bookspluslife

December 27, 2015

Book: The Internet Is A Playground by David Thorne

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:36 pm

imageHilarious real emails start off the book, with the now famous “I drew a spider in lieu of the $233 and odd that I owe you because I judge this to be of that value” email chain. Then there is a hilarious interchange about creating a logo for a new business that the founder expects to be the next Twitter.

Then it deteriorates to one liners from David’s family – his son’s utterances at various points lovingly collected and presented, for example. Then comes a tedious piece about monkeys which is not very humorous, nor very creative. With very little effort and imagination, one can write hundreds of these, and the author has written, literally, what seems to be hundreds of pointless musings.

 

And then David decides to publish all this junk into a book. It still would not fill a decent sized book and so what does he do? Decide to write just one or two sentences per page so that you get it to fill in enough pages for a book. Problem solved.

 

And the wise-ass comments on interminably long emails tend to get boring after a while.

 

The piece about the missing cat is mildly amusing but the one about the head lice is simply stupid.

 

And what about the “Internet” part in the title? Most of it is email correspondence. Probably made up. Does David think that Internet is all email? If it is because the contents of the book started off as a blog, that is a pure excuse for this title anyway.

 

Why do they all look made up? Because the insolent and stupid replies to their questions elicit unexpectedly puzzled responses from people trying to just do their job (impose fines, or collect electricity bills). In real life, the notes would have been ignored with just a warning that if he does not pay the fine, the services will be terminated or he would be evicted or whatever. Not interminable questions on why he has disguised the dog as a bear by putting a blanket on it or what a portal could be.

 

And incredibly, at the end of it all, they agree to waive the fees or verify meter reading or whatever David wants, without even his asking. This definitely could happen, in a juvenile mind’s daydreaming world. Chalk up another point for why I think it is all made up.

 

The entire book is filled with such frivolous babble. It may have worked on a website – not for me there either –  but not as a book, unless you are already a dedicated fan of David’s website.

 

Also reminds me of the 12 year old goofs in exams which you can see collected on the Internet. From the minds of a twelve year old, some of these may be really funny – because of the context. From an adult writer? Judge for yourself. Here is a sample : “ So then suns are really clouds of light? Yes, and then they rain sunshine”.

 

And a bit of autobiography where we are treated to all the details of David’s first ever trip to the United States, which is another piece in the same, boring, mode as the rest of the book.

 

It does not deserve more than 2/10

– – Krishna

Movie: The Martian (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:24 pm

imageWell, the story can be told in a mini paragraph – an astronaut who was left behind in Mars due to an emergency evacuation survives against almost impossible odds until they plan a rescue (again against very improbable odds). Sounds trite and boring, right? How can you make a long movie out of this atom of a story? How can you make it interesting to boot?

 

If any one can, Ridley Scott and his crew can and he shows how. The movie is not just interesting, it is exciting to watch. Brilliantly shot and brilliantly planned, the movie keeps you completely absorbed until the end.

Well, this is not the first movie of its kind where they show miniature stories in a fantastic manner. Gravity has been there in 2013 and even earlier, Castaway did it in style, just to quote two examples. But still it does not take away from the fact that it is a story very well told, with sensitivity and humour to boot, and keeps you engaged till the very last minute from the very first minute.

 

The circumstances where the astronaut Mark Watney gets left behind are credible. They search for him until the very last minute, even putting the crew in some danger but realize that he is probably dead and have to leave anyway to save the rest of the crew. Matt Damon as Mark Watney is brilliant. In addition, you have to admire the variety of roles Jessica Chastain takes on. In this, she is the commander Melissa Lewis who has to make the difficult decision to leave  Mark behind. Compared to Zero Dark Thirty  or Crimson Peak,  this one could not be more different. It is also interesting. It is also interesting to see an older Jeff Daniels as NASA director.

But this movie is all about Matt Damon, and others just have bit parts in it. It is the story of his survival. How he gets water from the inhospitable Martian atmosphere, how he faces setbacks, how he plans his travel to the potential site of the next landing, how he realizes that almost everything he does may not be enough to save him are all fabulous.

In addition, there is a lot of humour in the story that make you smile while rooting for the intrepid astronaut.  He faces every adversity including waking up initially with an antenna stuck in him, with full determination.

There is no way to describe in detail the story, you just have to see it. But the moments there where he fixes an earlier, primitive, broken down communication equipment partially (only visuals) and how he manages to have a ‘two way’ communication are fascinating.  His failed efforts (initially) to create water and the “fertilizer” he uses to grow his potatoes all provide clever humour.

The efforts to resupply him also end in abject failure when the probe, due to an emergency decision to cut some safety checks, explodes just after leaving earth. These provide the drama in the story.

One incongruity is that to accept Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, the Indian member of the crew, you have to squint very hard.

Though the moments where they hatch a secret plan overriding the Director to rescue Mark are cinematic, and even though the rescue and the daring plan to hurtle through space hoping that the crew would be in position to catch him is even more cinematic, they do not take anything away from the visual and intellectual feast this movie provides to the viewer.

 

Really top class and I award it a 9/10

 

– – Krishna

 

 

December 21, 2015

Book: Eels – An Exploration by James Prosek

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:37 am

imageThe title, the cover… Everything about this book promises to be exciting. It looks like it is a work of nonfiction, one of scientific explanation about the creatures that we all want to know. I definitely expected the excitement on the lines of those in The Electric Universe or A Short History of Nearly Everything.   It is definitely non fiction, but it is a very different book from those two.

 

Fascination with eels started a long time ago for James and the enthusiasm shows, initially. So your hopes are up.

 

The fascinating thing about no one having ever caught a pregnant eel though everyone knows that they spawn is good. So are the stories about how freshwater eels go deep into the ocean to produce offsprings. Your hopes stay up.

 

Then, like a bad documentary, it gets boring. Eel trapping described in needless detail and slows the whole book down. Jake, the trapper rhapsodises about how he catches eels.

If you think it is the exhilerating description to carry you along in its enthusiasm, you are in for a huge disappointment. Stilted prose and the author wandering off the subject for many pages makes this a fairly boring book.

 

Have you seen some wildlife documentaries where, perhaps since they do not have enough footage on the animals, fill in boring details on the crew, who they are, how they prepared for the shoot, where they waited etc making it a documentary mainly about a bunch of people with a little animal footage thrown in to justify the title about wildlife? This books smells like that. It feels as though James, lacking enough to say about eels even in this slim book, filled it with travels, the places he went to, the people he met, what their belief systems were, why they do what they do etc. All tangentially relevant to the subject matter, I grant you, but not the real subject matter that you would be after, lured in by the title and the cover design.

 

After learning all about Jack the trapper, you meet Stella, the Maori eel researcher in New Zeland, and her group. You travel with them to various places and learn about various things. It is all about as interesting as watching a plant grow. More and more about how the insensitive Englishman in his arrogance destroyed the basic culture and livelihood of the indigenous people irrevocably by building dams and producing clean energy. There are some interesting new pieces about how the pakehas (white foreigners) deliberately set out to destroy eels as they were a threat to their transplanted trout that they brought into New Zeland’s pristine environment to “give them a familiar feeling” and allow their fishing far from their shores (England). They also introduced many other animal species, changing the ecosystem of the country for good. All interesting information but nothing to do with the lifestyle of Eels or their unique characteristics, which is what I thought the book should be about. The old adage about “Never judge a book by its cover” was never truer than when considering this book to read.

 

Even the local colour added sucks. The descriptions are like – ‘he got up to get more sugar for the tea’ and later ‘he said, stirring the sugar in the tea with a small spoon’ and you dread things  that thankfully never come – ‘he took a sip of his tea’ and ‘he took another sip of his tea. Now the tea level had reduced’. ‘He noticed that the small spoon was in the tea so he took it out’  And so on.

 

The one interesting thing that comes out is the fact that pigs are called “Captain Cookers” in New Zealand since they were brought in by Captain Cook and his team!

More everyday story and more gripes about how modernity is a curse for the ancient ways of living, from other places and detailed explanation of how to reach his remote home. Yawn.

 

And when he caught a fish, he thinks it could be taniwha and sees if it has red eyes! Then he is forced to kill an eel and feels now one with Maori culture from then on but also guilty for the eel. Come on! And the book goes into repeat narration of  how trout was introduced by Europeans into New Zealand several  times in the book.

 

The discussion with Jonathan Yang, who came to US and talks to the author about Eels, has difficulty with English and his conversations are written in the stereotypical Asian language of a person who has limited English. Instead of bringing a sense of reality into the conversation, it just sounds very condescending. In fact, either abject inferiority complex (when it comes to Maoris and how the author is one of a race of people who caused all that trouble to them) or condescension drips from the story and description all the way through the book. Here is a sample of the latter. Jonathan says “”He find many big eels..  make it very easy to ship [eels]” or “Only Taiwan people eat this eel. In China no eat. Wife make soup… make husband strong” or “If you make book about eels, you must go Pohnpei”.  Does that sound as condescending to you as it does to me?

 

Gets worse, he goes meets a Japanese scientist and talks about rubbish that has only peripheral interest to eels.  Then back to the manual dam where Ray builds it by hand every year, spending almost all year doing it, refusing to use any machines and failing to catch eels most of the year. He catches all the eels he can and yet rails against overfishing that is depleting the population. Hmmmm… And wherever he goes he eats eels all year long, all the time.

 

Goes to Pohnpe, and has some boring interactions with people again.

 

What is even more astonishing is this. The author collects stories on eels. Most of them are folksy in nature and very disjointed and he describes them in great detail when he collects these. But, when he goes to another gathering in the same country and asked to narrate what he found out, he starts writing the same story in detail again and I was completely taken aback, wondering if I have to read the same thing again in another page of the story. But after two paragraphs of agonizing repetition, he simply states that he told the other stories and mentions them. It is all about the everyday life of various cultures, which would be interesting if that is what you were looking for in a book but in a book that purports to talk about eels, it is irritating. Even in a book about cultures, the details he brings in of how they made tea and how the old man asked him to buy alcohol and he obliged and how he went and saw many officials in some government set up will make people want to throw the book across the room, I guess.. I definitely resisted the temptation to do just that, many times.
Let us say 2/10

– – Krishna

Movie: Crimson Peak (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:05 am

 

imageWhen I heard Guillermo Del Toro has actually directed a film after the fascinating Pan’s Labyrinth, I wanted to drop everything and see the movie. He has been executive producer of a lot of movies that bear his name in the posters prominently of late, but he has not directed them. (See our review of Mama, earlier, for an example.) So this was, for me, a long awaited event. See the movie I did and came out with a considerable dissatisfaction.

 

Some of the Guillermo effects are there. The dilapidated Crimson Peak is well set and the ghosts, especially that of the protagonist Edith Cushing’s mother are refreshingly different. They seem to trail some kind of smoke to show the ethereal quality of ghosts and this is the kind of small touches that Toro gives his movies that make them stand out.

 

But then the story is not like him at all. The twist is kind of easy to foresee (Remember the end of Pan’s Labyrinth? This does not even come close)

The story is one of Edith Cushing, heir to the fortune of a businessman. She is charmed and falls in love with Sir Thomas Sharpe from England, who seems to have the most charming manners she has seen. When the father seems to be against it, he dies in a brutal murder, with his head crushed against a sink,  leaving Edith to proceed with the romance.

 

She marries Sir Thomas and moves to England. Before she leaves, the vapour trailing ghost of her own mother warns her ‘Beware of the Crimson Peak’. She finds that Sir Thomas is living in a creepy, dilapidated mansion with her sister Lady Lucille Sharp.

The mystery deepens when Lucille seems to hate her, keeps her literally imprisoned, and refuses to hand over the keys of the mansion to the new mistress. Sir Thomas is all charm and assurance.

 

Slowly, she uncovers the gruesome truth and the mystery. There are also some additional surprises where she realizes that the brother and sister have been having an incestuous affair and have been trying to slowly kill her for her inheritance.

 

The ending is bizarre and involves brutal efforts to kill each other.

 

The story is weak, so the strong portrayal, the sets etc do not make up for it. The movie, I think, could be justifiably done by many others equally well and does not need a Guillermo at the helm.

If you perhaps go without the preconceived notion that I had, perhaps you may have enjoyed it a bit more, but even so, I would not think you would place it on par with one of the best horrors of recent times.

The interesting character is Jessica Chastain, who plays the deranged Lady Lucille. A very different role from her Zero Dark Thirty (Maya) or The Martian (Melissa) and Tom Hiddleston, our own Loki in the Thor series.

 

I would say a 4/10

– – Krishna

 

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