Shut out everything else

Dennis Lehane has got to be one of the best thriller writer’s of our times. That is based on the one novel of his that I have read – Shutter Island. I have had the Lehane on-screen experience through Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone (though I have only watched the trailer here, but I do know quite a bit of the story to realise the significance of the plot). I then heard that Martin Scorsese was adapting another Dennis Lehane novel called ‘Shutter Island’ and I decided that this would be my first read of that author. Trip to Blossom’s, a bout of flu in Mangalore and I ended up reading the entire book in bed in a day, page to page, word for word and boy was it the best psychological thriller ever. I have watched the trailers of Martin Scorsese‘s filmof the same name with Leonardo DiCaprio, but you gotta read the real thing before the movie gets to the theatre.shutter_island

Shutter Island is the name of an asylum, for the most dangerous mentally disturbed individuals, located off the coast of Massachusetts. From page 1 you get an ominous feel of the environment that the two US Marshals – Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, are getting into. Daniels and Aule are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous murderess – Rachel Solando, from the institution. They reach Shutter Island but are then cut off from the mainland by a hurricane that severes all communication lines. In the midst of this hurricane with a deranged prisoner mysteriously on the loose, Daniels and Aule try and probe an uncooperative staff for more on this disappearance. There is something hidden here and the marshals start revisiting the rumours they heard about the island – it being an experimental research facility where Frankenstein-like experiements took place. I won’t go beyond this.

Dennis_Lehane
Dennis Lehane

The brilliance of this novel lies in its attention to detail and the grip and gothic horror that Lehane maintains from the start of the novel. While reading this I couldn’t help but compare it to another brilliant book – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Equally gripping there were parallels here – Strangers visit the island and a hurricane takes place. Strangers are trapped and there’s something out there waiting to get them. They fight against the system to get off the island. But in this case you had the dinosaurs to contend with. It’s much easier when you know the enemy. However it becomes a whole new ball game when you do not know who or what to look for or where to start an investigation or devise an escape plan. That’s what Shutter Island is – a no holds bar mystery thriller that kept me hooked till the last page.

Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone were all critically acclaimed films based on Dennis Lehane’s critically acclaimed novels. Watching the trailer of Shutter Island today, I was immediately interested at the same time disappointed. The trailer seemed too clean compared to the dark grittiness of the novel. The movie trailer did not thrill me, rather it only interested me. I may be wrong when the movie releases in October this year. But all the same I would suggest reading the novel before watching it on celluloid.

P.S. I also recommend you not to watch the trailer. Read the book first.

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The Hobbit & Striped Pyjamas

Painting on book cover drawn by JRR Tolkien
Painting on book cover drawn by JRR Tolkien

Three books and counting. Its been a long time since I went on a reading spree and if you include the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, His  dark Materials series and part of the Sherlock Holmes series and that counts for quite a bit this year. Here’s my take on a couple of these books

The Hobbit – This book, grabbed from Blossoms at a steal for the price, brought back memories of those fantasy tales from the great book of fairy tales from my childhood. I don’t remember having touched a fantasy novel since those fairy tales of my childhood and I approached Tolkien’s Hobbit with the expectation that this was the prequel to the successful Lord of the Rings series that I hadn’t read yet (another series stagnating in my cupboard back in Mangalore).

J.R.R. Tolkien‘s ‘The Hobbit’ is a delightful adventure story. This is as simple an explanation as I can give for this tale. There are quite a few events within this straightforward story that would play a larger role in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ (LOTR) series later (I know this from the movie, btw I have only watched the first part). Adventurous, humourous, witty at the same time a tale that’s extremely original (even with the dragons, goblins, elves and dwarves). It’s a quick read and the story flows through extremely quickly, in fact the adventure starts almost immediately without allowing the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins to settle down. And of course there’s the first reference to the precioussssssssss Gollum. First time readers and those familiar with the movie and LOTR watch out for this creepy cameo.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – This book comes with an extremely powerful message that comes across through the words and thoughts of a a normal nine-year-old kid. I heard of this title a couple of years back and thought it was just another childrens book about some magic pyjamas that helped the kid fly away into some fantasy garden. But a first glimpse of the book cover immediately gave the impression of something more serious and near to home.

John Boyne is a young author and the simplicity with which he conveys everyday situations in the life of young Bruno during a great war is something that must be admired. This is storytelling at its best with a much deeper meaning etched in every page of the book. The magnitude of what’s happening around the protagonists hits you, even though you immediately gauge the situation from page 1 onwards. We know the facts of what’s happening but still… The book is a page turner and a quick read. Without giving too much away, the friendship described in this novel is touching and so is the sad suffering of the people around Bruno. This is a book that cannot be ignored and even though dealing with childhood innocence, I am sure there would be too many disturbing questions asked if a kid in the family happened to read this. The book flows beautifully till the ending which will leave the reader stunned. I can’t help being a spoilsport to myself at times and I had read the Wikipedia entry to the film and came across the ending there. That hardly took any sheen off the book when I read it.

As harsh as it can get

I watched ‘Harsh Times‘ last night. This Christian Bale film was (I think) his first after taking up the Batman role. I wouldnt give much for the storytelling and script, but boy when it comes to Christian Bale I totally dig the fact that this guy is the best in his business.harsh times Christian Bale & Freddy Rodriguez

Bale plays the role of a Iraq war vet who suffers from panic attacks. When he gets back to LA he starts showcasing these symptoms in frighteningly violent outbursts that even shock his friends who are used to the ghetto culture of the city’s fringe. Bale makes every role he gets into very believable and somewhere you get the feeling that he has invested his all into the role. I believe that this guy is committed to his act, why else would he rant against someone who walks across his performance doing something as mechanical as Terminator Salvation.

Harsh Times is not a great movie. The highlights are the performance by Bale and the supporting characters. Freddy Rodriguez (of Six Feet Under fame) and a smoking hot Eva Longoria along with a lot more hot Latino ladies make this movie extremely watchable. But Christian Bale rips through every scene as he goes down the road to destruction with perfect discipline. This movie, I felt, was the best reflection of the post traumatic syndrome experienced by war vets. And Bale is extremely unpredictable in it.

Bale and Rodriguez’ characters move through bleak LA searching for their dream job – for Rodriguez it’s a corporate profile to satisfy his high achieving girlfriend (Longoria) while Bale wants to make it to the LAPD. The first half of the movie works as a demo tape on how not to proceed on a job search, especially when you are desperate. They visit old girlfriends, run into new boyfriends, narrowly avoid cops, steal from peddlers – all this while throwing their resumes out of the car while driving around LA.

Through some quirk of fate, both of them land up in their dream jobs (though Bale gets rejected by the LAPD and instead lands up in the higher Homeland Security position). All this while Bale proceeds through his interview in a cold calculating manner which perhaps impresses the bosses manning national security. A few hilarious sequences are present while Bale goes through his interviews by literally arm twisting his way into the position.

The movie works only because of Bale. Without Bale, the movie is pretty pedestrian and may have worked if Eva Longoria had been given more screen time in those tight, hot corporate outfits. The movie is directed by David Ayers who was also the screenwriter for ‘Training Day’. Going through Ayers’ filmography I realized that the guy worked around themes surrounding LA and mostly involved its law and order. I guess the biggest takeaway from this movie besides Bale’s performance was the recruitment process of Homeland Security. All recession affected employees from corporate America, watch out. All gun-wielding vengeful thoughts can be fruitfully utilized by Uncle Sam.