Monday, May 30, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides

It is time for another summer movie and who would be more appropriate than out favourite pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Set to reinvigorate Disney’s theme park ride-turned movie franchise, it goes without saying that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies so far have been an enjoyable ride but will it have you singing ‘it’s a pirate’s life for me’ or will the film leave you begging for parley (for those who haven't seen the movie yet). Frankly i'm having mixed thoughts which will be explained later.

While it would be reasonable to expect that the sequel may not be as good as the original trilogy (a certain Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan come to mind), the extent to which the film misunderstands story, pacing, action scenes, its own history, and its main characters, is mind-boggling. The film does almost nothing right and it’s a tedious chore that sails through gigantic plot-holes, lazy screenwriting, poor characterization, and reduces the scale and creativity of the previous films. To combat franchise fatigue, producer Jerry Bruckheimer enlisted the help of his Curse of the Black Pearl screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio who tossed out most of their prior character creations to inject the film with a lot of fresh and fantastical blood. But the team didn’t just bring back fan-favorite scallywags in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, they also introduced a new formula of fantasy genre staples – including zombies and mermaids(glad they kept the mermaid stuff in context with the myths that they entice the sailors and pull them into the water to kill them).

The film makes a serious misstep by spending the majority of its first act not on the high seas, but stuck in London. It’s an interesting idea on the page, but it makes the story and scope feel constrained. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), having come to London to kind-of rescue his friend Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and well as find out the person who had be impersonating him and claiming his accomplishments as his(imposter), instead falls in with former flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and is forced onto the ship of Blackbeard (Ian McShane). It’s been prophesized that Blackbeard will be killed by a one-legged man and he’s hoping to get to the Fountain of Youth so he can avoid that fate.
The story is especially tepid and makes no mention of the events that transpired in the original trilogy – none, whatsoever. Despite dumping most of the cast and significantly changing-up the formula, On Stranger Tides isn’t a spin-off or reboot -- it’s a true sequel.

The story picks up when Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) attempts to rescue his former first mate Mr. Gibbs from the British and is subsequently arrested. King George II (remember Uncle Vernon!) forces Jack to help guide the British soldiers to the fountain of youth – and reunites the loony pirate with his other former first mate-turned-enemy-turned-friend, Captain (now Privateer) Barbossa (played once again by Geoffrey Rush). The once treacherous pirate gets Jack up to speed, revealing that his beloved Black Pearl was destroyed in a clash with the notorious Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – who also seeks the fountain of youth. News of the Pearl’s demise sends Jack on a fearsome and over-the-top journey of revenge, treachery (of course), and adventure – not to mention new shipmates in the form of missionary Philip Swift (essentially the new Will Turner) and pirate Angelica (played by Penélope Cruz).
While not perhaps original, and not among his best, I did very much like Hans Zimmer's score, which was rousing and brought some much-needed energy. The characters are not the best developed, but they are fun and there aren't too many of them to interrupt the flow of the story, a big problem I found with At World's End, while the action sequences are both exciting and nail-biting on the whole.

I’m baffled at how screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott could so deeply misunderstand how Jack Sparrow fits into a movie. Yes, he’s always been the star, but he can’t work inside a vacuum. Sparrow needs the proper dynamic to be effective and the first three movies provided him with that dynamic by playing him off Will and Elizabeth. On his own, Jack is a static character. He can’t grow because he’s so carefully defined by his many idiosyncrasies that changing him risks ruining the character. Instead, it’s better to set him against characters who do develop and his presence becomes crucial in their development as he seeks to obtain his own goals.

Nearly every performance in On Stranger Tides is a muted version of that from prior installments – both in terms of new and returning characters. Depp is still charming as Sparrow but, as a result of the streamlined plot, he isn’t given a lot of room to do much but react to the supporting cast. Jack was always two steps ahead of everyone in the prior films but this round, he’s mostly just a gofer (as i have already mentioned in the above paragraph). Similarly, like in prior installments, the writers once again attempt to set up Barbossa with conflicting motivations – to keep audiences guessing about where his allegiances may lie. Despite the rich history between the two characters, the film fails to remind audiences of certain preceding events -- such as how Barbossa once again ended up captaining Sparrow’s beloved Black Pearl. While the details themselves aren’t especially important (since they were covered in the prior film), the lack of connective tissue is noticeable and serves as an example of how one-dimensional the characters and plot are this time.
It’s tough to blame Cruz or any of the cast when the characters are so poorly written. In previousPirates films, the villain at least engendered our sympathies. Barbossa and his crew of undead pirates were bad guys, but they were also damned souls whose punishment of spending cursed treasure was in excess of their crime. When Barbossa laments that he no longer feels the spray of the sea or the wind in his face, you pity him even if you can’t condone his actions. In the sequels, Davy Jones is also a cursed man whose broken heart turned him into a horrible monster. But there’s no sympathy for Blackbeard. Even when the film tries to build up the father-daughter relationship between him and Angelica, it undermines it with one of the worst scenes I’ve ever seen.

Well here is what happpens: Jack, Angelica, and Blackbeard have reached the island where the Fountain of Youth is located. They reach a chasm and the bridge has been destroyed so Blackbeard tells Jack to jump in below and reach the other side so he can obtain a pair of silver chalices needed to complete the extended-life ritual. Keep in mind that Jack is being carted along because they need him to find the fountain. Earlier in the story, Blackbeard compels Jack by using a Jack Sparrow voodoo doll. And yet when they reach the chasm, Jack refuses. The logical recourse for Blackbeard would be to use the doll and torture Jack until he jumps. Instead, there’s a stupid roundabout scene where Blackbeard does long-form Russian roulette with Angelica, Jack tries to stop Blackbeard by asking the party’s clairvoyant zombie pirate if he’ll survive the jump, the zombie pirate chucks the voodoo doll over the cliff, it survives, and so Jack jumps. Keep in mind: the entire time, Blackbeard needs Jack alive. Sparrow is neither expendable nor is he trustworthy but he’s the one who has to get the chalices. The stupidity of this entire scene would have given me a serious cardiac arrest.

With the Will & Elizabeth storyline pretty much wrapped up at the end of the last film, in place of Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightley are newbies Sam Claflin & Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as Philip and Syrena (he's a missionary man and she's a mermaid). Philip's main purpose seems to be getting slashed or stabbed. Whereas at least Syrena has an 'other-worldliness' about her and is interesting to watch, thanks to Bergès-Frisbey's portrayal of her. She's really quite something. Whilst spending most of her time in a water-filled box, her character *does* serve a purpose in the long run and helps Jack out (we also get to see her have an Ariel moment and gain legs on land). The 'love story' - if one can call it that - between the two characters is left open-ended. Sadly, the first and most fearsome of the mermaids who we meet - Tamara (played by Aussie Gemma Ward) - is only on screen for the briefest of times. I wish we could have seen more of her, as she really was entrancing. But, hey, at least we got to hear her pretty singing. Yes, like all the films before it, this one has singing (though nowhere near as lame/annoying as the gallows singing in the last film).
While not everything in thePirates sequels work, they at least have the audacity to go big. There’s a kraken, a long sword fight on a giant wheel, and an intense ship battle inside a massive whirlpool. Nothing in On Stranger Tides comes anywhere close to that scope. Rob Marshall is a competent director, but the film illustrates the tremendous contributions that previous director Gore Verbinski brought to the series. Verbinski knew when to make the scenes operatic, lighthearted, and knew how to pace a set piece. The chase through the streets of London is lifeless, the fight against the mermaids is too brutal to be enjoyable, and the swordfight between Jack and Angelica is pointless.

That swordfight also makes the grave error of calling back the first sword fight between Jack and Will in Curse of the Black Pearl. In Black Pearl, we already had an idea of who Will was and his personality. In On Stranger Tides, Angelica is impersonating Jack and kept entirely in shadow so it looks like Jack is just fighting himself, but that decision keeps the personality of the swordfight one-sided.

In Black Pearl, the reason Jack and Will fight is because Jack wants to escape and Will wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. There’s barely any provocation for the swordfight in On Stranger Tides. In Black Pearl, there’s fantastic choreography and pacing to the fight where it begins slowly, builds to incorporate more elements from the workshop, adds fun banter between Jack and Will, and then ends in a way where there’s a clear victor and we also get a hint about Jack’s pistol with one shot. The fight between Jack and Angelica is just two swords clanging against each other and then she throws barrels at him like Donkey Kong. And then they fight with the British army who show up for no particular reason. And then Jack and Angelica escape through a convenient trap door. And then they happen to wash up right where zombie pirate is waiting to put a blow dart in Jack’s neck.

Truly, the one stand-out scene from this film is the mermaid attack. It's very nicely shot, and quite creepy/tense/exciting. One thing the filmmakers have reined in a bit is the over-use of CGI. It's used to better effect here - the mermaid's tails, for example - rather than just tossing in as much of it as they can like they did last time. Where things end, yes, there's definitely room for a sequel...but really, is there much point at this stage? While this film is an improvement over the last one (and nowhere near as convoluted), it's still not what I'd class as 'great'. I much prefer the first two, but still, On Stranger Tides is an above average summer blockbuster that is still watchable. Depp, as always, pulls us into the picture with a consistently hypnotic performance, though it must be said that the chemistry between him and Cruz is less sizzling than we would like it to be. The decision to offload key but tiresome characters from the prequels as played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley gives the franchise a much needed facelift. In a nutshell, On Stranger Tides is one of those Hollywood movies that is not exactly bad, neither is it something that warrants a second look.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Iron Druid Chronicles: #1 Hounded

First time i'm reading something Druidic and Celtic myths related and The Iron Druid Chronicles #1 Hounded proved to be a real treat. Besides with a cover this gorgeous I knew I had to give it a chance (or should i specify in the mainstream dialect with a hot guy on the cover) .

Here is how the summary goes like:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

To sum it all up all the mythologies that ever existed upon this Earth is real, every myth is real....real God's of every other religion exists. The Tuatha De Danann, werewolves, vampires, witches, ghouls, gods, goddesses, demons, etc., though they are not "out" to the general human population. So far, this doesn't sound like anything special, does it? The key differences between this book and most of the others in this genre is that it is extremely well-written, the characters are fleshed-out and interesting, and most of all, there is a sense of humor and fun in this book.

And in the middle of it is our hero, the chronicles' protagonist the 2100 years old druid, Atticus O'Sullivan. Not that he lets anybody know his actual age. He likes to keep his acquaintances guessing. Also he is the last of his kind. So better to maintain the secrecy i suppose.

His appearance is that of a 21 year old, good-looking Irish guy. He lives in Tempe AZ, and runs a herbal and occult book store. He's got an enemy who is the Celtic god of love (who coincidently doesn't do his job for which he is appointed) who wants a mystical sword that Atticus took from him in a battle centuries ago, and who also wants Atticus dead. Periodically, as the god has located Atticus, he sends minions after him to kill him. In this story, he has located Atticus again, and decides to kill him personally.

As I mentioned above his main adversary is Aenghus Og the Celtic god of love who's hellbent on having the sword, but as the story progress you begin to wonder if he can trust anyone other than Oberon the dog with whom has a mental bond. Og isn't cupid by any means and is downright nasty is his pursuit of Atticus and Fragarach.

And although it mentions that all the Gods and Goddesses of every other religion that exists in this wide world but the primary focus of the story in this book was mainly the Celtic mythological pantheon, I really liked that elements of Native American, Slavic, Nordic and Indian mythologies were also included. I always wonder why more writers don't do that; there is such a wealth of mythological material in other cultures. I was glad to see it mentioned in this book; it made it that much more interesting to me. In his acknowledgments, Mr. Hearne jokes about giving the impression that his "backstory is remarkably thorough and well-researched", but in reality, that's exactly the impression the book gives without being the least bit pedantic.

You can tell the Hearne put a lot of research into his debut novel, however the need to make sure his readers understand Celtic mythology and history slow his pacing down a bit in the beginning of his novel. He info-dumps quite a bit in the beginning and while I appreciate that he didn't walk into writing about this blind, I think there could have been a better way to import the information to the reader than putting it in long drawn out paragraphs. It's mostly only done in the beginning and after you get further into the story you quickly forget about the small text book like portions you suffered through in the beginning to get to the real story. If you're a reader like me who's put off by sections of fiction like that I advise you to keep reading because I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

Hearne keeps his story moving but without rushing you through it. His entire cast of characters are funny and witty. While my favorite character was his dog Oberon that in this story can talk in Atticus's head and therefore served as wonderful comic relief, I loved the way Hearne created the characters in this tale of adventure. You could never tell for sure which side any of his allies were on, his main humanish friends are his werewolf and vampire lawyers that charge him for their time and this wacky Irish widow down the road, that mellows out her Sunday church sermons by drinking so much whiskey before she goes that she doesn't remember what's been said. Each character was well fleshed out with unclear motives that left you guessing and little quirks that enamored you to them.

Overall it was a very interesting read - something that a mythology junkie can't fail to miss out. Definitely have a god feeling about the next two books of the series


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries: #3 The Craving

Finally I get the book, the final installment in the TVD tie-in series Stefan's Diaries #3 The Craving. You definitely can't pass it up.

Here is how the summary goes like:

Blood brothers . . .After his brother, Damon Salvatore, betrays him in New Orleans, Stefan starts over in Manhattan. Vowing never to harm another human, he roams the streets, trying to disappear into the city’s chaos. But just when he thinks he’s left his past behind, Stefan discovers that he can never escape his brother. Damon has grand plans for the vampire Salvatore brothers—whether Stefan likes it or not. Together, they take New York by storm. When their exploits end up on the society pages, an old enemy resurfaces—one hell-bent on revenge. Based on the popular CW TV show inspired by the bestselling novels, Stefan’s Diaries reveals the truth about what really happened between Stefan, Damon, and Katherine—and how the Vampire Diaries love triangle began.

Again I remind you all that although the book cover mentions L.J. Smith, Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec but their is no concrete authors mention a.k.a a 'ghost writer'. Enough about the ghost writer lets see what we can discuss about the book without giving out any spoilers. 

After the disastrous events of the #2 Bloodlust where Stefan literally "tears-out" through New Orleans and Damon not wanting to have any part of this new life but ultimately the tables turn and viola we get the Stefan and Damon that we see today on the tv series. Stefan has embraced his new life and with renewed hope starts out in the 'big apple', more specifically Manhattan, New York. Trying to control that bloodlust by hunting small animals in the central park where he has made his home.

When he stumbled upon a blood-ridden young girl out in Central Park, where after saving her he brings her to her house for safety. What might have been seen as a good deed by a young man turns into something quite differently. Stefan soon finds himself getting involved in this girl's family whether he likes it or not, and he did because he yearned for some company and a sense of family.

The longer he seems to be around this new family, Stefan soon discovers that not everything it as it seems, and he comes face to face with Damon, whom has been masquerading himself off as an Italian Count and making mischief around the town. 
Coincidence? Or is one maybe planning on toying with the other? Stalking the other? They do both end up connected to a high society family - surely that is a coincidence? And as always they end up wondering if they are really each others biggest problems or if they need to play nice with each other -- if there are things out there so much bigger and badder they are, so maybe they at least to pretend to be friends again if only long enough to figure out what in the heck is happening around them.

It is clear enough the Damon is all too fond of his younger brother(not!) for making him a vampire. Stefan also knows that he should not have forced his brother to finish his transformation but it also shows that Stefan was the insecure one and was throughly not looking forward to an eternity alone. It is human nature to do things like this we can't really fault Stefan for that.   

Damon and his goals aren't the only thing they need to worry about, as a new enemy comes to town in search of revenge. This enemy is strong maybe even stronger than the two brothers together. Klaus's minion. Not the big boss himself. Now this is where the book takes a u-turn from the tv series. In the TV series Damon and Stefan have no knowledge of Klaus or his relationship with Katherine. So why in the book does Klaus send someone after them? It just doesn’t make any sense! If you’re going to have these as companion novels to the TV series then at least get them factually correct!

Another problem the Stefan’s Diaries version which has the brothers born and raised in 1864 Mystic Falls, but then the events that happen both in Mystic Falls and after bear almost no relation to those that occur in the TV series.

I have no problem with books and TV series being different, I love the original Vampire Diaries books and I love the TV series, partly because of the differences. But something like this that just keeps getting things wrong – for example the original meeting between Katherine and Stefan, which was shown so early in the TV series, that the author must have seen it, is just infuriating.

Once you get past that the books are alright. The writing standard has definitely improved and this book is the better of the three. The voice still is very modern, but at least the facts are correct. 
The plot is much better, the events were much more interesting, and it was a portion of Damon and Stefan’s lives that we’ve known nothing about prior to this.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This was a long standing to-read book on my digital shelf....and I've finally read it. And at best The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a brilliant piece of literature.

This is how the summary for the book goes like:

He was Quasimodo—the bell ringer of Notre Dame. For most of his life he has been forced to live in lonely isolation in the bell tower of the famous catheral—hidden away like a beast, banished from sight, shunned and despised by all. For though he was gentle and kind, it was Quasimodo's crime to have been born hideously deformed. But one day his heart would prove to be a thing of rare beauty. She was the dazzling Esmerelda. A dark-eyed gypsy girl who, the victim of a coward's jealous rage, is unjustly convicted of a crime she did not commit. Her sentence is death by hanging. Only one man had the courage to save her: Quasimodo.

It is a very famous story, and I find that much more people have “heard of it” than have actually read it. Most will just tell you – “isn’t this some kind of beauty and beast story?”. Well, actually it isn’t. This novel certainly isn’t a fairy tale. Rather, it is a touching and sad story (touching in a way that Hugo is a master expressing) about unfulfilled love. There are at least 3 unfulfilled love stories here, each one very different. Besides that, the plot tells of troubled times in Paris (and, I suspect, in whole of Europe) – what is rightfully called “the dark ages” – where each act of free thought was prosecuted by the church with one inevitable penalty – death.

Now, Contrary to popular opinion the novel Le Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo is not primarily about the deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo. Quasimodo's role is actually surprisingly small in the story, which makes you wonder why the English translater's chose "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" as the translation for the title. Actually, as the original French title would indicate, it is the cathedral itself that is the focus of the book. This is why in the unabridged editions of this book you will find numerous chapters that seemingly have nothing to do with the plot of the story.

It is a book narrowly focused on the Cathedral of Notre Dame situated on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris and, more broadly, on the 15th century city of Paris. This was a Paris where public executions or any form of punishment involving public humiliation were the highest forms of entertainment and drew the kinds of crowds that we would see at a major sports event today. If this book is not read with this in mind, the reader might well be disappointed because he came to it with a different sort of book in mind.

Now to the human aspects of the novel, the plot so to speak: There are no honest-to-god perfect angels in this book. After all, Esmerelda was a part of a band of thieves who came to public gatherings for the express purpose of seeing what they could "gather" for themselves. Quasimodo was not a misshapen humanitarian. He had been known to carry out a dirty deed or two himself. As for the rest of the characters, there's not a role model in the bunch. To Hugo's credit, we really care about Quasimodo and Esmerelda, "warts and all." This is one indication of good writing. Nothing that is not be expected by Hugo.

The dark, brood­ing and pun­ish­ing inter­ac­tions between the com­plex char­ac­ters are a mas­tery of sto­ry­telling. The rela­tion­ships of the char­ac­ters with them­selves are also part of this com­plex plot. Frollo’s struggle with Catholi­cism vs. desire and Esmeralda’s unwill­ing­ness to accept a revolt­ing crea­ture for his good heart are only a two exam­ples of what makes this story bril­liant. The story is pep­pered with a few twists, some humor (as much as will allow in the brood­ing story arc) with sar­casm and mock­ery galore.

The book’s most frus­trat­ing point, and the one which dis­cour­ages many sea­soned read­ers, is thepages upon pages of descrip­tive images, whether the streets of Paris down to the cracks (it seems) in the side­walks or the Notre Dame Cathe­dral, brick-by-brick almost. The pac­ing of the book moves unevenly, most of the novel takes place over a period of six month, how­ever the final chap­ters shoot for­ward a year and a half or two years.

What makes this novel a masterpiece, besides the poetic descriptions, is Hugo's description of the cathedral of Notra-dame and the city of Paris, and his discussion of how the arrival of printing press signaled an end to the importance as architecture as the expressive art of intellectuals. The views of the author expressed in these pages and pages of delightful reading provide the reader not only with historical and architectural prespective on the buildings in Paris, but also gives us a word image of buildings, roofs, rooms, carvings, modernism, and more. 

In his commentaries and comparisons between writing and printing as form of expression in contrast to architecture, Hugo unmasks a wide array of issues that arrival of every new media (TV, Cinema, Internet, Digital Photography) bring. How existing precepts and concepts are revised, how adaptations occur, how each age has its own expression through any of these means- and all Hugo says so passionately about architecture or literature allows us to feel the essence of why we make monuments of stones or words in the first place.

Victor Hugo had great skill in developing characters, and describing their lives over an extended period of time, capturing how situations and people led to certain choices, behavioral changes and thought process of each. His ability of doing this, in a very detached manner, where narrative is like a camera floating into a room, and staying long enough for a distant observer to watch and identify traits of every person present there, makes him a great novelist. The novel, like all classic reads, looks formidable in size, but can be read at a formidable pace, especially after the first half of the novel is over.

Besides an extremely well-written book, the main thing about this book is that it's heart wrenching and thought provoking. One of the best tragedies ever written, if you like to shed some tears while reading, then this is the right book for you.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"New York" - where dreams spring up alive!

Glee wrapped up its second season tonight with a trip to New York to compete at Nationals. New Directions has been working toward this moment for two years—despite frequently getting sidetracked by bullying, jealousy, and the sabotage of Sue Sylvester. It was darn near perfect, and the setting of New York City definitely only enhanced the episodes glamorizing features. Well, NYC was pretty much “the” glamour in the episode…Along with the cheese. Extreme cheesiness is found pulsating in this episode! And some unrealistic moments, even for Glee standards! But it’s all good…mostly. (emphasis on 'mostly')

Gleeks everywhere were rooting for the underdogs from Lima, Ohio to beat out 49 other show choirs, including Vocal Adrenaline.

Well, we knew it was kind of a long shot, right? Especially since they were still writing the songs hours before the competition(that definitely shows that New Directions was not prepared for that level of competition) but they are practicing procrastination like champs. We saw the level of competition they were up against when that Chelsea Handler look-alike belted out Usher.

But before we talk about Nationals, let’s talk about New Directions hitting New York. It was so much fun to see Rachel and Kurt have breakfast at Tiffany’s and sing “For Good” on theWicked stage. I would totally watch a Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine spin-off in New York. Anyway, Mr. Schue got in on the Broadway action too with “Still Got Tonight” (from Matthew Morrison’s new album).

Then there was Rachel and Finn’s classic romantic comedy date: flowers in Central Park, dinner at Sardi’s (complete with a Patti LuPone sighting), and then a romantic walk while being serenaded with “Bella Notte.” It was perfect until Rachel, who has spent this season pining after Finn, suddenly reverted to the Season 1 version of herself and decided the stage was her first love. It took the “Superman of kisses” to make her realize she can spend senior year with Finn before she leaves for New York.

Despite a few unrealistic moments, even by Glee standards, I thought it was a good finale. It didn't leave me with chills, or tears in my eyes, but it definitely had me chomping at the bit for next season. The original songs didn't live up to the high standards set by "Get It Right" and "Loser Like Me," but that was strategic. The songs were mediocre and that was why they weren't in the top 10 (note to self - the Directions: don't wait until the day before to prepare your Nationals routine, okay?)

Finchel drama is, has been, and will most likely always be the main point of “the drama” in this series. After all, these two are the obvious mainstream couple for the show. Although, in a time of trying their darndest to win Nationals, one would have thought that the two could have left the relationship drama behind in Ohio for the time being. The relationship drama literally ruined Nationals for them. I mean when you're up against a group of white dress wearing ladies belting an Usher classic club song and Vocal Adrenaline, headlining with Charice...well you are kind of screwed. I didn't know a kiss would be so vulgar on stage. That just seems really...stupid.

Quinn, baby, you need some help. She was all over the place in this episode just being a witch with a capital B. Your flimsy high school romance is not going to sustain beyond the four walls of McKinley High, mostly because she is too insecure with herself and her fears of failure and not achieving her dreams. She’s been rather shallow and selfish for a better half of this season. And can you believe that a damn haircut suggested by the absolute genius Santana and Brittany, made this chick “feel better”. She just seemed to be totally over it after that. That was a huge WTF moment. And just kinda poorly written. Or maybe that is all there is to Quinn. She’s just a spoiled brat that is likely to zimmer-down when approached with a slight change in appearance. REALLY (*incredulous*).

Quinn BIG PLAN was a total letdown - why say last week she has 'something big' planned and then it turns out she was simply waiting for Rachel and Kurt to go off on their own to get them suspended (how would she have known they'd do that)? Mr Schue is a dreadful teacher leaving the kids alone as often as he did, surely they would have needed another chaperone anyway (for the girls)?

Remember the epicness of last year’s season finale? Jonathan Groff and Vocal Adrenalin’s mind blowing performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was interspersed with scenes of Quinn giving birth. New Directions was facing off against their nemesis—Vocal Adrenalin, who was coached by Rachel’s bio mom. The kids came full circle and sang a medley of Journey songs, including the one that started it all, “Don’t Stop Believin.” Compared to that, I think “New York” fell flat. Obviously they set the bar so high last year that it was going to be nearly impossible to beat. Perhaps if Glee had shown more of Vocal Adrenalin (or other competing show choirs) during the course of the season, tonight’s competition would have had more tension.

Brittany was preaching the truth to Santana and her words made for a great summation. Church was in service as she nailed this season's theme of acceptance. Like Rachel and Kurt sang to one another, everyone in the glee club is who they are today because they met each other. They have been changed for the better for having met one another, just like I have been after watching this season unfold. 

Things that did not go to my liking in the finale - Rachel should not have kissed Finn like that...her and Jesse kiss in the previous "Funeral"...then at the beginning of the episode she tells Finn that she doesn't want any boy drama until the competitions finish.....and she goes and kisses Finn right on stage infront of the crowd....there by eating her own words....(i know i'm ranting but please Finchel has run its course a long time back, besides there is no chemistry between Finchel at all as opposed to St.Berry which oozes heavy-duty chemistry.....COME ON JESSE ST.JAMES IS HOT AND CLEARLY WANTED RACHEL BACK). Then the Vocal Adrenaline original "As Long As You're There" sung by Charice....they could have used the full song and made use of the background dancers a bit more instead of using just half of them. (I have no criticism for that all girl acapella group that belted out the Usher classic "Yeah!"....out of the three performances we saw in the episode they were the best.) 

Until next season aka september 2011, enjoy the reruns and look forward to the 3D movie. Next year, The New Directions are going to bring home the hardware!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Glee sometimes makes you laugh, and sometimes it makes you cry. Tonight’s episode—appropriately titled “Funeral”—was a full on tearjerker. With the death of a sweet character, a break up, and a heartless show choir consultant (although i'm pretty much biased towards him), there weren’t too many laughs to be found tonight.

It couldn't have been a more touching and emotional episode than we got tonight with the "Funeral". Go ahead and try. Hold your breath, make a wish and count to three, I'll still be drying my eyes over here.

So in a particularly emotional episode of Glee, Sue has a loss in her already small family. Jesse is even more of a douchebag. Will may actually be leaving New Directions. And tensions are flaring. Rachel is still longing for Finn when clearly Jesse stands in front of her in all his glory (for some reason when he was kind of a jerk to her).

It is revealed that Sue’s adorable and amazing older sister, Jane. And there is something rather disturbing about it all, especially seeing as how Sue doesn’t have any idea of how to deal with it. In steps Finn and Kurt (Furt). It is a story one can be sure others can relate to, not knowing how to deal. With some Glee-filled help fromNew Directions, Sue shows some much needed emotion. The entire funeral scene had a few friends and I weeping like morbid children. The performance of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” along side old videos of Sue and Jane had us all pretty much bawling. 

Apparently the touching words Sue wrote about her sister made Finn realize that Quinn isn’t the one for him. I can’t believe Quinn’s response was to bring up up the Prom Queen and King thing yet again. The real question is what are these “big plans” she has for New York? We now know what Mr. Schue has planned for his time in New York—Broadway! I’m glad the man with all the vests is taking the opportunity to follow his dreams. He promised Emma that “this isn’t forever,” and I’m taking him at his word that he’ll be back next year.

Kurt, Santana, Mercedes, and Rachel all audition to be the team’s lead star performers for Nationals, and Jesse along with his reality show judging, literally chewed out all of their amazing performances that ranged from Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”. All expect Rachel’s performance. Which one must admit, was quite a damn amazing performance of Barbra Streisand’s “My Man”(again I say....although the song was amazing but Rachel is kinda becoming annoying with this insistent pawning over a dumb and clueless Finn who wouldn't even know what Funny Girl actually is.....come on you should have seen Jesse's face when Rachel came onto the stage and he wanted to know if she wanted to sing it for somebody). Jesse looks to still be sticking around for the time being, doing what but sticking with Rachel (thank God!! Glee actually becomes a lot more interesting when Jonathan Groff comes on..... hallelujah.....), I have no idea. Does he have some sort of evil plan? Or is he really there for Rachel?

With the possibility of Will actually leaving the Glee club next year, Emma is preparing herself, emotionally. But I like many others doubt he’ll actually be leaving. And if he does, he’ll realize his mistake early next season and come racing back. I would actually love to see how that storyline goes. Becky will be Cheerio's captain next year! How awesome is that? And I am so glad she wasn't the one to perish in this episode. She's too fun and adorable to watch as Sue's most trusted minion!

As much as I enjoyed Jane Lynch’s performance in “Funeral,” this episode was such a downer and I think it slowed the momentum the show had picked up in last week’s prom episode. I’m really looking forward to next week’s finale at Nationals in New York. Hopefully we’ll get a few great performances and some resolution on all this couple drama.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

"As I Lay Dying"

Its finally done......the season 2 of the vampire diaries is finally over.....but not without leaving us with loads of questions. Thats right - after last week's episode with the climactic face-off with Klaus, the ritual in which Jenna, Elena and Jules were all killed, and John's sacrifice of his own life to bring Elena back, this week's episode aka the season finale "As I Lay Dying" seemed almost calm by comparison.

Don't get me wrong I love action but character development is also necessary, so any complaints that this episode did not have enough action will fall on deaf ears, as far as I'm concerned. The episode was packed from beginning to end. The biggest character moment was Stefan's apparent choice to leave his life in Mystic Falls, including his relationship with Elena, in order to save Damon.

Instead of massive amounts of death, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) slowly grows weaker as the poison of the werewolf bite consumes him. His brother, Stefan (Paul Wesley), goes to evil original vampire/werewolf hybrid Klaus (Joseph Morgan), quite likely the most dangerous being on the planet, as Klaus's blood is the only thing that can cure Damon. But Klaus will only hand it over if Stefan gives up the restraint he has carefully constructed and go wild evil himself. It's a tough decision. Can Stefan save his brother knowing that the consequence may be Stefan will not be able to stop killing innocent humans ? But even without watching we know what Stefan would do.

Long have viewers heard of the "evil" Stefan, who is a ruthless hunter, ripping out scores of throats of hapless victims. Never has he been seen. Klaus begins activating him by forcing Stefan to chug blood bag after blood bag, sparking the lust and powerful instincts within him. There is no telling if Stefan can come back from this. He has before, but it is unknown how. It is easy to believe Stefan is just playing along at first, knowing his limits. But to save Damon's life, Stefan may have passed what he can handle.
The series gave us a glimpse into Stefan's dark past on "The Dinner Party," but I never dreamed we'd see that side to him again. Remember his conversation with Elena on that episode? Where Stefan was said to be a monster in the original John Gilbert's diaries. And that's what he now is again. It was shocking to see Paul Wesley with blood tricking down his mouth this week, a sight only made more disturbing by the faint smile on Stefan's lips as he embraced the beast that had been bottled up for so long. A noble act to save his brother? Perhaps. But Katherine pointed out the other side to that seemingly benevolent coin upon delivering the cure to Damon: didn't Stefan also abandon Elena by doing so? And how many innocent lives, starting with that girl Klaus served up, will now die as a result of Stefan's decision?

Oh, the cruel irony. Damon chooses to accept his fate. Just as Stefan was paying the ultimate price for what he deemed to be his ultimate mistake - turning his brother - Damon was realizing that he has no one to blame but himself for the events in 1864. He was manipulated by Katherine back then, he made the decision to love her anyway and it was that triangle which sealed his and Stefan's future. An amazing job, as always, by Ian Somerhalder, bringing every painful emotion to the forefront as Damon lay dying.

During the scene with Klaus 'turning' Stefan by getting him to drink copious amounts of blood, I especially loved the way Katherine watched from the shadows. She was horrified at what was happening to Stefan, but as usual, she had self-preservation at the front of her mind and did nothing to try to stop him from joining Klaus. Nina Dobrev has done a great job throughout the series making Katherine and Elena into two distinct personalities; here she added layers to Katherine without needing any dialog at all.

While Katherine escaped the second she was able to leave, she somewhat unexpectedly followed through and delivered the cure to Damon. It was a less surprising move after she told Elena that it was ok to love them both. Katherine and Elena may both love Stefan, but they have strong feelings, at the least, for Damon as well.

In another reference to a previous episode, when Damon finally reached the end of his strength, it was Elena who came to him, holding him the way he held Rose when she died. Just as Damon's emotional walls were breached by Rose's death, watching Damon succumb to sickness from the werewolf bite brought Elena's compassion to the surface. Any feelings the two of them confessed for each other was obviously colored by the fact that he was about to die, but there will likely be some fallout in Season 3.
Speaking of lasting consequences, the really nasty plot twist was Jeremy’s death and Bonnie’s decision to use her powers to bring him back to life. This never, ever ends well, and Jeremy is already getting a taste of what it means to come back from the other side in this manner. I wasn’t expecting the dead to come calling, and it really felt like the tip of a really nasty iceberg. And it’s almost certainly going to have serious consequences for Bonnie as well. The consequences Bonnie was warned about turned out to be much creepier when later that night Jeremy found himself face to face with two dead girlfriends, Vicki and Anna. What this is all about remains to be seen.
On a seemingly positive note, we see Sheriff Forbes come to terms with Caroline’s nature, and recognize that vampires aren’t inherently evil. I doubt it’s going to mean a complete reversal of the town council’s stance on vampire hunting, and I’m sure this moment of amity will pass once Stefan starts his inevitable rampage.

The season has ended and we are left with a wealth of questions waiting for next season in the fall. What is going on with Jeremy and will he see more than just dead ex-girlfriends? When will Elijah be resuscitated so that we can meet the rest of his Original Vampire family? What will Sheriff Forbes do now that she has seen that not all vampires are automatically evil? With Stefan off creating chaos with Klaus, will the role-reversal be completed by Damon changing his ways after his brush with death? The show would lose a lot of what makes it so fun if Damon were to clean up his act entirely.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Prom Queen"......or King...o.O

Before I say anything......THE GROFF IS BACK .... Halleujah......I know what you guys are thinking that I have gone mad but I (and i'm sure a lot of you out there) practically have been waiting for Jonathan Groff's return to Glee. And it has finally happened.

Now before I go overboard let's return to the matter at hand....So this week in Glee was the episode titled Prom Queen, naturally prom is a right to passage in high school so naturally it was expected of the big guys on Glee to do a Prom themed episode. GLEE seems to have gotten off the preachy wagon and somewhat more on track with this week’s episode “Prom Queen”. Of course since there are lots of gay themes this week, conservative America led by the sow of the decade Victoria Jackson will consider this episode part of the dreaded “Gay Agenda”. Incidentally, if I could figure out what the “Gay Agenda” is I would figure out how I can make money from it! Actually this is an episode with a really nice message of acceptance at its core.

The episode as a whole was fine for what it was, touching on most of the hallmarks of a decent prom episode. We had our dateless drama, the spiked punch, the jealousy, the crushed dreams. You know, everything prom. Artie had an interesting journey in "Prom Queen," going from his "Isn't She Lovely" prom proposal to bad boy to prisoner of war. Lovelorn Artie was entertaining, but using him for Sue Sylvester's unfunny torture bits didn't work for me. It felt as though that entire portion was just squeezed into the episode to give Sue a few more punchlines, but the concept was too over-the-top to actually work.

Sue was back and wearing Spanx. Who knew? Loved how she told "Butt Chin" that the club should apologize to America for their rendition of "Run Joey Run." Great way for the writers to poke fun at themselves and address their critics at the same time.

As I already said before Jesse St. James returns this episode....Now he totally out shined Rachel on "Rolling in the Deep," which is OK, but really suffers without the amazing vocals of the original artist but it was a great scene.....he definitely knows how to make an entrance. Although he's nothing but trouble as we saw in the scenes for next week's episode but its going to be a relief from all the pinning Rachel does for Finn...ugh seriously they have no chemistry between them what so ever, besides I ship St.berry too much.

Rachel covers “Jar of Hearts” by Christina Perri and actually sounds amazing, but then again power ballads are kind of her trademark. The only thing about that song in this episode is it was used as the slow dance song at prom, and the song is actually about betrayal – so it was a bit of an odd choice, even though it really fit the story well.
Artie (Kevin McHale) does a really sweet cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” in an attempt to get Brittany (Heather Morris) back, but she’s still stinging from him calling her stupid so the attempt falls flat. Then poor Artie ends up in the clutches of Sue Sylvester for attempting to spike the punch at prom. Now let’s take a step back for a moment. There are a LOT of far-fetched scenes they have put Sue in, but a scene with her prepared to physically torture a student, much less a student in a wheelchair – what the hell are the writers thinking?

The other two prom songs in the episode are covers of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” which actually comes off as a fun danceable song (strangely, it’s better than the original), and Black Kids’ “I’m not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You.” “Dance with You” was fun and as always Blaine (Darren Criss) has a fantastic voice, but the song seemed a wee bit thin for his voice, and it wasn’t the usual swoon that he creates in practically every other number.

Aside from all the superficial relationships the series has done a fine job building a connection between the audience and Kurt Hummel. Some would say too much of a fine job since the attention Kurt gets is much of the reason why we're less connected to the other characters. That said, "Prom Queen" was most effective with Kurt's storyline. Since Kurt's return to McKinley, he's been mostly under-the-radar. In the two episodes since his comeback, he hasn't had much to do. This lulled us into thinking his problems at the school might be over, especially with Kurofsky owning up to his mistakes and backing off his bullying ways. Kurt made a point of this early in the episode, which in retrospect was foreshadowing what was to come.  
With so much attention put on the other contenders, I wasn't at all expecting Kurt to be named Prom Queen. Figgins' reading of the card, Kurt's reaction and the few audible, mocking cheers made this a powerful moment. It was the kind, without having it spoiled, that drops your jaw and forces you to lean forward in anticipation of what will be happening next. I liked seeing the three different aftermaths from Kurt, Quinn and Santana. This segment was done really well and helped remind viewers that while Kurt may get a lot of the screen time, this was a moment that affected a lot of people.

Kurt accepting his crowning with little more than a royal wedding quip didn't seem strong enough to elicit a "We're with you now!" slow-building ovation from the very students that jokingly crowned him in the first place. But it is television why spoil a sweet moment with reality?

So, after an enjoyable episode now only two more episodes are still left this season.......and Jesse stays in those two as well.......also from the trailers for the next episode it looks like Jesse and Rachel are going to get some action(if you can catch the drift)........................................ok I should definitely stop now...


Sunday, May 8, 2011


Its "hammer-time" folks.....yup Thor officially starts the superhero summer 2011. Marvel’s Thor is the toughest of the lead Avengers to bring to the big screen. He’s a cross between a space alien and a Norse god, he wields a hammer named Mjolnir instead of standard superhero weapons like guns or swords, and he wears a cape. Herein I admit i'm not really that familiar with the Norse myths as of the Greek myths but I sure would like to find out more after watching this movie.

Overall the story is pretty straightforward: Thor is the favored son of Odin over brother Loki, Thor is not shy about his position (poor self-esteem is NOT one of his problems), he disobeys his father, bringing danger to Asgard, is banished, and must somehow become “worthy” in order to regain his place (and power) in the kingdom.

The character could fall so easily into camp territory, but director Kenneth Branagh takes the bold approach of playing the character completely straight but still keeps the movie fun and light.  This balance of broad comedy and bombastic action mixed with straight-faced drama comes from the perfect combination of lead actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.

Decades after the Asgardian king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) makes a truce with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Odin’s son Thor (Hemsworth) is set to take the throne.  Thor is cocky, brash, and vainglorious—the polar opposite of his brother Loki (Hiddleston) who is quiet, calm, and calculating.  On the day of Thor’s coronation, a trio of Frost Giants interrupts the party by attempting to steal back a superpowered casket that Odin took as the spoils of war.  The thieves are quickly obliterated by a giant mechanical guard known as “Destroyer”, but Thor is thirsty for vengeance.  Along with Loki, female warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, and Ray Stevenson), Thor travels to Jotunheim, battles with the Frost Giants, and almost destroys the fragile truce that’s existed between the two realms.  Odin, disappointed with Thor’s actions, strips the warrior of his powers and banishes him to Earth.  Meanwhile, Loki remains in Asgard and continues to scheme his way to the throne.
Banishment sends Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth – specifically to the outskirts of a very small town in New Mexico and into the company of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Jane is an astrophysicist whose research lies outside the mainstream – she’s a bit of a free spirit (for a scientist). Working with her is a veteran scientist played by Stellan Skarsgård and a young, annoyingly goofy assistant played by Kat Dennings. They come upon the relatively de-powered Thor and can’t seem to separate themselves from his company.

Thor’s arrival was followed by that of the mighty Mjolnir, his magic-imbued (or here, in the film, more science than magic) hammer. Mjolnir comes to the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. and our favorite man in black, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Mjolnir can only be lifted/used by those who are worthy, and due to his being cast out, Thor is not able to retrieve it from the compound surrounding it.

The film has two very distinct personalities: Asgard (and the celestial realm) – and Earth (specifically, small town New Mexico). When the film is in Asgard and points beyond, it is completely engaging and engrossing. Complaints about how silly the costumes/armor looked in early photos will vanish, as they look like they completely belong. While there is a bit of humor, there is no tongue-in-cheek to be found in these off-world locations, and I for one was very thankful for that. 
Now watching the trailers, my biggest concern about Thor was how the film would handle the character’s life on Earth. Everything on Asgard looked grand, but I was worried that sticking the character on our planet without his superpowers would lead to a dull story that would strip away what makes the character unique. But Hemsworth’s performance always lets us know that Thor is there. He may not be summoning down lightning bolts, but Hemsworth conveys the character’s easy charm, rugged nobility, and astounding confidence to the point where we always see the cape and armor even if they’re not physically present. Thor’s attitude and the way he plays off astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) provides the bulk of the film’s humor and keeps the film from falling into tired “fish out of water” jokes.

Where Branagh keeps the movie serious is with Loki’s story. Thor may be the title character and the hero, but Thor is just as much about Loki’s origin. Hiddleston does an outstanding job of defining the character without having Loki fall into a predictable performance. Lesser actors would have turned Loki to either the familiar moustache-twirling schemer or put the character into a constant sate of petulant jealousy. But Hiddleston makes the wise decision to bring a great sadness and regret to Loki and that choice pays off in a big way. Hiddleston forces us to empathize with the villain and while the story is broad enough that there can be no debate as to whether or not Loki is the “bad guy”, we can also understand where the character is coming from and that his motives aren’t “Evil” in big flashing letters.

Anthony Hopkins is as regal and powerful as ever – and when early on he puts Thor in his place with a mighty bellow you’ll feel like maybe you should shut the heck up and pay attention as well. Ray Stevenson as “bulky” warrior Volstag is nigh unrecognizable under all that beard and hair but he plays the boisterous soldier well and with a touch of fun. Jaimie Alexander is a believable female warrior and acquits herself well – playing it strong while still seeming a lady.

A contender for “favorite character” in the film will be Idris Elba as Heimdall, the sentry and gatekeeper of Asgard. He is not on screen very long, but he’s a commanding presence every time he appears. He has a regal, noble, powerful sense about him that commands and holds your attention, and you’ll be wishing he had more screen time in the movie.
To his credit, Chris Hemsworth did a fine job playing the supremely arrogant Thor – arrogant even without his super-powers. He softened by the end of the film (a bit too suddenly, I think) but he was believable on both sides of the personality shift. He was very charming even in his arrogance. Natalie Portman didn’t really have a lot to do here and seemed like she could have been played by most any attractive young thirty-something actress – nothing really of note in her performance. Then again, she really wasn’t given much to do.

The film has some difficulty in squeezing in all of the supporting characters and relationships. The presence of SHIELD and the foundations for The Avengers are integrated far better than they were in Iron Man 2 and the film is even able to introduce a new Avenger without slowing down the plot. However, the relationship between Thor and Jane—the movie’s romance subplot—is kept afloat not because the characters spend so much time together, but because of the strong performances and chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman. The Warriors Three and Sif are also undeveloped and the movie misses a key opportunity to define the Asgardian warriors during the battle on Jotunheim.

There were multiple battles throughout the film to keep action-lovers sated, and although the final battle on Earth seemed a bit disappointing, the early battle with the Frost Giants from Jotunheim and a final face-off in Asgard are pretty damned epic. Especially in the former you definitely get a sense of the incredible power of Thor. If I have any complaints it’s that the fight scenes were shot in that uber-annoying, close-in, super-choppy-editing style.

Thus, while it is not perfect, ‘Thor’ is most definitely a worthy kick-start to the pantheon of superhero movies releasing this summer 2011.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Water for Elephants (book)

At first I wasn't really psyched about reading the book but thought that I probably should give it a try since the movie actually proves a little help to read both the book and watch the movie 'cause it helps to form an opinion while writing the review. And I definitely loved it. Now I'm ready to watch the movie. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is definitely a pleasant and an interesting read for the summer.

Here is the summary for the book:

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Water for Elephants is told in the first person but from two different perspectives--Jacob Jankowski at 23 years of age and again, at 93 years old. Gruen seamlessly weaves the chapters between past and present. Jacob at 23 is finishing up his last semester at Cornell Veterinary School when a family tragedy causes him to flee. He finds himself on a train for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in 1931. Needing a vet, the circus hires young Jacob to tend to their menagerie. Jacob at 93 resides in a nursing home where he laments the curses of old age, the passing of his wife, and the waning affection of his family. The arrival of a visiting circus triggers a flashback to his youthful circus experiences. 

The story is related in the somber tones of the Depression, the hardscrabble and often unscrupulous business of a traveling circus and the heartless despots who make their fortunes on the backs of men who must do anything to survive. Star performer Marlena, an equestrian, is sensitive to the needs of her horses, although her mercurial husband, August, the trainer, is obsessively jealous and given to unspeakable cruelties. Uncle Al, Benzini Brothers circus owner-by-default, is a ruthless businessman who cares little for man or beast, engaged in a quest for fame to rival the great Ringling Brothers. 

With his advanced training in veterinary medicine, Jacob does his best to protect the animals from their harsh existence, especially Rosie, an elephant purchased to replace Marlena's lead horse. Jacob and Rosie share an affinity for one another, the huge creature at times almost human. Because of his growing affection for Marlena, Jacob suffers August's increasing affronts, caught in a cycle of inevitable violence, certain of a reckoning.

1931 is a hard time for almost all Americans, and the circus workers are as hard hit as any. Most are one step away from being homeless and jobless. Conditions on the circus train are harsh for most. Many workers go weeks without being paid, and they tend to disappear during the night when times are tough (management has them thrown off the train). The menagerie is often times treated better than the workers. But the circus does provide three meals a day and a place to sleep--even it if might mean a horse blanket on a train bed floor. Jacob discovers very quickly that he's just about the only advocate the animals have and he must battle a ruthless owner (Uncle Al) and a crazy equestrian director (August).

Any circus has more than their fair share of interesting characters, and Gruen's circus is no exception. In addition to Uncle Al and August, there is Walter (the midget clown), Marlena (an equestrian with whom Jacob falls in love), and Grady and Camel (workers). One of the most sympathetic characters in Water for Elephants is Rosie, the elephant--who shares more "human" characteristics and feelings than some of the circus bosses. The tender-hearted Jacob quickly grows to manhood as he is forced to protect both animals and coworkers from abuse and worse.

In chapters that move flawlessly back and forth in time, from the rowdy circus atmosphere to the antiseptic corridors of the assisted living home, the world is viewed through Jacob's perspective, as he rages helplessly against the decrepitude of old age and the secrets of the past. In prose both poignant and infinitely tender, Jacob dwells in both worlds, revealing the wounds of the past and the sorrows of the present.

In one touching scene, Jacob awaits a family member to escort him to the circus, yearning for the Big Top with every fiber of his being, craving the familiar sights and smells of that pivotal summer of `31, the roustabouts, the kinkers, the rubes, the animals. The denouement is devastating, as inescapable as the indifferent world that turns a blind eye to the vagrants of the 30's. Yet Jacob's spirit retains the essence of his kind nature and a respect for others, a man who will not be broken by circumstances. All is redeemed in a coup d'grace that will leave the reader strangely satisfied and richer for having met this raggedy tribe of miscreants and lost souls.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena's and Rosie's pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it--and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely.

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