bookspluslife

May 30, 2013

Book: The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:39 am

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A Booker Prize winning novel, it richly deserves the prize it got.

This is a great book to read. It follows the story of Victor Landauer and his wife Liesel Landauer. They are the industrialists with Viktor producing the famed motorcars. He happens to be a Jew and Liesel is a Catholic. The couple go to Paris for their honeymoon and while there, meet Rainier von Abt, a German (or Dutch?) who is a genius. On a whim, Viktor hires him to build him a Glass House in Prague and when this was completed, it was an amazing place, though many people and even Viktor himself has doubts on how good it will look.

In the meanwhile, Viktor meets a girl in Vienna, one Kara Kalman, who captures his mind so fully that he has to go and meet her every time. Kara also has feelings for him and takes him home to show off her daughter Marika. He realizes that she is a Jew.

The story is told in the backdrop of the gathering war clouds just before World War II. Victor loses Kara, and cannot locate her, as she left amid difficulties for Jews in Vienna. In the meanwhile, Hana Hanikova, another Christian wife of another jew Oskar Hanik, shows her fiery wild style and declares her love for Liesel.

When Kara turns up as a refugee in Prague itself, it is Liesel who suggests that they be housed in an outhouse, and later, hired as a tutor to Ottile, her daughter, and Martin, her son. Marika was to be a playmate to them. Viktor and Kara resume their relationship and is spied on by Lanik, the caretaker. Liesel discovers Viktor’s infidelity, is furious, but stays with him.

When Vienna is annexed by Hitler (Anschlus) and Poland falls next, Viktor sees the writing on the wall and moves to Switzerland with family (including Kara) in tow. On a French border, the Nazis inspect the train and take Kara and Marika away. Victor shouts at the officials and gets his nose broken and sent back. He crumples completely and Liesel realizes that he places Kara above his own wife and children.

They then move to America.

In the meanwhile, Czech nation is occupied by Germans. Hana’s husband loses all the money and has to wear a gold star. Hana strikes up a relationship with Stahl, an official who thinks that measurements of man can separate them into classes and even identify a Jew and gets pregnant in the bargain. When he finds out, he sends her off to a concentration camp. Oskar is taken to another camp and she never sees him again.

Fast forward to Soviet “liberation” of Chechoslovakia and Lanik has made a pile in the crisis by hoarding and smuggling. The Russian army commandant, a woman, has taken a shine to him.

Later, Tomas has the same situation as Viktor, where he has a relationship with two women at the same time; beautiful Zbenka and also Eve (Iva) who is a reporter. He tries to string Zbenka on, but is exposed and she leaves him. Hana meets her and finds love again.

Many years later, a blind Liesel, renamed Elizabeth Landor for Americans returns to Chech to see her Glass Room being converted to a museum. The story ends with Marika returning to see the house and meeting Ottilie in the bargain.

The story is brilliantly told. The story starts slowly and goes slow initially but gathers speed and kind of captures your attention somewhere in the middle and before you know it, you are hooked. The latter part of the book is brilliant, and well written. You see the betrayal of women by several men casually, and you get to hate some of them, but the characters are well done and credible.

Definitely worth a read, and makes you think  a lot after you are done. It reminded me of the Blind Assassin for some reason.

I would give it a 8/10

 

— Krishna

 

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Movie: The Croods (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:33 am

imagesThe critics panned it but the audience loved it.  I am with the audience on this one.

The story revolves around a prehistoric, Neanderthal family consisting of the father Grug (voiced by Nicholas Cage), his family of wife Ugga, daughter Sandy, son Thunk and the youngest daughter Eep. While the rest of the family is content to obey the strict rules required for survival in the prehistoric world that they inhabit, Eep (voice by Emma Stone) is a free spirit, rebellious in nature despite the dangers she invites.  Grug is exasperated with her.

One day, in the night, when everyone is sleeping, she sets out investigating a light she sees and meets Guy (voice by Ryan Reynolds) from a whole new species (homo sapiens).  He teaches her about fire.  He gives her a shell to sound if she needs him.

When their cave and therefore the entire sanctuary they knew is destroyed by earthquake and they are attacked by (imaginary) prehistoric animals and birds with no shelter to get to, Eep sounds the horn and Guy comes back, with fire, and drives the animals away.

The search for the next cave and/or a new sanctuary and the conflicts created by the unofficial addition of Guy to the family and the feelings of jealousy this engenders in Grug are all the plot of the remaining film.

The movie is great. Just do not expect historical accuracy or weighty subjects. In fact the story is simple, and the entire world of theirs is populated by imaginary and sometimes absurd creatures. (One example is piranhakeets a cross between piranhas and parakeets, swarms of  red furry birds that bite and strip off the bones of any creature)

The movie is really fast paced, with events overtaking them constantly, and danger lurking everywhere. They befriend a dinosaur like dog like creature they call Chunky. They also have, from the beginning, a talking sloth called Belt, which always stays wrapped around someone’s waist most of the time

Other lovely characters that inhabit the movie are the feisty grandma, the sabre toothed tiger and a dog they get on the way. Fun characters and fun world (populated also by carnivorous plants that can eat up man sized beasts)

The naming is clever, the characters are funny, and the events cleverly designed. If you decide not to question the logic or even the creatures invented for the movie, then it is an enjoyable ride; pure entertainment, very little education.

I think a 7/10 is in order.

 

— Krishna

May 22, 2013

Book: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

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

imagesThis is the story of the Judge, Jemanbhai Patel, who as a young man, went to England to complete his education and returned. He was a lonely man in UK and was seething with anger at everything. He, after retirement, lived alone with Mutt, his dog and his cook of many years in a sprawling bungalow in Kalimpong, at the edge of the Himalayas, in troubled times where GNLF men were asking for an independent Gorkhaland. The story also involves the judge’s wife, who was abused by the judge and sent away to her parents, and the child he never saw, who married a Parsee and gave birth to a daughter, Sai.

 Sai was in a convent and was fourteen when her parents died in a car crash in Russia, where her father had gone after being selected to be a comonaut in a Russian space vessel. She then came over to live with the Judge and the cook. The cook had sent his son Biju, to America to make money.

The story inolves Lola and Noni, who are in competition with Mrs Sen (Sen’s daughter only went to America which has no history and joined CNN whereas Lola’s daughter was in UK and with BBC). Lola was widowed and lived with Noni. Uncle Potty and his foreign born friend Father Booty, who had to leave India as he did not have papers after a lifetime there.

 Biju, having won a visitor’s visa to US melts away in New York and tries out a series of jobs as a cook and lives illegally with no medical help (He falls and thinks he has a broken leg)

Sai is initially taught by Lola and Noni and when, at sixteen, her lessons become too much for them, the judge hires a Nepali student Gyan, who falls in love with her and she with him. But he gets dragged into the GNLF sympathizing protest movement and they drift apart.

Lola’s house is totally taken over by the GNLF “boys”, she is humiliated when she goes to complain; the judge’s guns are stolen by other boys who some in; the police who come to investigate are not much better.

Biju ultimately decides to leave US and return; he cannot wait to meet his father again…

The story has several facets and at most parts, interesting. The narration brings to life several things – the north east with its terrorist movements barely controlled by a weak state government, an old cantankerous man living alone after antagonizing everyone around him, a fearful child who comes to live with a grandpa she has never met, the realities of the community where the strive for one upmanship with each other…

The ending seems a bit hurried and confusing. Generally a good story to read.

I would say a 7/10

 

— Krishna

 

Movie: Oz the Great and the Powerful (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:37 pm

imagesThis is the story of how the Wizard of Oz came to be. One of the favourite  Hollywood themes is prequels – imagining what the story before the story could have been and this follows the trend of the Star Wars series, the X Men and countless other stories (including Young Shakespeare in Love, if you want to include that as well).

The story is about an illusionist Oscar Diggs, or Oz for short (played by James Franco), who has no morals when it comes to women or even trust. He cheats, lies, does whatever it takes to get his hands on money or women or whatever takes his fancy.  On top of that is he sleazy and poor and unsuccessful in his magic acts. He tries to seduce the new assistant to the circus owner, Mary.

The magic show is great. When the rigged “volunteer” is made to levitate on the stage with a shroud over her, the audience sees thin wires holding her up. When the audience roars ‘fraud’ and shines a spotlight, they can see the wires clearly. A flustered Oz takes a sword and cuts off the wires but she stays floating and when he removes the cloth, the girl has also vanished. The crowd goes wild. Sweet.

When the philandering of Oz catches up with him with a bevy of ex flames, he runs from the angry husband and others into a balloon and gets caught in a tornado and ends up in Oz.

He is met by a beautiful young girl Theodora (played by Mila Kunis). Let us pause here and look at the impact.

Franco is absolutely perfect as Oz, with that easy charm and a kind of an amused yet kind of playful grin that suggest lack of seriousness in anything. The magic trick scene mentioned above is also spectacular because, knowing Oz by now, you expect him to cheat, and you are with the audience of the show in the movie saying ‘Great, he got caught! He deserves it’ because by this time you hate his sleaziness but then when he totally dumbfounds the audience he leaves you equally dumbfounded.  What is more, this totally integrates with the story because, though he is undoubtedly made of a weak moral fiber, you realize that he is indeed very talented.

However, the introduction to Oz is a totally different story. You see strange flowers and animals (reminds you a bit of that hit by James Cameron, Avatar) that never come again and have nothing to do with the story at all. It does establish that he is in a strange land, but it would have been nice to see them woven into the story somehow.  (At the very least like the strange creatures that form the entire backdrop to the Star War prequels all through the movies)

Back to the story: Oz uses his considerable experience with women and charms to totally captivate the innocent and inexperienced Theodora, who falls helplessly in love with him.  A nice touch, that, when you realize the later part. When he uses the usual charming trick of presenting her the music box that ‘has been for generations in his family’ like he has done for dozens of women before, you really want to strangle him!

The winged talking monkey that Oz rescues and makes into a sidekick (Zack Braff’s voice) is funny. Adds comic relief. The major evil doers are also evil winged monkeys… Go figure.

Her more skeptical elder sister, Evanora, seems to see right through him. When she shows the gold filled room, she sees him revel in his good fortune. She then tells him that she can have all this, provided he kills the Wicked Witch. He goes on a hunt, with the monkey in toe.

There are predictable surprises when he sees the real truth and gets in his mind to help the oppressed people and tries to help them. I lost count of the movies where this happens. Also cliché is the fact that the main female character (the good one) has to face her greatest fears before she can overcome evil. Again, standard Disney format.

However, there are a few surprises about who is evil and who is good, as well as how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be.

I cannot imagine Mila Kunis in the role that they finally gave her, and though she does a valiant attempt to live up to it, it grates.

I know that I have started talking in vague sentences and riddles, but this is just not to have spoilers here that may ruin the twists in the movie.

It is definitely entertaining, with a few cliché scenes but still deserves a 7/10

 

— Krishna

May 3, 2013

Book: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:37 pm

imagesThe tinsel town holds an unending fascination for many and indeed supports a huge celebrity gossip industry. Take a book about the 70’s revolution of Hollywood where some rebels came over to Hollywood as rank outsiders and turned the culture upside down, making daring movies, creating new paradigms and managing to change the entire tastes of the nation. And imagine this is written by a person who had a ringside seat of the action, a columnist who saw it all up close.

Add to it  the “I will tell it like it is” kind of writing, the book must be a page turner and interesting, right? You would think that it is impossible to botch it up even if you tried.

Peter Biskind succeeds brilliantly in turning this book into a book that you cannot wait to stop reading!

The prose is very boring, a long series of indiscriminate sex and drugs, and totally boring narration. It is about the Hollywood greats doped out most of the time and chasing women constantly and behaving like totally spoilt brats, behaving irresponsibly.

Even the above sounds more interesting than the presentation. It is a whole series of events and names, with no coherent description or concept of a story. It is interesting to read for a bit, with big names like Martin Scorcese, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Jack Nicholson and Francis Cuppola exposed as egomaniacal and psychotically paranoid characters but gets totally boring after a while, when it is repeated ad nauseum.

It is funny how the author worships the iconoclastic movie making which succeeded due to the public tastes as the genius of the individuals (Evans, Blagonovich and other has beens) and when the public taste changed again, and these people were unable to even anticipate let alone exploit it, moans about the fact that the art of the movie is “gone forever” and that ‘Spielberg and Lucas destroyed all creativity in Hollywood’. It is almost pathetic to hear him regret the rise of Reagan and Bush.

Now, I am not a Republican supporter of supporter of any particular politician but it is amusing to see the author so left wing that he bemoans anything remotely smacking of right wing thought. And besides, when the public tastes favoured the brats who made ‘different’ movies and threw out the established names in the seventies, it was magical, thrilling, pure genius. When the same thing happened to these guys, who were established names in the eighties, due to yet another change in the public tastes, it suddenly becomes sad and pathetic and “spoilt”. The author’s adoration for the select few who could not stand the test of time, as well as their unbridled hedonistic lifestyle mars the book. making it an adulatory one sided portrayal as opposed to a balanced view that I was expecting.

  The narration lets the book down badly even in this one sided portrayal and if you think back at the end of the book about what kind of message/ news/ story you remember, it reads like a jumble of old time newspaper coverage by a fairly unimaginative writer of excesses of the movie personalities and the ego trip and the tussle they had with each other, none of which stand out as a consistent storyline.

I would give it a 2/10

 

— Krishna

 

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