powers. He can manipulate matter with his powerful, glowing hands.

Sarah puts John in a difficult spot by taking his picture and posting it online.  The Mogadorians are tech savvy (who would have thought) and John knows that if they find his pic online, they’ll be able to locate and kill him.  BTW there is enough texting and internet surfing here to satisfy the most hardened screenager.

Australian actor Theresa Palmer (an Australian who lets her accent fly) arrives on the scene, a sexy super-powered motorcycle mama who reveals herself as Number 6 and a capable fighter.  The battle with the Mogadorians is on.

Alright lets look over some Good & Bad points of the flick:

So Pettyfer and Agron hardly turn in Oscar-worthy performances. They are sufficiently moody, rebellious and moony-eyed to get the point across. Certainly, they’re more believable than Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were in the Twilight installments. Sorry to all those Hardcore fans out there but its true (yes i also like the twilight novels but their chemistry doesn't really appeal to me very much).

Next up on the good point is Olyphant, now none of the characters in this film have any real substance and Olyphant’s Henri is the closest we get to someone likable. The role was previously supposed to go to Sharlto Copley,but Olyphant was definitely the better choice. Not every actor can take cheesy dialogue (more on that below) and make it somewhat tolerable. Then comes the action sequence (that definitely was the best part) Caruso did a great job of directing those scenes because there’s a lot going on but you can actually see what each person is doing. The fights are actually comprehensible. The CGI looks pretty good and the fight choreography is great.

Lets highlight some bad points; first up in line are the few gaping plot holes that have obviously been left open in the hopes of a sequel. Millar and Gough never explain, for example, why the Mogs hunt the kids in order. This one point is such a pivotal storytelling device that it is unforgivable to not explain it. While we’re asking questions, how did the Loriens come to choose Earth as their new home? Why do they look so much like humans, albeit preternaturally attractive ones? Other than surviving, did the nine have a mission?(although yes a lot of these points have also not been addressed in the book, clearly left the more novels to come in the future). Then comes the editing, there are a lot of continuity issues in this film. There are several sequences where people go from point A to C, and they never explain what happened to B. Sometimes that can work and as a viewer you can piece together how someone got to where they were, but that isn’t the case here. It looks like the editor took out chunks of shots to save time and it’s extremely obvious.

So on the whole only Alex Pettyfer and Timothy Olyphant are able to present believable characters  and they should being the ones on whose shoulders the plot rest. A likable teen oriented film that’s contemporary enough to be interesting to the kids, whether they’ve read the book or not. It’s no classic, but it’s fun and an eyeful.

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