bookspluslife

September 28, 2014

Indian Movie reviews …

Filed under: Books — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:01 pm

Thank you for continuing to show support to this blog, which encourages me to keep this going. A big thank you to all of you!

Just an announcement that moving forward, owing to the nature of the majority of the audience in this site, the Indian movie content will be posted at  http://indianmoviesblog.wordpress.com/.    All book reviews will continue to be posted here, as will the reviews of Hollywood movies.

The old posts related to Indian movies have been reposted there as well.  If you are interested in the Indian Movie review content, please follow us there.

Thanks for your continued support !

 

– – Krishna

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September 20, 2014

Book: Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:19 pm

imagesAfter the success of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson, there have been a lot of interest in Swedish thriller authors and a lot of them used this to supply to the English language market. Kristina Ohlsson is one of them. I do not think any of the copycat authors achieved fame or following anywhere near that of Steig and this book kind of tells you why that is.

 

The prologue is very interesting and starts with a rape of an unnamed girl. When the story starts there is no mention of the prologue incident, and it nicely ties in at the end. But the narration, the scene setting and the conflicts leave a lot to be desired, if you are comparing this one to the Girl series of Steig mentioned above.

 

The main story itself starts with Ali travelling  by plane from Iraq to Sweden. Pregnant Frederika is assigned to the case of a seeming suicide and murder case, where a pastor called Jakob appears to have murdered  his wife and killed himself. The ostensible reason for his flying off the rocker is that his daughter Karolina is a drug addict and overdosed herself once and died. Before that can be properly investigated,  there is another corpse of a vagrant who is as yet unidentified. Working with Frederika are two of her colleagues, Peder and Alex.

 

How are all these related? Are they even related? These are the questions that torment the investigators.

 

The scene shifts to Thailand. A Swedish girl in Thailand who, we learn, has an incriminating USB key. Her hotel denies her having had a room, she cannot contact any of her relatives in Sweden by phone, her USB and money are all stolen in a mugging incident, and now her own embassy denies she is who she is and says she is implicated in a crime in Thailand.

This is a classic frame up but who is behind this?

 

On top of that, there is the personal side of Frederika, who is dealing with her own pregnancy and her love for an older married man.

 

Interesting plot indeed but the trouble is that it is poorly written. Even the twists are a bit boring!

 

Alex and Peder discover that Jakob could not have killed the wife, that Karolina was not even a drug addict and that the younger daughter, who identified Karolina and then disappeared off the face of the earth, was mentally disturbed. All this supplied by Erik Sundelius, Jakob’s psychiatrist.

 

Investigation continues. Fredrika takes her lover to her parents’ house. He is as old as her father. So, we see that the attempt is to twine the personal with the thrilling investigation, but unfortunately, both fall flat. Why? The twists are weak. The sister who cannot be an addict is not one. How did they find out this and other things? People hide something that the police “sense” with no reason at all. This is their investigating process? Give me a break.

 

Karolina is the girl stuck in Bangkok, what a great twist… Yawn.

 

The twist about the real Karolina and the real Johanna regarding the refugees, as revealed in Johanna’s testimony to the detectives, is interesting.

 

The investigation is not according to clues as it would be in an Agatha Christie novel. It is based on multiple intuitions and also suddenly characters deciding to come clean for no visible reasons at all or being utterly unable to lie in interrogations. They “refuse to talk” about stuff rather than making up plausible scenarios. Weird.

 

Everyone comes forward and reveals all secrets like Elsie, Viggio’s mother. Viggio is the police officer, the brother of Mann. Mann is the boyfriend of Karolina but ruined due to drugs.

 

Karolina and Johanna are alternately suspected in the murders of their parents due to immigrant sympathy from Joseph and Marja Ahlbin. The ending is supposed to be a thrilling denouement, but all it provokes is another yawn.

 

The best thing that can be said about this book is that it is not abominable. Is it worth investing time to read? I think you will get poor returns for your investment.

 

Let us say a 4/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

Movie: Hercules (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:46 am

imagesA fun twist on the original story. The twelve labours of Hercules are told and over by the time the titles end. The mention of these in the rest of the story is purely referential. Dwayne Johnson is Hercules and does a fairly credible job in his role. But the role is not that of the legend Hercules. You realize early in the movie that they attempt to tell a strong man who lived, who with his nephew has created the myth of the twelve labours to make his enemies give up even before he starts battle with them and also to get more work. Yes he is a sellsword as George RR Martin would say, or a soldier for hire.

 

So when the pretty Ergenia approaches him and asks for help on behalf of her father, the King of Thrace, from a savage warlord, and promises to pay his weight in gold, he readily agrees and takes his companions with him. Ergenia’s son, and many others are already fans of Hercules, amazed by what they have heard of his  “labours”.

 

He meets the General of Thrace and in answer to the latter’s questions, explains how he vanquished the Hydra and brought its head to King Eurethyus and you listen in, knowing that it is all made up and part of his sales promotion talk.

 

When you meet Lord Cotys (played by John Hurt) you think that it is a casting fiasco. Lord Cotys, the king of Thrace, looks like someone you could have dragged off the street, the thinner and the older the better, and stuck a crown on top of his head. But there is a method in the madness. No, it is not what you think. He is not an imposter or a pretender who is placed there to test Hercules by the real king. You realize later that this may have been done deliberately to lead you away from a plot twist.

 

Anyway, on with the story: Cotys tells of the savagery of warlord Rhesus. (Really? Rhesus? Did they not get any other Greek name except that of the famous breed of monkeys used for experiments?) who is ravaging his kingdom with an army of Satyrs (the half human, half horse creatures of legend).The army of Cotys is totally unprepared, untrained, powerless to resist the big challenge from Rhesus and the whole kingdom of Thrace is in danger.

 

Hercules agrees to help and trains the army in a crash schedule.

 

Hercules gets to see the savagery of Rhesus first hand when he walks into a trap set by the warlord in Bessi Heartland. It is a slaughterhouse but when they go deep in, they find that the enemy warriors are really many of the “corpses” and they are instantly surrounded by these men. We get to see the skill of Hercules and some cool tricks like chariots with spinning blades protruding from its wheels to cut down the scores of barbarian enemies but ultimately they are victorious. Cotys watches, too bewildered to act.

 

There are comic moments galore. Amphiaras, one of the core team of Hercules has a vision and a gift where he knows when his death will be. At several moments in the movie, he decides that the time has come and, for instance, stands in the path of flaming arrows with his eyes closed and arms extended, prepared to die at his appointed time, only to find that not a single arrow touched him!

 

They meet and capture Rhesus, get their gold and prepare to leave. Incidentally, the Satyrs of the new myth turn out to be simply soldiers on horses.

 

It is at this point that they realize that their mission is not over, but has barely begun. Hercules asks his comrades to go and says that he will stay there and finish the mission, even if there is no gold at the end of it. Of course, everyone chooses to stay except one : Autolycus, who takes all the gold for ‘safekeeping’ while the rest stay and finish what they came for – to bring peace to Thrace.

 

The final moments of the movie indicate how Hercules gets captured and is reminded of his own glory by his team and starts to believe in himself: even if the legends are false, the man behind it is true, strong, and capable of feats that beggar belief. In the end he triumphs, not before reaching heights to which the legends have raised him and not before Amphiaras makes one more attempt to ‘meet his end at the appointed time’ and fails.

 

A fairly interesting story, well told but is not gripping or the edge of the seat excitement, as in, say Edge of Tomorrow.

 

I would give this a 6/10

 

  • – Krishna

September 14, 2014

Book : Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:45 am

imagesThis, as you can see, is the book that describes the Cold War issues faced by Kennedy related to Germany, and tracks the events leading up to the crisis and its denouement.

 

The start of the book is very good –  American and Soviet tanks facing each other less than 100 m apart, across the dividing line between East and West Berlin, watched by Berliners. Tensions so high that deliberately or even inadvertently, a war can be started at any moment between the two superpowers of the world, US and the USSR.

 

In tracking the events, the author does not pull punches. He describes Kennedy’s unsure, indecisive beginnings as a President, and that surely makes for an interesting reading. The background on the other leader in the story, Gorbachev, is also excellent, especially where he shows brinkmanship and reckless threats to the US ambassador when entirely inebriated and the smooth transition to calm friendliness later.

 

There are other revelations that you may not know about those times. These include descriptions on the the closeness that West German ambassador Kroll feels towards Russia rather than to the US; Ulbricht, the East German lead, who was accusing Russia of not defending its interests adequately. These are the things that makes this book eminently readable, even though you on a broad scale know about the Berlin crisis and how it was resolved – and also why the Berlin Wall was built over severe objections from the Western powers and why US did not do anything significant from the wall going up.

 

We learn a lot more things in the course of the book. For instance, Stalin’s dreaded assistant Beria was overthrown and killed by Khuruschev’s machinations.

 

The Soviets tried to exert backdoor influence to get Kennedy elected rather than Nixon because in their eyes, he would be more pliable and can be managed. We learn, even though we knew it in a broad way, the details of the enmity and hatred between Mao and Khuruschev.

 

Ulbrecht  of East Germany defying Khuruschev and creating trouble for him, and the intrigues that Khuruschev had to deal with, are also very gripping.

 

Ubrecht with his shortness (5 feet four) crumpled shirts and ties, and his high pitched voice due to childhood diptheria with all the diffidences that go with it, turned out to be a very powerful leader who even made the giant Soviet Union dance to his tunes at times (when it came to German affairs). Stalin short too, pock marked, limped, and had a crippled left arm. (I did not know that) Ulbrecht out-Stalin’ed Stalin in East Germany in his ruthlessless and defiance.

 

Adnauer, the chanceller of West Germany liked to nap naked during midday like Churchill did. (Of course you go ‘Wait, what? Churchill liked that too?’)

 

Kennedy got Germany situation wrong repeatedly and also favoured, in the elections,  an opposition politician over Adenauer. The one he supported wanted compromise with the Soviets! Go figure.

 

Willy Brandt was born Herbert Frahm, was the illegitimate son of a shop assistant. His Social Democrats were neutral towards US and Soviets. In the light of his later legendary status as the Chancellor of West Germany, this neutrality seems outright bizarre.

 

Yuri Gagarin was in space because the original cosmonaut died in training and his launch was advanced to beat the Americans against the advice of the group involved in safety training.

 

And on successful return, Khuruschev promoted him two ranks up to Major. If you don’t die in a foolhardy mission, you are rewarded.

 

We learn that Khuruschev ran rings around the inexperienced and unsure John F Kennedy. He seemed to play hardball with a hesitant, almost apologetically supplicant Kennedy at Vienna. Kennedy is hoodwinked into having Robert Kennedy talk to a Soviet spy who has the ear of Khruschev. While the Soviets know all about it, American agencies like the CIA or FBI have no clue on what the president’s current thinking was.

 

We learn that the Kennedy image too all was false. He was not healthy, was taking questionable medical compounds, suffered from a severely bad back, and was doped most of the time! Even his angelic wife was a prop as he was a man hooked on serial adultery. (And of course, we knew this part now, with the Marylyn Monroe and other affairs coming to light).

 

Khruschev building the fence is a relief to Kennedy who knew he cannot face the army at this stage of preparedness and did not want war. Willy Brandt, the illegitimate son who changed his surname, is contesting against Adnauer in the West German poll for chancellor, trying to move his Social Democrats to the centre from extreme left wing position.

 

Kennedy’s “so what?” response to the building of the wall shocked West Germany!

Kennedy was so into women that some days he did not work at all. And his agents had to alert him if they noticed the sudden arrival of his wife. On top of all this,  there was a security threat angle, since the women brought in were not allowed to be security checked by the President’s personal guards.

 

Political calculations said that a nuclear attack is not so bad since it had only 500 thousand casualities instead of several million in a ‘compassionate’ nuclear scenario!

 

Epilogue contains some interesting analysis on whether Cuban Missile crisis could have been fully avoided if Kennedy had shown some backbone in the Berlin crisis but contains a lot of repetition from the book’s main section to read like a synopsis of the whole book sometimes.

 

The final surprise is when we learn that Castro was not considered communist in 1961? Wow!

 

Did Kennedy say that “I am a jelly doughnut” in German when he meant to say “I am a Berliner” in his stirring speech in front of the wall? That is what is alleged.

 

I know that this is a lot of trivia – surprising ones at that – instead of the story but the story is one of the escalating tensions in the border between the two super powers and the possibility of a conflagration, avoided by the building of the wall. The west appears weaker and indecisive, and the Soviet Union bullying and taking crazy chances with their brinkmanship. Well told story, nice narrative style, and great research. Definitely worth a read.

 

If you see parallels in today’s situation with Putin, that is something that you see.

 

I would give this book a 8/10

 

  • – Krishna

Movie: Die Hard (1988)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:16 am

imagesFirst, let us get through a couple of clarifications:

  1. Yes, this is the first one in the series. I was curious about the strength of the Franchise that keeps going strong after all these years, and decided to see the first one that started it all.
  2. The rating that I give is from the perspective of someone seeing it today, which definitely would be different from one who saw it back in 1988.

 

The story is a thriller, and so, by definition, you stop worrying about logic. This is a Bruce Willis version of Rambo, a one man demolition army.

 

Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a super cop. It is fun to see a very young Willis with a full head of hair, playing a cop. What is even more surprising is seeing Alan Rickman of the latter Snape fame in Harry Potter series, playing the main villain, Hans Gruber)

 

You have John McClane, a New York cop, visiting his wife Holly, who has kept her maiden name Holly Gennaro due to differences with her husband. He is on vacation and his aim is trying a reconciliation with his wife. He discovers after arriving that she is in the midst of a party given by her boss in Nakatomi Corporation. (yes, the ubiquitous Japanese scare then). The gang of Hans comes in and takes over the building. The intent is to stage a mock terrorist attack but to steal $640 million worth of bearer bonds in the company’s very highly secure safe. They of course bring in the required Hollywood geek genius Theo who can break into any lock except (don’t laugh) the last one.

 

First of all, why does a corporation keep that much of assets uninvested in the safe in the same building as the headquarters which seems to be the same building as the living apartments of employees? (John goes there first to change and meet his wife). Even if you buy the outlandish theory, why a bearer bond which is easy to steal and cash? In case they have a need to cash in a small change of $640 m by any employee in case of an “unforeseen emergency”? This is where you just stop thinking and just follow the action.

 

The movie is fun, especially when Sgt Al Powell comes in as a police officer to routinely check out a possible issue in the building and becomes a strong supporter of John, via a walkie talkie, to the point where he starts giving family relationship advice. And his cartoonish boss Police Chief Dwayne Robinson who is a pig headed guy who opposes everything sensible to provide irritation value to the story. Of course he gets his just desserts when the whole case is taken over abruptly by the FBI who make further bungles. The only man who even knows what to do is John, alone and killing an entire army of terrorists.

 

Well, you know how it all ends already. The fun part is when you realize that the police sergeant is the same person (Reginald VelJohnson) who played dad in the Family Matters of old (ugh, Urkel series if you don’t remember the name).

 

The whole movie is cartoonish but the action takes you along, and until the end, you don’t find the movie going slow but it is not one of those intelligent thrillers. You keep suspending your disbelief at every stage, and feel that it may have easily turned into a parody with very few changes.

 

It is still OK to watch, though you don’t come out with the feeling of having watched a great thriller or a very logically entertaining movie. Almost like reading a comic book on superheroes.

 

 

For all the holes in the movie, this one gets 5/10 for sheer entertainment.
– – Krishna

September 7, 2014

Book: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:56 pm

imagesA classic novel review after a while. This is a romantic comedy and of course, the language is that of the old times (the book, after all, was published in 1749). This is considered by many to be the best book written by Henry Fielding and is definitely the most popular.

 

For all the passing of time, this book remains surprisingly readable, like for instance, The Great Expectations by Dickens. The language also does not jar much and is very much contemporary, unlike Gulliver’s Travels for example. Which is nice.

 

The story revolves around the eponymous protagonist, Tom Jones. He was found at the doorstep of a wealthy man called Mr Allworthy, who is  a model citizen, kind, helps others, very pious, and decides to take him in and raise him as his own son.

 

Allworthy’s sister is courted by a man called Mr Bilfil and they get Master Bilfil, who considers himself the rightful heir of Allworthy, and has a cause to resent Tom Jones.

 

Sophia Weston,  daughter of a neighbouring landlord, falls for Tom and Tom for her. But this is a story about a man with a lot of weaknesses, and Tom is always up to some mischief or the other. He gets Molly, daughter of Black George the gamekeeper of Allworthy, pregnant.
Mrs honour maid of Sophia, is loyal to Sophia and to no other, not even her father.

 

As we said, Tom and Sophia realize that they love each other.  He has a broken arm in an accident when this love blooms.

 

Molly has had affairs with another boy before and with Square, a priest, when Tom goes to see her!

 

The story gets a bit weird and completely contrived. For example, in more than one instance, people fall dead at the least pretense, exactly when they are creating trouble. (Very conveniently for some major characters)

 

Tom Jones again tries to have an affair with Molly almost got caught and fights with the parson and Master Bilfil. This is not normally the behaviour of a hero, even in a comedy, and so this makes it very interesting.

 

Sophia falls for Tom Jones and Sophia’s aunt thinks it is for Bilfil that she pines and arranges marriage. When Sophia rebels, her father gets mad.

 

The dialogs are easily understood but that does not mean that the sentiments are ordinary. They reflects the times and are quaint when read now. One example, where Sophia’s father says “Wealth is as necessary to a marriage as the opposite sexes”.

 

 

Some innocuous remarks can be seen out of context too. Take this example “Though he [Master Bilfill] was not the man who would eat every woman he met….”

 

The story wanders off. Tom is banished, his money stolen by Gamekeeper George and he is penniless.

 

Sophia plans elopement with Honor, the maid, who is herself not very trustworthy initially.

 

The author frequently spews venom on critics whom he seems to hold is low estimation… Don’t miss footnotes in Tom Jones because they are funny too. A ‘critic’ in footnotes is explained as ‘anyone who can ever read’.

 

 

Tom joins the army as a volunteer or tries to and gets into a tussle with a sentry. He saves a man who was trying to save his friend from gambling debts and then saves a damsel in distress, Mrs Fitzpatrick, who is a lose woman married to an army captain. She promptly tries to seduce him and with Tom Jones, finds it very easy to do so. Sophia unexpectedly comes in at the wrong time and flees Tom Jones in disgust.

A friend,  Nightingale, appears and there is more bizarre sentiments. For instance, Nightingale seduces Nancy, makes her pregnant and then says that he cannot marry her because she has no virtue, even if the cause for that is himself!

 

Tom convinces him to marry Nancy to eternal gratitude of her mother.

 

Mr Warren is all this time in hot pursuit and finally captures Sophia and locks her in a room. His sister rescues her.

 

When Tom writes a note to Mrs Fitzpatrick to marry her, this story becomes the comedy of errors that it sets out to be from the beginning. The whole letter was a ruse to cool the ardour that the woman feels for Tom but it reaches Sophia who is repulsed by his repeated infidelities. Everyone falls for Jones. He kills the husband of Mrs Fitzpatrick who dies and Jones ends up in prison.

 

The book is full of comments that reflect those times but sit odd with the reader today; Allworthy praises Sophia since she has “no pretenses of wisdom”, which ‘becomes a woman as much as the pretenses become an ape’. Also she is wonderful because, when asked “as a test” to adjudicate among differences between two of his friends, she modestly declined stating “how can you even assume that I am capable of solving the differences of opinion between two gentlemen!”. Wow!

 

Another oddity : Tom is in prison yet, people go in and out constantly to meet him as if he is staying in a restaurant!

 

Odd phrases abound too. Forget about the two families having “the most agreeable intercourse among them”. What about the father in law saying to Tom Jones “Give me thy fist…it is as honest a cock as any that can be found in the kingdom”?

 

A satisfying but unconvincing end. All Sophia’s reservations, determination to avoid Tom etc. melt away conveniently and there are a lot of hurried coincidences to bring the story to an abrupt but happy end.

 

A surprisingly good read with too many holes in the story.   6/10
– – Krishna

Movie : Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:17 pm

imagesThe original planet of the apes was interesting, in that the twist at the end was unexpected. This one is a take on that movie, and imagines how it would have all continued several years later. The trailers did not do justice to the movie and I almost did not go. The popular review sites had reviews that persuaded me to give it a try and I am glad I did. For it is a well made, intelligent movie.

 

The main draw in the movie, though, comes out in the trailer. The apes that they portray are believable as lab experimental monkeys that escaped with genetically modified human intelligence and emotions. Very interestingly told on how they teach their young, how they live in a crude city with roofs over their heads, albeit of the thatched hut variety and how they remember the previous torture. The human kind, in the meanwhile has been wiped out fully, or so the apes believe, due to a virus that spread through them.

The encounter begins when a group of humans come across the apes on their way to repair a dam – the electricity being vital for their survival. The beauty of the movie is that you understand the conflict from everyone’s viewpoint, even the evil ones. The people have a perfectly valid reason for acting as they do, and you feel that if you were in their position, you would act the same way too.

Now for the story. Part of it has been described above. The monkeys from a genetic lab escape following a pandemic which nearly destroys human race. The leader of the pack is called Caesar. I thought it was a title, modelled on Roman emperors, but turns out it is his name. He is the one who planned and got all the monkeys released, some of whom were tortured (from their viewpoint) in the name of science, and his assistant, Koba, who is as eternally grateful to Caesar as he is implacably aligned in hatred against the human kind.

Caesar is a wise, thoughtful and pragmatist man, and when he finds some humans in his path, even though one kills an ape in confusion, lets them go. Koba is furious but obeys.

When the apes go to find where the humans are they come across a vast “colony” of people  and Casear agrees that they can repair their dam and go back. In the meanwhile, with their medicine, they cure Casear’s wife, making Casear indebted to them.

The complex web spins from there, and the story is told with style and promise. The people and apes have certain members who completely disagree with their leaders’ plans for coexistence and plot to subvert it. Things go wrong with people smuggling guns into the ape colony against the express agreement, Koba rebelling against the sudden weakness of Caesar against the obnoxious humans, humans in turn not trusting the apes causing almost another death with a smuggled gun, all of them are told in a tight, exciting narrative.

The dialogs are tight and powerful, with sign language of the apes interspersed with short English sentences while conversing with humans.

The bond that forms between Caesar and Malcolm, the human, is touching. So is the powerful statement from Caesar, when he faces rebellion on the ranks of the apes : “We thought man was our enemy and we were a different race. See how similar we are to them!”

 

A good story, definitely worth watching.

 

7/10

 

 

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