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July 31, 2013

Book: Flowers for His Funeral by Ann Granger

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:21 pm

imagesThis is a British mystery novel and the author was recommended to me years ago (along with Ann Perry, whose novels I have grown fond of) by a colleagues at that time. I had an opportunity to sample a novel only now. Maybe I chose the wrong one for my first novel but this novel left me very much underwhelmed.

Let us talk about the story a bit, first.

Rachel Hunter is the ex-wife of Alan Markaby and classmate of Meredith (Alan and Meredith are the detective couple who appear in many of Ann Granger’s books). She has not met Meredith in ages. She in the meanwhile has married Alex Constantine whose original name was  George Wahid – he emigrated to UK from Lebanon and changed his name and started a business which was very successful and he lived comfortably before he met and married Rachel.

As it happens, he  was murdered with a poisoned dart while right in front of the Markaby couple in a flower show and just after being introduced to them. Alan realizes that the cause of death is a dart. Meredith is invited to visit and commiserate with Rachel and arrives at the village villa Malefis, a very sumptuous house in the village. Chief Inspector Hawkins resents their presence but realizes he needs help. (He is against meddling detectives who interfere in genuine police work).

Neville, a very young boy who works in Malefis has a crush on Rachel and his mom Mrs James hates it. So does a girl who cares for him, Gillian, daughter of Mr Hardy. Gillian is young but plain and obviously has a crush on Neville, who is, according to her, is under the spell of Rachel.

Mrs Troughton, another village character, does not like Rachel either. In fact, Rachel does not seem to be liked by most for various reasons, the main one being her shallow and self-absorbed nature,  but everyone liked Alex. Troughton (Mrs) herself is despised by all and is a disaster in waiting. Martin is the bird-keeper of Rachel – you need enough suspicious characters to keep the reader guessing, right?

Someone tried to kill Meredith by rolling a heavy pineapple sculpture on to her. She survived.

There is Mavis who works for Troughton (what does she do in the story?)

Gillian gets hold of offending photos, and goes to confront Rachel regarding Nevil and his interest in her, when she is surprised by an unknown person and killed in the bird cage.

There is the villain of the piece who happens to be a cross dresser in secret, and Nevil and that person have a ‘friendly’ talk and Nevil gets killed. Meredith was hiding in the closet and understands who the killer is.

Meredith also realizes that the ‘woman’ in the funeral and the one found in the photos in the flower show are the same, and that person is the killer.

The book was slow. The ending is a bit of a surprise but you have to endure everybody walking around aimlessly all over the village (Allan and Meredith included) talking to people but you do not even get any clues. This goes on for the entire book. The murderer is discovered by Meredith hiding in a closet and listening to a conversation. How droll.

I think this book deserves a 2/10

— Krishna

Movie: The Conjuring (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:44 pm

imagesA creepy movie. In fact, it has all the formula elements of a scary movie in it that would normally make you wonder if it is a parody of a scary film. Yet the presentation of it is very competent and raises it to a level where parts of it are genuinely creepy.

First, the formula elements: there is a child who sees people where no one else sees them. Suddenly an ancient crone face pops up, with the makeup person  having made it as scary as possible. There are séance scenes where the paranormal medium manages to see people when others (arguably, because she was alone in that room them) may not have seen anything.  Religious symbols upset the evil spirit and so on.

Yet, the fun elements are also  there – I mean fun in a scary movie loving way. The interesting twist is where Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are paranormal investigators actually collect  various haunted objects from their various cases and store them in a securely locked room in their own house, where they live with a young daughter. Corny? Oddly, no. He with a delightful seventies style sideburns (Patrick Wilson, who was the boyfriend of Christine in the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera) and she with a mysterious inner talent towards the paranormal and their concern for each other and the toll it is taking on her and yet soldiering on to help terrified victims of demonic attacks is really endearing. This is what I mean by the treatment given to the scenes removes the scorn from the (s)corny scenes!

The first few scenes have nothing much to do with the main story. It is about another of their cases, where they collect a particularly malevolent looking doll after solving a case and put it behind thick glasses in their secure room.

The main story, though, concerns a family of – I think – seven. The father Roger Perron, mother Carolyn Perron and five daughters move into a house they bought and discover a dark cellar.

They first are happy in there, and really have fun, especially with a sort of hide and seek game where you clap at  intervals to give a clue to the seeker to where you are. Strange things happen almost from the beginning. Most of these are nice touches. A clap comes where nobody exists – in many scenes and in one particular scene that is shows in trailers that is really interestingly creepy. Welts appear by themselves on Carolyn’s body on a daily basis, when she sleeps. The long story short, the house is haunted by the spirit of an old witch who was caught sacrificing her own son and so was about to be executed. She hangs herself but not before cursing anyone who may live in the house.

That part is corny.

The movie then goes into a battle of good vs evil, where the youngest child sees some of the victims of the witch and the witch herself taking over Carolyn’s body and make her kill one of her children like the ancient witch tried to. When the Warren couple try to intervene, the spirits tries to attack their daughter in their own house.

 

Not a very logical story or a strong story.

But because there are enough twists and at parts is genuinely spooky, I think I will award it a 6/10

— Krishna

July 20, 2013

Book: Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

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

imagesFirst of all, what is Divisadero? A fancy way of saying “Division” apparently.

The story is classic Ondaatje, populated by unusual characters and sometimes weird conversations. If you liked his English Patient or Anil’s Ghost, then you will like this too. If you found those boring, give this one a wide berth as well.

The story prominently figures a man called Coop, an orphan working with a family which has two girls – identical twins – called Anna and Claire. The setting is n a remote village called Petaluma.

Anna falls in love with him and is discovered having sex on the attic of the barn and the infuriated father of Anna  beats Coop to a pulp. Anna, upset and also terrified that Coop will die, stabs dad with a glass piece – wounds him but does not kill him. Coop disappears and Anna goes to France to forget everything. She meets a quiet man with a guitar called Rafael and now falls for him!

Coop learns card games and tricks from a man called Dunn who makes a living in card winnings. When he wants to become a good card sharp, Dunn sends him to go meet The Gentile.

Coop goes to Las Vegas and tries to be a card sharp and falls in with Dorn & wife Ruth  and well dressed Dauphin and is in love with a whole pile of them. Then he goes to San Fransisco and lives with another woman (Bridget). After all these ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ style sleeping around, he is hurt when it  turns out that Bridget sleeps around and has framed him! At the lowest point in his life, he  meets Claire and lives with her.. Come on!

More weird things happen. After beating Coop to a pulp and leaving him alive, the gang comes searching after him? Why?

This book is also populated by Lucien Segarra, a  writer in search of a house – he wants to buy the house he was in many years ago. He meets Lehard – a thief. He also meets Lehard’s wife and son Raphael.

Then Lucien’s childhood, his losing an eye to dog attack and his neighbor who is a young girl and Lucien reads stories with her. Also in the book is Lucien’s unhappy marriage, his daughter Lucette, her affair with poet Pierre Le Cras, his proposal to Lucette’s sister Therese to be near her. By this time, you have the feeling that you are reading multiple stories with no connection to each other and wonder where the author is going with all this.

Lucien’s own saving of Ramon’s wife Marcie-Niege by buying her house , whom he befriended when she was just 17 married to Ramon, taught her to read and read Musketeers with her and finally had  sex with her

Lucien then goes  into war and catching diphtheria and almost dies but recovers.

He comes back on furlough and has sex with Mary Niege. but goes back again. When war ended comes back to find Marcie_Niege is dead and overcome with grief, kills himself.

After you have thoroughly lost interest in the story, almost at the end, you learn that Lucien is the father of Anna and Claire. Just a hint. Oh hell! Whatever.

Except for Lucien, the story has no closure for anyone else – you do not know what happens to any other character.  Even for Ondaatje, this one is weird, I’d say.

I can honestly give this only a 3/10

 

— Krishna

Movie: Pacific Rim (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:48 pm

imagesA very interesting film. If you look at the trailers or the blurbs, it looks like a Robot vs Aliens kind of movie and while I enjoy mindless action as much as the next man, I would not be particularly enthralled with the action movie with no story other than to set up combat situations (Hansel vs Gretel: Witch Hunters, or Cowboys Vs Aliens come to mind).

But this is different, and the robots are not what you think. Therein lies the difference that elevates this film to a higher plane.

The second thing that makes this movie nice is that Guillermo del Toro  seems to have the touch of James Cameron and Steven Spielberg before him where you tell a story in two dimensions. The first one is the large scale picture of epic things happening (think Titanic or Avatar for Cameron and ET for Spielberg) while, in parallel, a second human dimension seems to unfold in an equally captivating fashion. You get the mix right, and you have a good film on your hands, which is eminently watchable and also is a hit. This movie, in my opinion, manages to get it right.

The story is that of a rift under the Pacific Ocean that opens the door to another dimension. Through these, a monster comes in and manages to destroy a huge portion of San Francisco and a lot of people before it is defeated and killed.

When mankind (which means mankind living in US as far as Hollywood is concerned) realizes that this is just the first of a series, they name the monsters Kaiju (Japanese for Monster) and build huge robots named  Jaeger (pronounced like ‘Yager’ and Spanish for Robot) to fight them. For a while they seem to have the upper hand as when one of these pop up, mankind is able to destroy them. The robots are really a clever vehicle for pilots (more advanced than the exoskeletons that Cameron is fond of and used in both of the above movies mentioned).

Raleigh and Yancy, brothers, are the most talented of the warriors. What is cool about this is that they realize that there need to be two pilots for each Jaeger, and that they will be linked by brain to each other and will know everything there is to know about each other. When one of the brothers is killed in action against a particularly vicious Kaiju, the other one ‘feels’ it and is so traumatized that he gives up the fight.

When mankind tries to build a wall in the West Coast against them coming from the sea, he joins them but finds that it is futile. The next Kaiju simply breaks open the massive wall and destroys the city.

Now, he is coaxed back and teams up with a Japanese girl called Mako Mori in Hong Kong for another go with an advanced version of Jaegars. Meanwhile the Kaijus being sent are more and more advanced (Type 2, 3, 4 etc)

The movie is fabulous, with the ‘science’ and the action being well told. It mixes the human element and especially memories of Mako Mori as a child (one of the most spellbinding performances by a child star in recent times – done by Mana Ashida )  are totally riveting.

The force, in true Hollywood fashion decide to risk everything and close the portal once for all.

The scientists are interesting – as is the story that seems to suggest that their ideas (connecting to the brain of a dead Kaiju to link to their species for instance) as dangerous and a genius idea alternately. You also see  Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, a recognizable Hellboy in both looks and mannerisms.

There is a lot of comedy, especially with the geeky scientists Dr Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb and their escapades in Hong Kong.

Nice touches abound, and the movie is very enjoyable.

 

It deserves  a 7/10

 

— Krishna

July 18, 2013

Book: The Summons by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:35 pm

imagesA very typical John Grisham book indeed. The story revolves around Ray Attlee who is a law graduate who prefers to teach in a University instead of practice in a courtroom. He is also a hobby plane enthusiast and has acquired his solo license and likes to just take a Cessna up in the air above the clouds and enjoys the sense of complete peace and solitude that comes with it.

Unmarried and unattached, he lives a comfortable life on his salary, and even has teamed up with a few of fellow enthusiasts and just bought a plane that he co-owns with the rest.

His father is Judge Reuben Attlee. A strict judge, who rules without fear or favour, straight as an arrow, revered by the community – in small town Clanton – as a demi-God. But Ray and his brother Forrester felt always that the judge completely ignored the family. He had no time for his children, he dominated and neglected his wife until she died. But now, old and weak and retired long ago, he lives alone, almost estranged from both his sons. The sons live in different cities, away from the famous father.

Forrester has gone down another path in life, becoming a drug addict, living wildly, disappearing for a while from view and reappearing, checking out of rehabs after the family checks him in – fully addicted to drinks and drugs and even facing some jail time.

One day, Ray is summoned by the Judge (the father), and when he reaches his home, finds him dead. He discovers a few boxes in the store room stacked with cash, estimated to be 3 million dollars, with no explanation in the will or anywhere how the money came to be. As Judge Attlee has spent almost all of his money in charities, it is even more mysterious. Ray decided to hide the money, so that his wayward brother would not get this to spend on drugs or worse, and there starts a dreadful sequence of events. Someone came by, who missed the money and trashed his house. He is followed everywhere, and any storage space where he stashed his money is known to his unknown enemies, who send him pictures of the last garage or storage space he used.

Ray’s investigations reveal only one gap in his father’s illustrious career: a quiet work he undertook in a faraway city on a tort law, the details of which are missing from all records. Ray decides to pay the defense lawyer in that case, who is living in the lap of luxury due to a very successful career, convinced that the answer to the mystery is there.

The story keeps your interest and is also populated by people like Harry Rex, a four-times-married lawyer friend of the Judge who is the executor of the will (only the house is left by the Judge in the official will, left equally to both sons). At times, it seems to stall, as many of Grisham’s novels do, and pick up pace, only to slacken a bit again. The ending of the book is more interesting than other Grisham novels, hiding a very nice suspense till almost the end.

I would give it a 7/10

 

— Krishna

 

Movie: Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:25 pm

imagesA delightful  comedy all the way through. Of course, if you have seen the first installment of this series, you know and love many of the characters – Gru, the incomparable Minions, and Dr Nefario (I love the name for it fits what he does in the first movie). Even the name of the movie fits the first one better, as Gru is the evil super villain who slowly gets his heart lost to the orphan girls whom he ends up adopting.

This way, you know that Gru is going to start out good in this movie and also his entire gang – Dr Nefario and the Minions all gave up “doing evil” at the end of the first movie. Therefore the original touch and the surprise is lost in the sequel and this is why I would consider the first movie to be better than the sequel.

But if you consider the constraints that the team had to work with, they have done a creditable job in producing the second movie. The plot is as zany as the first one – thank God! This is one movie where you want reason and intellect to play a part – the zanier, more is the fun! And this movie does very well, all things considered.

Consider the plot – a secret lab in the arctic is gone – literally taken off its roots by a gigantic magnet  from an airborne vehicle – no, not kidding.  This raises the suspicions of the ‘Anti Villain League’ or AVL. (Still not kidding) Why? Because the research had to do with a serum that can convert any innocent living thing into raving monsters. (No, still not kidding!)

Now, AVL knows that they need the brains of a supervillain to catch the mysterious evil genius behind that caper. So who better than Gru, the reformed ex evil mastermind who now minds his own business – making aweful tasting jams with the company of the Minions and Dr Nefario.

They “somehow” know that the evil genius is one of the shopkeepers in a newly opened mall in town called Paradise Mall (Don’t ask me how they know it this precisely – OK, I will tell you. They tracked traces of the stolen serum to that place.)

AVL sends a spy called Lucy and they open a cupcake shop as the cover to find the villain. Gru seems to go crazy when the son of a mall owner, the vainglorious Antonio, makes his moves on his eldest adopted daughter  Margo, who is hopelessly smitten with him. He accuses the father of the boy Eduardo as the evil villain – he claims that the father is El Macho, the supervillain in disguise – with absolutely no evidence at all. Since everyone knows that El Macho was dead in an explosion many years ago, the AVL laughs at him and even Lucy tries to ram some sense into him.

In the meanwhile the AVL has tracked the serum to a Japanese shop owner Floyd Eagle San (Really. This is one of the fun things about this movie, the name they came up with. The AVL director’s last name is Ramsbottom!) and the whole case seems closed. Gru is stuck in a gloom and does not notice that his minions are being taken away by someone one by one….

The movie is great, and I love how the evil plot of the Super Villain also ends up having minions as the central piece. If anything, the antics of the minions are even more hilarious in the second movie.

 

All in all, a good movie, definitely worth seeing. Steve Carell is as funny as ever and the cast is great too.

Let us say a 7/10

 

— Krishna

July 5, 2013

Book: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kruger

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:32 pm

imagesI have not seen the Apollo 13 movie but I know it is a hit and a well made movie. Before reading the book, I wondered how a movie can be made and that too, made so interestingly that it makes it to the best movies of the year list. After all, how much can you tell about a problem in a space craft and how it was brought down safely? The book tells you how it should be done, very effectively.

 

The story is told by one of the astronauts, Jim Lowell, who was the captain of the flight, and he has engaged Jeffrey Kruger as his co-author to do the word craft. The result is immensely satisfying. The partnership works very well.

 

The story starts with the space flight but employs the interesting technique of going back and forth on the Lowell’s life, and captures the enthusiasm and love of space flights that permeated the NASA crew of the old days and how Jim was chosen to join NASA from the air force. His childhood was spent in launching home made rockets and so NASA was the perfect place for him.

 

Apollo 13 was his fourth space flight, his swan song, his chance to land on the moon – even if he was not the first to do so. It all went awry fast, and the story is told brilliantly, alternating between the thngs that went wrong in the spacecraft, the reactions of the NASA engineers, the full might of the NASA employed in figuring out how to get the ship back to earth on the one hand, and the personal lives of the astronauts, the reaction of the wives, how they coped, how they protected the children from the anguish on the other. All well told.

 

It is hard to make a technical subject as the internals of the space craft, which the reader needs to know a little bit of to understand the import of the disaster and the solution, engrossing but the authors manage to do it brilliantly. The language is just right for a lay reader to not only comprehend the issue but also get immersed in the enthusiasm and avid interest of all the players in the space program of that time.

 

The various measures suggested to ensure that the space craft stays on course are interesting, when the reader realizes that not only have they lost an oxygen tank and the venting of the oxygen was moving the ship off course dangerously, but also some of the jets were lost and some of the other equipment did not work properly. For instance, the heating system could not heat up the space ship and so the astronauts spent the last hours (days?) of their travel  in the lunar module which would have not been there had they been able to land on the moon successfully.

 

The story keeps the interest, and even the prolog on what happened afterwards to the crew and their friends over the years, the glimpse of Lowell as the grandfather of a growing family, the moving out of the space crew and friends to careers outside of NASA – only partly due to the budget cuts after this flight and the investigation into what exactly went wrong – without the modules to examine are all told fascinatingly.

 

Even if you are not a space program enthusiast, I would recommend that this book be read by all, as this is one well written yarn, guaranteed to keep you turning the pages until the end, and also sure to leave you satisfied at the end of having read a very good book! The fact that you know the ending already takes nothing away from the suspense and tension. Well done.

 

I think this one deserves a 9/10

 

— Krishna

July 3, 2013

Book: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

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

imagesThis is an intriguing book. This is also the first book in a series that Jean wrote, and it has its own dedicated following among book readers. This review is just about the first book in the series.

The premise is unique. In the early human times, there is a girl, barely four years old, who goes for a swim in the stream. Her family is part of a group which lives in a cave. While she is having a swim, the earth shakes and there is a terrible earthquake and her entire group is lost – assumed perished. Not even having enough skills to fetch food or conscious of the need for water, this girl, who is blond, almost perishes but as she is lying unconscious close to death, is found by a Clan of Neandarthals. The medicine woman of the clan, Iza, takes her with her and brings her up as her own. So she grows up with them, initially not even understanding their language or their customs but slowly getting used to their way of life. The issues do not stop with her starting to understand others, they just begin!

It is fascinating to see the differences between the two races and how they consider the blond and presumably very beautiful girl, whom they name Ayla, as ugly because she does not have the Clan features of sunken eyes, bow legs and very strong but inflexible hands. Nor does she have a beautiful sloping head!

Iza lives with her brother, Creb, who has been crippled at birth but is the most powerful magician or the Mog-Ur. The entire Clan fears him because, primarily, Mog-Urs know the magic and are in touch with evil spirits, which, if angered, can produce calamities like the earthquake where the Clan also lost its cave and many of its able men. On top of that Creb is The Mog-Ur, the supreme of the supreme and is renowned as the most powerful magician in all Clans. He takes to Ayla as she fearlessly touches his face when she was a baby.

It turns out that before Iza’s mate died, he made Iza pregnant and she gives birth to another girl called Uba, who worships Ayla. Ayla’s totem chosen is the Cave Lion, which shocks the clan because it is supposed to be a male totem. Also her ways of laughing (which the clan does not do) weeping with tears (which the clan cannot) and speaking with words, confuse and anger the clan. The clan leader Brun is fair and gives Ayla the chance to be part of the clan but Broud, who is the leader in waiting and is Brun’s son, hates her.

When Ayla, against the dictates of the Clan not only touches but also handles a sling, and uses it to save a life, the Clan is scandalized and is cursed with “death” for a month. She survives the ostracism of the Clan and returns to join it.

The story is also populated by Goov, the tool maker, Una, the mate of Broud, the leader in waiting, Voor, the second in command to be, and many others.

They go to the gathering of the Clans which is the biggest ceremony. The story ends on an interesting note, not expected of such stories.

The research is thin or at least, not used much in the story, which reads like a pulp fiction but there is enough material there for it to be believable. The characters are credible, and the travails of Ayla and the status of women in the Clan and the customs and fashions are told interestingly like in a popular fiction.

 You get swept along with the story to  be left with a glow of affection for some main characters at the end of the book. I would say it deserves a 6/10

— Krishna

 

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