bookspluslife

June 28, 2013

Book: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:48 pm

imagesThis is a children’s book Talks of a futuristic society where everything is ordered. Every child follows the same regimen: at seven they get a bicycle as a gift, at nine they get assigned to occupations – including Birthmother, where your job is to beget children through artificial insemination for three years and get reassigned to Manual Labour thereafter. Children have to be requested by Mother and Father and the Committee of Elders assigns the Child to the Family.

People do not know how to lie. The central character of the story is a boy called Jonas. Jonas is excited about his Twelve Ceremony, where he will be assigned an occupation. Of course, there are ‘desired’ occupations and really undesired occupations, Birthmother being one of the latter. The Elders “study” the child all its life and when the child turns Twelve, they ‘know’ which occupation will best suit him or her.

In the naming ceremony, names are called in alphabetical order. When his name is passed over, he is ashamed and astounded. But at the end, he is given the most important job of all: The Giver.

His father is a Nurturer. taking care of newborns until they are ready to be assigned to a family who has requested them. He has a sister already, so the NewChild his father brings home and (illegally) nicknames Gabe cannot be adoped by the family as the limit of two children for the family has already been reached with Jonas and his sister. 

As expected of every family, they share ‘feelings’ around the table during mealtimes.

When Jonas begins his training, he learns that he was chosen because he has the Gift of Seeing Beyond. A previous Giver, chosen due to her gifts, asked for a Release to the Elsewhere. Babies who are underweight or a Twin who is of a lower birthweight than the other are also Released to Elsewhere. So are Old People, who anyway have to move to a Care Home at a certain age.

Though constructed as a mystery, the Release is very obvious. If the Giver disappears, the memories stored in them would be released into the community.  So, usually a Giver transfers all his memory to a new chosen Giver (Jonas is the current one) so that unnecessary and troublesome knowledge does not corrupt the purity and happiness of the community.

Jonas and the Giver hatch a daring plan to break this cycle of Givers and Receivers getting all the Wisdom to guide the community.

A fairly well written book and keeps your interest but the plots and language are simple – I do understand that the book is written for young adults, but so is Holes by Louis Sachar or any of the Harry Potter books. They are not simplistic but meant for young adults as well.  Since the undercurrent of talking down to you runs throughout the book, the book fails to achieve the heights it may have otherwise reached due to a good plot and narration.

A reasonably good read and gets a 5/10

== Krishna

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June 26, 2013

Book: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:23 pm

imagesThis is a smallish book, only about 167 pages or so, and that is big print. So it is not a long read. Which is as well, because it lacks the punch of the best known books of Ian McEwan like Atonement (reviewed here before)

This is the story of Edward and Florence, two young people falling in love with each other, each struggling to hide their main weakness and control it. Edward is afraid of his temper, which sometimes gets the better of him and Florence is repelled by the very idea of physical sex.

She still loves Edward, cannot back away from the marriage and what naturally should come after. They get married and go to Chesil Beach (a hotel with the honeymoon suite) for their honeymoon. There, everything goes wrong, as Edward could not control himself enough and has a premature climax.

Already dreading the act of sex, Florence runs away and he follows her to Chesyl Beach to have a conversation. The conversation, though they don’t know it, shape their lives thereafter.

It is a very slow moving story. The ending is good and is in some ways evocative of his Atonement in terms of what could have been, if things had turned out slightly differently. It is a little satisfying to read the ending and finish the book, but it is almost not worth the wait, as you have to plod through some one hundred odd pages to get to the interesting stuff in the last fifteen pages or so.

 Interesting in parts, but not a great read. It will get a 4/10 from me.

— Krishna

June 19, 2013

Book: Relentless by Dean Koontz

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:50 am

imagesAnother Dean Koontz and another exaggerated nothing. This one has an author (who thinks way too highly of his own work as it comes across in the book) Cullen Greenwich who is panned  by a famous book critic called Shearman Waxx. Though his agent asks him to let it go, the author’s pride is wounded and he wants to take one look at the critic – encouraged by a tip from the waiter of a restaurant that he frequents. He takes his genius son Milo with him and ends up insulting him with his son’s pee narrowly missing Waxx. Waxx says ‘Doom’.

 

Of course the author has an ideal wife, ideal marriage, all the right values, love enough for the whole world with sweetness dripping from every pore, and a dog – not a standard issue retriever of most of the books by Koontz but a dog so bursting with intelligent that the author (I mean the hero of the tale, not the author of the book) wonders if it is “just a dog”. There is wisecracking, unexplained scientific mumbo jumbo, unbelievable sequences of the omnipotence of the villain, very corny dialogues after traumatic experiences in a James Bond fashion but way less effective.

The story is weak, the twists totally artificial and not believable. We see teleportation of a dog, time travel etc everything attributed to the genius son Milo; there is the tough as nails wife Penny but sweet; there is the defeatist attitude visible in latter books as to how the world has gone totally corrupt and how the good people can only survive by going incognito and living life as people in witness protection programs do. What happened to the innocent optimism in the face of tough odds that permeated the early novels of Koontz that made them so endearing in spite of the tension and horror?

The twists are weak; suddenly the greatest villain is easily captured and meekly surrenders; the goons protecting him are all away ‘looking for this family’. The story looks like a very half hearted attempt by the author to fill pages and perhaps a deadline for a book.

I would not give it more than a 2/10

— Krishna

Movie: Now You See Me (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:43 am

imagesAnother movie, like the Croods,  where the critics hated the flick but the audience loved the same thing. But, unlike the Croods, I am not with the audience on this one, and I will tell you why.

The movie is not bad in entertainment value but when a movie tries to give improbable twists with very little reason, just so that they can tell you ‘you will never guess the twist ending’ it irritates me more than fascinates me. This movie has twists for the sake of twists and sometimes this becomes a bit too much.

Now, let us see what the story is about. Four magicians, who are struggling but talented, are invited by a stranger whom they met mysteriously but individually, to the greatest challenge of their lives through intriguing tarot cards. Plenty of scope to entertain already, showing their magic prowess. (Chosen card illuminated on a building, minds guessed with astonishing accuracy and so on).  They are mysteriously informed of the plan in an empty building and form the group The Four Horsemen, which does the impossible: Teleports a (real and unsuspecting) audience member (not a plant) to Paris in real time; not just any place, but inside a secure vault of a large bank and sucks him and the money out in real time back to the stage!  To add insult to injury, the money is spewed out to the audience to take home!

Well, the FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, in a convincing performance) is baffled, as is his uninvited French girl thrust as a partner – Interpol Agent Alma (played by Melanie Laurent).  The arrested magicians are almost arrogant since they know they cannot be held without proof of how this was done. Magic is not a crime, is it?

Theddus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who is an ex magician who exposes other magician’s tricks nowadays, is not fooled at all. He figures out (we don’t know how he knew the details by just looking at it, recording the act – illegally – and thinking about it. Come on, really?) He warns Dylan that a bigger act is in the offing in the next performance. (How does he know? Who cares at this point?)

Alma talks about a rumour of a secret society called “The Eye” a kind of modern magical  Robin Hood, where they steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Not to spoil the “twist” ending, I will stop. But here are my impressions.

The story keeps you watching for two reasons – things keep moving, the magic tricks are improbable but interesting; you keep wondering how they did it, and when Theddus unravels each of these, you are interested, like a murder mystery ending, to see not whodunit but how they did it.  In addition, the twist ending for Theddus (no he is not behind the whole thing, do not worry – this is not a spoiler!) is kind of cute.

However, the ending is so improbable that you go ‘wait, what?’ and then when you look back, it is so contrived that you are kind of irked. Also, the romance seems to have been stuffed on all of it as an afterthought, and does not gel with the rest of the story.

Yes, if you want to keep your brains completely off for the duration, you will enjoy the ride but the format of the movie makes you think that this is a thinking man’s game. You could not be more wrong!

Well, since the movie has undeniable entertainment value, it gets a 5/10

— Krishna

June 12, 2013

Book: In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh

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

imagesThe full title of the book is ‘ An Antique Land – History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale‘. The book is not at all what you would expect from the title. The history is simply the life of a merchant who lived in early times in Egypt and traveled to the Malabar coast of India and the travels do not form a concrete plan but seem to be necessitated by the author’s professional duties etc.

In particular, the book which follows the life of a slave Ben-Yiju who was a Jew in Egypt and who travelled to India, married a Nair woman called Anshu and took his children back to Egypt at the end, leaving behind his wife in Malabar.

The story is juxtaposed with the author’s own stay in many places in Egypt. He stays first in Lataifa, a small Egyptian town – almost a village, and then in a bigger town called Nashaway.  He goes to Damanhour, another small city. The author also returns to Mangalore, and then back to the old places.

The story of the author is interesting. Since he can speak Arabic fluently, he gets to meet and greet many interesting characters who are quintessentially Egyptian and parochial in outlook. In Lataifa, for instance, we meet Abu-Ali, the enormous, kindly, well read fellahin, Shaik Musa, who is conservative but friendly, and others. Abu Ali gives the ‘Doktor al Hind’ a place to stay for rent in his own house.

Amusing scenes exist where they think that Indian women, when husbands die, are dragged and burnt on the pyre with the husband and are amazed that anyone should think that cremation is normal when it condemns you to eternal damnation really. Ustaz Mustafa, a cousin of Shaik Musa tries to save his soul by inviting Amitav to go the mosque that very minute to convert.

Jabir, who is present, is convinced that Amitav is like a child and does not know about religion, sex, or anything.

An Indian Water Pump brought to the village, and Amitav’s demonstration of its workings reestablishes his credibility as the clever engineer in the villager’s eyes.

The story is populated by Nabeel and Ismail, cousins who do not look alike, Nabeel the talkative one and Ismail the quiet one.

Later they go to Iraq and become prosperous. There is a love story among the restrictive community where a boy and a girl fall in love and after many years of wait, after the boy’s family becomes rich, he marries her.

Quaint people, rich tapestry, local colour – all there but there is no story to speak of. Even Ben Yiju’s story is not very captivating.

A reasonably good read but not a masterpiece of any sort. I would say a 6/10

— Krishna

Movie : Iron Man 3 (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:16 pm

imagesThis is the third installment of the franchise. It appears as if, like M Night Shyamalan’s movies, this series is also on a downward trajectory, each succeeding movie worse than its predecessor. The first iron man was brilliant, the second was very watchable but paled in comparison to the first, and this one has a lot of clichés that bring it down another level.

Now, first, there is this disappointed disciple turned super villain. How many times has it been done? (From Incredibles onwards, where it was brilliantly portrayed) to (do I remember right?) one of the Spiderman movies in the series right? So when you see the avid fan Aldrich Killian bitterly disappointed after Tony Stark (the industrialist who is Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr) stands him up, you know something is going to happen out of this. When it does, you are underwhelmed. The villain is played by Guy Pearce, known for his role as the King in King’s Speech.

You need to take it to the next level, right? In a franchise, every new movie has to have a new gimmick that was not there in previous movies. This time, it is the new model 42 of the iron suit. Its unique feature is that it can fly over to wrap around him from a remote location. The initial failed trial of this is a very funny scene in the movie.

The other interesting scene is when Iron Man crash lands after escaping the complete destruction of his home (unseen where everyone believes him dead – another cliché of superhero movies) he hooks up with a boy who is eager to learn and is patient with him, throwing off his usual arrogance and also as a penance for his being arrogant to Aldrich before, I guess. These are touching and funny scenes in the movie, even though, with another hat on, you can see tons of clichés riding on these ones too.

The other interesting thing is the Super Super villain, above even Aldrich, called Mandarin – the international terrorist. (Played in a very unusual role by Ben Kingsley; if I tell you more, it will be giving away one of the twists in the movie). The twist about Mandarin is a cute one, and definitely catches you unawares.

Purists may crib – and I do too, with them – that in this movie Iron Man really doesn’t do anything except call his techie prowess to his help whenever needed. In the climax scenes, it is his technological wizardry that conquers the day – not him personally. Is it really Superhero stuff?

And, Oh, there is Don Cheadle too, as an able assistant to Iron Man. Robin to his Batman, so to speak.

Well due to the so many repeats, clichés and let downs, I will give it a 6/10.

— Krishna

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