bookspluslife

June 27, 2015

Book: Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:09 pm

imageThis is the first book written by Bill Bryson, an author of many talents. I have not read this book, but after reading his fabulous book  A Short History of Nearly Everything, I could not wait to read this one. But this book is a lot different from that one is all I can say now. Read on for more details.

Bill, alone and young, in London and lost, not rich and so sleeps on a bench. Goes on his journey to see places in his native England.

Gets a boarding room full of rules on what not to do. He describes the British propensity, amusing to Americans, of being fascinated with the weather, being jogged into high levels of excitement and fervour by a hot beverage (tea of course, what else), thinking their country is so large that going from a place to another (as the author put it ‘the distance an American would drive just to get a taco’) requires discussion of alternate routes etc for hours.

We see that he has the gift of tickling your funny bone from this (very first) book. Other authors could learn a thing or two from Bill on how to write about almost anything in an interesting way that keeps you chuckling through the book. Well, parts of it, anyway.

Fun description of Calais, where, going to France, he finds only Englishmen (and Dover is visible from across the water) and where he buys a tacky angel that sheds seashells and glitter constantly, are humorous. So is his description of the vastness of London.

The picture at the Times before Rupert Murdoch’s takeover and professionalization is interesting.

So where is the beef? Mostly it is all about descriptions of places like a travelog and so there is a lot of limpness in the descriptions and books. He viscerally hates conservatives (and Thatcher especially) – it is obvious. He thinks all public services will be destroyed by the Tories but reading it several decades later, you see how wrong he was.

He goes on wandering and noting the changes ten years later with his witticisms about how jolly Englishmen really are and other notable things. Not great reading but manages to keep you amused for a while.

He goes on to describe various cities in England and the changes wrought in them in his ten year absence and also makes some wry observation about the sunny disposition of the English, the inexplicable perplexity of women when faced with payment at the cash counter of any supermarket, the fact that Chinese have not figured out that a pair of what looks like knitting needles (chop sticks of course) may not the best device to hold and eat food etc.

I cannot honestly say that his descriptions bring the place alive in front of you, as it all reads, at least in parts, like a diary entry of an elderly traveller.

Then comes his notes about men and women, which seem to more belong on a stand up comic’s repertoire than an author – of a travelogue or any other book. He talks about declining industry, how the town has gone to seed, what he personally thinks is good taste and what he does not. It is all so slow and boring, and rather than experiencing Britain through his eyes, you feel chained to him and dragged to places you do not wish to go by yourself.

It is all about what he likes and what he hates, his preferences and misplaced priorities in many cases. His writing is highly prejudiced with his preferences and the humour that is sprinkled amid these ramblings is also sometimes juvenile. Is this the same author who later wrote ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, one of the best pieces of scientific writing? Amazing!

Want a sample of his humour to judge for yourself? “…. is more a hamlet than a village. Do you know the difference between a village and a hamlet? One is a place where people live and the other is a play by Shakespeare’. (Me : Groan….)

And it is all about his personal quarrels over trivia with employees with a huffy ‘Honestly.’ at the end. And tiresome trivia quoted from what seems like travel brochures. Always with ‘Do you know….?’ which is even more annoying. A sample : “Did you know that Scotland produces more college graduates per capita than any other country?”

Not bad but not what I expected either from the fame in the book. Supposed to be the best book too from user rankings. What am I missing?

I would say a 4/10

– – Krishna

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Movie : Jurassic World (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:54 pm

imageThis one was a grosser that broke all records, but the critics did not love it. The general consensus seemed to be – the graphics are better than ever, but it does not move the story forward. The same old thing you have seen in the previous Jurassic Park movies, so what else is new?

So who is right? Is it a great movie or is it the same old wine in a new bottle?

This is the way I see it : If you expect to see something positively new – yes, you will be disappointed. But if your only aim is to have a rollicking good time and not to worry about what ‘new’ twists the movie brings – and there are some of these too, as we will see later – then it is a darn good movie and is worth a visit.

The story is very simple.  Jurassic World opens after twenty two years after the closure of Jurassic Park (featured in the first movie with an excellent portrayal by Richard Attenborough, which was released in 1993, yes, twenty two years ago). The operations manager of the park is Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, adequately if unspectacularly ). She is an ambitious lady and when her nephews Zach and Gray turn up as visitors, palms them off to her assistant Zara because she is too busy to spare time.

This park, though, has been in operation for close to ten years, and the excitement caused by the dinosaurs seems to have palled, and the crowd wants more. So, in order to keep the excitement up and to ensure that the money keeps pouring in, they engage scientists’ proficient with gene splicing technology to invent new dinosaurs to keep the interest up. Their latest and proud production is Indominus Rex, which has been kept in isolation with the greatest secrecy, and is about to be unveiled soon, to hopefully thunderous applause.

There are also sea monsters like Mosasaur, which is kept for a Sea World like exhibition, where it comes and grabs a giant chunk of meat from a crane suspended above a vast aquarium.

The entrepreneur who owns the whole show is Simon Masrani (played by the Bollywood actor Irfan Khan).

There is the expert Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who is brought in to evaluate if the glass cases on one side of the Indominus Rex enclosure is firm enough for it. He disapproves of many things done in the creation of the new monster, including the isolation.

He seems to have a relationship with the velociraptors who are under his keep, and they consider him as one of them and also alpha male to boot and obey him – to the extent that these wild creatures can obey anyone.

Well, the story is about how Indominus Rex tricks them into letting it escape and how the chaos escalates when Rex breaks through several enclosures housing other creatures like the winged dinosaurs like pterosaurs. (How many of them are modelled on real dinosaurs and how many are imaginary? I wondered too. That is what Google is there for! I looked it up. Apparently, all the dinosaurs except the manufactured ones are modelled on real dinosaurs that existed, Nice.)

You see a lot of originally shown dinosaurs like the long necked, vegetarian Apatosaurus and also the probably most well-known of them all : Stegosaurus on the herbivorous side and the great Tyrannosaurus Rex on the carnivorous side.

The visuals are fantastic and are very well done. The battles and destruction are nice. The new modes of transport including the cool, ball like bubble car are good.

But there is a lot of predictable rubbish as well : the boys go recklessly into areas where they are not supposed to go, even after hearing the evacuation orders. Their surprise at the attacking Indominus Rex is comical rather than terrifying. The ditz of a secretary lets the boys go easily so that they can wander all over the park in a vehicle.

The vehicles are driven by the tourists, with no one else to control it, even when they are wandering among dangerous animals like dinosaurs. (Even the herbivores can trample one by mistake, can they not? )  Once you are into one vehicle that is it. It is free for all for you, you can go anywhere you please.

And of course, amid the death and destruction where dozens of people are killed every minute, the two boys and the two main characters escape not once but multiple times by the skin of their teeth and keep going.

Not enough nonsense? There is an evil guy with an evil plot. You wonder what the evil plot is? Simple: Use the velociraptors in a military setting so that US has a tremendous advantage over the enemies. What do you do when the sensible ones stop your evil plan? Steal them of course. Guess how he dies finally? No prizes for guessing that one!

In spite of all the silliness, it is a very satisfying end enjoyable movie. None of the scenes are wasted. The velociraptors, Owens relationship with them, the Sea World like display of Mosasaur all come together towards the end of the movie, which is nice.

If you see it with the right mindset, like I did, I think you will agree that it deserves a 6/10

– – Krishna

June 13, 2015

Book: The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:35 pm

imageThis is an unusual story. A horror tale with a difference. Let us review the story.

Thaniel seems to be in pursuit of something sinister in the deserted streets of Victorian London. The Old Quarter was avoided by people at night. The creature he is hunting is a wych-kin, a demonic creature. He instead meets a wild girl. He takes her home. She seems strangely detached but does not appear to be a wych-kin victim, who, when scratched or bitten by one, turns into one himself/ herself. Rather like vampires.

He is intrigued by the girl and wants to investigate where she came from. She in uncommunicative. On a hunch, Thaniel  meets the famed asylum owner Pyke and surprised to find hostility in his tone when he asked if one of the inmates had escaped. He also seems to know where Thaniel met the girl from even without Thaniel mentioning it to him. Curious.

His teacher turned friend Cathaline also was amazed to find the girl. She is Alaizabel. She seems to be possessed by an evil witch but the witch cannot seem to eliminate Alaizabel’s spirit from within so that the witch can live in total control of the body.

In the meanwhile, Inspector Carver realizes that his own boss in the police, Maycraft, is imitating the murders of Stitch Face, a notorious serial killer with, you guessed it, a stitched face. Thaniel investigates the pattern of the Ward murders by Maycraft and it turns out that his boss is part of the Fraternity and the Ward murders will complete the release of the evil power fully.

They go to Crooked Lanes to escape the evil spirits sent by the Fraternity. Lord Cotter, Thaniel’s father’s friend and a kind of a gang leader there agrees to give them protection. In the meanwhile, Thatch, who is inside Alaizabel uses a ward (magic spell in the novel speak)  to open a door.

The last murder planned in the pattern is  thwarted by Thaniel with Cathaline and Alaizabel in tow. In the confusion, the Fraternity, whose leader seems to be Pyke, captures Alaizabel and takes her to the Asylum, where Thatch is removed from her and put inside another girl who is more “willing to die” so that Thatch can occupy the body. Alaizabel escapes from the asylum using the same Ward Thatch used and falls straight into Stitch-Face’s clutches.

Stitch-Face releases her and she joins the group of seven who go to vanquish Thatch and the Fraternity. Detective Carver, knowing that his boss is untrustworthy, joins them. Various demons go past them and wolves attack with a frenzy. Pure supernatural melee of horror stuff. Finally, Lord Cotter and his dim witted assistant give up their lives to save the others.

They steal an air balloon to reach the castle, and Alaizabel uses Thatch’s knowledge to break all the wards protecting the castle.

When they reach the castle, the Devil Boy, who is blind but most knowledgeable of them all, dies in battle, and Carver is wounded. Even Cathaline’s hand is shattered.

On the evil side is Thatch, in the new girl’s body, Pyke, and the best witch hunter of them all, the cowboy Texas man. He challenges Thaniel for a duel but Thaniel outwits him and the whole gang.

Pyke wounds Thaniel and in the discussion that follows, reveals an amazing revelation about how wych-kins are formed.

Then the blimp pilot does some immense help by destroying both the fort and Maycraft. Thatch is killed by Thaniel and he and Alaizabel go away to live together.

Summary? A weird gothic steampunk horror feel to the story. Parts of it are interesting but not the greatest horror I have read.

5/10

– – Krishna

Movie : Mad Max : Fury Road (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:14 pm

imageWell, I don’t get this movie at all. It could be me, because I know a lot of people who loved it and it got such a good reception that the director George Miller has promised a whole series of these movies but then if you are like me, looking for pure entertainment or some interesting storyline to keep you pasted to your seat, I think that this style of film making where there is a lot of sizzle but no bacon would not interest you either.

What is the story? That is the problem. There is none. On paper, it is about how Max Rokatansky (Tom Hardy in a savage role) who is Mad Max wandering in a post apocalyptic world, having lost his family. A few gruesome flashbacks about them at random times, but I do not think I got the back story of how they died or anything. As a token to remind you that you are watching a fantasy world, they try in the beginning to show you a two headed lizard, which he eats casually after stepping on it, but then they forget all about it. The rest of the story is about a bunch of savages in gruesome makeup chasing him, capturing him, using him as a ‘universal donor’ until he escapes and then they all chase him.

A lot of acrobatics ensure – thrilling no doubt but endless procession of the same – and there is this bizzare scene of a maniacal guitar player providing mood music all the way through until he is slaughtered half way through the movie.

The main villain is an evil dictator who controls the population by occupying the only oasis where water and food is available and controlling both. His name is Immortan Joe and he has a special grotesque mask to set him apart from the grotesque makeup of other people (called War Boys, go figure). He seems to do nothing personally except to look angry and watch his boys try to capture not only Mad Max who has escaped but also a turncoat deputy of his called Imperator Furiosa (no, I am not kidding!) who is played by, the biggest surprise of me, Charlize Theron. What is she doing in this movie? I know she likes to play different roles (remember the fantastic portrayal in Monster?) but this is ridiculous.

Umm back to the story. Furiosa is trying to save the girls in the harem of Immortan Joe and makes a run for it with them in a van. When Mad Max loses his vehicle, he teams up with her and one of the War Boys who has had a change of heart and helps the good people, called Nux.

That is the end of the story part of the movie. The rest is a huge chase where several interesting acrobatic maneuvers are tried by both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ side apparently regardless of the cost to their lives or even sometimes it seems, the laws of physics.

The twist, such as it is, revolves around the fact that the sanctuary that Furiosa thought was their destination turns out to be no longer there, and what they do, stuck in the desert with no apparent means of food or water for miles around.

The style is deliberately gritty with sometimes exaggerated expressions, reminiscent of Sin City, at least to me. (Directed by another Miller – Frank Miller – no relation to George)

If you like breathtaking scenes of chase and superhuman efforts to catch up with the runaways by the evil War Boys done up in different ways, go see this movie. If you want an iota of story or anything thought provoking, give this one a miss.

2/10

– – Krishna

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