Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 movies

It is impossible to pay attention to all the movies that are available, especially as everyone has other responsibilities in life.  That is true even when you cut down to those that really are worth your time.  Although a lot of movies are covered many more were seen, some of which were arguably just as justified being listed.  Many not .  To make it easier to read I have broken movies into categories so you can skip the ones that don't interest you--but you might find something more interesting down the path not traveled.

English Language

"The Shape of Water, "the Oscar winner for best picture and best director was unique and worthy.  Guillermo del Toro has done another movie combining fantasy and reality, "Pan's Labyrinthe."  It was filmed in Toronto, but I recognized Hamilton City Hall.

"Darkest Hour" brings us back to a four week period in May of 1940 that was one of the most pivotal times in history.  the Germans had backed England into a corner and Winston Churchill, newly in power was being urged to negotiate with the Germans.  A proud, stubborn man he stood up like almost no other historical figures.  Gary Oldham won the Oscar for his portrayal of Winston and well deserved it.

"Hacksaw Ridge" was about conscientious objector in WW II that went on to win the Medal of Courage.  Alan Garfield played the lead in a.bloody action film  comparable to Private Ryan in random violence.   Based on a true story

"Call me By Your Name" was a big breakthrough for Timothee Chalamet who was Oscar nominated for his role as young brilliant man awakening to his gayness.  Armie Hammer played the older scholar who  attracted Timothee.

"The Big Sick" gives comedic treatment to how an inter-racial couple got together after breaking up.  Kunail Nanjiani played himself while his wife Emily Gordon co-wrote and acted as an executive producer.  A lot of laughs, but some food for thought.  Cultural barriers break down with contact.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri"  provided an Oscar winning platform for Frances McDormand who played a woman determined to get the police to re-open her daughter's murder investigation.  It left an ambiguous ending.

"The Edge of Seventeen" is about teen angst.  Friendship is tested when her best friend dates her older brother.  Adults will enjoy.

"Love, Simon" a coming of age for a gay teenager.  Nick Robinson was such a likeable person he could confess almost anything and be accepted.  I read one comment that this movie was really for straights.  Nick did win an award for best kiss.


"Lady Bird'  was highly recommended by my daughter Heather and proved to be worth seeing.  Saoirse Ronan demonstrated a remarkable range of acting, this time as a rebellious teenager.   Timothy Chalemet played a relatively supporting role.  Directed and written by Greta Gerwig.  Received 5 Oscar nominations.

"Coco" came out under the Pixar banner film enjoyable for the family.  Lush color, with clever animation.

"Game Change":  was about the 2008 presidential campaign focused on John McCain and Sarah Palin and Steve Schmidt.  What I got out of if (with some help from features) was the elections today need media stars.  Sarah Palin was seen as a potential star, but in reality was very unprepared.  Julienne Moore was great as were Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris.

"The Color of Freedom" couldn't be resisted as I feel Nelson Mandela is the man of the century.  This movie was focused on Mandela's time on Robben Island.  Dennis Haysbert and Joseph Fiennes as a prison warden who is later supported by Mandela.

"Breathe" was another inspiring movie  based on a true story.  Alan Garfield and Claire Hoy
played the couple who overcame a normally fatal health condition in difficult circumstances.
  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/10/paralyzed-men-in-4-foreign-movies.html

"The Promise" looked interesting although it had a low IMDB rating.  It was a love story around the Armenian massacre during WW I.  I have read many explanations about what happened, but it seems evident that many Armenians were led to their deaths.  The movie was very well done and dramatic.
It seems that they received over 50,000 IMDB votes of one star only making it very likely that Turkish denialists voted politically.  It is an excellent movie.

"The Post" was a timely movie defending freedom of the press.  Meryl Streep received still another Oscar nomination and was was well supported by Tom Hanks and others.  Steven Spielberg was director and producer.    A widow takes over her husband's newspaper and resists attempts by others to make important decisions.  Based on real evens around the Pentagon papers it portrayed a rivalry with the New York Times, but with a direct presidential threat to The Post.



The Greatest Showman, a musical written for the screen.  Loved the story, acting and music.  There was an  interesting discussion of how the songs written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were developed.  Hugh Jackman played a fictionalized P. T. Barnum.

"Secret In Their Eyes"was a remake of an Argentinian Oscar winner.  I loved the original with Ricardo Darin, but this one was more than acceptable.  The original writer-director Juan José Campanella was an executive producer and appeared on special features to explain how they planned to give it a new twist.  Emilio Kauderer was involved with music for both movies.  Learned that Julia Robert's husband was the cinematographer, Daniel Moder.

"Wonder" was about social acceptance of a deformity.  They chose to show it from different viewpoints.  The neglected sister, the guilty friend, the old girl friend of the sister.  The young boy Jacob had been seen in my favorite movie seen in 2016 "The Room"

'Blindspotting" was very interesting.  Two men, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs were friends who wrote this movie and acted the leads and produced.   Covers race relations and gentrification.  Two supporting women made some of the more subtle points.

"Far from the Madding Crowd" was a remake based on a Thomas Hardy novel.  This version starred Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Directed by a Dane, Thomas Vinterberg.

"Gifted" was a very charming movie.  It hit a nerve as it was about a young girl who was a genius and was the subject of a custody court battle partly around her schooling.  My kids weren't that smart, but were gifted and we felt honored to have them in a special class.  There certainly are advantages, but there is another side such as being normal.  The cast (Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate) was excellent and you are very apt to feel good after watching.

Science Fiction

Admittedly don't watch many science fiction movies, but thought "Upgrade" from Australia had a message about artificial intelligence taking over the world.  It had a few nice twists about perception.

"Blade Runner 2049" was a sequel with at least one holdover actor, Harrison Ford.  Lots of special effects, hi-tech.  Director, Canadian Denis Villeneuve is commanding lots of respect with success of "Arrival" last year.

Older movies

"The Defiant Ones" (1958) had Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier both nominated for Oscar awards.  Two prisoners (one black and one white) handcuffed together learn to overcome their prejudices.

James Cagney in "G Men" (1935) had a slight role switch.  Special features pointed out that critics had been upset that gangsters had been glorified too much.  But the public was fascinated by violence and the solution was to turn gangster actors like Cagney into law enforcement heroes and still carry on with violence.  Cagney is excellent in roles calling for comic talent.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/09/james-cagney.html

"One Eyed Jacks" (1961)with Marlon Brando playing a baddie and also directed.   An unusual western in that part of it was filmed by the ocean.  Marlon apparently waited several days to get the ocean cinematography the way he wanted it.

"Hearts of Darkness;  A Filmaker's Apocalypse" (1991) showed Francis Ford Coppola efforts to product "Apocalypse Now"  I remember a tremendous long time effort involving uncooperative actor and the determination to complete the film.

After the background story I had to see "Apocalypse Now"  Lots of violence, but the main theme was about the evil in mankind.  Starred Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando.  I had read "Heart of Darkness" in high school, but had not seen the movie.

"Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962) from play by Tennessee Williams with some changes due to censorship concerns and given a happy ending.  Paul Newman, Geraldine  Paige, Ed Begley were standouts.

"The Remains of the Day" (1993) wasn't quite the slow movie I anticipated.  It pointed to a time when some English aristocrats had Nazi sympathies.  Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson were outstanding with excellent support from Christoper Reeves, Tim Smith Pigott, Hugh Grant.  Respect for the author and also screen writer.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher winning 5 Oscars.  Directed by Milos Forman.

"Amadeus" (1984) seen for the second time after its original theatrical run.   I like Mozart's music, but this is not a biography of him.  The main character, Antonio Salieri feels jealousy and rejected by a God that gives real musical talent to a immature person.  There is lots of enjoyable music. 

"The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996) was available when I was writing about Milos Forman, but I didn't want to associate myself too closely with a pornographic subject.  As often happens looking for a filler I picked it up.  A lot of people would consider it more pornographic than even many restricted movies it does get to the issue of freedom of speech.  Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love (who presented an insurance problem to the producers) and Ed Norton were all excellent.  Interesting parts played by Jim Carville (a favorite left wing commentator) as a right wing prosecutor and Larry Flynt himself played a judge who in the script sentenced himself to jail time.  There was a lot of conflict with the evangelical movement, but the one that caught me was a self righteous religious authority played by James Cromwell who turned out to be Charles Keating who was instrumental in a multi billion dollar fraud.  A significant part of Milos Forman's career which you can catch a little of with the link to Czech  films down below.

In "Hotel Rwanda" (2004) had Sophie Okenedo and Don Cheadle each nominated for best Oscar acting awards.  The movie captured the dynamics of a genocide.

From 1998 "Enemy of the State"  a thriller that really thrills, but with a scary message.  The government has incredible access to information which can be abused.  Technology by 1998 was already well advanced and capable of invading anyone's privacy.  Will Smith and Gene Hackman were great.

Tarzan was an obsession as a youngster around 10 I used to watch the Johnny Weissmuller version on our home tv.  I used to yell like Tarzan or at least I thought I did.  One irony was that because we had only one tv my Grandmother used to watch with us.  My father pointed out that when he was my age his mother refused to let him watch Tarzan.  He had been raised during the depression and his parents were in their 40's when he was born.  I was part of the baby boomer generation and were given more freedom.  I think his mother, my grandmother got to like the Tarzan movies.  It struck me as very juvenile (in a fun way), but in the 1934 film, 'Tarzan and His Mate" one could spot more nudity than one would expect in family entertainment.  Also saw "Tarzan Finds a Son.' (1939)

In about grade 5 some school mates and myself somehow became obsessed with "The Jolson Story" (1946) and "Jolson Sings Again" (1949).   Both movies were watched probably more than  any other movie.  Perhaps some sixty years later they do seem dated, but I realize they played a role in my musical education.

"Hope and Glory" (1987) had a different perspective on the German blitz of London.  Told from a young boy's view it was like an adventure with lots of fun experiences although he lived through real danger.

East of Eden (1955) was one of only 3 movies that made James Dean a legend, at least in the mind of a former university room mate.  I missed that, but now many years later I can admit there was more to him.  He was nominated for Oscar along with director Elia Kazan, but Jo Van Fleet won for best supporting actress.  Also had Raymond Massey. 

"Splendor in the Grass" (1961) introduced Warren Beatty and also starred Natalie Wood.  William Inge won an Oscar for best script written directly to movie while Natalie was nominated for best actress and Warren was nominated for a Golden Globe.  Directed by Elia Kazan.

"McCabe and Mrs Miller" (1971) directed by Robert Altman was a realistic western  set in the northwest.  Warren Beatty and Julie Christie starred.   Reminded of an Hungarian connection with the cinematographer Vilmos Sgismond who had escaped after the Hungarian Revolution.  Realistic without romanticism (for the most part).

"Rachel, Rachel" (1968) was marked by Paul Newman first directing effort.  His wife Joanne Woodward, was the lead actress.  Based on a book by Candian author Margaret Laurence.  Apparently there was a big lobbying effort for Paul Newman and he and his wife both won Golden Globe awards. 

"Do the Right Thing" (1989)  by Spike Lee who had in some quarters a reputation of an angry black man.  He is an intelligent man using the film media to try to understand racial dynamics.  It is baed on one day, a very hot day in a black neighborhood centered around a pizzeria run by Italian Americans established many years previously.  There are a few hints of racial tension--a ghetto blaster, a wall full of photos of famous Italian Americans that upsets a black customer  black underclass mostly jobless & directionless--Korean storekeeper--riot, death

"Children of a Lesser God"( 1966) let us outsiders realize there was a big conflict between sign language and lip reading.--Prejudice is most obvious against visible minorities, but really we realize it is against differences such as communication and maybe especially thinking

"Matewan" (1987) a young Chris Cooper played a union organizer.  Racism was used by management to keep workers in place.  Black  (led by James Earl Jones) and Italians learned to co-operate despite their own prejudices. 

"Victim" a British film from 1961 was daring for its time.  Its contention was that the sodomy laws opened up possibilities for blackmail.  Starred Dirk Bogarde as a lawyer..

I had watched Tyrone Power remembering him mostly as a swashbuckler.  He was a pilot and saw action in World War II.  He wanted to shake his swashbuckler image and do some serious acting. "The Razors's Edge" was released in 1949.  He campaigned hard for "Nightmare Alley" (1947) and despite a lot of resistance from producers he got his best acting reviews

Documentaries

"Home"  ecological movie from 2009.   Scary in that the warnings have proved valid and we still have not learned enough.  Reinforcing other  information sources it emphasized that trees were very critical with climate change.  As sea level rises it brings salt into river systems making water undrinkable.  We are all linked.

"Jane" (2017) about Jane Goodell was someone I have admired for years, but did not realize she was not trained scientifically, but was lucky enough to be a secretary with Dr Leakey who recognized her abilities.  Music by the distinctive (and enjoyable) Philip Glass.

"RBG" (2018)was about someone I have come to admire.  As used to be said, "behind every successful man is a woman" it is also true that "behind some successful women is a man."  Her husband, a successful man in his own right recognized in Ruth before their marriage that she was especially smart and dedicated.  She has had tremendous impact on American society.  Donald Trump would love to replace her, but it would be a loss for the rest of us, especially if he were the one. 

"Salmon Confidential" (2013) Scientists in British Columbia dealing with salmon dying from an unknown disease find themselves dealing with a ban of science knowledge

Sharkwater (2012) by Canadian Rob Stewart who paints a different film than common fears of sharks.  A reference to campaign to restrict shark fin soup.  Rob died in the process of filming "Sharkwater Extinction" in 2018.

Horse movies 

"Zameer" dealt with racing stud farm  Bollywood--lost son was able to communicate with horses the way his father could.  Early Amitabn Bachchan.

"12 Strong"  depicts the first American attackers after 9/11  to Afghanistan.  Circumstances suggested they travel by horse, not everyone had experience. They were confronted with tanks, but nevertheless met with success.   There is a  statue in NY near Twin Towers commemorating the events.

A special feature on Akira Kurosawa focused on "The Hidden Fortress" had quite a few comments on filming horses.  Akira Kurasawa greatly admired John Ford's horse filming.  He sped up camera speed to get a better view  on the horse's power and developed some techniques involving lens and dollies.  Toshiro Mifune was considered his best rider and was shown in a scene when he pursues two other horsemen where he brandishes a sword overhead with hands off bridles.  Filmed a second time as first time camera not able to get full picture of horses.

"The Rider" a good movie with training horses.  A bronc rider injured.  There are actual participants after injuries.  I anticipated more emphasis on "breaking' the horses, but in fact "gentling" was the more effective term.

SUBTITLED 

Many will lose interest in this section, but you would be missing a lot.  My thoughts on the opportunity:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/09/do-subtitles-scare-you-who-knows-what.html

French

"Rules of the Game," came out just before WW II in 1939.  Considered a classic, directed by Jean Renoir, son of the famous painter.

"Roman de Gare" (2007) is about a ghost writer and false identities for an intrigueing mystery suspense movie. 

"Korkoro" set in War time Vichy France focused on Romany who are very distrustful and freedom loving.

"Back to Burgundy" (2017) is a family drama set against Burgundy wine

"Rapt"(2009) used a kidnap as a vehicle to reveal human nature.  A wealthy arrogant man is kidnapped and the viewer watches the drama of that, but also the drama of his family and business partners who learn that he had had gambling debts and had a number of mistresses.

"Skirt Day"(2009)  teacher intimidated by her students by fluke gets her hands on a gun and takes here students as hostages.  Most of them are Muslim.  Lots of talk about anti-Muslim, feminism, immigrants.  It seems a worse problem in France than in the U.S. Starred Isabelle Adjani.

"Shoot The Piano Player" ( 1960) starred one of my favorite singers Charles Aznavour, but no singing, although he did play the piano player.  Directed by Francois Truffaut, a Cannes winner and Oscar nominee.

Hispanic

"El Sur"(1993) seemed an ok, even artistic, but watching some of the special features opened my head.  The cinematographer was granted the option of using dark lighting for many scenes which had been considered undesirable.  The director, Victor Erice only made 3 movies and this one was not completed to original plans but was requested for Cannes.  It was claimed that the budget had run out, but it was also said there was a conflict with the producer.   "The Spirit of The Beehive"(1973) was considered another masterpiece with the cinematographer again being innovative with his work.  Censorship was a big concern.

"Time Sweep "(2016)watched because I was very charmed by Maria Nella Sinistera.  She played few minutes in this interesting movie, but was critical to plot.  From Argentina.

Pedro Almodovar has created a lot of attention for unconventional movies.  "All About My Mother"  (1999) won an Oscar for best foreign film and has an early Penelope Cruz as a supporting actress.

"A Fantastic Woman" from Chile won the 2018 Oscar for best foreign film.  My second movie about a transgender woman character (in this case the actress was as well).  Like the other one it helps to humanize people I am mostly unfamiliar with.  The difficulties of being transgender are told through the death of her lover and her inter actions with the family.  The music includes a little salsa and pleasant background music including two opera arias by the lead character, Daniela Vega.  Santiago was a bigger part of this movie than others I had seen from Chile and impresses as a cosmopolitan city.



Czech Republic

'Divided we Fall"  (2000) interesting plot, well acted and written
This was one of the films that inspired me to do a post on Czech cinema:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/06/czech-cinema.html

German

"The Silence" (2010) an excellent German murder mystery--Denmark's Ulrich Thomsen was one of the leads--the twist is different--title refers to a period of 23 years in which an accomplice kept quiet

"The Wall" from Austria had a science fiction base.   The main character is trapped by invisible walls.  She has her loyal dog and later a cow and a cat with a few wild deer to hunt.   Slow moving, but with great landscape shots set in Austrian Alps.

A classic from 1931, "M"  Compelling over 80 years later. This movie brought Peter Lorre to attention and led him to act several classic American movies.  Unusual in that the crooks and the police worked to find the schizo pedophile.  He eventually was cornered and confronted his attackers.  He claimed eloquently that he couldn't help himself.

"Veronika Voss" (1982) might remind some of "Sunset Boulevard" as it about a washed up actress.  She is being taken advantage of.  Well done, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  Won a TIFF award.

Denmark

"Land of Mine" (2015 )from Denmark received an Oscar nomination.  Tension comes from needing to defuse mines and the hostility of the local citizens.   It portrays the Danes as villains and the Germans as victims.  The director, Martin Zandvliet  commented on financing came a lot from Germany.  The Danes were seeking revenge against German atrocities, but took it out on the young boys recruited by desperate German military.

Polish

"Loving Vincent" (2017 was )another visual treat--an interesting story that connects to a song I heard probably 50 years ago--Don McLean's,  "Starry Starry Night" which I now realize was not some teenage angst, but a story about Vinceny De Gogh--he was said to have died after suicide attempt that took a few days, but had been preceded by mental illness.  Another theory was that he was shot in the stomach (the angle suggested it was not self inflicted).  Was selected by the AGH film festival and I had seen in the trailer.--done by paintings  presented in an animated form--originally by Polish

Romania

Finally able to view four movies of Cristian Mongiu  "Four Months, three weeks two days" (2007)is one of the most gut wrenching movies I have seen.  The topic is abortion, but it is not likely to change anyone's opinion.  It is depicted as a horrid action prompted out of desperation.  Cristian has done a few thought provoking films you can read about here:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/10/cristian-mongiu-filmaker-from-romania.html

Finland

"Open Up to Me"(2013)about a transgender woman who gets entangled with a problematic family.  Second movie with a likeable transgendered women.

"The Other Side of Hope" (2017) focused on refugees to Finland.  Directed by Aki Kaurismaki.

"Tom of Finland" (2017)shows  us straights don't quite understand how it works.  Heterosexuals especially in the past had awkward efforts to connect.  Obviously so do gays who have to identify one another when most were closeted.  In this film the hero is an artist and does explicit homo erotic drawings.  After many years he is convinced to share them publicly.  This movie goes through the Aids crisis and the artistic contributes to an effort for safe sex.

Norway

"Troubled Water" (2008) directed by Erik Poppe  Protagonist was a church organist the music was very good as well as cinematography.  They borrowed Danish actress Trine Dryholm.

Israel

"The Cakemaker" (2017) was a surprise.  A superficial synopsis doesn't do it justice.  It is very well done.  An unusual love story surrounded by grief.  Israel's nomination for Oscar foreign film award for 2019.    

Bollywood

The highest rated movie was seen just before Christmas on Netflix, "Andhandun" (2018) with Ayushmann Khurrana and Tabu, both of who were sensational.  It deserved its high marks.  It has some unexpected twists.  The background music and a few songs lend some atmosphere.  Ayushmann plays a blind pianist.  Written and directed by Sririam Raghaven.  One of my three favorites for the year.

More on Ayushmann:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/ayushmann-khuranna-actor-to-watch.html

more on Tabu, one of my more popular blogs:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/tabu.html




"Raazi" (2018) was very exciting, tense.and credible..  Alia Bhatt is excellent and is well supported.  Good music from Shankar Ehsaan Loy.  One comment I read was that the actors playing the enemy Pakistannis were not caricatures.   There were a lot of good Bollywood movies this year, but I would say this one had the most tension. Another of my three favorites for the year. 

Just after posting evaluating negative movie review (https://bit.ly/2MEb9I8 ) I watched "Khatha Meetha" (2010)--several characters die on screen while other deaths referred to, but I couldn't help laughing a number of times--the overwhelming theme was of corruption with even our hero played by Akshay Kumar was corrupt, but struggling--after a happy ending you could appreciate corruption impacts too many people in India

Sridevi died tragically at age 54. Had seen her in two movies as a mature adult--"English Vinglish" and "Mom"--excellent--saw a very few older movies--"Sadma" with Silk Smitha (the model for "Dirty Pictur"e)  Her daughter Janhvi Kapoor made a debut in "Dhadak"(2018) a remake of "Sairat" my favorite movie two years ago.  The movie and she received very bad reviews, but I was struck at how much she resembles her mother and thought that some adaptations were meaningful. The leading male was Ishaan Khattar.

"Damini" (1993) with Sunny Deol.  He was a rival with Shah Rukh Khan.  Sunny was more popular, but another movie in 1993 provided Shah Rukh a big break at the expense of Sunny--personally think it was best.

Bareilly ki Barfi  (2017) a variation on Cyrano de Bergerac starring  Ayushmann Khuranna

"Manorama: Six Feet Under" (2007) with Abhay Deol playing a corrupt official, caught and fired and asked to to spy on possible adultery.  Very suspenseful and well done.   Vinay Pathak plays a supporting role different from what many of his fans might have expected.

"Ittefaq" (2017) is about resolving some conflicting testimony about a crime.  Akshaye Khanna plays the detective while Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha play the two suspects.  Well done.

"Devi Ahilya Bai" (2002)  is an historical drama about an 18th century woman who rose to leadership and builder.

"Phas Gaye Re Obama"- (2010) with Rajat Kapoor in a clever comedy regarding corruption. An NRI (no resident Indian) is about to lose his house in New Jersey during the 2008 re recession and decides the only course is to sell his ancestral home in India.  But he finds nobody wants to buy it during the recession.  We are acquainted with several kidnapping groups who are all suffering due to the recession.  They decide to kidnap our  hero not realizing he has less money than them.  Although threatened he finally convinced the first group that he could recoup their expense and help them make a profit if they would sell him to another group who didn't realize he was poor..  He ended up wiring money to his wife, but this group soon realizes they have lost out, but he has another idea, really the same is to sell to another group and this turns out to be a group of women (who could be bawdy house) and they are tougher and smarter than the first group.  Again he sets up another sell off to a bigger group -this time to a politician who wants to make money to get a higher political office.  He is tougher than the others, but again our hero outsmarts them and turns it around so the politician is seen as a rescuer and is praised by many  for the next level.  Bollywood accused of being over the top, but this movie is not--just funny and well done.

"Chalo Dilli"  (2011)another comedy that caught my fancy.  It had a message that hits home towards the end.   Check out more details:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/chalo-dilli-deals-with-snobbery.html

"Secret Superstar" (2017) had the most hysterical laughter plus brought tears to my eyes (not for sadness),  Aamir Khan is very versatile and was a producer.  The lead girl Zaira Wasim played a small role in a previous movie, "Dangal."   Very well done.



"Raid" (2018) with Ajay Devgn was about tax collections.  It showed an extreme example of a wealthy man avoiding tax.  Intimidation and courage were contrasted.  It is good to see a movie extolling the virtue of paying and collecting taxes for the good of all.




"Hichki" (2018)  is about a woman with Tourette's Syndrome, but really it is about education.  Rani Mukerji has Tourette's and is unable to get a teacher position because of it until she agrees to teach kids from the slums.  It deals with a lot of prejudice realistically, but contrives for a happy ending.  Inspiring.  In this case there is little if any swearing which is a common way of portraying Tourette's.

"Gulaal" (2009) is considered one of Anurag Kaahyup's best films, although not very successful at box office.  It is political involving corruption and violence.   Kay Kay Menon heads the cast.

"Tikli and Laksmi Bomb"(2017) is about a group of prostitutes in Mumbai who set up their own system cutting out pimps.  They develop some innovative procedures to take over from their male controllers.  There are laughs, but there are also tears.  At the end the viewer will appreciate it is an ongoing battle, but a little progress is made.

"102 Not Out"(2018) seemed at first to be a typical Bollywood comedy, but before too long you realized there was more to it.  The premise was that the 102 year old was more physically active and modern than his 75 year old son.  However nothing was quite as it appears.  Amitabh Bachchan adding more to his impressive career.

"Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran,"(2018) is about how India developed a superior nuclear bomb.  A lot of intrigue with satellites and CIA and Pakistani  Americans come across as self righteous.  Most of us believe that nuclear proliferation is one of mankind's most dangerous possibilities, but you could interpret this movie to demonstrate the fear that drives it.

"Beyond the Clouds"(2017)  was written and directed by Iranian Majid Majidi c, an internationally awarded film makers. A very emotional movie.  Ishaan Khattar won a debut award.  A R Rahman wrote the music.

"Padman" (2018) gives Akshay Kumar (who has Canadian connections) another cause to boost.  Women;s menstruation has always been a taboo subject, never more than in India.  It wasn't as though sanitary pads were unknown, but they were far too expensive for Indian women and this caused disease and even dying.   Based on a true story.  An interesting detail is that Amitabh Bachchan was used to further  boost the cause and given credit for the name Padman (based on Superman, Spiderman, etc)   Had an effect on women's education and economic prospects.

"Once Again" (2018) is a mature love story with an older movie star by a fluke meets a widow who runs a catering business that services him--she doesn't like the attention and her family also resents her late life romance.  Well acted by Neeraj Kobi and Shefali Shah.

Within  the last two days of the year I lucked upon a movie I wanted to include in this overlong blog post.  "Chakravyuh" (2012) is in many ways a typical Bollywood movie with emphasis on action, violence and a few unnecessary item numbers, but it made me more aware of an Indian issue that has been glossed over in a few other movies that mentioned it.  Essentially the Naxalite movement is one of violent protest.  Previously in other movies they have been depicted as backward people not understanding the need for modernity.  In fact they are the dispossessed, unable to change their circumstances in conventional ways have sought desperate means.  Directed by Prakash Jha noted for his political movies it is entertaining, but for me opens my eyes that as often as in Hollywood, Bollywood entertainment can minimize reality.  This movie does show that the 1% can be greedy and merciless in achieving their goals.

REGIONAL INDIAN MOVIES

"The Hero" from 1966 is a Bengali film done by Satyajit Ray, considered one of the early masters of Indian cinema.  Sharmila Tagore is famous as a relation of famous poet plus she married into Indian royalty who also happened to be the top Indian cricket player and has left two actors in Bollywood. Her son, Saif Ali Khan and daughter Soha Ali Khan are well established in Bollywood.  She explained that because of economics Satyajit usually took only one take for a scene, but was well prepared.  The lead, Utta Kumar was well composed to portray a big movie star having doubts, perhaps because in reality he was a big movie star.  On commentator thought this film was modeled on Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2.

 In "The Silence" (2015) Marathi is listed as the second language, but I suspect it was primary--the bad guy was played by the director/writer of my top film for 2017, Nagra Manjule.

Looking over a list of top rated Indian films I was surprised to see a 1987 Tamil film, "Vallu Nayakan."  It is a gangster movie, but in the same league as "The Godfather."  The essential commonality was that they both started with the protagonist correcting an injustice and then being asked to deal with other injustices and taking up activities against the authorities. Each had a unique set of circumstances.  It had the contributions of three legendary film artists.  Mani Ratnam, produced, directed and wrote the script.  He has mostly done movies in southern India, but has succeeded all over.  Ilayarraga wrote the music--he was the first Asian to score a symphony for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.   The lead actor, Kamal Haasan is accomplished not only as an actor, but also as writer, director, producer playback singer, and even choreographer.  In this movie he compares very well to the Marlon Brando role from a young man to an elder.   This should be regarded as a world classic.

"Sometimes" (2016) is a Tamil film to publicize the need to be more understanding of HIV and Aids.  Six people with different back stories worry they might have aids.   The suspense holds to the end .

A surprise was "Robot" (2010--"Enthiran) in Tamil which like a lot of today's blockbusters are big on special effects and it was very effective  The star was Rajnikanth along with Aisharwaya Rai. Bachchan.  The story did have a message--artificial intelligence can be abused.

Shubh Aarabh (2017) is a Gujariti film with an interesting plot involving a marriage counsellor in an arranged marriage.  She learns her groom's parents are planning a divorce. Lots of laughs, a little drama and lovely background music.

"Naa Banagaru Talli"  (2013) is about sex trafficking, but with a horrible twist of deception  Very well done in the Telegu language.  Siddique had been the lead in the Malayam version of "Drishyam."  His daughter was played by Anjali Patil who had appeared in Bollywood movies plus from Sri Lanka.


"Children of War" (2014) is of two languages, Hindi and Bengali (I can not distinguish the difference).  It was about the genocide of East Pakistan which paved the way for independence of Bangladesh.  Rape was used as a weapon of humiliation.  At end one pregnant female looks longingly at a man and then walks away, but he grabs her by the hand accepting the reality which was a big relief after the horrific violence shown before.  Background music was stirring

"Jindua" (2017) was set in Calgary, Alberta as a romance drama.  Jimmy Shergill, a moderately successful Bollywood actor here plays an immigrant forced to seek Canadian citizenship, but in the process rejects his true love.  Shergill is a Punjabi speaker and apparently there are enough Punjabi speakers in Calgary to justify this effort.

Chinese

"Touch of the Light" (2012) from Taiwan is not slick.  Inspirational and a true story with the hero playing himself.   A dancer inspired by a blind pianist who in turn is encouraged by her.  Only a tease of a romance.  Some very pleasant music, some of it written by the subject.

In Love we Trust  (2007) Mandarin speaker Xiashuai Wang was director and writer --emotionally tense--child with cancer needing a bone marrow transplant--needs a match--after some strategies fail--it comes down to parents, now divorced to have another child--new spouses concerned--a few realistic complications--attention to detail in plotting--one child policy--also saw "11 Flowers, "also worth seeing and "The Drifters" This is ranked in my top three for the year.  More details at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/08/in-love-we-trust-is-movie-title-with.html

"Happy Together"(1997) from Hong Kong meaning mostly in Cantonese.  It is   considered one of all time best films about a gay couple on verge of breaking up after traveling  to Argentina




Japanese

"The Naked Island" (1960) had no dialogue and depicted a very harsh life by peasants. 

"Kagemusha" (1980) colour movie by Akira Kurosawa--his first film in 5 years bolstered by admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola who agreed to be producers  

"High and Low"(1963) a kidnapping suspense movie.  Learned that Kurosawa does editing and considers a goal to do a scene as short as practical.   Based on book by Ed McBain

"Rhapsody in August" was Kurosawa's 2nd to last film and is often passed over in deference to his earlier masterpieces.   There were three generations reacting to the atomic  bombing of Nagasaki.  Richard Gere takes part as a part Japanese relative.  It is a difficult topic, but makes one more conscious of man's inhumanity to others.

Also saw two more Kurosawa films; "No Regrets for our youth" and "Dersu Uzala" (1975), collaboration with Russia. 

Thailand

"Bad Genius" (2017) is not my first Thai movie, but it is the most entertaining.  It is very clever and professional.  I think of it as a heist movie, but without a bank or valuable jewels.  Students are wanting to get the answers to important university entrance tests and the bad genius is very creative.  Read more about it:   https://bit.ly/2ytQJs5

Emboldened by "Bad Genius" on Netflix I checked out another Thai movie, "One Day" (2016)  This was a highly rated romantic comedy.  A familiar type of plot--loser pining after an unobtainable girl gets a lucky break, very contrived involving memory loss of only one day.  Actually most of the scenes were set in Hokkaido and Sapporo, Japan. in the winter time.  Very slickly done with an ending that begs for a sequel.  Noticing a pattern similar to Bollywood where scenery outside the native land helps entice local viewers with a glance of places like Australia and Japan

Korean

"The Age of Shadows"  (2016) was about Korean resistance against Japan during World War II.  A double agent adds to the suspense.   Written and directed by Jee-woon Kim.

"Forgotten" (2017) is a psychological movie with a very big twist most of us won't catch.

"Silenced" (2011)  was about a sexual abuse case at a school for the deaf. The frightening thing was how well connected people can gang up and abuse disadvantaged children.   Well done.  A quote, "We should not fight to change the world itself, but stop it from changing who we are."

Not a fan of Zombie movies, but after watching "Silenced" I enjoyed the two leading characters and noticed they were both in "Train to Busan." (2016).  I decided to take a chance.  It would satisfy most Zombie fans, but I felt there was a lot more on human relationships and I loved the music by Young-gyo Jung  over the credits.  One disappointment was that the two characters again never paired off, but were both very good along with a good supporting cast.

"Along with the Gods Two Worlds," (2017) was a fantasy with amazing CGI, but more an interesting account of the meaning of life.

"How to Steal a Dog" was a bit frivolous with a family moral.  It was told from a child's point of view.  The young girl had been the lead in a very hard hitting movie, "Hope" or you can find it under "Wish" about an 8 year old girl who is violently sexually attacked. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/11/hope-gut-wrenching-film-from-korea.html

Philippines

"Manila in the Claws of Light" (1975) is only the second Filipino movie I have seen.  Filmed in 1974 under the direction of Lino Brocka during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.  Introduced by Martin Scorsese who borrowed the ending for his movie, "Taxi."  There is a love story, but it also carries a political message.  Corruption is very evident.

Indonesia

"The Look of Silence" (2014) was a multi national effort regarding a genocide in the 1960's. This film would not be possible without careful political manoeuvering, luck and courage.  Originally  the director Joshua Oppenheimer, set out to talk with victims of the genocide, but circumstances encouraged them to talk to perpetrators.  Surprisingly they boasted of their deeds in front of their own relatives.  Adi, Rukan a brother of one of the victims actually confronted many of the perpetrators.  Horrifying tales of killing "Communists" mutilating and drinking of blood.   Told very matter of factly.  The protagonist was an optometrist and actually tested some of his targets and provided glasses.  Many of the perpetrators and their families either justified what was done or avoided responsibility.

Middle East

"The Insult" (2014) is like a petty quarrel between two stubborn men, but it is much more than that.  It is also very well executed, from Lebanon.  For many North Americans the Middle East is a scary place with all sorts of warring factions.  This movie is layered as in life there is always more than is readily apparent.  The characters themselves change their attitudes as they learn more.  One hopeful sign is that women's influence is increasing. The director decided to show a generational shift in attitude which is especially evident in that opposing lawyers are actually father and daughter.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/09/the-insult_21.html

Afterwards I also watched "The Attack" (2012) by the same director, Ziad Doueiri with a powerful message.  In the effort to integrate willing Arabs into the Israeli economy there is still likely resentment for those very many who are left out.

It can be misleading to rate and rank films, but nonetheless the ones that are pictured/linked had the most impact on me.

To see my most memorable movies of 2017:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/2017-great-year-for-movies.html

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Favorite books of 2018

Getting set for retirement I thought it time to switch my emphasis from non fiction to fiction.  I have always found a well written novel is hard to put down.

FICTION

"The Son in Law" by Charity Norman was only discovered after a flukey chain of unlikely events, but I am grateful for grabbing it when I had the chance.  The book is beautifully layered.  You are introduced to a dramatic emergency resulting in death.  Next you go a few years ahead to learn some of the consequences.  Then you go back and gradually uncover the background.  The son in law (and you know he can't really be as bad as first portrayed) is hated by his in laws and the book really tracks how that originated and follows how it evolves.  Hint:  a masterpiece of mediation.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/charity-norman-discovery.html








"MacBeth" by Jo Nesbo was an ambitious murder political power inspired by William Shakespeare.  I had studied MacBeth in high school but confess many details eluded me.  Nesbo has shifted from mediaevel times to more recent, but has retained many of the same names and locations.  Instead of royalty as the structure for power politics he uses a police force and municipal government.  A few other elements were three witches and obsessive washing of hands.  The real core is of power politics.  If you are familiar with Jo Nesbo you would be right to expect interesting violence.

"The Husband's Secret" by Liane Moriarty was enjoyed during my trip to New Zealand.  Vjakumar MK Nair, a Facebook friend from India first brought author to my attention   Enjoyable read.

"Manhattan Beach" by Jennifer Egan is an historical novel set before and during World War II.  The protagonist is a determined woman who becomes an underwater diver against male rules.  There is also a mystery involving gangsters and a missing father. 

"The President is Missing" is full of inside information and a complicated plot.  The president is on the verge of being impeached yet is faced with Armagedden and unable to tell his tormentors.  Reminds of Bill Clinton when he first tried to kill Osama bin Laden.  There are mechanical details few would know about, but the most fascinating feature is the political games being played.  Government certainly seems complicated with the president constantly juggling a variety of balls.  It has the clever twists one would expect of James Patterson.  A few digs against the Russians and Saudi Arabians.  Towards the end there is a list of Democrat agenda with a few sly comments on Republicans, but since I think Hilary should have defeated Trump easily it only adds to my enjoyment of the book.


NON FICTION

 Lots of politics, but there is more.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, another book by Yuval Noah Harrari that deserves recognition as the  best of the year.  Everyone should read his three books to better understand where humankind has been, where it is going and what needs to be thought for today. For more: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/21-lessons-for-21st-century.html













"The World as it is" by Ben Rhodes a speech writer and aide to Barrack Obama.   Ben traveled with Obama helping make many key speeches such as for Mandela's funeral.  He also wrote for Suan Rice for the initial response to Benghazi.  He points out Republican hypocrisy.  Also on Russian intransigence with Crimea.  He reported how Mitch McConnell blocked attempts to publicize Russian interference with the American election.  He was given negotiating responsibilities regarding improving Cuban relations and for cleaning up the mess left by American bombs in Laos.    For more check  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/06/the-world-as-it-is.html

"What Happened" by Hilary Clinton, may be seen by some as excuses for her failure to get elected, but it a good analysis of the election and events subsequently learned reinforce her analysis. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/hillary-clintons-what-happened.html

"Hitmaker's"  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/hit-makers.html   Ever wonder what makes one piece of art/music become a hit while others never reach public consciousness?  A few answers, but you will have to work hard and be a bit lucky if you want to duplicate some of the success stories.  

I was persuaded to read "The Devil in the White City" by co-worker Susan Brinkmann.  An interesting juxtaposition of a serial killer and the Chicago World's Fair with its architectural wonders.  Makes for compelling reading.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/the-devil-in-white-city.html

"Rescue" was bought after author David Miliband was on tv with Fareed Zakaria.  While there are many countries acting out an anti-immigrant hysteria the refugee situation is desperate.  It is tied into not only political turmoil, but also climate change so we are all complicit.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/rescue.html

"Ordinary Virtues" illustrates that similar to the United States we in Canada do not properly appreciate real global thinkers.  Michael Ignatieff as part of a project identified four virtues (tolerance, forgiveness, trust and resilience) as essential for global survival.  Interesting examples around the world.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/the-ordinary-virtues.html

"Leonardo da Vinci" was another engrossing biography by Walter Isaaccson.  Da Vinci was more than a genius, known for his art, science and engineering.  You the reader would learn how deeply he understood the human body and how it was reflected in his art.  He truly is one of the giants that others have stood on.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/05/leonardo-da-vinci.html
 
"No is Not Enough" is another Naomi Klein well thought out protest book.  She sees greedy politics denying climate change.  She covers up to the Puerto Rico recovery which she asserts is undergoing shock therapy.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/05/naomi-klein-writes-another-insightful.html

"No Turning Back" is based on numerous interviews by journalist Rania Abouzail undercover from 2011.  She covers prisoners, refugees, fighters,one child.  Some of the complexities reported.

"Triumph of Christianity" by Bart D. Ehrman reports on how Christianity rose above many pagan religions to dominate the western world.  St Paul, more than the original apostles attempted to convert non Jews.  Constantine's conversion led many others to follow and gain momentum. Lots of psychological perspectives.  Read more: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/08/the-triumph-of-christianity-history.html

"That's what she said" is an interesting book advocating a bigger role for women for the good of us all.   The title comes from an experience where a man gets credit for an idea first voiced by a woman.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/08/thats-what-she-said-book-worth-reading.html

Fascism Madeleine Albright writes of parallels between Fascists and modern America under Donald Trump.  She grew up in Czechoslovakia and saw much of the political changes in Europe.  Her observations while working with Bill Clinton and since are very perceptive.  For more check 

"Fear" by Bob Woodward:  makes it seem that there are endless anti-Trump books.  Hopefully the deluge will accomplish something constructive.  More at:  

"Prius or Pickup" starts with a simple premise that people can be reduced two major world views allowing for people that are somewhere in between.  Of course it is a little more complicated and they explore consequences. Read more:  https://bit.ly/2Siu2im

In an attempt to better myself I am always on the lookout for self improvement books, particularly with a new slant.  "Get your Sh*t Together" by Sarah Knight comes from a different angle.  The language gets your attention and her advice is compatible with what you may have read elsewhere.  To follow further:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/03/get-your-sht-together.html

CANADA READS  was a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  For book lovers the contest where champions campaign and dissect each other is one of the most entertaining events of the year.  This year I was able to read the five nominations, but did so after the winner  "Forgiveness" had been declared. Read more including a brief discussion of each book.      http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/10/canada-reads.html

To see my favorite books from 2017:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/enjoyable-reads-from-2017.html

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ayushmann Khuranna; An actor to watch

Not as good looking or confident or even charming as Shah Rukh Khan, but Ayushmann Khurrana is very likeable, natural, and selects good movies often with a social message.

Ayushmann was born in 1984 in the city of Chandigarh.  He majored in English literature and took part in many college theatrical productions winning a few awards.  From there he worked as a tv host.

"Vicky Donor" (2012) was a big breakthrough.  He played a reluctant sperm donor.  Keeping it secret from his family to avoid embarrassment and later from a woman (played by Yami Gautam who with Ayushmann won a best debut award) he met at the bank.  As you might imagine there was a lot of room for humour which is very natural for Ayushmann, but it also had a few 'touching' moments that made it a memorable film for me.

After this he went into three movies that might be described as mediocre both in artistry and popularity.  "Nautanki Saalat" (2013), "Bewakoofiyaan"  (2013) with Sonam Kapoor and "Hawaizaada" (2014).  Not bad time fillers, but not much more.

Another breakthrough in 2015 with "Dum Laga Ke Heisha" that got a better than anticipated box office.  Ayushmann's character was persuaded to an arranged marriage, but his wife was overweight and better educated than him.  Bhumi Pednekar played his wife and won our admiration.  Eventually he adjusted for a not unexpected happy ending.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/05/a-feel-good-movie-little-off-beaten-path.html

Next release was "Meru Pyaar Bindu" (2017) with one of my favorite leading ladies Parineeti Chopra, but not particularly noteworthy.

Bhumi took on a socially progressive role in "Padman," (2018)  but has reunited with Ayushmann to help start a string of highly regarded films with "Shubh Mangal Saavdhan" (2017)  In this film Ayushmann plays a man with erectile dysfunction discovered before marriage.  His wife bears with him through several failures.  

Next up for Ayushmann was "Bareilly ki Barfi"  (2017) a popular romance comedy with Kirti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao.  It won a best screenplay award.
 
For 2018 Ayushann played a blind pianist in "Andhadun" (2018) which had one of the highest ratings ever for a Bollywood film.  It was considered a combination of thriller, comedy and a bit of romance.  Tabu, playing a murderess was brilliant.  see more of her:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/tabu.html  Radkika Apte provided a little romance.  The film is full of twists with a little gesture as the camera fades makes you wonder if you can believe every thing you had just been told. The editing decisions of  co-writer Pooja Ladha Surti added to the suspense.  Written and directed by Sririam Raghaven who had done "Ek Hasin Thi" (2004 ) and "Badlapor" (2015).

Another hit follows with "Badhaai Ho" (2018) where Ayushmann's mother gets pregnant in her 50's.  Sex is not seen as normal for elderly.  Not seen, but assured it is very funny and in the end  an enjoyable family film.  Has done very well at the box office.

2019 looks to be another busy year.  He is scheduled to have three films released.  The first is "Bala" with Bhumi Pednkear for September.  Next is another romance comedy, "Dream Girl" with Nushrat Bhuarucha for November.   Also included is "Operation Kukri" with Shah Rukh Khan who also will write the script.  It is about a military event when the Indian army was involved in liberating hostages in Sierra Leone in the summer of 2000.

Ayushmann has written a few songs and sings in film and live.  As a host he was personable and spontaneous enough to get an opportunity with movies.  His future looks very bright.




Prius or Pickup?

Political power comes from accurate analysis of voters.  In this age of American partisan voting the contest is very competitive and the consequences can be frightening.  Another book brought to my attention by Fareed Zakaria

The authors contend that the answers to four apparently non political questions can tell a lot about a voter and why there is such a divide in America.  The outcomes of the four questions can be applied to many situations.



Here are the four questions that respondents are requested to indicate a preference: with respect for their children
                    1).  independence vs respect for elders.
                    2).  obedience vs. self-reliance
                    3).  curiosity vs. good manners
                    4).  being considerate vs. being well behaved.

The answers would classified by worldview as fixed, fluid or mixed.  The fixed tended to prefer authoritarian parenting and set in life style while fluid were more nurturing and open minded.  Mixed were the ones who did not answer all questions consistently and thus might bend a little either way.

You might guess that the fixed worldview tends to vote Republican and that fluid tends to vote Democrat and generally that is true.   Race turns out to be an offsetting factor.  Many blacks, Muslims and Hispanics are naturally fixed in their world view, but the Republican leaders cannot avoid offending many minorities, because their base wants them to stand up to the minorities including the LGBT community.  Race can even modify some fixed views as when Obama supported same sex marriage and many blacks followed the change in attitude.

In addition to the direct political links there are endless non political links that reinforce the political choices.  Most Fixed stick with traditional food, entertainment, fashion, education, etc.  Fluid are more open, even seeking new things. This leads to segregation based on worldview making it more difficult to change attitudes.  Check a related blog on attitudes to novelty:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/new-understanding-our-need-for-novelty.html

Partisanship has intensified significantly since 1990.  There is hatred not just for the opposing party, but to those people who claim loyalty to the opposing part.  Amazingly facts do not matter so much as each side is capable to spinning information to defend their loyalties.

Mixed worldviews are closer to fixed than they are to fluid, especially with regard to racism and immigration.  Fear shifts everyone.  Trump's campaign emphasized things to be afraid of.

Europe is showing similar trends, although there are significant differences.  They examine the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Denmark that are all experiencing growth of right wing parties. There is greater inequality in America than in Europe.  It appears that wealthy American interests have been well served at the expense of the less well off.  Offsetting this to some extent is that large corporations do realize their interests are best served by being fair to minorities.

The authors close with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  "a house divided against itself cannot stand."  Their concern was that the conflicting worldviews need to work together on a global scale.

Monday, December 17, 2018

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The first lines of the introduction give a clue to Yuval's focus, "In a world deluged by irrelevant information clarity is power."  He has already given us a focus on how man came to be and where man can go.  This book reflects on the stresses and contradictions in the world today and explores a few ways we might extricate ourselves.  Fortunately he does have a sense of humour and offers many attention getting examples.

There is more thought provoking ideas than I can cover in a short post.  A lot to digest.  My attempts to sort through are only a taste of what you can expect.  To me this is the Book of the year.

In the middle of the last century the world was offered three global political philosophies--Fascism, Communism and Liberalism.  Fascism was killed during World War II and Communism collapsed by the close of the century leaving Liberalism to expand its umbrella.  However our current news reflects a new range of anti liberal trends.  The 21 Lessons reviews several alternatives we might consider for the 21st century.

Economic growth has underscored liberal thinking, but the most critical problems today are being undercut by economic growth.  Technological innovation threatens job security.  Climate change and pollution suffer with economic growth.  I see a problem with his concern about the need to reduce meat consumption:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/what-happens-to-farm-animals-when.html

Social media is taking over the lives of the entire globe.  Yuval expresses concern about online vs offline.  Online does have potential to steer people to offline activities that can be healthy for bodies and social beings. Generally social media is likely to cut down physical interaction and be unhealthy.

Algorithms are becoming increasingly more invasive.  One simple example given was how a GPS system can tell us to turn right or left.  Artificial Intelligence combined with bio tech is now getting  an understanding of emotions.  Algorithms will know you better than you know yourself.  Trust in algorithms will increase as they will become more reliable.

Ethics can be and will be integrated with algorithmic decisions.  Philosophers will have a demand as many decisions will need to be made split second with examples coming from such endeavors as self driving cars.

Happiness depends less on circumstances than on expectations.  Humans are easily satiated.

Inequality is likely to increase as those who control alogorithms will have tools to squeeze more.  But it might not just be financial wealth, but also longevity as biotech will be more accessible to some.  the future of the masses will depend upon the goodwill of a small elite.  Some nations with a tradition of liberalism such as France or New Zealand will more likely support the masses while those with a more capitalist tradition like that of the United States may well dismantle the welfare state.  Newly emerging states like India and China, Brazil) are more likely to see an increase in inequality.

Killing a few people in Belgium draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq.

Most people believe they are the centre of the world and their culture the linchpin of human history.  Rather than denigrating other cultures Yuval, a Jew living and working in Israel makes a few points about "God's Chosen People."   The universe is at least 13 billion years old with Earth being formed about 4.5 billion years ago.  Humans have existed for at least 2 million years.  Jerusalem was founded  about 5,000 years ago which does not mean it is eternal.  He also pointed out that Orthodox Jews usually hold the balance of power in Israel and have helped pass laws that curtail activities on the Sabbath including for secular Jews.

Morality predates religion.  He gives the example of pups playing until one bites too hard and they will not play with a bully.

Author quote:  "Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you can not question."

We are all complicit to some degree--"How can anyone understand the web of relations among thousands of intersecting groups across the world."

The meaning of life is looking for a role to play and a story to provide identity.  A wise man asked about meaning of life replied, "I have learned that I am on earth in order to help other people.  What I still haven't figured out is why the other people are here?"

He goes on to say that asking about the meaning of life is the wrong question.  The better question is how do we stop suffering.  He does seem to have a Buddhist bias, but is upfront about it.

Going back to Confucius rituals are good for social stability.  The most meaningful ritual is sacrifice.  The author contends that rituals are an obstacle to seeking truth.

On the question of free will Yuval asks to define it first.  If you mean the freedom to do what you desire, yes.  But if mean the freedom to choose what to desire then no.  Humans do not have free will.  He asks us to think where does a thought come from?  He concludes that although we don't have free will we can be a bit more free from the tyranny of our will.

Mankind has made much progress is studying the brain, but have barely begun learning about the mind.  He personally has found meditation to be a tool for observing your own mind directly.  Self observation has always been difficult because there are so many stories surrounding us.  In the future  algorithmns will create more stories making it more difficult to observe your mind.

My little sketches do not do justice to his overview of how we might look at life out of our complacent perspective.  Well worth reading and I expect different readers will get different values from the effort.

Read my thoughts  on "Sapiens":  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/sapiens-brief-history-of-humankind.html

Read my thoughts on "Homo Deos": http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/homo-deus.html



Sunday, December 2, 2018

The BDS Movement

The BDS Movement  (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) might not have been noticed quite as much if there weren't concerted efforts to make it illegal.  The goal is for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, removal of the barriers at the West Bank, full equality of Arabs in Israel and to promote the right of return by the Palestinian refugees.  Israel claims Arabs enjoy equality in Israel and that the movement is anti-Semitic.  Both Israel and the United States have made efforts to make the BDS illegal or use national resources to restrict. 

The cause is known and for most people who consider themselves progressive liberals it is admirable enough.  Like a lot of people when I hear and believe negative things about individuals and companies I try to make a conscious decision not to support.   Other people want to take a strong stand and some of them are organizers and others looking for an organized effort.

Up until past my university years I would tell anyone who asked, that "Exodus" was my favorite movie.  I barely knew any Jews, but somehow came to admire them and how they had overcome the Holocaust.  I still grapple to understand the horror of  their ordeal.  I have watched several movies that focused on the Holocaust from many different angles.  It is horrifying to read about people who deny the Holocaust.  It not only is anti-Semitic, but also indicates rationalization (guilt feelings) for expressing hatred.

A few things happened over my adult years to change my perspective  At work I remember talking to a secretary at work about Hallowe'en.  I was telling her that I had to get home early to protect my home from tricksters.  She surprised me by saying as a born again Christian they could not celebrate Hallowe'en.  I have always considered myself secular, but Lynn was someone I liked working with and accepted her offer to read a book about Armagedden.  There seemed to be a lot of logic, but really twisting the meaning of Biblical words which I just could not accept.  But I came to understand and more frequently heard or read references to the second coming of Christ.  I kept a few details in mind such as there would be the anti-Christ who would seem to have the answers (could that be Donald Trump?), Israel would have to be run by Jews again and there was something about ten tribes that would play a role and that the true believers would ascend to heaven.

I gradually became aware of the role this belief played in American politics and other nations.   They seemed very protectionist of Israel, but at the same time saw Jews only as necessary for the prophesy.  The Palestinians were in the way and needed to be stomped down.  The fact that they resorted to terrorism only proved how undeserving they were.  Arab states and Muslims were suspect as they always seemed to be using the supposed Palestinian injustices to inflict terror on the rest of us.  Many Christians just wanted to protect the holy sites. 

The Arab oil boycott of the west was mostly seen as inconvenient.  One good thing that came out of it was a movement in part led by Jimmy Carter (who is my most admired president) who preached conservation.  Of course Ronald Reagan ridiculed the idea and reversed course.

Another factor emerged when my sister, Rebecca married a Muslim from Morocco.  She was actually married in an inter denomination ceremony.  It was over ten years and two daughters later that she decided to convert.  She is one of the people who I both love and admire.  I had come to admire Ali as well and he gave a different view of Palestinians.  He was careful not to speak against Jews and in fact pointed out to me that he would seek kosher food when halal food was not available.

My reading convinced me that the Palestinians had been taken advantage of.  While I could still admire what the Zionists had accomplished against heavy odds I began to realize they did so at the expense of the Palestinians. And the more I heard and read the more it seemed the Palestinians were being dismissed and discriminated against.  The media in my neck of the woods was almost totally picturing Palestinians as backward, dishonest, violent and undeserving.  The Israelis are pictured as besieged, but very innovative.  Perhaps there is an element of guilt from many Western countries that had allowed anti Semitism to prosper and helped set the events of the Holocaust.

After a television appearance I read a book by Peter Beinart.  It made me realize there is a lot of politics behind the support of Israel.  Check out  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/07/crisis-of-zionism-book-review.html

By now you realize I am sympathetic to the Palestinians, but there is more to it than that.    I am not much of a boycott participant.   I have completed two books by Yuval Noah Hararim an Israeli and have started his most recent book.  He has the best understanding of what it means to be a human of any one I am familiar with.  I am not willing to give up that.  An investment counselor was recommending a mutual fund and thought one of its highlights was that they included Israeli stocks--although like anyone else I wanted to make the most money for the least risk, but passed on it.  I watched and appreciated many movies from Israel http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/05/youll-find-arabic-and-hebrew.html  particularly the ones that seemed balanced.

My experiences with boycotts are very limited.  As a Canadian one example was when Heinz decided to stop processing tomatoes from their Simcoe Ontario plant.  I had driven through Simcoe numerous times as part of my sales job.  I remember consciously actually driving by the plant with a distinct, but not unpleasant smell of the ketchup plant.  French's, better known for mustard, picked up the slack and I have made it a point of buying their ketchup (which happens to taste pretty good).

I was too young or disinterested to think about the anti apartheid boycott.  I am proud that Canada did participate unlike United States and the United Kingdom.  Thinking what would I buy from South Africa?  Never thought of diamonds or gold.  A little later did enjoy eating Granny Smith apples  and have since enjoyed South African wines, but think of them as post Mandela (one of my very favorite heroes).

If we don't want people to settle their differences with violence we have to accept alternatives.  Every person who has a dime to spend has some power.  Once they spend that money they have lost some of their power, but the choice should be theirs.  Yes, there should be exceptions--we should not be able to physically harm someone or denigrate them. 

Israel is forgetting its values.  They have suffered at the hands of degenerates, but now they are causing great suffering that to me is counter productive.  I know there are significant elements that want to bridge the gap, but they don't seem to dominate.  Hatred and ignorance are very difficult to deal with, but others have found ways

Critics are welcome to do a counter boycott if they really want, but they have absolutely no right to impose legal restrictions on people who  feel the merits of the cause.  I think what needs to happen is more effort to reconcile the Jews and Palestinians.  Biblical prophesies can be interpreted any way that suits someone else.  The Qu'ran is interpreted very widely.  To me the boycott and such efforts to encourage Israel to take a fairer treatment of the Palestinians is a worthy cause and those that want to de legitimize it are the immoral ones.  Politics and money are a big part of the problem.