bookspluslife

January 28, 2013

Movie: Skyfall (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:15 pm

imagesA very different Bond film? I cannot make up my mind about this film because it has its moments but definitely, it is not the typical film. One thing is clear, though: It is not in the nail-biting class of Casino Royale, the first Bond film with Daniel Craig as the Bond.

The movie has some firsts: Bond orders a beer! He does not have a dozen girls falling for him in series and ready to jump into bed with him at short notice. Even his coworker Eve is just that: a coworker. There is also a twist at the end about M, and I do not want to spoil the suspense if you are still waiting to see the movie.

And also, Bond does, by his usual standards, very little. He gets hit repeatedly, keeps losing in encounters. I know that Ian Fleming made this operator vulnerable and all but it is not in line with the cinematic Bond traditions. The book, in fact, implies that Bond is just one of the many operatives that British Intelligence has and is in no way much superior to anyone else: in fact, he is considered somewhat negatively for his rebellious streak!

And then there is the musing about Scotland and Bond’s ancestry that had critics swooning and making much of the new sensitive Bond in this film but I did not see anything special about it. Yes, the fact that he is a Scot is interesting in the backdrop of Scottish government’s plans for a referendum these days (Will Bond be still British if Scotland gains independence as a separate nation?) but apart from his butler, there is not much to muse and enthuse about, for me at least.

The one saving grace of the movie is the main villain: Raoul Silva, played well by Javier Bardem. I know that villains in many Bond films are interesting and still this man creates a twist that is interesting – his mannerisms, the expressions – nice indeed!

But that is not to say that the story is any more credible when he enters the picture. Consider this: He is an ex agent just like James Bond. Right? A very good one “the best one they had” and he turns rogue, OK? So I would expect him to have skills like James Bond, who is now the best of those remaining in the service. Even assuming he is better than Bond, he will have the same skills to a heightened degree. That would be credible. But no: he has totally different and incredible powers. For instance, he can out hack Q, who is the techie Guru that Bond and other agents rely on. (What?) And also, when he has been imprisoned, with armed guards around, he manages to escape. How? I do not know. He is simply missing, his cage is open, and the guards are dead. He is found running away. Come again?

Supposedly the hacking released the gates. OK, even if I buy that, how did he kill two armed guards? I guess in a Bond Movie, I can buy that. Still the techno geek and bond agent combination grates a bit.

I think that Skyfall deserves a 6/10

 

— Krishna

January 26, 2013

Book: 1776 by David McCullough

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:03 pm

imagesMy God, what a novel rendition of a nonfiction story! The presentation was  very interesting!

The title should give you a  clue on what the story is all about. Yes, this is the independence story of US: the rebellion of the British colonies, the attempt by the British to bring the rebels to heel and the leadership of George Washington and others in US towards the fight for independence.

You have read the story in your history books or other narrations – a dry, plain speaking narrative, that is interesting to you if you are a history buff. This book attempts to make it interesting to a layman, and in the attempt, manages to surprise you (At least me, since I did not know the details of the US independence struggle. It surprised me several times, in fact. )

The story starts with King George III pondering the trouble the American colony is causing the mighty empire. We learn about loyalists in the US who are against the efforts of George Washington and fools aligned with him trying to be independent. (Samuel Cuwen was an example of a loyalist).

The first surprise is in the story telling itself. It reads like how the story would have unfolded in newspapers, if the newspapers like today’s papers (think The New York Times). It talks about the personalities, what they said; it quotes reactions to individual events by the participants in the event (for instance Washington’s reaction to a major defeat in the battles with the English). This gives a unique flavour to the story.

The second surprise is how inept the Americans were altogether. From reading this, you get the impression that it was very hard for the British to lose this war, very near impossible; yet they managed to do it!

Also interesting are the side tidbits: consider, for instance,  the strange behavior—the so-called “madness” of King George III—for which he would be long remembered, did not come until much later, more than twenty years later, and rather than mental illness, it appears to have been porphyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century. Omterestomg/

American side had some colourful characters : We learn about Nathaniel Limp with no experience but a master intelligent and strategist, taught himself to read and taught himself military strategy too. But otherwise, the Americans only had a ragtag army with plenty of rum and food; the soldiers were simply farmers who did not even have a proper uniform or weapons. They brought whatever they had at home – axes, hammers, etc. They were trying to face the mighty army of the British, the most disciplined and the strongest force in the world at that time!

Vignettes like General Putnam asking an officer (corporal) to remove a rock because he is a General and will not do it. Nor will the officer!

What about George Washington himself? An interesting portrait including dad being a tobacco planter, very little education. He memorized 110 Rules of Civility because they will be useful when he became a “gentleman”.

Another interesting fact is that originally independence was not the goal even for Washington! King George III’s rigid speeches calling them traitors and refusing to consider more autonomy pushed them towards declaring independence as their goal, later!

Most of the army went back to farms and only the weak and the sick remained on the American side! Many times, if the British had pushed a little harder, they would have crushed the American army! Once for instance, they pushed the rebels out easily but inexplicably decided to stay and rest, instead of pursuing the retreating troops and make an end to the war then and there. But, on the other hand, the  British had no intelligence, no idea of the weakness, no plans to guess how enemy will think or act, like Washington always did

The careful plan to occupy Dorchester Heights  with cannons brought over is very well told. It is interesting to see how the British lost the good will of many of the people through pillage prior to evacuating Boston which they had occupied. The battle for New York is fun to read and you are surprised at the series of defeats that Washington’s “army” suffered. I don’t think many people have an idea of how one sided and how hopelessly outmatched the American side was by the British troops, in the beginning months of the war!

The reaction to the news of rape by British soldiers by the army higher officers (Lord Bowden said that ‘these acts only show their well fed and boisterous high spirits’) is  shocking.

Or consider this quote: “The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation, as the fresh meat our men have got here has made them as riotous as satyrs. A girl cannot step into the bushes to pluck a rose without running the most imminent risk of being ravished, and they are so little accustomed to these vigorous methods that they don’t bear them with the proper resignation, and of consequence we have most entertaining courts-martial every day.” The General Howe was known as “Black Dick” affectionately  (Wait, what?).

The letter to Britain written at this time said  “The Hessians and our Highlanders gave no quarters [the letter read], and it was a fine thing to see with what alacrity they dispatched the rebels with their bayonets after we had surrendered them so that they could not resist…. You know all stratagems are lawful in war, especially against such vile enemies to their King and country.”

Even on the American side, Washington did not have it easy. His leadership was questioned. His colleague, General Lee, constantly undermined Washington’s arguments to the Congress. As luck would have it, he got stupidly arrested by the British and removed himself as a possible problem.

The story stops well before the independence. The battles raged on and off and the book ends at the real turning point, Washington’s audacious victory at Trenton against all odds and how that started the sequence of events that culminated in independence, a few years later. All in all, a great style and retains your interest in what could have been a dry and familiar subject all the way through.

I think that this book deserves an 8/10

 

— Krishna

January 22, 2013

Movie: Mama (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:07 am

imagesI initially thought it was a Guillermo del Toro directed movie. What gave me the impression? Well, every poster screams ‘presented by Guillermo del Toro’ to cash in on his fame! However, it is not directed by Guillermo. He is an executive producer, which means that he invested in the film and was the decision maker. The direction, screenplay everything was done by others.

No matter; in parts it feels like Guillermo himself had taken part in directing or writing the script and it is very effective.

Now, the story starts in a cliché fashion. A man, who snaps under pressure of business failure, kills his business associates and wife and takes his kids away. The story is told well, in just conversations with his kids. The scenes can be a bit stilted where he is angry and frantic and shouts at the kids, but the two kids are adorable, barely four or five years old (Victoria) and a very small baby (Less than one? One?). Lily.  The cuteness of the babies kind of saves the scene before this degenerates into a B or C grade movie – before it takes off.

He crashes his car and gets into an abandoned looking house. (Hmmm.. another horror cliché?) and then in anguish, knowing that all is lost, tries to kill his kids. He is prevented from doing so by a malevolent presence in the house, which kills him and looks after the kids. Nice touch where a cherry is rolled towards the kids to eat, ties in later.

Now, the scene where the kid’s glasses are broken is very touching and is cute at the same time. The kids are just adorable and their dialog seems natural in the middle of all this.

Later, the kids are discovered by some loggers and given custody to his uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel. The pile of cherry pits in the houst whre they were discovered  is interesting. The kids are feral, though the elder Victoria has retained enough memory of her past life to be able to communicate.

Lucas and Annabel try to bring them back to civilization but realize that a presence called Mama by the kids has come with them to the house. The story is told in a chilling way. For instance, through  a partially open door, you see (the now five years older) Lily playing with someone and assume it is Victoria – because Lucas is at work and Annabel is carrying laundry in an adjacent corridor. But then you see Victoria coming from the opposite end of the corridor and you chillingly realize that she is playing with someone else. And before Victoria enters the room and closes the door, you see Lily flying with that someone else. Spooky.

There is another surprise. Annabel is played by a brunette version of Jessica Chastain. Is she the same lady as in Zero Dark Thirty? A totally different character and portrayal. Not bad for a newcomer!

The story has the obligatory nods to the horror clichés. There is the obligatory scientist who refuses to believe in the supernatural mumbo jumbo and pays the price for his investigations. There is the really semi cartoonish ending scene with Mama in her full glory. But the ending kind of surprised me and is not cliché at all.

All in all, in spite of the little formulaic presentation, a very enjoyable movie, just for the story telling, which has shades of   Pan’s Labyrinth like misdirection.

Let us say a 6/10

— Krishna

 

January 4, 2013

Book: A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khalid Hosseini

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:55 pm

imagesMy God, what a book! Storytelling at its best. Khalid has a style that is unique and very lovely. He tends to draw you into the story and get completely absorbed. No melodramatic narrations, but still he brings out the emotions so beautifully that you feel for the characters as they feel for themselves. I have not read his other best seller ‘The Kite Runner’ but I already feel that it is a pity that he has written only two books in all. This gifted a writer should write more books.
Yes, as you have probably guessed, I loved this book. The storytelling takes you to the locale (Afghanistan, small villages and Herat, a comparatively bigger town) due to its realism but still you have the twists and turns that make you gasp when the author again packs a punch that suddenly confronts you, sometime making you reevaluate your estimation of a character in the book.

The story revolves around two women and is told in an alternating chapters covering each woman. Their lives intertwine somewhere along the line and the flood of events sweep them both along in its inexorable wake.

The first woman is Mariam, who is the illegitimate daughter of Jalil, a rich man, to Nana, a housekeeper in his life. Nana’s three wifes hate the fact that he had a relationship with another woman outside of marriage and also hate Mariam, a constant reminder of the infidelity. Fortunately, Mariam never comes into contact with them, and lives far away in a village. But Jalil comes along once in a while, and takes her out and makes her believe that he cares for her. She rebels against the mother, against the advice of her only friend, the aged Mullah Faizullah and her own mother that she will bring everlasting shame on her and tries to gatecrash her father’s house, believing that her father will welcome her with open arms. When she is made to wait outside all night and also realizes that the father was inside all the time and knew of her existence, her faith in her father shatters and she decides to return home. Nothing is the same after that for Mariam.

Without giving out too much, she is forced into a marriage with an old man as his second wife, when his first died. The man is shoemaker Rashid, who treats her nicely first but then turns into a horrible man who tortures her mercilessly in small and big ways.

The second woman is Laila, a Tajik, who is much younger than Mariam. We meet her as a kid, adored by her parents – Bibi, her father who is learned, gentle and progressive ideas of how women must be educated etc. Her mother is nice but convinced that the Taliban are a force of good and hates the fact that the Russian puppet Nasrullah is the ruler of Afghanistan. She is a close friend of Giti and Hasina, girls like herself and also is a childhood friend of Tariq, a boy with a prosthetic leg and who is of Pakistani origin. Slowly, she falls in love with him.

With Herat being bombed, Rashid leaves for Pakistan and Laila’s father also wants to move. But her mother would not hear of it, and wants to see Taliban come in victorious. However, a bomb puts paid to all their plans and orphaned Laila marries Rashid against her will since she discovers herself pregnant and fears scandal and also learns from a traveler from Pakistan that Rashid was killed in a refugee camp. What else does she have to live for?

Now Mariam hates Laila since she has taken away her husband’s affections, cruel as he may be and Rashid goes from bad to worse when his business collapses and he feels more and more threatened by life. Even plans of escape come to naught for the two girls.

The story goes on to describe in graphic detail what happens to the girls. The plight of both, their transformation from innocent young girls to disillusioned, exploited, suppressed women and their courage in the face of insurmountable odds is all told with the backdrop of the Afghan politics, the change from the Russian domination to the internecine warfare of the various Mujahideen factions to the domination of Taliban and what it does to the country are all brilliantly laid out.

I have not talked of the major twists in the interests of both telling you what the story is about, and not giving away the major suspense in the book and so I have stopped at only narrating less than half the story.

The book is well written, the conversation is scintillating, the surprises unexpected, and the story at times brings a lump to your throat. For a cynical reader like me, that is really an achievement of the writer.

Amazing book, and worth reading definitely.

I would give it a 9/10

— Krishna

 

Movie: The Life of Pi (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:41 am

imagesVisually exhilarating, and very true to the book. Is that enough to call it a great movie?

If you read my review of the book earlier in the blog (The Life of Pi), then you know that I did not like the book very much due to its preachy and saccharine tone.

The movie fortunately tones down on the preaching.  They start with his identifying multiple religions but then stops short of his ‘everything is great, everyone is good, there is no evil in the world’ kind of worldview and I think that this has made the film more watchable. There is some of that philosophy when he claims that without the tiger (named Richard Parker) he would have died and regrets that it did not even say goodbye when it left, is still like the cloying sentiment in the movie as well.

The initial view of Pondicherry feels real and the songs and conversation are all in authentic Tamil (Though the accent of the mother Gita, can do with some improvement). The songs and the feel of the place all are definitely good.

The book has impressive visuals. The scene where Pi, underwater, watches the ship sinking down and realizes that most people are dead is like a painting.  The boat sequence in the beginning, with an ape, Hyena, and the zebra are lovely. The tiger is impressive and his struggles with it, first to not become a prey and later, to control it into coexistence, are all nicely told.

The island made of seaweed is shown slightly differently in the movie than in the book.

Some of the gross scatological details (Pi drinking his own pee and eating the tiger dung to survive?) are mercifully missing.

When the movie ends, you still feel that the story is improbable, and in the movie version, you cannot help compare it with other movies that are based on a single character – think Castaway, for example – and you feel that this movie does not measure up to it completely.

How is Suraj Sharma, an untrained actor picked since he looked the part? My impressions are mixed. He did not do anything to impress. He was adequate, maybe; anyway most of the work for him was done by the visuals.  Irrfan Khan, as the adult Pi, was much more eloquent, even if he came for just a couple of scenes.

But, as a technological marvel, the movie stands out. The boat scenes were shot in a swimming pool, and made to look like open ocean and the tiger was all animated! So was the fish and most other animals. Amazing work, and brilliant results.

I would say a 5/10

— Krishna

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