Monthly Archives: January 2013

Charmed

CHARMED-logoI’ve started watching the 1998 TV show Charmed and I’m loving it! It’s about three sisters – Prue, Piper and Phoebe – who one day find out they are descendants from witches and destined to be the greatest ones that ever lived. Hence, they’re The Charmed Ones. With the help of The Book of Shadows and their powers, they have to fight demons, ghosts and warlocks in order to ‘protect the innocent’.

Nothing about the concept is revolutionizing, but it’s still pretty cool. I especially love the girls’ powers – Prue can move things with her mind, Piper can freeze time and Phoebe has premonitions. I love how random and unrelated they are; it’s a nice break from the usual ‘elemental powers’.

Charmed is a really funny show, but in a more… subtle way. The comic relief usually lies in the little moments – one liners, ironic comments, unexpected reactions, sarcasm and the way three protagonists say ‘Oh my God’. Actually, a lot of the show’s charm lies in details. That, and the very likable main characters. I find the way Piper throws her hands when freezing time, Phoebe’s smile and how Prue sometimes looks down to avoid eye contact adorable.

I finished the first two seasons in a matter of days and I’d say the second was better, just because the plot was a bit more cohesive. During the first season, most of the plots have been a bit predictable, unrealistic or have even had anti climactic resolutions – but for the most part, that’s been fixed in the second season.

One other cool thing about this show is that after the opening sequence, we get about 20-30 seconds of shots of San Francisco (that’s where the action takes place) with good to great music playing in the background; music that adds to the show’s awesome ’90s feel. Apart from that, there have been a number of musical guest stars featured during the second season, such as Dishwalla, Janice Robinson and The Cranberries! I can’t believe they featured The Cranberries – I love them!

One thing I do wish I’ll see in the next seasons is story arches that stretch over several episodes. Also, I think it would be interesting if the show had some mysteries that needed deciphering (on that note, my guess is that there is something going on with the cat the sisters got at the beginning of the show). But all in all, it’s quite an addictive show and worth checking out!

Dido – No Freedom

I’ve been a huge fan of Dido’s music for a little over a year. She’s amazing, so is her music and with each studio album she’s gotten better and better. If the two recently released songs are anything to go by, I think it’s safe to say her fourth album – Girl Who Got Away, due to be released on March 4th – will be, at the very least, phenomenal.

Let Us Move On, a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, was released in mid-December, but the lead single from this album, No Freedom, only made its debut today. To put it simply, it is brilliant. Although somewhat melancholic, the song is definitely more optimistic than most of the material from her last album, Safe Trip Home. Nonetheless, it stays true to the style adopted on her other albums. With well written lyrics, a catchy, sort of playful chorus and Dido’s amazing vocals – her voice is as sweet as ever -, everything comes together to form a great melt-in-your-mouth kind of song.

Basically, I love No Freedom. I love it. It’s great.

Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites take #2!

survivor26logo--1364238846435770334I’m excited about Survivor Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites and have been ever since they announced it! Normally, I would be opposed to having yet another season with returning players, but this is different. The first Fans vs. Favorites season of Survivor was a smashing success and my all-time favorite season, so I’m glad they decided to reuse this format. Secondly, all returning players are first time returnees – which is a welcomed change – and there are some surprises among them. Overall, I’m more than happy with the choices made.

The 10 fans I don’t really care about right now, although judging from what little footage I saw, they seem to be not fans, but super fans – always a good thing. But, the returnees:

Erik Reichenbach from Survivor: MicronesiaThe guy who made one of the dumbest moves in Survivor history by giving up Immunity and being voted out that same night. I liked him enough and it will definitely be interesting to see if he can make a new name for himself.

Corinne Kaplan from Survivor: Gabon. I really hated her during her season and to this day I think her final comments to Sugar were cruel and inappropriate. That being said, I’m excited to see her come back, because whether or not she’ll try to maintain her Evil Queen status, she’ll make for great television.

Brenda Lowe from Survivor: Nicaragua. This is my least favorite season of Survivor, but Brenda’s cool (and eye candy). She played a good game the first around and I can see her making it making it far again.

Francesca Hogi from Survivor: Redemption Island. This was a BIG surprise and she’s probably the contestant I’m most excited to see return. She was the first one voted out in her season, but she made a big impression. She was hilarious and seemed to know how to play the game, so I really hope she gets to stick around longer this time.

Andrea Boehlke from Survivor: Redemption Island. I don’t know what to say about her. She played a pretty passive game last time and unless she plans to change that, I will probably not be rooting for her. Even though she’s likable enough.

Phillip Sheppard from Survivor: Redemption Island. Why are so many of the returnees from this season? Did they absolutely have to bring Phillip back? Was he not annoying enough the first time around? I can’t stand the guy. If he makes it to the merge, I will be pissed.

The Favorites Tribe!

The Favorites Tribe!

Dawn Meehan from Survivor: South Pacific. Dawn was one of my favorite players from South Pacific, but I’m not sure that says much. Much like the seasons preceding and following it, I didn’t like it at all and didn’t find the players to be particularly likable or memorable. I’m afraid she might fade to the background, especially if the fans have strong personalities.

John Cochran from Survivor: South Pacific. I don’t remember how I feel about this guy (see? Unmemorable players). I may have liked him in the beginning and ended up rooting against him? I’m on the fence about this one.

Brandon Hantz from Survivor: South Pacific. Of course they brought him back. Of course. I wonder if they pondered bringing back Russell himself and ultimately decide they wouldn’t be able to get away with it and went with the next Hantz. He was one of the worst things about South Pacific and I hate that he’s returning. And again, why so many people from this season? And why didn’t they bring Christine back? She was great and likable and the only reason she went out early was because of bad luck.

Malcolm Freberg from Survivor: Philippines. Malcolm’s awesome and I’m really happy to see him return! I’ve always said that if Survivor: Philippines had one flaw it was that Malcolm and Denise couldn’t both win the million dollars. I’m happy he’s getting a second shot!

All in all, there are some bad apples in this pile, but I’m not letting that upset me yet. I can’t wait for the season to premiere this February. Here’s hoping it will be at least as good as the first edition of Fans vs. Favorites.

Divergent

Divergent hc c(2)Divergent is a novel written by Veronica Roth and published in 2011. Set in a futuristic Chicago, it tells the tale of Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, who – like all other 16 years old kids – has to choose one of five factions which she’ll devote her life to: Abnegation (The Selfless), Amity (The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest), Dauntless (The Brave) and Erudite (The Intelligent). Similar in themes with The Hunger Games, it presents an interesting idea, one that – unfortunately – I feel could have been handled a lot better. From this point on, there will be spoilers!

Upon taking a test meant to reveal the faction she’s most inclined towards, Beatrice learns she’s Divergent, which means she shows equal aptitudes for several factions. Originally from Abnegation, she decides to leave that life behind and joins the Dauntless faction and takes a different name – Tris. In order to be accepted in the faction, Tris and all the other initiates must pass an initiation process, which is divided into three categories: the physical, the emotional, and the mental. While dealing with that, she also falls in love with one of her instructors (nicknamed Four), tries to make friends and learns about the plans of the people from Erudite to start a war against Abnegation. It’s a pretty basic plot, although not anything particularly memorable.

 

The factions

My big problem with this book is the way the whole ‘five factions’ concept was handled. When first introduced, they are presented in an obvious, stereotypical fashion: the Brave are more reckless than brave, The Peaceful are portrayed as zen hippies, while The Intelligent are snobs who look down on the people from Abnegation. Those in Candor are thought to be ‘the good guys’, because of their honesty. So, one can’t be both honest and evil? Second of all, when we get to explore two factions- Abnegation and Dauntless – in more depth, we are served the idea that not only is selflessness/bravery the main personality trait of every single person in the faction, but it’s the only one. Part of Tris’ internal conflict is whether or not she should act on selfless impulses she gets at times. Several of the initiates are shown feeling bad about acting in a manner consistent with what they’ve been thought their entire lives – one even apologizes for it. Just because you cultivate one virtue, that doesn’t mean your entire personality is reduced to one trait. A side effect of this is that it’s way too easy to figure out Four’s the other Divergent character even before any hints are given, since he’s the only one allowed to show both bravery and intelligence without feeling bad about it.

Furthermore, the extent to which this one virtue dictates people’s lives is ridiculous – down to why people take the stairs.  While in Abnegation, Tris and her brother are not allowed to talk during dinners. We learn they are opposed to prosperity, self-defense and even exercise – none of which make any sense to me. In Dauntless, everyone around has the need to show their courage during every waking moment, which doesn’t strike me as normal human behavior.

I also don’t buy the way these factions function as a society. We’re told the government is entirely made up of people from Abnegation, as they’re viewed as incorruptible. They’re not; just promise them homes for those without a faction (as a side note: everyone without a faction is not allowed to have any qualities; they’re ’empty’ on the inside). If  one of the factions was incorruptible, I think Candor would be it. We’re explicitly told they make great leaders, but for some reason that excludes them from politics? Also, the only artists this society has come from Amity, which doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t art a way to convey truths about life? Doesn’t it take courage to dig deep within yourself to uncover them? Don’t you need some sort of intelligence and knowledge about a craft in order to produce something decent?  We’re also told if you choose another faction than the one you were born in, you can never see your parents again, without any explanation.

Finally, the way the initiation works in the Dauntless faction strikes me as unnatural. From the 20 initiates, they will only select 10 to join their ranks; the other half will be kicked out. They doesn’t exclude people who are not good, they exclude people who are not good enough. In other words, people who are perfectly capable of getting jobs are thrown to the side for no reason at all. What society marginalizes perfectly good citizens on purpose? It doesn’t make sense to not try to have as few homeless people as possible.

 

The characters

Apart from the world-building problems I had, I started disliking the main character more and more as the book progressed. Her actions paint her as selfish, self-centered and vengeful. When a fellow shy, obviously broken initiate tries to reveal his feelings, she leaves the room to giggle about how “it’s nice to have someone like you”. When the same person ranks last after the second stage , she has no problem forgetting about him and going out to celebrate with her other friends. She takes pleasure in revenge time and time again – whether she’s the one enforcing it or not.  Despite having aptitudes for Erudite, she doesn’t appear very bright most of the time: her views on bravery are twisted at parts and it takes 3/4 of the book to realize that Four has a crush on her. That’s not to say she doesn’t have any good qualities, though. She has moments where she displays compassion towards others, she stands up for people, she has noble ideals… but those don’t make up for her faults.

Apart from Tris, no other character really stands out; I found most to be one-dimensional. The one character with an interesting back story, – Tris’ mother – only appears in a handful of scenes and is killed off at the end of the novel for the sole purpose of giving Tris a reason to angst about in the sequel. Quite frankly, I am tired of this trope of killing interesting characters just to show that  ‘nobody’s safe’. The series would have benefited from Tris’ mother much more than from the angsty Tris. To top it all, the scenes in which her parents die (because her father is also killed for no reason) both feel rather clumsy and out of place.

 

The good parts

Despite all this, the book has some redeeming qualities. It’s engaging, well-paced and easy enough to read that I finished it in only two days. The plot is executed and carried out decently enough; at the one point where it stagnates, Tris’ mom comes to the rescue. Towards the end, the pace is fastened to make for a gripping last few chapters. The battle scenes – and there are quite a few of them – are very well done and evocative, and there were a couple of other great moments: the boy who misses the train in the beginning and therefore becomes without a faction, Al’s breakdowns, the bonding between Tris and the initiates born Dauntless.

At the end of the day, it’s perfectly possible that as long as you go along with the logic of the book you end up enjoying it. For me, though, it didn’t quite work; it was a decent read, but I’m unsure whether I’ll pick up the sequel or not.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Here’s to awesome things in 2013. As for 2012… good riddance! I never loved you anyway.

Bonus song: Auld Lang Syne, sung by Pink Martini.

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