Friday, May 31, 2019
Based on true events only makes it more upsetting. In brief a young boy is kidnapped at the age of 7 and is able to escape back to home at age 14. He had conflict with his parents before the kidnapping and difficult adjustments after his return. Although the film has a heavy sexual element it is not explicit so you can really feel the pain without the distractions. We have a very fuzzy understanding of what actually is happening, but it becomes clearer in the second half.
The kidnapper is a pedophile who decides he wants to have a son and picks a victim. Steven is a loner whose parents are upset with him and in conflict with one another how to deal with him. On the day of the kidnapping the father has threatened his son with a spanking and the pedophile somehow can identify that the boy is unhappy and a little afraid to go home. Mr. Parnell, the pedophile does not use violence at all, but tells a story about being asked to take the boy away and offers presents. Steven had not been told to not get into cars with strangers and has not been taught how to use a telephone. These last two items have become a necessity for parents fearing a similar fate for their children.
While in captivity, Steven is mostly unhappy, trying to please Mr. Parnell who gives him a fair amount of freedom. Changing schools a few times to avoid legal complications Mr. Parnell continues the story that his parents don't want him and it is his responsibility to take care of Steven. A lie is told that the father died and the mother disappeared. He had four siblings and both Mr. Parnell and a relative suggest that they were too poor to handle five children.
Steven at about age 14 is involved in the kidnapping of another 7 year old and realizes this young boy is about to go through a similar experience. He decides to take the boy to the police in the hopes that at least the boy could be returned home. The effort is botched and he ends up dealing with the police finding out he has also been kidnapped and soon are able to return him to his parents.
That takes the first half of the mini series and we are now dealing with Steven and his parents and his siblings revolving around a difficult adjustment. Steven is embarrassed and ashamed while his parents are guilt ridden, unable to deal with Steven's behavior.
One aspect that bothered me was smoking. (see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/06/smoking-and-movies.html I have been annoyed that so many movies include smoking as a natural thing to do thereby reinforcing and encouraging young people to smoke. In this movie Steven smokes as early as 9 years as a tool to deal with his dilemma. Later he drinks, seeks sex and drives dangerously. He even contemplates suicide and the viewer is made to feel his impulse.
He is teased by classmates and the court outcome is insulting. Mr Parnell ends up getting a five year sentence (and in reality gets off early).
After the events of the film, the real Steven Stayner married as a teenager fathered 2 children and goes onto die from a motorcycle accident at age 24. His one brother was affected (or claims to have been) and murdered four women a few years later adding to the parents horror.
The parents are presented as loving, but conflicted. The father seems a little unnecessarily harsh before the kidnapping, but afterwards feels very guilty. He has trouble facing up to his son's sexual activity and for awhile cannot face him. The mother goes from being lenient to harsh and to making an effort to understand him.
Steven feels guilt. At one time he confesses he thought he should have resisted. After the homophobic teasing of classmates he feels the need to have sex with a girl his brother helped set him up with. Drinking, smoking and reckless driving are ways he copes with his stress. One girl is sympathetic and he comes to care for her, but displays temper outbursts that threaten their relationship. She gets pregnant and we are led to believe they get married.
It is infuriating to the viewer that institutions let him down. He was absent not only for court time, but also he felt uncomfortable at the school. He was told he had missed so many days that he was ineligible by California law to graduate even if he pulled up his marks. He did not want to testify in open court, but was strongly urged to do so. After the humiliation (in front of parents and his girl friend) the accused Mr Parnell got an unexpectedly light sentence. Later the law was changed and years later when Mr Parnell was charged again he was sentenced to over 20 years imprisonment.
I had thought too many parents were paranoid, driving their kids a few blocks to school and supervising most of their activities. Such scary events may be rare, but children need to be prepared.
Movies with this impact are not accidents. The cast and crew were of high quality to optimize the presentation.
Larry Elikaan, the director has mostly worked with tv series and movies. "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" were some examples.
The script had input from three individuals. W. H. Eschols II did much of the research and had suggested the real life story. Two years later he published a book about what really happened. J. P. Miller mostly worked with tv films and had won a Primetime Emmy for "The People Next Door." Also was involved with "Helter Skelter" and "Playhouse 90." Cynthia Whitcomb was the third who had a background in television. As a team they were nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for this film.
The music was not intrusive, but composer David Shire put out an effective score. He had won an Oscar for a song in the film "Norma Rae." He was nominated for a Golden Globe with the Bee Gees for the score for "Saturday Night Live." He was for a time married to Talia Shire who for me will be forever Rocky's girlfriend.
Eric van Haren Norman, the cinematographer had a successful television career. He won a Primetime Emmy for "What the Deaf Man Heard." and a Daytime Emmy for "The Big Blue Marble." Maybe better known for "Desperate Housewives" and "The Elizabeth Smart Story."
Two editors kept a long story with lots of potential complications to an effective 3 hours. David Ramirez was an assistant editor with some prominent movies, "Cabaret" in 1972 and "The Blues Brothers" in 1980. Mostly done television work including two Star Trek series. Peter V White another television editor including "Parker Lewis can't Lose."
Corin Nemec, as the 14 year old Steve and the focus of the film had our sympathy as a confused, conflicted youth. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for this role. He had started with "Webster" and went onto a number of tv films. He was the lead for "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." Other series included "The Stand," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Stargate SG-1." He has gone onto some directing and writing as well as an executive producer. Quote from Corin "Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious."
Cindy Pckett, played the mother and got top billing. The role called for her to make lots of adjustments trying to deal with her son's predicament. Her father, Cecil Pickett was a drama teacher at high school and the University of Houston with pupils that not included his daughter Cindy, but also Dennis and Randy Quaid. She played Ferris Bueler's mother and ended up marrying the actor who played the father. Most of her career has been with television including ongoing roles in "Call to Glory," "St Elsewhere," and Hyperion Bay." Recently saw her in "TeAta."
John Ashton, played the father and had a demanding role adjusting to his son's dilemma. He has won theatre award and done a stage tour in Europe. Some movies he acted in include "Beverly Hills Cop," "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "Gone Baby Gone." Mostly been in television movies and series including "Dallas."
Arliss Williams for some reason was not given screen credit, but played Mr. Ken Parnell, the pedophile, not a role many would want to be identified with. He was effective, as a persuasive man conning and then abusing a child.
Minor roles were played by Bryan Cranston who later joined with Raymond Cruz in "Breaking Bad." The real Steven Stayner played a policeman in the background when his actor namesake was being taken back home.
Unless you like tear-jerkers you might not enjoy this movie, but I admit I love movies with impact and this one certainly leaves a long term impression.
Monday, May 20, 2019
"Gully Boy" offers a view into the rap world in India. Rap is of interest to the younger crowd, but that means us older folks (in my case boomer) should be aware. Naturally you hear a lot of rap music, but in Hindi. The internal rhymes don't deliver the clever word play you might be hoping for except through subtitles. The movie tries to convey feeling for the local atmosphere. There is poverty, but also ambition. and not just for rap fame. We see lower middle class people that are pointed towards medical careers. Muslims are in a minority and although better off than in many Muslim majority nations still feel some grievances. One of the characters is stigmatized as using young children to distribute drugs, but we learn they would otherwise starve. In the end obstacles are mostly overcome and stardom arrives.
The cast is very good. Ranveer Singh is believeable as a 22 year old rap singer. Best seen in "Band Baaja Baaraat" "Lootera," and "Dil Dhadakne Do." Alia Bhatt adds another character to her long list of successes such as "Highway," "2 States," "Dear Zindagi" and "Raaz." Siddhart Chaturvedi is in his first feature film. He started to follow in his father's footsteps as a chartered accountant, but won a talent contest which led to television series where he increased his popularity. In truth he matched Ranveer and is likely to develop into an equal star. Kalki Koechliln has a relatively small role, but as usual she is impactful.
The brother-sister team of Zoya and Farhan Akhtar were producers, while Zoya directed and wrote. In a previous wonderful movie, "Zindagi na Milegi Dobara" they again both produced, while Zoya wrote the script and directed, but this time Farhan played a leading role. With "Dil Dhadakne Do" Zoya was director and writer while Farhan wrote dialogue, produced and acted. More on Farhan, http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/11/farhan-akhtar-young-man-on-rise-in.html
Co-written by long time friend Reema Kagti. Jay Oza handled the cinematography; Nitin Baid, was the editor and had previously edited" Raazi" one of the best films last year.i
"Badla" was based on a Spanish movie, written and directed by Oriel Paulo, "The Invisible Guest" with an interesting difference. In the Spanish version the witness preparation lawyer was a woman while the accused murderer was a man. Sujoy Ghosh, the man behind Kahanni adapted the script. He wrote the script and directed "Kahaani" with one of the best twists ever.
It is set in Glasgow and layered with different versions of the same events as we try to find the truth. Hint they both guard the truth carefully. A brilliant woman has been accused of murdering her lover and was in a locked room with no apparent exits.
Amitabh Bachchan and Tapsee Pannu- play the two main characters. Both performed in "Pink," one of the best movies to deal with sexual consent. Worth learning about http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/11/pink-sensitive-film-to-deal-with-consent.html
Another important character was played by Amitra Singh who I had seen in a few other movies, but not researched. She was married to a younger man, Saif Ali Khan and had 2 children with him, both of which are starting to act in films. Considered very attractive she was able to be the leading lady to both Dharmamendra and later to his son Sunny Deol. These days she mostly plays mothers as in this film. She was a very effective mother in "2 States."
Gauri Khan was the producer and co-owner with her husband Shah Rukh Khan of Red Chillies Entertainment that was one of the production companies for this film. As many of you may know Shah Rukh Khan is my favorite actor http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/06/shah-rukh-khan-worlds-most-famous-actor.html
Avik Mukhopadhyay did the cinematography in Glasgow and the Scottish countryside. He has also done "Pink," and another I hope to see soon, "October." Not heavy Bollywood musical, but with good background music from Clinton Cerejo, Anu Malik and Anupam Roy. Editing done by Monisha R Baldawa who had done "Mom," and "Neerja."
For a comparison with the original, "The Invisible Guest" see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/a-masterpiece-film-and-very-good-remake.html
"Badhaai Ho"continues a string of hits for Ayushmann Khurrana with an excellent supporting cast. An older couple (in their 50's) become pregnant which is embarassing for sons. The girl friend of the oldest son is very accepting, but her mother becomes upset to the point of disrupting her daughter's relationship. There are lots of laughs before everyone not only accepts the situation but celebrates it. It is common enough, that young people are unconscious that their parents are still sexual beings.
Ayushman has chosen a number of socially relevant topics. Perhaps most famous for his debut role in "Vicky Donor" about a sperm donor who is ashamed of how he makes money. Read more about his career and some other socially different roles includes a link to a single film blog:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/ayushmann-khuranna-actor-to-watch.html Another blog on Ayushmann for "Article 15' http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/article-15.html
Sanya Mahotra plays the girlfriend. Her first movie was "Dangal" where she played a female wrestler. Looking forward to her appearance with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in "Photograph."
Several members of the supporting cast won awards: Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Surekha Sikri. Neena and Gajraj won an award as Extraordinary Couple of the Year.
Directed by Amit Ravinernath Sharma who also was one of the producers. Akshat Gildial was the writer who won an award for dialogue. This film was nominated for best film on several award panels.
As with most of my movie blogs I have bolded the films I have actually seen and have filtered down to only include movies I recommend--most of them very highly.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
There is a concerted effort to paint Iran as the bad guy who might have to be taught a lesson. Iran is far from perfect, but are they really the bad guy?
Much is made of their support for groups that are labeled terrorist. Yes, that can certainly endanger some of our friends. On the other hand it seems they are protecting fellow Shiites where they have been under attack in Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere much like Americans profess alarm over Christians being besieged. Yes, Tehran uses very scary rhetoric, but has anybody listened to Mr Trump? Has much notice been given to the ever increasing restrictions on the Palestinians which many consider criminal?
A huge mistake was when Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. He claimed it didn't go far enough and he would force them to bend to his will. We all want this to be a nuclear free world where everybody co-operates but in fact there is too much distrust. Trump treats North Korea with more care, perhaps because he has been made aware they have nuclear weapons. Libya decided to demolish their nuclear weapons, but that didn't protect Moamar Gaddafi. Do Americans pay attention to history?
My core contention is that the Iran nuclear agreement not only gave some temporary relief from nuclear fears, but also was an opportunity to build trust that would allow other western concerns to be dealt with. No matter what agreement the Americans can force upon the Iranians do they really expect others to trust them now?
In 1953 the Iranians had a democratically elected leader who was trying to follow the example of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Americans to share oil revenue. The British resisted and requested help from the U.S. After a successful coup, Mohammed was replaced by the Shah. To consolidate his power he sought help from the C.I.A. to set up SAVAK, a secret police service. One of the trainers was Norman Schwarzkopf, later famous for the Iraq invasion. They also involved the Israeli MOSSAD. The purpose was to track and control enemies of the Pahlavi family. The Americans left and SAVAK took a turn for more brutality including torture, executions, censorship. The first director was repelled, eventually becoming a dissident and was assassinated in such a way to appear an accident. Agents spied on Iranian citizens to uncover dissidents and as a by product promote distrust amongst neighbors.
With the election of Jimmy Carter the Iranians were coerced into alleviating torture and other abuses of power. Ironically when the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, Carter also felt an obligation to support the Shah under siege. This stirred resentment in Iran and led to the hostage crisis that helped undo Carter's re-election. A few other ironies--during an oil boycott it was Carter who adopted a conservation strategy to make Americans less dependent on Mid-East oil. This was ridiculed by Republicans who went onto ridicule climate change. Another irony provided by the Republicans is that they spun an arms deal with the supposed enemy Iranians to finance an insurrection in Nicaragua.
The Iranian Revolution was sparked by civilian discontent. As is often the case the people rallied behind fundamentalist clergy who in the end took control. Similarly the Poles rebelled against the Soviets using the Catholic Church as a tool. In another blog about corruption it was pointed out that when citizens have little room to protest they support fundamentalists. see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/thieves-of-state.html
After the Iranian Revolution Iraq thought it would take advantage of confusion in Iran to invade it starting in 1980. Americans, concerned about the prospect of a prolonged war supported Saddam Hussein including providing expertise on chemical weapons that not only killed an estimated 100,000 Iranians but were also used on Kurdish civilians. Iran was able to quickly repel the invaders, but the conflict dragged on until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire accepted by Iran in 1988.
In 1988 an Iranian passenger airline was shot done in Iranian territory by an American missile. Americans claimed they mistook it for a military fighter. All 290 people on board died. Ronald Reagan expressed regret in a diplomatic note. United States did not admit legal liability or offer a formal apology but did agree to a financial settlement of $61.8 million.
After 9/11 the Bush administration labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil," although they had provided some intelligence for the crisis. I have to admit that phrase came from David Frum, a Canadian conservative writer who I have come to like a bit.
There was some concern that Iran would develop nuclear weapons. They were of course pictured supporting terrorists, threatening Israel and repressive. Obama judged the priority to be avoiding nuclear weapon proliferation in the Mid East. Iran had been under an embargo for decades and wanted relief. Using the talents of John Kerry and co-operation with the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China an agreement was hammered out that restricted Iran's nuclear program and opened up relations a bit. Many Americans were upset that the United States authorized a huge payment to Iran, overlooking the fact that it was money+interest that had been sequestered after the Iranian Revolution. Monitoring adherence was part of the agreement and Iran was careful to keep their part of the deal.
I am not privy to intelligence that United States might possess and apparently neither are any other governments. Iran is under provocation and there are political and social factions that are already quite upset with the Americans. As the provocations step up and attitudes harden an accidental trigger could initiate a Mid-East war. It is very likely to be larger than the Iraq War was and is also likely to be divisive among allies and citizens when the world should be prioritizing climate change and other global concerns.
It is not hard to speculate about motives.
At this particular moment Trump appears to be fishing for diversions. The legal attack and perhaps even more the political attack against him appear to be making progress. Another motivation might be to satisfy Saudi Arabia and Israel. In the case of Israel they have some legitimate fears, although considering they already have nuclear weapons might be a little exaggerated for domestic politics. Americans are perhaps too beholden to Israel who is making efforts to totally disenfranchise Palestinians. Trump had some generous donations predicated on supporting Israeli goals. In the case of Saudi Arabia Trump seems to have formed a relationship, one might say a business relationship.
The agreement should have been a building block. United States and Israel could relieve tension over time. Like Ronald Reagan once said "Trust but verify." That philosophy had a chance until Trump butted in, like he has in so many other ways.
Some other blogs that might be relevant:
earlier thoughts on the agreement
hopes for an agreement
if you enjoy movies, you might appreciate there are dissidents in Iran and there is also artistry. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/03/three-persian-directors.html
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
He depicts China as deceptive, cheating foes and determined to be number one in the world. His arguments are convincing, even more so in the years after publication.
China felt humiliation at the hands of Britain, America and Japan, but had a long range plan to reassert what they feel is their rightful place in the world. After the 1949 Revolution China declaring itself a Communist nation and realized Russia was predominant in their sphere. They were not without some fear over Soviet intentions. America was seen as an enemy for many reasons (Taiwan for one example) but saw America as a counterpoint to Russia. America also saw China as a counterpoint to Russia.
Humiliation is I believe the core problem. Not dealt with as thoroughly it deserved. The Chinese had the oldest continuing tradition of civilization. Opium forced on them because British wanted much from China, but China did not see enough they wanted to trade for.
One thing not mentioned in the text was that Pierre Trudeau had made overtures to China beforehand. It seems logical that a connection was made more acceptable by Canadian moves or even concern that Canada was getting a trade advantage denied to American farmers and businesses.
China assessed that they could be temporary friends with U.S. and lull Americans into complacency. Both sides aware of some sensitivity of the other. The Chinese agreed to not make an issue of Taiwan and the Americans gave defensive reassurances regarding Russian aggression and even supplied information regarding Indian troop movements towards Pakistan who was being given support by China. Each side thought they could use a new partner to deal with Russia.
Decades of Republican and Democratic administrations felt it was in their interest to help prop up China so they would join democracy and capitalism in a western sense. Those in charge of China had a different agenda. Develop trade, steal information, build up their strength without alarming the Americans.
It became clear after awhile that they had a few sensitive concerns. The Dalai Lama was universally admired (very much personally), but represented a rebellious part of China. Taiwan was considered an integral part of China, but eventually they developed a relationship, but one where China thought they could win Taiwan from the inside.
They promised to loosen up their economy and adopt western practices. Not quite what happened as the state owned almost half of the businesses and were subsidized. Part of their strategy was to be non threatening and to grow their strength by deception and theft.
The author gives an example of China's power with a popular American movie, "Gravity." I saw it and am reminded of some components that seemed innocent at the time. Sandra Bulloch was endangered because Russians had exploded one of their satellites which was causing debris and shock waves. Later she was saved as she gained access to a Chinese space station. The author points out that Russia has never shot down one of their satellites, but China without warning has done so (to test their anti-satellite capability) plus that Chinese space stations are not compatible with American technology. These facts were obviously known to the producers, but they likely did not want to jeopardize the huge Chinese movie market.
The book was copyrighted in 2015. Have we learned much since then? Today I heard commentators talk about the future dominance of G5 technology which is being led by China. Read in a New York Times supplement that Chinese are using face recognition technology to track Uighars who they consider dangerous. China in the past few years has stirred up tension by their actions in the China Sea where other nations (Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan) have claims. There is still demands to ostracize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan freedom efforts. Trump has talked very tough on China, but seems willing to have his family do business with Chinese businesses. Hauwei with Canada forced to detain Chinese CEO by orders of the Trump administration. China has made friends in Africa where they have identified needed resources and prospective friends. The Chinese in general are making efforts to build their strength. They still seem to feel they can conquer economically, but are gradually building up their military strength wasting less resources than Americans.
My own experiences with Chinese were mostly dealing with pet products. One small company was offered a big sale if we would share the formula. Another company that recruited me for pet beds and furniture had promised my boss exclusivity, but in the field I learned of a competitor. selling the same line. When the Canadian owner unfortunately died I dealt directly with the Chinese manager for a brief time, but I think he figured out I didn't have the resources he wanted. Also with still another company they learned to compete economically they had to accept Chinese manufacturing. None of these deals worked to my advantage.
What should we do? The first step might be to improve our understanding of China. This can involve more intense intelligence efforts, but also academic study and personal contact. Can we hope that they will change their views and join us as true partners or not?
Contact is important. Most Chinese citizens know only what the government wants them to know about. Some approved citizensare allowed to be tourists while many others have studied at universities in America and other western countries.
America beat off Russia during the Cold War with bi-partisan support. We need to support dissidents and demand release of political prisoners. They need to know our relations hinge at least in part of human rights. We need to not bend when we are requested to participate
Strengthen relations with Asian countries in particular, but also the rest of democratic countries. The Pan Pacific Agreement would have been important to maintain economic alternatives to Chinese. Taiwan is awkward as is the Dalai Lama . U.S. forces on Okinawa--Japanese constitution re self defense South Korea North Korea can be expected to line up wth China
We have to set a better example recognizing that Chinese propaganda can find and distort aspects of our culture. Credibility can only be manufactured so far.
The Chinese are concerned over inflaming own population and now Uigar Muslims. There are still protesters who are not always silent. Terrorists are a minor concern, but one they share with the rest of the world.
A good start is to read Michael Pillsbury's book and visit his website http://michaelpillsbury.net/ He is described as a Chinese hawk and an advisor to Donald Trump, nonetheless he has a viewpoint that is well worth knowing. His history with the Chinese is very instructive as he describes how he and the governments of both parties were deceived
Monday, May 6, 2019
With kids off to school, the morning is seniors time. Still early in the season, but one can sense Nature reasserting itself.
As one goes down to the parking lot there is a split between a path to the CNR railway and the trail.
Along the trail greeted by Goose and Gander and some very young goslings. At this time of year most of the goslings are kept safer in Cootes Paradise on the other side of the High Level Bridge. They must be more trusting of trail walkers.
Cormorants are the most interesting birds. Here is one on the left flapping his wings to dry off. They can be tricky to photograph as they are apt to plunge under the water to chase a fish and emerge several meters away. This island demonstrates a high water level. It is similar or even the same as one I used for my Facebook background when the water was lower and more land visible.
A redwing blackbird. They seem to love being near the water.
Two swans. In a few weeks it is normal for them to nest right near where I earlier saw a turtle.
Somewhere near here I was spotted by an old friend, Barbara with a friend who had noticed beavers had been busy gnawing at trees. Several years ago I had watched with others while a beaver dragged a tree across the trail.
Gaze towards the east and one can see the Skyway Bridge and ships in the harbour.
Turn away from the water and one can see trains whizzing by.
Just across from Bayfront Park is a corner that has been used for the Sunset Cultural Garden that had been set up by the Chinese community of Hamilton. Many years ago I remember signing a petition to reserve this land for a garden. People had been known to meditate here as it is so peaceful. There are poems in stone in twelve different languages including Chinese, Korean, Gujarti and Arabic.
Flowers are blooming, but there will be more variety in a few weeks. So something to look forward to.
I have enjoyed lots of interesting natural settings in Canada and New Zealand more isolated from cities, but I am grateful that such a place a Bayfront Park exists for it gives me a sense of awe.