January 25, 2015

Movie : Into the Woods (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:43 pm

imagesThis is a movie undertaken by Disney after many people pondered how to make this into a movie and had given up. It would perhaps have been better for Disney to give this up too, because the end product does not impress.

This originally was, we understand, a Broadway musical and in trying to make this into a movie, there are several flaws, in my opinion. First, they have not even tried to use the greater leeway available in the cinematic medium to take it up one dimension but have produced with the same effect as a Broadway play, with the result that you get the impression that you are watching a broadway play that has been filmed with a camera at the side of the theatre and it loses everything that could have been gained with a moving, breathing cinematic medium. The costumes are all amateurish for the movie world. Witness the wolf with Johnny Depp with some hair stuck to his hand and I do not even remember if he had a tail. In fact there were no fangs either – elementary mistakes, my dear Watson?

The story is a jumble of confusion. They have tried to sew four (or is it five?) different fairy tales together – The Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk all twisted into one. And there are pointless symmetries, where all of them sing “I wish”… together and prance into the woods at the same time, meeting and greeting each other at will.

The story is painfully convoluted, with all the themes stitched together by Meryl Streep, a woman cursed into being a witch because she lost some magic beans growing in her garden to a husband caught thieving in her garden to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife. This happens to be the father of “The Baker” and his wife, who also are the central strings in the story connecting the fairy tales. The witch wants the Baker to collect four items, one from each fairy tale, in order to reverse her own curse, and she, in reward, will life the curse she placed on the Baker’s family so that they then can have a child after all.

The actors are all very theatrical – again, works for the stage, not for the silver screen – and act as if they are in a live play. The costumes and the sets are very amateurish, again stage like – the giant and the giantess (yes there is one) not even being properly managed with special effects.

And then there is the twist to the fairy tales. The Happily Ever After is not the end and everyone is disappointed with their lives thereafter. Even after the killing of the wolf (by the Baker, not a woodsman), Riding Hood loses both her mother and grandma to the depredations of the giantess. Cindarella discovers that her prince is brought up to be “charming not sincere” in his own words, and leaves him; Jack loses his mother – again to the depredations of the giantess; Rapunzel conveniently leaves with the prince rejecting her mother (contrary to every story, hers seems to be a kind of a happy ending after all). The Butcher losses his own wife; the giantess is killed in a manner reminiscent of David and Goliath, another reference to the Biblical lore, if not a fairy tale.

And everyone seems to be very artificial with the notable exception of the Baker (played by James Corden beautifully) and the witch (The inimitable Meryl Streep, who won yet another Oscar nomination for a role in a film. But you know that she can even act as a rock with convincing realism so watching her and the Baker seem to be the only redeeming features in the movie). Even Emily Blunt, as the butcher’s wife, fails to convince, and the others are simply too broadway-like to be convincing in a movie.

A very disappointing movie with very few redeeming qualities.


– – Krishna


Book: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:18 pm

imagesMany people have sworn off the Dark Towers series written by Stephen King. For the most part, it is due to the first book in the series The Gunslinger.

Written when Stephen King was just 19, in part inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy by his own admission, this book is one of the most boring books written by the author. Stephen King is a phenomenal writer and many of his books have been reviewed here before.  Most of his work is top class but then he has sometimes slipped, and the story does not appeal. Tommyknockers  is a prime example that comes to mind and even though most people may find this close to Stephen-King-blasphemy, I did not enjoy The Stand either. But mostly he writes very well, even when there is not much of a story to tell. (Read the review of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for a great example).

This book is worse than even some of his worst examples from before. At the end of it, I almost decided, like many people I know, not to bother with the series. But if you, like me, try the second book in the series, you will find that it gets a lot better right away, from the start of the second book itself. (More of this in a later entry).

.This book is about the Gunslinger called Roland, a young man in a futuristic world which has turned Wild West where a man lives and dies by his gun and hunts evil. He goes chasing “the man in black”, guided only by the ashes of the campfires left for him. Instinct guides him. He meets strange people along the way.

This book feels like a voyage written as a story. The man in black comes into a bar and wakes up a dead man.

Weird narration and a very  boring story start.

Roland  stays in the inn because of The Lady, who fancies him. Then he watches a priestess in a church. Pointless so far. Seems disjointed without even a common thread between events. Unusual for Stephen King, really.

He goes and meets a boy Jake, who seems to be alive in modern New York, which nobody knows, and seems to have died in the old New York. Then he overcomes a demon and goes on with Jake. Confusing flashbacks ensue.

He takes Jake along, saves him from a demon lurking in a kind of pentagon in a clearing. Faces the demon alone.  Then meets the man in black briefly. The story wanders too much.

The story is excruciatingly boring. The nineteen year old King is not impressive in this book for sure. His coming of age where he confronts his mentor Cort or Cuthbert is also boring.  They seem to go on an interminable, rotting railway line over a great big chasm and for no reason the boy is lost.

Apparently he had to be sacrificed. OK, whatever. Then the story gets even more bizarre. The man in black casually waits for him, they light a fire together and the evil guy reads the future of gunslinger on tarot cards. Wait, I thought that the gunslinger wanted to kill the man in black on sight? Maybe after a little food and some harmless entertainment with tarot cards? Stephen King goes way off the line here.

Then there is a little blather about universe being large, the scientific discoveries of man landing them into trouble and destroying the world, and a juvenile speculation about this universe being a part of the atom on a blade of grass of some other universe.

All in polite conversation between the man in black and Roland. Also the man in black reads the gunslinger’s future with Tarot cards. This is not the weirdest it gets, it gets worse from here on.

Then Roland discovers that the man in black is his childhood friend Marten who he believed had run away and then discovers that there are layers of evil lords above the man in black. Height of ridiculousness? After voluntarily appearing before the gunslinger (remember the tarot and the stories?) the man in black says “You caught me. I did not think you would, but you did.”

Was this really written by King? (Even a nineteen year old King?).  Even it is lame for crap like ‘you sacrificed the boy and that power pulled me helplessly to you’, though mercifully the author does not say it.

Then the man in black, after all this bonhomie, conveniently dies, all by himself. Oh well, gunslinger slept nonstop for ten years and aged, but well, it is a small price to pay to kill the man in black, right? On to the next adventure, gunslinger! If all your adventures are this easy, you are very lucky!

There are flashes of interest, like when the whole village comes after gunslinger as he tries to leave. But alas, they are few and rare.

Overall, a very boring, puzzling book, and a bad start to a series that is famous.


  • – Krishna

January 14, 2015

Book: The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:24 pm

imagesA friendly warning: Since this is not a thriller, I decided to put in some key plot points in this review and therefore if you do not like spoilers, you may want to skip this review after the first couple of paragraphs.

Khalid Hosseini is a master of emotions. Though he wrote this, The Kite Runner, as his first book, I read his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns,  first. And was enchanted. So, I eagerly turned to this book, which established his fame in the literary world first. Like the other, this one also is about life in Afghanistan but included in this is the immigrant experience where some of the characters emigrate to US and try to find a life there. First, let us look at the story.

Ali, a cook and Hazarah working for Amir, narrator’s dad, a Pushtun. Ali’s son is Hassan, the best friend of Amir. His mother ran away. Ali married her since she was his first cousin. He is crippled and paralyzed at the mouth but she is a pretty but loose girl.

Baba, Amir’s dad is a large figure in the city, both figuratively (setting up orphanages etc) and physically. Tolerant of Hazaras and Shias in general, he is against the narrow preaching of the mullahs, who he says pits Afghan against Afghan on the basis of parochial views.

His father is disappointed that Amir is not physical like he is, and is immersed always in books. His friend Rahim Khan is the one who provides the needed encouragement to Amir in his intellectual pursuits. Rahim reads his first story and encourages him.

Hassan is confronted by the half German, half Afghani bully Assef. A slingshot from Hassan provides temporary reprieve but earns a bitter enmity of Assef, who seems to think racial purity of Hitler applied to Afghanistan would require the Pushtuns to get rid of everyone else, including Hazaras.

When Amir wins the kite festival and rises in Baba’s esteem, he watches Hassan get raped by Assef. Despite Hassan’s loyalty and despite Hassan having saved his ass just a few weeks ago, Amir is afraid of standing up to Assef and runs away like the coward he recognizes himself to be.

The tight relationship that is even closer than blood brothers between Amir and Hassan  breaks then, with Hassan becoming listless and sad and pining away and Amir getting grumpy and disgruntled.

He tries to even get rid of Hassan by complaining to Baba but when he plants money and watch and accuses them of stealing, Hassan ‘admits’ to it to save Amir and Ali and Hassan leave the town.

Later, when the situation in Afghanistan becomes unsafe, Baba and Amir are also on the run to Pakistan and then to America. This was when the Russian rule in Afghanistan becomes unbearable.

Baba has serious adjustment problems in the US while Amir falls for Soraya, who has had a very ‘shady’ past by Afghan standards.

But Baba is now dying of cancer.  He dies and then Amir discovers that Hassan is his (illegitimate) half-brother and that he and his wife were killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban (Rahim Khan tells him all). His son Sohrab is now in an orphanage and Amir goes in to get him out. The change to Afghanistan under the Taliban shocks him.  What shocks him still more is what he learns of Shorab in the orphanage. In trying to rescue Shorab, he is almost killed by an old enemy who has become powerful in Taliban’s Afghanistan.

What do I think of this? Well, the style and the tempo of storytelling is there, as in the second book. You also have twists that make you sit up in shock, just like the second book. But in my view, the second book is better constructed and is a lot more polished than this one is.

The ending is heartrending, where Shorab gives up on life itself and becomes catatonic at the point of being rescued and moved to America.

It surely deserves a 7/10

  • – Krishna

January 10, 2015

Book: Half Moon Street by Anne Perry

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:18 pm

ImageOne more book from Anne Perry featuring Thomas Pitt. We have reviewed some earlier book with the same detective earlier.

Thomas Pitt is called to investigate a bizarre crime, where a body is found in a boat, the victim of a murder. The body is that of a man and is manacled to the boat and dressed in a woman’s satin clothing and arranged in a suggestive sexual pose after death, which makes it a very unusual case.

Thomas Pitt is relieved that the corpse is not that of the French embassy official who was missing, thereby avoiding an international scandal. But who is he?

Also, as is her wont, the author comments on the social mores of the time through side strands of the story that makes it very effective and adds to the weight of the story. This time it is through a play that Pitt and Charlotte’s mother Caroline go to, where a woman shows her loneliness too plainly for everyone to notice (in the story) as she is not supposed to in ‘civilized society’.  Anne rails against the restrictions on woman who are not supposed to show so crass an emotion like sexual desire.

Pitt identifies the man as a high end photographer who takes pictures of people in their fancy costumes and brings out ‘the real soul’ in each of them with clever lighting, and other additions. Caroline’s mother is appalled at Edward being ‘shamelessly flirted with’ by her daughter.

A French Diplomat seems to be somehow involved. Unusually for Anne Perry’s stories, Oscar Wilde makes a cameo appearance in the story! And when the poet Yeats also makes an appearance, the story really goes off the usual path of Anne Perry stories. However, both are only appearing fleetingly and have nothing to do with the main strand of the story itself. There is a hint in the story that they also appeared in an earlier story by Anne Perry but I have not read that one, whatever that book is.

My complaint is that she got carried too far into the social message, which is definitely interesting (of free expression of passion by women and women’s right to be informed of the uglier facets of life instead of being protected by men) that the main story hardly moves at all from time to time.

Mariah, Caroline’s dead husband’s mother, who is staying with her now since Emily is away with her husband, disapproves of the unseemly friendship between Samuel Ellison and the twice married Caroline. Having failed to persuade Caroline’s actor husband Joshua to take the threat seriously, she decides on dishonesty and writes a letter filled with flirtatious intentions to Samuel in Caroline’s name and handwriting in desperation. Then when set up, she calls Joshua to ‘witness the wantonness’. When she is found out, she is contrite, and in a conversation she admits to the penchant of her husband for sodomy. (‘Unnatural acts’) which has deeply affected her.

Meanwhile, Pitt and Tellman find out that the money for the cameramen came from salacious pictures sold clandestinely of women, who may or may not have been aware of what is gong on. When one of the pictures of the famous actress Antrim is in the exact same pose as the murdered person, Pitt knows there is a strong connection.  Caroline finds out where the pictures were bought from – in an independent way from Pitt, who tracks it to another wholesaler. When he confronts Antrim with it, she reveals a whole new side to her.

Caroline proves she can stand up to Antrim (Cicily) even when she is pissed that her son, who is a newbie, upstaged her in Hamlet. She suspects that he has some evil torment in him in order to be able to portray Hamlet to near perfection.

Well, the ending has the requisite twist but has the feeling of an abrupt ending, with no clues about the murder – this is not a book where you can guess who did it by reading it because there seems to be no clues except a direct explanation at the end.

Anne Perry can do social commentary of the Victorian era with the mystery part well and gets it near perfect in some books (For one example, read our review of A Breach of Promise elsewhere in this blog) but in this book, the social commentary seems to take over the entire book with a murder put in there as an afterthought.

Also the initial confusion about whether the murdered man was the French ambassador or not is a bit confusing. You feel definitely that it holds an important clue, but you find out otherwise at the end, which gives you a feeling of being let down.

All in all, still a readable book, but by no means one of Anne’s best.

Let us say 6/10

  • – Krishna

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