December 17th, 2016


Book Critique 2016 – 08/11/2016: The Lost Years

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: Certainly a thriller to read with easy pace and no unexpected twists.

The Lost Years is a thriller by Mary Higgins Clark published in April of 2012. The author touches on the very strong subject of Dementia that is rarely broached and a syndrome often confused with Alzheimer's Disease. It also has a biblical touch to the plot, which is new for Mary Higgins Clark too. For once I couldn’t come up with a song for her title - perhaps this is indeed different from her usual novels.

I had not known thus was another Alvirah and Willy Meehan book and only had realized when Father Aiden's character came into light. I felt a spurt of disappointment to pick another of her book, but I always give benefit of doubt for any book. So, my review again on another of Alvirah series.

The plot begins in 1475 A.D. in the Bibliotheca Secreta, one of the four rooms of the Vatican Library in the then Rome. A monk is given a parchment to be kept hidden and safe by the assistant librarian. The parchment is supposed to be the only letter Jesus Christ has ever written and it was addressed to Joseph of Arimathea to thank Him for the help he had given for eighteen years of His young life. The then Pope, Sixtus IV, did not believe this to be an original letter and was set upon destroying it. Hence the need for it to be hidden somewhere safe. Now 500 years later the parchment becomes the topic and comes to light.

Forward to 500 years and we are in the present time and traversing through the life of Mariah Lyons and her family. Mariah's father, Jonathan Lyons, has been murdered and her mother, Kathleen Lyons, was found huddled in a closet with a the gun that killed Mariah's father in her hand. Her mother suffered from Alzheimer's and had been getting worse as days went by. Who wanted to kill her father? Did her mother kill but forgot? But she remembers the affair her father had with Lillian. Had she shot at him in a rage when she had the few moments of lucidness?

Detectives Simon Benet - from the Bergen County Prosecutor's office - and his partner - Detective Rita Rodriguez are assigned to the case. In the course of their investigation they find that prior to his death Jonathan was translating some documents for an old church and he had found a valuable piece of manuscript - a letter supposedly written by Jesus Christ to Joseph of Arimathea. Father Aiden O'Brien also mentions that her father had a premonition that he would die and that he had discussed about that parchment with a few friends, of whom one had propositioned to make money by selling it to top bidder. Who amongst the five closest to her father wanted to do this? Was that person desperate to get that parchment that he/she killed her dad? In the midst of all of this, the next door neighbors Lloyd and Lisa Scott are robbed of their safe. Then police arrest Kathleen charging her for murder of Jonathan.

As the painful process of uncovering the truth by Mariah proceeds, she comes across a lot of people that she considers have had valid reasons to murder her father and some she comes across who stand by her side and help - Rory Steiger (caregiver for her mother Kathleen), Lillian "Lily" Stewart (the professor at Jonathan's college with whom he had been having an affair for a long time), Betty Pierce (their housekeeper), Richard Callahan (friend of Jonathan and a professor of Bible studies at Fordham University), Charles Michaelson (a friend of Jonathan and a professor), Albert West (a friend of Jonathan and a professor), Greg Pearson (a friend of Jonathan and a successful businessman), Father Aiden O'Brien, Lloyd Scott (neighbor to Lyons and defense attorney to Kathleen) and his wife Lisa Scott (Former model and a jewelry designer), Delia Jackson (Their weekend caregiver for Kathleen).

Alvirah again jumps into the situation to help find who killed Jonathan, what happened to the parchment an also get Kathleen released. Will she be successful? Who killed Jonathan?

A decent thriller and for once Alvirah was actively involved. But what bothered me was the fast-speed way that the cops arrested Kathleen Lyons and also incarcerated her even though she was suffering from dementia for quite some time. Shouldn’t they be checking her medication and perhaps have a conversation with her doctor before deciding if she indeed committed crime? It was appalling to see the author portray the cops and prosecutors in a one-minded way. She should have left with keeping Kathleen Lyons as one of the suspects as opposed to actually incarcerating her. And this time I could guess who the actual killer would be mid-way through the plot. It was getting predictable from there on.

All in all a good thriller to read for those lazy days with no unexpected twists and easy pace.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) The biblical reference to the only letter by Jesus Christ to Joseph of Arimathea has some credence to it. However I couldn’t find any legitimate evidence that this even exists. However a very nice theme for the plot.

Movie Critique 2016 – 08/12/2016: Varalakshmi Vratam

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  3 / 5
Recommendation: With the theme of realms and kingdoms, adding the element of sorcery and finishing it off with magic and devotion, the movie has all elements to reach out to one and all.

Varalakshmi Vratam is the 1961 Indian Telugu Film based on the popular Indian Festival of the same name. The movie was directed by B. Vittalacharya with Kanta Rao and Krishna Kumari as lead actors.

The festival is to win the favor of Goddess Lakshmi, Vishnu's consort who is one of the Hindu Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara). She grants boons to whoever offers pooja to her. This pooja is performed by women in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states in India. It is usually celebrated on the second Friday in the month of Sravana - usually July or August per Gregorian Calendar. It is believed that worshipping Goddess Varalakshmi on one day is equivalent to worshipping the Ashtalakshmi - the eight Goddessess of Lakshmi. More about the festival here.

This year my parents were with me and we performed the pooja at home. Normally it is done by married women, but it is not wrong for unmarried women to do too. I have been doing it since past two years, so this third year I was really happy to have my mom and dad with me.

Now back to the movie review that depicts this festival.

The plot begins with a scene where a King's First Wife - the legal Queen - is on the verge of giving birth of the King's heir. The King's Second Wife already has given him a son but the son of his first wife's kid itself can be the heir to the throne per the rules. So the Second Wife puts her Brother Mitramasena (portrayed by Satyanarayana) at task to kill the Queen and her newborn son. Mitramasena takes assist of a Sorcerer(portrayed by Rajanala) to get her away from the palace with the aid of black magic and forces her to get herself fall into the well. However, the Queen escapes at the last minute with the help of the King and his associates. And the Sorcerer along with his goon are captured. The Queen gives birth to a son. The King sends his Prime Minister to give the news to his second wife. However the Prime Minister over hears the Second Wife and Mitramasena plotting against the King's new born and likely heir to be killed. When told to the King, he doesn’t listen to the Prime Minister - so blindly in love and trusting his Second Wife. The Prime Minster then exchanges the heir with the new born (one of the twins) of one of the courtier Kotayya's - the courtier's wife gives birth to twins the very night - in order to save the heir. The heir grows up as the courtier's son - one of the twin. Mitramasena kills the twin thinking him to be the heir. The King and Queen come to know the next day and King realizes that the Prime Minister was right. However before he could take an action against the Second Wife and her Brother Mitramasena, Mitramasena kills the King, captures the Queen and stabs the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister dies in the front yard of Kotayya's home taking a promise from him that he will raise the heir as an able person so one day he can become king. In the meanwhile Mitramasena also captures his sister - the Second Wife - and puts her in jail. Mitramasena becomes the King and rules the kingdom as he wants making the Second Wife's son - Anandapaala - a puppet in his hands, albeit he is still the Crown Prince. Mitramasena and his Wife have a daughter - Mani Manajri - who grows up as a tom boy. And the heir who is growing as a twin of Kotayya grows up to be an excellent marksmanship and soldier named Udaya Simha (portrayed by Kanta Rao).

On one of the jungle riding expedition of Manjari with her two friends, is chased by a Lion and Udaya Simha along with his brother Avataram saves her. But Anandapaala finding Manjari unconscious accuses Udaya Simha of foul resulting in a swordfight between the two. Manjari awakes up and clarifies although Anandapaala is miffed. Manjari asks Udaya Simha to come to the court next day so he can be rewarded appropriately - making him the lead of 1000 horse riding army. The story thus continues with all kinds of twists and turns - will Udaya simha realize he is the heir? What will happen when that comes out? The crimes done by The Brother and the Second Wife come out? Will Manjari and Udaya Simha realize the circumstances that lead to where they are, forgive and become one? How will the Goddess Varalakshmi help them? Where does all this story lead to? Aparalle story between Avataram and his fiance Vayyari goes in parallel who face down the two side-kicks of the Sorcerer.

Interesting that many characters have no actual names other than Raju ( = King), Pattapurani ( = Primary Queen), Tammudu ( = Brother), etc. Only few characters have actual names. Perhaps the editing of the youtube video was not good or the movie itself had editing problems, but there are quite a lot of scenes missing but are spoke about later in the movies that makes me wonder.

A myriad of actors with more than one sub-plot the plot has so many twists that I can't even imagine in one film leaving one confused at times. It took most of the film to get to the theme of Varalakshmi Vratam and the importance of that vratam. The movie also ends abruptly with everyone realizing their follies and overnight accepting their mistakes. For the time period it was made, it definitely would have gathered crowds with the theatrical and cinematographic effects and adding to that the human sentiments. However barring the editing mishaps the movie has been well-made. And enjoyable watching on a lazy day on TV.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Satyanarayana and Nirmaladevi aka Nirmala portray the roles of Mitramasena and his Wife in the movie even though they are not much older than the lead actress. Nirmala has been the eternal mother and grandmother in Telugu movies ever since.

2) With no argument one can say that Rajanala has been the and now the best villain, who can morph into any character any number of times and live it. We forget its Rajanala and only remember the character. A few samples from this movie, check it out yourself - First as the sorcerer, next as the old man who traps Anandapaala.


Movie Critique 2016 – 08/13/2016: The Babe Ruth Story

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Amazing movie to watch the life of someone who lived, breathed, ate and played baseball.

The Babe Ruth Story is a 1948 American Baseball film biography of Babe Ruth - the famed New York Yankees slugger. William Bendix starred in the title role while Claire Trevor as Babe Ruth's wife - Claire Hodgson Ruth.

One of the few wishes that my oldest nephew Srithan had when he came to visit me this year in August along with my parents was that he wanted to see a Yankees game. Reason being his baseball team was named Yankees. I had not watched a baseball game on TV either so wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it much. However for the sake of my nephew I took him to the baseball game along with my parents and my dear friend Sunita on this particular day. The game was between Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees. And surprisingly enough I enjoyed it very much and with so many cheers from my nephew it was much more enjoyable. And we got to see 7 Home Runs during the game and to my nephew's delight Yankees won. Woo! Hoo! Win-Win in every way. And made some great memories.

So, to honor this day I wanted to post a movie about Yankees and thus the movie The Babe Ruth Story - what better movie for it than this. Hey! :)

The movie begins in 1906 (after a brief tour of the Yankee Stadium) in Baltimore Waterfront where 11-year old George Herman Ruth Jr. is trying to play ball and at the same time do his duties at the saloon his father runs.

Brother Matthias from St. Mary's takes George away from his abusive father to St. Mary's. At the age of 18, he gets hired by Jack Dunne - manager to Baltimore baseball team - to play for Baltimore Orioles and his new nickname "Babe" - he was called Big George while at St. Mary's because of his large size - for $600 per season. After a winning streak he gets sold to Boston Red Sox, but the very first game against New York Yankees turns out bad and he is asked out sit out the game and also charged for causing bad game. He is confused at why suddenly his streak changed when he was doing the same thing. One evening at an after game happy hour Claire Hodgson points out that whenever he pitches a curve he sticks out his tongue giving away his secret which is what the Yankees found out and used against him. Once again his winning streak continues and his contract increases to $100,000 a season eventually.

He finds Claire again and tries to court her bur Claire rejects him. But his career extends from being a pitcher to a batter hitting a home run that is the longest run anyone ever saw - nearly 600 ft. His casual "Hiya Kid" makes a crippled boy to stand on his feet while he follows to see Babe walking by. The rest of the film follows the life of Babe Ruth into becoming a successfull baseball player both as a pitcher and a batter first with Boston Red Sox and later with New York Yankees and eventually becomes a legend in Baseball - showcasing all his us and downs that he stumbles across the path.

We missed visiting the Yankee Stadium tour. Am glad this movie showed a few glimpses from the tour. Here is the Babe Ruth's plaque that I took a pic of from the picture.

The movie perhaps misses many aspects of Babe Ruth's life. However, it was a very well-made movie about the legend showing all of his ups and most of his downs, a person who lived, breathed, ate and played baseball. It left me in tears at many places. I would love to watch this again with my nephew someday. Till date I have not been a fan of any baseball team although I have followed Cubs games a bit because I used to live in Chicago. However this movie and my experience watching Yankees play is making me to lean towards supporting Yankees.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) The scene where Babe Ruth dictates to Phil Conrad his love letter to Claire reminds me of the song from the 1991 Indian film Tamil / Telugu Guna again. The lead actor Kamal Hassan dictates the love letter to Roshini - the lead actress - he want to write himself for her.