Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Trials of Kingsbridge

artwork from the 1999 edition of Pillars of The Earth, by Petra Rohr-Rouendaal
Years before I had the opportunity to read Pillars of the Earth, I had read one of Ken Follett's other novels. One of the spy ones. I wasn't very impressed, to be very honest and was therefore not very inclined to try any of his other, supposedly better ones. The 1000 paged Pillars were facing a grim life on my bookshelf because - let's face it - if a poor 300 paged book gave me such a snooze, what is bound to happen with this one? I turn into Sleeping Beauty?
Luckily a time came in my life when Middle Ages took center stage of interest and I decided to give this book a go. And boy was I surprised. 
It is my firm belief that Ken Follett has found his true calling in historical novels. Honestly. Because no matter how he weaved the other books, I am willing to bet m favorite pair of shoes that they can't hold a candle to these. Both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (now bound into Pillars of the Earth "collection" which I rather call Kingsbridge collection) tell the trials and tribulations of the fictional English town called Kingsbridge. The books are not intertwined nor do you really need to read the first before you read the last and quite honestly, you don't actually need to read both of them. Just read one. I cannot exactly tell you which I'd pick if I had to choose but I liked them both very, very much.

"The duck swallows the worm,
the fox kills the duck,
the men shoot the fox,
and the devil hunts the men."
Pillars of the Earth talks about the time between 1123-1174 and revolves around the building of a cathedral. That was my favorite part. The carefully researched building of magnificent buildings that are no longer being built today when we have so many more means and machines to help us do so. It tells the story of many wonderful characters who try to survive poverty, invasion, wars, and burning at the stake. The characters face troubles that we now face every day, except that their surroundings are a bit different. They fall in love, they mourn their loved ones, they run from conflict or seek revenge. The poor remain poor, the rich fall, the mean kept avoiding their punishment and the destiny surprises everyone. I cannot even tell you one little instance from the book and avoid saying too much at the same time. I loved these characters so much, I carried the book everywhere with me a month after I had finished it.

"When you've lost everything,
you've got nothing to lose."
World Without End tells the tale of the same town, only 157 years later. It focuses on the hundred year war, on the grip of royals on the farmers and peasants, on the greed of both, on secrets that will be uncovered and on (again) a love story. In Pillars you have to love the main protagonists, here I had a difficulty liking the female protagonists because she seemed a bit ... well, too annoying and a bit inconsistent within what was presented (this might be a spoiler but I had trouble accepting she would ever truly believe the reasons she named for not marrying her sweetheart). Other than that the characters are consistent, including her and the story is full of little tidbits of their lives and how things were handled on a daily basis. It also covers the time of Black Death and shows the narrow-mindedness of the only true physicians. Yes, the clergy. (eyeroll)

"Proportion is the heart of beauty."

Why is it not necessary to read both the books? Because they have similarities, mainly in characters. A good brother, a bad brother, the meanest kid in town (making it big) that you hate but just won't die, a scheming mother, a greedy and evil man of god, a disaster or three, a fearless female, a clumsy boy, etc. But you learn a lot about the history and you gain amazing stories and wonderful language. And for the love of GOD, do not watch the tv series World Without End. While Pillars is still nicely done, Ken Follett instantly signed a deal for the same producers to make the second installment too. World Without End (tv series) is a disgrace to the book. It mainly just has the characters with the same names and a few similar things happening to them. I was enraged and disappointed. So save yourself the many hours of watching, spend them reading instead.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with Corban Addison

Corban Addison
After reading his stunning debut novel a few months ago, we contacted Corban Addison, the author of A Walk Across the Sun, to tell him just how much his debut novel has touched us all. We were surprised by his response and willingness to answer some of our questions. Some of you have submitted questions and they were all very good but unfortunately since Mr. Addison is in the midst of promoting his new book, The Garden of Burning Sand, we had to reduce the number of questions. The following four questions were chosen with great consideration and immense appreciation for the time the author took to shed some light on the matters that have drawn most of readers' attention.

AoS: First of all, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. We've all read how your wife actually inspired you to write a novel about human trafficking after watching a movie on the subject over four years ago. You've also mentioned that through fiction some issues and causes can touch people who would not have known about them otherwise. Why start in India and why tsunami; was there any response or outrage from the Indian community? At the end of the day, kidnappings like that happen even in the most mundane circumstances.
CA: I started the book with the tsunami for a couple of reasons. First, I had already decided to set a large part of the book in India, both because it’s an interesting place and because human trafficking is a major problem there (worse, by sheer numbers, than anywhere else in the world). Second, I remembered hearing stories after the tsunami happened about orphaned children who were trafficked into the sex trade. From a story-building standpoint, I thought the tsunami would make a powerful opening scene, and I’ve heard from readers that it did. As for the responses of Indians, I’ve been pleased to receive very positive feedback from the Indian community, both in the subcontinent and in the diaspora. By and large, Indians have loved the story and found it culturally authentic.

AoS: I was quite taken aback when Elsie, the runaway from Pittsburgh said that America is the best country on earth. She is in a van, being taken someplace to be sold for sex again and still she holds on to that belief. What were you hoping to achieve with that?
CA: I intended her statement ironically, not literally. Many Americans believe that human trafficking happens somewhere out there, in back alleys in the developing world, but that it doesn’t happen here. I wrote my story, in part, to confront people with the truth that trafficking happens in this country, too, in our own cities and neighborhoods, and that it is often hidden in plain sight. I was hoping that Elsie’s ironic sense of American exceptionalism would reveal the fundamental flaw in the exceptionalist mindset. Human trafficking isn’t a developing world problem, it’s a human problem. And America is far from immune.

AoS: Your new novel came out in September, you have again immersed into research for it, this time violence against women and the location is Africa. Can we expect light being shed on this issue that is again global and not just of the third world and is the same to be expected from your next novel?
CA: Every story I write about human rights issues will be firmly situated in two worlds—the developing world and the West. I am a firm believer that human rights abuses are not culturally contained but are instead human problems universal in their scope. They may take different forms in different cultures (some of those forms obvious and others hidden), but their root is the same—the depravity and venality of human beings. The Garden of Burning Sand is situated largely in Southern Africa and deals with issues of gender-based violence endemic in that part of the world, but the story resolves in the United States and the message in the book is a human message, applicable across the world.

AoS: Do you ever wonder where Ahalya and Sita are now and how they are? Would they be able to trust a man again?
CA: A few readers have suggested I write a sequel to A Walk Across the Sun. At this point, I don’t intend to do that. I believe the story is self-contained and the resolutions as complete as they needed to be. I leave it to you, the reader, to fill in the blanks and speculate about how Ahalya and Sita are faring.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why So Serious?!

A simple sentence delivered by an extraordinary actor who played an immensely intense character named The Joker. Heath Ledger presented us with the best performance of his career as he took over the role of a psychotic villain in the most enthralling fashion ever. There is no doubt in my mind that such a fascinating act will never be replicated, at least when it comes to the role of The Joker.

The legendary Jack Nicholson had played the Joker in an earlier Batman movie and reports had suggested that he was furious over not being approached for the role again. With due respect to his talent, I'm sure that he ended up admiring Ledger's execution of the twisted maniac. Nicholson was not the only one furious as the general public also showed their disagreement over Ledger being chosen to play the part. Little did they know that they were about to witness a mind blowing performance of pure evil. It's not easy to play a complex character and it's definitely not easy to play someone as crazy and dark as the Joker. Ledger nailed it when it comes to the different sides of the Joker's personality, right from his terrifying seriousness to smart and well-timed humor. According to him, the Joker is the most fun he had with any character and it exceeded any expectations that he had. One wouldn't beg to differ after watching his brilliant performance as it exceeded the expectations of many for sure. He managed to bring out the most evil, unpredictable and deranged villain in the history of cinema. Director Christopher Nolan was bold enough to give the Joker more space than the actual hero Batman and it certainly paid off. For a change a villain overshadowed the hero and it's just because of Ledger's immaculate acting and much credit should be given to the way he reinvented the Joker. Of course, he is funny but at the same time he is a sadist and a schemer who has no selfish motive behind the mayhem he creates except mayhem itself. He is genuinely disturbing and there is not one peaceful moment while he is in the picture. Ledger's portrayal of this psychopath is unsettling as he flawlessly delivers.
For me, The Dark Knight is not about Batman, a hero who is loved and adored by Gotham City. For me The Dark Knight is plain admiration of the genius of Heath Ledger, in many ways a love for the evil that he has played, the evil which will be very difficult to forget.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Real men don't buy girls.

"Traffickers will stop
when men stop buying women."
Sometimes you feel a personal connection to a book and that just makes it the more authentic to you, not to mention more of an arrow straight through the heart. In my case this was on the double with this book. Not only is India basically my second home but I also quite narrowly left Thailand about a week before the tsunami hit. After long consideration, my friend and I decided not to stretch our stay there across Christmas and New Year's, after all. We weren't too pleased with it at first but by the end of the year we were happy we ran out of money and simply had to go home.
My eternal search for good fiction taking place in India pushed me to the doorstep (or should I say cover?) of this exquisite story. Corban Addison was a name I had never heard of before and I was surprised how a first time author could receive such amazing reviews given the complexity of the topic that he had chosen. So I simply had to read it. A Walk Across the Sun is a story that transcends good fiction. Because it could be true and it most likely is a reality for (too) many young girls and women. It shines light on a very monumental problem that we as a global society are facing: human trafficking. The worst part of this problem is that there is not enough awareness. Human trafficking is happening in every town, even in yours. Believe it or not. No matter how small or big your country or town are and no matter how respectable they are, there is an underground horror story that is happening away from everyone, except those who seek it for their horrifying pleasure.

"Yet her father had taught her that failing to act
in the face of human suffering is inhuman."

The story speaks of two sisters, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita. When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India they are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade. On the other side of the world in Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis. He makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India where his wife is from. He chooses to work for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent's human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals. In the true thriller fashion he will chase them around the globe as their fate keeps turning quicker than the tide.

The film which Corban Addison watched with his wife. It changed his life.

It's not only that Mr. Addison's work is compelling and thrilling, grips you and won't let you go, but it is also important as it no doubt has already opened many eyes and more importantly debates (and will continue to do so). This is probably one of the reasons fiction writing exists. To not only address important questions but to raise awareness, to bring this problem which is not talked about enough, to brighter light. As Thomas Clarke tries to find personal redemption through helping two innocent girls he realizes the heartbreaking fact that he cannot help all of them, no matter how hard he tries. And that is where we can step in.
I find it absolutely disgusting and revolting that such evil exists. Taking advantage of a horrible situation (such as wars, natural disasters, personal tragedies, poverty, etc.) makes it even more repulsive. It enrages me that greed is the only thing that drives these actions. Just as The Whistleblower quite openly blew the whistle on human trafficking in light of war (and the way those who were supposed to help and protect were actually the perpetrators), A Walk Across the Sun does it in its own way. I have cousins and nieces that remind me of those two girls and it pained me to read on and see what was unfolding through those pages in front of my eyes. In my Indian part of family there are girls just like Ahalya and Sita, who speak and act just like they did, they are their age, bright, funny, sweet, beautiful and innocent young girls and if anyone would try to hurt them, I cannot imagine what I would do. The description of the city was amazingly accurate and the book left me wanting to help. I'm sure that was the writer's intention for every reader and I am certain he succeeded with every person who picked up the book.
A few months ago we contacted Mr. Addison and asked him to answer a few questions. He kindly agreed but the amount of questions we gathered wasn't small and he has since had a new book released, The Garden of Burning Sand and has also been promoting it so we ask you for patience, we are sure he will find the time to give you more insight and more information. Until then, here is an interview of his that everyone should watch.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be afraid. Be *very* afraid.

"There's a lady in a dirty nightgown that I see in my dreams. She's standing in front of my mom's bed."

There are a few movies which are scary and at the same time touch you emotionally in a particular way. There is a fear of the devil and then an emotion of the fight against it to protect the loved ones. The Conjuring (2013) is a horror movie based on a true story of two American paranormal investigators, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and their experience with the Perron family while dealing with a haunting.
"There is something horrible happening in my house."
Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston), along with their daughters move to a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. As obvious as it could get, they were mainly drawn to it because of the relatively low price. They seem to settle down peacefully on day one, however their dog Sadie refuses to enter the house, perhaps she had already sensed that there is something happening in there. Her sense was real but it came with a price as the family finds her dead the next morning. Unexplained things start to happen over the next few days until the family is convinced that there is something evil residing in their house which wants to harm them. The family is hurt mentally and physically and they approach the Warrens to seek help against the supernatural occurrences. 

"God brought us together for a reason."
This movie has a brilliant build-up as it effortlessly manages to create an eerie atmosphere, a considerable amount of credit must be given to excellent camera work. Director James Wan makes sure that the tension remains consistent as he keeps adding fear in regular doses to his recipe of horror. The fact that it has the 70's set up also contributes to the sinister ambiance. It is admirable that there is not much graphic when it comes to showing the face of evil as the biggest fear is that of the unknown. The Warrens conduct a study of the house and come to a conclusion that it needs exorcism for which they need permission from the church authorities at the Vatican. The evil activity gets so frequent that there is no time to wait and the family is forced to move out of the house. Once happy to find a new home with beautiful surroundings they become increasingly desperate to get rid of it but unfortunately it's too late as one of them gets trapped by the devil. This fight to save the possessed and its target, who is again a member of the family is a mix of horror and emotion as everyone involved struggles right till the end. It's the memory of loving and being loved which eventually conquers evil and that's where the emotionally touching part comes from. 

"The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow."
The Conjuring doesn't fail to scare, it's wonderfully directed to make sure that the viewer shivers. The characters are great and so is the direction. Although I was not that impressed by the ending which to some extent fails to match the magnificent build-up of fear throughout the movie. Besides that, this movie is one of the best horror ones till date.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

All husbands have secrets

"She longed to feel something momentous.
Sometimes her life seemed so little."
But then again so do all wives. However, not all secrets are lethal. And that's what Cecilia Fitzpatrick is hoping is hidden inside an envelope that she stumbled upon while looking for some relic of the Berlin Wall in the attic. The envelope was tucked away with some old bills instead of with the wills her and her husband had written years before. The yellowness of it makes her think it must be an old one. But the problem is her husband isn't dead and his reaction at his wife's mentioning of the letter makes her think she was not supposed to find it. In fact, she believes her husband lied to her when she asked him about it. And he practically begged her not to open it. You *know* Cecelia will end up opening it but it takes her a long time to get there. By then we are introduced to two other women whose lives will be affected by that terrible letter.

"All these years there had been a Tupperware container of bad language in her head, and now she opened it and all those crisp, crunchy words were fresh and lovely, ready to be used."

Rachel Crowley is a very, very sad widow who after losing her daughter also lost her husband. Now the only son she has left is happily married to Lauren (whom she all but likes) and they have given Rachel a new joy in her life - little Jacob. But because Lauren is being transferred to New York the whole family will be uprooted and they will leave Melbourne. They act like it's just for two years but Rachel is crushed, believing she has nothing else to live for after Jacob is gone. And to top it all, police refuse to take her seriously when she keeps telling them who is responsible for her daughter's death.

"She had no idea that her life was so flimsily constructed, like a stack of cards, and that Rob and Lauren could march in here on a Monday night and cheerfully help themselves to the one card that mattered."

In Sydney, Tess O'Leary's life seems perfect. She has a beautiful son and a company with her husband and her best friend (and cousin) Felicity. But then her world is turned upside down by a betrayal of the worst kind and she grabs her son and flees back to her mother in Melbourne. There she crosses paths with Cecilia and Rachel as well as an old flame. Their lives begin to weave together and even though you can see it coming and you already know what the husband's secret will be before it's revealed, you want to see what will happen.

"Falling in love was easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky."

I sort of devoured this story even though I was annoyed by quite a few things. You see, I'm anything but a fan of hysterical women. To be fair, most of the women in the story were pushed into a situation that was not their fault. This book is moving fast on best seller lists. Inspired by real death bed confessions the story does not focus so much on the secret but on the effect it has on people who are unknowingly connected. I didn't think Tess was connected to the whole story enough and not nearly as affected by it as the other two women. The connection to Berlin Wall was also quite unnecessary and strongly exaggerated. I was however blown away by the unraveling of Cecilia and her perfect beautiful and polished life. 
And then there is an epilogue that has left readers divided. Many believe that it is over the top or perhaps that Liane Moriarty had too many ideas that she couldn't stuff into the plot. But I was mesmerized by it. It is absolutely the best part of the whole book and it will keep you reeling. And for those who hated the ending before the epilogue... What were you expecting?

Monday, September 9, 2013

There she goes...

"There she is boys, Mandy Lane. Untouched, pure. Since the dawn of junior year men have tried to possess her, and to date all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel."

There are many times in my life that I've been fooled, be it by friends, by strangers or even by misleading genre description of some movies. The word Horror is what I first laid my eyes on when I was checking All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) and that was perhaps the main reason why I decided to watch it. Little did I know that I was getting fooled with every passing minute after the movie started. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) is a high school drama involving a bunch of boys and girls who go out to a secluded ranch for a weekend during which they slowly vanish, one by one.

"You know we are all trying to get you right?"
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is the most sought after girl in high school. All the boys want her, mostly in a sexual way as she is constantly hounded by them. She is quite reserved when it comes to interacting with boys but is close to Emmet (Michael Welch). Then due to an unfortunate event caused by him, she distances herself from him. The movie covers most of the high school life events such as boys drooling over a girl, sports, pool parties and drunken mishaps. Life goes on as usual till Mandy agrees to join five of her newly found friends to spend a weekend at a ranch. Of course, there is a lot of partying and fighting involved within the group which makes the core essence of a high school outing. The problem with all of this is that most of the characters in this movie are pretty one-dimensional and lack personality. They start to mysteriously disappear one by one and panic takes over. Garth (Anson Mount) is the ranch hand who is not particularly happy with the group's behavior but has a job to do of making sure everything is okay. With all the disappearances, the story twists to a shocking revelation. Emmet who gets sidelined earlier comes back with a major part to play.

"You seem different."
"That's because I am."
The thing about this movie is that the plot fails to convince and so does the acting which is nothing special. There might be a fairly small reward for the viewers in the form of the twist in the end otherwise it doesn't have much to offer. This is not the one that I want to complain about for a while, I think I am done with it as I finish writing this. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

When backed into a corner, what do you do?

Sometimes it's difficult to write a review of a book. Sometimes you can't wait to write it down. Literally, right after you finish, you have to share. Sometimes you need to pace around or wait till it stops stirring you up. And then sometimes you have to read it again. Not because you can't decide about the book but because it hits you so hard that you might just fall to pieces if you don't first get your head screwed back on.

Into The Darkest Corner is one of those books that shake you up. The story seems quite simple. Cathy Bailey has been enjoying the single life long enough to know a catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic and spontaneous, Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. The story starts with a court reporter's transcript and then alternates between a time when Cathy met and fell for Lee and four years after that. It's disconcerting to see carefree and joyful Cathy rattled down to a mess of a person, wearing baggy clothes, hiding in corners, obsessively looking over her shoulder, keeping her hair short to be as unnoticeable as possible and making absolutely no friends. The once lively girl is now the neighbor no one knows anything about. The one who would never even answer the door if you needed to borrow an egg. So what went wrong?

"When I opened the front door I had that same immediate sense that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t a draught, or a smell, or anything tangible. The driveway just had my car on it, and there was no sign of Lee’s car or any other car for that matter. I just knew that someone had been in the house while I’d been out."

Lee is attentive and flattering and just a little intense at the beginning. Cathy, though slightly smothered by his possessiveness and just a little too passionate sex, manages to convince herself that he is truly just as crazy about her as it seems and that is what is making him so intense. Still, through time his controlling behavior scares her a little but her friends are too enchanted by him to believe her. Is she even right? Or is she paranoid, missing her one night stands and not willing to settle down? As Lee's grip on her life slowly becomes stronger and stronger, she is isolated from everything and everyone she knows, backed into the darkest corner she decides to do something to save herself.
But still, what is happening four years later, when she is safe from Lee, who is in prison and can't harm her? Nothing normal, especially after Cathy receives a phone call that sends her into a tailspin in which she watches her life unfold in front of her eyes, again. 

The thing about this book is that is reads like a diary of the girl whose life was shattered and the pieces that were left were not even enough to put together something that resembles a life. And the man who is at the center of her world is intense, charming, passionate, attractive and drawing her in. It's still very difficult to give this book and the story the attention they deserve. Given the fact that it's anything but easy writing a book about such topics, many have tried and failed. Well, if not failed, then succeeded lukewarmly. Brutal, heart-wrenching and harrowing book which will hook you and won't let you go till the point where you don't really care how it ends. Thankfully, the ending is almost as perfect and as believable as you could imagine. Classic.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The truth will set you free?

"We are peacekeepers who came to protect the innocent, but now prey upon them in the worst ways possible. We may be accused of thinking with our hearts instead of our heads, but we will have our humanity."

Corruption in a system is like cancer, once it spreads there is no way you can curb it. No matter how prestigious the organization or how noble its deed, once bitten by the corruption bug there is not much hope left. The Whistleblower (2001) is based on the true story of a woman named Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer and a divorced mother who accepts an offer to work as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia through the United Nations. Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) looks at this change as an opportunity to earn the much needed money and get away from the problems in her personal life but turns out that she just lands into a shocking world of inhumanity.

"So what? What are you going to do? Fire me again? You gonna arrest me?
I have diplomatic immunity. Isn't that what you all rely on around here?"
Bolkovac is sent to Bosnia to monitor the local police and help them follow procedures while handling cases. She discovers that the police don't really bother while dealing with the cases involving minorities which makes her fight for a victim, successfully. Her determination for justice earns her a better position as the head of department for gender affairs. With her new position she uncovers a dangerous racket involving human trafficking and corruption in the organization which seems to have been going on for a long time. The fact that it's based on a true story makes the events that unfold more intriguing. Bolkovac, hated by her corrupt subordinates finds it difficult to expose them as no one wants this to come out in the open. She has some support from a local cop but that isn't enough to fight against the top officials involved. However, that doesn't deter her from fighting against such injustice and corruption. Her only ambition is to rescue two girls who are forced into this and bring the culprits out in the open fighting against odds such as lack of support and the fear among those girls to testify against the guilty. This movie brings out the grueling reality of how despite  investing billions of dollars to rehabilitate and help broken nations, the people involved just add to the troubles. It is one woman's fight against the system which has faulted.

"During your training you will see that peace is harder won than war.
That every mornings hope is haunted by yesterday's nightmare."
Weisz has given a terrific performance as a divorced mother, committed to her job and her relentless quest for justice. To be very honest, this movie doesn't dig deep into the matter but it shows enough to expose the ugly deeds of the so-called peace keepers. It is on your face and a testimony of Bolkovac's struggle to fight against the organization she opted to work for. I wouldn't term this one as spectacular but it sure is a thought provoking script with a good outcome. Once again, the fact that it is based on true events gives it an edge and also arouses curiosity to know more about the ugly faces of the big "noble" organizations. The Whisteblower certainly blew a whistle here, one which you can't ignore. It's the voice of one truth against the many lies.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Addicted To Killing

Marshall: "Why do you fight it so hard, Earl?"
Mr. Earl Brooks: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time and enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen."

Mr. Brooks (2007) is a perfect example of a good thriller. Once in a while there comes a movie which restores my faith in intelligent thrillers and this is certainly one of them. Kevin Costner portrays Earl Brooks, a wealthy businessman, recently honored as Man of the Year by Portland Chamber of Commerce. He comes across as gentle and soft-spoken by nature, at least a part of him does. He shares his life with wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) and his thoughts with his menacing alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt). There is a shockingly dark personality behind Brooks' timid character as he is addicted to killing, a disorder which he can't conquer. He is a serial-killer,a thorough professional who leaves no trace after committing the crime. 

"Don't kid yourself, Earl. You're going to kill again."
Brooks gives in to his deadly temptation after controlling it for two years. After killing a young couple he decides to quit but gets blackmailed into doing it again by Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). Smith wants to witness a murder, a twisted desire which he can make come true by blackmailing Brooks. What follows is Brooks' fight against his sick addiction which is constantly fueled by Marshall's persistence and Smith's threats. The trio has detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) on their trail as they prepare to commit another murder. Atwood, while fighting her own demons is determined to bring the killer out in the open. Director Bruce Evans has done an amazing job with combining the two different characters of Brooks and Hurt into one. While Brooks struggles to control his addiction, Hurt is constantly encouraging him to give in to it. He is a nice guy (Brooks) with a bad conscience (Marshall). With the disease that he has, his worry of passing it on to his child turns real as Jane shows signs of following in his footsteps.

"She has what I have."
Kevin Costner playing a bad guy did sound strange at first but he has done a brilliant job. This is one of the best performances I've witnessed by him. William Hurt, who is non-existent to everyone but Costner is nothing but his deepest and darkest thoughts and he is also very impressive. They are wonderful together and have created a monster of a character in the form of Earl Brooks. Demi Moore is okay as an unfaltering detective who also has her own personal issues to deal with. However, the movie could have done with less of her personal woes in my opinion. Dane Cook adds to Brooks' struggle and he is decent in his role. What makes this movie unique are the roles of Costner and Hurt, they are the lifeline of the story and there is not a moment when their performance is lackluster. The idea of the character of Mr. Brooks is great and the execution is excellent. This is one thriller that definitely does not disappoint. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Miracles of hypnosis

Lasse Hallström is a quite an awesome director who manages to tell beautiful, almost liquid stories in a way that just takes you away like a river. Granted, he usually has very good groundwork of a novel to work from but still - a poor director can easily mess up a very good story.

This time it seems a bit more the other way around. The Hypnotist or Hypnotisören sounds like a very promising story which just doesn't manage to deliver. The story of a writer Lars Kepler was quite a successful bestseller in Sweden and just like the book, the movie also speaks of a detective Joona Linna, who pairs with a controversial hypnotist whose past has made him sort of a pariah in the psychological or medical world. A young woman and her parents are murdered by a killer who seems to be determined to wipe out the entire family. The only one who barely escapes their fate is the son who is now lying in the hospital. In order to save him from becoming the victim of the murderer and also to find the one surviving daughter who is not living with the family anymore. They are racing against time as the murderer is most likely looking for her as well.

The movie was Sweden's submission for Foreign Language Oscar consideration. Sweden is a country that is darker in itself, has many hidden corners that just call for murder mysteries. Perfect setting. The story seems compelling and might be a good one had Lasse and his screenwriter not tried to fit the entire 500 page book into 122 minutes. Because the movie touches an affair the hypnotist Erik had had before the present time and had left his marriage very vulnerable, the experiment treatment that made him a controversial subject and the complications that that brought into his life. It tries to show the struggles of Erik's wife, the shambles that was the victim's family and the history of the boy who is lying in the hospital. In the meantime it tries to present Joona Linna (who is a staple character of Kepler's books) as a bachelor who struggles in his personal life and yet still wants to try and have a relationship only to discover he cares about his work more. I am telling you, this is enough for a miniseries, two hours won't do. 

The ending is so bizarre that at one point (not to spoil anything - it's when some of the characters are running) I actually snorted out loud. Yes, it was ridiculous. With proper screenwriting editing this could be a good movie but it's just mildly entertaining. I haven't read the book so I can't judge it but looking at the cover on the right, it seems a lot more promising than the movie.

Often a movie can't do justice to the book but this time it just tried to be too much like the book, I guess, or tried to include every detail of the book. And the end result just doesn't do justice to the title. The amount of hypnosis in the movie is only enough for a taste. No more. Sweden, you could do better. So could you, Lasse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Still Missing

Even from the description it sounds like Chevy Stevens got the idea for her book not so much from being a realtor herself but from once upon a time reading Fowles' magnificent The Collector. Her character, Annie O’Sullivan is a 32-year-old realtor, who was just hosting an unsuccessful open house, had a fight with her mom and was supposed to run and have dinner with her boyfriend. When she starts packing up, the last visitor for open house shows up and Annie is hoping to wrap up a good day. Except he isn't the charming customer he pretends to be.

The book is written through Annie's visits to her psychiatrist and you are not reading chapters but Annie's sessions. Annie tells the story of being a captive of a psycho for about a year. One of the few truly compelling things this book succeeded at was blending and intertwining the stories of then and now. Annie is back but her life is shattered as police continue the investigation to find out who the man who kidnapped her actually was.

Annie calls her captor The Freak, since he only introduced himself to her at the open house and she has strong suspicions he lied. Well, Annie is not a character you will particularly like. And she knows she's not very likable. That makes sense. But The Freak himself doesn't. He seemed slightly off all the time and not in an eerie, scary way. He wasn't consistent, he didn't seem so scary and he also didn't seem as messed up as Chevy was trying to make him seem. On top of Annie not being very sympathetic, she also has a very potty mouth but not so much like a badass and not in a cute or daring way but just in a "god, you're annoying" kind of way. Meaning that she also cannot express herself better than a college dropout could on a very good day.

"Oh, and in case you were wondering? No, I wasn’t always such a bitch."

Stevens ends the book with a twist and not a particularly good one. It seemed like she thought the psychological thriller she was weaving needed a mystery turnaround. It actually didn't. At least not such a predictable one. Which it was, if you followed the story closely. I don't really know what the deal with the author is but seems she's set on this shrink path, because from the looks of it, one of her other books is also written in "sessions", not chapters, and two of them have the same psychiatrist as a "leading lady" as Still Missing does. In case you were wondering, there is no notion that Stevens has any psychological or psychiatrical experience or background. In my opinion that shows.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cosmic Coincidence

"Take comfort in knowing
you never had a choice."
There is a chance that you might have come across a creepy taxi driver in the night and just wanted to reach your destination as soon as possible. On the other hand there is also a chance that a taxi driver might have encountered a scary passenger and just wanted to get rid of him at the earliest. Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) couldn't have ever imagined having Vincent (Tom Cruise) as his passenger who took him for a ride of his life. Collateral (2004) shows us how such situations can occur without any warning and once you get into them, there is hardly a way out.

Max has spent the last twelve years driving a cab and the same time dwelling on a dream to have his own company running limos. He is good at communication and perhaps bad at execution as the dream of having limos still lingers. However, he is friendly with the customers and it is noticeable as we see him flirt with Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a state prosecutor who ends up leaving her phone number without him even asking for it. Exit Annie, enter Vincent, Max's second passenger, a well-dressed grey haired man. He comes across as a silent type and a nice guy at first but there is something suspicious about him. He offers Max a deal and convinces him to drive him around five different locations through the night and drop him at the airport at dawn in exchange for $600. During their first stop a body lands on Max's cab after Vincent goes up a building to visit someone. It turns out that he is a contract killer hired to assassinate five witnesses who will testify for a high profile case. Max is helpless and has no option but to obey Vincent in order to save his own life. They continue with Vincent's job at different locations with the police working on nabbing them and it's not long before Max tries to get out of this situation but without much luck. He is forced to be a part of it till the end as he comes to know that Annie also gets involved in the situation. The movie managed to keep me engaged as this unorthodox combination of a cold blooded contract killer and a simple taxi driver move from one location to another.
"Since when was any of this negotiable?"
Cruise is wonderful as he plays a merciless contract killer with no regard to human life but at the same time is considerate enough to buy flowers for Max's mother who is in the hospital. Foxx is also superb with his acting and attracts sympathy for the situation that he lands into. A major part of this movie is focused on just the two of them and their conversations while they change locations. However, the plot doesn't convince in the sense that why would an experienced contract killer hire the same cab driver for all his killings during the night? What happens after that is undoubtedly entertaining though. Collateral is a more of a treat to watch because of the direction than its script. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Who is at Fault?

I'll start off quite bluntly. If the book has people who suffer from cancer, you will most likely be (expected to be) crying. If these people are children, you should be weeping. Because, of course, that's the only way a person with normal emotions would react. Except that when a book is riding on that wave for one reason only (to attract ratings, sales and oohs and aahs), I feel like someone is pulling a kitten by its tail and daring me not to react. "You have to, you have to."
I don't know John Green, nor have I read any of his (apparently very good) books up until now. I knew he had a blog and did funny videos but I've never watched those either. So my review is based on specifically this book alone. I have no other John Green work to compare it to.

For those who don't know, this book is young adult oriented, features Hazel whose cancer is apparently standing still after she was one of the five people to react to a fictitious drug and her tumors began shrinking. She still rolls a tank full of oxygen with her wherever she goes, including support group where she meets Augustus.

Apparently John Green worked in a children's hospital when he was 21 and has been trying to write a book about kids with cancer ever since. According to the mass reaction, he widely succeeded in bringing a piece of their world into ours. I have to admit that the ordeal these poor kids go through is horrible. The characters can make you laugh out loud at times and the book flies easily. But the problem is all the kids in the book are the same. They are all wise beyond their years, speak like your college philosophy professor and sometimes I am not sure if they themselves know what they're trying to say, tangled up in deep thoughts. Then he throws in video games to make them look like regular teenagers and can't possibly decide whether he wants to be moving, funny or philosophical. Maybe he thought he was successfully being all three. Not for me.

I would give this book three stars only because it gives an insight into the world of children with cancer. Everything else was very very out there. It is ultimately a book that was, in my opinion, written to be a movie. Which of course it will be
My Sister's Keeper was targeting the same tearjerking situation and still it was believable. I almost wish I liked this book more than I do because it makes me feel guilty that I don't. But I guess that's the fault of the stars, not John himself?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Time off?

People grow up, finish their studies and then eventually start working and go to work every day. They wake up, get dressed and stay away from their family while at work. Some of them have to go through the difficulty of losing a job and in that case most of them start looking for a new one. A middle-aged, family man loses his job and is unable to break the news to his wife and family. Vincent (Aurelien Recoing) chooses to lead a life of an employed person even after losing his job in Laurent Cantet's L' Emploi du temps (Time Out, 2001). 

Vincent loves driving, maybe even more than interacting with human beings. After getting laid off, he makes up a new job, an idea that he gets by reading brochures in an office in Geneva. This whole invention of him getting a new job at the UN office also enables him to spend time driving, an escape he clearly enjoys and at the same time it also hides his unemployment from his family. With time, it is noticed that Vincent likes being without a job and there is an obvious liking to the freedom that he has gained. It shows how uncomfortable he was working and interacting with people at his work place. He seems to enjoy his time on the road and being away from everyone. However, things get difficult as he starts running out of funds and because of that he is forced to lie and use unfair means to collect money. His wife Muriel (Karin Viard) is shown as a loving wife who is always supporting him but as times passes she gets suspicious and senses that something isn't right. His freedom to explore different avenues of life by being unemployed comes with a cost of him being drawn into doing things he shouldn't do. He gets into conning his family and close friends of their money which also extends to people he doesn't know. With time he realizes that he is in trouble and can't go on fooling people by taking their savings under the pretext of a profitable investment, and his scam is eventually noticed by a stranger. 

This movie unfolds Vincent's character at a very slow pace but the process is admirable. We witness how he hides from reality, pretends to live a life that doesn't exist, lies and manipulates and is forced into doing things so that he doesn't get exposed. Recoing's performance is strong and certainly a rewarding experience to watch. He made me like his gentle and laid-back presence and slowly shocked me with the audacity of his lies and deception. As the drama unfolded I was trapped between supporting his decision to carry on the way he was and the fact that he should confess to his family as he might end up destroying everything. This is a story of a man who is caught up between running away from the routine life he doesn't like and sticking with the people who love him the most. His desire to impress the elders and to win the love of young ones draws him into doing unreasonable things which lead to the truth being out in the open eventually. This is a simple and a telling story which made me like it more with every time I thought about it, and I haven't stopped.

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