Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sara's Library: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books 2011

Summary from Goodreads: "A horrific family tragedy sends Jacob, 16, to a remote island off Wales, to the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, where he finds unusual old photographs. The children, one his grandfather, were more than peculiar, perhaps dangerous, quarantined for good reason - and maybe still alive."

I had expected this novel, which includes a number of strange, antique photographs, to read more like one of Brian Selznick's hybrid novels.  However, rather than using the photographs to propel the story forward as the illustrations in Mr. Selznick's novels do, here the photos simply serve to enrich the prose descriptions of the peculiar children and to legitimize the narrative as "true."  While some of the photographs were delightfully creepy and really did add to the narrative, I'd like to see the next installment come closer to being a hybrid.  

The novel moves along at a fairly fast pace, dividing its time between the present and the WWII era past of the peculiar children, which is a continuous loop of the day the home is bombed.  With the pacing as it was, there was little time devoted to character development, which was the biggest disappointment of the book.  Most of the peculiars are archetypes (the brain, the brawn, the dreamgirl) and more seems to be made of their peculiar abilities than of their personalities or histories.  As such, I found it difficult to become invested in the characters themselves, even the protagonist Jacob, who is a more relaxed version of the average shounen anime hero.  

That being said, the idea of combining the plot  X-Men with that of Bleach was an interesting one, as I'm sure many of us have often wondered what it would be like if mutants fought against supernatural monsters.  This first volume is executed well, despite its thin characterization, which will hopefully be improved upon in the next volume.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Once Upon a Time..For King and Country

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 5: "Good Form"
In the fairyback, we are introduced to Lt. Killian Jones, a member of some nation's navy, and his brother Liam, the captain.  They are under orders to set sail for Neverland, using a sail constructed of Pegasus feathers that allows the ship to fly, and retrieve a plant that is purported to cure any illness.  However, when the brothers reach land, they are greeted by Peter Pan, who, when shown a drawing of the plant, warns them that it is the deadly Dreamshade.  Liam disregards Pan's warning, and the brothers travel into the jungle in search of the plant.

When the two find the Dreamshade, they have an argument over whether or not to return with it.  Killian is apt to believe Pan and thinks it could be used as a weapon against opposing forces.  Wanting to prove to his brother that there's nothing to fear, Liam scratches himself with the Dreamshade and rapidly succumbs to its poison.  Pan reappears and tells Killian of a restorative spring that will heal his brother, but cautions that magic always has a price.  Killian brings the water to his brother, who immediately becomes healthy again, but Pan is gone.

The brothers return to their ship, determined to return to their kingdom and out the king's machinations.  However, once the ship reaches open water, Liam collapses and dies.  Furious with their king, the crew, now led by Killian, decides to become pirates.

As the main group continues to search for a clue in Neal's cave, Emma realizes that at some point he ceased to tally the days, indicating that he lost hope.  Worried that Henry will also lose hope, Snow suggests that they devise a plan to contact Henry.  David and Hook head into the jungle to gather vines for a trap, where they get into a fight over Hook's interest in Emma.  When the argument is about to come to blows, David collapses from the Dreamshade. Hook then claims that he knows of a sextant that will help lead them from the island, and he and David decide to search for it while the women prepare the trap.

Emma, Snow, and Regina lay in wait for a wild boar that is also being hunted by a Lost Boy.  When the boy nears the boar, Snow fires not at the animal, but at a net, trapping the boy.  Regina offers the boy a chocolate bar, hoping to coax him into giving them the information they seek, but he refuses it.  He claims that he's in Neverland because he doesn't want to go home.  Snow notices the scar on his cheek and asks why he would want to stay with Pan if it results in injury, and the boy explains that it was actually Henry who gave him the scar during  a duel.  With no other way of working with the boy, Regina removes his heart in order to control him and sends him back to the Lost Boys' camp with a magic compact with which they can communicate with Henry.  The plan works, though Henry must abandon the compact as Pan returns to camp.

Meanwhile, Hook and David climb the mountain to retrieve the sextant, David belittling Hook all the while.  When the two reach the precipice, Hook tells David to wait while he climbs ahead.  At the top, Pan is waiting for him.  Pan offers Hook a deal where Hook and Emma will be free to leave Neverland if Hook kills David.  Hook neither agrees to nor refuses the deal.  David, disregarding Hook's wish for him to wait, climbs to the top and unsheathes his sword, having overheard Hook's conversation with Pan.  But before he can incite Hook to battle, he collapses.  Proving that he's the better person, Hook retrieves the healing water and offers it to David, warning that he will never be able to leave Neverland if he drinks it.  Realizing that Hook concocted the sextant ruse as a means of convincing him to travel to the spring, David drinks the water and the two return to the others.

Reunited with the group, David claims that the Lost Boys beat them to the sextant and the two were ambushed, with Hook saving David's life.  The group, save Regina, toasts Hook's heroic act.  Emma thanks him for saving David, and Hook tells her he'd like a kiss as a reward.  After some back-and-forth, Emma kisses him before returning to the others.  Alone, Hook is met by Pan, who tells him Neal is alive and imprisoned.  Pan hopes this information will prove to Emma what type of man Hook truly is.

I enjoyed the backstory given to Hook, as it not only fleshed out his past by showing why he chose to become a pirate, but also exemplified his honor.  Rather than a straightforward revenge arc, it also demonstrated that Hook is genuinely concerned for his country and his crew, making him one of the more complex characters on the show.  I definitely look forward to seeing more of his early pirate days, though I doubt the writers will bring them to us unless the king somehow fits into the plot.  I sort of expect it to be another loose thread.

David proved himself, once again, to be a completely insufferable blowhard.  I continually struggle to understand how any viewers could enjoy his character, or what Snow might see in him.  I have to applaud Hook for saving David's self-righteous behind, as I don't think I would have been able to do so.  Hopefully, David will have learned a valuable life lesson here and change for the better, but I doubt it.  The writers seem only to know how to write their heroes as paladins.

Also, this whole "Captain Swan" business being perpetuated by the Internet just needs to stop.  I wouldn't categorize myself as "Team Neal," but I was appalled by the speed at which Emma moved on from her supposed true love.  Six episodes ago, she believes she saw Neal die and now she's initiating a kiss with Hook?  I can't be the only person who thinks that makes Emma a horrible person, right?  And angling for a love triangle between Emma, Neal, and Hook smacks of a daytime soap opera.  I know the ratings have been dropping this season, but I don't think this is the way to combat the problem.  On the bright side, the writers don't seem to have the attention span to continue arcs for more than a few episodes, so I'm sure this will resolve itself by mid-season.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Father and Son

I realize that I am now several episodes behind this season.  Between various Halloween events and a three day convention for which I was one of the event organizers, I have been very busy of late.  I am going to try to have episodes 4 and 5 up in the next couple of days, then a much-needed book post, followed by episodes 6 and 7.

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 4: "Nasty Habits"
In the fairyback, Rumpel keeps Bae as a prisoner in his own home, refusing to let him roam freely for fear someone will hurt him in an attempt to get to Rumpel.  One day, Rumpel returns home to find him missing, so he goes to the nearby village in search of him, where he discovers the villager's children have been led away by the pied piper.  He waits until nightfall, when the piper plays again, and follows the children who are lured from their homes.

Reaching a clearing in the forest where masked youths dance around a bonfire, Rumpel searches for Bae.  The piper reveals himself to be none other than Peter Pan, who Rumpel knew as a boy.  Pan tells Rumpel to ask Bae who he would like to stay with, but fearing rejection, Rumpel magically transports Bae back to their home.  Bae tells Rumpel that, had Rumpel asked, he would have chosen him.

In the present, the conjured Belle warns Rumpel of the prophecy that foretells his death.  Rumpel feels the only way to atone for his past misdeeds and the loss of his son is to save Henry, even if it means he will die.  Meanwhile, Neal is found and captured by Felix, who seems to be a higher-ranking Lost Boy, but Neal manages to untie his restraints and escape.  As Rumpel stalks through the forest, he comes upon two Lost Boys, upon whom he casts a spell.  Neal comes up behind him, and Rumpel attacks (much as he did the conjured Belle several episodes ago), certain that it is a trick of Pan's.  After reassuring Rumpel that it is truly him and he survived the gunshot wound, Neal is released and the two continue the search for Henry together.

As the rest of the Storybrooke gang plans their strategy for attacking Pan, Tinkerbell is disappointed to learn that they have no exit strategy.  She reminds them that no one ever leaves Neverland without Pan's permission and implies that their planning is futile if they can't escape.  Since Neal had previously escaped from Neverland, Hook hopes to find some clue in the cave where Neal once lived.  The walls are covered in drawings and tally marks, none of which make any apparent sense to the group.  Emma finds a coconut that has been crafted into a lantern of sorts that shows the constellations.  She hopes that Hook can use it to devise a way off the island, but he states that it's coded and only Neal would know the meaning.  Devastated, Emma runs into the woods.  Upset by the fact that she has no idea how to comfort their daughter, Snow turns to David, saying she would react the same way if he were to die.  Knowing that he will likely die of the dreamshade poison, but still refusing to tell his family, David tells her she would have to be strong for Emma and Henry.

At the Lost Boys's camp, Pan notices that Henry is not an active participant in the boys' songs and games.  He plays his pipes for Henry, but the boy hears nothing, as he does not yet consider himself lost.  Two boys arrive with information for Pan, who excuses himself from Henry.  The boys report that they have seen Rumpel and Neal working together.

Soon after, Rumpel and Neal arrive at the camp.  The two use a two-pronged formation, with Neal stalking behind Pan with a bow and arrow.  When Neal fires, Pan easily catches the arrow in his hand, exactly as  Neal had predicted and hoped, for the arrow was coated in a squid ink that immobilizes magic.  Pan claims that Rumpel is only there to kill Henry, an attempt on his part to distance the duo.  The two flee with Henry, and once a sufficient distance from Pan, Neal demands an explanation. Despite Rumpel protesting that he has changed and no longer plans to harm Henry, Neal is skeptical.  Neal orders Rumpel to give him the dagger for safekeeping as proof that his father has truly changed, but, Rumpel's shadow having hidden it, Rumpel cannot comply.  Neal takes his father's hand and dips it in the ink, then leaves with Henry.  When the spell wears off, the conjured Belle warns Rumpel of falling into his old habit of self-preservation, but he imagines her away.

Neal is captured by the Lost Boys and Henry returned to Pan.  While Neal insists that he can escape from Neverland again, but Pan hints that it was a part of his scheme to allow Neal to escape, meet Emma, and sire the truest believer.  Once Henry wakes, Pan plays the pipes for him again.  Henry, able to hear them now, joins the other boys dancing around the campfire.

I was disappointed to learn that this was one of the least-watched episodes in the show's three seasons, as I thought it was one of the best thus far this season.  Both Robert Carlyle and Michael Raymond-James have proven that they are assets to this show, so any episode where the two get to interact is likely to be one of the better ones.  That being said, I did have a couple of things to nitpick.

Given the animosity between Pan and Neal, I found it a bit unrealistic for Neal to believe what Pan said about Rumpel.  Yes, I realize that the relationship between Rumpel and Neal is extremely strained and that Neal has yet to see a positive side of his father, but I would think that even given those factors, he would believe Rumpel before Pan.  Of course, it was far more dramatic to have Neal immobilize his father, but I hope in future episodes, he'll reflect more on who is the greater evil: Rumpel or Pan.

A minor issue for me was how quickly Henry was able to hear Pan's pipes.  I imagine it's an issue with pacing, but it doesn't seem like he should go from feeling hopeful to feeling forsaken in the span of the same episode.

There were probably other minor details that annoyed me, but it's been a few weeks since I watched this episode, and they're not immediately coming to mind.  I hope that Henry won't be the death of Rumpel because this show would be quite dull without him.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dream Factory: The Polar Bear King

The Polar Bear King
Director: Ola Solum
Original release date: Capella International/Nordisk Film & TV Fond 1991 (Norway/Germany)
US release date: Hemdale Films 1994
US DVD release date: Mill Creek 2011
Streaming: Hulu
Rating: Not rated
Grade: C+

From IMDB: "After his father is killed, King Valemon ascends the throne, only to be turned into a polar bear by a bitter witch who wants to be his queen. Valemon must find a bride in the seven year span that he'll be a polar bear, and so he travels to Winterland and finds a wife to take home. Although they are happy, she is not allowed to look upon his face when he turns back into a man at night. When she breaks this rule, Valemon will be trapped to the witch forever."

The Polar Bear King is a very straightforward, faithful adaptation of the fairy tale "Valemon the Bear King," which has striking similarities to "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."  As a family film, I did not expect the text to be subverted in any way, but I was a little disappointed that there was no new spin on the story.  The characters were all extremely archetypal, as in the original tale, and I feel I would have better enjoyed the film had the characters been fleshed out and developed into individuals particular to the film, rather than stock characters who could be inserted into nearly any fairy tale.  But for those simply looking for a film version of "Valemon," it's well-made and enjoyable.

The version streaming on Hulu is the English dubbed version, so I cannot speak of the original Norwegian audio, but I found the dub rather distracting.  It's far from being a terrible 1960's dub such as was given to Speed Racer or Godzilla, but it is obvious (to adults, at least) that it's a dub.  The voices don't quite fit the characters, and the acting is often rather wooden and detached.

As for more technical aspects, the special effects are beginning to show their age.  I read somewhere that Jim Henson's Creature Shop was involved with the animatronics.  For comparison, the effects used in The Storyteller seem to have aged better, but it's been a few years since I watched that series. The costumes and sets are both decently constructed, though not nearly as elaborate as what one would expect from a Hollywood film.  It all reminded me very much of the production values of the BBC adaptation of the Narnia books.

The Polar Bear King is well-suited to families looking for all-ages fantasy fare, but not for those looking for an innovative spin on an old classic.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Once Upon a Time...With Just a Pinch of Pixie Dust

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 3: "Quite a Common Fairy"
In the fairyback, Regina, newly married to Snow's father, leads a sorrowful existence.  While Rumpel instructs her to channel her anger into her magic, Regina instead thinks of suicide.  When a bannister falls away and Regina plummets to her death (deliberate or not), a fairy appears and rescues her.  The fairy, Tinkerbell, goes with Regina to a pub, where Regina talks about the problems in her life.  Tinkerbell, certain that all Regina needs is to find happiness again, promised to help her.  Upon returning to the fairies' dwelling, however, the Blue Fairy commands Tinkerbell to abandon the endeavor, claiming that Regina is beyond help and in the grasp of Cora and Rumpel.  This only serves to convince Tinkerbell all the more that Regina needs her help.

That night, Tinkerbell steals pixie dust from the fairies and goes to Regina's room, where she sprinkles it on her.  The two fly away, following a trail of green dust to Regina's soulmate.  The dust leads them to a tavern; Tinkerbell goes inside first to determine who the dust indicates, and returns to Regina, telling her to speak to the man with the lion tattoo on his arm.  Tinkerbell then flies away, leaving Regina to her future happiness.  However, Regina panics and runs away without ever entering the tavern, let alone speaking to the man.

Arriving back at the fairies' dwelling, Tinkerbell is chastised by the Blue Fairy, who is aware of all Tinkerbell did.  Tinkerbell argues that they were taught to believe in second chances, but the Blue Fairy counters that this was Tinkerbell's second chance before stripping her of her wings and magic.

In Neverland, the narrative is split between Henry and the group searching for him.  Henry is forced to play William Tell by Pan and his Lost Boys.  He expects to be the "victim," but instead is given a crossbow and told to fire the apple off another boy's head.  Instead, Henry fires at Pan, who catches the arrow.  Pan then explains that he's been waiting for Henry since he was born, as Henry is the only one with a strong enough belief in magic to restore it to the dying lands.  Henry argues that Emma is the savior, but Pan explains that she is only such for having birthed Henry, a child equally of light and darkness.  He then gives Henry a slip of paper, upon which is a drawing of Henry with the caption "The truest believer", seemingly drawn long before Henry was born.

As the group searches for Henry, they realize that his location on the map has changed, indicating that Pan's camp is on the move.  Hook suggests finding Tinkerbell, whom he has worked with in the past, and asking for her help.  All but Regina are in agreement.  Regina tries to convince Emma to combine their magic and attack Pan head-on, but Emma refuses, fearing for Henry's safety.  The group press on, with Regina hanging toward the back.  She drops her handkerchief, which is picked up by someone who apparently is tracking them.

Hook pulls David aside, and the two discuss his wound.  With only weeks to live at most, Hook advises David to tell Snow, but David does not, believing if they find Tinkerbell and her pixie dust that he will be cured.

Having reached Tinkerbell's home, Regina remains behind, stating that she's sure Tinkerbell will refuse to help if she knows Regina is with them.  As the rest of the group moves on, Regina waits on a log and is soon after knocked out with poppy dust by noneother than Tinkerbell.  Finding her house empty, the others return to find Regina missing, only her handkerchief left behind.

Tinkerbell holds Regina at spearpoint, demanding to know why she lied about the pixie dust failing to work all those years ago.  Regina admits that she was afraid to enter the tavern, and Tinkerbell explains that because of her she lost all of her magic.  Regina removes her own heart, showing Tinkerbell how black it has become.  She explains that if Tinkerbell kills her, Tink will be no different than her and her own heart will grow black.  But if Tinkerbell helps her to find Henry, she will be the good fairy she always wanted to be.  Tinkerbell returns Regina's heart, but refuses to help.  At that point, the others find them and convince Tinkerbell to help, although they are disappointed to learn that she is human.  As they resume their trek, Tinkerbell tells Regina that she didn't just ruin her own life by not entering the tavern but the life of the man with the lion tattoo, as well.

Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Neal searches madly for a magic device that can lead him to Neverland, certain that something has happened to Henry.  Robin Hood's band of Merry Men enter the room, along with Robin's son, Roland, and Neal realizes that Roland is the key to Neverland.  After convincing Robin that his plan will not endanger Roland in any way, Robin reluctantly agrees.  Robin, Neal, and Mulan hide behind various pieces of furniture, while Roland stands at the window and says, "I believe."  After nothing happens immediately, Neal asks Roland to say it again, but Robin reminds him that the deal was for him to say it only once.  Suddenly, the shadow appears to take Roland to Neverland.  Mulan stabs it and pulls Roland to safety, as Neal lunges at its foot and it taken to Neverland.

Robin invites Mulan to join his Merry Men, impressed by her tactical skill, but she says there is someone she must speak with first.  Remembering how Neal regretted not having told Emma he loved her, Mulan resolves to tell her special someone.  Returning to Aurora's palace, she says that there is something she must tell her; Aurora also tells her she has news to share.  Letting Aurora tell first, Mulan is stunned to learn that Aurora is pregnant.  Visibly upset, Mulan tells Aurora that she will be joining the Merry Men, rather than confessing her unrequited feelings.  Returning to Rumpel's castle, Mulan is welcomed by Robin, who is the man with the lion tattoo.

I was so glad that Regina received some much needed character development this episode!  It was a great move to explain her motivations for becoming a villain and her fears of remaining unloved and alone.  I felt this was something most people could relate to, and it really served to humanize Regina, who for so much of the series has been unjustly considered "evil."  The one thing this show consistently does well is to create sympathetic villains, characters who are truly grey.  I wish the same could be said of the heroes.

Speaking of which, the Blue Fairy demonstrates once again that good simply means self-righteous blowhard in the world of Once Upon a Time.  I found utterly ridiculous that Tinkerbell was chastised for attempting to help someone who quite obviously was in need of help simply because of said person's associates.  And, of course, for Tinkerbell to have been punished as she was just serves to emphasize that sometimes the real villains are those professing to do good.  Unfortunately, I think the writers are unaware of this since all of their supposed "good" characters are written in this way.

Tinkerbell, as she was portrayed in the fairybacks, is the closest example of true good yet to be seen on the show.  Someone who genuinely wants to help all people, regardless of their past deeds or associates.  And, while I enjoyed the jaded Tink in Neverland, I really hope that something along her journey inspires her to return to being the idealistic person she was.

I have seen numerous articles popping up about Mulan's sexuality, and while I applaud the portrayal of a character outside of hetero-normative behavior on a so-called family program, I think it was too easy to insert queerness into Mulan.  Perhaps it's even expected.  While other female characters on the show have shown battle prowess, none of them wore men's armor or served in the military, so there is already an expectation that Mulan is somehow "other."  And, yes, her appearance on the show is more feminine than that of the film, but we never see her in any other garb.  I think it would have sent a stronger message of acceptance to have outed an overtly feminine character, a princess type.  And it would be even more powerful to have her love returned.  While I enjoy drama as much as the next person, this smacked a bit too much of the tragic lesbian novels written in the mid-twentieth century.  This show has claimed time and again that everyone deserves a happy ending, even Rumpel, even Regina.  So what about Mulan?  I hope she finds her happy ending by series end, regardless of where her new lover falls on the spectrum.  Ideally, though, the person will not be a cis-man, as that would be back-pedaling, and Mulan deserves better.  Once outed, she should remain so.

My only real complaint with this episode was that, once again, the writers are rushing things by having Neal reach Neverland already.  While I'm excited to see what transpires with Neal returning to a place from which he fought so hard to escape, I wish the writers would pace themselves.  I don't want Henry to be rescued by mid-season and a new evil come forth, like last season with Cora and the mundies.  I know that mainstream audience's have terrible attention spans, and the producers and writers want the show to remain accessible to the lowest common denominator, but I think slowing down a tiny bit wouldn't be that detrimental to the audience-at-large and would be a great help to show.

I apologize if I sounded a bit ranty this week.  It was a good episode (one of the better ones without Rumpel), and I think it made a good deal of progress with some of the characters who typically don't get the attention they deserve.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sara's Library: Perfume

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Original German edition: Diogenes 1985 
First US edition: Alfred Knopf 1987
Translated from German by John E. Woods
World Fantasy Award for Best Novel 1987
PEN Translation Prize 1987

Summary from Goodreads: "In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift: an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. 

But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin."

While Perfume was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, it is not what one generally expects of fantasy.  There are no mythical beasts, no supernatural events, or the dealings of gods and men.  Instead, it reads much more like a fairy tale with only the vaguest hints that any of its events or characters are unlikely to exist in our reality.  Like a fairy tale, we suspend our disbelief and accept that in the world in which Grenouille dwells this is simply how things are.  Grenouille's superhuman sense of smell is likely the reason the work has cemented its place in the realm of the fantastic, as well as one scene near the end where a scent he has concocted completely overwhelms the will of those in its proximity.  Those two items aside, the novel reads like an historical mystery.

What made this such a notable work was definitely the strength of Mr. Suskind's descriptions.  With a protagonist who understands the world best through scent it was integral that the writing be able to convey a sense of olfactory image, and Mr. Suskind does a stunning job doing just that.  Whether describing fragrances and perfumes or stenches and odors, the prose truly brings Grenouille's world to life.  

With Grenouille portrayed as such a loner and outsider, it could be difficult for some to connect with the text; however, the dry humor and comic peripheral characters will keep most interested, if not the writing itself.  Although the story descends into rather grim territory (murdering virgin girls to create the perfect scent), the novel never feels like horror, instead often feeling as light as one of Grenouille's perfumes.

A genre-defying work showcasing tremendous writing, I must recommend Perfume to any with an interest in the fantastic, the dark, or the historical.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Alone in the Wilderness

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 2: "Lost Girl"

Rather than the four-way split between Emma and company, Henry, Neal, and Rumpel that we had in the opener, this week the narrative is split between Emm and Rumpel in the present, along with a fairyback involving Snow.

In the fairyback, Charming awakens Snow with true love's kiss, and the lovers soon after try to rally a group of villagers against Regina, but to no avail.  Regina offers Snow's group a chance to live happily in exile, confessing that she's been unable to kill Snow.  Snow wants to accept the offer, but Charming tries to persuade her not to.  Charming goes to Rumpel for a solution and is told of a magic sword that can be wielded only by a kingdom's true ruler.  Charming returns to Snow and convinces her to search for said sword with him.

The two find the mythical sword in the stone, and while Charming is unable to remove it, Snow is able to do so, proving that she is the rightful ruler of her kingdom.  The group return to the village, where Regina awaits her answer.  When Snow refuses the offer, Regina uses a spell to choke Grumpy; Snow, with newly discovered courage, uses the sword to free him, scratching Regina's cheek.  A stunned Regina promises that this means war.

Snow searches for Rumpel, wanting to pay whatever price Charming had agreed to in return for the sword.  Rumpel reveals that the sword cannot be Excalibur, which is still in Camelot, and leaves only the hilt in Snow's hand.  He then takes her mother's necklace as payment for wasting his time.  Snow returns to Charming, upset that he lied to her, but after he explains that it was the only way to convince her to stand up for her people, she forgives him.

In Neverland, the group travels through an overgrown jungle as they begin their search for Henry.  As the group reluctantly sets camp for the night, Emma wanders away, following the sound of rustling.  She meets Peter Pan, who gives her a map that he claims will show her the path to Henry.  However, the map is blank, which Emma points out to Pan.  He then explains that it will reveal itself to Emma only when she accepts her true identity and warns that no one else it to tamper with the map.  Emma returns to the group with the map, but after relating her history aloud to the map, nothing happens.  Regina then casts a tracking spell on the map, despite the others' protests.

As the group follows the map into the heart of the jungle (against Hook's better judgment), they are ambushed by Pan, who chides Emma for breaking the rules, and his Lost Boys.  During the battle, Charming is stabbed with poison, and Emma noticeably holds back from killing one of the boys.  Afterwards, Snow asks Emma why she didn't follow through, and she confesses that she saw herself in the boy.  She then relates how abandoned she felt as a child, always wondering why she had been placed in an orphanage.  Only when she admits to being an orphan does the map reveal Henry's location.  Pan reappears to congratulate Emma, but also to warn her that she truly will be an orphan before he is done with her.

Rumpel, meanwhile, cuts away his shadow and orders it to hide the Dark One's dagger where even he can't find it.  Afterward, he's surprised to discover Belle in the jungle.  Convinced that she's an illusion conjured up by Pan to spy on him, he begins to strangle her, while she pleads with him to stop, explaining that he conjured her himself.  He realizes that she is telling the truth, as she often fulfilled the role of his conscience, and he is struggling with whether to kill Henry and change his fate, or to save him and die.  Belle assures him he'll do the right thing, but only if he lets go of the past that's haunted him since childhood.  Rumpel was himself abandoned by his father and continued the circle of neglect by abandoning Bae.  Belle disappears, and Rumpel throws a straw doll made by his father over a cliff into the sea.  As he continues through the jungle, the doll hurtles back toward him; he burns the doll.  Again it finds its way back to him.  Realizing that he can't simply destroy his past, he pockets the doll.

This episode was a mixed bag for me.  The Neverland events were dramatic, but the fairyback seemed to be completely unnecessary.  Traditionally, the fairyback has involved events paralleling those the same character is facing in the present day.  Having a fairyback involving Snow coming to terms with being a ruler, while Emma comes to terms with being an orphan, was a bit of a stretch.  The events leading up to the battle between Snow and Regina have mostly been explored; I don't feel there's new territory left here.  And the current story arc belongs to Emma and to Rumpel.  Snow is a supporting member of this story, as far as I'm concerned.  Unless the fairyback serves to develop her character somehow, it's totally superfluous.  We would have been better served by a flashback of Emma's orphaned childhood, or even more of Neal's life in Neverland than the bit of Snow's history that we were given.

What this episode did correctly was demonstrate to the audience how both Emma's and Rumpel's childhoods have affected them, especially given their current location on Neverland.  Rumpel may not have said it aloud, but he's as much of an orphan and lost boy as Emma, if not more so, given how his past has haunted him and led him to make debatable life choices.

I especially enjoyed the symbolism behind the straw doll.  Despite Rumpel's best efforts to destroy the doll, he fails repeatedly, ultimately deciding to stuff it in his jacket pocket.  One's past, of course, cannot simply be destroyed or buried because it adversely affected one.  Rather, the past remains connected to an individual's every action, whether he's conscious of it or not.  The pocketing of the doll, then, is Rumpel's realization that he cannot escape his past, but instead must own it.

I hope that in future episodes the writers realize that fairybacks are only useful when adding depth to the characters.  Honestly, if they focused only on current events in Neverland, Storybrooke, and the Enchanted Forest, there would be more than enough story for one season.  Shifting the narrative to the past only serves to weaken the plot, or at least it did in this particular episode.  Neverland, being a place where unwanted children find themselves, provides a great opportunity to explore the damaged psyches of Emma and Rumpel.  Don't miss this opportunity, writers!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dream Factory: Bluebeard

Director: Catherine Breillat
Original release date: Arte 2009 (France)
US theatrical release: Strand Releasing 2010
US DVD release date: Strand Releasing 2010
Streaming: Netflix
Not Rated

Summary from Seen That: "An adaptation of the classic tale of a wealthy aristocrat with a blue beard."

Review: The narrative of Perrault's fairy tale is set in 17th century France here, where two sisters, Anne and Marie-Catherine, have recently lost their father.  The tale continues in much the same way as the original, with the younger sister marrying Bluebeard and discovering his secret chamber of horrors.

The narrative is framed by two sisters in the 1950's, Marie-Anne and Catherine, reading the story aloud in an attic chamber.  The younger is rather sassy, and, despite the pleas of her elder sister to stop reading the tale, she continues to read, the end result of which is tragic.

The entire film is rather understated, the performances of the leads muted.  To be perfectly honest, nothing in particular jumps out or demands a second viewing in order to parse together some meaning.  The telling of this timeless tale is very straightforward; no non-linear storytelling or juxtaposition of narratives to clearly delineate perceived parallels.  Nearly every scene with the 1950's sisters clearly depicts them reading the tale, save one.  In said scene, Catherine has reached the point in the story where Marie-Catherine enters the forbidden room to find bloody corpses hanging from the ceiling.  But, rather than the scene portraying Marie-Catherine in the room, it is Catherine that we see.  And it is this scene alone that emphasizes the parallels between Marie-Catherine and Catherine, so that when both lead those they love to tragedy, we recognize their similarities.

For those interested in fairy tale adaptations, it's a serviceable film; however, I would not go out of my way to watch it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Once Upon a the Eye of the Storm

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 1: "The Heart of the Truest Believer"

At the end of season two, Henry had been whisked away to Neverland by Greg and Tamara; Neal had been shot and fell through a portal to the Enchanted Forest; and our gang of six was about to set sail on Hook's ship to rescue Henry.  In this first episode of season three, the narrative shifts between these three storylines, leaving the happenings in Storybrooke for future episodes.

The Lost Boys come to claim Henry very soon after the trio arrive in Neverland.  Tamara and Greg finally learn who they are working for and why, which results in feelings of betrayal on their part, and a battle with the Lost Boys that does not end well.  Henry flees into the jungle, where he meets a Lost Boy a bit older than him who claims to have escaped from Pan with some pixie dust, although he cannot get it to work.  The two spend the rest of the episode dodging the Lost Boys until Henry is forced to use the pixie dust when the two are trapped between a sea cliff and the pursuers.  With his belief in all things magical, Henry is able to fly away with the other boy, only to discover that the boy in question is Pan himself and this was all a set-up to test whether or not Henry was the "truest believer."

Neal wakes up on the shore of a beach in the Enchanted Forest, surrounded by Mulan, Aurora, and Philip.  At first they are distrustful of him, but when he reveals that he knows Emma and Snow, they relax.  Aurora offers to try to reach Snow through the dreamworld that linked the two worlds together, but cannot reach anyone.  Neal and Mulan then travel to Rumpel's castle, where Neal hopes to find something that may aid them in reaching Emma.  Once at Rumpel's castle, they meet Robin Hood, who has taken over the castle since the curse was first cast.  Much of the castle has been ransacked, but, using Rumpel's shepherd crook from his pre-magic days, Neal is able to unlock a secret passage through blood-magic.  Inside, he finds a crystal ball that reveals to him that the others have traveled to Neverland.

Meanwhile, Rumpel abandons the group to search for Henry on his own, stating that he won't be held back by the others' lack of belief.  Once on the island, he finds the site of the battle between the Lost Boys and Henry's kidnappers.  Despite a gravely injured Tamara's pleas for mercy, Rumpel removes her heart.  A Lost Boy delivers a message of welcome, though he warns Rumpel not to pursue Henry.  Rumpel replies that he knows he will die, but plans to kill as many Lost Boys as possible along the way.

Those remaining on the ship continually argue with each other, as mermaids attack the ship and call down a storm.  After capturing one of the mermaids, the group debates whether to kill her or let her go.  Regina turns the mermaid into a statue, resulting in yet more arguments among the group, as the storm worsens.  Emma dives overboard, realizing that only when the group puts aside their differences and works together will the storm let up.  The group works together to pull Emma back aboard and the ship is able to dock.  As the group sets foot upon Neverland, Emma cautions that they must all believe in each other if they are to succeed.

All in all, I felt this was a great premiere episode.  It didn't spend time recapping last season's events, instead hitting the ground running.  My only complaints are pretty minimal.  I feel that Greg and Tamara should either have been dealt with last season, or left to bemoan their present circumstances a bit longer.  Although both of their final scenes are pretty great.  I also feel the "big reveal" about Peter Pan should have been left for a later episode in order to build greater tension.  And it was annoying to see Regina shift to being the wicked witch yet again.  Why can't character development with her ever stick?
Speaking of waffling characters, I'm hopeful that Rumpel's decision to pursue Henry on his own stems from a desire to redeem himself, not preserve himself.  His conversation with the Lost Boy seems to indicate the former, as does Neal's line in the castle about family being important to Rumpel.  Of course, I hope his fate can somehow be changed, as a show without Rumpel would be quite different

While I didn't really care for Neal in previous seasons, I am really beginning to enjoy his character.  His banter with Mulan was quite amusing ("They even made a movie about you!"), and his concern for his family was far more relatable and more touching than any similar scene of David's (though I suspect this may be because the actor is more capable).  Of course, his scene in Rumpel's castle was my favorite of this episode, especially the bit about blood-magic.  I hope the writers continue to develop Neal into a likable character this season!

From what I've read about plans for this season, I am excited to see where the writers take everyone.  And if this episode is any indication, it will be a good season with plenty of real drama.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sara's Library: Carrie

Carrie by Stephen King
Doubleday 1974

Summary from Goodreads: "The story of misfit high-school girl, Carrie White, who gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Repressed by a domineering, ultra-religious mother and tormented by her peers at school, her efforts to fit in lead to a dramatic confrontation during the senior prom."

With the new film version coming out, I wanted to read Mr. King's first novel.  I have seen the 1976 film version directed by Brian De Palma countless times over the years, and while I was familiar with the story, the details are sufficiently different enough to make for an entertaining read.

Rather than being a waif as portrayed by Sissy Spacek, in the novel, Carrie is an overweight, acne-prone girl who would likely be tormented for those facts alone.  That she is the naive, painfully shy child of the local religious nut only exacerbates the teasing.  The teenage girls are depicted as relentlessly cruel; one dreads what might have befallen Carrie in today's viral YouTube culture.  

Only three characters are depicted with any sort of positivity: Sue, Miss Desjardin, and Tommy.  However, the two females both question their motivations, discovering that it is not altruism that drives them to help the unfortunate Carrie, leaving only Tommy as an unstained saintly martyr.

Throughout the narrative, articles from newspapers and academic papers about the prom night incident appear.  If someone avoided all pop cultural references to Carrie for the last thirty years, the end would still be somewhat anti-climatic with the heavy-handed foreshadowing present in these articles.  Honestly, I felt they came off as a bit pretentious and distanced the narrative too much from Carrie's perspective of events.  As an anti-bullying piece, it would have been strengthened had the focus been only Carrie, as the reader would have been able to feel her pain more keenly and thus better able to empathize with her.  

All in all, the story continues to resonate today.  I'm quite interested to see what the new Kimberly Pearce film does, considering the setting has been updated to the present and bullying has taken on an entirely new shape online.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sara's Library: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Book one of A Song of Ice and Fire
Bantam 1996
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel 1997, World Fantasy Award for Best Novel Nominee 1997, Nebula Award for Best Novel Nominee 1997

Summary from Goodreads: "Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne."

Spanning more than 800 pages and nearly a dozen POV characters, this first installment of Mr. Martin's epic can appear a bit daunting.  As one begins to wade through the tome, it can be difficult at first to keep track of the various characters and their factions, especially when there are several common names (Robert, Brandon, Jon) used for more than one character.  Due to this, it might be good to have some familiarity with the characters before reading, but it's not absolutely necessary.

There are three major plot threads in this first installment, all of which are left to be concluded in later volumes.  The main plot consists of Eddard Stark moving from his northern seat at Winterfell to the southern capital, where he becomes the chief advisor to his long-time friend King Robert.  Eddard becomes embroiled in a conspiracy when he uncovers information about Robert's wife and heirs and must ultimately choose whether to speak the truth and lose his position, or remain silent and lose his honor.  

The second plot thread involves the heirs of the deposed king, Viserys and Daenerys, who live in exile.  When Daenerys is wed to Khal Drogo, the leader of a Hun-like army, the two hope to travel back to Westeros and regain the throne stolen from them.  But the khal is slow to act, and a feud develops between him and Viserys.

Finally, in the far north, the dead have been coming back to life...

Even with its prodigious length, that's a lot to cram into one book, and yet it never reads like an info-dump.  Information is given carefully throughout the book, always incorporated organically in conversation.  The writing is realistic and straightforward; however, there is a sense of repetition with the writing.  It wouldn't suit the tale told here to have flowery writing, but perhaps a thesaurus would be a good investment for Mr. Martin.

The world-building and character development are definitely the strengths of the work.  While the regions and countries can be reconciled with those in our own world, the inclusion of dragons, dark magic, and the old gods give this tale of political maneuvering more flavor than an historical novel might have.  I've read that each new installment increases the amount of fantasy elements, so I'm interested to see how the elements already present are expanded.

With its emphasis on the history of Westeros, I'm reminded a bit of Tolkien, though there are no linguistic exercises here, and the tale is far grimmer, even without one ring to rule them all.  Winter is coming, after all.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dream Factory: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Original release date: 20th Century Fox 1983
DVD release: Blue Underground Entertainment 2005
Streaming: Netflix
Rated PG

Summary from Seen That: "In this animated tale, a tiny village is destroyed by a surging glacier, which serves as the deadly domain for the evil Ice Lord, Nekron. The only survivor is a young warrior, Larn, who vows to avenge this act of destruction. The evil continues, however, as Nekron's palace of ice heads straight towards Fire Keep, the great fortress ruled by the good King Jarol. When Jarol's beautiful daughter, Teegra, is abducted by Nekron's sub-human ape-like creatures, Larn begins a daring search for her. What results is a tense battle between good and evil, surrounded by the mystical elements of the ancient past."

The 80's were full of forgettable fantasy fare, and were it not for the ability to MST3K, Fire and Ice would probably be on that list.  It begins with an info dump attempting to convince the audience that the film will be far more epic than it actually is, then segues to a fight with Nekron, who seems to be having ice-gasms while fighting the tribe of warriors of which Larn is a member.  For me, it was the unintentional homoeroticism that made Fire and Ice enjoyable, so if you aren't amused by that sort of thing, you probably just want to avoid this film.

The rotoscoping is pretty decent, especially compared to Mr. Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, though there are some scenes where the footage seems to be deliberately slowed.  The costume "designs" are terribly lacking, with nearly every character parading around in loin cloths and string bikinis, even though the majority of the film takes place in the glacier where Nekron dwells.  I suppose we're meant to suspend our disbelief when no one dies from hypothermia.

The hero, Larn, is pretty lame.  Darkwolf (the dude with the ax in the above photo) is the one who actually fights and defeats Nekron.  Larn seems to only be included so that the audience has a young novice character to identify with, but Larn does nothing in this film but get into trouble.  Don't even get me started on Teegra.

In addition to the obvious wish fulfilment elements, the film is problematic in its name and design of Nekron's henchmen.  Rather than orcs or goblins, Nekron has "sub-humans," which have similar builds and facial structures to Alaskan Natives. I understand that this is a fantasy world, but I think the creators should have put much more thought into their portrayal of this particular group.  The best way would have been to create a fantasy race, but since they didn't, they could have at least given them a more suitable name and made them more intelligent.  The "sub-humans" here are basically depicted as Neanderthals who repeatedly try to kidnap and rape Teegra.'s pretty offensive.

All in all, unless you are looking for an unintentionally bad film to mock with your friends or are really interested in rotoscoping, I'd avoid Fire and Ice.

Friday, July 26, 2013

At the Theatre: The Little Mermaid

Recently, I had the opportunity to see a regional production of The Little Mermaid by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.  While I had remembered the reviews of the Broadway production being fairly awful, the local newspapers here were raving about our production, which was in conjunction with Paper Mill Playhouse and Kansas City Starlight Theatre (where the show is finishing its run now).  Being both a Disney fan and a fairy tale reader, I decided to go and am quite glad I did.

Obviously, since this was the Disney version of the The Little Mermaid, it contained all of the songs from the 1989 film, as well as new ones penned by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.  Ursula's backstory was considerably more fleshed out than it was in the film (here she is Triton's misfit older sister), although the plot thread involving her transformation into Vanessa and subsequent luring of Eric was removed, likely to keep the focus on Ariel.  Also, there was no epic fight scene at the climax, but given how difficult that would have been to stage, I'm not surprised.

Ariel is presented more as the black sheep of her family here, so her interest in all artifacts human and desire to leave the Merkingdom are more understandable.  Thankfully, Eric also gets some much needed character injected into him, becoming a reluctant king who is more comfortable living the sailor's life.

Of the new songs penned for the stage production, I most enjoyed Eric's solo, "Her Voice," and the lovely "If Only" sung in four overlapping parts by Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and Triton.  Ursula's new song, "Daddy's Little Angel" was also somewhat entertaining.

While the swimming in the original Broadway production was portrayed with skates, this production implemented wire work and choreography to mimic the movements of creatures underwater.  I haven't seen the skate version, but just having read about it, it seems to me that the new production's idea worked better.
Although the singing contest could have been elaborated upon, and at my particular performance we had Ursula's understudy, it was a fun production for all ages with the proper amount of Disney spectacle.  I'd recommend going if anyone happens to be in Kansas City this week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dream Factory: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Original release date: Barrandov Studios 1970 (Czechoslovakia)
US theatrical release: Janus Films 1974
US DVD release: Facets 2004
Streaming: Hulu

Summary from Seen That: "Inspired by fairy-tales such as Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a surreal tale in which love, fear, sex, and religion merge into one fantastic world." 

Review: Since the above summary is especially vague, I'll do my best to do a short one myself.  

Valerie lives alone with her grandmother.  A troupe of actors has just arrived in her village, as has a missionary returning from Africa.  A hooded figure among the performers takes an interest in Valerie, though she learns he is a vampire.  A bespectacled youth named Eagle serves as her protector (along with a magic pair of earrings), as Valerie navigates the tricky path between childhood and adolescence, innocence and sexual awakening.

This film was recently available for free viewing on Hulu as part of their 101 Days of Criterion festival.  It sounded quirky, and I remember having read about it somewhere, so I decided to watch it.  And it delivered all the weirdness one could want.  

The film has a very surreal, dreamlike quality to it.  One is never quite sure what is real and what is imagined, and the characters frequently change their stories.  By the end of the film, the viewer (and Valerie) has been told at least three different iterations of Eagle's origin.  I did think the music used to alert viewers to certain repeating events became a bit gimmicky toward the end, but that was my only real complaint.

The actors here aren't professionals, as this film is part of the Czech New Wave of the late 60's/early 70's.  The leads weren't particularly emotive, but I may have just felt that way because tone doesn't always translate.  The missionary also had a really comic bedroom scene that amused me, though I don't know that it was intentional.

But what really stood out was the imagery.  This film is riddled with sexual imagery, from the obvious (a woman self-stimulating on a tree) to the more subtle (Valerie's entirely white bedroom).  I'm sure someone has to have analyzed every image by now, so I won't, but I think that's where this film really excelled.

I recently learned that this was based on a Czech novel by Vitezslav Nezval, which was only translated into English within the last decade.  I think I will have to read it for a comparison.

I feel like fans of Svankmajer would enjoy this the most.  But anyone with a penchant for the bizarre or the surreal should find something to enjoy.

Note: I scoured YouTube for a trailer, but I could only find fan-made ones.  Sorry.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sara's Library: The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Book one of the Fillory trilogy
Viking 2009

Summary from Goodreads: "Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. 

"Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would.

"Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real."

Review:   There were so many times I wanted to simply give up on this novel and throw it at the nearest wall.  It's not that it's poorly written, far from it.  Quentin is just one of the most infuriating protagonists I have ever encountered.  He is extremely selfish, egotistical, and prone to moping when things don't go his way...and, ultimately, this is one of the reasons The Magicians works so well.

Quentin and the majority of his group (save Alice) are perfect examples of the high-achieving, middle-class students who are constantly told how "special" they are that they become self-absorbed misanthropes in their college years.  Quentin represents his generation.  Despite his cynicism, his disapproval of the failing system left to him by his elders, he holds on to his hope of something better, represented here by his belief in Fillory.

But rather than the whimsical, somewhat generic fantasy world he remembers from his beloved children's books, Quentin finds a Fillory ravaged by violence, a world antithetical to the one represented in the text of the books.  Again, Mr. Grossman brings life to a generation's frustrations and disappointments, this time by subverting children's fantasy.

While I'll be the first to admit that the book could be a slog due to Quentin's behavior, the writing and the thought behind it more than make up for an annoying protagonist.  I will definitely be reading The Magician King.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Being a Pirate Was Superior to Lost Boyhood

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episodes 21 and 22: "Second Star to the Right" & "And Straight on 'til Morning"

Episode 21 summary: In the fairybacks, Bae is transported to Edwardian England after being swallowed by the magic portal.  While stealing some food from a well-to-do house, he is caught by a young girl, who turns out to be Wendy Darling.  She hides him in the nursery and continues to bring him food until her parents find out.  When Bae reveals he is an orphan, however, the Darlings welcome into their home.

One night Wendy tells Bae of a shadow who had invited her to Neverland.  Bae warns her about magic, explaining how it destroyed his family, but Wendy is heedless of the warning.  She goes with the shadow to Neverland.  Returning the next morning, she describes a fanciful paradise, but also admits to Bae that he was right.  The shadow has only allowed her to return because it wants one of her brothers instead.

When the shadow arrives to claim his child that night, Bae offers himself.  As the two fly over Neverland, Bae strikes a match, causing the shadow to drop him in the ocean, where is rescued by Captain Hook and his men.

In the present, Emma and the gang head over to Regina's office, where they find the missing bean plant and a hacked computer.  Emma immediately believes the culprit of the hack to be Tamara, but Snow is still convinced her assumption is only out of jealousy.  Emma goes to Neal's hotel to ask about Tamara's whereabouts, and he tells her that Tamara is out jogging in the woods because she's preparing for a marathon.  Emma notices sand on the floor, and the two decide to search the beachfront.

While the two are walking the beach, they discuss their past, with Neal confessing that he felt so much guilt for abandoning Emma after August spoke to him that he couldn't convince himself to search for her.  At that point in the conversation, Tamara jogs by, explaining that she changed her route.

Meanwhile, Regina is being held prisoner in a seafood warehouse, where Greg and Tamara have been torturing her for information about Kurt.  They also explain that they are working for an organization intent on destroying magic and hope to do so with the diamond that is part of Regina's curse.

Snow and David stop by Rumpel's shop to ask for his help in finding Regina.  After asking "Lacey" to step out, he gives them one of Regina's tears collected in a bottle, explaining that if the user's tear is added to the mixture, the person will be able to see and feel whatever Regina sees and feels.  The Charmings leave, and Lacey steps back into the shop, revealing that she heard everything but doesn't mind.

Back at the loft, Snow uses the tear and is subjected to intense pain, as Regina is being given shock treatment by Greg during an interrogation.  Snow cannot concentrate on seeing the location because of the pain, but describes the smell of sardines. This information prompts Emma and Neal to search the seafood warehouse.

The four split up.  David and Snow find Greg, who is torturing Regina after she claims to have killed Kurt.  David shoots at him, but Greg flees.  Rather than pursue him, the two tend to Regina.  They call Emma and relay the information, causing Emma and Neal to be off-guard when Tamara attacks them.  A hurt and confused Neal learns that Emma was right, as Tamara explains how she had used Neal from the beginning.  She then shoots Neal, leading Emma to attack her in retaliation.  Tamara drops a magic bean and flees.  Emma tries to save Neal from the expanding hole, but he lets go as he confesses his love for her.

The episode ends with the Charmings and Regina at the flat, where David tries to comfort the grieving Emma.  However, there are more pressing matters, as Regina explains how the curse trigger has fallen into enemy hands.  At the same time, Tamara receives orders to use the trigger to destroy the town.

Episode 22 summary: In the fairybacks, Bae overhears Hook telling the other pirates about his quest for revenge against Rumpel.  Bae is already concerned about being rescued by pirates, but feels worse considering who the pirates are.  His feelings change after Hook and his men hide him from the Lost Boys who come to claim him.

Hook begins to teach Bae how to sail the ship, and the two bond, both having lost their fathers.  However, Bae sees a sketch of Milah and confronts Hook about it, revealing himself as her son.  Hook explains that it was Rumpel who actually killed her, but Bae demands to be returned to the Darlings, refusing to stay with the man who destroyed his family.  Hook tells him he can't do that, but reminds him the ship is his family now.  Bae still refuses.

The Lost Boys return for Bae, with Hook relinquishing him this time.  The Lost Boys later compare Bae to a drawing, saying he's not a match, but may live.  The drawing is of Henry.

In the present, Rumpel passes the park while Henry is on a swing and begins to magically fray the rope.  Before he can go too far, the Charmings arrive and explain what happened to Neal.  Rumpel blames himself for Neal's supposed demise, as he chose not to help the group.

The group returns to the loft, where Regina has been resting.  Soon after she wakes up, an explosion is heard (Greg and Tamara have destroyed the diamond somewhere in the dwarf mines).  Regina explains that she can slow down the resulting destruction of the town, but she cannot stop it.  Hook arrives, declaring his shifting allegiance, and is punched by David.  Everyone agrees to work together to save Storybrooke.  The group leaves, with Regina telling Henry she'll always love him.

David and Hook find Greg and Tamara in the mines as they are destroying evidence of their presence.  Greg drops the beans by accident, while Tamara aims her gun at David.  David catches up with her, but is attacked by Greg.  While the two escape, Hook reveals that he has one of the magic beans.

Rumpel notices a missing stein in his shop.  Leroy explains that the Blue Fairy has discovered a way of restoring people's memories, and the dwarves want to restore those of Sneezy before the town is destroyed so they can die together.  Leroy leaves some of the tincture with Rumpel for him to use on Belle.  Rumpel asks Lacey to drink from the chipped cup, which she does, and she regains her memories as Belle.

Regina and Emma find the diamond, and Regina begins channeling her energy into slowing down the trigger.  She explains to Emma that it cannot be stopped, the expectation being that she'll die to allow the others to escape Storybrooke.  She doesn't want to be remembered as the evil queen.

Emma runs to Granny's and alerts the group to what Regina is planning.  Snow reminds Emma of how they sent the wraith through a portal; they could, conceivably, do the same thing to the diamond with a magic bean.  Hook agrees to give up his bean, once he learns that Bae was Henry's father.  The group, sans Hook, return to the mine.  But when Emma tries to remove the bean from the bag Hook gave her, nothing is there.

Realizing that there is no way to stop the town from being destroyed, the Charmings gather together and embrace.  Henry runs over to Regina and hugs her, calling her a hero.  Emma joins Regina in trying to suppress the diamond's power, and somehow its energy rescinds inside and the town is saved.  As the group celebrates, Emma sees Henry's backpack abandoned on the ground.

The group goes to search for Henry and finds him in the clutches of Greg and Tamara.  The group pursues them to the docks, but Tamara throws a bean into the water and the three escape into it.  Just then, Hook and his ship return.  He announces a change of heart and offers his ship for the search.  Rumpel and Belle also arrive at the dock, and Rumpel and Hook decide to put aside their grudge in order to work to save Henry.  Belle wants to accompany them, but Rumpel asks her to stay in Storybrooke in order to protect it while he and the others are gone.  He gives her a cloaking spell to cast and bids her a fond farewell.  Hook throws the bean, and the ship sails into the portal.

Meanwhile, in the fairy tale realm, Mulan, Philip, and Aurora find Neal on a beach.

Thoughts: While completely different from Mr. Barrie's stories (both play and novel), I have to say I enjoyed Bae's Peter Pan storyline, especially his sacrifice for the Darling children.  For a character who has been ravaged by magic to the extent that Bae has, it fit his character incredibly well to try to save the other children from the perils of magic.

I also liked that it was the male love interest for once (Neal) who was injured/killed/obliterated.  Too often in fantasy and comics, the woman or the gay love interest are killed, maimed, or kidnapped in order for the hero to learn something.  Even Once has been guilty of this with Belle earlier in the season.  While I don't think a love interest of any gender or sexual orientation should ever be killed or injured in order for the protagonist to develop and mature, I did appreciate that it was the straight male who disappeared for once.

I am tremendously pleased that the writers finally allowed Regina to be heroic.  I'm also hopeful that this trend continues into the next season, as she joins the search for Henry.  However, the resolution of the destructive curse plot was lackluster and a total deus ex machina.   I don't think a force that powerful would be contained simply because a second person lent her power.  I'm not saying the writers should have killed everyone off, but this particular resolution seemed lazy.

Poor Belle is neglected again.  She's proven herself to be quite capable time and again, so I'm hoping the decision to leave her in Storybrooke isn't just so she can be written out of the plot.  If she's there to lead and defend the town, then I want to see it!  It's bad enough Ruby's been written out.  I would have liked to have seen the two of them work together to lead Storybrooke in Snow's and Rumpel's absence.

It was good to see Mulan and Aurora reintroduced to the series at the end.  I'm looking forward to their adventures next season.

I'm quite curious as to who Tamara and Greg might be working for.  Some sort of ARGUS type organization?  It seemed like the writers were implying they may be working for the shadow, but that doesn't seem to fit their motivation, given that the shadow is himself magic.  I'm sure more will be explained next season.

All in all, it was a good end to the season.  While I had some minor complaints and am somewhat worried about the new direction the show is taking, I enjoyed this season and look forward to the next.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sara's Library: The Suburb Beyond the Stars

The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M.T. Anderson
Book two of the Norumbegan quartet
Scholastic 2010

Summary from Goodreads: "Something very strange is happening in Vermont. It's not The Game of Sunken Places - Brian and Gregory have been through that before, and there's not supposed to be another Game until they say there's a Game. But still . . . when they go to visit a relative in the Vermont woods, they find many things are . . . off. Like, people aren't where they're supposed to be. And houses are everywhere. In fact, the houses seem to be taking over."

Review: First of all, this is a sequel to The Game of Sunken Places, which I never posted about here as I read it during (and for) library school.  While it certainly helps to read the first book in the series, enough of the plot from the previous book is recapped here for those who may not have read it.  It's been well over a year since I read the first one, and after the first couple of chapters, I had no problem following along.

In the first book, two boys from Boston, Brian and Gregory, go to Vermont to visit Gregory's relatives and end up playing a real-life game involving elves, trolls, and the like in order to help a race called the Norumbegans prevent another race, the Thusser, from invading.  Brian wins the game at the end of the first installment, and thus it now falls to him to prepare the next stage of the game.

And this is where our story begins.  Except that one of the robots for Brian's game tries to kill him and the fae creating the automatons is missing.  So Brian and Gregory return to Vermont to ask the advice of his cousin, Prudence, who was the previous winner before Brian.  But things are not what they seem in Vermont.  Prudence, too, is missing, and time seems to move at a changeable pace.  And a dead man is selling real estate.

Since Mr. Anderson is the author of one of my absolute favorite young adult novels (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation), I always tend to be a bit disappointed by his middle grade fare.  It's not that it's bad, by any means.  But one can easily tell that he finds it difficult to write for this age group, as opposed to his young adult works, where he doesn't have to reign himself in.

While the first book in the series was pretty standard fantasy, this second installment has some interesting horror elements, including people being absorbed into walls, a flying wraith-like creature, and a living home hungry for its occupants.  It's in these terror-driven scenes that Mr. Anderon's prose really shines here.  Younger readers may be disturbed by some of the imagery he describes, so be forewarned.

My only real complaint was with the structure of the chapters, most of which were between 4 and 10 pages. Nearly every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger, which was promptly resolved at the beginning of the next chapter.  I realize that this is a children's book, but I felt it would have been more successful had Mr. Anderson heightened the tension.

The third installment is available and promises to keep with the darker tone introduced here.  No announcement has yet been made about the final volume.