bookspluslife

April 20, 2014

Book: Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:14 pm

imageJack  Ryan is back, this time recruited by the President to be his Chief Security Advisor. His wife Cathy has a patient who, it turns out, was raped by a Senator who is now the Vice President.

 

The crack CIA team is introduced by showing a warlord is captured in a “friendly African country” and handed over to the government.

 

Quaint references to SCSI as the “latest technology” (book was written in 1994) will bring smiles to the lips of geeks. And a GB of storage is spoken off with admiration! This is a common hazard among authors, as technology changes with such blinding speed that a   year old story has weird connotations when you read again. In fantasy stories, it seems to be OK to deal with lances and swords and horses, but in a modern story, this dates the story.

 

One of the evil persons is an Indian admiral Chandrakatta. This  is an invented Indian name by the author; sounds plausible with the Chandra prefix unless you happen to know Indian names well. In his story, the Indians come out well, as brilliant army strategists. But still they are evil since they chose to side with the wrong side.

 

It is fun to read Tom Clancy explain how a housing bubble works, with his pithy analogies and efficient statements and since Tom does top class research on everything, true as well.

 

Now for the story. A very successful Japanese businessman is convinced that Japan is being systematically oppressed by US and plots revenge. When a faulty exhaust is involved in a fiery accident that kills a US army officer, the President orders all car imports stopped, which severely impacts Japan and angers this man to an extreme. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back of patience for him.

 

Also the VP is being accused of rape and it is being kept under wraps until the next Presidential election is concluded.

 

Not only does Clancy explain the financial stuff but he also explains a crash pretty well. Amazing explanation for a guy who writes spy thrillers. His inimitable style is there.

 

To continue with the story : Three things go wrong together for US. There is Japan who declares war suddenly, the VP’s peccadillos get exposed suddenly with a national papers, and on top of that, an ‘easter egg’ in a secret program hatches wiping out financial records of investment trading!
Jack Ryan is a Secretary of Defence and is far removed from the action on the ground such as the ones he was involved in Red Rabbit but then you have Clark and Chavez, you have Chet who is Japanese-American spying in Japan, lovely scenes that explain why people love Tom Clancy’s stories. But there is a lot of fluff and the story flags a lot, descriptions of planes and tanks and weaponry that can be too much.

 

How they recover from the financial disaster is very interesting!

The US covert actions against Japan is classic Clancy. Book takes off then.
The way they thwart the aggression and the ending of the book are all brilliant. Well done, Clancy. Too bad it took so long to warm up.

 

Let us say a 6/10

–        – Krishna

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Movie : 300 – Rise of an Empire (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:55 pm

imageThis movie is a sequel to the wildly successful 300. The story starts before 300 looking at the death of Darius through an arrow by Thermistocles  and continues until after the emergence of Xerxes and after the battle shown in 300 where 300 Spartans stop the Persian invasion in its tracks.

 

It also has as much veracity in its historical narration as 300 had. It is a very glorified look with a lot of fiction mixed in. Only the basis of some of the characters seems to be true. The rest is pure yarn, meant to entertain, not educate. The producers claim that a lot more of it is true but even they admit that Darius, the Great King of Persia, did not die of an arrow from the Greek warrior Thermistocles. And the fact the Xerxes bathed in some golden river to win superpowers? Do I need to even tell you that this is hocus?

 

In any case, the movie has the same style as the original 300 (exaggerated style, totally pro Greek story telling) but is not as good. The story wanders a bit more but even more so, you do not see Sullivan Stapleton giving life to Thermistocles as much as Gerard Butler gave to King Leonedas in the original 300. His acting is a little wooden, he seems a bit too soft spoken to be the ferocious warrior of the Greek history. This is my own opinion perhaps, not a consensus, but this is what it seemed to me. The bonding and the human aspect is a little forced.

 

In this prequel-sequel, Xerxes is not the main villain, as he was in 300. That honour goes to Artemesia, the warrior deputy of Xerxes. She is a Greek lady who changed sides to the Persians and rose to be the second most powerful person in the Persian empire. However, Eva Green does not inspire as one of the fiercest and the most beautiful female warrior for some reasons. To show anger or passion, she has a special way of squinting her eyes and baring her teeth that is, to me, disconcerting.

And then there is the exaggeration, which, though expected if you saw 300, can be grating. There is Thermistocles and Artemisia who can reach through their arrow incredible distances, with incredible accuracy while none of their peers can. And when they have these advantages, they sometime throw these away to indulge in sword fight for some unfathomable reason.

 

We learn that Artemisia hates Greece because she watched her parents murdered by Greeks and she forced to be a prostitute and left to die, only to be picked up by  a Persian ambassador and brought up as a Persian.

The battle of Salamis, where the Greeks and Spartans gained a decisive victory against the Persians is well told.

All in all, not excellent casting, not excellent acting, but watchable for its visual effects.

Let us say a 4/10

 

–        – Krishna

April 5, 2014

Book: Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:53 pm

coverThis is actually a strange book. It is not a single story, at least not in my books (pun intended). It has the same characters but is a collection. It is not even a collection of short stories because the first one, and the best one, is like a novella and is much bigger than all the others. And the results are very mixed, I am afraid. Most of them do not work, and do not really do anything to move you. Especially after a good story, if you get to one that is really bad but has a character that you have emotionally invested in because of the previous good story, the disappointment is double. Each story is tied to a year in which the story happened.

 

The first story called ‘1960 – Low Men in Yellow Coats’ and it is simply brilliant! The story is about Bobby Garfield, who is a brilliant boy,, reads above his age – already into Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. He is just eight. Then a stranger who lives in his house as a paying guest,, Ted Brautigan gives Bobby Lord of the Flies to expand his mind further. Bobby adores the book. When Ted asks him to keep an eye on strangers in ‘Yellow Coats’ and gaudy cars. He also warns Bobby that if he sees any posters of Pet Missing or sees strange signs on a hopscotch grid on the street, to alert him immediately. He seems to be afraid of all of these.

Bobby’s best friend is SJ or Sully-John and Carol Gerber. Carol seems to really like Bobby (“Not pretty but sharp – does not miss much” according to a crisp summary from  Bobby’s mom). Bobby wants a bicycle badly and is saving the tip money from Mom and does odd jobs to augment it. Ted gives him a job for a dollar a week. (To read him the paper – officially to satisfy Bobby’s mom’s curiosity – but to keep an eye out for yellow coated “low men” in secret) Then one day, in the middle of their conversation Ted goes completely blank and his eyes are wide and circles move there.

 

Bobby discovers that since he touched him in that state, he now can read minds. His mom, in the meanwhile, seems to be under the spell of her office boss called Don Biderman.

 

Bobby  finds that he is absorbing the mystic powers of Ted and is good at the poker game in carnival. That scene where he predicts with uncanny ability where the card should be is very impressive.

 

Slowly, Bobby, and with him we the readers discover that when Low Men advertise for pets and have symbols near Hopscotch squares, they communicate to each other that they are hot on the scent of their quarry, which is Ted.  We learn that they cannot avoid gaudy cars and clothes. We learn that their cars are not cars at all, but are alive and sentient.

 

Finally, we learn that they are the Dark Lord’s people and Ted is a Breaker who escaped. A very nice tie in with the Dark Towers series. In fact made me want to start reading that series!

 

Once, Ted gets cornered by men of yellow coats, despite Ted’s and Bobby’s careful watch.  Ted sacrifices himself to prevent Bobby from being captured by Low Men.

 

Also there is a scene when Carol, beaten up, is healed by Ted and his mom mistakes it for rape and condemns him too.

 

 

When Bobby realizes that his own mother had betrayed Ted, leading to his capture, something breaks in him. Bobby takes revenge violently on the people who beat up Carol.

 

Bobby goes downhill from there. He loses his girlfriend Carol and the friendship of SJ, his close buddy due to his radical change, leaves town and goes to pieces until Ted’s note arrives with a flower. Very nice.
The second story is the one that lent title to this collection and is called ‘1966- Hearts in Atlantis’.  This is about a college student Pete Riley who wastes his life playing hearts for money in the campus. He meets the Carol (yes, from the previous story but a young woman now, six years later)  in an assembly line (working part time) and falls in love. He is obsessed with Hearts and plays nonstop, ruining his life, until the Vietnam War protests take over the college campus. Populated with other characters like Nathan Happenstand, a studious person determined to become a dentist; David “Dearie” Deerborn, the proctor who gets pranked with shaving cream on his door and is pro Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam War;  Stokely Jones a man in crutches. They come and go. Skip Kirk is a best friend of Pete who is equally hopelessly lost in Hearts to the point where both Skip and Pete are about to fail, let alone keep their scholarship eligibility. Ronnie Malenfant is the pimply superstar of Hearts who is the leader of the pack (Is he a mal – infant?) . The anti Vietnam War fever that sweeps over the campus. Stoke writing graffitti and falling in ice water ‘trying to drown’. Boring except for the last scene maybe and that is a very long time to wait before you find something interesting. Contrast between the first and second is shattering. Carol becomes a radical, very opposed to Vietnam War
Next comes ‘1983 – Blind Willie’ – William Shearman or Baseball Willie or Bill – One of the boys who held Carol as she was beat up by thuggish boys who were his friends. He becomes Bill and then Blind Willie. He pretends to be blind to get extra panhandling money and has elaborate dress changes to become this alter ego.  A policeman is onto his scam and threatens him.. Then? abruptly ends. You learn Carol becomes a terrorist, planting bombs and presumed dead. You also know that Ronnie, friend in the first story, was in ‘Nam with William Shearman. Except for the tenuous connections with the first story, pretty boring.
Next : ‘1999 – Why we’re in Vietnam’ – It is about Sully how he was in Vietnam, Malefant by his side and William Shearman also there. When Sully’s guts hang out, it is Willie who saves him. He remembers everything years later on his way to another colleague Pag’s funeral, Pag having died of cancer. Pretty boring stuff.  Old mamasan, who was killed by Malenfant in Vietnam always appears in front of him at random. Carnage in the street, while Sully finds an old glove from his youth. Very surreal and there is a hint that the carnage is all within Sully’s head. Boring and weird.
Next : ‘1999 – Heavenly Shades of Night are falling’ – Return of Bobby to Harford to the stories. This is slightly more interesting as it gives closure about what happened to Carol, ties in with the death of Sully and everything and the ending has a satisfying closure. While not as good as the first one, it is interesting that the only two readable stories are where Bobby features in the main!

 

I would give it an overall 4/10. It is ironic that if only the first story was published as a book, it would have gotten a much higher rating!

 

–        – Krishna

 

Movie: Non Stop (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:22 pm

coverThis is a very typical Liam Neeson movie. Written for him based on his innumerable thrillers (Taken comes to mind). So he is very comfortable in the movie and does what he does best: a cornered, harassed man, fighting to save lives. For core Liam Neeson fans, I think this is a treat like any other and is even better than some of his less memorable movies – so go see it if you are a Neeson fan.

 

The movie is about Bill Marks an air marshal who is assigned to a flight. He is undercover and pretends to be a normal passenger. However, he has some personal issues like a drinking problem. He was caught earlier and let off with a stiff warning. When he goes into the plane, he is amazed to find a text message in his confidential federal network from a person outside who not only knows who he is but says that he should transfer a lot of money to an unnamed Swiss account. He says that every twenty minutes someone on the plane will die.

He takes it seriously but ends up with the first corpse right in front of him, ostensibly killed by him. And the person killed was his own partner, who is the other field marshal!

The movie is tense, and his entrapment deepens when the ground staff discover his insubordination in the previous instances and especially when they discover that the Swiss account is registered in Mark’s own name!

There is a whole bunch of interesting characters in the plane, and some anti-stereotypes – a compassionate but very orthodox looking Muslim who is a doctor, a black wizard of computers who tries to help Mark track which cell phone in the plane is sending him messages.

There is Julianne Moore who sits next to him and he discovers that she is afraid of flying.

There is a lot of holes you can pick in the story. The worst thing in my mind is the motivation for the bad man – the motive for this blackmail. It is really stupid and unbelievable. And then there are other absurd situations where the entire passengers in the plane have overwhelmed Bill and kept him captive thinking – with absolute justification – that he is the person killing everyone and with “his power of persuasion” he convinces people to believe him.

The person behind the plot is revealed in a dramatic twist when Bill stumbles upon the truth in a cell phone picture taken innocuously by another passenger and this is very thrilling. The tension is there throughout when you wonder who will be next and when you are always on tenterhooks as to who is the real killer. There is a character transformation of the bad guy that is interesting.

But for all that, this is a purely entertaining yarn, with the story not very believable and even the motive and some scenes stretching credulity.  All in all, let us say a 6/10 purely for the taut sequences.

 

–        – Krishna

 

 

 

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