July 26, 2014

Book: The Jungle Books by Rudayard Kipling

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:57 am

imagesYou can imagine how many people have seen the movie Jungle Books by Disney and how many people of those would have read the original series by Rudayard Kipling. So, it is not surprising that the movie version is the one that people will remember.


And also, most people know that Rudayard Kipling was a poet and a serious writer, and that the story will not be funny like the movie version, aimed mainly at children and adults too. (And the songs in that movie! I digress.)


And knowing Disney has a reputation of twisting the fairy tales to suit its taste for happy endings, especially in the past when it made Jungle Books, I fully expected to read a completely different book when I took up this one to see what it is really like.


It is amazing how much Disney has not deviated from the book, while making it still fun and entertaining. You have Akela, the wolf pack. Mowgli (meaning ‘frog’ according to Rudayard) and Baloo the bear.


Overall, I would say that it is a narrative work, no deep meanings, no thought provoking ideas, but it keeps you engaged. Hindi words are used here a lot –  Sher for Tiger (with a honorary title of Khan), Baloo for bear, Bagheera for panther, Hathi for elephant and Dewanee for madness, Bandar Log for monkey people, all literally true.


On the other hand, Mowgli and Kaa are not borrowed from Hindi but seem to be invented


Talking of Kaa, he is very different in the book but close enough to be recognized.  The movie wisely leaves Sher Khan until the end (climax) whereas the book keeps him constantly intriguing against Mowgli.


Another interesting thing is that the book is episodic, which is like a collection of short stories about Mowgli and the Jungle. (Incidentally, the word ‘jungle’ itself originates from Hindi). The first story in the book is about how Mowgli is expelled from the wolf pack by the younger group seeking to overthrow Akela; the second is about Bandar Log kidnapping Mowgli – so you realize that the order in which the story is told in the movie is also different.


How Sher Khan dies in the book is interesting – I understand why it was not inserted into the movie! And the stories about seals (Sea Catch and his wife and the baby seal) is not included for the same reason in the movie. Riki Taki Tavi is interesting but a sidebar to the main story.   There is an elephant called Kala Nag (stands for Black Cobra if you go for the literal translation) but no Colonel Hathi. There is a story related to Little Toomai the elephant mahout, not anything to do with Mowgli.


Then there is a story about army animals (camels, mules, bulls) that is soooo boring and pointless.


What an imperialist attitude especially in the story about Mowgli’s return to the village and banishment! Only the white man can stop savages (native Indians) beating and killing each other; only a white man can arrest Jungle from taking over a village and destroying it. The hidden paternalism and condescension is fascinating. I know Rudayard loved India and spent most of his life there but his ideas and attitudes reflect the times he lived in (the book was written in 1894).
and are interesting and anachronistic to read today.


A story about a sannyasi (as Kipling spells it) who had a white man’s education and therefore was wise, who saves a village from destruction through mud slide. Purun Dass who becomes Purun Bhagat.


A very different proposition from the movie, you realize as you read on. It is a jumble of stories, all unrelated to each other, continuity being given only with the repeating characters and their past experience.


The biggest surprise is the colonial attitude that drips from each page. The English got the filthy natives to clean up Calcutta. And only they can save the natives who are needlessly slaughtered by other natives in the same village… And of course, only a white face will dare come hunting a crocodile.


The one cute thing is that everyone spouts poetry at the end of (almost) each story. Rather like a story turning to a musical at the end.


Kaa’s relationship with Mowgli is very different in the book(s). It is a mixed bag. There are stories which are only mildly interesting and some are plain boring and a pain to get through.


Disney I think got it right when they decided which parts to choose and which parts (Colonel Hathi) to invent.


This is one of those cases where the movie is far better than the book


The book gets a 4/10


–        – Krishna


Movie: How to Train Your Dragon – 2 (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:27 am

imagesSequels are harder to make. The novelty of the characters and the novelty of the theme has now worn off, and even if you make the sequel as good as the original, critics and many fussy viewers are apt to turn down the corners of their mouth and say ‘Been there, seen that’. The sequel has to strive to be a cut above the original to make an impact – except with diehard fans who love the story so much that they will see it anyway.


An example of an excellent sequel, which is a Gold Standard for sequels, is Terminator. Terminator 2 surpassed the first one in so many aspects that it was a fabulous sequel to see. In the same way, I think that the Aliens (the second installment of the Alien Series by the man with the Midas touch, James Cameron) was far superior to the first one and was really enjoyable.


More often the sequel is so bad – in absolute terms, let alone by comparison with the previous installment –  that your general belief that sequels are worse than the original gets firmly reinforced in your mind. Again, Terminator 3 was one such movie.


This? This is as good as the original with a few nice twists, but does not quite make it up to the level set by Terminator or Aliens in improvement. So, while the corners of your mouth may droop a bit in disappointment, you may still conclude that the movie ‘ain’t bad’.


We visit the Viking village Berk about five years later (from the end of the first story). Life is glorious and dragons have become part of it. There is a kind of a Quiddich-like dragon race that is held every year, with those hilarious lambs (which incidentally do nothing  but manage to look funny every time) being a kind of basket balls.


Hiccup and Astrid, the young couple in the first series, stumble into a den of dragon trappers whose leader is Eret, inside a huge castle of ice (cannot help remembering Superman’s home for the formation shown or the ice palace of Frozen for the size of it). They are for the evil Lord Drago Bludvist.


Hiccup decides to “explain” to Drago how misguided that policy is, and surrenders himself and his dragon to Eret, but before he could meet Eret, is rescued by his dad Stoik.


Realizing that war will result from passivity, Hiccup decided to sneak out to speak to Drago against his father’s will and stumbles into a huge den of dragons, managed by Valka (Cate Blanchett). She also has a (good) giant dragon called Bewilderbeast (Cute name). He, and his dad, who comes after him again, realize that Valka is alive and Hiccup realizes that she is his long lost mother. A neat explanation on why Hiccup is naturally so good with the dragons.


Meanwhile we learn that Drago can control and subdue the mind of any dragon and he comes with his own Bewilderbeast (evil) and captures and controls Toothless. As Toothless tries to kill Hiccup, his dad pushes him aside and saves him, but dies instead.


The story continues. The ending is a bit flat, considering all the hype they gave for the dragons etc.  But they have tried to bring in a variety of things that keep your interest up.


Is it a great sequel? No. But a really watchable movie and is entertaining.


I will give it a 6/10


–        – Krishna

–        – Krishna


July 13, 2014

Book: A Breach of Promise by Anne Perry

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:35 pm

imagesI considered this, when I read it years ago, as the best book written by Anne Perry in terms of the mystery and how it is revealed. I re-read it recently and have no reason to change my mind. This is simply a very good mystery, well told, and twists and turns that would make you sit up and take notice.


What makes it so good is that Anne likes to add a little social commentary on how wrong some of the accepted social norms of the day were, and usually it is a side script brought in via Hester Latterley’s work as a nurse or as views and comments from characters. Here it is fully integrated into the main story.


Let us follow the story.


Killian Melville an architect of genius. Barton Lambert, a wealthy man, recognizes his genius, and engages him, giving him the opportunity of a lifetime. When Zilla Lambert, his daughter, shows an interest in Killian and he spends a lot of time in her company, both Barton and his wife Delphine approve and encourage it.


Delphine does the next logical thing, and announces their engagement in The Times. Killian refuses to marry her and refuses to give a reason. Everyone is astounded and especially, Barton and Delphine take Killian to court. If they win, Killian will be professionally ruined and he will be unable to practice his profession that he truly loves and excels in.


Killian comes to Sir Oliver Rathbone for defence in desperation.  First Oliver refuses to do anything with it, as he agrees with the motives of the Lamberts in suing Killian. Then, Oliver meets the Lamberts in a party and then feels  that Kelvin is victimized by high expectations, and Delphine, the domineering mother of Zilla and agrees to represent the case against his own reservations.


Hester Latterley is serving to look after a soldier Gabriel Sheldon who got disfigured in the Sepoy Mutiny of India and is back in England. His whole family struggles to even talk to him! Hester begins to understand his predicament.  His brother Athol Sheldon is an insensitive boob who is stuck in his own ways and primitive notions. The wife Perdita struggles to find common topic to talk to the husband. Martha, the housekeeper too agrees quietly that Athol is a bumbling fool. (‘Muscular Christian Englishman’ as the book describes him)


The case begins and the prosecuting attorney Sachavarall  is clever and very good. He paints a picture of Kevin deceiving a girl for no reason at all and even Oliver struggles to see why his client would be innocent. Killian refuses to discuss any details even with his own lawyer Oliver in private, and seems resigned to whatever his fate may be.


The case is going against Oliver and Killian inexorably. Sachavarall, the prosecution lawyer, is savouring the possibility of an easy victory in this case. Barton Lambert and Delphine conduct themselves perfectly on the witness stand.

n the meanwhile, with no evidence and certain of being convicted, Killian kills himself, much to the shock of everyone in the courtroom.


Only when he is dead and a doctor is called to do the autopsy is the real reason for his reluctance to marry revealed. A very good twist. The twist moves further when Monk continues his investigation.


At one point, you wonder why the story continues when everything seems to have been revealed. It turns out that there is a very good reason and not one page is wasted in building up the story unnecessarily.


It turns out, in an even more bizarre fashion, that Killian’s attempts to kill himself started when he was in the courtroom, in the middle of all that crowd!


The investigation into how and why a central character committed an apparent suicide when she was with the others the whole time is fascinating.


And a sideline search of Monk searching for relatives of the maid Martha Jackson’s sister Dolly Jackson’s deformed children ties so neatly into the story. Makes you gasp when the twists come. Amazingly told tale. Fabulous!


A pleasure to read from beginning to end.


I will give it a 9/10


–        – Krishna

Movie: Maleficent (2014)

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:46 am

imagesIt is true that the storytelling from the point of view of the bad guy or gal, to explain why they did what they did has been done for a long time now. You have the broadway play Wicked as arguably the most famous example, and you have Star War prequels where they show how the cute and cuddly Anakin Skywalker turned into the Evil Lord Darth Vadar, but there are also less known examples One Crazy Bastard Flew Through My Psych Ward (the other side of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). I do not  know if this genre has a name, but if it did, Maleficent will fit right into the mould.


And the Disney predilection for changing fairy tales continues. This story does not conform to the original story but deviates from it, as is their version of The Little Mermaid from the original story. (“The kids will not like the original ending” may have been the reason then.) They went on to completely mangle the story of Hercules for their animated version, not caring if the kids learn the mythology totally wrong. Here they deviate from their own story as well (as told in the Sleeping Beauty cartoon decades ago). None of this takes away from the fact that this is a very good movie to watch – if you are not upset about lack of authentication in stories.


There is also the twist ending, reminiscent of their other recent movie hit, Frozen. I do hope that they do not overuse this so that it becomes a cliché of its own. Still interesting, to say the least.


The story is told from the point of view of Maleficent, who is a fairy, and who protects and falls in love with an ambitious and ruthless man. He promises to be with her but all he wants is career advancement. Finally, he becomes the King (Yes, sir or madam, we are talking about King Stefan). He was caught as a thief in the Moors, the kingdom where magical creatures live. (An opportunity for special effects guys to do their thing). He was from the Land of Men, bitter enemies of the creatures. Maleficent has wings at this time.



When Maleficent learns that he is an orphan, she pardons the theft but falls in love with him. He on the other hand is after glory and goes to work for King Henry. When Henry tries to invade the Moors, he is defeated, single handed by Maleficent  and being heirless and near death, vows to give his entire kingdom to the man who kills Maleficent. We also learn that iron is bad for fairies and burns them.


Stefan sees his chance and tricks Maleficent into a false reconciliation. Since he truly loved her, he finds he cannot kill her in her sleep (like the guard in Snow White story, ironically) and cuts off her wings as proof to Henry that he killed her. Becomes King.


At this point you are wondering where the story came from. None of this is in the fairy tale, as I remember it. This is just to establish why Maleficent harbours a hatred for King Stefan – not because he forgot to invite her to his girl’s birth celebrations.


Then, the story goes on to the curse of sleep with a needle, and Maleficent watches over the girl to make sure her curse becomes real, and, slowly, in a fashion reminiscent of Gru in the first movie of Despicable Me, she slowly finds that she falls in love with the girl she had sworn to destroy. Also finds that she cannot undo her own curse (with the clause, that she herself provided, not the fairies, that Love’s First True Kiss will undo the curse.) The explanation of her condescending to include this proviso is fascinating. Based on her own experience, she knows that there is no such thing as True Love, that all men are cheaters and have unfeeling hearts, so that clause will never come true, right?


She is now desperate with worry and watches her own – now frightening – curse inexorably take effect.


The story is very well told, the raven that always accompanies Maleficent is brought into the picture very cunningly – she saves a raven and it accompanies her. Also in the story is the dragon (that she turns into in the original cartoon but brought back differently here).


The little touches and the humour in the dialog keeps the movie elevated on a higher plane and makes this movie a very entertaining one.


Interesting to see that Elle Fanning who plays Aurora is the younger sister of Dakota Fanning.


The twist ending puts everything right. Yes, there is a prince whom Princess Aurora meets accidentally, as in the original story but I will leave it at that, and not spoil the ending for those of you who have not seen it earlier.



Let us say, 7/10


–        – Krishna

July 6, 2014

Book: The Black Company by Glenn Cook

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:17 am

imagesGlenn Cook is a prolific fantasy writer but this is my first book by the author. I was underwhelmed by the book.


The Black Company comes across as some kind of guardians, administering a city. They seem to be a police with supernatural powers, for a city where supernatural things happen as a matter of course. The story starts with their investigating a poisoning and a rebellion.


Syndic is the boss of the Company but seems to be universally reviled. Mercy is ruthless – the name is intended to be ironic, which makes it a kind of cheap humour.


They suppress a rebellion but withdraw, much to the anger of Syndic, an old crone.


Then there is an animal that goes through the town causing rampage. It is the evil Black Leopard, which is so strong and fast that you cannot see it even when it comes to attack you, let alone capture or vanquish it. Somehow, the leopard is captured by the Black Company. You ask, ‘Wait, is this anyhow related to the rebellion? I do not see a connection.’  Now you begin to see how the story goes. Yes, there is no connection and will not be, and this theme is also immediately abandoned. Read on.


Black Company goes to work for evil Lady, because they have been banished from the city and have nowhere else to go. They know that the Lady is evil but they decide to work for her anyway. By now you stop being surprised, possibly, as you know what you have let yourself in for.


Add to it, the sense of the storytelling style being too childish. Add a dash of magic and mysterious (even for the Black Company, that is)  Raven and his seemingly random killings but always with a purpose, as you are fated to learn later.


There is Lady who seems to be some kind of a Super Witch (as in the female form for a Wizard, not the cackling, cauldron stirring, broom stick riding variety). The story also features the Ten Who Were Taken. This seems to be the Top Ten club of Wizards captured and brainwashed by Lady to work for her. The names are pretty much self explanatory – Soulcatcher, Stormbringer; Limper (OK, this is not very indicative of what he can do), There is also Hanged Man – no prizes for guessing why.


Each one feels like a short story with Croaker, the medic, being the centre ground and who writes “Annals” which are not any deep historic chronicles as you would expect but simply a chapter in this juvenile story.


Can anyone write a lighter historical narrative? I doubt it.


The wizards are One Eye and Goblin (don’t laugh). Croaker, as we have seen,  is the medic and the scribe (retains the “history” of wizards through the Annals).

The Taken and the Rebel Circle are higher wizards with grotesque sidebar characteristics. Lady is the supreme wizard and so is her even more cruel husband the Dominator! (Wait, go slow; what? Where did he come from?)


With so much power, you would think that they would have conquered all without resistance long ago, right? But all of them seem powerless in battles and have stupid weaknesses.


Some “men” turn out to be girls. Big twist, wow! There are some weird twists – if you do not consider the ones so far narrated as weird –  like Soulcatcher being a girl and what’s more, Lady’s own sister.


The ending has a tiny twist that is mildly interesting but by then you are so jaded with the lightweight narration that it barely registers.


Let us say, 3/10


–        – Krishna

Movie : X-Men – Days of the Future Past (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:06 am

imagesProfessor X or Charles Xavier, recounts how the humans created Sentinels, an artificial intelligent beings to kill the Mutants.


The Sentinels turn on humans next, exterminating any humans they think have the potential to become mutants. They are immune to Mutant powers and are superior; cannot be burnt, frozen, even closed off. They come relentlessly, reminding one of the determination of the Terminator. The fate of the remaining mutants as well as most of humanity seems doomed.



Trask of the Trask Industries, is a diminutive scientist who hates mutants with a passion. He is the brain behind the Sentinels. The idea is to go back in time and prevent the sentinels from ever being made. The only problem is that the ability to go back only works for a couple of months, as going far back into the future can put so much pressure on the mind that it snaps. The only person who can go back and survive is the only mutant who has self-healing powers to heal himself – Wolverine.


So far so good. Now the story gets complicated. They have to convince a reluctant Mystique, this time played by Jennifer Lawrence, to not kill Trask. (That releases the destiny of the Sentinels) For that he has to convince an early Professor X that the future Professor X sent him to help Wolverine. In addition, they need the help of the evilest man of all, Magneto, in concert.  And then they all do a number of things to keep the movie fast paced and succeed. The story is like the cartoon version, complex and science based. However, there are some scenes that stand out.


After the commercial success of the Game of Thrones and his part in it, Tyrion (ie, Peter Dinklage) gets a major part as a villain in this movie. He is Trask.


Some of the scenes are great. The one where Quicksilver goes and rescues Magneto out of the Pentagon is fantastic.


The young Magneto (Eric) and Charles are interesting. The story also has its moments. Charles regains the use of his limbs and can live like a normal man, but he has to give up his ability to read minds and all his superpowers. (Funny how these things work out in the comic world right? What kind of a trade-off is that? Why that specific trade-off? What have they even got to do with each other? ) His cinematic moment comes when he agrees to become a cripple again for the greater good of the mutants and humanity.


There is also the irony that, since Mystique’s blood is the one that helps Trask create the sentinels in the first place, Erik tries to kill her first, but in the process wounds her and thus becomes the cause of the blood getting to Trask. Nice touch.


Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger all make appearance, the actors looking like poor imitations of the originals.


Bickering like children while there is a world to save, Magneto, Charles, Mystique and other mutants finally manage to end the mayhem, get Trask arrested for treason and save the world, where everything is as it should be.


Not a bad movie, has a lot of interesting touches. 7/10


–        – Krishna

July 2, 2014

Book: Alchemist’s Secret by Scott Mariani

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:22 pm

imagesI know what the author is aiming for, but let us discuss this later, once we have had a peek at the story. What is the story?


The story opens with Father Pascal Cambriel in a storm in France.  A man dressed in rags slashes himself, after spouting Spanish.


Julian Sanchez, a boy kidnapped for ransom by wealthy parents, is discovered in a dirty hovel by super sleuth Ben Hope. That is purely to serve as introduction to him and his prowess. The story starts when Ben is recruited by a rich man, for what?


Before we go on, this is the first book in a series that centres around Ben Hope written by the author.


Ben discovers that it is to find a man only known as Fulcanelli. The man who hired him is Sebastian Fairfax, through his assistant Valliers. That man Fucanelli was eighty when last seen, about eighty years ago!


Ben is followed by a man who, when cornered choses to kill himself rather than be interrogated. This after a James Bond type of fight that requires all Ben’s skill to survive and subdue.


Interesting vignettes about the secret societies and how symbols can be interpreted in ways the original author never intended. This is where you begin to realize that this is intended as a thriller in the style of Dan Brown’s books.


Then the book goes into an action thriller mode, where Ben meets Roberta a discredited scientist whom a killer tries to kill, whose assistant betrays all her research. They team up to meet an old relative (descendent) of Fulcanelli and buy an old manuscript from him.

He gives them a book but not the manuscript but gets captured by the evil priest who is a religious sadist.


Then they meet the beautiful Anna Manzini and also the demented man who was saved by a priest and also met Anna in an asylum and was killed by Eduourd, who himself is killled by the evil priest. Does your head spin yet?


Very cartoony and definitely not Dan Brown. I would not even call it a poor man’s Dan Brown.


In the end there are multiple twists in the style of Jeffrey Deaver, briefly holding your interest but even these are not well executed.


The dialog is insipid, all the emotions are surface emotions or reflective of adolescent thought processes, nothing complex here to savor.


You do not feel for anyone, do not think like anyone do not experience what they do. Just a story. Not a very good one at that either. A little entertaining.


Let us say 2/10


–        – Krishna

Movie: Blood Diamond (2006)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:58 pm

imagesThis movie feels part like an offbeat movie and part like the usual Hollywood potboiler and seems unable to make up its mind as to which one specifically it wants to be.


The story is focused in Sierra Leone in a particularly war torn period and portrays the uncertain and unstable conditions of life for the poor people of the place.


The main character in the story is about Solomon Vandy (brilliantly played by Djimon Honsou) who is a loving father of a boy and a girl, and who wants them to have opportunities greater than him through studies. Though Djimon has done bit roles including in that Russell Crowe starrer the Gladiator, this is perhaps the biggest role he had landed until then and he makes good use of the opportunity. His terror through the various situations and his anxiety about his family, all sound very real.


His idyllic but poor existence is rudely shattered when the RUF group invades his village of Shenge and captures him, putting him to work in the mines. He is separated from his family too, and does not know where they are, how they are and whether they are even alive.


He is treated as a bonded labour, trowelling for diamonds in a river – used to fund the war efforts and hence the title – when he comes across a big diamond of a rare pink hue. At that very moment, the rebels are distracted by gunfire and he hides it with his feet. Asking that he wants to pee, he goes and takes the diamond out and is seen by Captain Poison, his master; before the Captain can react, he is wounded by gunfire and Solomon just buries it in there.


He is arrested and thrown in jail, and is in the company of a wounded Captain Poison, who accuses him of hiding a large diamond. This is overheard by Danny Archer, played by Leonardo (more on him and his role later) before Captain Poison dies.


Danny Archer, a smuggler is in serious trouble because the diamonds he smuggled for a warlord were confiscated by police when he was arrested, and he sees a way to redeem himself by hunting for the diamond with Solomon. The rest of the story follows the breathtaking journey through danger into the civil war raging all around them, Solomon also motivated to find his family no matter what the cost.


The movie is also populated by Jennifer Connelly as Maddie Bowen, a journalist who covers civil wars and Africa.


Now back to Leonardo. This actor has taken a wide variety of roles and has been versatile in many of them and has also taken his share of classics (See the review of Romeo Plus Juliet elsewhere in this site.) Here too, he does a good job including his Rhodesian accent but it smells like blockbusters. His budding romance with Bowen, the ending, all of it seem very cinematic against Solomon’s role in the movie.


The scenes with Solomon are believable, especially where he realizes that his only chance of staying alive, let alone recover the diamond, is to team up with Danny. His confrontation with his son is very moving, before that scene, too, turns cinematic.


However, there are some nice touches, which elevate this movie to a higher plane than that of a typical Hollywood potboiler.  First, there is this sneaking suspicion as to what his intentions are. Like Solomon, we always are on the edge of certainty that he is trying to cheat Solomon out of the diamond, the only way Solomon can hope to live a decent life and recover his family. Even to a direct question from Maddy, Danny is evasive as to whether he will really do the right thing by Solomon. Nice.


Second, the romance between Maddie and Danny is understated rather than explicitly revealed. Nice.


Third, at various points, even though you are sure he is doing it for self-interest, you see Danny not only save Solomon but treat him like a friend.


But again, at the very end, you are left with the same impression that I mentioned in the beginning of this review. This movie is part Hollywood thriller and part a really honest look at the civil war and the diamonds that fund it, and does not do full justice to either.


There are really clever scenes and unusual touches, and therefore this gets a 6/10 from me.


–        – Krishna

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