Wednesday, September 30, 2015

King Abdullah II and his solution to the Mid-East Conundrum

The Mid-east is usually described in terms of turmoil.  We like to think that it is far away and doesn't affect us, but in a global world that is less true every day.  In every conflict there is by definition at least two viewpoints and in the Mid-East it should be acknowledged there are many more.  We mostly listen to very few perspectives and ignore and even dismiss most of the other views.

The Western powers have had a big stake in the oil kingdoms of the Middle East and going back further our religious ties have resulted in lots of violence.  The problems of Palestine have a long history, but really it has been brought to global attention with immigration of Jews back to the area starting in the early years of the twentieth century after suffering persecution mostly in Europe.

In the United States there are big concerns about immigration.  It seems to be most concerned about Latin Americans and Muslims.  Palestine faced a more overwhelming immigration with Jewish immigrants actually becoming the dominant demographic.  The British terminated their Mandate after a number of terrorist incidents (involving a future Israeli Prime Minister, Menachim Begin) deferring to the United Nations who advocated a two state solution.  There are many disputes over the exact details, but there can be no mistake there was an Israeli effort to expel Arabs and resistance from their part.

King Abdullah II recounts his family and Jordan's role in the unfolding conflicts.  His perspective might not exactly reconcile with other versions more commonly heard, but they have the ring of truth.  His mother was American and he was educated in England and America.  First king to have only one wife.  She is of Palestinian origin, but lived in Kuwait for much of her upbringing.

Palestinians as well as other refugees were accepted, but all too often Jordan had to deal with trouble makers.  The PLO under Yassar Arafat used to attack Israel from Jordan and after awhile tried to overtake the Jordan government.  Jordan provided asylum to Saddam Hussein's daughter.  They have since taken in a large number of Syrian refugees.

Ariel Sharon and Benjaimin Netanyahu were two Israeli rulers who gave lip service to the two state solution, but in the end found ways to sabotage the notion.  In fairness to them if a lot of Israeli voters did not share their feelings they would not have been in a position to block efforts.

Unlike in Britain the first newborn royal child is not automatically heir to the throne and in this case an uncle was named, but when the time came, Abdul had proved himself in the military (and a bit diplomatically) and was named Crown Prince.

9-11 changed everything.  The American priority was to punish the perpetrators and then extended a war into Iraq.  The Palestinians ended up being classified as terrorists in many American minds.

After the Iraq invasion of 2003 Jordan attempted to be neutral, but had talks with American politicians and military leaders.  King Abdullah tried to advise Paul Bremer against de-Baathification and dissolving the Iraqui army to no avail.

Trying to be a moderate does not protect from assassination attempts.  King Abdullah II has been fortunate to have an intelligence agency that has been able to warn him in advance.  Some of his relatives and colleagues have not been so fortunate.

The key plank of the book is the two state solution be implemented as soon as practical.  As King Abdullah II states, "Al Quaeda won't disappear the moment a Palestinian state comes into being.  But it will have a harder time finding new recruits and winning support for its criminal actions."  King Abdullah recognizes there would have to be all sorts of confidence building steps and reassurances, but the goal has to be to arrive at an independent Palestine.  Arabs at one time had offered more economical connections such as connecting railroads through Jordan and Syria which in turn would allow rail transport from Israel to Europe.   Better communications and accessibility would benefit all.

Aside from excessive violence against Palestinians the big obstacle is the continuous settlements in occupied territories.  On the Palestinian side there is not unity and of course there are many who would try to sabotage negotiations.  Israelis and their sympathizers have a very strong lobby.  In addition there are evangelicals in the States who strongly believe the Jews must control Jerusalem before the second Coming of Christ.  There is genuine fear amongst the Israelis and they are supported by many Jews who see Israel as a sanctuary.

My feeling is that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish state they will have to accommodate the Palestinians and to a lesser extent Arabs and Muslims in their neighborhood.  They are justifiably afraid, but too many have a feeling of entitlement in that the occupied lands are theirs to fulfill Biblical dictates.

Note that this book was written in 2011 and I don't see much progress towards his objectives.  The settlements continue to expand.  Many of the key elements of obstruction remain in place.  It may already be too late, but if more people read this book they would understand the situation better and realize there is urgency.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has played supporting roles in a number of films that I did not notice him.  Like many I tend to focus on the leading characters, but have come to realize if we don't accept the supporting actors as believable characters, the romance, the mystery, the suspense, the excitement is greatly diminished.  The fact that we enjoyed or at least appreciated a movie is a credit not only to the (celebrity) leading actors, but to the whole ensemble.  Nawazuddin has worked hard in many small roles and has been given the opportunities to demonstrate his versatility and believability in more significant roles.

First time noticed was in "Kahaani," truly a great film with a super twist ending.  He played a very despicable character who basically admitted that he was as much a scoundrel as the bad guys, but it was ok because he was the law. The viewer is disgusted.  He made Vidya Balan more creditable as a heroine and the movie more suspenseful than it would have been otherwise.

Second film I noticed was in "The Lunchbox" a film festival favourite. His role was obsequious, trying to please everyone.  Again he is playing the third character, but gives a sounding board and a contrast with Irrfan Khan.  A hit at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"Gangs of Wassepur," released in 2012 was a 5 hour blockbuster that is often called the Bollywood equivalent of "The Godfather."   To me there was too much senseless killing done very casually (more than with the Marlon Brando version)  On the other hand they explained different methods of corruption that gangsters took part in to make money.  Nawazuddin played a very cold blooded killer with a few human moments.  Directed by Anurag Kashyup.

In "Talaash"  released in 2013 he played a bad guy with a bit of a heart.  He truly loves a prostitute who has been abused.  Aamir Khan starred, always a mark of quality, especially in details.  Buried in the credits.

2015 was a big year for Nawazuddin releases.  "Badlipur"  saw him as another bad guy.  Involved in robbery where Yami Gautam was killed.  It boils down to an unusual revenge story very well done where in reality Nawazuddin is the main focus, but also noteworthy were Varun Dhawan and Radikha Apte.

In "Bajrangi Bhajga" with Salman Khan he played a journalist who saved the day for the hero in a very popular and critically successful film.  Salman Khan for the most part drops his macho persona and plays a simple man trying to help a young mute girl back to the fearful Pakistan.  Siddiqui  appearing in second half comes through as a Pakistanni journalist who at first writes against Salman, but soon becomes a supporter and is key to the happy ending of the movie.

In "Manjhi:  The Mountain Man"  he goes one step beyond to become the leading hero, based on a true hero who over 22 years working with hammer and chisel mostly alone to create a path through a mountain.   His wife  (whose death inspired the effort) was played by Radhika Apte, the two of which were a really good match to watch.  She doesn't disappear after her death.

He is very good at projecting a happy go lucky image or a deadly killer.  But more than that he immerses himself in the character so you stop thinking of him as a mere actor and enjoy (or hate) the character and how it fits into the story.   He adds to every film.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


When the talk is about Bollywood most people think about a certain style but the term can be stretched to include movies from India with a different style.  The popular Bollywood style is just that--popular but there are other movies that are well worth viewing.  To do something with limited commercial potential one needs to jump through a lot of hoops

"Amu" was just something I stumbled over.  The bonus features were a gold mine of information and understanding, but the movie stands on its own as both enjoyable and instructional.

History provides a source for movies, but sometimes the authorities are too sensitive for some types of movies that hit too close to home.  The riots after the assassination  of Indira Gandhi by two Sikh guards in 1984 in Delhi aroused a lot of emotion.  Not just outraged religious foes but supported by police and government officials.  Later government basically wanted to bury it.  Secrecy about the real content of the movie was maintained until the release.

Most of the dialogue is in English, first because main protagonist was raised in America and the adopted family is upper middle class and speaks English regularly.  There are subtitles when Hindi and Punjabi actors speak.

It is obvious movies cost money and if the general consensus is that the idea has limited popular support it is difficult to finance.  Shonali Bose remarked that it is a lot easier if you can get a bankable star, like Shah Rukh Khan.  A lot of time was spent on attracting investors and she was fortunate to have a few contacts.  There was always a concern about controlling expenses, but reality is not always co-operative.

There is a scene where a young boy is seen dancing to a Bollywood tune.  Sonali wanted to include something like that to illustrate what is popular with the masses.  A young boy named Salman was selected as being the best dancer and he chose the song.  Later it turned out to be an expensive choice for video rights.

Another financial stress was with a scene where they wanted to illustrate that locals had to pump water when in fact there was a severe water restrictions and they ended up bringing in a water tank (I believe surplus was given to locals).

One beautiful scene was at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple where even outside it is required to cover the head.  

Censorship can be an issue, especially with some delicate history.  They were asked to cut out some key lines "not just the ....right to the top"  The censors wanted to keep this line from children although there was no sex and little violence.  When set to play on Indian tv they were told they would have to cut some words, but at the time of the DVD they refused to do so.  The concern was that the riots were not just the result of religious bigotry, but had sanction from the government.  The forbidden line was shown in my version.

In fact Shonali was anxious to avoid impression that religious tensions solely accounted for riots and showed scenes where Hindus hid their Sikh friends and neighbours.

The title is not explained until near the end and it is a bit of a shock as the main protagonist becomes aware of her own involvement.

Editing makes for some difficult choices.  The movie was to start in Los Angeles to demonstrate relationship between mother and daughter and the scenes added to the production costs.  Looking at the deleted scenes it seems many were cut to shorten the length.  Some scenes were shifted from their intended spot because they conveyed more meaning elsewhere.

There is some sarcasm between the American protagonist and the local Indians each party assumes the other doesn't get it.  The American retort to her future Indian lover is mocking his involvement with a Shakespeare play (a British import).

Directing had its own special trials.  Kids proved very time consuming.  One child who was supposed to be playing insisted on crying and the little girl who was supposed to be the protagonist as a three year would not co-operate.

Kokona Sen Sharma was chosen to play the protagonist and is a well respected and Indian born actress over the original preference for an Indian actress with American experience.   She was a good choice for the lead, but not a big draw by herself.  I had watched her in "Mr and Mrs Iver" and especially remember her in  "Life in a Metro" shouting on roof top with Irrfan Khan.

Plot reminds me of "The True Story" set in Argentina that touched on children adoptions that were politically connected.  And of "Incendies" where the two main protagonists gradually learn their origin.  Another reminder was with "Walk on Water" where Nazi grandchildren interacted with Israelis.  An epic movie about human adjustments to tragedy.  The endings of these movies were more than just a surprise, more of a shock.

The idea for "Marguerita with a Straw" came from a birthday celebration of a cousin of Shonali who said all she wanted for her 40th birthday was sex.  Cerebral Palsy made that a difficult proposition.  That remark stuck with Shonali and developed into an idea. Sex is not the only focus, but it is critical.  "Normal" people feel it is at least a possibility, but handicapped people feel normal sex is impossible, partly because they feel repulsive and partly because society finds it incomprehensible

Kalki Koechlin, known for difficult roles played Laila, a young woman with cerebral palsy.  In other roles she has seemed more mature, but this role was for a young woman in her mid twenties.  Very well done.  Revathy played her mother trying to protect her daughter, yet also trying to understand her.  This was the second movie I had noticed Revathy.  She had a key role in "2 States" as another mother trying to accept her daughter's choice.  Sayani Gupta  played a blind and gay Pakistani girl who loves the protagonist and is very believable.  An early love interest is Tenzin Dalha, a Tibetan living in India and in the movie a band leader who sings a song written in Assamese by Laila.  Again the movie is mostly English with a good portion located in New York.

Bisexuality is portrayed tastefully.   One factor is that the protagonist is accused by at least two characters of seeking sexual relations to prove her normalcy.  Kalki's character Laila is going through an identity crisis grasping at what feels is right at the time.  The viewer will marvel at her lust for life.

Censorship apparently was a minor issue.  Although censor were accepting of much of the sex scenes they apparently were concerned over a women giving the finger as a gesture of displeasure.  They seemed to think it too disrespectful.  My version showed it and it fitted right in.

As in "Amu" they ran into a copyright concern as they had wanted Sayani Gupta to hum a popular Bollywood song as a way of linking her Indian culture, but learned even that would require a payment so decided to delete from the movie.

Aamir Khan was an active supporter of at least two of Shonali's films.   To me that is a sign of quality.

Shonali Bose married Dr Bedabrata Pain who she met at UCLA.  He had been a scientist with NASA, retiring from them in 2008 with 87 patents.  He was an executive producer for "Amu" and later co-wrote "Chittagong" using some technology he invented.  They had two sons, one of whom died in a freak accident.  It saddened me to hear they are now separated.  He was integral to "Amu."
P.S.  Since this post was written,Shonali has put out another masterpiece which you can read about here:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Danis Tanovic with a Bosnian perspective

Born in Bosnia in 1969 Danis Tanovic studied at the University of Sarajevo Music Conservatory and The Academy of Performing Arts, but stopped studies in 1992 because of the siege of Saravejo  He formed a film unit to follow the war action putting out films and news clips.  In 1995 he went back to school, but this time in Brussels.

"No Man's Land" released in 2001 won Cannes for best screen play, an Oscar as best foreign film and over 40 other awards.  I had assumed it was a very violent movie, but in reality it was more satirical about the absurdity of war.  Branko Djuric was the lead. Members of opposing sides are trapped together with a third man laying on a bomb that will explode if he tries to remove himself.  The United Nations forces are tied up in bureaucracy.

From this experience Danis ended up  serving on the jury for the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

"11'09"01" was a film with 11 directors from 11 countries each given a 11 minute segment to commemorate 9/11.   Different world views, some political.  One that impressed me dealt with the overthrow of Allende (with American help) which also occurred on a September 11th, but over 25 years previously.  There did seem to be some anti-American bias, but most of the small features demonstrated what a shock it was and how people handled it from different corners of the world.  Danis' segment was sympathetic about the American tragedy.  Released in 2002

"L'enfer" (meaning "Hell") was a film he directed that had been written by a Polish duo Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piewsiweicz (famous for the "Red" " White" and "Blue" trilogy) with a French cast.  Not seen, but highly rated.  Released in 2005  Supposed to be part of another trilogy by the Polish writing duo.

"Triage" released in 2009 in English starring  Colin Farell, Paz Vega, Christopher Lee, Kelly O'Reilly  War time photographers go through horrors of war.  Home based in Ireland.  Christopher Lee impressed me the most.  Branko Djuric in the special features claimed he had to learn English in a matter of a few weeks; seems hard to believe, but he does speak several Balkan languages.

Cirkus Columbia" was set just before the outbreak of war in Bosnia and Herzogovina.  There are hints throughout, about the impending disaster, but basically this is a family drama  Released in 2010.  Actors included Predrag Manojiovic, Mira Furlan and Jelena Stupijanin.

An "Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker," was directed and written by Danis.  Set in Bosnia focusing on a family of Roma (gypsies) in a desperate situation.  Released in 2013 and won an award at the Berlin Film Festival.  Not yet accessible for me.

"Tigers" which is still not released although having done well in festivals caught me off guard.  I recognized the name--Emraan Hashmi of Bollywood fame as the lead actor.  It appeared at the Toronto Inernational Film Festival 2014 to good effect.   It portrays the true story of Syad Aamir Raza, a pharmaceutical sales rep who became a whistle blower when he discovered the fatal misuse of his company's product.  He suffered a great deal.  Danis sympathized with the dilemma and realized similar practices are too prevalent.

There is an unreleased documentary "Looking for Europe" 2015.

After living in Paris for a few years Danis now lives with wife and five children in Sarajevo where he teaches film directing at the University of Sarejevo.  Has worked in several countries and languages.  Looking forward to his future movies (plus ones I have not yet seen).

A little extra explanation:


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

James Cagney

James Cagney first got my attention with "The Roaring Twenties" in my pre teen years (on television).  This movie portrayed a transition from World War I where returning soldiers often found it difficult to get a job over to Prohibition that led to gangsters filling a need.  It was an education that opened my eyes a little bit to historical forces, but what I really remember is what a tough guy Cagney was despite all that was against him.  Humphrey Bogart and George Raft played other tough guys and Pricilla Lane the female lead.  Directed by Raoul Walsh.

I saw many of his tough guy movies.  Perhaps as relatively short I projected myself.  In many of his movies he always seemed ready to pick a fight, even if he didn't always win.

Born in 1899. James came from a poor background and commented that his father had indulged in alcoholic rants.  He worked at several jobs and stumbled into show business as just another job.

One of his brothers, Harry, was in a theatre production and fell ill just before a show.  James had not rehearsed, but had made himself very familiar with the role and was able to take over and make an impression.  He had picked up tap dancing and became known primarily as a dancer who could learn new steps easily.  He also did odd jobs for theatre productions and met his wife Frances Verner in this capacity.  Unlike other Hollywood celebrities he remained loyal to her until his death.

One of his breaks occurred when he replaced Archie Leach, better known as Cary Grant who had left a show to make a career move of his own.  James got involved in choreographing a Broadway show and through this got to meet more directors.  Paired in theatre with Joan Blondell they both got the attention of Al Jolson who bought the rights to the play they were in and then sold to another, but insisting the two be part of the deal.  They paired off in a couple of movies to their mutual benefit.

In many of his movies he does what might be called a rant.  I believe there is a theatrical tradition at play where on stage it is necessary to exaggerate words and actions.  In movies it often doesn't go over as well, but in Cagney's case it works.  In fact it is what draws attention to him, but he also projects realism fairly well in most of his acting.

In 1931 in "The Public Enemy" they wanted to show toughness and James pushed a grapefruit into the face of his girlfriend, played by Mae Clarke  Both Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell had roles. Gangster movies were very popular and this set James up as a key model.  Directed by William Wellman.

 Edward G Robinson was also gaining a reputation and they put the two together in "Smart Money," also in 1931with Robinson playing lead.  It was too hokey for me

In 1993 "The Mayor of Hell" was released where he played a gangster trying to reform a reformatory for young boys, while still retaining ties to his old gang.  It all turns out ok in the end.   The famous line "you dirty rat" is used in a scene with a woman insulting another man.  Cagney has been tagged with this line and although he has expressed similar sentiments he never actually said this particular line.

In 1935 he sued Warner Brothers for breach of contract and formed Cagney Productions with his brother William who had acted as his agent.  William produced many of James' movies.  Also in that year Cagney appeared in a Shakespeare comedy "Midnight Summer's Dream."

In 1938 "Angels with Dirty Faces" was released also starring Pat O'Brien.  I had referred to this in an earlier post to illustrate how a small thing (O'Brien outran Cagney when both fleeing police) can make a huge difference in life outcomes.  The ending is a bit ambiguous (also very sobering) and Cagney wanted it that way.  He received his first Oscar nomination.  Directed by Michael Curtiz.

In 1939 "Each Dawn I Die" was a rough, brutal prison movie, co-starring George Raft.   Difficult moral choices.

In 1940 "City for Conquest" he played a successful boxer who at the end was poor.  A range of emotions.  Ann Sheridan was the leading female.

"The Strawberry Blonde" of 1941 is  my favourite Cagney film possibly because I also liked Olivia de Havilland.  The comic timing of the whole cast was impressive.   Rita Hayworth was the strawberry blonde, but I was more pleased with Cagney's choice.

In 1942 he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, that he had helped found.  He seemed to feel actors needed to organize to get better working conditions.

In 1942 America was not yet in the war, but had a lot of sympathy for the Britsh and their allies.  "Captains of the Clouds" was filmed in Canada near North Bay and Jarvis.  At time the film was in defiance of the U.S. Neutrality act before the Americans were bombed at Pearl Harbor.   One of my heroes, Billy Bishop (an air ace from World War I) played himself.  Directed by Michael Curtiz

Also in 1942, an expressly American patriotic film, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" was released.   It was a few more years before I watched  it on tv and I was stunned that my favourite tough guy was a tap dancer.   This role earned Cagney his only Oscar as leading male actor.

"Johnny Come Lately" released in 1943 saw James play a mild mannered journalist, but there were a few fisticuffs a few times.  I understand his fans were a little disappointed and to me it seemed like a mediocre, but enjoyable movie.  Directed by Michael Curtiz

While the war was till going full blast in 1945 "Blood on the Sun" was released with a strong anti- Japanese bias.  Cagney learned judo for this role.

In "White Heat" from 1949 he played his first gangster movie where the killer was not the victim of a poor childhood.  Cagney was grimly realistic. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

In 1955 for " Love Me or Leave Me" Cagney received his final Oscar nomination with Doris Day.  Unfortunately I have  not seen this film.

"Man of a Thousand Faces" was released in 1957.  I was familiar with Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolfman and originally enjoyed this movie as a success story.  More recently was struck with the attitude towards working women.  Cagney played a man with a double standard that probably was normal for the time depicted.

'Shake Hands with the Devil" came out in 1959 and Cagney portrayed a very grim role in Ireland.  The film pointed out that violence begets violence.

In 1961  "One Two Three" released as a comedy set in West Berlin during cold war . As a Coca Cola executive James was a fast talking manipulator.  Although a comedy this movie proved to be not much fun for James and he quit acting at this point.  Directed by Billy Wilder.

He decided to retire to a farm on Martha's Vinyard and later in New York State  He had turned down roles in My Fair Lady and The Godfather II  After several attempts to lure him to do other films he agreed to do a supporting role in "Ragtime" A doctor had told him it might be therapeutic after he had suffered a stroke.   Directed by Milos Forman.

His last film was for tv. "Terrible Joe Moran" in 1984 which I missed.

Because he was raised in an urban environment I was surprised to learn he was very interested in riding and raised Morgans.  We forget that when he was born horses were the dominant mode of transport and even in a city would could encounter horses.

In 1999 Cagney was ranked 8th of the 50 Americans Screen Legends by the American Film Institute. Died in 1986.  He remains in my head and gives me pleasure.  With 69 movie and tv credits there is lots more to see.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"The Upside of Stress" can help you handle inevitable stress better

Awhile back I recommended "The Willpower Instinct" as a book well worth reading.  Once again Kelly McGonigal appeared on "The Agenda" hosted by Steve Paikin and she had a new book out that is worthy of another recommendation.

You are all familiar with stress, often times with a raised heart beat, heavier breathing and feelings of anxiety.  We have been taught, including by Kelly that stress is bad and should be avoided as much as possible.  Once that idea is examined Kelly has found stress can be very useful.

Kelly had some colleagues that pointed to statistics that indicated many people actually responded to stress in a positive manner and had positive outcomes.  She then explored many different studies and became a convert.  It turns out when the body is stressed certain chemicals that can be measured are released to help you cope with the situation.

It is impossible to totally avoid stress; in fact a meaningful life is stressful and a happy life is not stress free.  Stress can be helpful.  Avoiding stress has a cost:  missed opportunities  Stress response is more than fight or flight

Nietsche paraphrased--what doesn't kill you will make you stronger.  The author is not suggesting you seek very risky stress situations, but take a positive view of the ones that confront you.

A key to maximizing stress is the mindset you start with. You can retain the mindset that stress is bad or you can adopt the mindset that stress helps you to improve.  Do you see situations as threats or as challenges.

For some when confronted with a stressful situation retreat into themselves to cope with it.  A different approach labeled "tend and befriend" seems to produce better results.  When you can focus your attention on others it helps you cope better.  Caring for others triggers the biology of courage and hope

People who believe stress can be helpful are more apt: to accept stressful events as real; to plan a strategy to deal with it; seek information, help or advice; to try to make the best of the situation.

Everyone sometimes feels they are the only one suffering, but in fact others often put on  a face.  Realize you are not the only one and seek help.

Kelly is not concerned that her readers remember every example, but hopes they will feel differently about stress.

You can watch a You Tube version of her TED talk that altogether has been seen by over 10 million people.  Not as detailed as the book, but graphic

Kelly also had some interesting views on willpower and you can read my review of her book at

Friday, September 4, 2015

Do subtitles scare you? Who knows what you are missing?

Some of my readers must be a bit annoyed at how often I write about foreign movies.  I apologize for boring or torturing you, but sincerely hope you take a closer look.

Foreign movies appeal to my curiosity about "foreign" people.  Helps to understand a different perspective on this big frightening world.  On top of it all there is a lot of artistry captured in foreign cultures that is pleasurable.

My parents when they were first married often drove out of town to a Chinese restaurant, but ordered regular Canadian food.  After several years and a few children somehow they were persuaded to try some Chinese food and were really turned on.  We all got to eat Chinese food and developed a liking for it.  A few years later somehow we discovered pizza.  What other exciting discoveries are out there?

Aside from exoticism, we are struck by similarities that we might not have expected.  Many foreign countries have adopted Western culture, but we often picture them wearing folk costumes.  We think they are simple minded and don't have the emotional ups and downs that we go through.  They lack our sophistication.

As with English movies there are a lot of ordinary and poor films in foreign tongues, but nonetheless many are copied (often poorly) and  many actors, directors, writers, composers, cinematographers, etc are lured over to English speaking production houses with bigger budgets  A lot of entertaining movies are out there if you are willing to cross a few borders.

Right now Westerners are very distrustful of Iran, but they don't understand the history that should make you marvel that they might not trust us--you also don't think they are much like us.  "Separation" isn't  political in any traditional way, but does demonstrate Iranians have the usual sort of human problems and try to handle them in similar ways to us.  This movie has an ambiguous ending that leaves you wondering.

The Korean movie pictured at the top, "Glove" illustrates more similarities.  What North American is not familiar with baseball?  Well they are in Korea as well and they have prima donna players, locker room conflicts, dramatic games and this movie illustrates all that.  It also follows a typical sports plot line, except victory comes a little differently and the particular drama is unique.  With the baseball connection you will find yourself pulled into the story which is very well done.   If you want to pursue Korean movies you will find a wide variety including very violent and thrilling, but also some of my favorites like "200 Pounds Beauty" and "Miss Granny" for laughs and romance and for philosophical insight,  "Spring, summer, fall, winter...and spring."  See an earlier post:

Asia is now moving into our consciousness and since my youth at least has been perceived as very different.  Certainly there are things that might seem exotic or weird, but again you can see similarities with little effort.  Perhaps some of you may have seen "Shall We Dance" with Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez.  I was a little disappointed because I had previously stumbled on the original Japanese version.  It shook up some misperceptions I had about the Japanese and was a charming story.  Later on I learned both versions had the same writer.  The Japanese lost the war and suffered for it, but have moved on.  A very perceptive Japanese film maker was Akira Kurasawa who not only had some of his movies adapted for Hollywood, but also some of his techniques.  He filmed the early difficult times after the war.  Japanese films cover a wide range.  Animated films are easily adapted using English speaking voices.  Others are very perceptive of human dilemmas such as "Like Father Like Son." and "Departures."  More information on Japanese movies here:

I love Bollywood and was partially hooked because I have always loved musicals, but there is a lot more depth (as well as some very beautiful music).  One to draw attention is "Dum Laga Ke Haisha" a love story between a regular guy and a fat girl--you will come to love her too.   read more "PK" a religious satire perhaps most suitable for India as it has large segments of a wide variety of religions.  see:

China is viewed as a Communist monolith, but like the ancient Romans the government tries to provide "bread and circuses"  Besides Chinese movies come from different sources including Taiwan and Singapore while Hong Kong has a long unique history.  Jackie Chan, Yun-Fat Chow and Li Gong have left their influence in China and North America.  For more information:

Browsing one day I stumbled on "Bliss" introducing me to Turkish movies.   The book was of great interest as was the author who wrote the music for the movie.  The movie was about honor killing which is outmoded for most of Turkey but still real for some sectors of the population.  I did a post on a comparison of the book and movie at I have since seen a number of Turkish movies making me realize that our image of backward countries is not up to date.

Switching over to Europe I learned from "Mother of Mine" about some history from World War II that had escaped my attention.  Finland was in a very awkward position in that they were being attacked by the Russians  (our allies against the Nazis) and were greatly outnumbered.  Many of the children were transported to Swedish homes.  This is a story about a young boy who adjusted poorly at first then found it hard to leave his new mother.  To read about the sad movies that include other foreign titles check here:

European films may seem a little closer to our English culture, but there are lots of interesting  choices.  I have enjoyed films from France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and Russia.   One of my very favorite movies is "After the Wedding" from Denmark.

For Anglophone Canadians we often overlook a foreign language source that often hits really close to home.  Our Quebec brethren are actually more prolific in movies as a way of maintaining their culture.  Yes, many of them want to separate, but many others want to explain themselves.  You can learn more at:

Where I have not gone far--Africa--watched one low key romance comedy "Cape of Good Hope"  from South Africa, mostly in English plus "Tsotsi" and one  Science Fiction-"District 9"  a Bollywood movie set there, "Race"   From the Hamilton Film fest  "The First Grader" about an 84 year old former freedom fighter who wanted an education.  I accept Africa will surge in a lot of endeavors over the next few decades and deserves more attention.

Hollywood to my way of thinking has developed some formulas that work to maximize their profits.  They provide some stimulus and like Pavlovian dogs the audience responds.  If it starts to seem repetitious they escalate the stimulus.  Although I find myself responding on cue often, I look for a different stimulus.  How about you?

Aside from thinking foreigners are weird and not nearly as sophisticated as us, another obstacle is subtitles.  I suffer from aging eyes, and declining attention span.  They actually help focus my attention and perhaps help me catch some subtleties (of which I might miss in a dubbed version).  Dubbed is an easier adjustment, but I dislike the voice not matching the lip movements or the actor's physicality.  You might feel more comfortable with a dubbed movie and maybe work your way up to subtitles.

Subtitles can be misleading--some writers avoid using profanity, often simplify words and it is not uncommon to spot spelling or grammar errors.  They can be slow, sometimes difficult to sort out which character said what.  A translator can make a  big difference in how you enjoy a book, and a good subtitle writer can also make a big difference.

A lot has to be left out but it is a very big world with lots of sights that our ancestors could only be aware after a lot of effort and often expense.  You can sample it effortlessly.  Your local library and Netflix are both ready and willing to help your exploration.  I hope I have whetted your appetite.