bookspluslife

September 26, 2012

Tamil Movie: Subramanyapuram (2008)

Filed under: Tamil Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:50 pm

What a let down of a movie! It “won critical acclaim” they say but I cannot see anything in this movie that stands out.

The story is about three friends and another disabled (polio) friend who seems to come and go, and not stay with these chaps all the time. The story happens near Madurai in 1980s. It revolves around three folks, Azhagar (played by Jai, a newcomer), Paraman (Director Sasikumar himself) and Kaasi (played by Ganja Karuppu). Dumka is the name of the polio afflicted disabled person.

First the few good things. The scenes and the settings seem real. The people seem real. None of the made up cinema actors. All newcomers look and act as if they could live near your home (if you lived in a village in Madurai, South India, that is). Even the romantic interest, Tulasi (played by Swati) seems someone you would meet on your way to the shop. The sets are great, including the celebrations, even the cycle shop with the loudspeaker, everything looks and feels real.

The attention paid to the ambiance is totally lost in the story or dialogue or presentation.  The story drags on first, with nothing happening, for the first two thirds of the movie. It is as interesting (almost) as watching paint dry. The only thing that happens is Paraman grinning like an idiot whenever Tulasi passes by, and Tulasi looking at him with (what is meant to be I guess) ‘I am interested’ look. Fine. But when they keep doing it for what feels like hours, you tend to think that it probably is a waste of time watching this movie.

Reminds me of the artsy “foreign” films (from Czechoslovakia and Poland) they used to show in 1980 in movie clubs, where essentially, nothing happens, but this one is not even as classy as them in production!

And then someone involved in the making of the movie seems to realize that a story is needed and one is supplied. The politician, who is a has-been and who is being bypassed by others in the party (Somu is the screen character) and his brother Kanagu keep coming and going for all this time and suddenly Kanagu hints to the three that a rival should be ‘finished’ so that Somu can get the post and “look after” the three. So the three just go ahead and kill him (Yes, they were into brawls and rowdy behaviour but murder seems to be an easy, thoughtless step to them). They are stupid enough to leave a fairway sized trail that leads directly to them and are thrown in jail. When they realize that they have been betrayed and saved by another man, they agree to do another murder for him in gratitude.

The movie goes into an orgy of violence from there and the characters betray each other for unconvincing reasons.

All end up dead except perhaps Kaasi, who seems to remain alone but in the last scene, someone says they are all dead! As if it is not confusing enough already.

Well, just to up the gore, they suggest that Azhaghu cuts off Kanagu’ s head and takes it with him in a bag in revenge for Parama’s killing. They show just the bag, thankfully.

They seem to break into a dance for rustic music for no reason at all. Rajnikanth fever in villages is shown where the crowd totally goes crazy when the superstar appears on the screen but it has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

All in all, a totally wasted effort. Let us say 2/10

— Krishna

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Book: Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:15 pm

It is not for nothing that Stephen King is known for his books and is one of the most popular fiction writers. This is another of those books that are wonderful to read. King has written many excellent books (Insomnia for example) and very few really bad books as well (Tommyknockers comes to mind). But when he gets it ‘right’, like in this one, he can be incomparable.

But unlike The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (Reviewed here earlier) which takes off in the very second page, this one starts a bit slow and even – dare I say it? – boring. But it really takes off when the hero, Scot Landon, a writer, gets shot, around page 40 or so. Then it just keeps its pace, never letting up. (One different thought: Have you noticed how many  of King’s books are written around writers or aspiring writers?)

The story is told brilliantly, except for the first few pages. The character is developed slowly. Lisey is widowed and is living alone, with painful memories of her husband Scot, right from the first page, but Scot appears a lot in her flashbacks. The story also slowly takes on a supernatural flavour, in the very Stephen King way of allegories. The allegories are brilliant: The pool where everyone goes to drink, for instance. The background story of Scot Landon gets more and more fascinating and scary, and takes you deeper and deeper into his painful and strange childhood, with a brother and father both getting progressively maniacal in turns. Scot’s amazing ability to heal faster from wounds (“We Landons are fast healers”) is explained in a charming and fascinating way.

Lisey herself has issues on her family’s side; her sister Amanda, who cuts herself regularly after a total failure of her relationship; Amanda’s increasingly catatonic state of mind, where she had to be admitted into a sanitarium; her miraculous recovery once Lisey understood where she had really gone in her mind, all told beautifully.

Add to it the semi-lunatic Jim Dooley shows up and does unspeakable things to her to force her to give up her husband’s manuscripts to a library of his choice, the story turns even more intense, if that is possible.

The first time Lisey has any inkling that her husband is not an ordinary man is when she suddenly finds herself into a forest, with no memory of how she got there. She was talking to her husband in a hotel room and suddenly she was in the outside, with absolutely no explanation. From there, she learns of the Boo-Ya Moon, the creatures there – good, evil and so unspeakably evil that the mere mention of it creates revulsion.

The fact that Scot had even planned events after his death is amazing, and well told.

You possibly wonder why the story is proceeding further when the main event is over (the main bad guy is dead or worse) but the ending justifies the continuing of the story and is beautifully told. You fully understand why the story continues, and in fact, agree that it completes the narration!
I think it is a wonderfully written book, if you get past the initial drag, and if you remember the kind of books King writes. Not too deep, not too intellectual, but – heck – really entertaining!

I would not hesitate to give it a 7/10. It does not get an even higher score only because of the initial 40 pages or so.

— Krishna

September 24, 2012

Book: Temptations of the West by Pankaj Mishra

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:29 pm

The full title is : Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond – By Pankaj Mishra

First of all, the good points. Mr. Pankaj Mishra seems really to feel the distress of the downtrodden. His English and narration is excellent. He starts from a personal experience of a single man and pans back into the national context with telling effect.

Unfortunately, the bad side of the book vastly overwhelms the good side. We start with the Title itself. It is completely wrong. It does not tell you how people should prepare to face the modern world. There is not even one piece of advice. Nor does it offer solutions to anything. It just rails about the misfortunes of the poor and reaches completely wrong, simplistic and even irrational explanations on why this should be so. And in doing so, it completely disappoints a reader who wants to be informed dispassionately about the great issues he thinks that the author seeks to tackle.

It reads like a book Michael Moore would have written if he wrote about India and was at his unreasonable best. It employs much of the same techniques. First, the author states a conclusion based on his personal prejudices and biases. Then he seeks to substantiate it. How? He simply gets hold of a few people who hold similar views and then “interviews” them. Based on such “evidence” he “proves” that his theory is correct. He ignores every fact or aspect of the issue that is inconvenient, presumably because may potentially sow the tiniest doubt in the minds of any reader, or spoil the narration or bring a balanced argument to the issue at hand. Mix it with some facts that slant the way of the argument  and throw in some narration of past history, and it reads like a well researched book.

If you want a balanced view, please stay well away from this book. If you want an one sided, biased view, go ahead and read this book. Like the viewers of Rush Limbaugh’s programs or, at the other end, Michael Moore’s tirades in his films, you will find much to gladden your heart.

Another comment about the Title: the book seems to be all about India, with hastily added sections on Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet added to make it more appealing to the intended international audience the author wanted to attract. ‘Kashmir‘ is dealt separately, clubbed with other independent countries. Of course, the author does not argue that it is, or should be, a separate land, but you make your own conclusions.

Not that much is hidden. The theme is India is that Muslims and low caste Hindus are much oppressed by the high caste Hindus and have no way of expressing themselves. The Hindu Nationalist BJP was systematically exterminating them and Congress is no better. All foreigners are ignorant of all facts in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet and Kashmir and are content to fully buy into Indian Government Propaganda. The British favoured Hindus against Muslims all through their rule.

Well, the inconvenient facts are ignored. The fact that BJP came to power, and to broaden their appeal, had to move to centre, and get a more secular outlook is completely ignored. Even magazines like India Today, which started reporting on facts and not the prejudices were dismissed: “The once respectable India Today lost its quality” is his conclusion. Well, what about the rise of parties dominated by the lower caste people in many states? (BSP of Mayawati and the regional parties in Tamil Nadu). Well these are never mentioned because it unfortunately proves the opposite view of the author. Better to completely censor such inconvenient facts. Even the hardships of Kashmiri Hindus forced to leave their homeland is “justified” by saying that “Most of them are rich anyway; many of them moved abroad and are well off. What is the problem?” He even goes to the extent of alleging that they were evacuated from Kashmir so that the cruel governer Jagmohan can ‘get at the Muslims undeterred‘.   Wait…. what?

Sadly, even though there is absolutely no grounds to do so, still they are unhappy to lose their homeland and homes, those ungrateful Hindus of Kashmir! Should they not be happy that they were driven away from their homeland?  Better not compare their fate with the Palestinians, that would be inconvenient.

Don’t get me wrong: I am sympathetic to the problems and troubles and anger of the oppressed, no matter who they are. But when you read a blind tirade from a very extreme biased position, it rubs you the wrong way.
Other Nuggets from the author:
Caveat: I have not produced his arguments verbatim but have faithfully tried to replicate his central ideas. The stuff in brackets are my comments regarding
these:

1. Muslim rulers were benevolent to all religions but the entire Independence Struggle of India was led and cornered by Hindus and Muslims were completely
excluded.. “Natually” they wanted Pakistan. (Don’t mention Gulam Nabi Azad or any of other leaders Don’t even think about the Bollywood domination by the
three Khans – Shah Ruck, Amir and Salman. Don’t look at all the industries led by Muslims and do not speak of the ex President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam. Don’t
bring inconvenient facts into the discussion. Nor bring up the cruelty of Aurangazeb, for example, for his own subjects or Ghazni’s expensive antics. Shhh! )

2. Afghanistan’s Buddha Statues were blown up by Taliban only because they wanted to get the World’s attention. Anyway they were ugly and an eyesore according to ONE British writer. (So why all the fuss about these being blown up, anyway? Moreover, I thought westerners did not “get” Asia. Now I see it applies only if they disagree with the author’s views. When they agree, well it is an “enlightened expert opinion”.)
3. Everything in Taliban’s rule was great, even for women. The only problem is that travel in the buses is not safer for women, which is why they were not allowed to travel in buses alone. (Who told the author? By his own admission, the wife of a Pushtun villager. But she was not allowed to talk to him directly, so the husband took the question to her and brought back the “answer”. It is better than not talking to her at all, is the author’s only explanation on accepting this in full, and basing conclusions on these)
4. The crown prince in Nepal, Dipendra, committed regicide because he was a ‘sensitive man, and could not take the plight of the poor folk in Nepal’. (What? Do I need to even say anything to illustrate how stupid this argument is? )

5. Based on one, obviously a known eccentric, producer’s evidence, the entire Bollywood is corrupt and has a close nexus with the Underworld – without exception. (What about actress Preity Zinta’s and Rakesh Roshan’s courageous stand against the extortions? No inconvenient truths please! Shah Rukh “caved
in” by being decent enough to apologize for the unintended slight to Amitabh Bachan?)
6. You cannot both be religious and modern – in the context of Tibet, especially the description of Lhasa. (What about Malaysia? Or Turkey? Please forget that these countries exist. They are inconvenient counter examples, and we do not allow them for the readers of this book)

7. Modernization and industrial productivity are all unbridled capitalistic activities and are uniformly bad. Look at what the Evil China has done? (“Huh?”)
8. In one case he seems to imply that a boy whom he met was subsequently killed by police brutality but then says, “It could not have been the boy because he had lost his father and this boy who was killed had both parents alive.” (I amvconfused, Mr Mishra, what was the point of the whole statement?)
It is not to say that the book is devoid of truths. There is definitely truth in the allegations that politicians have destabilized parts of India for petty political gains; It is true that Tibet is not given its due place by the Chinese government. But such arguments are lost in the drivel that fills most of the book and the argument is so flawed that a nine year old can poke holes in it.

The author is very proud of how, even though he is a Brahmin in India, did not fall for the high caste propaganda against Muslims and how he has trancended his “origins” to understand the various facets of the problem. Again, the empathy and the nobility are lost in the venom spewed indiscriminately throughout.

What could have been a thought provoking, balanced book has been sacrificed on the altar of partisan, almost crazy arguments. More is the pity.

I would award it a 1/10

— Krishna

September 20, 2012

Book: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:37 am

Post Apocalyptic Genre is a subsection of the Science Fiction and has spawned its own legion of books. It can be done very well, or badly, just like books in any specific genre. This book, sadly, is not one of those that is done right.

This book describes a world which emerged after the sophisticated civilization destroyed itself and the survivors started living like primitive men, with bows and arrows, fractured English, no knowledge whatsoever of the sciences etc. Riddley Walker’s father is a connection man. Who is a “connection man”? One who tells stories to entertain people with finger puppets made of wood. They all have some common tradition, with Eusa going to the ‘heart of stone in the heart of wood’, meeting two dogs called Folleree and Folleroo, which, in that hallowed place, stand up on their hindlegs and start talking. Eusa meets the Shining Man, whom he splits into two and therafter is trouble in the World. Or so goes the legend.

At the start of the book, Riddley barely reaches adulthood when his father gets killed by a giant machinery that they dig and unearth and lift, when it slips and falls on him. The machines they unearth are beyond their comprehension, and are generally curiosities. They wonder about ‘giant ships that went in the air, seemingly used  by an earlier, amazing civilization and about fizzics and chemistry that they had’.

Riddley in turn becomes the connection man, and is a huge failure on his maiden show. When he finds that a black dog seems to guard him and is friendly, he is amazed and worried, as these are normally savage dogs that kill men. When he finds a strange puppet from under the earth, he does not want to hand it over to the village as the rules demand and he jumps over the fence to escape. When the dogs follow him, he is convinced that he is on a mission ordained by a higher power.

He goes through an adventure of saving Ardship, an eyeless man who is clairvoyant (a ‘listerner’) and slowly realizes that he is a listener too. He then comes across a bunch of yellow stones, doubles back to his village to meet one Phist, only to find that Phist has been executed by the evil Goodparley, who has anticipated his every move and also has captured him. Then Goodparley allows Phist to go back free, since he ‘knows that Riddley will be drawn to the centre of the events, which is Canterbury (called Cambry in those future times).

The story has enormous possibilities but is fully squandered by the telling. The story is even more boring than is narrated above, and many of the scenes does not even make sense. Things happen at random. Initially,  the Ardship (Ardship of Cambry? Is it supposed to be reminiscent of Archbishop of Canterbury?) is good but then he is bad. First Phist is good, but he is dead. Goodparley is bad but then really good, but then defeated by his deputy Orfing. What about Orfing? Bad but then repents and becomes Riddley’s friend. Confusing enough? We have not even scratched the surface. The Eusa story is told in annoying repetition, with variations, making you wonder if it is Jesus, then it turns out it is St Eustace, and then, after all the hullaballoo about it and Cambry and a Lord-of-The-Ring type Odyssey with a sense of destiny, it fizzles out completely. The ending is a huge disappointment, which makes, again, no sense.

It is a complete waste of time, and I would recommend you give it a miss.

In all, it deserves a 1/10.

— Krishna

September 18, 2012

Book: Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:00 pm

This is a book that follows the life of Georgie Jutland. She has been always the wild one, rebellious and unconventional, refusing to follow the conventional roles set aside for girls and being fiercely independent. She learns to ride a boat and fish as well as her father, and when she realizes that the father has encouraged her not out of pure love and admiration of her but to show off to his friends, turns around in disillusion and becomes a nurse in the war zone.

She has had several adventures with several men, including an American with whom she has traveled from near Sydney where she lives to the remote coasts of Australia, and been shipwrecked into an island there.

When she arrives at a remote town (fictional) called White Point, she naturally falls in with Jim Buckridge, a wealthy, lucky, influential fisherman who also has two children living with him and whose wife is dead.

She accidentally meets with Lu Fox, an erstwhile musician who gave up music completely when his whole family died in an accident, and whose mother died in another accident. He lives alone, and lives by poaching fish without a license, in the sea. Fate throws them together when Georgie’s van breaks down and she hitches a lift from Lu. They discover that they are in love with each other but Georgie goes back to Jim, deciding that her life belongs with him. When Lu comes back to his place, he discovers that his place has been trashed and his dog killed.

Losing everything, he vanishes into the wilderness of Western Australia, and is unconsciously drawn to the very place that Georgie had mentioned – the island where she was shipwrecked. Before he goes into the wilderness, he posts a letter to Georgie from Broome, the nearest town. In the letter is simply a pinch of the characteristic red soil from the place – enough, he hopes, for Georgie to realize where he is.

He then begins his life in wilderness.

Georgie is bitter about the way Lu was treated and is certain that Jim is behind the slaughter of the dog. He denies any part in that and takes Georgie to an unspecified location as atonement for a crime that he did not even commit.

The story ends by bringing all these disparate strands together.

The story is told well, and the style used follows the convention of not using quote marks, rather like Roddy Doyle or Michael Ondaatje.

The raw power of descriptions sometimes is fascinating, and the storytelling also follows the technique of mixing reminiscence with current story  to weave in the past history of the characters.

The life in a small fishing town of Australia is well brought out.

Georgie’s spirit is also described well – as in her going for her mother’s funeral and jumping into the swimming pool naked, in full view of the guests, including the children, to the disgust of her sisters and family.

An interesting book – not the absorbing, fascinating, raw story like The Poisonwood Bible perhaps, but still a good read.

I would give it a 7/10

— Krishna

September 17, 2012

Book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:27 pm

This book has garnered renewed attention due to the movie about to be released, with Tom Hanks in the lead. Having read this book before all this attention, I wonder how they are going to film this, as the book, in my view, does not lend itself to movie making. (Why? Read on.) But, if Hollywood thinks that they can make a successful movie out of The Life of Pi  (reviewed here earlier) which is an even more bizarre story from the point of view of movie making, they can film anything, I guess.

Back to the book itself.

My advise to you, if you take this book on hand to read, is to be patient. The book is a good read, but you do not realize it while reading the first part of the book. If you are the type who reads a little and discards the book if it does not prove interesting, you wll not stick with this book, unless you have a hint that it gets better, and so I duly provide that hint here: It Gets Better!

The easiest way to explain the book is to imagine six different books, with six different stories. However, unlike the traditional reading, where each story ends before the next one begins, imagine the book published as if each book is embedded in the other. That is the first story begins first, goes half way through, and then the next story begins. Before that one ends, the third one starts and so on. (For the computer geeks out therse, these are nested function calls !) The sixth or the innermost story, is told in full. Then the second part of the fifth one is told, and then the fourth etc, in reverse order, as if you are reading the second half of the books so arranged.

This alone would not be enough to mark this book apart, and as a finalist positon in the MAN Booker List for that year attests, the book distinguishes itself in many other respects as well. For one, each story is told in different time periods, progressively forward right from the slavery ridden past of the early 20th century to the future world of designer men and women. Even more interestingly, the ideas criss cross (in the style of Holes, by Louis Sachar, also reviewed earlier here).

For example, the central characters have moles that look like comets. A certain hill that looks like a man reclining (man made? natural?) make their appearance. In almost all cases, these are interpreted differently by the characters in the story. Even more impressively, the stories refer to each other as characters come into contact with things that relate to another story! For instance, Sonmi, in one of the stories a central character, becomes revered as God in another.

As if all this is not enough to make you love the book, each story has an unexpected twist that takes the reader by surprise. Not as effective or dramatic or as late in the story as the famous ‘Tales of the Unexpected‘ by Roald Dahl, but still packs quite a punch.

In addition, the very language (narration) style changes from story to story, to suit the times. In the 1930s it is the old style of writing with ‘&’ and ‘etc’ liberally sprinkled, to the loss of language skills slowly in the futuristic days – presumably due to reformation in one case and loss of skills in the other. The beauty is in leaving these unstated, for the reader to puzzle out.

All these make this book a great read.

Bad points? Some ‘deux ex machina’ endings and even events – it is one thing to pack a surprise in the story, but another to contrive events to generate that surprise. These make the book like watching a James Bond film, where reason must be locked in your home cabinet before you can enjoy the story.

Now for the stories themselves. The first one is 19th century and deals with an Adam Ewing, who sails home on a ship from Australia via Polynesia. He befriends a good doctor, and rescues a slave, and they set sail on a ship bound for Hawaii. Adam is an American but the doctor Dr Goose is British. Thge story is told through the journals of Adam Ewing, and revolves around many events. The description of the punishing of the slaves, the hardships on the ship voyage, the stay in Polynesia where cruelty reigns in the attempts of the British reverend Horrox to ‘educate and reform’ the natives all make intersting reading. The suffering due to worms of Adam Ewing that gnaw his ‘cerebral tubes’ and his real agony due to the illness are vividly described.

The second story is the story of Robert Frobisher, who becomes famous for all times for his composition ‘Cloud Atlas’. (Yes, clouds are a recurring theme in all stories as well). The surprise here is his letters to Sixsmith, his friend. He comes across as an idle, unscrupulous, penniless vagabond, who worms his way into the good graces of a great composer Vivian Ayres. His wife Jocanda(?) and daughter Eva loath him on sight but the musician hires him as his apprentice. (No, the twist is not that he stole the composition.. nothing so trivial. ) He ends up having an affair with the wife and feels stuck to the place. This story is set in the early twentieth century.

The third story is that of an intrepid reported called Luisa Rey, who, though working for a tabloid rag called Spyglass, is an intelligent and honest young girl, rather pretty. Having stumbled into a huge scandal in a huge corporation called Seaboard Power with a dangerous discovery. The scientist who invented it, Rufus Sixsmith (yes, the very same who, as a youngman, received Robert Frobisher’s letters) has written a report recommending closure of the project but powerful forces suppress the report and want to kill everyone, especially Luisa Rey, who are getting too close to the truth… The time period is the 1960s, I think,

The fourth story is that of Timothy Cavendish. He is the owner of a wildly successful book, writen by Dermot Hoggins, who sold it for a song and Timothy reaps all the money. Dermot dies and his relatives send goons to ‘recover’ their portion of the cash. Timothy is fooled into signing into an Asylum, from where he has no way of escaping, and is kept in forced confinement… The story, with its references to Al-Qaeda, among others, is late nineties.

The next story is Orison of Sonmi – 451, in the future, where women and men can be fabricated to design to do certain tasks. Some are bred with altered eyes so that they can be used in mines etc where there is very little light. Others, like Sonmi, have been genomed to be waitresses. When Yoona 939 shows signs of increasing awareness not natural as per their design, and even plans to escape to the outer world where she is not allowed, she is killed to ‘rescue a child she had kidnapped’. For Sonmi 451, who is also showing signs of awareness and even had learnt a few things she was not supposed to see from Yoona, the adventure begins…

The last story is about Sloosha’s Crossing And Everything After. This is related to the Valleymen, who are civilized but live in mortal fear of the barbaric tribe Koona, who kill and steal at will. They also trade with the alien tribe of advanced technology called Prescients, who come across the ocean in a giant thing called ‘ship’ that moves by itself and brings wonderous tools that Valleymen had never seen. The story narrates Zachary’s life, whose father is killed by Koona due to Zachary’s own mistake and his brother Adam is carried off as a slave.
Due to another mistake of Zachary, a Prescient woman called Meronym as a guest. He spies on her, as she charms and wins over the entire village population, convinced that she is up to no good and even snoops inside her bag. He sees wonderous things but no proof that she is a spy. But his suspicions do not go away at all.. The story is set far into the future.

Good read, if you have the patience. I would give it a 8/10
— Krishna

Movie: ParaNorman (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:55 pm

This movie has everything going for it. Critics rave about this, the viewers like it, it is a box office hit – but why does it feel that the movie is a teeny tiny bit hollow?

Maybe it is just me. I did like a lot of the movie. Some of the scenes are very funny. It is just that some of the characters are a bit wooden and the initial scenes are a bit slipshod. The movie does take off after a while but the initial scenes mean that it takes a bit of getting over the initial impression that this movie could be just so-so; and though at the end I did admit that the movie is good, it did not elevate it to the “unadulterated great fun” category that some movies belong to. (A classic example of this is How to Train Your Dragon)

The movie is about a boy, Norman Babcock who is considered Freak by everyone else because he acts totally weird, talking to empty air and pausing to give way to or pat someone or something that is not there. How we learn the reason for this odd behaviour itself is interesting, even if this has been done in many movies, including the Sixth Sense and A Beautiful Mind. He is talking to his grandma calmly one instant and only when his father exclaims “Norman, she has been dead a while ago!” that you realize that he is seeing and talking to a dead person. He has that ability which wins him the mnemonic of “Freak” and total isolation in school. When he gains the enmity of the school’s worst bully (Alvin) you really feel sorry for him.

Turns out that he was right. His uncle (the hilarious John Goodman as Mr Prendergast) tracks him down against the wish of his family to tell him that he (the uncle) has a secret, Norman brushes him off because his family has forbidden him to talk to his uncle. But after the uncle dies, he comes back to convince Norman to read a bedtime story to an evil witch to “put her to sleep so that you can save the world one more year” – No I am not kidding – Norman’s goal is to save the community.

With the help of the only boy (who is also bullied because he is fat) whom he considers his friend (Neil) he decided to save the town. But is he too late? There are zombies prowling the city, seemingly creating havoc – throwing the crowd to a frenzy.

The movie has its funny bits, not the least how Norman’s sister, the blond bimbo Courtney changes her tune on Norman and turns the affectionate sister the moment she eyes the hunk of a brother (Mitch) that Neil has, and also how it ends.

The storytelling technique, though old as described above, still works. The same way we find about Norman’s unique gift, you also find out about the zombies and what they are. The bully, Alvin, is great too, especially when he chases Norman to teach him a lesson.

The only thing that falls flat is the characterization of Norman’s parents, and their conversations with Norman and Courtney.

I still would give it a 7/10 for its entertainment value.

— Krishna

 

September 15, 2012

Book: The Island Walkers by John Bemrose

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:17 pm

This was a book that was shortlisted for Booker Prize in 2004. When you read the book, you understand why.

Always, the MAN Booker Prize has given importance to family dramas and moving stories while the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize committees have not always tipped their hat to the portrayal of everyday life in different parts of the world. This book is about the quotidian life of the Walker Family. The Island in the title referes to their home in Attawan (a fictional town based on the author’s real home, which is Paris, Ontario) in Southwestern Ontario.

Alf Walker is a foreman in a factory called Bannerman’s , a respected man, and the story starts when Invertex, a large corporation takes over the factory. Since that is the main employer in the small town, there are ramifications to the decision. When Chuck Prince, the new manager, asks Alf to show the bosses around, everyone in the factory expects Alf to get the post of managing the factory under the new bosses.

In the meanwhile the Union representatives who were never able to get into Bannerman’s try through Alf to influence the workers now. Alf rejects the idea but is tricked into telling a name of a co-conspirator. When that man is pressed by the new management, he identifies all other employees, and they all are fired. And Alf’s
best friend commits suicide. The guilt drives Alf to silence. When he also discovers that a young man with no experience, Kit Ford, is brought in for the Manager’s position that he sought, his world slowly falls apart. He has an affair with a colleague and his wife discovers the fact, if not the person. Slowly, even his wife Margaret drifts apart from him. He confronts Kit Ford when Kit misbehaves with a colleague and is fired from his job for his pains.

The story also features his son Joe, who falls hard for the eccentric but beautiful Anna McKimmon, only to discover that she is not available. He breaks up with his loyal and adoring girlfriend, enters into a relationship with the rich and beautiful Liz.

Jamie, the younger brother, has a friendship with a boy called Billy who seems to lead him into trouble whenever he is with him. He cannot seem to shake him off. The association turns distinctly unpleasant when he visits the house of a dirty old man with Billy.

Penny, the youngest sister, has her own growing up pains, what with being asked to do uncomfortable things like stripping naked by her group of girl friends, all of whom are ten or eleven.

The story just flows beautifully, the narration taut, involved, and unhurried. The mood is captured well, the sense of drift when events overcome the ability of the mills people to cope or when the interplay of mutual attraction between Joe and Anna is held back by their mutual relationships to others.

The ambience is perfect and you get a sense of watching from the sidelines as life unfolds naturally, and events unfold with their own sense of purpose and finality.

The scene where Jamie gets lost and the sense of desparation Alf feels is well told. The weight of guilt that Alf feels, the growing alienation of his own family, the accident that lays low Jamie in a coma, the separation of Anna and Jamie all are told with understanding and a passion.

A very good read, in the mould of Roddy Doyle, but describing a small Ontario town and the intertwined lives of the townspeople.

I would definitely say, a 7/10

— Krishna

Hindi Movie: Kahani (2012)

Filed under: HIndi Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:49 pm

Finally, a movie that is worth seeing, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Of late, even the lauded Hindi movies were nothing to write home about and I was beginning to wonder if I have lost touch so much with Hindi cinema that even the movies that others loved seem to be insipid to me: the recent examples are 3 idiots and Vicky Donor, the latter of which was reviewed here earlier. At least this movie redeems my faith in both the state of the Hindi film scene and my own alignment with its entertainment values.

This movie is shot in Calcutta and brings Calcutta ethos to life, including their great Durga Puja but this is no documentary. Instead, the background is seamlessly mixed into the story, which is one of Vidya Bagchi, played extremely well by Vidya Balan, who is pregnant and has come down to India from London to look for her missing husband Arnab. Arnab had come over to work for the NDC, but the police investigation reveals that there was never a person called Arnab who worked there. Vidya refuses to believe, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

The introduction  at the start of the film, prior to the titles does not seem to have anything to do with the actual movie, where they show the development of poison gas and deployment in a Kolkota (to give Calcutta its current and official name) train, in an act of terror.  It all comes beautifully together at the end, to the delight of the viewers.

Vidya starts her search in a hotel where she learnt that her husband was last seen, and the police inspector who comes to see her, Satyaki (played by Parambrata Chatterjee very well) is concerned about her safety. She resolutely refuses to go back to London, as he pleaded with her. Nor are the threats  but and bullying from Khan, the deputy chief of Intelligence Bureau to stop meddling in affairs that are too big for her can sway her. She is determined to have her husband back, no matter the cost.

The only lead that she has is from the HR person from NDC, who says that even though no one worked in NDC by the name of Arnab, Arnab in the photo looks like Milan Damji, an employee of NDC. Before Vidya can probe further, the HR person is herself murdered.

The truth and the shocking twist at the end are really well done.

There are a great number of good points in the movie. The first is how everyone is in character. And how, in the fashion of The Usual Suspects, there are a lot of hints in the movie, and also some dialogues that suggest a completely different flavour of what is happening until the full dialog is replayed at the end. For instance, where Khan asks Satyaki if he likes his job, after humiliating all the police officers and throwing his weight around. Brilliantly done. The second reason to cheer is that the actors portray the quintessence of Bengali behaviour – it does help that almost all of them, with the exception of Vidya Balan and maybe one other) are really Bengali actors.

And the character of Bob Biswas! Brilliantly played by Saswata Chatterjee, he is the quintessential timid man, who cannot even do his job of a salesman of insurance properly. However, you soon learn that he is really a ruthless and efficient contract killer, sent by his mysterious boss to eliminate the potential threats – including the HR person mentioned above. His look of confused incompetence, magnified by his thick glasses and very calming mien give make this an additional shock when you learn his real identity.

I can go on and on. I do not have any major complaints at all about the movie, except that the story inherently is cinematic and make believe. However, it is extremely well done in terms of acting, photography, ambience, the humor that runs through the movie (for example the ‘running hot water’ available in the hotel where Vidya stays), and the portrayal of it every minute and the final explanation of all after a twist, and how it was unwittingly aided by everyone involved (for example the sari presented by Satyaki to Vidya when she is about to meet her husband) is all extremely well done. One of the best Hindi movies I have seen in some time.

I will not hesitate to award this a 9/10

 

 

September 10, 2012

Movie: The Posession 2012

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:06 pm

A completely Hebrew horror. The problem with the movie, though, is manifold. For one thing, it is a rehash of all the posession movies we have seen. Come on, a young girl, posessed by spirits? And a priest comes in to exorcise? Sound familiar?

For another, the movie is completely cliched. The wife who has left the husband for another man, the husband brooding about it, and the conversations so trite. “Don’t give them pizza”. Later, “you gave them pizza?”. The kid saying, “Why did you not come to see me daddy? Don’t you love me?” All kinds of completely expected cliched situations.

The possession itself is not very well done either. They pick up a box from an auction lot and the old lady who wanted it sold and is completely bedridden shrieks when she sees the little girl with the dreaded box? And when this man – believe me he is by no means religious from all accounts – is told this is an ancient Hebrew horror, instant belief and ‘oh my god, how do we handle it?’. The answer? ‘Did you open the box?’ He says “yes”. “Then there is no hope, go away”. What? Really? These are the “experts”?

And it was so silly in many places that at first I was convinced that the director was making a parody! But no, he seems to have been dead serious.

If there is a redeeming factor, it is the elder sister’s acting (Madison Davenport) even though it is unnaturally bouncy when there is gloom all around. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan tries to give life to an essentially one dimensional role thrust upon him valiantly.

Is it only me, or did others also feel that this hero is a dead ringer for Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond series? The fact that the other one is a known comic kind of intruded on my appreciation of the serious portrayal, adding to the feeling of watching a parody. Of course, it is not the fault of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, playing Clyde, but still.

In many cases, it looked like a comedy with exaggerated acting and trite dialogues and so it was very difficult to get into the character.

Finally, even the evil itself looks vaguely like Gollum!

I cannot in all seriousness (no pun intended) give it more than a 2/10

 

— Krishna

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