bookspluslife

November 27, 2013

Book: A Death in the Family by James Agee

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:45 pm

imagesThis book is supposed to be autobiographical in the sense of being about Agee’s own father’s death. However, this is a very slow and boring book. It describes the life of Jay Follet who leaves to meet his very sick father (Grampa Follet). He promises his wife Mary that he will be back  by nightfall, so that he could tuck his two children, Rufus and Caroline, to bed. Since the news came suddenly from his brother, he goes away at short notice, anxious to see his dad as soon as he can.

 

Mary gets a call next evening by a stranger that Jay has been in an accident and Andrew, Mary’s brother promises to go see. The stranger has not given detail of Andrew’s condition and so Mary waits in suspense, wondering why there was no detail and fearing the worst.

 

Aunt Hannah arrives to keep her company, and notices that Mary is on tenterhooks. Till Robert comes back with definite news, she does not know what happened to Jay. \

 

The story is populated by Mary’s parents, told from Jay’s family’s side and from his wife’s point of view. His own relations only appear indirectly, in conversations about or with them (on the phone) by Mary or one of her people. Since the title gives the whole thing away, I can safely tell you that Jay dies in the accident, as Andrew finds out. The person who called did not want to give the bad news on the phone and tells Andrew gently when he arrives.

 

Rufus is being made fun of on a regular basis by other boys and tries to use his newfound “status” as the son of the dead man to gain respect and sympathy from strangers.

 

The book seems random with sudden time shifts to Jay’s childhood that made no sense. Then I learnt that James Agee died before publication of this book and there were seemingly unrelated chapters which the publishers put in an order they thought was relevant and reading the book. In an already slow story, with this also thrown in,  you find that it jars a lot.

And on top of that, the whole story is one of just talks and feelings after the death with nothing much happening in the first place. These random chapters are even more inane, describing in fifteen pages how everyone waters the lawns. Or, do you want to know about how they watched clouds? Sure, there is a painfully detailed description, about 12 pages of it.

 

I may have mentioned already that the story is excruciatingly slow! It really tries to portray how a young boy faces the news with total disconnect. Instead, it comes out like a diary of jumbled and pointless events and trivia noted down in a diary after a tragic event that affects all of them.

Add in Mary’s total and too-intense devotion to religion (one of the sore points between Jay and her as Jay is a Protestant and not as religious) and even Mary’s father’s skepticism bordering on agnosticism (one of the very few interesting things in the book – this conflict) and you get the full picture.

It requires a great amount of patience to go through. The story goes on and on in the same vein, covering in total absence of any urgency or even drama, events like the body being brought home, the arrival of the priest, the posthumous baptism, the prayers, the burial, the incomprehension of the two kids – my god, watching a plant grow is more exciting than this!

 

I cannot in good conscience give it more than 2/ 10

 

–        – Krishna

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Movie: Thor – The Dark World (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:25 pm

imagesBased on the success of Thor and the fad for turning Marvel comics to animated movies, it is no wonder that Thor 2 was released.

This starts with a different super villain. This time it is Dark Elf Malekith, with the help of Kursed, who look like genetically engineered warriors. Odin smashed them and the most potent force called Aether (“Ether?”) which is safely stored in a place where it will “never get out”. But this is the Marvel world and it does get out. Also Malekith has not died, simply frozen, to be unfrozen later in time for this sequel.

Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is as enchanting as ever in this sequel. In fact, Loki is even more devious and interesting in this movie than the first one.  He starts a prisoner, imprisoned by Odin for his War Crimes on Earth. The prisoners – a wide assortment of creatures, all evil – are all imprisoned in what looks like glass cages but really force fields.

Chris Hemsworth reprises his Thor role and I am sure many of the ladies go there to see him mainly! (Or, I hear, to see Loki).

Dr Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, who is Thor’s lady love in the first movie from whom he was separated “forever” (I mean the Marvel forever, not the real forever) drowns her loneliness in research and finds a portal to another world. She accidentally releases the Aether, and also unfreezes the evil Elf Malekith.

Jane has the Aether inside her and is taken to Asgarth by Thor. While she is there, Malekith comes with his army, takes Jane prisoner and disappears. Knowing that only Loki can take him to Malekith, Thor releases him from his prison against Odin’s wishes and takes him to confront Malekith.

The rest of the story talks about the rescue and the destruction of Malekith.

The story is fun, with Loki’s treachery and double twists coming one after the other and also super villains producing even more super villains like the assistant of Malekith becoming consumed by a part of Aether and becoming virtually indestructible.

There are touching scenes where Loki saves Thor’s life and then some scenes of the ultimate sacrifice by one of the central characters.

There is a twist at the very end that leaves you scratching your head wondering what happened to one of the central characters.

But it preserves the spirit of the first movie and is entertaining.

I think that this movie is to be enjoyed, not questioned – after all it is a Marvel comic adaptation and it does the job well, I think.

 

I would say a 6/10

 

 

–        – Krishna

November 22, 2013

Book: A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:06 pm

imageThe saga described in The Game of Thrones continues. This is the second book in the series called The Song of Ice and Fire.  

The book is as good as ever. Apologies up front because I am going to give quite a bit of plot away. There is no way to review this book without doing this, and in my mind, this takes nothing away from the pleasure of reading the book as it is the dialog and the descriptions that make the book. I will not give away plot twists that you have to read to find out, if there are any, but narrating major events should be OK in my mind.

If you are not happy with the fact that major characters die in the middle of the book, as you saw Robert, Khal Drogo, and, most shockingly, Eddard Stark, then you may have already given up on this book. Because you know, a lot of new characters come in that you do not know about. There are some people whom you love still there, like for instance, Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, and Tyrion (my favourite character in the entire series probably), and those that you hate (Joffrey, Jamie, and arguably Cersei) but for those of you who cannot stand to “lose” the characters you have invested a lot of time in, this may be small consolation.

 

For instance, the younger brother of Robert, the unbending and morally straight Stannis, plays a large part. He, we learn, is now supported by Melissandre, who considers herself servants of the God of Light. She forces the King’s entourage to abandon their old Gods and switch allegiance to the new God of Light. In fact, the wife of Stannis, the queen is a staunch supporter already.

 

Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, is a smuggler turned knight who lost his fingers as a punishment; Stannis inflicted this punishment since smuggling is wrong, even though the smuggling was done to save starving Stannis and his group! (See what I mean by unbending?) Stannis also then made him a knight in return for services rendered! He is now named Ser Davos or, by nickname, Ser Onion Knight. He also keeps his severed (and I guess mummified) fingers in a pouch around his neck for good luck and is fiercely loyal to Stannis as his king.

 

Not many others are loyal to him. He is reviled universally due to his course, unbending, annoyingly moral attitude. Stannis is convinced he is the rightful owner to the Iron Throne, as he is the eldest of the younger brother of Robert Baratheon, and given that (if the rumours he heard are to be believed), all of Robert’s sons are not Robert’s at all, but a product of incest between Jamie and Cercei, he is the only true hair of the Throne.

 

But people seem to like his younger brother Renly better. He seems courteous, even looks better, and, as if all this is not enough, his queen Margerie Tyrrell is beautiful and is universally loved as well. But he knows that Melissandre has the ability to see the future in flames (the God of Light is in the flames) and has told him that he is the true heir for the Iron Throne.

 

Melissandre says that she can fix the Renly issue. Just coincidentally, Catelyn has gone to Renly to discuss an alliance between him and her son Robb, the son and heir to Ed Stark’s domains. Catelyn meets Lady Brianne, a large, ugly woman with a warrior’s strength, attire and demeanor, who is secretly in love with the handsome Renly. When they are in the tent, a shadow comes in and kills Renly right before their eyes. Knowing that if anyone finds them with a bleeding and dead Renly, they will be the prime suspect, both Catelyn and Brianne go away secretly, with Brianne pledging eternal allegiance to Catelyn, now that her Lord is dead.

 

Jaime attempts to escape but is chained again. Winterfell is taken by Theon Greyjoy, who really grew up there as a ward (hostage) and bitter to prove that he is not useless as his father and sister Asha think. But before he could catch Bran, he and Ricken along with Hador the dimwitted giant-sized man are rescued by Osha. Bran now begins to see what the wolves see and has acquired the ‘third eye’ so to speak. Theon is assisted by a group of sellswords led by Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of Roose Bolten. Note that name as you will meet him a lot later. In the rampage, most of Winterfell’s occupants are killed including Maester Luwen.  Afraid that he will be ridiculed more for letting Bran and Ricken escape, he finds the children of a mill owner who roughly resemble them, kills and hangs them tarred for the world to see, claiming he has killed the children. Better to be feared than mocked….

 

Robb claims yet another victory, killing a distant Lannister cousin in the meanwhile. Tyrion is now the Hand of the king, as Tywin trusts neither Cercei or King Joffrey not to ruin the kingdom with stupid decisions.

 

Daenerys and her visit to Qarch, a city full of traders, venal merchants and wizards is well told. She now wants to go back to King’s Landing to reclaim her throne and Illyris, the corpulent merchant who sent her earlier to Kal Drogo seems to want to assist her in her new quest too.

 

Jaquen Hagar grants Arya three wishes for saving three of his people – name three names and they will die. Arya gets two cruel masters killed. The third wish she exchanges for her freedom and escapes Harrenhal.

 

Petyl Baelish, who brought Tywin Lannister to save Kings Landing is given Harrenhall, his lifelong dream  Joffrey agrees to set aside Sansa and marry Marjorie Tyrrell,  Renly’s ex wife, who is still a maiden.

 

Political intrigue but Sansa is by now so filled with loathing of Joffrey, seeing him for what he truly is, that she rejoices at her ‘escape’. She is physically still a prisoner at the palace. Joffrey is as cruel and impetuous as ever and even Cercei barely seems to be able to control him.

 

Interesting. Dialogs as sharp as ever, story as interesting as ever. What is there not to like?

 

Let us say a 8/10

 

–          – Krishna

 

November 14, 2013

Book: Assegai by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:32 pm

imageAssegai, of course, refers to the spear used by Southern African people in olden times, to hunt. The title is not arbitrary; the spear plays an important part in the story.

First, this is another one of the typical Wilbur Smith books and has the Courtney family prominently in it with the Ballantyne family also playing a part. If you like Wilbur’s books, you will not be disappointed with this one either. The prescribed sex, gore, promiscuity and the devil-may-care love of adventure and daredevilry are all there for you to enjoy.

If you like Wilbur Smith books, please read our reviews of other Wilbur Smith books earlier in this forum.

The story? Oh, does it really matter? It starts explosively when Leon (see below), Manyoro (see below) and some others are ambushed by Nandi tribesmen and escape from death by the skin of their teeth. The tempo nearly never flags throughout the book.

It involves Leon Courtney who learns of women and sex from Verity O’Hearne a wealthy and very beautiful widow who falls for Leon like a ton of bricks. After teaching him the facts of life and ‘making him a man’ so to speak, she conveniently disappears, after professing her enduring love for the young man, and advising him to find a more suitable girl to marry.

Now, Leon is friends with Manyoro, a black man and meets his mother Lusima, who can predict the future when she gets into a trance.  Lusima is the Queen Bee for the village and so Manyoro is special. Leon actually carries a wounded Manyoro on his back after the attach at the start of the book and thereby earns undying gratitude from Lusima.

A general comment on all of Wilbur Smith’s books. They exude the old world charm of the adventurous gentlemen of the early twentieth century trusting their pluck, skill and their weapons to take them out of any situation, their romance with gorgeous women whom they sweep off their feet, and all that. However, they are never prudent, they seem rash in today’s world, and there is a faint whiff of the benevolent white man looking after the not-so-clever-or-skilled natives in spite of the fact that they treat the latter as their brothers.

Now back to the book: Apart from the murderous Nandi tribesmen, there are other characters, some of whom are of the type found in all Wilbur’s books. The prescribed list of villains here include the cruel Major Snell who slights Leon at every turn because of his jealousy over Leon’s success with Valerie (while he was snubbed) and jealousy over Leon’s uncle Penrod Ballantyne (‘Twopenny’) and who was called Freddie the Frog behind his back due to his remarkable resemblance to the creature in his face. Colonel Wallace, the attorney, arrogant, sure of himself who prosecutes Leon for dereliction of duty in the Nandi attack.

Leon finally gets a discharge and goes to help Percy Delameyre, an ethical ivory trader, on the recommendation of Uncle Penny (Penrod). He becomes the greatest hunting guide after an expedition with Teddy Roosevelt (yes, he makes a cameo appearance in the book) and his fame spreads so that the colonel to Hitler, Count Otto von Meerbach comes to get his guidance in hunting lions. There is a lot of hunting that Otto does and in the meanwhile two things happen : Leon learns to fly the newfangled instrument that Otto brought (a plane) and he and his companion Countess Eva von Wellberg fall hopelessly in love for each other. Dangerous, forbidden love. But of course it turns out that she is not his wife at all, a mistress, and also is associated with the British Intelligence as a spy. All right, then!

Otto of course is fearless and wants to hunt a pride of three lions singlehandedly, with just a spear – the assegai – as the Masai themselves do. But he is also on a secret mission to destroy Africa, and is the quintessential Wilbur Smith villain. During the hunt, things go wrong and he gets grievously wounded, which offers Eva and Leon the chance to escape to safety. They run away and resist attempts by Hans and his crew to recapture them.

Other people populate the books. The Indian trader – what is his name? –  is funny and is totally new to Wilbur Smith books – his flowery turns of phrase evoke laughter.

The ending is cliff hanging suspense, in true Wilbur Smith style.

Definitely worth a read – nothing new here but it is fun. I will give it a 6/10

–       – Krishna

Movie: Ice Age 2 The Meltdown (2006)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:25 am

imageFirst of all, yes, you have not missed the review of the original Ice Age here because we did not review it. This is the first Ice Age movie that we review.

Ice Age 2 follows the familiar plot line and the familiar antics of the Ice Age original. It still works. Remember Scrat, the weird sabre toothed squirrel? (You can consider that a stylized version of an ordinary squirrel but to me, it looks like properly prehistoric sabre toothed animal, in spite of the fact that there was no such squirrel that ever lived). He is there, chasing the single acorn throughout the movie. It is very cleverly juxtaposed with the theme of the movie.

In this movie, the crazy team of Manny the woolly mammoth is there, as well as the annoyingly mischievous Sid, the sloth, and also Diego, the sabre toothed tiger are all there. But they face the time when the ice age recedes and the world is flooded. So, the very first scene is where Scrat the squirrel tries to retrieve the acorn that he perennially chases and having secured it, tries to bury it on an ice wall (glacier?) and creates a hole in it, springing a leak through which water gushes. Clever. Similarly, when the ice wall (you think that the wall in the North in the Game of Throne series must have been something like that) splits apart, it is the squirrel that hangs for a while with one foreleg on each section! Nicely done.

There are more animals. The mammoth meets a lady mammoth but the trouble is that she thinks she is a possum and hangs out with her “brothers” Crash and Eddie.

There are scary prehistoric carnivorous and gigantic fish that come with the water as well, that creates more excitement.

Ray Romano is Manny again and Denis Leary is Diego again. We have the new lady mammoth, Ellie, is Queen Latifah. It is interesting that Jay Leno plays the con artist, Fast  Tony, the Armadillo, who is more astonished than everyone when his con based on scare of the whole plain where they live would be flooded comes true too soon.

The antics are all there, there is the love interest in the form of Ellie and Manny’s “family” expands to accommodate them (Ellie and the two possums). There is also a lot of gags that do not go with the plot and set there just to entertain like Sid being carried into a giant colony of sloths who worship him as the Supreme King.

There is a goody goody lesson of Diego conquering his fear of water to save Sid and the other formulaic ending where Manny finds that what he was searching for all his life comes true – there is a herd of woolly mammoths that exist – and then gives up his lifelong dream of belonging to that herDiego conquering his fear of water to save Sid and the other formulaic ending where Manny finds that what he was searching for all his life comes true – there is a herd of woolly mammoths that exist – and then gives up his lifelong dream of belonging to that herd to stay with his “family”.

All in all, it is as good as the first one, but not novel anymore. It is now a franchise. Still entertaining, which is what it sets out to be.  I think it can easily be given a 7/10

 

–        – Krishna

November 9, 2013

Book: Rutland Place by Anne Perry

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:01 am

imageWe have reviewed some of Anne Perry’s books in the past. As always, this one is also a Victorian mystery with one of Anne’s favourite investigator Thomas Pitt playing a part. This mystery hits close to home for Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte.

Charlotte’s mother Caroline is distressed because a locket with the picture of a long-time crush is stolen. Picture is of Paul Alaric, a local playboy!  Happily married Caroline fears a scandal and still goes weak in the knees even now, whenever Paul even looks in her direction. Charlotte is scandalized.

The theft seems to be part of a broader series of events. Many items are stolen from various houses and Caroline feels watched. The sense of something not being right deepens when Mina Spencer-Brown, a wealthy neighbour is dead by poisoning.

There are many neighbours introduced, and their story told in parallel. For instance, Ambrosine Charrongton’s daughter Ottilie had died just a week before. Eloise Lagarde and her brother lived alone but Mina had a crush on him. Ambrosine’s daughter had died and she is the mother in law of Mina.

As in a classic murder mystery, suspicion falls on several people. When Charlotte suspects Lovell Charington of having murdered his daughter Ottilie, he takes her to a nightclub to prove she has not died. She only has become a bar singer, a huge scandal that they cover up by claiming that she is dead – one suspect freed from suspicion.

Tomrod Lagarde has an accident and becomes paralyzed and his devoted sister Eloise is beside herself with grief. Enough characters? In a small book, this makes your head spin a bit. This is no Game of Thrones Series to put in so many characters, now, is this?

Then the story twists around, with the denouement coming almost in the last page. The solution for the missing items is interesting. But the answer to the mystery is not.

Populated with Ada Church, the most famous musical performer, Amyrillis Denbigh a spiteful old woman, Dr Mulgrew who seems to be the physician for all these rich people, the story lacks the tightness of some of Anne’s best works, for instance Whited Sepulchres.

The book is not bad. But there is nothing to set it apart from any of the mysteries that abound. This book deserves a 4/10

–        – Krishna

November 8, 2013

Tamil Movie: Engeyum Eppothum (2011)

Filed under: Tamil Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:43 pm

imageThis movie is modeled on Crash, the English movie about an accident. The focal point of the movie is a crash involving two buses where a lot of people are seriously hurt and some die. The movie starts with that scene – actually well made for a Tamil movie – and then tracks back to the life of the people involved in the accident.

In addition to a cute young boy and girl who seem to fall for each other during the travel, this movie tracks the life of two other couples mainly. Yes, there are sidebar stories – say, about a father from Dubai coming back after many years to meet his wife who stayed back in India for all this time and who meets his presumably five or six year old daughter for the first time since he has not been granted vacation to go home by his controlling employer in the Gulf. He talks to his daughter on his smartphone and tries to convince the daughter that this time he is really coming home. He even asks his neighbour to talk on the phone to prove the veracity of his declarations to his disbelieving daughter, since he has told her he is coming home many times, but has not. Fate – and Tamil Movie Formula – intervenes and crash happens before he reaches his destination.

But the story is about two main couples in fact. And both stories are well told and are interesting. First, there is a girl called Amudha (played by Ananya) who remembers her first visit to the Megapolis Chennai from hometown, the small town of Trichy. Her sister is unable to come to the bus stop and she is confused by all the directions given to go to the interview spot. She needs help but is very suspicious of crooks in big towns who are waiting to steal everything from newbies – she has heard so much about the big bad Chennai people! When forced to get help, she approaches a young man (played by Shravanand) whose name too she learns much later. He takes her part way and tries to go away but she pleads with him to stay and take her to the office. But she has given a clear description of him on the phone (‘looks somewhat shady’ is part of her description) to her sister privately so that, if something should happen to her, her sister “will know” who is responsible. He is very annoyed at having to skip work due to her. When she begins to trust him enough to leave her baggage with him in the lobby to go up to the interview, she finds that he has disappeared when she comes back – so has the luggage. She is devastated to have fallen for a trickster when he comes back after having a coffee in the nearest coffee shop. He drops her back to her place and having declined the offered job (due to the fact that it was offered in Bangalore, not Chennai) she returns home. But she has fallen for the young man, and decides to come over to Chennai to look for him and cannot, of course, locate him. She is travelling back in one of the buses.

The whole episode of her serial suspicions, yet fear that he may disappear leaving her with no way to go to the interview, and her surprise and disapproval of the modern decadent ways of big town people (girls especially) is fun.

The second story is even more interesting and unusual for Tamil cinema. It involves Kathiresan (played by Jai) who is a skilled worker in what appears to be a foundry. He falls in love (Tamil movie style, first time look) with a girl in the opposite house and she appears not even to notice him. So imagine his surprise when he comes home one day to find her in his house and also to find that she has snooped enough to know his salary, name, parents’ name etc. She asks him why he is staring at her everyday “You think you are in love?”. This bold, unorthodox woman is Manimegalai (played with aplomb by Anjali)

She takes over his life in a total way, asking him to ‘bring money and meet her in a clothes shop’, to meet her in a fancy coffee shop and asking him to pay, to go and meet one Mr Ramasamy, and asks him to say that she sent him. He turns out to be not only a cop but also her father! He is so shy that when she asks for a hug, he suggests that they should get married first! She is an independent woman, who asks him to donate blood and also sign up for organ donation on the spot.

She sends him to an admirer who was stalking her in the past to show him off. Interesting scenes, new to Tamil cinema.

After the crash, it traces the fate of these and other couples and, though in some places it is formulaic, there is enough new stuff here to keep your interest and keep you entertained.

I think Anjali did a super job in terms of portrayal of a different character and the others are adequate. The storyline of both couples is interesting enough, and varied enough from the normal movie formulae to keep your interest.

One song in particular ‘Govinda” is very nice and “Un Pere Theriyadhu” is also good.

A bettern than average film – not a great one like Aadukalam for instance but still definitely entertaining.

I think a 7/10 is in order.

—  Krishna

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