Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 A GREAT YEAR FOR MOVIES

In truth, many movies are time fillers and a few seem like a total waste of time.  To appreciate quality you have to endure something less than high quality.  A good percentage of the over 300 movies I watched were enjoyable.  Those of you with different tastes may find something worth your while.

"Our Brand is Crisis," gives a back door look at how decisions are manipulated.  Sandra Bullock making a statement as she wanted to do it, not just for the money or contract obligation.  She plays a difficult to like person, but very well working for a Latin American election.

"Trumbo" http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/trumbo-and-black-list.html  told about the blacklisting era in Hollywood.  It is humorous in parts, but on a very serious topic  Later in year watched "Spartacus" where Trumbo was once again able to use his name.   Also watched "He ran all the way" another movie where Dalton used a front man, but wrote the script.

"Spartacus" reviewed after over 50 years after first watching, and again after"Trumbo" and learning this was one of his breakthroughs.  A great movie--well written.  all star cast Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov.

"Lion" was an inspiring story about tracing what would have been untraceable a decade or so ago.   2 Bollywood stars in very small roles.  Some of the scenery was filmed in Tasmania.  Dev Patel, the main character also appeared in "The Man Who Knew Infinity" another enjoyable movie.

"Hell or High Water" contained a lot of violence, but underneath it was a well written story of a family trying to stick together against human weakness and greed



"The Zookeeper's Wife" another excellent movie with Jessica Chastain.  She contributes to the movie's excellence, but she makes good choices.

"Arrival" directed by Quebecker Denis Villaneuve is told in an inventive style.  Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner perform well in a thought provoking science fiction drama.  What common grounds will we find with aliens.



"Split" acting tour de force with a few twists.  James McAvoy plays a man with over 20 personalities who kidnaps three young women.  Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

"The Girl on the Train" after reading the book my expectations were high.  Emily Blunt didn't let me down and it must be admitted it was suspenseful and layered.  But to read the book is to get much more depth.  Ever the complaint of those who read the book first.

"Snowden" is  a traitor or a whistle blower- or maybe misguided.  I found him very observant and conscientious with a message we need to pay attention to.

"Free State of Jones" presented a mostly forgotten bit of Civil War history including a different perspective than was taught to me in school. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/free-state-of-jones.html

"Hidden Figures" was viewed as the Charlotesville Riots were happening.  It is a shame that too many whites feel threatened by blacks.  This movie, based on true events depicts blacks overcoming ignorance to the benefit of all.  Their capabilities might actually make blacks seem more threatening to some, but at the same time take away the notion that they are inferior.  Well produced.

"A Monster Calls" is not a movie for young children.  Deals with an impending death and is very well done.

"Lady MacBeth" seen at the Hamilton BMO International Film Festival and bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's play.

"Miss Sloane" probably suffered at the box office for being too close to how lobbyists actually operate. A great combination of politics and a twist ending. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/miss-sloan-under-rated-movie.html

"The Crucible"  by Arthur Miller was inspired by the hysteria of Joseph McCarthy.  Demonstrates injustice when mobs take over.

With "Frida" I enjoyed the biography, acting of Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina and music (done by husband of director and given his own commentary on the DVD).  Later read that Salma Hayek was pressured by the infamous Harvey Weinstein during the filming.  This was a project very dear to her heart and she persisted and resisted to make it an outstanding movie and a tribute to Frida Kahlo.

"The Normal Heart" depicts the beginnings of the Aids epidemic when no one knew what it was or how it was spread.  It was associated with gays, most of them in the closet,but the epidemic proved  a big factor in Gay Liberation.  A little too explicit in parts, but realistic. Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bonner and Juliet Roberts played historical figures.

Just before Christmas I watched "Dunkirk" on a small screen, but admittedly this one deserves the big screen.  The story is an old one, but not appreciated this far down the road in history.  The Germans had forced their European opposition into a corner.  There were over 400,000 allied soldier barely holding on in Dunkirk and it looked like Britain was finished.  The movie depicted the strategic choices made, but also the individual battles on land, sea and air that allowed this most strategic retreat to give Britain and the whole "free world" another chance to overcome tyranny.  Very well done.

"Maudie" was about a famous folk artist in Nova Scotia.  My daughter went to school in Nova Scotia and we became aware of Maudie.  Well played by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

From New Zealand, "The Dark Horse" based on a story of a man from mental institutions who helps poor Maori youth develop a focus on chess.  Mental illness plays a very big role.

Documentaries get right down to the facts, but of course one has to consider how creditable they are and how relevant.  In some cases they are just as dramatic as fictional movies, but mostly they are sobering.  The ones listed below and in foreign categories all seem relevant and creditable.  Imagination is great, but facts are critical.

"Elian"  was a documentary to cover Cuban/American relations.  The events were manipulated for political purposes.  Lots of details I never knew or had forgotten.  It was very emotional at the time with many Americans not respecting international family law.

"Freedom's Furies" was about the reaction of the Hungarian water polo team to Soviet repression during the Hungarian Revolution.  It had two personal connections--Hungarian refugees did cross my life in several ways plus I had in interest in water polo through my daughter.

"Red Army"  would appeal to hockey fans, Canadians and Russians and most sports lovers.  The Russians were very good for the game of hockey. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/the-red-army.html

Zero Days (2016) is frightening.  Stuxnet attacks have been hidden, but apparently Israel and United States developed a cyber weapon strategy and Israel jumped the gun to attack Iran.  It stunned Iran, but they recouped and now have a similar ability as now does Russia and North Korea.  It is terrifying because it is subtle and difficult to detect.

"An Inconvenient Truth Sequel" is a reminder that in many ways the climate crisis has gotten more serious despite increased efforts to deal with it.  The vested interests have used their resources to resist.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/11/an-inconvenient-sequel-truth-to-power.html

"Score " was devoted to the men and women who write the music in the background.  Lots of movies have catchy melodies, but this documentary reveals a more important role in capturing the mood and enhancing action.  This helped start blog on movie music:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/music-and-movies-part-one.html

"Red Lines"  trying to sort out the mess that is Syria..  Two activists were frustrated that they were unable to get any foreign help.    Truly frightening to see so many dead bodies, many of which were children.  Mistrust was everywhere.  Obama was portrayed as indecisive, but I feel the movie did not do justice to the Congressional mess.

SUBTITLED MOVIES

If you really like movies you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at what the rest of the world has to contribute.  There are a lot more subtitled movies to read about in this blog, but that is mostly due to the fact there are a lot more to watch and I find many of them well worth an extra effort.  Perhaps I am a bit preachy, but here is my pitch: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/09/do-subtitles-scare-you-who-knows-what.html

Bollywood, is one of my obsessions, but it turns out there is much more to films coming from India.   "Sairat,"the best of the year, with the cover photo at top.   It was produced in the Marathi language and is beautiful in music and cinematography.  The story seems stereotypical in the beginning, but the second half the story turns grim in a very realistic manner.

Widening my scope I saw a number of movies from India with different languages.  'Interrogation,' 'Thithli', "Nila," were each excellent and available on Netflix.   "OK Kanani" was the original Tamil version that was copied by Bollywood, but after seeing the two of them, the Tamil version is much superior.  Another highly rated movie, "Wrong Side Raju" is the first Gujarati film for me and was very impressive for plot, music, cinematography.  read more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/regional-films-from-india.html

"Dangal" had an odd subject for a blockbuster movie, but the public has taken to the story of the daughters of a wrestler.  Very popular in China.  Anything Aamir Khan is involved is guaranteed to have quality.  The story is very well told and the actors at all levels are very good.

"Hindi Medium"  Irrfan Khan again this time focusing on education in India.  The private schools favors the rich.

"Newton" was nominated for India's entry for the 2018 Oscar foreign film award.  About an election worker in a hostile territory raising concerns for anyone wanting to promote democracy this gives food for thought.

"Toilet, Ek Prem Katha" has an odd premise, a man's new wife leaves him when she learns they do not have a toilet.  The Indian government has a major campaign to put more toilets available (http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/11/world-toilet-day.html), but getting the toilets built is only part of the problem.  Cultural resistance has made modernization difficult.  This movie deals with it in a very entertaining way.  Another one for Akshay Kumar, a friend to the Harpers.  Bhumi Pedneker was good as the female lead.


"Mom" was a different kind of movie for Srivedi.  A revenge movie with a few twists.  Sridevi plays a step mother who is not accepted by her step daughter who gets gang raped.  Not able to find justice in the courts she with the aid of a private detective takes revenge.  There is a police officer (who does not play by the rules either) is on to her and later one of the targets is as well.  She is excellent and well supported by the other actors.

"Madaari" was still another film about political corruption.  Corruption is not personal, it is part of the structure.  The protagonist says he is an ideal voter; too busy to study who to vote for.  Irrfan Khan  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

I watched my favorite actor, Shah Ruk Khan in three movies.  "Raees" with a Pakistanni leading lady and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  "Dear Zindagi" had Shah Rukh Khan playing a pscyhologist with Alia Bhatt as a patient.  Gauri Shinde ("English Vinglish") was involved as writer.  A good role for Shah Rukh transitioning from leading male lover to an advisor for young women   On the other hand I also saw "Jab Harry met Sejal" where he romanced the younger Anushka Sharma.  Shah Rukh Khan is always charming, but he needs to get roles more suitable for his age   He is still my favorite and most enjoyable actor to watch.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

"Rangoon" was enjoyed by me more than most critics.  Interesting subject; Indian freedom seekers allied with Japanese during World War II.   Good acting, music, cinematography.

"Jolly LLB 2" had a very interesting script.  Akshay Kumar  is becoming the most certain box office success bet.

"Kaabil" with Hrithik Roshan is a very light hearted romance at beginning then a brutal revenge story with a blind man outsmarting his enemies.  Unfortunately Yami Gautam is killed off to make way for the revenge plot.

"Kahaani2' was a bit of a disappointment, but only because the original "Kahaani" had one of the best twists ever.  "Kahaani 2" was an above average suspense movie, just not as unique as the original.  No continuation from the first except Vidya Balan starred.

"Kanoon" (1960) a mystery, but with a strong plea to abolish capital punishment

"The Ghazi Attack" first submarine movie for Bollywood.  An opportunity to create tension.  Based on real events it is like a chess game, but with lots of stress.

"Trapped" has been compared to"Castaway," but with a twist.  The protagonist was a vegetarian trapped in an empty apartment.  Very ingenious how he survives.

"Poorna" watched without the benefit of sub titles.  Well worth it--maybe 20% of the words were in English and I am sure I missed some subtleties.  Raul Bose was the force behind it.  Proves the value of education and motivation.  Poorna was a 13 year old who was the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest.   Excellent cinematography and background music.  Very inspiring.  Had a positive impact on social welfare.  Even some singing from Arijit Singh.

"Phillauri" is a romance, in fact, two parallel romances, one with fantasy elements.  Second producing film for Anushka Sharma and enjoyable.

"The Salesman" won foreign Academy award directed and written by Asghar Farhadi--pleased to learn he is working on a Spanish producton with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin that I look forward to in 2018.  All three actors are among the world's most impressive in my opinion.

From the Japanese I was glad to watch "Our Little Sister' by writer/director Hirakazu Kore-eda who did  another great family drama, "Like Father, Like Son."

From Sweden "The Emigrants" (1971) and "the New Land' (1972)  in succession was quite the endurance test, but very memorable. Read more http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/the-emigrants-in-new-land.html

"A Man Called Ove" cautions us not to judge people.  We see a grumpy old man nitpicking, but as the movie progresses we see a different man.  Rolf Lassgard played a key role in my favourite movie, "After The Wedding." http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/a-man-called-ove.html

A fourth Swedish movie, "The Last Sentence" (with low ratings from IMDB) is a very interesting movie.  It is biographical on Torgy Segerstedt who was adamantly opposed to Hitler in writing.  Sweden was neutral while it had seen its neighbors Norway invaded by the Germans and Finland by the Russians.  The behind the scenes feature narrated by Jan Troell's daughter was very revealing in her description of the pursuit of perfect details that might not appear in the finished project.  Jesper Christensen was Danish and language was a big concern, but Troeel considered him the ideal choice for the lead role.  New history (for me) plus an open adulterous relationship to demonstrate Torgy was very human and I am left with his quote, "No human can withstand close scrutiny."
 



Italian,  "The Leopard"  Burt Lancaster dubbed--Garibaldi; "Twice Born" between Italy and Bosnia--surprised to learn that Penelope Cruz had learned Italian in order to act in previous film--fluent in special feature  "Paisan" (1946)

Dutch:  "Antonia's Line" was a most unusual film--a variety of characters and circumstances--lots of philosophical views--importance of friendship and love sex (multiple couples to music)  Read more at http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/antonias-line.html saw "Within the Whirlwind"

The Hispanic film world gave me opportunities to watch good movies on several fronts.

"The Mystery of Happiness"  interesting about business partners who were very close on the job and enjoying some activities, but never mixed up family life--one disappears prompting the wife of the missing partner to get involved with the business and searching for her husband--where do you find happiness.   The lead appeared in the Argentine version of "Corazon de Leon."

Spain  "Julieta" (2016) directed and written by Pedro Almodovar, but inspired by three stories of Canadian writer Alice Munro.

"Corazon de Leon"  (Heart of a Lion) seen on Netflix from Colombia--really likeable characters, a black divorced lawyer and a short divorced architect--prejudice (short people, blacks and deaf)--pleasant music--it took a bit of research to learn that Marlon Moreno is over 6 feet tall and had been miniaturized to be 4'6" for the movie.   An outstanding performance by Maria Nela Sinisterra who was very charming, but also demonstrated a range of emotions.  Shah Rukh Khan is to be in a movie as a dwarf next year, but I think with a different plot.

Another one from Colombia was "Maria Full of Grace."  stunning talented lead actress.  Song by favorite, Julieta Venegas.
"
Chile, "The Club"  blunt movie about abusive clergy--the words may be difficult to stomach.  The same director as for "No"
A documentary from Chile, "Nostalgia for the Light" forced a philosophical insight by juxtaposing a renown telescope site in the Atacama Desert with women sifting through the sand looking for remains of their loved ones that had been murdered and dumped in the desert.

From Korea-"The Handmaiden" with clever plot (borrowed from English tv series) well executed, beautiful cinematography capturing some gorgeous scenery, beautiful acting--a bit too sexual for many, but part of the plot.   Really beautiful music

"Sunny" is about a rejected wife who chases her husband who has been sent with the Korean army to Vietnam.
Another touching movie was "My 11th Mother."

"Okja" a joint project between the U.S. and Korea with elements of fantasy.  Produced by Netflix

I watched a lot of Russian movies and recalled a number of masterpieces from past years.  One that prompted by this project that made an impression was "Battleship Potemkin" made in 1925, obviously without sound and in black and white  Amazing what was done with the resources available  Also enjoyed "Sibiriade," a massive movie about settling Siberia and "Solaris" which presented the real essence of science fiction.  Read more at:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/russian-movies.html

French Canadian, "La Derniere Fugue"  grimly realistic--life and death decisions guilt--piano themes from Bach--regrets--marital tensions see more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/la-derniere-fugue.html
"Laurence Anyways" about a transgender transition--told from the man who always wanted to be a woman and his female lover who felt betrayed.

German:  'Labyrinthe of Lies" set in 1958 with most Germans, denying links to Nazis.
"Toni Erdman" If you are bothered by male and female full frontal nudity you might want to skip this, but you would be missing a movie that will make you laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time).  Really well done.  A fair amount of English dialogue.

French--thought of as a filler--"Rebellion" originally "L'ordre et la morale" is set in New Caledonia in 1988 when a few Kanak natives rebelled and took French soldiers hostage.  It was just before a French election and it was deemed critical to end the crisis as soon as possible.  The director played the key role of a man who wanted to negotiate recognizing the natives wanted independence.  A little bit of action, but mainly dealing with political pressures and how they could undermine negotiation.
Normally I avoid movies with low ratings from IMDB, but picked up from library.  "The Mark of Angels" with Gerard Depardieu and Joey Star--violent in parts, but an interesting plot, believable acting well put together.  One of the contenders for most undeserved low rating.

Over the years I have enjoyed watching a number of mini series.  They have the power to go into more depth than a two hour movie, but they don't have to drag on.  This past year I enjoyed "Shetland" and "River."  "The Crown," and "Line of Duty.:"  "13 /reasons." " Broadchurch" (with David Tennant) and "Doctor Foster."

My selection of photos and of links does indicate some difficult preferences, but does not necessarily reflect what would interest you the most.  As with most lists it just helps make you aware of some works of art that might be of interest.  You have to sort through them and your resources.  There are plenty of good and enjoyable movies I will never see, but I enjoy the search.

Check out my year end movie review from last year:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/film-memories-from-2016.html

Enjoyable reads from 2017


This may seem like a fairly long list, but it is nothing to all the books I wished I could have read.  Some of the ones left out were just as worthy.  Maybe one or two might catch your fancy.

FICTION TITLES

"Underground Airlines" is alternate history with some thoughts to ponder.  It also is my most popular blog, including all topics this year.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/underground-airlines.html

"Homegoing" points out two ways Africans came to America, in this fictional case starting from Ghana.  One way was through slavery, but the other one was successful more modern immigrants.  A good read.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/homegoing.html

"The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon" is part of a series starting with the "The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency."series by Alexander McCall Smith  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/the-minor-adjustment-beauty-salon.html

The Underground Railroad, won a Pulitzer Prize and is another interesting take on African Americans escaping the south.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/05/the-underground-railroad.html

"Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings" is historical fiction that fills in some very interesting speculation,  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-make.html

The Cuban Affair--family tradition I have been to Cuba as a Canadian tourist  friendly people, but in addition I married into a family related to the author.
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/05/tribute-to-nelson-demille-real-writer-i.html


"The Best Kind of People" was the selection for Hamilton Reads and had also been a Heather's Pick.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/the-best-kind-of-people.html

"Indian Horse" is a book I read a second time as it become a selection of the Burlington Public Library  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/indian-horse-by-richard-wagamese.html

Jane Austen amazes me with her understanding of people, even if they are mainly land owners and respectable professionals.  I re-read "Northhanger Abbey" which like her other books are well worth reading.

"See you in September" by Facebook friend Charity Norman.  Hard to put down.  As in most books I enjoy very layered format where you learn details that explain events.  This one deals with how a cult recruits new members and how one family reacts.  Check out an update on Charity:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/charity-norman-discovery.html


NON FICTION SELECTIONS

"Homo Deus" one of the most profound books I have ever read.  Thank goodness it also comes with a good dose of humour. This book should be read by everyone who wants to understand where humans have come from and where we are headed.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/homo-deus.html


"White Trash" deals with racism, but also links it to America being a class society where everyone has someone to look down upon.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/white-trash.html

"Hillbilly Elegy" wrote about another minority group.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/hillbilly-elegy.html

"The Content Trap" provided a new slant on what makes a difference in disseminating ideas.  For those mystified about modern communications.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/the-content-trap.html

"The Political Mind" by George Lakoff reminds us of the power of words and how they can impact everyone.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/george-lakoff-wants-to-reform.html

"Old Age:  A beginner's guide" has a scary title, but the reality most of us wish to avoid is sometimes spurred by something unexpected.  The  author got Parkinson's at n early age and rethinks his view on life and death    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/old-age-beginners-guide.html  Lots for everyone to ponder.

"We were Eight Years in Power." interprets American history as tinged with racism.  A lot of historical facts that are well worth considering:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/we-were-eight-years-in-power.html

"A World in Disarray" by Richard Haas gives a view of diplomacy and power in the wordl  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/a-world-in-disarray.html

"War" got my attention after watching Gwynne Dyer speak I wanted to read one of his basic books.  Most of his newer books are column based. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/war-as-explained-by-gwynne-dyer.html

Plum Johnson book, "They Left Us Everything' brought back some memories.  Many years ago I came across a newspaper, Kids Toronto and was impressed.  At the time I was working for a distribution company and I approached her to try to sell our services. She was too smart for me, but I came to respect her more.  Pleased to find she had written a book covering her life experiences and found her even more interesting.


The Happiness Hypothesis:  What could be more important?  The author is one of the best writers for really important issues.  If happiness is high on your priority list check this one out.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/10/are-you-interested-in-happiness.html

Born a Crime  If you have heard Trevor Noah's comedy routine this will give you a bit of his background and help explain where his sense of humour comes from:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/10/born-crime-beginnings-of-trevor-noah.html

The 100 Year Life  --the younger you are the more important are the issues presented in this book.  If you are pondering retirement it still is worthwhile to better understand how the future is shaping up.  Lynda Gratton has another winner.
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/11/the-100-year-life-how-to-make-most-of-it.html

A World of Three Zeros--may seem idealistic, but has some experience and should be discussed.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/a-world-of-three-zeros.html  

I am interested in what books other people (no one more worthy than my readers) think are worth reading.

To read the reviews from 2016 check here:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/books-i-am-glad-i-read-in-2016.html

Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power

Donald Trump is adamant--the Obama years were a "disaster."  Objectively that seems ridiculous, but for some people it masks a streak of racism in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates that racism is firmly established in America.  His title actually comes from an earlier time after the Civil War at the time of Reconstruction when in South Carolina, blacks for an 8 year term had real power and were able to accomplish some constructive things.  Their feats were dismissed, twisted and mocked.  Despite a lot of problems and maybe some justified criticisms Obama also accomplished a number of things in his eight years that made Americans better off, but the legacy is being deliberately destroyed.

The book contains essays that were first published in The Atlantic over an eight year period, but each is preceded by some more up to date personal context.  Coates is very introspective continuously trying to determine his own motives.  As with most of us his thought evolves.  The articles by themselves advance his thesis.

To those who believe the evils of slavery are history with no consequences you should read my post on "The Half Has Never Been Told.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/the-half-has-never-been-told.html  Coates brings up a wide range of statistics that prove his point, but he makes an honest effort to be balanced.

Coates points out that Americans love to tell the world about how important freedom is and how they are so great because of democracy, but in fact their freedom and economic growth was largely based on land stolen from natives and slave labour.  The Greeks also owed part of their democracy to slavery that allowed the elite to ponder the decisions of the day.  While Coates and other blacks contend the bigger problem is racism they have to contend with the notion that class might be a more critical problem.

Reparations are discussed, even trying to figure out an amount, but concedes nearly impossible to impose.  The established whites overlook how they accumulated their power.  Income is important, but accumulating wealth gives more choices.  One way of accumulating wealth has been through housing.  Blacks were deliberately obstructed in trying to build wealth in this manner.  Today affirmative action is attacked as if everyone really has the same opportunity.

Another way to advance oneself is through families.  The slaveholder mentality carried on even after the Civil War when whites found excuses to incarcerate blacks and turn them into cheap labour.  In more modern times blacks still easily run afoul of the law and are disproportionately incarcerated. This continues to force families to survive often with the breadwinner in jail or unable to get a viable job after release.  Coates points out how this aggravates an already difficult situation.

He feels Obama was in a very unique position to be the first black president.  He lived a life with loving white grandparents and was given opportunities to advance his education.  Obama felt it was not politic to criticize whites for past injustices, but to appeal to their better nature.  Do not be a threat.  Earlier in the book Coates talked about Bill Cosby who became a very popular tv star and perhaps encouraged more whites to accept blacks.  Of course Cosby's name is derided now, but by not being threatening he became very successful.  Later he became very critical of fellow blacks who he felt were not doing the right things.

Obama and Seth Myers joked at the expense of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.   Some observers felt the humiliation is what motivated Trump to run for president and not merely replace Obama, but to destroy his legacy.  Too many whites found it difficult to accept that a black man could make a significant contribution to America.  Now the whole world suffers.

Coates ends his book with:  "I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty and even war finding their union not in synomity, but in their ultimate goal--a world more humane."

To learn more about the author, Ta-Nihisi Coates check his website http://ta-nehisicoates.com

Monday, December 4, 2017

"A World of Three Zeros" a plan for a better world

We in the rich part of the world don't usually seek advice from poorer parts of the world, but Mohammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize winner from Bangladesh has good credentials.   To some he might seem naive, but in fact he has operated under very difficult circumstances and accomplished what some feel are miracles.

Yunnus was educated in Bangladesh and the United States becoming  a teacher and at one point saw the need of poor women in rural Bangladesh.  Using his resources he started loaning small amounts of money with no collateral.  He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 and it has been replicated in over 100 countries  Surprisingly the rate of re-payment was over 97%.  It turned around local economies and over time got global attention.

Capitalism is worshipped by many people, but if we are honest it has problems.  Under its frame it is inevitable that despite all efforts to restrain it, it leads to income inequality.  It is not hard to see why when you consider that rich people tend to set the rules, a process you can witness with the United States Congress.  It is true that in general most people are better off than people of a century ago, but the gains have been very uneven and many would argue not as closely linked to merit as would be ideal.  Yunnus doesn't think the problem is so much distribution as underlying premises.

One of the academic foundations of capitalism is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, written in 1776.  It rationalizes capitalism declaring it is only by catering to the will of what people want that gives us the beauty of free market business.  Not noted as much is another book by the same Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."  Yunnus quotes Smith, "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidence some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render them happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."  Self interest is too often interpreted to mean profit or selfishness, but could be expanded to include our long term collective happiness.

The three zeros that form the author's goal are zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.  Might seem the goals are in conflict, the author maintains they reinforce one another.

Social business is defined as meeting a need, developing sustainability, but not great profits.  Sustainability is necessary and Yunnus discusses some examples of how has worked.  One project was Haiti Forest to remedy the great need for forestation.  Money was brought in by the Clinton foundation and Branson Virgin Unite, but is generating benefits through jobs and an improved environment.  They plant one million trees per year.

Another project was in Colombia and involved McCain noted for potatoes in Canada.  One concern was the number of potatoes that were misshapen and ended up being wasted.  Researchers looked for ways to turn these ugly vegetables into something useful  One solution was to use them for soup.

Good governance is essential.  One function Yunnus feels is credible elections.  Criteria should be set up and might be enforced by the United Nations.  Some nations have already sought the services of groups such as the one started by Jimmy Carter that give their election greater acceptance.

Corruption is identified as a critical obstacle.  Yunnus posits that transparency engineered with technology is one tool and another is education.  I think both ideas have merit, but corruption is very basic to humans.  A movie has dealt with the inevitably of corruption and also one hero's solution. You might want to explore the notion: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

Yunnus feels the future will be shaped by today's youth, many of whom reject both capitalism and socialism.  They are better educated, diverse and globally connected.  The poor will have to be involved.  Almost always they are at the end of technological developments

The purpose of life on this planet is not merely to survive, but live in it with grace, beauty and happiness.  It is up to us to make it happen.  We ca create a new civilization based not on greed, button the full range of human values.  Let's begin to-day."

John Maynard Keynes once said that the only purpose (of economics) is so that people could live "wisely, agreeably and well." He didn't restrict that to the rich, but felt income inequality was part of the problem. One of his most famous quotes is "..in the long run we are all dead."  Read more about Keyes at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/04/book-on-john-maynard-keynes.html

To me an economic system has to be based on human nature and human aspirations.

Ayn Rand is often thought of as the high priestess of selfishness, but she did make one point I agree with which is that we should think long term more than short term of our interests.  Unfortunately I don't believe she thought about it in enough depth.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/some-thoughts-on-ayn-rand.html

I do recommend the book. There are lots of ideas and experiences to ponder.   If such ideas are not examined and discussed there is little hope for humankind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL TRUTH TO POWER

The real issue is political.  Climate change is a concern that affects everyone, but still there is resistance.  As Al Gore points out "In order to address the environmental crisis, we're going to have to spend some time fixing the democracy crisis."  The subtitle "Truth to Power" is generally interpreted to speak truth to power and Gore bring up another aspect from Gandhi that the word "Satyagraha," a strong force in his efforts means "truth force."  Truth has a force all its own.

During the Zika scare a suggestion of "don't get pregnant " was made in parts of the United States.  This crisis, as with other tropical diseases spreading was a direct result of global warming.

"An Inconvenient Truth" was criticized for projections of water hitting the World Trade Center Memorial, however less than a decade later it actually happened.  Gore pointed out that drought in Syria, its worst in over 900 years forced the closure of many farms and many immigrants to the cities where many were unemployed.  One of many factors leading to a civil war.

When I first researched this movie I checked as usual with IMDB and they had a rating of 5.8 which is normally where I avoid actually watching a movie.  I had seen "An Inconvenient Truth" and felt not only did it tell a valuable story but did so in a professional manner.  How could the rating be so low?  One commenter noted that there were an unusual amount of 1 star ratings and easily I could see a lot of negative comments.  This is only one example of organized efforts to deny climate change.

A common criticism is that the messenger is hypocritcal and greedy.  I would say Al Gore looks like a wealthy man and is able to travel wherever he likes.  Nobody listens much to scientists or poor people  He has found a mission and a purpose.  This movie certainly has an egotistical slant, but Al Gore rightly sees himself in a critical role in a crucial issue.  The Supreme Court decided he would not be president--in reality a lot of corrupt political opposition played a big role (voter suppression, electoral college, big money disinformation).  Just before the pivotal election Gore had succeeded in getting funding for a satellite that would observe the earth with regard to climate change, but after the Republicans took over the funding was ended.

At the Paris Climate Conference he helped bring together an American industrialist, with the Environmental Minister for India.  India was planning to build a large number of coal based generating plants and when they thought of switching some to solar powered were told the interest rates would be beyond their means.  Al Gore helped remedy that obstacle.

When scanning the world it is easy to become aware of an increase in the severity of storms, droughts and forest fires.  Insurance companies are well aware of the risks and are making adjustments.

Nature speaks loudly and scientists are better able to interpret.  Still vested interests have a powerful platform that slants opinions.  Although the average person is becoming more sympathetic to the need to do something, politicians listen more to their rich and powerful donators.  The problem might be summarized that renewable energy is a disruptive innovation that threatens established fossil fuel businesses; read more http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/03/the-innovators-dilemma.html

The movie was directed by the husband/wife team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk both of whom also worked with "The Island President" that I had seen recently about the environment.  Music written by Jeff Beal who also wrote the theme for "House of Cards."

Donald Trump will be a blot on American history for many reasons, but his opportunist attitude on climate change will be a primary reason.  Not all Americans voted for him and many others sat out, but it still reflects very poorly on the American electorate.  Although there is increasing awareness of climate change there is a lot of highly financed opposition.  The more people see this film the sooner that opposition will be overcome hopefully soon enough.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The 100 Year life--how to make the most of it

Lynda Gratton got my attention with "The Shift" that contained a lot of provocative ideas, but as important had a unique presentation.  Trying to predict the future is a bit dangerous, but she developed a format that was helpful--she used fictional scenarios, but adjusted variables ranging from best to worst likelihood.  Here is a link for my review of her well worth reading book that is consistent with her latest endeavor.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/04/shift.html  I felt "The Shift" was the best book read in that year.

With "the 100 Year Life" she with co- author Andrew Scott are venturing onto new territory.  Longer life.  It is futuristic because it is still rare for humans to survive 100 years, but you may start to notice it is becoming more common  A great opportunity, but not without problems.

As in "The Shift" Lynda uses fictional characters to illustrate her points.  The first character born about the same time as me, like me has stumbled through life and with a little luck is set for a normal retirement.  The second character is younger and with a longer life expectancy and financial stresses will have to make adjustments.  Her third character, a younger girl knows she has a longer life expectancy and has to prepare for it well in advance.

The first concern for individuals is how to finance a retirement.  At one time few made it to retirement.  With life expectancy creeping up to 100 we have to consider how we can afford to live that long.  The two main ideas are to work longer and/or save more

At the same time the job situation is changing.  Technology threatens us in many ways.  The authors see some hope.

The authors see a need for people to change their job skills over the years.  Education can help, but needs to be flexible.  A long life with jobs can place stress on relationships and the authors believe everyone will need to spend time cultivating networks and to maintain intimate relationships.  It is important to realize that your reputation is your brand and that will be critical to make transitions.

With a long life and uncertain job prospects it is wise to keep consumption levels low as they tend to be maintained.  At times individuals will have to transition and will have to curb their spending.  Deferring gratification will be critical to learn new skills.

The core belief is that society will no longer function on the three stage life cycle of education then work then retirement.  The book is full of ideas of how to rethink the opportunities as well as the problems.

It is expected that there will be resistance from corporations and government.  The changes are most likely to come from people at the grassroots level.  What is needed is not just pension reform, but more flexibility.  We stand to not only allow more people a more enjoyable satisfying life but also to break down age barriers and segregation.  Part time education will increase to meet the demands of an ever changing economy.  The authors feel workers will have to not only develop specialized skills, but would also benefit for a liberal education that would encourage flexibility.

Many years ago I read the prologue to George Bernard Shaw's "Back to Methusalah" where he contended that if people lived much longer they would learn to organize government better and avoid violence.  Andrew and Lynda contend that issues like climate change will take a different perspective when we realize we and our children will have to live with the environment.

The authors admonish young people to get out to vote.  They are the ones who have the most years ahead of them and they need to be represented by people who understand the issues that help more people to be empowered by a longer life.

If you are younger than 50 this is a critical read for you.  If you are over 50 it is very useful to understand trends and survive more comfortably.  For more thoughts go to www.100yearlife.com

Friday, October 27, 2017

"The Happiness Hypothesis"? Isn't that your main goal?

Jonathan Haidt has had a profound effect on me.  He was on the Bill Moyers show when first seen and he struck me as a man of deep understanding.  He showed me I am still a prejudiced man and need to understand other people better.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html Happiness is for most people the main goal of life.

"The Happiness Hypothesis" is not a typical self improvement book, but rather a history of different thoughts regarding happiness with much philosophy and more psychology.  Jonathan, himself had first studied philosophy and then moved onto psychology.  Along the way and towards the end there is useful advice if you are ready for it.

He believes humans understand new things through metaphors.  His favorite is that of a rider on an elephant.  The rider represents conscious behavior and the elephant represents unconscious behavior (that has accumulated through thousands of thousands years of evolution).  The rider has evolved to serve the elephant, to give it some direction.  In another section "with wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind."

To survive humans are selfish, but we have had to learn to get along with others.  At one time it was thought survival of the fittest involved physical and mental factors at an individual level.  However more recently we realize that individuals are part of groups and that our membership is also a factor in our survival.

One early effective social inter action skill learned was the principle of reciprocity.  He gives an example from the opening of "The Godfather" where a distraught father asks Marlon Brando to deal with a man who dishonoured his daughter.  He thinks he will have to pay for it, but Don Corleone has something else in mind.  He sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of "friends" who do each other favours.  Movie goers were preparing for a violent movie, but instead it started off with  how the Godfather actually gets things done.  Then of course it gets to the violence.

There is a relationship between culture and religion.  We develop trust and co-operation which in turn can effect genetic selection and direct to the benefit of the community.

Happiness is effected by your external circumstances, but another key is internal.   Jonathan feels that the truth is in between where you find true happiness.

Humans have or try to have goals, but in fact it is the effort as much as the achievement the brings happiness.  Once a goal is achieved it is in the past and we look forward to something else to do.  Internally you make lots of choices and of course react to thousands of circumstances.

Harry Harlow had limited resources and found himself working with rhesus monkeys.  His experiments are considered unethical today with isolation and substituting inanimate objects for motherly attention.  What he did prove was that all infants need touching and parental caring to develop normally.  In other words love makes a difference.

Abraham Maslow, a student of Harry Harlow is famous for Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  At the top is self-actualization which could be interpreted as satisfaction or happiness.

Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi is known for the concept of flow.  One is happiest when one is engaged in an activity where they are so engaged they lose concept of time.  An example from the author was riding horses where some are so engaged that is what they think of most of the time.

The author contends that two areas that are vital for happiness are work and love.  Love seems obvious, but work takes up a lot of time and is where many find meaning.  From Marcus Aurelius--"work itself is but what you deem it."  Many jobs are treated as drudgery, but the author suggests if you apply your strengths any job can become more meaningful.

Happy people are kinder and more helpful.  Voluntary work by elders results in improved health and longer life

Jonathan states that meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac all have the ability to make for positive changes.

You can read more at http://www.happinesshypothesis.com

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Born a Crime," the beginnings of Trevor Noah, comedian

When Jon Stewart retired from the Daily Show it was a big surprise that a South African was picked as his successor.  Who is Trevor Noah?   I confess I didn't watch Comedy Central either before or after the transition.  I developed a liking for Jon Stewart from watching him on other shows, and watching the odd clip.  Trevor Noah has not crossed my radar as much, but always in a favourable way.

He is very unique.  This book explains some of it.

The circumstances of his birth were unusual in many ways.  His Xhosa mother was very independent and defied apartheid rules by living in a white area and working in a non traditional job for blacks, secretary.  She befriended a white man, a Swiss German and told him she wanted a child by him. He resisted, but later said he wanted to be involved with his son.  Of course this was made very difficult.  A mixed race chid could be classified as a colored.  This meant he could not be seen with either his father or his mother or they could be jailed.

Trevor could be described as polyglot.  His mother encouraged him.  His black relatives asked him to pray in English as non speakers felt that language was more effective  He spoke several African languages, Xhosa, Zulu, Tsonga, Sotho, bit of Afrikaans which helped him to socialize with more people and even help him get out of tight spots.

Trevor knew poverty.  As a youngster he learned to like bone marrow and at one point ate a variation of worms.  He was tied to shoplifting where he escaped because camera could not pick up the darkness of his skin.  Stealing was fairly normal but copying CDs to resell was critical to his survival.  Everyone has a story of what they got away with:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/08/what-have-you-gotten-away-with.html

Trevor got involved with a lot of questionable activities, that is activities the middle class establishment would question.  In reality he was born into a situation where to get ahead his activities were normal.  If he was a little sharper than his peers he might do a little better.  Inside he had a conscience and was supported by his mother.

An analogy from the author:  "Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading.    If you add up how much you read on the Internet--tweets, Facebook posts, lists--you've read the equivalent of a sh*t ton of books, but in fact you've read no books in a year.  When I look back on it, that's what hustling was..."

His mother was religious and dragged Trevor to three church services  including one for whites most Sundays.  She ended up married to a charming man (who Trevor also liked a lot), but eventually resented his wife's success and modern habits and became abusive.  Trevor left home and the abuse continued even with another child.  Near the end of the book we learn that she is shot by the now former husband and survives.

Trevor points out some oddities about apartheid.  Chinese because there weretn't very many of them were not classified separately, but for convenience called blacks.  Japanese (whose home country manufactured desirable cars and electronics) were honorary whites--as Trevor points few South African police could tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese.

His sense of humour is all through the book, but he covers some serious things.  As a comedian he takes serious issues and frames them from a humorous perspective

Outside the book it turns out that Trevor was threatened by his former step father and fled the country.  His ex step father was convicted of attempted murder.  Trevor felt the South African police did not take domestic abuse seriously enough.

This book is not about his career, but there are a few references.  Copying CDs leads to becoming a disc jockey.  At age 18 he was acting in a role with a South African soap opera.  We learn that at the time of his mother's shooting he had already established himself as a comedian and had even performed in Britain.  Trevor established himself on South African television winning awards.  Got involved with the Daily News and was able to step in after Jon Stewart decided to move on

When he makes you laugh it is probably comparing serious issues with ridiculous juxtapositions.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Miss Sloane, an under-rated movie

"Miss Sloane"(2016) deserved much more attention.   There is a lot of misdirection in the movie, but the meat is not hard for many of us to find.

It starts off with a court scene concerning expenses for a campaign dealing with palm oil from Indonesia.  A viewer wonders what that could lead to, but the misdirection slowly becomes more obvious as they go back in time and two other themes develop; the legal concern of gun control and how lobbying firms operate.

Miss Sloane is approached by a group that wants to get a woman's view of guns so that they could slant their approach more effectively.  She analyzes their situation in short order and rejects the offer.  Next she is approached by a man who tries to hire her for the opposing side on gun control, but again another sharp analysis and a rejection.  However she changes her mind and literally steals some of her staff to her new project regarding gun control legislation.  One of her staff very coldly rejects her and a nasty interchange takes place.  This holdout offers her insight into Miss Sloane's tactics that we later see enacted.  No loyalty, ruthless, and not confiding with staff,

Miss Sloane articulates her basic approach.  Always be prepared.  Do whatever it takes.  Have a trump card that is not used until after the opposition presents their trump card.

Although the director and writer claim the issue of gun control is really just one of many issues that could have been used for the plot they cover a lot of ground for gun control.  There is not an intention to confiscate guns, but just to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.  Of course the gun lobby sees this a step along a slippery slope.  

The woman's issue is brought up.  The angle is women need protection against bad people.  This is  countered that women are murdered most often by an intimate partner with access to a gun.  The gun lobby specifically fanned fear suggesting the only way to be safe was to have a gun.  All veteran sales people realize that the strongest buying motive is fear, even more so than greed.  Both motivations are on full display.

An argument comparing the acceptance of the need for driver's licence as a concern for human safety is dismissed.   In reality the U.S. Congress in 1996 passed a rule forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control.  The CDC board over the years to avoid controversy cut all research into gun violence  After the Newtown shootings, Obama requested research to be resumed, but again fearing controversy the CDC said they would only do so if money was set aside for it. Congress rejected any budget for such research.

The Founding Fathers were brought up.  Most people overlook that the circumstances were very different as one example many of the founders were slave owners. The Constitution was a result of compromises between propertied  men (not women) with vested interests.  The 2nd amendment was brought to legislation at a time when America did not have a standing army and it was thought necessary to provide militia with arms.  Of course there is a lot of controversy of interpretation.  What is in the best interest of the country?

The gun lobby always had much more money.  They really represented gun manufacturers.  Miss Sloane is very clever and manages to get a lot of her points to public attention.  In fact she is so good it is decided to take her down.  That is where the opening scene brings our attention to an alleged misdeed when she dealt with the Indonesian palm oil.  If they can prove her misdeed in this case she will be finished as a lobbyist and the gun lobby can rest easy.

Of course you know there will be a twist and it is done quite well.  A few minor twists along the way keep the viewer's attention.   My wife is always suspicious, but I thought the movie could have impact no matter how it concluded.  The final twist package emphasized how slimy lobbying can be and did catch me off guard.

"House of Cards" shows plenty of sleazy manipulations   Lobbyists are in the background.  "Miss Sloane" uses an emotionally charged issue, gun control, but the real focus should be on lobbying, which has seldom been pictured in movies where the politicians essentially do all the dirty work.

The author, Jonathan Perera has a story as interesting as his script.  After graduating from university with a lot of debt he worked a few years with corporate law firms to pay off the debt.  He later taught English in China and more recently in South Korea.  He had longed to be a writer, but had no background and studied online as best he could.  He was originally inspired by a tv interview of Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who confessed his tricks.  He wrote the script and filed it away until he learned the topic might be of interest.  He sent it while still working in South Korea.  This is his first script.

John Madden, the director, British born received his one Oscar nomination for "Shakespeare in Love," (1998), but three of his actors won Oscars, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench and Geoffrey Rush.  He also directed 4 episodes of "Inspector Morse," and one episode of "Prime Suspect," two of my favorite British detective shows.  Other notable movies were "The Debt," (2010), "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011) and "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," (2015).

Jessica Chastain plays the ruthless lobbyist.  When you think you appreciate how ruthless she is you get another example that stuns.  With a little observation a viewer might pick up that she is not satisfied with life.  Jessica had received two Oscar nominations in addition for this role. She received nominations for "Zero Dark Thirty," (2012) and  "The Help," (2011).   She also had a role in "The Martian," (2015).

Mark Strong plays a character with a cause, but enough ethics that he balks at when he learns what Miss Sloan does to win her causes.  Mark has been in numerous movies; "The Young Victoria," (2004); "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," (2011);  "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) and "The Imitation Game," (2014).  He also appeared in episodes of "Inspector Morse" and "Prime Suspect."

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a dedicated worker with a personal secret that motivates her. When this is uncovered against her will she becomes a crusader for a bit, but later becomes disillusioned with Miss Sloan.  Gugu gained a lot of attention as the title character in "Belle," (2013) and went on to  "Concussion" (2015) and " Free State of Jones" (2016).  Just recently did a blog on the Free State of Jones" readers might enjoy:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/free-state-of-jones.html

Christine Baranski of "The Good Fight" and "The Good Wife"  in both of which she ironically took up role of gun control advocate, although married to ballistics expert. played a supporting role.  I was surprised to learn she had won Tony awards on Broadway.  Sam Waterson, another familiar face played one of the heavies.  John Lithgow and Dylan Baker had supporting roles as well.

Alison Pill, plays a character who is not what she appears to be.  She carries it off very well.  Born in Toronto she won a best child actress award for "The Dinosaur Hunt," (2000).  She had roles in "Milk" (2008);  "Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) "Midnight in Paris," as Zelda Fitzgerald (2011) and "To Rome with Love" (2012).

Max Richter composed the music.  He has been a composer for a number of movies I have enjoyed."The Lunchbox" (2013); "Sarah's Key" (2010); "When We Leave" (2010) and "Lore" (2012) all with foreign languages plus "Shutter Island," (2010).  The funny thing is although I remember they all were good movies, I don't recall the music.  I reviewed some of the music items on iTunes and for the most part they are pleasant enough and catch a mood, but with few exceptions not memorable.  Still he is very good at filling a function.  Supporting a movie with music is not always noticed, but adds to the overall enjoyment and I would say he has added enjoyment for a lot of movie goers.

The cinematographer, Sebastian Bienkov  had been busy working with European films, one of which "Adam's Apples" (2005) from Denmark was very good.  Alexander Berner, the editor had worked on "Cloud Atlas," (2012);  "A Hologram for the King," (2016) and "The Debt" (2010).

Did the gun lobby have anything to do with lack of box office success?  One can detect political views affecting how movies are perceived and supported--I am not immune to movies being hyped and I did see some promotional efforts, but it was never treated like a blockbuster.   It seems like an attention getting powerful movie, but not everyone saw it that way.  Personally I feel lobbyists didn't like it as it hit too close to home.  If there wasn't a formal boycott, I think it very likely there was an informal one.  I confess I tend to avoid movies with political viewpoints I disagree with, but also that such movies can help one realize there is another perspective that needs to be understood.

I do believe that lobbyists can serve an important and useful function.  I hope we don't throw out the baby with the bath water.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/04/lobbyists-do-deserve-more-appreciation.html

The film titles that are bolded are ones that I have seen, although some may be from many years ago

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"The Red Army" and Russian hockey

I am not a hockey fan, but "Red Army"  (2014) brought back memories and an appreciation of how great hockey can be.

I remember the buildup to the first Summit Series vs the Russians in 1974.  They had only played against amateur teams and were sure to be humiliated when they played our pros.  In fact the result was close to the reverse, the Canadians were humiliated in the first few games on Canadian soil.  

Bobby Clarke deliberately injured Valerie Kharmalov, a dangerous scorer which in the end might have been the difference.  The Canadians, woke up and played much better on the Russian part of the tour.  Paul Henderson made the most famous goal in Canadian history and the Canucks pulled it off.

Showed a clip of Don Cherry expressing that the Russians should not be allowed to play in the NHL.   Harold Ballard was famous for not letting any Russian play for the Leafs.  They were not alone, some of it no doubt for anti Communist sentiments then common, but others I think were afraid of the competition.

The film reminded me why I lost interest in hockey and why the Russians revived my interest.  They were very skilled at passing and stick handling and a joy to watch  As a Canadian I had mixed feelings.  I wanted Canada to win, especially at our national game, but I liked the way the Russians played, better than the NHLers.  

I watched one televised game with co-workers which I remember not so much for the excitement as I had a few alcoholic drinks  My job at the time was working with newspaper carriers and the game took place when the kids were in school.  When I got back to work I realized I was in no condition to talk to kids about anything.  Since then I have avoided drinking during work hours.

One of the benefits I got out of it was that the Russians were humans.  They had relationships, although often the coaching made life difficult for them.  The film really made more of that when some of participating Russian players  (and wives) got to explain themselves.  I was also surprised to learn of some coaching politics. Anatoli Tarasov was replaced by Viktor Tikhonov

Russians did make a success in the NHL, lots of them helping to win Stanley Cups and become all stars.  It opened them up to capitalism.  We love to be entertained.  I remember hearing Hillary Clinton commenting that Alexander Ovechkin was more popular than most politicians in Washington.

The Soviet players were regarded as national heroes and were treated as such by the authorities.  Although eastern bloc countries had to contend with defectors in different sports, the Soviet hockey players for the most part were very content.  That changed in 1989.  Alexander Mogilny was an outstanding young (honoured as best junior hockey player in the world) prospect who had already played at the top level.  After the 1989 world championships held in Sweden he disappeared and found his way to the Buffalo Sabres who had earlier drafted him.

There were a wide variety of interviews, but the main spokesperson for the Soviet side was Vlacheslav "Slava" Fetisov who had a disdain for the interviewer.  Fetisov, a defenseman was a key  person in a group of five players who were very difficult to stop.  He wanted to be able to negotiate with the NHL and although threatened with the end of his hockey career or a demotion he was able to gather a few others and forced the issue.  Part of their salary was to be returned to Russia and they were to play for the national Russian team.  This opened the floodgates and turned out to be very successful.  Fetisov earned two Stanley Cups as a player and one as an assistant coach.  He insisted to Gary Bettman that he be allowed to take the trophy to Moscow.  Despite a total refusal at one time he was able to accomplish this feat.  Fetisov is now involved with the Russian hockey program.

One enlightening moment was when Fetisov was  asked about his younger brother after bragging about how much potential he had.  It turned out that he had died from a car accident.  Then it was admitted that he, Fetisov had been driving.  Another clip with his wife Lata Fetisov explained how she felt ostracized by other NHL wives who treated her as an outsider.

Scotty Bowman, considered one of the best hockey coaches ever was a great believer in Russian players and coached over time, 5 Russian players who helped him win three Stanley Cups for the Detroit Red Wings.

Another interviewee was Vladimir Tretiak who developed a lot of fans in Canada.  He never played in the NHL, although a primary target by the league.  He is now involved with Russian hockey.

There was a lot of politics, captured on archival resources.  Starting with Joseph Stalin who made the decision to make hockey a higher national priority.  Nikita Kruschev and Mikhail Gorbachev each got involved with the hockey program  The KGB was used to minimize chance of defection.  On the other side there was a brief clip of Ronald Reagan and one of Jimmy Carter when he declared the United States would not participate in the Moscow Olympics.  Alan Eagleson was shown as an organizer of the Summit series.  As it happened I had arranged for Alan to be declared the first to be honoured on a Wall of Fame for former newspaper carriers when I worked for the Etobicoke Guardian.  Also arranged for a photo at his office and an interview with one of my carriers.  When his fraud was uncovered  I was already gone from that job.

The Soviets had a system and a national feeder. network.  That was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed and when players left for the NHL. Russia (and their former states) still turn out exciting hockey players and the world is better for it.

Gabe Polsky was writer, director, producer and  interviewer.  This film won audience awards at film festivals in Chicago and Zurich.  He produced "Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans" (2009) which was directed by Werner Herzog.  He also was nominated for an Emmy for the television series, "Genius" (2017).

Werner Herzog, a prominent documentary maker was an executive producer on this film.  He had been a producer, director actor "and writer.   "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010) and "Grizzly Man," (2005) were two of his noted works.

Christophe Beck born in Montreal worked on music for "Frozen" for which he shared an award.  He also was awarded a Prime Time Emmy for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997).  He worked on the music for "The Hangover," (2009) "The Muppets," (2011) and "Ant-Man" (2015)  During this research it dawned on me that there are many people involved in the music--not just the composer, or someone who writes a song, but ask producers and co-ordinators.  Leo Birenberg also worked on "Frozen" as a score co-ordinator.

Cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger had worked with Werner Herzog on "Bad Lieutenant:  Port of New Orleans," and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Grizzly Man."  The second cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko had worked "Inside Job," (2010) "Merchants of Doubt," (2014) and "Inequality for All" (2013) for which I included in another bloghttp://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/10/capital-in-twenty-first-century.html

As with music and cinematography with two people listed there are also two editors.  As the film took place in North America and Russia the work load  needed to be spread around.  Eli B Despres had written and edited two outstanding documentaries, "Weiner" (2016) and "Blackfish" (2013).  Kurt Engfehrk, the other editor had worked with Michael Moore on  "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) and "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004).

If you are a hockey fan you will enjoy this film and if you are not you will appreciate there is a lot of beauty in the game.

I have bolded the movie titles that I have actually seen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

My original awareness of "Indian Horse" was when it was in the Canada Reads competition.  Now it has been selected by the Burlington Public Library as their "One Book, One Burlington" selection for 2017.  This is the 11th edition of the event which involves the whole community and has always offered an interesting choice.

Like a lot of people I look for new things, but as I get older I realize that there is usually lot more in a book than you understood the first time around.

The story is being recounted by a recovering alcoholic, Saul Indian Horse forced to tell his life story as part of his redemption, but he is very skeptical.  His name comes from his Grandfather who was the first Objibway of his tribe who brought a horse.  Within his own family, the narrator has conflict between his traditional Grandmother and his Christian mother.  The story starts in the 1960's while his family is trying to live their own life.  He is snatched and taken to a residential school and he has no further contact with his family.

Residential schools for indigenous students have been in the news and subject to the Truth and Reconciliation commission. The experience drove some kids to suicide, others to run away.  They were treated as heathens (with heathen parents) and inundated with Christianity.  Native languages were forbidden and when caught speaking "Indian" were punished.  Many of the priests were sexual predators for both the boys and girls.  Things they couldn't talk about but the effect was to deaden the soul.  Lifelong adjustments usually involving alcohol and drugs

The author loved hockey as a youth and the game provides excitement in the book..  A new priest encourages the boys to tie an interest in hockey by watching "Hockey Night in Canada" and some books.  Just below the age when he would be allowed to play hockey Saul begs for a way to be involved.  At first he is given permission to clean the snow off early in the morning, then he becomes an equipment manager.  A big breakthrough when Saul teaching himself to skate feels confident enough to discard the chair.  "I became a bird. An ungainly bird at first."

Much of the book is a sports story told with the obstacle of being an outsider.  At first as a younger and smaller player who quickly demonstrates superior skills.  Later as part of an Indian team discriminated against by white teams and their audience.  He makes it to the Junior A level in the big city of Toronto, but cannot escape a feeling of having to measure up.

After years of rejection he drops out and eventually succumbs to alcohol.  The book ends hopefully, but the reader is more aware that society has been unfair to natives.  Later in the book, one assumption is destroyed.  I don't want to spoil for those who haven't yet read the book.

Most of the book takes place in northwestern Ontario and at one time moves to Toronto, but every time they step off the familiar surroundings they encounter discrimination.

Richard Wagamese, once described himself as a second generation survivor of the residential school system.  His parents and other extended family members went through the experience.  He feels he suffered from it as at a very early age his parents abandoned him and two siblings to go on a drinking binge and he was rescued by the police.  As a result he didn't see his parents again for 21 years and spent much of that time in foster homes and and one stint as an adoptee forbidden contact with other indigenous people.  He developed many bad habits before he got set on a better path.

He became a journalist.  While at the Calgary Herald he won a national award for writing on indigenous affairs.  He acted in one episode of "North of 60."   Died recently in his home in Kamloops, British Columbia on March 10, 2017.

The book has been made into a movie and debuted at TIFF very recently.

My first experience with the One book One Burlington:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/07/beauty-of-humanity-movement-book-review.html

A more recent experience the Hamilton Public Library.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/the-best-kind-of-people.html

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"FREE STATE OF JONES"

The  "Free State of Jones" really represents a minor blip in history.  For one, the South was not as monolithic as we have assumed.

Not covered in my history classes and I suspect not much mention in Amerian classes either.  William Faulkner  wrote "The past is not dead.  It's not even past."  Race is critical in American society and to some extent the movie demonstrates this.

It deals with the notion that the American Civil War was at bottom a war to maintain slavery.  Early in the film it recounts a Confederacy edict that would exempt one white person for every twenty slaves owned by a family.  Many of the recruits quickly realized that it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.  In Jones county they learned civic authorities were collecting taxes in kind (horses, pigs, corn, etc) that often left the citizens starving. The desertion rate was in the tens of thousands which is close to where the movie begins.  This set up Newton Knight to rebel against the rebellion.

Newton was a deserter who felt more loyalty to the Union than the Confederacy.  In fleeing authorities he encountered other deserters as well as runaway slaves who found swamps a good place to hide and avoid detection from dogs.  Although married and with kids (the movie only shows one) he became attracted to a slave, Rachel and they went on to have a number of children.

The movie is gruesome in part with very briefly a scene of a head half torn away after being hit by a cannon ball.  Deserters were more common and in the end were a major factor in the defeat of the Confederacy.

Movie was interjected with a modern court case of 1948 when one of the descendents of Newton Knight was charged with miscenegation.  They claimed he was at least 1/8 black, making it illegal for him to marry a white woman.  Flashback to the main narrative we have just met his supposed grandmother helping Newton hiding.  He is already married with one child.  Later we learn that there was a lot of inter racial mixing in Jones with some offspring ending up passing as whites while others found acceptance in different communities difficult.

One aspect of how the slave owners maintained control was keeping the slaves ignorant and unable to communicate or organize.  Reading was considered a dangerous skill.  We see Rachel attempting to learn reading while youngsters in her household are taught elementary skills.  She hides her interest from the owners.  Later in the movie she is able to learn to read.  The southern reason often given was that Africans weren't intelligent enough to read and wouldn't need it for the work they were required to do.

The Civil War only partially settled affairs for the former African slaves. The movie takes us into the Reconstruction where the whites fought back and succeeded in establishing segregation.  Newton was still standing up for the families of former slaves.

Gary Ross, first encountered the idea in 2006, but short of money he worked on the "Hunger Games" (2012 not seen).  Writing the script and developing a cast took another few years.  Gary's father had been a tv writer, Arthur A Ross.  Gary also started writing for tv, but got his big break with "Big" (1988)  He had success writing, but with "Seabiscuit" (2003 not seen)  he started directing.  Altogether as writer, director and producer he received 4 Oscar nominations.  After "The Hunger Games" he rejected opportunities to work on the sequels as he felt they were too rushed.

The original music came from Nicholas Britall who wrote the music for "Moonlight"(2016) and is also writing the music for Gary Ross' next, "Ocean's Eight."

Benoit Dulhamm handled the cinematography.  Born in France he also worked on "The Theory of Everything," and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (2008).

Despite criticisms that the movie covered too much I felt it was fine with flash forwards and going beyond the Civil War itself, because the story didn't (hasn't)end(ed).  I felt the editing was effective keeping up interest while showing connections between the past and more modern times. Juliette Welfing, also with a French background has been involved with a number of movies I also thought were very effective "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" (2007 nominated for Oscar editing)," Dheepan" (2015), "The Prophet" (2009), "Rust and Bones" (2013), Miral (2010), "Read My Lips" (2001) and The Hunger Games.  She will also be working on Gary ross's next, "Ocean's Eight."

Matthew McConaghey, won an Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013).  Declared sexiest man alive by People magazine, but turned away from romantic comedies after 2010.  He was excellent as Newton.

Gugu Mabatha-Raw, born of a English nurse and South African doctor.  Her character Rachel was also bi-racial.  Gugu appeared as the title character in "Belle" (2013) and later, as Will Smith's wife in "Concussion"(2015).

Mahershala Ali after this film won Oscar for best supporting actor in "Moonlight" becoming first Muslim to do so.  Well know character in "House of Cards."  His character was a composite of runaway slaves.

Keri Russell got her start as a Disney Mousketeer.  She won a Golden Globe for a tv series, "Felicity."  Also had a role in "Dawn of the Planet of Apes" (2014).  She had the difficult role of playing Newton Knight's only wife who stayed on the property after Newton lived openly with Rachel.  Altogether in reality she had nine children by Newton.  It was said that she probably left Newton after he cohabited with a daughter of Rachel's (by another man) after Rachel died.

The many who played in Newton's rebellion and Confederate soldiers were uniformly excellent which probably credits director and producer Gary Ross.

2 hours 19 minutes to view was too much for some viewers.  There was a lot of information that had to be left out to retain the essence of the story.  An 18 minute short "The History of the Free State of Jones" was also interesting and I realize some of the local people contributed to the story and some even had bit parts in the movie.

The movie illustrates that class does play a role in history.  An interesting book that illustrates this well is "White Trash."   Here is a post on it: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/white-trash.html

Note:  I have seen all the movies listed that have been bolded.  I saw an earlier generation of the Mouseketeers.    One of my more popular blogs included  "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" which you can read at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/10/paralyzed-men-in-4-foreign-movies.html