bookspluslife

June 10, 2017

Movie: Django Unchained (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:33 pm

imageI realize why so many men are Quentin Tarantino fans. This man has a style, pizzaz, and a way of making the movies stand out.

 

Take Kill Bill, one of his earlier films. The movie may be just totally commercial (though stylish) but the dialogs were great. Especially where Bill talks to his ex wife about superheroes and how Superman is very different from all other superheroes. Nice.

 

This movie is audacious in its breadth. Look at the very opening scene where Dr. King Schultz (played with great skill by Christopher Waltz, who played the Nazi general in another of Quentin’s memorable works, The Inglorious Bastards and who seems to have become one of the repeat favourites of  Quentin) meet the slaves being brought along a forest and enquires about Django. Nice. How he deals with the Speck brothers is amazing. He even pays for Django, making him technically a free man.

 

Given that it is the slave trading South, the way he shocks people by treating Django (Jamie Foxx) is amazing. Scene after scene we find Django being paraded as an equal nonchalantly by Dr Schulz. The bewilderment of the people is amazing. You slowly learn that Dr Schulz is no dentist but is in fact a bounty hunter. He teaches Django the tricks of his trade.

 

He learns that Django was separated from his wife who was sold as a slave in another plantation and that they both speak German, his mother tongue. He takes Django under his wing, teaching him the tricks of the trade.

 

The scene is the saloon where, during segregated days, Schulz walking calmly with Django to a saloon and ordering a drink is priceless. Then he simply shoots the sheriff who comes to enquire, and proves that he is within his rights to do so – the reason is brilliant and by this time, you are hooked helplessly into the movie like you are in most Quentin movies.

 

What is the name of the wife? Broomhilda. No, I am not kidding, another example of the nerd humour that Quentin spontaneously displays in his movies.

 

Then there is a great scene where three evil brothers attempt to whip a slave girl for breaking eggs and Django takes care of them all. Again Schulz provides evidence to prove that what they did was legal. Incensed the people don Ku Klux type of masks (with hilarious dialogs) and go to kill these two strangers who appear to be camped outside town on their carriage with disastrous results.

 

Then starts the most brilliant sequence. He takes Django to the slave plantation whose owner is the evil Calvin Candie (another Quentin favourite, Leonardo DeCaprio) and the brilliant black assistant Steve (an amazingly memorable and different role by Samuel L Jackson).

 

Steve is suspicious of the nigger who behaves like a white man and blows their cover to Calvin. Calvin raises the price and when Schulz pays up, he insists that he shake hands or else the whole deal is off. Amazing turns and you are shocked to see how a big character like Leonardo dies.

 

The story goes into a typical Quentin crescendo and we lose a few characters we love and some that we loathe. I do not want to give up the ending. It is definitely worth seeing. A beautiful movie!

I will give it a 8/10

– – Krishna

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May 31, 2017

Book: She Is All That by Kirstin Billerbeck

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:33 am

imageWarning : Partisan rant follows. Please do not read if you are offended by anti “conservative” views

 

Disclaimer : Nothing against religion, in fact I think it is a force for good. But when you use religion like a fashion statement, it irritates. The same rant will follow in a later book review.

 

You wonder: Is this book for fourteen year old girls written by a fourteen year old girl? Immature to the core.

 

Lilly Jacobs, single girl, nearing thirty, is a designer and is awkward at dating, living in California. In the first part of the book, it feels like the above statement is going to be the entire story! Her friend is the daughter of a super rich diamond jewellery store owner Morgan Mallard. She is the one Lilly turns to when she gets the double whammy of losing a promotion to a friend in her fashion company and also finding out that her latest boyfriend is cheating on her. Boy, talk about world-shattering problems!

 

And get this, this girl is a Stanford MBA but does not want to do a lick of business and is instead in the “fashion” industry. OK, whatever. Her friend Pollard is a Stanford medical doctor and does not want to work as a doctor because “the medical profession is selfish and the pharmaceutical industry is the devil.” So why did she take up space (not to mention expenses) studying medicine? It would have helped someone else who would actually use the skills to cure people, right? And our own Lilly does not subscribe to modern notions of beauty where ‘girls have to be thin’. But conveniently, all these girls are thin, beautiful, and are into luxury products. It is a painful caricature to read. Pretending not to value the modern surface values while slavishly following it anyway.

 

She won’t get help from a friend because she does not want to “use” her. She knows Jesus loves her but her friends in college were like Jesus clones were living in the dorm with her. Give me a barf bucket! Fast!

 

And a conservative ‘Save me Jesus!’ chatter in between all that chatter about designer fashion. Not just our heroine but the entire crowd including organic loving doctor.

 

And the funniest (I mean unintended humour) part is that this brainy Stanford MBA graduate is flummoxed by the acronyms her brainiac friend who is in IT uses. Those words are – wait for it – MIS, IT and JPEG. These “tough” words give her a headache. I wonder what they teach MBA students in Sanford. Not anything hard, it looks like.

 

And she rants that financial work is “not creative” and she “does not want to do that”. It appears that jobs are just waiting for her in the highest paid financial sector and she is desperately trying to avoid it for the sake of “creative work”. Well, to a mind easily confused by JPEG and IT, perhaps it is reasonable that financial engineering is hard to do, let alone be interested in, but draping a body with a fabric cut a certain way has exciting appeal.

 

The barf bucket is slowly getting full.

 

She carries her bible to work because she needs “all the ammunition she can get”. (Huh? I do understand the power of prayer but…come on!)

 

Well, it gets worse. Lilly is offered the CFO job because “she has a sexy finance degree from Stanford” by the CEO. Never mind she is just out of college. She refuses even though she “can do design in her spare time”. What kind of a story is this?

 

They go to a spa. She loses her job and mopes some more, hoping God would show a way. Looks for a Christian husband who has a tendency to bald. Great.

 

Fascinated by commonplace TV and movie references like how handsome Orlando Bloom is and how great looking Paris Hilton is. In fact Morgan looks like Hilton so she is a great beauty. Rich too. Did I mention rich? Like a hundred times as Kristin never tires of insisting?

And Molly? Don’t get me started. She converted a hundred people to the way of Jesus due to her ‘flaming red hair’ and ‘piercing blue eyes that seem to shoot gamma rays right through you when she looks at you’. Not kidding: these are ctual quotes from the book. Also, when Lilly is attracted to Max (and Nate at the same time but that is a different topic), she wonders if he is a Christian becuase otherwise it is a deal breaker (‘Let him please be a Christian; any other answer would be shattering’) and is relieved to hear that he found Christianity already through Jews for Jesus.

 

And the stereotyping! She goes to a queue to get a business license and she finds “immigrants” everywhere. Immigrants and Americans are classified as different people, Immigrants, of course, cannot speak a word of English beyond “yes” but you have to know that this is the American way! And the person in the queue behind her is true to character and says “I open restaurant. Here coupon. You come.” Can you get tackier than this even if you tried?

 

And notwithstanding the frequent calls to Jesus, the major preoccupation seems to be fashion houses, TV, movies and how skinny everyone is or is not, and how frizzy Lilly’s hair gets. Well, would Jesus worry about these things?

 

She goes to the Church Singles Group to find love, much as the author herself did in her life. She does find love with a man with a dreamy eyes and hair and an English accent to boot, with the same belief sets as her, down to the power of alternate medicine  (even though he sells pharmaceuticals for a living).

 

When Nate kisses her, she likes it ‘even though he lacks the faith’. What a pity, right?

 

Also, Lilly Jacobs is extremely shallow. Very impressed by trappings of luxury like Jaguar car and disgusted by public transport, even her Jesus is a shallow prop, it appears. I don’t think many people could stand her, let alone be her friend, so I think she should thank her stars that she has some friends like Polly and Morgan.

 

She takes the thief Kim back. But insults Nate and chases after the English accented Stuart.

 

She has to leave the room when Morgan is in grief and running in the rain ‘to remind herself that God still provides the rainbow of promise somewhere in this storm’. Talk about firm faith!

 

Why is Morgan heading into an unsuitable marriage? Suddenly all is revealed.

 

When she hears that the birth mother who abandoned her has come back (a cliche if there ever was one, especially when it had nothing to do with the rest of the story), a lot of questions crowd in her mind, including ‘What kind of a car does she drive?’.  Really? That is what her priority is?

 

The story can be unintentionally funny. Lily wonders about all of the friends having bad luck and wonders if this is what Christians call bad karma! Of all the things to say, does the author not know where the word karma came from?

 

And like a dutiful Christian girl who believes in all the Creationism theory lock stock and barrel, she says somewhere ‘While I am not buying into Darwin’s theories, the survival of the fittest seems to fit here’. Really? The literal word of the Bible and all that?

 

Then there are the worst kind of statements like ‘I guess my finance degree comes in useful because now I can do precise measurements for a dress’. I won’t even dignify that statement with a rant.

 

Are there no good pieces in the story? Yes there are. The comeuppance of the haughty Sara Lang is nice. The chaos at the climax ending is sweet and is really well done. But the rest is too irritating for even these to compensate.

 

A bad plot, bad narration, trivial subject matter. Did not enjoy reading it.

 

1/ 10

 

  • – Krishna

Movie : Sing (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:16 am

image.jpgInteresting movie. It is so unlike the trailers that it takes you by surprise a bit. Let me explain before someone says ‘What the hell do you mean? It is exactly like the trailers’.  Yes, the animation is as good as the trailers, the story is about music, which comes out loud and clear in the trailers (heck, look at the title of the movie and you know what it is about), the humour is there right through the movie, as trailers promise. And I did not mean that the surprise I got was a nasty or negative surprise. I did not expect to see the movie as two movies in one. That is all.

 

On the surface is all that animation, humour, and crazy antics of the animals. The animation is top class and the expressions on all those animals are top class. However, there is a parallel story of passion for music, dreams turning into dust and then rebuilt again from those ashes to make a sensational success. The story about how ordinary people trapped in their ordinary lives rise to extraordinary heights animated by a single passion that unites them, a kind of diversity story where different ‘animals’ come together in harmony to produce something that is classic; how seemingly annoying characters could and will have a heart of gold. That story could have been told with people as actors and would still have been beautiful. With animation of this class, it does lift it to another plane and makes this movie memorable long after you have seen it.

 

The base story is simplistic and even comes across as a children’s tale. There is not much here that cannot be summed up in a paragraph but what makes it great are the little nuances and embellishments they have poured into the thing. A simple typing error generates dreams of fame in diverse people and the ordinary auditions are moved to a higher plane by the extraordinary circumstances of each family and what they have to do in order to be a part of something great – when the something that they aspired to is not even what they thought it was, but a small time audition for a small time musical.

 

The story is about Buster Moon, a koala bear, voiced by Mathew McConaughey. His assistant is the hilarious Miss Crawley (voiced by director Garth Jennings). They hit upon auditioning for a musical to revive their flagging theatre. The various characters who audition, the trials and tribulations, the ruin they face, the disillusionment of the people who came to sing when they realize how small (or fake) the prize money is, is the rest of the story.

 

The fun is in the characters themselves. The brash and loud but  stylish Gunter  and the shy housewife Rosita (both pigs) and the husband Norman of Rosita who does not even notice her struggling with their 25 children. You have Johnny the gorilla who is encouraged by his father to be part of his gang of looters but wants only to sing; the more talented Ash (porcupine, voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) whose boyfriend Lance, who has less talent always ignores and insults her at every turn. Meena the Elephant sings like a diva but does not know how good her own voice is. There is the selfish Mike the mouse.

 

I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to anyone who can get past the preconceived notion of watching a simple children’s story embellished with good characters, art and wit.

 

7/ 10

– – Krishna

 

 

 

April 30, 2017

Book: Master of the Game by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:51 pm

imageEven on a re-read, even after all these years, the story simply sparkles!

 

We have reviewed Are You Afraid Of the Dark and The Sky Is Falling by the same author earlier.

 

Starts with Kate Blackwell’s ninetieth birthday. She remembers her long life, and the story is fully in her reminiscences.

 

Awesome storytelling. What else do you expect from the master of the storytelling game? Starts with Jamie McGregor trying to strike it rich and going from famine stalking England to South Africa to make his fortune, alone, a nineteen year old boy.

He happens to somehow go to South Africa and meets Solomon Van der Marwe, his big African slave Bantu and his daughter Margaret and manages to get himself equipped with spending almost all his money (he had told Solomon how much he had). He goes and almost dies but manages to find diamonds, comes back rich, only to find that he does not own a thing. Solomon had tricked him into signing a contract that gives him everything!

 

When he protests, he is beaten up and left in the desert for dead but Bantu rescues him and they make a plan to just take the diamonds in an extremely heavily guarded island.  They go in a raft against all odds but reach the island with the raft smashed up. They collect the islands and the way they exit with no raft or an apparent  way to exit is wonderful.

 

He comes back to destroy Solomon Van der Marwe but also destroys his daughter Margaret in the process. She wins his grudging admiration with the boy and he is forced to offer her marriage to keep his son with him. He never offers her love, sadly.

In a drunken stupor, he gives Maggie a girl, Kate, and when in a mine one of his supervisors kills a native, his son is killed in revenge and Banta saves Kate from a similar fate. Jamie gets a stroke in agony and dies. Maggie runs the empire and brings up Kate with David’s assistance and Kate is determined to marry him! She is a wilful but a genius child.

 

When David falls hard for Josephine O’Neill, daughter of Tom O’Neill who has invented a way to revolutionize food industry and agrees to move to San Francisco to marry her and take care of the new company, Kate is crushed. But his plans fall apart when a major food conglomerate buys off his idea and he stays back in Kruger Brent. Did Kate have somthing to do with that reversal?

 

The twists in the story are incredible. How the young lady twists and plots and outwits them all is great to read. (Even the third time)

 

David marries Kate and discovers that they disagree on how to run the company. For instance Kate forces the company to make and sell armaments to the First World War, which David is vehemently opposed to.

 

When Kate suddenly finds she is pregnant and gets a son named Anthony, she is ecstatic but David dies in an explosion in South Africa. Her son Anthony wants to be an artist and has no interest in running the business which is Kate’s life. She manipulates him by sending Dominique to be his girlfriend to keep an eye on him and gets a master critic criticize his work to get him to give up painting and get back into running the company and his heart is simply not in it.

 

He hates his mom and how she still maneuvers him into marrying exactly the girl she wants for him is brilliant. The book reads well even the second time but it is really all fluff. The story is told straightforward, like a children’s tale and there are no subtle layers there. It is all anchored on sudden twists and surprises and it definitely works at that level. But then this can be said of all of Sydney Sheldon’s works.

 

She finds out that Marianne, the wife of Tony may die in childbirth and decides to hide it from Tony as well. All of her schemes are exposed to Tony on the same day that he learns that Marianne dies after giving birth to twins, Eve and Alexandra. He shoots his mother and goes plumb crazy and has to be lobotomized to keep him calm.

 

Eve is the evil one and tries to kill Alexandra several times from the tender age of five, and every time Alexandra narrowly escapes. Several times over.

 

When Eve goes wild with men and seduces a long time friend of Kate, her gig is up and she is cut off with a tiny allowance. She plots revenge and meets a gorgeous hunk of a man called George Mellis with a vicious temper. Perfect. She plans to “give” Alexandra to that man.

 

The scheming evil of Eve comes out well even in this fluffy narration. The plan is set in motion and Alexandra is hooked hopelessly by George Mellis. Marries him too.

 

George and Eve plot to take all the money of Kate after killing Alexandra. When Kate hears that Eve was near death and “out of concern” for her grandmother, wanted to keep it secret, she has a change of heart and takes her back in life. George knows that he may be written out of everybody’s life and wants to go ahead and kill Alexandra anyway, and the plot turns are brilliant.

 

When George Mellis takes Alex out on the boat to execute his evil plan anyway, knowing that if he did not, he himself would be sidelined by Eve, he is outwitted and outplayed completely by Eve.

 

The ending is exhilerating too. How Alexandra finds happiness, how Eve ends up, how Kate keeps planning tirelessly for the best of the company – it is all written brilliantly.

 

Sure, this is fluff. But good, absorbing, fluff.  8/10

– – Krishna

Movie : Rogue One (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:40 pm

imageThis is a much anticipated side story on Star Wars and it does have its moments – like how the plans of the death star got into the hands of the rebels.

Just like the Disney reboot of the Star Wars : The Force Awakens, there is a cameo from Princess Leah herself in this movie. This is made more poignant by the fact that Carrie Fisher died after this movie’s release, so speculation is rife on whether the future cameos from her would be a digitally animated version or not.

I definitely have a beef with the casting on this one as well. The casting of both the central characters does not gel with my idea of a Star Wars world. But I am sure I am in a very small minority. The dialogs also do not seem to be powerful : yes, I realize that the original Star Wars also had some pretty sappy dialogs but having grown into a cult status and having control handed to a colossus like Disney, I guess I expected more.

 

The story starts well and has the adorable robot which seems to have disjointed spheres sticking beside each other. Other than that it is a complicated Star Wars tale. For instance we learn that the heroine Jyn’s mother is killed by the Imperial Force when the father refuses to go work for the Emperor but the father is forcibly taken and goes to ‘save his daughter’ who is in hiding at that time.

The rebel forces want to take out the father but Cassin lies to her and makes her take him to the father’s location. In the meanwhile they go to weird places and a blind warrior asks Jyn about the necklace given by her father before he went away. See? I told you it is a complicated story.

It is best to see this. I think that the story’s complexity take away from the simple enjoyment of the story. You are constantly trying to recall who is who. For instance, Saw, who saved Jyn earlier, turns up later with an oxygen mask and a prosthetic leg and they have an argument on why he abandoned her. A lot of characters come and go, and at the end of the movie, you feel as if you studied for an exam.

 

There are scenes where tensely the rebels extract the plans for the death star in what looks like pre 3-G circuitry.

 

All in all, I’d say a 5/ 10

–   – Krishna

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 26, 2017

Book: Desert God by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:27 pm

imageThis is the second installment in the successful Ancient Egyptian stories from Wilbur Smith featuring the ‘I-am-so-good-at-everything’ Taita. This follows the first book, River God.

Taita is playing a bao board game with a friend and fellow strategist Aton. We learn that the Hyskos, who were vanquished in the original River God by him and Queen Lostris are regrouping and gaining strength. Taita comes up with a clever plan to break up the alliance forming between Hyskos and King Mintos. He takes an army disguised as Hyskos and plunders another king, thereby forcing him to consider Hyskos as the common enemy and enter into an alliance instead with Egypt.

 

If you have forgotten that Taita can do it all (superhuman, super intelligent, super musical and so on) he reminds you of this a million times until it becomes mildly irritating. He however finds that there are galleys with silver bars – untold wealth, being transported into a heavily fortified fort, which looks impregnable. Taita has of course an ingenious plan. He breaks the only bridge from the castle by going in a boat.

He successfully plunders not only unimaginable amount of treasure but also arms, releases some Egyptians captured and turned into slaves, and returns via the Nile, ramming into the Minoan emperor’s boat on the way. He kills the emperor too.

 

He now hatches a plan to give both his beloved girls (sisters of the Pharoah) to the womanizing Supreme Minos as a gift to get an alliance with Crete.

 

I realized while reading this that Taita is to Wilbur Smith what Odd Thomas is to Dean Koontz. The same tone of self-congratulation, the same idea that the person, though defective in some way (autism like behaviour in Odd Thomas and castration in Taita) have superhuman skills in almost all walks of life. And the mildly boastful tone that permeates all their stories – which, to me, spoils the story a bit – that results takes away from total enjoyment of the story.

 

He finds that the elder princess may have been kidnapped by an unknown intruder where they stayed. He follows and conquers Al Hawawi the Bedouin pirate but not before Zaras is grievously wounded.

 

Taita is in his element. He invents surgery, “mentally” copulates with a goddess, discovers that he is a demi god and excels in everything including self praise, all the while saying that he is embarrassed to praise himself.

 

He discovers that the Hyksos are preventing his plan to unite the kings against them and are trying to ambush him but they are of course they are no match for him. He ambushes them and takes them as slave. When a pirate ship attacks them, he reforms the pirate captain and enlists him to get him more ships for the impending war with Hyksos.

 

When he reaches Crete, he finds the king weird and the people weirder. He is attached by an Auroch and is saved by his stable boy who gives his own life to save Taita. The princesses were whisked away to be consorts of the king.

 

He meets and kills an Auroch, having his servant killed in the process. When he learns of Hyksos amassing chariots and guarding with too few people, Taita goes to surprise them in an attack but is in turn ambushed. Nakati helps him and warns of treachery that caused this.

 

They win over the Hyksos after nearly being defeated.

 

In addition, Loxias meets Taita and says strange happenings in the Supreme Minos and his harem. Forty women were sent to the king on the day of the earthquake but never seen again. We the readers can put together what happened but the suspense is revealed only much later in the book.

 

They rush back to the aid of the princesses in the midst of a roaring volcano (the wrath of Cronas) that seems to have destroyed Minoa. They reach just as the princesses are about to be sacrificed to an auroch.

 

This piece has its action pieces but overall I think this Taita book leaves a lot to be desired. Not up to his earlier standards in the first book.

 

5/10

–  – Krishna

Movie: Arrival (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:12 pm

imageI don’t know what to make of this movie. In one sense, it is not like many other alien movies, especially those of yesteryears (and some current movies) where the aliens are definitely humanoid and the problem in the earlier years could be really solved by having people wear suits. Done. And mostly the aliens speak English (or fudged by the statement that they communicate at a mental level, which seems like English to us humans).

 

As long as we are diverging in this preamble, I may also add that the one movie that was extremely impressive from yesteryears, based on Carl Sagan’s story, called Contact that came out in 1997, also sidestepped the issue of what aliens look like. The movie is beautiful in its own right, and if you have not seen it, I urge you to do so when you have a chance.

 

I am not claiming that this is this is the first movie I have seen that recognizes the fact that the aliens may not even look like us, not even a little bit, and their way of communication may be completely incomprehensible to us. Anyone who has seen the Aliens series can vouch for that. However, this takes the item in a different light. In Aliens series, for instance, people were not trying to understand what they were saying. In this one they do, and kudos to the team for that. Evolution can wreak wonders even in an isolated island in this world (witness the unique species in Australia and Madagascar, to name but two) and who knows what it would have wrought in other planets?

 

The reason for their arrival (the title of the film) is really interesting as well. The story is about Dr Louise Banks who is a language professor. We learn that she and her husband are separated and a daughter who grew up got a incurable disease and dies early. Seems unrelated to the main movie, because then you see her invited to help US when a spacecraft lands in US (and in many other parts of the world as well) since she is the best language expert in the world, but keep it in the back of your mind because it all connects later. She meets a theoretical physicist called Ian Donnelly.

 

The spacecraft is huge, oval, and seems flat as a cardboard and yet they all can get in and explore. The theories of language where they try to parse the alien speak is phenomenal. The daring Louise trying new things to understand the really strange beings is phenomenal and her exceptional gift, which is slowly revealed and that also helps in averting a catastrophe of epic proportions (when China refuses to listen to the aliens or make contact with them but threatens to nuke the spaceship that landed in their territory) is amazing.

 

The movie can be a bit confusing but all in all, it stands together, very intelligently crafted and the new emphasis on taking you backwards and forwards in time works well again in this movie.

Amy Banks and Jeremy Runner do a credible job in their roles.

 

To tell more would be to give away some of the interesting things about the movie.

 

I think it definitely is a 7/ 10

– – Krishna

February 25, 2017

Book: The Lords Of The North by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:33 pm

imageThe Lords of the North is the third in the Anglo Saxon series and follows The Last Kingdom, and The Pale Horseman. This continues the story via Uhtred, the central but invented character.

 

Uhtred buries his treasure because he has to leave for Babbenburg, his childhood home.  He reaches the place and goes to see the king, pretending to be another man in Alfred’s army. He is however exposed by the priest and realizes that he is among his old enemies, unmasked.

 

Based on the propaganda by priests that Saint Cuthbert himself had come to the aid of Alfred, the king of Babbenberg has the Danes slaughtered when the Danish army was away and now, fearing a massacre at the hands of the returning Danish forces, Uhtred just wants to get out of that place. When he makes a deal with a merchant to escort him and his family, he falls into the hands of his ancient enemy Sven. He covers his face and pretends to be a leper. He humiliates Sven and escapes with the merchant. In the same event, he meets Guthred, also called the Slave King, who is another Dane.

 

Guthred is crowned King of Northumbria by the priests, after a brief moment of confusion where Uhtred is confused for the king. He is captured by the men of Kartjan the Cruel who pretend that they have come to join his army and he gets saved in the last minute. He takes revenge on all of them except Kjartan’s bastard son and takes him into his fold when the latter declares an oath of fealty to Uhtred.

 

They go to expand the empire and capture the next kingdom without any resistance. However, Kjartan refuses to surrender and Guthred’s sister Gisel, who hoped to marry Uhtred, is dismayed by what she saw in the runes.

 

He finds out what it is when Guthrum sells him into slavery as a part of the deal and he is branded and manacled and made to row the oar of Trader, a slave galley. He gets saved by Ragnar and Steapa and pledges a second oath to Alfred and goes back to Guthred with Steapa as an emissary from Alfred.

 

He finds Guthred trapped and rescues him and his beloved Gisela. Then with Ragnar, he attempts an attack on Kjartan’s fortress Dunholm. How they fare in their attempt to capture Dunholm is exhilerating, with stealth, cunning plan and fortunes swinging constantly one way and then the other with stunning twists when they think all is lost… This is perhaps the best sequence so far in the series.

 

I thought that after such a climactic scene it would be time to end the story but the story continues. And keeps its tension till the very end. Brilliantly told, especially how Ivarr, the Danish king opposed to both Ragnar and Alfred, meets his end.

 

Excellent read, and I repeat: the best in this series so far.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

Movie : Moana (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:15 pm

imageDisney has figured out the magic formula to make hits. In 2016, according to the trade magazines, all top six hits were from the Disney stable. It of course takes a lot of money, especially in an animated movie like this.

 

This time they have gone to Polynesian culture for inspiration and the plot, really, is very simple. A Pacific Island nation has withdrawn into itself and has forgotten, and even fears, to do what should naturally come to them : go out into the sea on boats. Why? That is indeed the story.

 

The way the story unfolds is amazing. Moana, the young girl from the tribe seems to be unafraid of the sea and the water, unlike everyone else, with the exception of the crazy old grandmother.  The island of Te Fiti (What? No I did not say Tahiti, I said Te Fiti.) lost its “heart”, a stone with the spiral shape, to the arrogant and greedy demi-god called Maui. (What? No, not the island Maui, the demi-god Maui.)

 

When the desolation that this created threatens to overwhelm even the island where Moana lives, she wants to go after Maui and persuade him to return the heart to the island. In true Disney’s style, Maui can become any creature, a hawk, a lizard or himself and he uses all these to spectacular effort when he steals the heart of Te Fiti.

 

The other cute thing is that all of his life experiences become tattoos on his body and sometimes the tattoos move to tell the story.

 

Here in the movie, the sea (water) is a living thing that protects Moana and is an ally.

 

Like I said, the story itself is simplistic. She goes and meets the arrogant Maui and forces him to understand (and respect) her. We are introduced to his past and why he is what he is. The final confrontation with the fire breathing monster Te Ka and who that really is are good twists in the movie.

 

But where the movie really sparkles is in the animation. The worlds that it brings in front of you is fascinating, the images are brilliant and the dialog, though in my mind not as brilliant, supports the story and moves it along. The scene where baby Moana plays with the sea (water) is brilliant. She also gets a stone with the spiral heart in it from the sea. (We do not know what it is at this point in the movie.)

 

She goes on the inevitable voyage and the obligatory dumb animal (In this picture it is Heihei, a dumb rooster). She meets Maui and he reluctantly goes with her, arguing and wanting to quit all the way. There are also diversions like the cute Kakamora, tiny coconut shell wearing creatures.

 

A good entertainment, and brings to live Pacific Islander’s culture. Just don’t look for deep meaning in the story or any educational aspects.

 

6/ 10

– – Krishna

January 22, 2017

Book: Revival by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:29 pm

imageStephen’s ability to surprise with a totally different storyline never stops to impress. This book is unlike many others I have read from him and has its unique moments.

 

Of course, I may be biased because I have liked many of his books and reviewed many here. For a sample, see the reviews on Duma Key and Lisey’s Story in earlier entries.

 

A family of five kids, dad Richard and “Mom”. Jimmy Morton, Con(“rad”), Terry, Andy and the only sister, Claire.  Jimmy enjoys the toy army his sister gave him. He meets Charles Jacob, whose visit changes everything. Charles is the new young pastor who comes to the town to take over the duties when the older one died.

 

He shows the model town he has built with a motorized light sensor that can turn on the town’s miniature lights on and off. His wife is a bombshell and most boys in town have a crush on her and most girls on Charles, who is also good looking! His interest in science – especially electricity – and his unorthodox ways of preaching annoy the older people but young kids flock to his sermons.

 

His brother gets his voice impacted by a skiing accident and this causes a huge row between their dad and mom. Charles puts him in a contraption that passes (mild) electricity around his throat. It seems to cure him and bring his voice back!

 

A horrific accident where he loses both his wife and his little boy – involving a tractor with a vicious agricultural attachment and a driver who suffered a stroke at just the wrong time – seems to turn things for Charles. His next sermon is almost blasphemous and is forever called the Terrible Sermon and he is dismissed from his post.

 

Jamie goes to the Church basement to find out what present Charles left him and finds the mechanical Jesus. His faith shattered by then, he throws it on the wall and walks out.

 

He subsequently becomes interested in music and is chosen for a boy band. Astrid becomes his girlfriend. He drifts away from both and goes rapidly downhill, becoming a junkie fully and then meets Jacobs, who calls himself Dan Jacobs now and is a carnival artist. He offers to cure Jamie of his drug habit. When he passes electricity through Jamie (a special type) Jamie gets cured but has strange episodes of uncontrollable acts and nightmares. One of the people who participated in the act robs a jewellery shop in plain view of everyone in a state of fugue as well. There is something (“Something is happening!”) wrong with the treatment. Jacobs says goodbye and goes away and Jamie grows older by staying straight and working in a recording studio. The work was provided by introduction from Charles to a guy called Hugh and then Jamie discovers that Hugh was also one of those helped by Charles through the miracle of electricity.

 

When Jamie learns that Hugh was also one of Charlie’s clients with a side effect, they decide to go see Charles, who is now a ‘preacher man’ a televangelist. Jamie’s research with Bree, the daughter of Georgia, a coworker of theirs, turns up very disturbing rssults of Charlie’s miracle healing. He realizes that Dan Jacobs is not in it for benevolence or money but is in it for its own sake, not caring about what he does to whom.

 

He decides to stop him and travels to his hometown, where he now lives in a fabulous mansion, having made his money as a famous healer.

 

The story is interesting, but not one of the best of Stephen King’s. You wait for something serious to happen and it sort of happens now and then but the story drags a bit at times.

 

He learns that he has retired but asks Jamie to be his assistant. He refuses, goes back for a nostalgic trip to Maine and returns to Colorado, only to be emotionally blackmailed by Charles Jacobs into helping him.

 

When he returns for one last time, he learns that Jenny, a friend and lover of his Astrid, has been also roped in to help. The end is exhileratingly told, as only Stephen King can. Nice read, good book. But….

 

Yes. there is a but. I cannot but be disappointed. Stephen builds up Danny Jacobs and his lifelong obsession about secret electricity so much that when you finally find out what he is so obsessed about, you go ‘Wait… what?’. Not that it is not logical but it almost seems to be a let down compared to the build up. I don’t want to tell more in order not to spoil the story, but you tell me, after you read it, whether you agree with it or not.

 

Then there is Mother, who is like many of the Stephen King stories, is an elusive but horror inducing presence (Remember the Big Boy of Lisey’s Story?)  He is usually very good at the hinting of the horror – things left untold are scarier than clear descriptions, but here even the Mother’s description is kind of not up to his usual standards – at least in my mind. Still good story and the long epilog of what happens to Jamie Morton and all the characters we know in the book is interesting, for sure.

 

Let us give this a 6/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

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