bookspluslife

July 17, 2016

Book: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:23 pm

imageThe hallmark of any good author is the ability to get into the minds of characters and see the world and the unfolding events as that particular character would see them. All successful authors do it to a fairly large extent. It is easier to do in a first person account but in a story where multiple people tell the tale, it is harder to do. And this technique has been used to devastating effect by William Faulkner in The Sound and The Fury (even if the story is hugely confusing). But Stephen King consistently does it very well. And now I find that Gillian Flynn can do it very well. This book is absorbing, and one of the reasons is this.

 

The story is great too.

 

Nick Dunne married Amy Elliot but now there are difficulties in the marriage. He moves to a poky little town (Carthage, Missouri) from New York  to be helpful to his ailing parents and also borrows money from her to start a bar with the sister, Go (Yes, the sister’s nickname). The bar does not do well. He is an author who lost his job with the journalistic recession due to internet/ blogs etc undermining the business model of the press.

 

On the Fifth Anniversary of their wedding Amy is pissed off because Nick does not notice or remember anything important.

 

She talks about meeting him in that party – in her diary. Nick finds out that day from the neighbour that the door is open to his house and the cat was wandering outside. He goes home. Finds the glass coffee table broken to shards and the furniture upturned. Amy is ‘gone’.

 

As I said at the beginning, Gillian has the power to delve into the psyche of a carefree, calm Nick and to the boisterous, irrepressible Amy, brimming with fresh ideas every minute – from a rich family who marries for love and finds out that her dream life is not so dreamy after all. The narrations of each ring true to the character and she has a very nice way of describing that immerses you into the story.

 

Nick behaves very strangely for a husband who had just lost his wife, but explains it based on his upbringing. He does not inform his in laws, knows nothing about his wife’s friends or even her blood group. Even earlier, he stood up his wife in a party when all the other husbands came for their wives. She seemsedunconcerned.

 

Officers Velasquez and Riorden are puzzled by his behaviour. To top it all off, in the TV interveiw when Amy’s father is tearful, begging her to come back, he smiles.

 

The detectives discover the treasure hunt Amy has set up for him. Meanwhile Nick smiles a smarmy smile again for a selfie with a woman he does not even like. Behaving more and more like a husband untroubled by the death of his wife. Police naturally zoom in on his as the prime suspect.

 

Meanwhile we understand how Amy sees him as insensitive and how he does not even tell major events in his family like his dad getting Alzheimers to her. When his mom gets terminal cancer he decides that they have to move to Missouri without even a token consultation with Amy, which riles her up.

 

Nick comes across as a jerk even before he reveals that he has an affair with a very young student of his, Andie.

 

He lies a lot and gets caught out every time. His neighbour announces that Amy was pregnant in front of the whole crowd. The detectives find evidence of blood – lots of it – which was (forensically) clumsily cleaned up in a room; he lies about who did not want kids to his in laws. Even Go, his alter ego and twin sister who stood by him all this time, is finally pissed off.

 

Then comes the real Amy story. She explains how she staged the murder scene and disappeared, how she was aware of Nick cheating on her, everything.  Amazing twist (that is, if you have not seen the movie already).

 

Amy’s trip into a remote cabin to hide and her being cheated out of all the money by two of the neighbours who she thought were friends is well told. What comes out strongly is how he decides to give an interview off the cuff to an unknown reporter who was sympathetic and starts turning public opinion in his favour. His engaging a tough lawyer called Tanner is well told and the strategy by Tanner when he figures out that Nick has pissed off his mistress, his in laws and found all the things he is supposed to have bought out of his credit card mysteriously stored in the outhouse of his sister’s house, his strategy to get Nick out of the deep hole he is in is also interesting.

 

Amy’s brilliant planning comes to fore. In fact, even the clues she left have two meanings, one referring to his infidelity with Andie (Amy even knows the places he took Amy to in order to be private and make love) and also using inside jokes so that what he said would make no sense to the cops. In addition, even the Punch and Judy dolls are there to establish a murder weapon (missing stick at the bottom)

 

When Amy returns after being in the clutches of Desi to whom she had gone for help and realized that she will be a prisoner, the story gets even more interesting with Nick fearing Amy and Amy playing cat and mouse games, checkmating Nick’s every move and making him realize that there is no way out. Even the legal genius Tanner seems stumped.

 

 

The final confrontation between Amy and Nick are interestingly told. I do not remember the story moving forward after Amy’s return in the movie but a lot happens in the book, with Nick trying desperately to get Amy her just punishment through a million ways. Frankly, I do not know if I prefer the movie or the book ending. Interesting. Lovely. Well told.

 

9/10

 

– Krishna

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Movie: The Jungle Book (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:54 pm

imageAs we said when we reviewed the Rudayard Kipling’s book The Jungle Book, the book reads nothing like the original cartoon version of the movie Jungle Book made by Disney in 1967.  The book is, frankly, a lot more boring than the movie, which was a surprise to me.

 

So when I heard of that Disney was making a 3D animated version of the Jungle Book, I wondered if they decided to do it any closer to the book. After seeing the movie, I am happy to say that they have stayed mostly true to their own cartoon version.

Two other general points follow, and then we will focus on how this movie is.

First, Disney has always made movies based on folklore and children’s stories but they have seldom stayed true to the original. This is even before we take into account the twists introduced in the remade versions like Maleficent.

We all know that the real ending of the Little Mermaid is not as is shown in the movie. As for Hercules, the Disney story is so far from the myth that it does not even seem to refer to the same Hercules of mythology.

Once they decided to make a revisit of all their cartoons into animated movies (A whole series like Jungle Book, Maleficent, Tarzan and now Pete’s Dragon and God only knows what else) they seem to be oscillating  between retelling the story as in the cartoons (This movie is an example) and introducing a twist (a la Maleficent).

So this story follows the cartoon faithfully. True, there are minor deviations (for instance how Sher Khan is disposed of, finally, what happens to Mowgli at the end, the reduced role for Kaa and the sequence where Baloo gets Mowgli to get honey for him)  but generally, you can recognize the 67 version strongly in the story.

They have done a phenomenal job of telling the story in the new visual format. It is well made, the cast does its job beautifully, the characters (especially King Louis) are very impressive, and the animation of every character is so good that I wondered if the boy was real or animated! (According to websites, Neel Sethi has himself performed in the movie and not just voiced over an animated Mowgli).

Neel, amidst giants who have given voice to other characters (Bill Murray as Baloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera  and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa) has done a creditable job of being Mowgli.

The story is good, funny, and even if, in my opinion, not as crazily zany as the earlier cartoon version, it really good and keeps your interest. Chalk another good win for Disney in their quest to migrate cartoons to 3D animated versions and make money multiple ways from the same original idea.

Good movie to watch, good casting, updated ending to suit the times. A definite fun time to be had by all, I think.

8/10

– – Krishna

July 3, 2016

Book: Duma Key by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:21 pm

imageStephen King is one of the heavily reviewed author in this forum. For a sample of reviews of his other books here, see the review of Full Dark No Stars  or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, to name just two.

 

This story has all the King elements: a gripping story, escalating tension, a very effective, if amorphous environment of terror in the background. Let us see the story.

 

Edgar Freemantle, a self made businessman, has an accident that cracks his skull and he loses a hand in the process too.  He plans to commit suicide to benefit his wife and daughters and is talked out of it by Dr Kamen in a rather unorthodox way. He releases Goldstein’s dog, horribly crushed in an accident from the agony of living with disability.  Pam, his wife, leaves him and he is encouraged by Dr Kamen to consider a change of scenery. When he goes to mitigate the sadness of a girl when her dog got into an accident and died, did he briefly have two hands? He is not sure. Has to be his imagination. He reaches the pink, isolated house in Duma Key and strange things start happening to him. The house seems to speak to him.

 

When his daughter Ilse comes to visit him, he knows that she is engaged to a man in a T shirt and sneakers and the number on the T shirt and the group called Hummingbirds, even before Ilse reaches him and tells him. Interesting.

 

An old lady advises him to send the daughter away because Duma Key “is not good for young girls”.  He meets Wireman after a long walk and makes friends. He also knows by touching an oven mitt from his wife that she is cheating on him with his business partner Tom and another associate.

 

When he sees Tom’s vision dead appear on his portico he gets alarmed and asks Wireman what he should do. Wireman asks him to warn his wife. He does. He discovers that Wireman has weird powers too. He can read minds.

 

Edgar discovers that he has a talent for painting, which he himself did not know he possessed. Or is it the house that is giving him that power? His paintings, in the meanwhile, are considered the work of a genius.

 

When he confronts Pam with the news of Tom about to die, she thinks Ilse has confided in Edgar.

 

He looks after the lady of the house when Wireman has gone on one of his errands.

When a child abductor and killer is imprisoned, one of his paintings make things happen that surprise Edgar too. Wireman’s past comes tumbling out – how he lost his wife and kids in succession and how even his suicide did not pan out – miraculously.

 

The suggestion – lightly done – that everything was engineered to get the three (Wireman, Edgar and Miss Eastlake) there together is chilling nevertheless.

 

The way he ‘takes care’ of a child molester is chilling and escalates the story to the next level, one little idea at a time, as only Stephen King knows how to do. Then he tries the trick for a good cause, this time with Wireman. First with the bullet lodged in his head and next with his entire face and eyes.

 

Wireman is cured ‘ by the painting’.

Edgar gives a presentation at his own art exhibition. When Eastlake appears and points out the horrors of the paintings, he realizes the problem and, before he could confirm with her,  Elizabeth Eastlake dies.

 

He realizes that Perse is the death ship and the “girl has awakened” through his paintings.

He paints to learn her past and is almost taken into the ‘death ship’ by a dead man.

He realizes with horror that all the paintings he had sold are death threats to those who bought them. Perse is furious with him and tries to take revenge by making Tom kill Pam but Tom, in a rare moment of lucidity on the way to Pam’s house, takes his own life, foiling Perse’s plans.

 

Perse is not to be thwarted.

 

Edgar belatedly remembers that he has gifted a picture to Ilse his favourite child and manages to get her to destroy it. But he did not account for all other possibilities, which makes Perse create disastrous results. His close family is impacted and Edgar goes with Jack and Wireman to confront Perse in her own redoubt on the Eastern part of the island overgrown with weeds and in a ruined first home of Libbit. They meet many challenges and the description is great; in fact,  vintage King: the tension escalates slowly. When you think it cannot get any more tense, it does. Nice!  (I know I have been deliberately vague above but it is only to ensure that I do not give too much away in this review, so that all the fun is not spoilt if you decide to read it after reading this review.)

 

Noveen, the talking doll, LAO  features well in the story. Then the heron scene adds to the sense of tension. The slow progress to find and kill Perse before the darkness falls and her power increases to an exponential level are all very well described. The tension literally crackles.

 

Fascinating  explanation of how Nan Melda died, trying to save the kids, and how Emery, the faithful but devious servant, died lured by Perse. The final confrontation with Perse in the disused well is beautifully told. You see the real Stephen King style come through at the end.

 

Definitely worth a read. It is a good ride down the terror lane with Stephen King as the tour guide.

 

8/10

 

  • – Krishna

July 1, 2016

Book: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:02 pm

imageThis is the author’s second book in this name. The first one, Cuckoo Is Calling, introduces these characters.

 

The story is told in the inimitable style you have come to expect from Robert based on his (her? After all, this is JK Rowling, really) first novel The Cuckoo Is Calling. There is also the undercurrent of romance between Robin and Strike, which continues. Well done. You are left wondering, however, whether the author plans to keep Robin hanging a la Della Street in Perry Mason novels all those years ago. Let us see what the story is.

 

Strike is approached by Mrs Leanora Quinn. Her author husband Owen has disappeared and she is distraught. His agent Liz, after talking it up, rejected his latest book.

 

The publisher Christian Fisher wants to meet Strike. Strike learns that his latest book is about a real life personality thinly veiled and is explosive stuff. He also learns that the publisher did not know where Owen is, and what is more, despises him with a passion. He also reveals that the latest book has references – very thinly veiled – to real life people who are impugned. It is a slander lawsuit waiting to happen!

 

Leanora then directs him to Liz, his ex agent and he finds that they were friends but fell out. Leanora put her career in jeopardy by not reading the latest book (called Bombyx Mori, the Latin name for silkworm) because she was sick and sent it to two publishers before her assistant told her that it is totally inappropriate. When she told Owen that, he shouted at her, upturned the chair (they met at a restaurant) stormed out, and disappeared.

 

We learn that another publisher Kathryn Kent (a self published author of erotica who slams the door in Strike’s face) had an affair with Owen but now cannot stand him and does not know where he went.

 

Robin arranges for Matthew and Cormoran Strike to meet in a restaurant with disasterous results.

 

Strike manages to get himself invited to a party with a girl called Lillian and meets Jerry Weldegrove, who is drunk and is one of the people maligned by Owen. The other is the CEO, Daniel Chard. Michael Fancourt, a famous author, is also impugned. When his wife writes a bad novel, a vicious parody appears in a magazine and she kills herself. Everyone suspects Owen is behind it but in his book, he implies that Michael himself is the author.

 

When Strike goes to a house that Owen and Daniel owned, he discovers the house sprayed with acid and Own found disembowelled and gruesomely murdered. When Strike discovers that it is exactly the way described in his latest novel, things get a lot hotter.

 

Elizabeth Tassell meets him in a restaurant and reveals that the parody was indeed written by Own and she herself (in addition to the wife of Own who had the key, motive and opportunity) is under a cloud of suspicion from the police as she regularly loaned Owen money. Lots of it.

 

Daniel Chard meets Strike and also later, Fancourt. He figures out the killer three quarters of the way through the book but in true Agatha Christie fashion, the author does not reveal the answers to us.

 

His shots in the dark to recover evidence (a typewriter) his guess about where the removed body parts of Owen were disposed of and his brilliant cornering of the killer in a club party even though the police keep ignoring his leads are fabulously told. As good as the first one, by Robert (aka JK Rowling)

 

7/10

  • –  Krishna

Movie : Finding Dory (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:51 pm

imageThough this is the golden age of sequels for Hollywood, generally sequels of animated movies have to try harder to stay current.  You may disagree with many of my examples, but to me, the second Toy Story and subsequent ones were not as great as the first one. Sure, there are exceptions. Shrek managed to keep the interest in the first two before losing its lustre in the third, and managing to mind its mojo in the fourth.  Ice Age generally keeps going well. Despicable Me just crashed and burned in the spinoff movie Minions.

 

However, Finding Dory manages to be another exception. It undersold itself, in my opinion. The trailers were not very awe inspiring and looked a bit like the rehash of the first movie but they manage to steer clear of most of the characters in the first and create an entirely new world and new plotline to keep the interest going. Sure, Marlin and Dori need to be there in all the movies but the other (the fish school and the turtles, for instance) just have cameo appearances, almost as if to remind you that you are watching a movie from the creators of Finding Nemo. It is interesting that while they have maintained most of the voices they had in Finding Nemo, they have changed the voice actor for Nemo. (I at least did not even notice).

 

The story is a lot of fun. Dory is living with Marlin and Nemo, with her memory loss causing hilarious problems when suddenly she realizes that she has to see her family. When she gets swept away into the ocean and disappears, Marlin and Nemo decide to go find her.

 

Hilarity and suspense mixed in the same way as the original creates the magical world of animation again and you are soon immersed in the new crazy characters. There is the grumpy Septapus (Yeah, an Octapus that has lost one of its tentacles) called Hank, who is only interested in getting at the tag Dory has so that he does NOT have to go back to the ocean but to an aquarium where she was bound, and be fed and looked after without having to do a lick of work).There are the crazy pair of seals (Fluke and Rudder) and an even crazier Seal – was there a name to him? – trying to share the limited space. There is a demented loon (‘Loony Loon’ I guess was the pun) called Becky with red eyes and sticking out ‘hair’ which is very funny.

 

Add to all this Dory’s touching childhood scenes – ‘Did I forget again?’ in a pleading voice to desperate parents and practising to say ‘Hi, I’m Dory. I have a short term remember-y loss’ – and it is clear why Pixar has not lost its touch. Simple scenes that tug at your heartstrings and make you like the little fish who struggles, and by extension, the movie itself.

 

The movie is very unbelievable with a series of improbable events. I know that in an animation movie the entire thing is improbable but I like at least some logic after you have accepted the premise. Here there seems to be none. Just ignore for the moment the scene where the marine animals take over a van and drive it around; even the scene where Nemo and Marlin jump from fountain to fountain to get to their destination makes you shake your head and say ‘really?’

 

Yes, Hank is a nice addition to the group and looks like he will stay on with this family for new sequels and the age worn trick of introducing a gruff,  seemingly uncaring person (Remember Gru of Despicable Me?) and showing him to be a nice person inside works again brilliantly.

 

Even the humour is good. “I have a friend called Sigourney Weaver” says Dory and you have to see the movie to understand why it is hilariously funny.

 

All in all, a worthy successor to the fantastic Finding Nemo movie. Pixar, you have done it again!

 

7 / 10

 

  • – Krishna

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