August 14, 2016

Book: Contested Will by James Shapiro

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:58 pm

imageThe full title is “Contested Will: Who wrote  Shakespeare?”.Do you see the play on words in the title? Cute.

The prolog is really nice. The controversy about who really wrote Shakespeare started even in the eighteenth century. James Wilmot argued that everything that the plays indicate about the education, the travels (description of foreign towns) etc do not match what we know about the real William Shakespeare from history. So who really wrote it? There are dozens of suggestions but James Shapiro takes two cases and examines the case. One is Edward de Vere, who is the Earl of Oxford and the other is Francis Bacon. Both these perspectives agree that William Shakespeare did not write those plays and someone else used his name.


And then there is the title event. Shakespeare had written in his will “To my loyal wife, I bequeath my second best bed”, without any explanation! The mystery deepens.


With this plot, you would expect a killer narrative, right? The style though is pedantic. The exciting story of how, Ireland, the son of a Shakespearean scholar, found unexpected success in unearthing some important documents on the life of the bard itself and let the fame go to his head and forged several more “finds” and got exposed; how Shakespeare devotion swept the stage around that time reminding one of the Beatlemania much later have all been told in a professorial tone, marring the impact it may have had on you as a reader.


Even after proof that the papers were forgeries by Malone, who pointed out that some of the things in the documents (for instance, tea) were not available in England in Shakespeare’s lifetime, people insisting on believing that the documents were authentic.


The way Malone then took to speculation on what Shakespeare’s life must have been from his plays is criticized. Rightly so. But when the same point is made for about 15 pages, you start getting bored and urge James Shapiro to “move on” in your mind.


And it goes on and on where Malone even hid some diaries that presented contrary evidence because he was blindly convinced of the rightness of his views. But very slow, with agonizing repetitions of the same point.


And when the pious Samuel Mosheim Schmucker, offended by the research from Friedrich Strauss that argued that The New Testament could not have been real based on some scientific analysis, wrote a parody saying all the plays could not have been written by Shakespeare, this argument became the basis of serious argument about Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays by subsequent critics!


Delia Bacon argued that Francis Bacon was the real author but that was driven by no concrete evidence, and with the belief that she was somehow related to that man – without any evidence to the relationship. Till she turned insane and was admitted to an asylum and died, she persisted on irritating everyone by her alternate bouts of nagging and paranoia that someone else will steal her ideas. In spite of powerful sympathizers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, she frittered away her chance to do genuine research. Her personal scandal and ridicule in personal life only made the paranoia worse.


The main things that fuelled suspicion about Shakespeare’s authorship is the fact that he was a man who was not literate enough, in people’s opinion, to have written so fine a set of plays and more importantly, there was no manuscript found in Shakespeare’s effects after his death for any of the plays! Strange.


Mark Twain was of the same opinion and in fact influenced by Delia. Now it is interesting that all through his life, Mark Twain kept getting into disastrous business ventures, losing all his money and then winning it back through new books and lectures! Another feature is that Mark Twain was the first one to think of branding himself. Today’s branding industry has him to thank. He gets convinced on some kooky ciphers that people arbitrarily see in Shakespeare’s plays (“Bacon signed his name in them in cipher”) and gets misled.


More and more on the same points. Reads like a research paper written for a doctorate thesis and is tedious to read in many places. For instance Freud was also convinced that Shakespeare did not write the plays and even used Hamlet as an inspiration to move to his now famous theories. The way it is told could not be more soporific even if you tried.


There was a group called the Church of Humanity that worshipped Shakespeare (and also others like Homer and Dante) as religious leaders and even named months after them. The month of Shakespeare was in the fall, and was between the months of Gutenberg and Descartes. Wow.


Shakespeare’s case, if you understand the realities of those times, seems unshakable when presented by the author. It is only deep seated religion-like convictions that drive the alternate theories even when, as in the case of Earl of Oxford, subsequent historical findings repudiate much of the basis for the original claim.


For instance you should have actors available to deliver the dialogs, especially those in Welsh as sometimes written. Also the female parts were played by boys who had to be frequently replaced when they reached puberty and their voices broke so the current crop of actors should be able to mouth the formidable dialogs. So a person cannot write a play in isolation and get it staged.


The book picks up when it describes Shakespearean times when plays were staged and the constraints (in music, stage space etc) he faced and how the plays were written to suit those conditions – including the taste of the audience at that time. It is interesting to read that he had purely commercial motives in writing these great plays. This is similar to the shock in finding out that Alexander Dumas had written the Three Musketeers as a serial piece in the local newspaper!


And then comes a long series of hand wringing about the tendency that still prevails to read Shakespeare’s plays as autobiographical. We have seen all the arguments earlier (not that it is not valid) and so it feels like you have flipped the book backwards and are reading the sections again in a different set of words.


Why should we care who wrote Shakespeare? He has a good reason for it. Read the book, however boring most of it is, to find out why.



– – Krishna






Movie: The Shallows (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:43 pm

imageThe story is interesting. It merges the feature of several previous movies which had new concepts into one, and also does some things very well.

First of all, there are not many people in the movie. It is all about Nancy, a surfer girl, and she dominates the movie, from the beginning to end, played reasonably well by Blake Lively. You can see the stranded girl in her and she gives a credible performance. Other than that, there is the driver who takes her to the island who comes in the beginning and the end, and a couple of surfers and a drunk who come for a couple of scenes.   OK, there is dad and sister talking to her on the smartphone but that’s it. They all have a scene or two but Nancy stays with us from the beginning to the very end of the movie.

Nancy goes to the beach that her late mother had frequented. As is the custom in disaster movies, everything goes wrong. She was supposed first to go with her friend Anna but Anna claims to be sick and bails out. She goes to the beach and the waters are gorgeous and she decides to surf alone.  It is supposed to be a safe beach and she meets two other surfer dudes who try to pick her up. She politely declines and swims alone after they leave.

Then she is suddenly attacked by a Shark and manages to reach an isolated rock. With no food, no water, all her equipment on the shore and she stranded on a rock with absolutely nothing (well, almost – more of it later) to survive with, let alone battle a hungry shark doing the rounds, does she survive? If so, how? If not, how far does she get? That is the rest of the movie.

There are some things that make this movie very interesting.

First, the cinematography is stunning. The surfing scenes are like poetry; the above and under water angles and perspectives take you as close to surfing as you possibly can get in a movie.  The locale is breathtaking (Hawaii?) and the camera does full justice to the location. Brilliant.

Sentiments are galore – her sister, her father, hints about her troubles with dad, her intention to give up her medical studies in despair of having lost her mom and her blaming the father… All of it are done well, and are told in a touching way without wandering into maudlin territory. Nice.

The make up artist is fabulous. The deep gash in her leg that is shown in its raw form and the self stitching she does is impressive, even in these days of great animation.

At least since Castaway, or perhaps even before that, Hollywood likes to give a useless and dumb companion to the stranded central character. There you had Wilson, the football. Here you have a seagull stranded in the small rock with Nancy. This part, to me, sounded artificial.

The scenes where she almost gets saved multiple times (the surfer dudes just a bit too far to hear her cries for help and they calmly storing their possessions into the jeep and driving away, the ship that does not notice her flares,  or the drunk, for instance) are formulaic but still count as interesting to watch.

Initially I was thrilled to see the shark behave like a shark and not a super intelligent human equivalent that comes in Jaws, and I was prepared to see a girl with no weapons outwit it with her intelligence alone. But soon it degenerates into just such a behaviour unlike any real life shark and ends in a very similar dramatic sequence that cannot happen in real life with a real shark. What a waste of potential after that fabulous start of the movie!


All in all, worth watching but the performance does not compare to the brilliant portrayal by Tom Hanks in Castaway and the very artificial plotline to keep the movie interesting stop this from being a brilliant movie, in my opinion.


6/ 10

– – Krishna

August 6, 2016

Book: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:41 pm

imageThis is the fourth  book in the Dark Tower series.


This continues the story of the Black Tower or the Gunslinger series. The earlier books are The Gulslinger and  The Drawing of the Three, which have been reviewed here earlier and The Wastelands.


The story continues where the previous book left off, and starts with a riddling contest between Blaine the evil train and the quartet of travellers (Roland, Eddie, Susanne and Jake) plus Oy. They seem to be losing badly as Blaine’s memory banks seem invincible. In between they are treated to a desolate view outside (Blaine can make the carriage they are sitting in transparent) with the weird animals and even weirder natural wonders – a huge waterfall. Blaine recharges himself on the Beam’s force fields. When everything almost seems lost, Eddie comes into his own and flummoxes Blaine in a spectacular fashion.


They move on and find USA destroyed by a contagious superflu that has wiped out the entire population. Walk on in a lonely path and hear “thinnies”, which contain a warble that can drive your mind insane unless you stuff the old Roland world’s bullets in your ears.


Roland tells his past story which starts with Susan Delgado being betrothed to an old rich man who will lift her family out of poverty and she is checked out for ‘purity’ by an old evil witch. On the way back she meets Roland, who is young and introduces himself with a false name of Will Dearborn.


She falls hopelessly in love with him and the witch sees it in a crystal ball.


In the meanwhile Roland, Cuthbert and Alain stop the town bullies with coffins tattooed on their arms and win the enmity and suspicion of the whole town. An underdog finds that one of them is really the son of a gunslinger.


Susan has been promised to Mayor Thorin as his gilly in return for money, land, and riches for her family. Falling in love with Roland was not supposed to be part of the plan. She helps him discover massive hoard of oil to be given to the enemies of his land.


They succumb to temptation and do the beast with two backs and they cannot seem to stop. In the meanwhile, the thugs with the coffin tattoo get very suspicious about them and are surprised at their facility with weaponry.


The witch tries to spoil their plot and send a note through Seemus to Cordelia but Cuthbert intercepts him. He and Roland come to blows before Roland realizes his error.


They plan to blow up the oil tanks and lead the entire village into the thinny and they learn of the Wizard’s pink crystal ball with the witch, buried under her bed.


But Jonas catches the boys unawares, and Susan and Seemie, a dull witted but loyal friend of the boys, plan to rescue them, realizing that they may die in the attempt. They get the boys out killing Dave the deputy and the fat Sheriff Avery who were guiding them and then blow up the oil rigs as planned.


The boys ambush the party of Jonas and get them all, and unhurt too. But Susan is captured, with Jonas warned by the witch Rhea through the Pink Ball (which is one of the Wizard’s rainbow crystals) as to where she is. Sheemie was out relieving himself but doggedly follows Reynolds and Susan to the Mayor’s house and seems to find help in Olive Thorin, the Mayor’s long suffering wife. But they are captured. While Roland kills Jonas, recovers the ball and destroys all the party by leading them into the thinny, Rhea gets Susan and kills her.


When an unconscious Roland is taken back to Gilead, Rhea uses her magic to have Roland kill his own mother. This stuff is better than the previous story of the four people so far.

At the end they revert back to their world where Roland tells the story and there is a piece where he goes back and finishes the ending. All in all, a very good read.



– – Krishna


Movie : Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:27 pm

imageAs you would expect in a superhero movie, this features a serum that turns people into super-soldiers. The evil man, the Winter Soldier, has possession of it and the world is, again, in serious danger of destruction and needs Captain America desperately – as in every episode of this series.

The difference about this movie is that even though it is titled Captain America, this is really an Avengers movie. Almost every Avenger shows up. Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, you name them, they are here. Even Ant Man and Spider Man show up (Thank God, the Spider Man is not played by Tobey McGuire!). Should it not be then called Avengers: Civil War? Especially when the Civil War is amongst them mainly?

The true villain is now Crossbones, an evil Hydra agent who managed to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D earlier but was exposed by Captain America and expelled.

When Crossbones goes to get a deadly virus he is attacked by the Avenger team and each one does his or her thing. There are very tightly choreographed, fascinating stunt scenes which have almost become de rigor in these action movies these days. For instance, Captain America being saved by Wanda (Scarlet Witch) by containing the explosion triggered almost in front of Captain America’s  face by Crossbones is one such action scene.


There is also some humour, which is also a usual feature – Spider Man being treated as the baby of the group, for instance. Cute. If anything, Iron Man is less dominating in this movie than he normally is. The General who arrives says that they should not fight anymore because they cause destruction wherever they go. They are now under government control. Half the Avengers (including, chiefly, Iron Man) agree and the other half (including Captain America) are disgusted. Typical of the bumbling government, in the Marvel view.


Then there is the King of the fictional African country Wakanda who gets assassinated by the evil men and his son becomes a kind of superhero himself! It is so easy to do so in this fictional world. The chase scenes of the superheroes and the brainwashed Winter Soldier who sides with the evil side are amazing. The chases, the jumps, the man commandeering a motorcycle, Black Panther (the prince mentioned above as a superhero with a superhero name to match) jumping on fast moving cars one from the other to catch him – nicely done. Difficult to describe but let me tell you that this is good action if you are into action movies.


Lots of typical Avenger moments that are so popular today. Nothing drastically new but still enjoyable as a movie.


Nice. 6 / 10

–  – Krishna

August 1, 2016

Book: The Whistling Woman by A S Byatt

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:44 am

imageA S Byatt is known for writing offbeat stories and it was with very great interest that I read this book. The interest and expectations did not last long. Let us see why. First, a bit about the story.


Francesca is in an illicit affair with John Ottomer of the Ottomer twins. John is Leo’s  father. In the meanwhile, Luk, a snail researcher is in vain in love with Jacqueline, a fellow researcher, who seems to be pining for Marcus Potter, who is mild and ineffective. .


Well, this is like watching a plant grow.


Sir Wijnnoble is a dean of the university and is contemplating a Mind and Body seminar.

Meanwhile, Francesca lands herself a TV spot after resigning from her teaching job in protest of a new philosophy of teaching being adopted in the school, about how you learn as you live, and not through any structured format. If you thought this was boring, just wait.


Then follows a really boring letter exchange between two doctors about a lot of patients and a lot of incomprehensible philosophy and you recognize some of the ones having issues and attending a kind of informal Quaker psychotherapy sessions are the Ottomar twins. There is also the crazy person in the asylum that you have briefly met before.


Gunner and Lucy quarrel and she slashes him with a rake and he battered her. Jacquiline, Marcus and Luk come upon them and Luk and Marcus go with Lucy and Jacquiline stays with Gunner. They rescue the children, who have scalp wounds and wait until the police come and take charge of the case. Lucy goes to the asylum with the other inmates. Josh Lamb, another inmates hallucinates and knows it. He sees blood oozing from body part of people he is talking to.


His back story is about the only interesting thing so far. His dad murders his mother and his sister and runs away. He escapes only because unknown to his strict father but with the permission of his mother, he had, for the first time in his life, had gone for a sleepover with his friend and came home only the next morning, to find his mother’s and sister’s corpses.


The struggles of Josh Lamb (or Joshua Ramsey as he used to be known) are very well told and the language held me enough to read this book till the end.


Josephine and Frederica come alternately and you are confused as to who is who sometimes. They seem to feel and act like the same person, which is one of the main reasons for the confusion.


Marcus is a mathematical genius who sees numbers everywhere and Hodgkins is fascinated.


A whole lot of letters reveal that among the ‘inmates’ of an asylum with therapy sessions is a scientist masquerading as an insane person who wants to study the others in situ, so to speak.


The group sessions, which you think of therapy for insane turns weird when Joshua becomes leader of a cult group and they all move to a farm owned and now donated by the so far catatonic but now animated Lucy. They go into a kind of a weird Manichean religious philosophy which, while being part pagan, also reinterprets Christianity with Jesus representing Light which is imprisoned in people and fruits etc and darkness in the earth and the beasts.


We realize that Hodgekiss is homosexual and loves Marcus.


There is a riot in the university by the anti-university nuts, and even the Principal’s wife participates in the destruction of university property. They release all the lab animals to free them from cruelty. No, I am not saying all this in a disjointed way. The entire story is narrated in this disjointed way. I don’t think that there is a person alive who would be animated and waiting to read if you reach up to this point. It may be a good thing. Why, you ask?


The cult goes from bad to worse when a girl gets pregnant (with no one knowing who is the father) and delivers without outside help. Another girl died and is quietly buried.


Lots of weird stuff. People seem to have sex with no thought and then wonder if they love the person they had sex with. Frederica talks about women’s freedom to have sex and discovers she is pregnant.


Book ends in a kind of a cinematic abruptness and a lot of deep thought with little substance in it.


Also, on a side note : every man in the story seems to have a beard. Interesting.


Overall, a disappointment, very odd story.


Well, who the hell is the whistling woman? Who knows, even at the end of the book? Your guess is as good as mine.


3/ 10


–  – Krishna

Movie: The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:18 am

imageThis is the second instalment of the Conjuring Series, which are paranormal happenings investigated by the husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. In the first Conjuring movie, you learn that the duo collects sample artifacts from their cases and put them in a room in their house. The same tradition continues here.

I feel that this movie, though interesting, does not live up to the terror standards of the original. Some of the elements are there. There is also this struggle where every séance and the visions Lorraine uses to solve the cases takes a lot out of her and Ed is scared that one more of that may kill her. And the scenes where they want to give up their cases to focus on a normal life but trouble finds them in the form of people who desperately need their help and have nowhere else to go.

The story is kind of a letdown. There is a family in England, where the young girl called Janet seems to have been taken over by a malevolent demon. There are interesting scenes where Janet wakes up in the middle of the night and finds herself in a different part of the house. She gets upset, suspecting that she is suffering from somnambulism, and ties herself to the bed but still wakes up in the living room, having had no memory of how she got there.

There are also interesting scenes when people refuse to buy the story of a malevolent presence in the house (first when the mother refuses to believe and later when investigators do not believe), stuff like the bed started moving right in front of them.

There is a complicated story about how the old man who seems to be threatening Janet was a decoy all along and the real demon is a very dangerous spirit who is using the old man to do her bidding and almost too late they go back to save the day.

Some of the ideas still creep you out, like how Lorraine finds a vision of Ed being impaled on a sharp tree trunk and how it nearly comes to pass.

The end of the story – how they overcome the spirit – is comically absurd, reminding you of a famous fairy tale (If I told you which one, it would be a spoiler here) – and that is another reason for feeling that this story does not measure up.

Give it a miss unless you are such a fan of Conjuring that you simply have to see every movie in the series.

I cannot see myself awarding this more than 4/ 10

– – Krishna

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