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.