bookspluslife

July 30, 2017

Book: A Cantile for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:10 pm

imageAn unusual book. Unusual does not mean good. Just unsual. Cannot figure out if it a science fiction or whether it is a funny book but it falls short on both counts. Story starts in a desert.

 

A novice priest, Father Francis meets a lonely girdled pilgrim in the middle of a desert. It is a world full of monsters, and he is worried that it is one.  When he notes that it is a pilgrim and when the pilgrim offers him bread, he weakens from his vow of fasting and takes it. He gets into a comical fight with the pilgrim when he drops the bread but the pilgrim inspects his shelter built out of stones for protection from the wolves and offers advice.

 

After the pilgrim left, Francis picks the stone that would be a “perfect match” for the missing piece for the shelter as the pilgrim had identified, and discovers an old room inside. We slowly discover that this is a post apocalyptic world where the survivors shun all technology, destroy all books and revert back to primitive living, turning to Latin as the common spoken language. They worship a saint called Leibowitz, who seems to be just a nuclear holocaust survivor.

 

When Francis discovers sacred documents by the great Liebowitz himself (a shopping list, and some mundane entries by the looks of it) he is overwhelmed. The abbot does not believe him and orders him back to the abbey – never mind completing the Lent silence and fasting.

 

Some parts are hilarious. Where the prior tries his utmost to get Francis to admit that the old man was a figment of the latter’s imagination and no such old man existed. Why? because the old man had simply disappeared (he went towards the abbey but never reached there), he looked and even wore clothes fitting the description of the Blessed Leibowitz himself who was dead aeons ago, and more important, the stone which he picked for Francis was carved with his initials in an arcane sign that Francis was not even aware of. Rumours and panic swirled across the abbey and the Father Abbot cannot have that, can he?

 

Francis the simpleton’s confessions and the pained experience the Prior goes through in hearing inane “sins” are very funny. He stays a novice for years because the abbot refuses to promote him into the order. Finally that happens when a representative of the Pope himself confirms that what Francis found may be very valuable and he is admitted into the order and asked to copy and illustrate (handwritten) books.

 

He seems to be copying a circuit diagram of a sort though he does not understand what it is.

 

His fame spreads and he is asked to take his illustration to the Pope and goes on an ass and is waylaid by robbers. Getting some money to pay them off, he returns with the Pope’s blessings but the story here abruptly ends and another story begins. This is of Marcus Apollo, who is convinced of the imminence of War.

 

His confidante is Brother Claret. There is Thon Taddeo, who is a scholar. The abbot now has a monk who is trying to rediscover lost science and has made a dynamo that powers a carbon bulb.

 

A scholar comes with armed men and there is intrigue and war going on – a lot of mixed up ideas like this pervade this part of the book. The old man that Francis met seems to be at least seven hundred years old and is a friend of the current abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi. Some parts of it are, frankly, boring.  The world seems to be repeatedly getting close to annihilation is the theme. There not one but two nuclear wars, the first one nearly wiping out all humanity and causing all knowledge to disappear, which is what we see in the beginning of the book and the latter starting down many centuries after Francis, now revered as Saint Francis of Utah, died.

 

This spans generations and has characters featured earlier referenced in a deified form or otherwise altered form later; in that this reminds you of Cloud Atlas. But then that is unfortunate because it tells you how lovely Cloud Atlas was, and how inadequate this is in comparison.

 

Father Derchi is trying to stop the doctor from recommending death to hopelessly fried victims of radiation. Understandable; but when the good doctor disobeys, he says ‘If I see you again I’m afraid of what I may do.’  I thought that was a bit odd, coming from a compassionate Father.

 

Anyway, he sends monks in an unscheduled spacecraft flight to a populated planet and then gets trapped in an explosion. A woman vendor of tomatoes has an extra head whom she calls Rachel that seems to hang uselessly by her side. There are some poignant moments but unfortunately they are few and far between and there are countless ramblings in the middle like the sample above. You get lost even trying to understand the purpose of the book.

 

2/10

–   – Krishna

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Movie: Split (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:49 pm

imageAnother movie from M Night Shyamalan. While his movies typically have a split at the end of the movie, in this case, you understand the twist much earlier. Still this movie is an above average Shyamalan movie.

As we have mentioned in our review of The Visit, an earlier movie by him, he is seen to be erratic. The last few movies, including The Visit, have been encouraging. I like to think that there is a genuine shift in making more entertaining movies and that the ‘improvement’ is not because our expectations about his movies has plummeted.

This movie is good. In fact, it takes off from the beginning altogether. There is a very lonely and non social kid called Casey, who has been invited to the party of her friend. Claire. When her dad takes them both on his car, along with another kid called Marcia who was in the party, he is overpowered by a  stranger, who also chloroforms all the kids and takes them over to an isolated house. The entire story happens in that house, with the three kids being prisoners of this man.

We learn that the man is Kevin. This character has been played by James McEvoy – yes, the same actor who comes as the young Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies. This is definitely a different role for him.

Through Kevin’s psychiatrist, the elderly Dr Karen Fletcher, we learn also that Kevin suffers from multiple personality syndrome, rather a very advanced form of it. Inside him are Hedwig, a kid, Barry, a sketch artist, a lady etc. There are actually 23 personalities there. The fun part is that the kids, and through them we, get to see many of them (all acted by McEvoy, for which, for a while there was a buzz that this may be an Oscar worthy performance – however, in the end, he did not even get a nomination).

Shyamalan makes a cameo as always as the assistant of the doctor but the main movie is about how Casey survives and we also learn why she was also so socially awkward. As a child, she suffered sexual abuse at the hand of an uncle, who ended up becoming her foster father when her father died prematurely.

Then Kevin reveals to his doctor that there is another identity called The Beast.

The entire movie is one of the indefatigable Casey planning to escape, nearly making it and either Kevin or Dennis or Barry catching up to them. Her persuading Hedwig, who is only ‘9 years old’ into helping her and then last minute, Kevin or Barry catching them at it.

Nice. There is also a pseudo science where it says that if the person believes that he is strong, the body adopts to become really strong and Karen quotes a ton of authentic looking studies to ‘prove that it is true’. You wonder why and it becomes clear towards the Climax where The Beast really comes in when all seems to be lost for Kevin.

Be as incredulous you like to be, this is a bit too much to swallow.

But if you keep your disbelief suspended and just enjoy it as a movie, it becomes then an interesting story, with an ending that holds together and keeps your interest until the end.

 

7/ 10

–  – Krishna

July 16, 2017

Book: The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:52 pm

imageWritten later than when the whole series was finished as an e book, the story is supposed to come between Volumes 4 & 5. This happens after Wizard And Glass in the story sequence. That book and some earlier books have been reviewed here before. 

Let me tell you right upfront. This is actually a collection of stories masquerading as a story in the series. Let me also tell you something else. This is one of the best if not the best books in the series!

Jake, Oye, Susannah, Eddie and Roland, following the path of the Beam and meet Bix, who agrees to take them on his raft along the river partway. They find that there is a starkburst (storm) brewing and take shelter. How to pass time? They tell stories to each other. So this is, rather like a couple of stories set in the Tower World. In addition, these are told as stories within stories, so that you come back to the outer story when the inner story is complete.

The first one is about Roland himself, after his mother’s death. He cares for Cort who is an invalid and is berated by Roland’s father for that.

He sends him to Debaria, where a supposed skin-man, who is a shape changer, is terrorizing the city. He gives as Roland’s companion Jamie DeCurrie. Both he and the coach attendant on his way warn them of Serenity, where young women pretty and deadly as the Sirens of  Homer’s Iliad reside. But he finds the Everxxx very cordial and she even knows his mom, Roland discovers.

 

He then travels to Debaria and meets the sheriff there, an old colleague of his dad, Steven Deschain. He learns that the skin changer, who, in the form of a massive bear, massacres a whole family has a tattoo on his leg in his human form, by a boy who survived by hiding in the stable.

 

The gunslinger, on the request of the surviving boy Bill, starts a story. This is a story (Roland and co) telling a story of himself, telling an imaginary story…

 

The new story called Wind through the Keyhole is about Tim, his mother Nell and father Big Ross (Jack Ross, really). Big Ross is killed by a dragon in the Ironwood forest, leaving Nell and Tim destitute, unable to pay taxes. Nell’s childhood friend Bern Kells who loved her and lost her to Ross without rancour, offers to take her in and marry her.

 

Kells turns out to be abusive, evil. He makes Tim work in the saw mill factory.  When Kell vacates his own home to move in with Nell and Tim, he brings a trunk that is always kept locked.

 

When the Covenant man comes for taxes, he quakes and gives away Nell’s money as taxes. They lost everything and Kells continually abuses both Tim and Nell and leaves. The Covenant man, before going away, gives Tim a magic key and asks Tim to meet him in the Ironwood Forest if he dares. After a particularly brutal beating by Kell of Nell and when he is gone on his drinking binges (which makes him even more violent), Tim opens the trunk and discovers his father’s chain and the lucky coin. The dragon fire should have singed it. Why has it not?

 

He decides to find out and goes to the Covenant Man, who shows Tim that Kell had murdered his father and even shows him the body under a stream. (With nice twists like flesh eating bugs in another part of the water and a very scary pooky – which is a large snake – waiting to sink its fangs into anyone who dares come that way). And to add to the intrigue, Nell tells Tim (earlier) that the Covenant Man has never aged in all the time she saw him.

 

When Tim discovers that Kell has come back, discovered the trunk open (Tim cannot lock it as the magic dies when the key is used once), he flows into a rage and brutalizes Nell who, in a trauma to her head, has lost the sight and is near death. He flies to her assistance but not before receiving his father’s special Axe from the Covenant Man. Tim’s teacher Widow Smack, who is always veiled due to disfigurement and is a close friend of Nell, warns Tim against Covenant Man and begs Tim not to believe in that man’s lies.  When he refuses to turn back from what he set out to do, she gives him a gun for his own protection.

 

There is a Tinkerbell like glowing sighe (“fairy”) who is in the employ of the Covenant Man. She leads him into the Ironwood Forest this time. She is evil and lands him on the head of a sleeping dragon. Tim manages to jump off but only to a small island and the dragon faces him, preparing to fry him. He also realizes that he was always in danger of being eaten by flesh eating fish which always followed him.

 

When he recognizes the treachery and is faced with certain death by carrion eating strange fish, he uses the gun and gains the admiration of the swamp people. What follows is fabulous. He is looking for Maerlyn and greatest wizard, who was in the court of Arthur Eld (sound familiar?) and instead meets a life threatening situation again – a castle whose doors are locked and the key and a keycard tied to the neck of a tiger, pacing in a cage and looking very hungry. In addition, the starkblast (a freezing storm that suddenly comes and kills everything in sight) approaches.

 

How he manages from there is a pure delightful narration until the very end of the story. Then the story focuses back to the skin changer. How they identify him and how they kill him is told wonderfully as well. All in all, a very satisfying book.

 

9/10

– – Krishna

 

Movie : Wreck It Ralph (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:42 pm

imageCall me simplistic but I think I am easily pleased.

 

This movie in all rights should not appeal to me. It is a spin off on old 80’s game characters and the plot is a hackneyed one that has been written and told millions of times to young children. A bad character in a game who does not like being bad and wants to be good. Oh so old.

 

But, here is the thing. The movie appeals to me. The dialog, the sequences and the composition all blend seamlessly, and though it does not have the voice talents of A-list stars (with due apologies for John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman), the emotions and actions and dialog all hang together to create a pleasant experience.

 

Mind you, I say pleasant, not spectacular.

 

Ralph is jealous of Fix It Felix, the good guy in the game. He, Ralph, is always wrecking things and creating havoc whereas Felix is the epitome of the good guy, who can fix anything.

 

Ralph seeks help in Bad Anonymous, and explains how his self esteem is low after 30 years of being bad. He does not want to be bad anymore but other members advise him that he is designed to be bad, and if he turns good, he will wreck the game he inhabits.

 

He is determined to win a medal for heroism and thereby prove his good intentions and skills, Ralph sees a chance when he meets a soldier in a bar who is from the game Hero’s Duty whose nerves are shot hunting Bugs in the game. When Ralph hears that there is a medal at the end, he takes the soldier’s armor and his place in the game.

 

The story gets confusing from here. Ralph skips from game to game while in Fix It, they find that Ralph is missing. The game is frozen with an Out of Order sign and all the game characters are terrified that if Ralph does not come back, the plug will be (literally) pulled and that they will all lose their lives. They go in search of Ralph.

 

After a ton of cat and mouse chase, Ralph finally teams up with another character from a different game. She is Vanellope. They together get the medal from a racing game.

 

Well, there is a ton more that happens but it is all too episodic to narrate. Consider the release of the evil Cy-bugs in an accident and their getting into Candy Land and sugar rush makes them multiply – they have the capacity to wreck all games. Consider Vanellope being a glitch in the game herself and not part of the original game. Consider Felix on his hunt for Ralph, being imprisoned by the Mad King.

 

All said and done, Ralph finally appreciates that the work he does is very much appreciated and he does not have to be a good guy to get kudos.

 

Nicely told, better than it sounds here.  6/10

 

– – Krishna

 

 

July 7, 2017

Book: Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:50 pm

imageA really different story from the normal fare I read.

 

Fair Warning : The story is brutal in its details and this review also has some stark and strong descriptions. If you cannot stomach that, please do not read further.

 

China – Shanghai – during the Second World War and the world of expat Brits. Jim, a boy is caught up in it. They describe the evacuation of the expats and Chinese alike. There is a whiff of colonialism in the narration : the ‘superior’ British vs the ‘inferior’ Chinese and Japanese, without using those specific words. The Sikh police nonchalantly whips the ‘natives’ to bring order in the street. Who is he? A traffic cop!

 

But J G Ballard is known for this brutal portrayal in both his science fiction and this fiction inspired by his own childhood events.

 

Initially it is shocking. Americans and Europeans seem to go to a scene of battle and seem to stroll around as if in picnic among the dead Chinese soldiers slaughtered by the Japanese as a part of the war.

 

Jim witnesses, through his hotel window, the attack of HMS Petrel by a Japanese military ship. His father and he are separated in a hospital in different floors and his pa is arrested by Japanese military. He escapes the sweep of arrests of all Britishers by accident and is left alone to fend for himself in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of China.

 

Jim is chased by a crazed Chinese man, who is after his watch and coat in a crowded tram and manages to elude him. He finds that his parents have been arrested by the Japanese military (his mom too) and his house is deserted.

 

The book gets better thereafter. He is partly safe because he looks like the Germans and Italians, who are safe during the Japanese occupation but looks like a vagabond because he is living off of the streets. For a while, a Japanese group of soldiers ‘adopts’ him and feeds him scraps but that too stops shortly afterwards.

 

He falls into the clutches of Frank and Bessie, two unsavoury Americans. When they are about to abandon him, failing to sell him to anyone, they get captured along with him by the Japanese military and he goes to a POW camp as a seven year old boy.  The detention camp is for the hopeless cases which will die, and Jamie is put in there when he becomes very sick but survives and fights his way “into” the POW camp. The descriptions are stark and brutal.

 

The people are forever near death with flies feasting on their wounds and with little bladder control. The scene where Jamie is taken by a truck from prison camp to prison camp only to be told to ‘go away’ because there is no space there, is touching.

 

He adopts to the life in camp so much so that he is afraid to go back to England and home. He has forgotten the names of his parents and wants Japan to win the war actually. When Japan lost the rations were cut in the camp in revenge.

 

The images are stark and revealing – I know I have said this multiple times but if you are faint of heart, this book may not be for you. The prisoners, when advised of their freedom don’t know what to do with it. Their whole world has shrunk into just a  fight for food and worldly possessions. Many of them die due to disease and workload during starvation under the uncaring eyes of Japanese soldiers. They talk of the tittering of Chinese when terrified and a man, knowing he will be executed – beaten to death with paddles by the military – bursts into a song which goes higher in pitch the more he is hit until he is dead.

 

Dr Ransome, a camp physician and Mr Matthews who chivvies James up as he gave up several time despite the former’s total exhaustion are some of the characters that populate this. There is an imperious family of Mr and Mrs Pearce, who share a room with James with partitions made of old clothes.

 

When they are taken back to Shanghai camp, many of the camp mates cannot go on and simply sit down on the way, left behind for God knows what fate. There is a faint suggestion that they were killed rather than let go, but never explained fully.

 

The imagery is stark but the descriptions are lovely, including the similes. Consider this description of the Englishmen who lay down and died while walking to the camp out of pure exhaustion in all kinds of directions “as if they were dropped from the sky in random poses”. Or another group killed in a field with spent shells shining yellow “as if they had looted a treasury in the final moments before they were killed”.  A dead body’s mouth is open ‘as if he was waiting for the last morsel of food’. Nice.

 

The description is raw and gritty. If you are queasy, do not read the book. It talks about a lot of maggots, flies, rotting corpses. More gore needed? Also in supply. A dead body is discovered with the face mashed into a pulp because after the war a Japanese soldier was killed by ex-prisoners by repeatedly beating his head with a blunt weapon. A rotting corpse’s skull is exploded by running a car over its head.  J G Ballard is a fan of the gruesome alright.

 

The imagery stays with you. If this is anything like what the author himself suffered or saw when he was a child (in China, he was a prisoner of war with his parents during the Second World War and left for England after the war, just like Jim), the conditions were pitiable indeed for those Westerners caught in the conflict.

 

It looks like death repeatedly stares Jim in the face of death but manages to wriggle out just in time, not without pain and injuries in many instances.

 

A very different novel that describes war from a totally different angle but still brutally honest in descriptions for all that.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

 

 

 

Mega Mind (2010)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:38 pm

imageI know.  I know… the movie is an old one. I also know that I have not spelled the name as the producers spelled it, but I prefer this version.

What an interesting movie. I will be honest. I generally do not like the brand of comedy favoured by Will Farrell but this is one movie of his that I enjoyed. The reason is that it adopts an interesting trick that has been later followed in many other movies like Despicable Me, to quote only one example: it does not take itself very seriously and just provides a fun ride for you to go along with.

 

Consider this: An alien planet is being destroyed and two babies are saved in two spaceships – the two babies are all that survived from that planet. (This is not a logical movie so don’t ask why they did not send a bigger ship with more people or any of the hundred questions that may occur to you. Remember? Just go along for the ride). You would expect them to be identical in features etc, right? Wrong! One of them looks like a strong hunk, and is the superhero (called Metro Man). He is played by our own Hollywood Hunk Brad Pitt (ie after the baby grows up). The other baby is not strong in body, is blue with a bloated head and is not even good looking but a man with phenomenal mental powers. Since the shallow world of ours hated him and mistreated him almost from childhood, he turned into a Supervillain Mega Mind (Will Farrell)

 

They both reside in the same city. (Metro City, which if, of course, in America – where else?). Metro Mind is of course, adored and the city even opens a museum for him. Mega Mind has had enough. He gatecrashes into the opening ceremony, with the help of his assistant – well, it is a fish in a bowl bolted onto a robot’s body. As an aside, the assistant is called Minion. The most interesting thing is that Despicable Me (the original of the sequence) was released in 2010 and so was this movie. So is the name Minion chosen in both a true coincidence?

 

However, on with our tale. He came to get his revenge and lures Metro Man into a sealed lab by kidnapping Metro Man’s girlfriend Roxanne Ritchie (played by Tina Fay). He tries to destroy the entire museum and so kill Metro Man who has been his enemy and envy all his life but the stupid laser takes too long to heat up.  Just when he feared that Metro Man had escaped, Metro Man finds that the copper plating of the entire building prevents him from getting out and he gets burnt down to his skeleton. Roxanne escapes in the melee.

 

Mega Mind is thrilled. No one can save his victims in Metro City anymore. He has a free hand. But he finds that he has lost the will to torment. There is no fun in tormenting without a worthy opponent like, say, the Metro Man. It is sooo boring to be in charge of everything with nothing going wrong, no surprises whatever.  He mourns Metro Man’s death and goes to the museum to pay his respects. There he meets Roxanne (she did not see Mega Mind when he kidnapped her earlier) and posing as a curator of the museum, strikes up a friendship with her. Roxanne is bitter about “this Mega Mind” who destroyed Metro Man and hopes that a new hero will rise to take Metro Man’s place because ‘heroes are created, not born’. That gives Mega Mind a terrific idea. He uses Metro Man’s DNA to create a serum that will turn anyone into a super hero!

 

Meanwhile, Mega Mind finds Roxanne refreshing and begins to hope that he can leave the life of crime if there is a chance of a life with her. She is funny, charming and most amazingly, seems not to hate him! But he still needs to create a superhero with the serum before retiring.

 

When he is ready with it and pondering whom to turn to a super hero worthy of opposing, the serum accidentally is ingested by Hal Stewart, the most annoying photographic assistant of Roxanne, who has a crush on her to boot but is completely ignored by her. Mega Mind, seeing him ingest a serum, decides that he is The One and trains him (disguised as Space Dad).

 

When Minion leaves because he cannot comprehend that super villains wanting to be good people, and when Roxanne discovers who he really is and rejects him, the universe comes crashing down on Mega Mind and he goes on an evil rampage, true to his Super Villain form. He expects Titan to come to the rescue of the town but when he does not, goes to Titan’s home to find out why! Titan is bored of being good and wants to be a supervillain and almost kills Mega Mind when he protests.

 

Mega Mind remembers that copper was, so to speak,  Metro Man’s Kryptanite, and surrounds Titan with copper but it seems to have no effect on him. There is a new supervillain rampaging Metro City and there is no help at all to be found. He persuades Roxanne to take him to her ex boyfriend’s pod to see if they can glean any other clues to contain Titan when they discover a big twist regarding Metro Man.

 

The movie slowly makes you love Mega Mind and at the end, you rejoice when he finally vanquishes Titan and saves the city. (A small twist at the end can be revealed, though – he gets his own museum now!)

 

A lovely movie, well crafted, well animated, very intelligent and tugs all the right spots in your heart.

 

8/10

–  –  Krishna

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