Monday, May 27, 2013

"INFERNO" by Dan Brown: Relating Dante to Overpopulation

May 27, 2013

Ever since Dan Brown hit big time in 2003 with his controversial book "The Da Vinci Code", all his subsequent books have become publishing events.  That novel, set in Paris, was not only a big best-seller in book stores (up to $250M in sales income), but also a box office hit with its movie version (despite poor reviews).  His controversial interpretation of Mary Magdalene as the Holy Grail of the Last Supper had the Catholic Church up in arms, further raising the book's popularity and notoriety.  The central character Robert Langdon was a Harvard professor of Symbology, hence the story involved very interesting discourses on symbols in history, art, architecture, and literature intertwined with a complicated crime mystery story.

Brown's first book with Langdon "Angels and Demons," released in year 2000, was set in Rome and Vatican City, dealing with the Illuminati.  Its sales skyrocketed after the success of DVC, and it also got a movie version as well.  Brown's other previous books without Langdon, "Digital Fortress" (1998) and "The Deception Point" (2001) also made it to best-seller lists.  After DVC, Brown's next novel was released in 2009 called "The Lost Symbol," (MY REVIEW) which had Langdon running all over Washington, DC monuments hounded by a deranged Freemason.  On May 14, 2013, Dan Brown released his latest work, called "Inferno."

"Inferno" has Robert Langdon following the clues left by a mysterious man in a modified painting of Sandro Botticelli's "La Mappa dell'Inferno", which in turn was a tribute to an earlier, more celebrated piece of literature, Dante's "Inferno."  This time, his adventures have him travelling to several European cities, from Florence and Venice in Italy, to Istanbul in Turkey.  Like all his other Langdon books, there were so many trivial details about this work of art and this complex literary classic, as well as many of the major museums, cathedrals and mosques found in these cities.  Like his other books, there was an attractive young lady going along his adventures with Langdon, in this book it was former child prodigy, now Doctor Sienna Brooke.

I have been to all three of these main cities where this story had been set, but unlike Paris, Rome and Washington in the previous books, my memory of the three cities in "Inferno" is already quite vague.  There were places mentioned like Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace in Florence which I do not recall at all.  Fortunately, the Baptistry and Palazzo Vecchio though were more familiar.  In Venice, he described St. Mark's Basilica and The Doge's Palace, which are of course familiar.  I wished I could recall seeing the Bridge of Sighs and the Horses of St. Mark's, but I can't.  In Istanbul, of course I remember the Hagia Sophia, as well as the Blue Mosque, but not the Cistern.

If I had just remembered more details about these cities, reading this book would have been more exciting. I remember how I enjoyed reading "Angels & Demons" so much because I recalled Rome very vividly.  Reading about these places now certainly made me want to revisit these grand cities and see these landmarks in a different light.  Another thing, I have not read Dante's "Inferno" yet, so many times, it was hard to follow the discussions about that epic as well, and I just had to accept Brown's interpretation as true.  It would have been better if you are already familiar with Dante yourself so you can pit your ideas with Brown's.

Of course, the most familiar city mentioned in this book is Manila. The Chairman of the Metro Manila Authority apparently wrote a letter to Dan Brown to complain why Manila was called "the gates of hell" in the book.  I was really looking forward to reading this part of the book, imagining how Langdon would be going around the churches and museums of Manila too.  But alas, that is not to be.  In fact the mention of Manila was only in one singular chapter, 79.  It could have been any other third world city, honestly.  The city was unfortunately chosen to be the venue of a ugly, traumatic, life-changing event for a major character in the book, and it is NOT Langdon.  Brown cited Manila supposedly to be the most densely populated city in the world that is why it was chosen for this part of the story.  I have difficulty believing this "fact" since there are cities in India or South America which would certainly as dense (if not denser) in population than Manila also living in the described squalor.

Without spoiling the plot, it would suffice to say that the main topic of the novel involves the very serious topic of human overpopulation.  How Brown related  Dante's "Inferno" to the World Health Organization, that you simply have to read for yourself. As in his other novels, there were parts where Brown was obviously stretching the book by adding so much detailed research summaries on several topics, unrelated as they may be, as well as sprinkling the text with confusing red herrings.   In this book, certain passages are mentioned more than once.  The beginning of a chilling video was described multiple times as it gets seen by different people.  That one got really irritatingly repetitive.  The description of a certain romantic interlude was repeated verbatim in two different chapters with different contexts.  But I thought that one was a humorous "gotcha" moment while reading.

Overall, this novel is easy to read and understand, despite the seemingly complicated web of interlocking stories.  Everything in this novel practically happened in a single day only.  The action sequences described are so unbelievable unless middle-aged professor Langdon and young doctor Brooke were super-ninjas who can outrun bullets and evade police blockades.  Well, I have to admit that the narrow escapes here were at least more realistic than the fantastic way Langdon survived a parachute-less fall out of a helicopter in flight in "Angels & Demons".  (That scene was so impossible it was not even shown in the film version of A&D.)

There were so many sudden bright ideas and coincidences which conveniently make Langdon progress so fast in his investigation, despite the most nebulous of clues.  Of course that both Langdon and Sienna have eidetic memories made things a lot easier for them. There were also many unabashedly sentimental scenes, written so cheesily it felt embarrassing to read.  The scene in Manila was one of them.  After the climax, the falling action parts I wish they had been written better. Those last few chapters seemed to have been written in a rush just to wrap things up neatly, without a clear idea on how to end things more satisfactorily.

But for me, being the history, travel and culture buff  that I am, it was those historical, art and literature mini-discourses which I find most fascinating in Dan Brown's Langdon books, with the story just secondary.  I enjoyed reading "Inferno" as it was fast-paced and interesting, hard to put down despite the occasional cheesy interludes.  While "Angels & Demons" still remains to be my favorite Langdon book, this one is as good as the rest of the series, better than "The Lost Symbol".  I will still be looking forward to Dan Brown's next book and Langdon's next adventure.  Maybe an Asian adventure next time?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Recapping "Game of Thrones" Season 3 (Part 3, Episodes 7-8)

May 23, 2013

My recaps for Season 3 Episodes 1-3 were posted HERE.

My recaps for Season 3 Episodes 4-6 were posted HERE.

Episode 7 "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

This episode gives time to practically ALL the major characters. In this episode with many important scenes, there are three main highlights:

Tywin Lannister gets the scene of the week when he effectively puts "King" Joffrey into his proper place. Joffrey complains about having to walk to the Tower of the Hand to get briefing. Tywin climbs up to the throne, towers over the boy king and casually declares he could have Joffrey carried over if he likes.

Danaerys wants the city of Yunkai to give up all their slaves, despite their gifts of gold and ships. Her dragons did not appreciate it when the Yunkai rep complained and even threatened their mother.

The title of this episode refers to the "affectionate" relationship between Jamie Lannister and Lady Brienne. There is this bear fight you simply have got to see to believe!

In other events, good news comes to Robb Stark from wife Talisa, but is there also good news for Winterfell? Sansa and Margaery talk about being married to Tyrion, as Tyrion fails to convince Shae of his real love. Theon woke up to a fantasy threesome, only to get jolted to reality by an "alteration". Ygritte confirms she wants to live with Jon Snow, even as a jealous wildling Orell tries to disuade her. The Scarlet Witch reveals to Gendry who his real father is. Arya impulsively gets mad at the Brotherhood for letting Gendry go and runs away, only to get captured by the Hound.

Episode 8 "Second Sons"

The highlight of this episode is the very awkward wedding of the imp Tyrion Lannister and 14-year old Sansa Stark. Of course, that ever-smirking King Joffrey could not help his sadistic self in getting in the way of the proceedings. Tyrion threatens his nephew with a "wooden d**k" and gets away with it. Meanwhile, his sister Cersei practically declares war on the Tyrells, threatening Margaery and rebuffing Loras.

Any scene with Danaerys is a highlight of any episode, especially when we see ALL of her (a spectacle we had not seen since S01E01). She encounters a bunch of mercenaries called the Second Sons, led by a leering misogynistic Mero, and his sidekicks Prendhal and Daario. Daario gets picked to assassinate Danaerys, but we see that this young Michael Bolton-lookalike has other heads he plans to chop.

Stannis releases his old friend Davos from the dungeon. I guess he realizes he needs sounder advice. The Scarlet Witch uses ALL of her feminine wiles to seduce Gendry to get his "King's Blood" using leeches as syringes. Stannis dedicates the leeches to Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and Joffrey Baratheon as he throws these leeches in the fire.

In the first scene, Arya almost gets to kill the Hound, but did not. He reveals that he is going to bring her back to her family during her Uncle Edmure's wedding to one of the Frey girls. For money of course. 

In the final scene, Samwell Tully and Gilly try to build a fire in an abandoned cabin and name her son. Outside, a murder of crows caws like crazy, announcing the arrival of a White Walker. Samwell somehow gets the courage to kill the frozen zombie with his blade as it approached Gilly and the baby.  Then all the crows fly up and chase Sam and Gilly running away.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

AEROSMITH's Global Warming Tour Manila: My Recap and Videos!

May 9, 2013

AEROSMITH has been a favorite band of mine since the 80s up to the 90s.  I first heard of them when "Walk This Way" was sampled by RUN DMC and featured the band in a duet recording.  In the 80s, there was "Love in an Elevator" and "Janie's Got a Gun" which brought the band back into the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10.   After the ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" went all the way to Number 1,  the band unfortunately took a very long hiatus from success in the singles charts

Last year, Steven Tyler kept Aerosmith in the news because of his involvement as a judge in American Idol. This development further fanned rumors that Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry was looking for a new lead singer.  Lucky these tensions subsided and the band launched its Global Warming Tour last year.  This band really took a long time in coming to Philippine shores. I was very excited to see the announcements of this concert early this year. I bought the tickets as early as March in order to get a better view without necessarily having to shell out too much.

The concert began with 90s Pinoy alt-band Rivermaya.  They sang a lot of their classic songs like "Elesi," "241" and of course "Kisapmata" (VIDEO).  It was good to hear these local hits sung live and the crowd was all worked up already.  Unfortunately there was a wait of more than 30 minutes before the lights dimmed down for the main show.  Even at this point, the big standing room around the stage was not completely filled.  Anyhow, once the introductory video started to play ending with the legendary name on the screen, the audience just kept on screaming and shouting it did not matter what the garbled voice-over was saying.

One of the songs I was most expecting for was the very first song being sung -- "Love in an Elevator"!  I still could not believe I was hearing that inimitable rock vocals of Steven Tyler LIVE!  They then sang "Jaded" (VIDEO) which was their last Top 10 hit in year 2000.   After that, came the song many people in the audience wanted to hear, the rock love ballad "Cryin'".  The loud screams and singing along proved that.

The next song was another big favorite of mine:  "Janie's Got a Gun."  At this point, the concert is complete already as both songs I was most waiting for had already been sung.  I must say that Steven's vocals in "Janie" and the whole production of this song were awesome!  He followed that up with another powerful performance dedicated to an organization that advocates ocean welfare, "Livin' on the Edge"  (VIDEO). After this, Tyler introduced his drummer Joey Kramer who treated us to some drum pyrotechnics with, and even without his drumsticks!

At the end of this drum intermission, Steven came out and joined Joey with some drum moves of his own.  Then he sang "Rag Doll."  Between these hits, I assume he was singing some rocking cuts from their latest album which I do not recognize.  The next song was again another favorite of us love song crazy Pinoy fans, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."  The vocal fireworks at the end of that ballad were truly awesome to hear live!

Talking about Tyler's awesome vocals, the next song which was sung stripped down and raw was probably the biggest showcase of its range: "What It Takes".  It is incredible how he can still reach those high crazy wailing notes at his age now, and doing this vocal acrobatics concert after concert all of these years.

As the concert wound up, Tyler sung hit after hit their version of the Beatles' "Come Together", then "Dude Looks Like a Lady" (VIDEO), and finally "Walk this Way"!  I know keep using the word crazy, but crazy is the best way to describe the way Steven was wailing and scampering and posturing and writhing (with his colorfully scarfed mic stand) along to these hit songs.

When Tyler said a half-hearted goodbye and left the stage after "Walk", we knew that the show was not over yet.  A white grand piano was brought out on stage, eliciting excited whoots from the crowd.  After a few minutes, Steven then came out again, sat down to tinkle the keys and launched into "Dream On."  That was a beautiful nostalgic performance of this revered 1973 rock classic (their first Top 10 when reissued in 1976).  Yes, all his signature crazy screaming at the end were all still there.  Amazing!

The final song of the night was "Sweet Emotion", a 1975 hit which I was not really too familiar with.  The light show that accompanied this song was dazzling and blinding, a real potential seizure-inducer.  Haha!  The song ended with an explosion of smoke columns and a huge shower of silvery confetti that enveloped the whole stage.  After introducing his band to the audience in his colorful way, Steven strutted off the stage in his own special way.  THE rock show of the whole year was truly over already. No "Angel," "The Other Side," "Amazing" or "Crazy", but still we went home very happy indeed.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Recapping "Game of Thrones" Season 3 (Part 2, Episodes 4-6)

May 7, 2013

My recaps for Season 3 Episodes 1-3 were posted HERE.

Episode 4 "And Now His Watch Has Ended"

Jamie Lannister is expectedly in deep depression after his shocking loss in the ending of the last episode. But ironically Brienne was there to encourage him to get on.

The eunuch Lord Varys was in three important scenes this episode. One with Tyrion where they talk about a sorcerer, and he shows Tyrion what he kept inside an old chest. He learns from Ros about Littlefinger's interest in Sansa Stark. And finally, he visits Lady Olenna and have a witty conversation leading to a solution to subvert Littlefinger's grand plans.

Margaery Tyrell shows us how she has King Joffrey wrapped around her finger. In another scene, she tell us what her plans for Sansa are. This girl is a very interesting character to watch. 

Cersei Lannister on the other hand tried to convince her father Tywin that she is the most loyal of all his children. But Tywin, as he did with Tyrion, tells her "I don't distrust you because you are a woman. I distrust you because you are not as smart as you think you are." Ouch. Kudos to Tywin for knowing his kids so well.

Theon Greyjoy's unexpected savior in the last episode turns out to have a bigger surprise for him in this episode. 

The daughter-raping, grandson-killing Craster finally gets what he deserves as pandemonium breaks in his house. Samwell does something right for a change and takes his girlfriend who just gave birth and her son out of there. 

Saving the best for last, Danaerys gave us the biggest and best scene of all. She elegantly gets her revenge on the cruel Krasnys and gets her own loyal army, all while keeping all her children intact with her. This promises more exciting episodes ahead indeed.

Episode 5 "Kissed by Fire"

This is an episode where Game of Thrones brings back the sex factor Season One was also known for, with both female and male nudity here. Ygritte seduces Jon Snow out of his furs, and his vow of celibacy. Yet Jon suprisingly has skills that impress the more experienced girl. Jamie Lannister talks to Brienne about his family while soaking nude in a hot tub. But is septic shock getting the better of him? While Margaery is busy making her brother Loras attractive to Sansa, Loras is in bed with a squire named Oliver.

Elsewhere, Arya Stark discovers that the Brotherhood can not only fight with fiery swords (not too well though), they also have magical resurrection skills. Rickard Karstark kills the Lannister boy hostages, and King Robb has to deliver his judgement in cold steel. Danaerys meets the leader of The Unsullied, and he decides not to change his name Grey Worm. We meet Stannis Baratheon's strange real wife and plucky daughter with the scaly face and his dead sons preserved in bottles. Olenna agrees to foot half of the bill of the royal wedding. (This Diana Rigg can really steal any scene she is in!) Petyr Baelish Littlefinger is being as sneaky as he always had been.

But again, the best scene was left for last with another Lannister family table discussion. Tywin announces his plans not only for Tyrion, but also for Cersei too. Very interesting situation at the end where we might wind up with three, instead of one wedding. With kids like them, I somehow worry about Tywin though.

Episode 6 "The Climb"

Despite the big title, this episode did not really reach higher heights from the explosive episode 5. This was another episode where new tensions were built up in preparation for bigger events to follow. Also, any episode without Danaerys tends to underwhelm, doesn't it?

Two memorable scenes. First involving Tywin Lannister and Lady Olenna Tyrell discussing wedding plans and family secrets which apparently common knowledge. Second involves Tyrion confronting Cersei if Joffrey ordered to have him killed during the last battle. Seeing Brienne in a pink gown or hearing Shae answer "I'm sure he does" when Sansa tells her Loras likes green and gold brocade were just as memorable too. Haha!

In other events, it is interesting to see what Melisandre plans to do with Gendry or what her ominous reading of Anya's future in her eyes means. How bad can the daughters of Walder Frey look like that the hapless Edmure Tully seems so repulsed by the idea of marrying one of them? What really did Tyrion tell Sansa that was not shown to us? Whose leaving ship was that Sansa was crying after? 

The episode title "The Climb" was literally shown with the Wildlings with Jon Snow and Ygritte climbing a monumental wall of snow and ice, to return Jon to the world he once knew. Yet, symbolically, it also refers to the scene where Petyr tells Varys that Chaos is a ladder that many climb and fail. This was a dramatically shot scene with swelling music, but I am not completely sure what climbing chaos meant.