bookspluslife

February 25, 2018

Book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:27 pm

image.jpgThis needs no introduction but it was a huge surprise for me to read it. I have this concept that well regarded classics are have complex narration, old fashioned descriptions and serious stories. Many books have completely demolished that notion. The Count of Monte Cristo was one. (Our review earlier tells why). Tolstoy’s War and Peace is another. And this is the third. The story is simple, and, if written today, will not garner the epic fame that it has garnered with movies and plays galore being made out of it. Or, perhaps, I don’t know what a classic is or should be.

 

What is the story? Actually it reads like a Bollywood or a Hollywood movie plot!

 

Jean Valjean enters a French town (D_) as an ex convict, with a yellow passport as was the custom there. He is refused accommodation everywhere but a priest kindly takes him in and treats him decently. So you are shocked that he steals the priest’s silverware at the first opportunity and runs away.

 

You learn his back story. To avoid his only relatives in the world, his widowed sister and her seven children, from starving to death, he tried to steal bread and was arrested and thrown in jail but he stayed there for seventeen long years due to unsuccessfully trying to jailbreak multiple times and getting caught, thereby having his sentence extended every time.

 

When he runs away, the police (gendarme) catches him and brings him back to the priest and the priest chides him for ‘not taking the silver candlestick also, as he had been given that’ and sends him away with more loot. He then steals a coin from a small boy and then repents and runs away.

 

Confused about what this is all about already? If not, then consider this. The story now forgets all of them and zooms in on Corset, who is a child left by a poor hapless mother with an evil family of Thenardiers, who sell all its clothes, take all the money sent by mother for her upkeep and demand lots more and generally keep her as a kind of French Cindarella. (Minus the magic or the animal friends)

 

The story then veers to a mysterious man who founded a factory, became rich but focused on doing good. His name is “Father Madeline” but it is really not hard to guess the twist. He rises to become the Mayor of the small town, despite wanting to keep a low profile. The author introduces the silver candle holders and remove all doubt in your mind.

 

The only one not taken in completely is Inspector Javert who moved in from Paris recently and seems puzzled that he had seen this man somewhere, though he could not quite remember where. The style is simplistic and straightforward. We are told that even this is an abridged version as the original tends to wander off in tangents a lot. Surprised that this book has such a great reputation and a cult following (not to mention a Broadway musical).

 

The story gets interesting when Javers tells Monsier Madeline that the “real” Jean Valejan has been caught and is about to be tried. Jean is torn between duty and safety.

 

The good deeds of Madeline is to keep many factories afloat when they were in trouble.  He is almost a saint. So when he admits to being Jean to save a criminal, the whole region is stunned. There is also a girl who is admitted into an asylum (hospital in the old days?) to get well whom Jean seems to be looking after.

 

The brutish Javert oscillates from total submission when he thought he had mistaken Madeline for Jean to roughhandling when the latter’s confession is known. Meanwhile Fantine, the mysterious ill person being looked after by Jean dies without knowing about her missing daughter. This has all the elements of a melodramatic movie in it. Indeed a Bollywood producer would be thrilled to get a script like this. Alexander Dumas, I remember, also writes in a similar light vein, purely to entertain and not to inform.

 

We then shift focus to Marcus, whose father, a good man, was not allowed to see him. He is taught to hate his father but realizes the truth only when his dad is dead. He meets and falls in love with young daughter, whom Jean adopts. He shows his interest and a suspicious Jean disappears.

 

Marcus meets him when he is blackmailed by a neighbour, but Jean escapes by the arrival of Javert. In the meanwhile we learn that Corset also loves Marcus. They meet. But a suspicious Jean takes her away and Marcus joins the revolution against the government and the king.

 

When Jean finds out the truth, he rushes to the help of Marcus. When the place is about to be overrun, Marcus is wounded and falls unconscious. Jean carries him through the sewers to safety.

 

Marcus comes to and vaguely remembers the benefactor. Even after happily being reunited with Cosette and his erstwhile estranged grandfather, he is tormented with the idea of finding and thanking his mysterious saviour.

 

Jean informs Marcus of who he is, in private, and slowly withdraws from their life.

 

He feels miserable but due to a series of coincidences, the story comes to a suitably melodramatic end.

 

Interesting.   5/ 10

– – Krishna

 

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Book: Stash by David Klein

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:12 pm

imageThis is David’s debut novel. A great debut, as David has the capability to tell you the story from the various people’s perspective, and simply escalate the everyday conflicts and tensions of the characters to a more and more alarming situation that gets tenser by the minute. A no nonsense narration, you will enjoy this book. .

 

Gwen has two children, Nate and Nora. She escorts Nora to swimming. She meets Jude, her ex lover. Talks about their child together who is growing up with Jude. Jude also appears to be supplying her with drugs and implying that he is still attracted to her.

 

The title should have warned me!

 

She “only” moderately does drugs (“unlike her friends”) and gets high “only” socially, taking care not to do it when she is pregnant or breastfeeding. What responsible behaviour, you marvel. (Yes you are right, I am being sarcastic.)

 

As opposed to her college days where there was indiscriminate weed smoking and indiscriminate sex. That, of course, was irresponsible. Her friend talks of weed as if it is one of the essentials of a weekend in a cottage.

 

She gets into an accident, phones her husband Brian in the middle of a pharmaceutical presentation from the hospital. The police behave totally differently, even though the fault of the accident was not hers, when they discover the packet of Marijuana in the car.

 

The other driver has died and Brian realizes that they are in deep trouble. His friend Robin who is a lawyer, agrees to represent her. She is bullied into giving up Jude as a source of her drug supply and even after complying, she is harassed.

 

Meanwhile Theresa, his sexy assistant, makes almost open overtures to him.

 

Jude’s daughter, who has a disfigured face, finds acceptance and happiness in sports, especially running. She gets a university scholarship on sports ability.

 

Jude leaves the daughter at the University and ties up with Da Da Sweet who is a sports star looking for illegal medication and weed. He brings a consignment from Canada by bribing a specific border guard with a smuggled in Vietnamese girl. Yes, right again. The girl is the bribe for the guard.

 

Gwen compounds the problem by admitting to Jude that she gave Jude’s name to the police.

 

He is initially angry but still proposes, causing her to be confused. She agrees to phone him back from outside the cabin and gets lost in the forest. The husband calls the police, especially the detective Keller whose children are in the same school as theirs and lets him know on the entire story and the son helpfully provides the licence plate on the van that Jude uses to smuggle drugs.

 

The tension escalates and reaches fever pitch. For instance, Kelly finds the cabin and finds a murdered body in the porch and finds the weed plantation inside. Dana meets Jude’s assistant who tries to date rape her, but she barely manages to escape.

 

All of it is told from everyone’s point of view. You even understand Jude’s outlook in doing all he does and yet be a doting father to Dana. You understand the boyfriend’s thought process – not to condone but you get into the minds of the people. In some ways it is like reading Gone Girl where you understand the perspective of both the husband and the wife.

 

Towards the end, when life is back on track, Gwen goes to a pumpkin festival and finds that temptation again stares her in the face and yields to it again.  Crazy viewpoints but good narration.

 

6/10

 

  • – Krishna

Movie: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:00 pm

imageFirst, about today’s Hollywood : What a revival of fortunes for Marvel, by  the way! In the comics crazy forties and fifties it reigned supreme and lay by the kerb until animation caught up with the imagination of the comic story creators so that Hollywood can adopt it fullscale and start churning out one after the other. Did those fail? No problem. Do not stop making them. Just ‘reboot’ them, telling the story from a different angle and it will become a hit.

 

Not that I do not enjoy the movies, but it struck me that most of the top grossers (Pixar excepted as they go in for original stories) are superhero films these days. (Or the other franchaises like Star Wars or Star Trek).

 

If you have seen the previous Thor movies, you realize that the scaffolding is the same. An enemy bent on destruction of (not the world but) Asgard, the hero saving it. Build in Loki’s mischief and other things, and you have got another movie to build within the framework.

 

In this, the initial demon enemy Surtur gets destroyed in the first few scenes (after the initial humour where Thor is hanging upside down dejected after his love dumps him)

 

Dr Strange is now in firmly in the franchaise and helps Loki and Thor by finding out that Odin is in Norway (They are trying to find him after Loki had put a spell on him and sent him initially to New York in order to assume Odin’s form and enjoy the throne of Asgard. This is actually the end of the previous Thor movie, if anyone still remembers it).

 

They discover that they have a sister who was consumed by the dark side. She, Hela, wants to take over Asgard. (Hela is played by Cate Blanchet, and her performance is nice. Not spectacular but nice.)

 

Hela seems not to fear Thor’s hammer, easily destroying it before our shocked eyes. She also enters the portal when Thor and Loki try to flee and also expels them before she herself reaches Asgard before them.

 

Loki becomes a slave in a strange planet ruled by a man called Grandmaster and is attached with a shocking device. Also Loki seems to be in a position of favour there. There is a scene where Thor meets and duels with Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk and where, after he brings the Hulk back to his senses, convinces him and the rebel girl who captured him to join him in saving Asgard. The rest of the story goes on predictable lines.

 

Nice story and keeps interest going but you suddenly start to see Star Wars like scenes appearing with space ships and battles etc.

 

There are amazing gigantic hounds who are part of Hela’s army and the massive fight between the Hulk and the giants. There is also preaching about realizing your own potential and getting the inner strength from within. (Thor’s hammer is not strictly necessary for Thor to win, if he believes in himself enough.  Go figure).

 

Asgard ends up destroyed so that Thor can spend all his time in his new homeland to which he is now destined : The Earth. (And in Hollywood, the earth is always synonymous with the United States of America, of course).

 

Fun to watch but nothing new conceptually.   6/ 10

– – Krishna

February 17, 2018

Book: A Lucky Child by Thomas Bluergenthal

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:09 pm

imageThis is a very different book.

 

It describes the experience of a small boy who survived a holocaust concentration camp. He was born in Czechoslovakia, in what is currently Slovakia.

 

He talks about his father’s birth in Poland and successive moves to Germany and then Czechoslovakia. It is well told, with his mother saving them from being collected in Czech territory when the father is away and they being shuttled between Czech and Poland borders many times. They manage to get into Poland but still are not out of danger.

 

They are heart-achingly close to escape with UK almost granting them a visa and they go to Poland, and then try Russia, give up, and try to cross Poland with no success. His childhood torments in the hands of other, orthodox jews and his belief in the supernatural elements of the religion come out well, providing a different strand from the grimness of the main tale. Initially.

 

It had a vague Anne Frank kind of vibe, not just because both are experiences of the Holocaust but also because there are the daily living trivia amidst menacing background and how a boy (as against a girl in the other one) copes with the odds and where they find the strength needed to move on and endure. But as you read on, you realize this is a very different narration. The author, since he reminisces many years as an adult, is aware of what is going on in grim detail while Anne Frank wrote her diary as an ordinary girl in hiding, without (apparently) a full realization of her precarious situation.

 

This one tells the story straight from memory and feels like the life of a real boy in a concentration camp. The details are fascinating. For instance, how he slipped away every time after the roll call and before the ‘selection’ of prisoners to the gas chamber, how he got separated from his mother immediately and his father after a few months, how his father protected him by getting him gainful employment from friends who were barrack bosses. Also how friends in his city turned squealers when he and his family tried to slip away one day to freedom. All amazingly and simply told. It has a feel of sitting in front of him and listening to him reminisce about the old days. Nice.

 

The brief glimpse of his mother and the forced march where if you could walk no more, you were shot, are all told simply but with devastating effect.

 

His memories at the orphanage and comparative “luxury” are well told, as are his minor mischieves in getting a discounted ticket and blowing the money given on candy etc.

 

He gets a note from his mother through the orphanage and is thrilled. After he is reunited with his mom, the story reads like an ordinary boy’s but there are flashes of his extraordinary life and how he became famous in Norway due to the write-up of Nansen, a Norwegian Red Cross person who had helped him in the camp and wrote about him when he returned to Norway.

 

The book could have ended earlier, when he was reunited with his mother after his travails but it would have been even shorter, so I guess the story needed to be elongated beyond the subject matter that is core subject matter intended. .This takes away from the book only because it tackled such a serious subject with verve only to meander a little bit at the end.

 

7/ 10

 

— Krishna

Book: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:59 pm

imageStarted nicely, comparing Chris Columbus aims to find India by sea and what the modern equivalent of business travel to India is like.

 

The book is good in many respects but there are a ton of annoying parts, over generalizations and blithe preachy tone that puts off a reader. This is unfortunate because there is a lot in the book that is both good to know and is fascinating to read.

 

Then he goes into a eulogistic rhapsody about “these dynamic young Indians” and quoting Indian tech executives verbatim. When the plot meanders into mundane territory about how the call centre employees are unfailingly patient, and have the western names and accents to ‘give comfort to the clients’ it gets fairly boring. Especially now that the call centres are moving to Philippines from India with greater success. No, I am not knocking India, but only the eulogistic portrayal of what India has achieved, with what seems to be little balanced analysis.

 

There is a long list of how Indian young things handle calls and even more condescending blather about how the call centre jobs, which are the lowest paid in the West are sought after and fought after in India.

 

It gets even more annoying with generalizations. The city of Dajian has plans to outdo India as a software outsourcing centre. Even though the Chinese “are not as good in English as the Indians”, they plan to “select the best Chinese” to outcompete “because there are more Chinese than Indians by population”. Can you believe the string of generalizatons in this?

 

The story sometimes wanders into areas where you struggle to see how this is world going flat. They talk about a person conducting interviews with a MP3 player that doubles as a recorder and his phone camera and publishing it in a blog. Well, so what is the lesson there? The concept of freelancing is not new, despite the gadgets on display, is it?

 

Except for the annoying trivia, the message is interesting. The connection between the fall of the Berlin Wall (and the Iron Curtain) and the globalization of the world is very persuasively argued.

 

There is a whole lot of explanation about what is a web server, and how a browser works that are simply redundant for those techies (like me) who read the book. It may not even interest a lay reader.

 

He talks about colloboration through Wikis, the Open Source movement, and, though it is old hat for people in IT who watched it all happen, maybe new for lay persons interested, but at times he seems to get a bit more technical than what they can take. But apart from a few slips, this is an admirable attempt to de-jargonize the concepts for everyone.

 

A mixture of trivia and complicated descriptions is the one fault I can find. But generally the narration is just right and everyone, whether versed in technology or not,  gets the sense of the major upheavals that produced a ‘flat world’ as the author calls it.

 

He talks of the rise of India and the fortuitous coincidences that helped it along the way.

Some of it is a stretch like “in-forming” etc, but in general, he makes good points. The piece about how UPS manages even their customer’s businesses for them is interesting (repairing laptops for HP and managing logistics for Ford etc.)

 

But there are lots of repetitions and the same idea is presented multiple ways and sometimes the same idea the same way. It is as if you skipped back and reading an earlier chapter again, which was very frustrating. The argument about cheap and profitable aka WalMart but expensive (and more humane) and less profitable like Costco is repeated at least in the same detail in two different places that you feel like saying to the author ‘Oh, so sad. Do you have a short term memory loss? You just told me this a few pages ago!’.

 

The argument he makes for why free trade and globalization are good forces for all countries, even the ones who are outsourcing, is an old one, but he makes it with compelling arguments. (And to be fair, the book is old too. It talks of Palm Pilots and smartphones in the same breath).

 

That the argument is old and familiar does not take away the interest in reading it, because it is a very persuasive argument about the globalization and how US is not living up to it. I do not agree that progress in India and China counts as innovation yet, and his lament that these emerging nations are stealing tomorrow’s leadership from US In innovation, but his argument about how US is not focusing on the right things to protect its leadership and prosperity seems spot on.

 

The slight snobbery bothers me as a reader. He talks of US having to go to “broken down piece of the Soviet Union, Russia, where the only thing that works is science and engineering education” – wait for this – “though we won the Cold War”.  Wait, what did he just say?

 

Many of the arguments are valid and well made but it is interesting that a liberal leaning, conservative-ideology-hating author comes out with solutions for the current flat world (aka globalized world where the competition is across national boundaries) and comes out with prescriptions that are sure to infuriate the unions – portable skills, easy layoff and hiring etc.

 

And sweeping generalization is another problem. Leave aside blanket statements like “North Korea is 200 km away” (yeah? the entire country?)  he also says blithe things like “A handful of leaders in countries like China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and India…. relied on the leverage of authoritarian political systems to push through reforms”. Really? India? Authoritarian?  A high school geography text book could have told him otherwise. A pity, since the fundamental points he makes are sound, even if already well known.

 

Don’t get me wrong, not everything he says, even about India is wrong. He is on the dot about the awful infrastructure and abominable power situation that is holding the country back.

 

Again, coming to India, he lauds Indian Congress party for choosing Manmohan Singh, the reformer, as Prime Minister “because they realized that Indians were craving the benefits of prosperity to be distributed evenly to rural areas as well”. This is as widely off the mark as can be. The internal politics of how Sonia Gandhi could not herself become Prime Minister due to her origin of birth (and crazy objections from others resulting from that very fact) and his subsequent powerlessness to impose any reform and his ignominious exit due to scandals that he could not control and even came close to tainting him are all events that follow the publication of this book but nevertheless prove how wrong this argument is.

 

And I for one do not fully buy the argument that rural, illiterate Indians voted out the ruling party in 2004 despite its liberalization success “because they wanted to be involved in the prosperity engendered by globalization”. Yes, there was some of that. But the argument ignores the entire complex machinations by people misled by politicians and also voting on the basis of anger against fat cat capitalists, and all pervasive corruption or voting on narrow caste interests.

 

What is also hard to accept is his argument that the Arabs are resorting to suicide bombing violence primarily due to frustrations against their authoritarian governments.

 

But his arguments on the anti globalization movement, its motivation and origins and its effect of undermining the prosperity of the very poor that they seem to champion are all exactly right and also narrated brilliantly.

 

The book ends thought provokingly and in my view the last few chapters are the most interesting.

 

5/10

— Krishna

Movie : IT (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:44 pm

imageMy, my! I have been a fan of Stephen King’s books for decades and read IT many years ago. It is an excellent book to read, and if you have not read it, I recommend that you do, even if you have seen the movie. To me the book version of most stories are more intense with very few exceptions (not this one) where the movie improves upon a very fluffy book experience.

 

The obvious examples of the examples are, for instance, the Lord of the Rings movies. Not that the book was not good but the movie went way beyond Tolkien’s description and really brought the story breathtakingly to life. But mostly it is the other way around.

 

The bonus you get when you read the book is to see the rest of the story too. As you probably know, this movie just covers the first half of the book and the second half is still pending for a sequel.

 

When I read this movie all those years ago, I kind of decided that you really cannot make a movie out of it, since this story is so surreal that any effort to show what happens would fail. I am told that there were some TV versions of the story earlier, and some critics even claim that the TV version was scarier than the movie. I have not seen them and do not know if it is true or not.

 

But the movie version is pretty good and I admit I was wrong. This group showed me how to make an excellent movie out of (not the book but just) the first half of the book.

 

There are some deviations, some well judged and some disappointing to a book reader. They left out the scene where Bill and Beverley get physical – it made no sense in an otherwise well written story and it was really good of the movie makers to axe it. But there is also that scene where the bike of Bill kind of gets conscious and saves him. I agree that this too has nothing to do with the story but it was kind of cool. I do understand why they may have chopped that too, but I missed it.

 

And one more aspect of the preamble and then I will get to the story : Everyone is raving about it and I wholeheartedly agree: Bill Skarsgard, who played Pennywise the Clown, steals the show. The portrayal is brilliant and he imparts the full sense of creepy doom whenever he appears. Great job.

 

The rest of the casting is also near perfect. You have Jaeden Lierberher as the near perfect Bill, stammer and all. Jeremy Rae Taylor is exactly how you would picture Ben Hanscom would be. Casting has been brilliant.

 

The story is as true to the book as possible. George, Bill’s little brother, gets the paper boat to play in the rain and meets Pennywise. (I did not really thing that they would show how he loses the hand first, but they did!)  With disastrous results. Bill is determined to find out what happened to the missing brother. He is part of the Losers Club, with friends Richie, Eddy and Stanley. They absorb a shy girl Beverley and a butcher’s son Mike who does not want to kill animals and the local fat boy Ben. They form a friendship and grows as their adventures grow.

 

As each of the boys have their own terrifying encounters with Pennywise, they realize something is far wrong. As if this is not enough, they have to hide from the local chief bully Henry Bowers and his goon sidekicks Patrick and Victor. They terrorize the boys repeatedly, showing up when least expected.

 

The studious Ben is the one who discovers about Pennywise from library books and how children go missing with an interval of 35 years (?). He meets Pennywise too and runs out before it can get him.

 

How they find out where the Pennywise has his lair and how they go screwing up their courage to vanquish him is the rest of the story. They know that even if they did get the upper hand, it is only temporary and after the regular interval, he may return again. They make a blood bond and swear that they will all be back to face IT together if that happens.

 

Brilliant movie and picturization. Keeps you absorbed from the beginning to the end. If you have read the book you get the extra satisfaction of seeing the story come alive.

 

Nicely done. 8/10

 

—  Krishna

February 10, 2018

Book: The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:35 pm

imageThis book continues the Saxon Stories – This comes after the previous books, all of which we have reviewed before :  The Last KingdomThe Pale Horseman , The Lords of The North and The Sword Song.

Bernard Cornwell stories are short, packed with twists and intrigue, and enjoyable to read – he has found the sweet spot in historical fiction – how to entertain on the basis of real history without being boring, and how to keep it short so that you do not lose those readers who will not read a book that is more than 300 pages long. Nice!

This book continues the story of Uhthred, but really, the story of King Alfred and successors.

Alfred is now old and besieged on two fronts and Uhthred, much to his dismay, has not been called to defend the west. He has been sent to bribe a Dane, Haestan,  to go away and takes two hostages, who both, Uhthred suspects, are fake.

 

Alfred finally calls him for help and Uhtred is thrilled. He captures Skade, his enemy’s girl and takes her to Alfred. He gives Alfred advice on how to defeat the Danish depredator Harold.

 

Alfred asks Uhtred to give his loyalty to his son Edward, as he knows he is very ill and may not live long.

 

Though much, including the central character Uhtred is fiction, you learn a lot of history through this series. For instance, Alfred was indeed sickly and pious throughout his life.

 

Harold recovers his girl Skade by threatening to kill a string of twenty eight Saxons in front of Uhtred if she is not released.  Uhtred lures him into a trap and wounds him, perhaps fatally.

 

The priests conspire to enrage Uhtred and he kills a blind priest and his punishment is to lose all his wealth, (his wife is dead in childbirth) and have his children as hostage to Alfred and declare his fealty to Edward, Alfred’s son. He runs away to be a free viking. Back to the pillaging days? He goes to see Ragnar in the North and plans to attack and take back Northumbria, his old citadel usurped by his uncle.

 

He needs gold and he plans to get it from attacking Skade’s ex husband. He lures the Viking and kills him but Skade turns vicious and hates Uhtred. Alfred is sick and the Danes including Ragnar plan to invade Wessex.

 

Pyrlig comes and lures Uhtred away from Ragnar back to Mercia as Uhtred had given his oath to Ethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, who was in trouble with her husband who was trying to murder her and had taken refuge in a monastery. Skade goes with Haesten but hates Uhtred and so she comes and burns the monastery when Uhtred with Ethelflaed, his entourage and with his children had left the place.

 

He goes back to Ethelred, and plans how to repel Haesten and his tribes. When he invades the fortress of Haesten, there is this fantastic scene where he attacks the Danes recklessly and is saved by Steapa’s forces arriving at the last moment to save him. He also learns that Skade is the one who is controlling the fortress and Haesten is away, plundering. He wins the fortress due more to luck than strategy but for the bigger, well defended fortress, he plans brilliantly using sails and beehives in an unconventional manner. He is the classic rebel, fighting Christianity, Alfred and his son Edward and the bevy of priests while he serves them all. Nicely done,

 

Skade’s end is poetic and is very interesting. A nice book to read.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

 

Book: This Will Make You Smarter by John Brockman

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:17 pm

imageThis is one of the books that are off the beaten track and make you both think and (due to parts of it) be bored.

 

This is a collection of thought provoking articles culled from the Edge  which is a British magazine that seems like the printed version of scientific op-ed pieces.

 

It is also a Creationist’s or even a deeply religious person’s nightmare.  The first essay is about time that still remains in the universe as opposed to the limited time (“limited” is relative, as in 13.6 billion years) the universe has been in place.These are very short essays, and some are thought provoking as in “Everything you hold dear is a cosmic accident. There is no specific purpose in your existence; earth is not the centre of the Universe; the sun is a smallish, insignificant star in the scheme of things” etc. Well, most of it you knew already before picking up this book, but this gives another perspective to look at these.

 

Another article is about the microbes ruling the world. Makes you think. There are articles about instilling scientific thinking as a general principle of the public awareness and how it would change the world for the better. For instance, there is a piece about controlled experimentation in everyday life, not just in scientific labs.

 

The article about innate bias in everything including the supposedly neutral agencies like the media (really? The author thought they are supposed to be neutral?) is very interesting.

 

An article talks of why the term “scientifically proven” is an oxymoron. Fascinating to read why and then you finally tend to agree with the argument! A similar argument about how uncertainty is the real fact of life is interesting.

 

Again, you are struck by the rationalist tone. If there was a group against a decisive and omnipotent God and not just Creationism, this is it.

 

The piece about how people underestimate risk and overestimate their ability is nice.

 

It is not possible to review the pieces individually but most are thought provoking and almost all of them make you think – justifying the title. If you are of the anti Darwin persuasion, these will probably also uniformly make you seethe with anger.

 

There are interesting essays about the powers of ten, and others, such as the one about memes or about cumulative error, are boring.

 

Some are plain silly, a couple are difficult to understand, but they all make you pause and think ‘Hm, I never thought of it in this way’ most of the time.

 

There is one in particular about SHA (Short hand Abstraction) that borders on the bizarre.

 

A mixed bag, worth, on an average, 4/10

– – Krishna

Movie: Annabelle – Creation (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:02 pm

imageThis is supposed to be the prequel of the famous Annabelle story and narrates how Annabelle came to be. It has its tense moments and the director of this movie, David Sandberg,  is the same one that did the interesting film Lights Out earlier.  And the same sophistication shows here and the terror moments here are things where nothing happens and the characters in the movie and you wait for an impending attack that you know is going to happen.

 

This backstory has a backstory and it is all told in a wordless and poetic sequence. How the doll maker Samuel Mullins handcrafts a wooden toy for his only daughter Bee and she dies in an accident. The family never recovers and later, Samuel and wife Esther decide to invite an orphanage into the house as a charitable act. The orphanage was kicked out of their building due to their inability to pay. We find that the Mullins live in an ideal house for a horror story to happen: a creaking but sprawling house in the countryside, of course secluded from everything and everyone else.

In true horror picture style, they are given a run of the whole house except a locked room where they are forbidden to go. What will young children do when they are forbidden to go to a room? Especially in a horror story? Yup, one girl Janice – a crippled one at that – goes in when it was ‘accidentally’ left open one day.   She finds a key and opens, and comes face to face with Annabelle, the doll. Incidentally, the doll in this movie is not the Raggedy Ann doll that is supposed to be the real possessed doll but in a highly tongue in cheek reference to it, a Raggedy Ann doll is presented as a gift to a girl at the end of the movie when all the horror has been ‘resolved’. Nice.

But this doll does its spooky business very well so serves the purpose of the film, which is to scare the shit out of you. Janice is crippled, and after being thrown by the demon who has now been released, is confined to a wheelchair. When the demon takes over Bee, they find that she can walk and is ‘cured’ but is very strange in behaviour. The other girls, frightened now, confess to Samuel that Janice sneaked into the room but before he has a chance to do anything, Janice, possessed, kills him.

Samuel’s wife, Esther, is bedridden and when the girls meet her, they learn how Annabelle came to be. When Bee died, their parents conducted a séance and begged Bee’s spirit to talk to them. “Bee” asked them permission to occupy the doll and they happily agreed so that Bee can live with them even after their death. The invitation was enough for the spirit (occasionally in Bee’s form but otherwise in a true demonic form) to occupy the doll. When they realized their error (and losing an eye in the battle against it) Esther (and Samuel) have priests create a sealed room, with walls papered with pages of the Bible to seal the entity in, and keep the doll locked up in a cupboard and the room also locked. That is how Janice came by the room and the doll. Now we know the whole story.

What follows is a whole lot of attacks on the girls by the Janice-demon-Annabelle thing and a whole lot of jumpy sequences for you. They lock Janice in a room but when the police arrive, she has escaped and is far away in Santa Monica in an orphanage, calling herself Annabelle. She is adopted by the Higgins Family, thus setting the stage for the original movie.

Nice picturization, creepy moments, good acting. But still, somehow, this does not resonate as much with me since the theme is overworked in so many movies.

 

6/ 10

 

–  – Krishna

January 26, 2018

Book: The Sky Is Falling by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:51 pm

imageYou can get lost in Sydney Sheldon’s books. I admit that he is an old author and is not as sophisticated in his storytelling as, say, Dan Brown (Whose Angels and Demons, just to cite one example outshines most of Sydney Sheldon’s book) but there is a raw power in Sydney’s storytelling and if you pick up The Master of the Game, for example, or The Rage of the Angels, it is really hard to put down as he takes you on an emotional roller coaster that seems to whisk you away at top speed until the book end. Unfortunately, this book is not one such. Mind you, this is also interesting and racy but does not reach to the heights of the two books named above, for example. What is the story?

 

Dana Evans is a .TV reporter who covered Sarajevo war and was traumatized by it too. She is in love with Jeff Connors, an ex-sports star who works for the same company as Dana. Matt Baker ran the department but Elliot Cromwell owns the whole organization, having bought it recently from the previous owner. Jeff’s ex-girlfriend is a gorgeous, intelligent and brilliant conversationalist, Rachel Stevens. Gary Winthrop, a billionaire who donates a magnificent amount to a university is brutally murdered and we learn that his entire family a political First Family, was wiped out in different incidents.

 

Her adopted and disabled son Kemal, lives in perennial doubt that he will be sent back and is taunted by classmates and therefore rebellious.

 

When she tries to probe the killing, she is firmly told to desist. She finds one chink in the impenetrable armour and talks to an ex-employee who had filed a suit against the father. She is stunned to see that this secretary lives in a palatial mansion like a millionaire, but refuses to talk about the lawsuit at all, looking very frightened when Dana mentions the subject suddenly in a meeting.

 

After a couple of days, in an apparent attack of conscience, Joan Sinisi, the employee calls her from a public phone in an apparent attack of conscience, and never turns up for the rendezvous. Dana is stunned to learn that she ‘accidentally’ fell from her own balcony to her death. Marcus Abrams is the detective in charge of that investigation.

 

She is tracked at every step by persons unknown. We realize that her house is bugged and her rental car is too. When she realizes that the ski accident of Julia Winthrop and the car accident of another son is also suspicious, she realizes she is in dangerous territory.

 

Meanwhile, Kemal’s new housekeeper seems to be a dream come true.

 

Overall, this is strangely tedious for a Sydney Sheldon story. Yes, the narrative style is there; the superficial descriptions of everything and the suspense building is done. But unlike his other – and better – books, this is all about a reporter following a story and someone desperately trying to thwart her efforts. Where are the stunning twists we saw in The Master of The Game or The Rage of the Angels, just to name two?

 

Well, she finds three people who describe Winthrop as a monster and have motive enough to seek revenge on the whole family. She hears of a Russian situation and heads to Moscow. Finds (purely by accident) and destroys the tracking device embedded in her pen in Moscow airport.

 

After being stonewalled in Moscow by commissar Sasha Shdanoff despite his brother Boris trying to drop hints, she is about to give up when an envelope arrives with a promise to reveal all, and asking her to come back to Moscow with little trace of this to anyone. She goes. Meets the surprising person. And has an enormous plot revealed by that person for a promise of help in smuggling the person out of Russia before that person is killed.

 

She is too late to save him  (OK it is a man) and is now openly the target of assassins.  The twist of who the evil kingpin is as well told as in other books by Sheldon.

 

The last few pages are vintage Sheldon, with everyone trying their best to kill Dana and she successively outwitting them each time.

 

But the entire action is placed in just the last few pages and a hurried ending needs to be arrived at, so this whole thing is not as exciting as his other books are.

 

5/10

 

–  – Krishna

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