Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watching movies from around the world 2020

The world has much to offer which nobody gets to appreciate.  We are told by our financial advisors not to put all our money in any one country.  I am retired and although the Covid 19 pandemic restricts some of my activities the world has become more accessible.  My goal is to encourage more people to investigate foreign films and get used to dealing with subtitles.  My selections reflect my biases/prejudices and also my accessibility to the multitude of films.   The selected movies are worthy of your time and I have made my favorites with photos.  They all have merit.

The top film for me overall is the one on the left,  "Peranbu"  (2019) in the Tamil language.  See below for more information under Regional Movies from India.



Italy

The Best of Youth
"The Best of Youth" (2003) was recommended to me by Mary Ito (of CBC) several years ago.  It is a long film, 6 hours and covers Italy from Turin and Florence to Rome to Palermo with lots of relationships.  There are surprises, some of them pleasant, but some not.  One of the top ten.  


"Dogman" (2018) gets its title from the protagonist who is a dog groomer.  Mixed up with drug dealers and double crossing.  Violence.

"Sicilian Ghost Story" (2017) received mixed reviews, but did win a number of festival stories.  The story was adapted from a tragic set of events where the son of Mafiia informer was killed after a kidnapping failed to induce his father to change his testimony.  The film has been changed with a fictional character becoming the focus, but retaining the tragic element.


"Il Sorpasso" (1962) is a black and white road movie.  Lots of laughs, but you will be jolted--that's life.

Germany

"Transit"  (2018) was on Barrack Obama's list of best movies.  Although German it was set in Marseilles, France with many language shifts that without understanding most of the words could appreciate the transition.  It was framed uniquely--the original novel is about German nationals trying to escape Nazism, but is shown in modern day Marseilles with the script focusing on refugees needing to flee ahead of encroaching authoritarian military police.  The time was a mix--they deliberately kept the modern scenery except for computers and smart phones.  The special features were very helpful to not only understand this movie, but also in general.

"Never Look Away" (2018) was another excellent film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who directed, wrote and produced it.  Covers from Nazism from the racial superiority augmented by classism to Communism and art.  The three key roles are well acted.  Despite the political nature of the film an underlying theme is art.  At the beginning we are shown a young boy attending an art exhibit regarding degenerative art (as seen by Nazis) with his very supportive aunt.   After the war the Russians take over and the young boy is now trying to apply his artistic talent, but doing politically approved art.  His talent is recognized, but feeling hampered he escapes with his wife.  Once in West Germany he tries to find his art style and purpose and we encounter what to many would be weird art.  He eventually does find his style by harkening back to the horrors of Nazism by using old photos deliberately blurred.  Along the way we have a love story, a bit of mystery and lots of politics.

"The Axe of Wandsbek" (1951) actually comes from East Germany and is very political (anti Nazi) and was taken out of distribution by the Russians.  Concerns a town Hitler refused to visit until a prisoner was executed.   Distrust of the justice system.  A few of the characters were decent people trapped in the Nazis system.  The German director, Falk Harnack fought with the Greek resistance against the Nazis in WW II

"Generation War" (2013) told a story of five friends at the start of World War II from a German perspective where they assumed it would all be over in time for Christmas.  Five years to produce and it shows    read more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/10/generation-war.html



 

 

 

 

French

"The African Doctor" (2016) is based on a true story. A black doctor, born in Zaire, but educated in France accepts a job in a rural area of France and is soundly rejected.  Prospective patients  take a longer trip to another town.  Of course their reluctance eventaully diminishes after the villagers discover his daughter is a sensational soccer player.

"The Count of Monte Cristo" (1998) showed a slimmer Gerard Depardieu at his best with the classic story.  As a mini series they got into more details than I have seen with other versions.   I understand it is faithful to the text, except for one major change that would offend a purist.  I am a bit of a purist, but only a bit--I enjoyed it.

"Bad Seeds" (2019) is a comedy with a social message.  A slimmed down Catherine Deneuve  partners with an adopted son as con artists who get caught and forced to help with some troubled youths. 

 Polish

"Blind Chance" (1987) directed and written by Krzystof Kieslowski at a time of relatively no censorship which lasted roughly from August 1980 when Lech Walesa gained right for independent trade union until December 13, 1981 when martial law was declared  The film was not finished before Dec 13 and was shelved.  A lot of Polish history.  Communist dictatorship, Catholic   Presents three random paths that were a product of chance.   The film went through different versions, but the uncensored version not released until the 1990's.    The different timelines concept borrowed -with "Sliding Doors" (1998),  "Mr Nobody" (2009) and  "Run Lola Run" (1998).





 

Romania

 "I do not not care if we go down in history as Barbarians" (2018)     An odd frame to demonstrate anti-Semitism, but effective.  We view an historical outdoor play about Romanian participation in the Holocaust.  The response to the burning of the Jews included applause.  Along the way we are treated to some gratuitous nudity   

Iceland

"And Breathe Normally" (2018) Immigration problem--two women with problems

"Heartstone" (2018) was mostly about teenage anguish.  Of interest to me was showing Icelandic horses performing a tolt gait. 

Sweden

"Sami Blood" (2016) is about discrimination against what we were taught are Laplanders, but which call themselves Sami.  Viewed on Canada's indigenous network, APTN.  Fitting in can be very difficult and demand sacrifices.

"The Silence" (1963) is Ingmar Bergman's film that typically is more symbolic about human relations.

Hungary

"On Body and Soul" (2017)  This is not for the squeamish as the director and cinematographer chose to show some of the gruseome details of working in a slaughterhouse.  Two employees learn that they have had the same dream about deers that travel together, but do not mate.  The man is somewhat detached while the woman is asexual.     link to Hungarian cinema.

Czech

"The Fabulous Baron Muchausen" (1962) animation and live action?  special effects before computers took over  Karel Zeman     Science fiction--redited with inerpreting Jules Verne better than anyone else. connected to Bata shoes ad campaign  worked against Communist direction and censorship--
link to Czech

Georgia

Not to be confused with the American state.  Was part of the Soviet Union (Stalin was born there) it became independent, but subject to Russian interference and intimidation.

"My Happy Family" (2017) a middle aged woman leaves her household that included her parents, her children and her husband.  Singing was shown as a comunal activity.

Russia

With Andrey Zvagintsev, "The Banishment" (2007) is the missing feature for me.  It is predominantly Russian, but was filmed in Europe, based on American novel by William Saroyan, had the female lead from Sweden, but able to speak Russian, a Russian actor who had performed in American films.  Check out http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/the-banishment-russian-film-to-ponder.html










 

 

 

Hispanic

The third most popular language in the world has many expressions worth knowing.

"A Twelve-Year Night." (2018)  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/a-twelve-year-night.html  Set in Uruguay.


"Palm Trees in The snow" (2015) located in a Spanish island in Africa with a dramatic story.

"Nobody Knows I'm Here" (2020) from Chile.  Story of a talented singer used as a backup for someone with better looks and connections.  Bitterness. The voice is beautiful.


 

 

 

"100 Metros" (2016) is an inspiring story about a man who has Multiple Sclerosis, based on a true story.  MS is a scary disease and it is encouraging that some people can live good lives under it.  It also relates how families can support one another in times of crisis (there is more than one crisis).


 








Canada

"Tia and Piujuq" (2018)  covers four languages; predominantly Inuktitu, Arabic with some French and English.  A children's film, using a fantasy conveyed some of the cross cultural streams in Canada.  A 10 year old Syrian refugee living in Montreal goes through a magical door and ends up in the Arctic to befriend another 10 year old girl.  They learn of some Inuit myths which are depicted in animated form.   It is a low budget film, but delivers for children a glimpse of the diversity of not only Canada, but also the world.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/tia-and-piujuq.html

"Funny Boy" (2020), could be classed as still another outstanding Tamil film, but is heavy on English and also has some Sinhalese as it deals with the racial tensions in Sri Lanka.  It also deals with homophobia (or really a gay story).  Very well done with last shot taken at the Toronto Airport.   Directed and co-written by Deepa Mehta.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/funny-boy.html     

Greenland

The opportunity to add a unique indigenous movie "Anori"(2018)  to my collection was too interesting to pass up.  The star, Nukaka Coster-Waldau was one of the more attractive female leads anywhere and is a prominent singer.  The plot confused me and I am not certain I recall it right.  The first part was a re-telling of how a couple first met, starting with a concert and then an airplane ride progressing to consensual sex and marriage up to a comatose recovery in a hospital.  Like in a murder mystery revisiting the same events, but from the perspective of a different man, one who felt he lost out.  Fate is depicted as either destiny or random.  Makes one think of all the fluky things that had to happen to connect you to your present circumstances.

Arabic

'Sand Storm" (2016)  Bedouin living in Israel mother daughter without power--the daughter tries to push against, but is forced to marry her father's choice--the last scene with a younger sister who hopefully will have more control over her future.

"ZoZo"  (2005) a joint project involving Lebanon and Sweden.   A young refugee finds it difficult to adjust to his new life in Sweden.

"The White Helmets" (2016)  won the Oscar for documentary short.  It made us aware of the relentless bombing in innocent Syrians and the valiant attempts to rescue those victims of bomging.

Turkey

"7 Kongustake Mucise'" (2019) was a remake of a Korean movie  "Miracle in Cell No. 7" (2013) that got my attention as one of the top Korean films of all time.  Netflix gave me access to this version.   Simply it is about a mentally challenged father who is thrown in jail keeping him separate from his 6 year old daughter  There are a lot of twists that will bring tears before the story is concluded.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/a-tear-jerker-from-turkey.html


 


 

 

 

Iran
 
"3 Faces" (2018) mainly in recognition of the difficulties in bypassing censorhip and reaching an international audience.  Jafer Panihi has done a number of good movies  link  but has been restricted

"Where is the Friend's House" (1987) directed by Abbass Kiarstami, well known Iranian film-maker.  This one done with non actors is a very simple one about a young boy trying to return a note book to a friend so their teacher would not punish him.  Well done. In the sequel, "And Life Goes On" a special feature explains how Kiarstami prepares the non actors the night before a scene by setting up the emotion he wants to depict and not letting them know the script.  In this sequel a director goes looking for some of the actors that appeared in "Where's is The Friends House," who were in an area hit by a killer earthquake. Special features are enlightening.  Kiarstami has directed movies outside, one with Juliette Binoche and one in Japan.


Japan

"37 Seconds" (2019) A would be Manga artist with cerebral policy is told she needs to experience sex for her art.  Easier said than done.  She pays for sex, but it doesn't go as she hoped.  She hooks up with a prostitute who serves a handicapped man and then later develops her own caretaker.   A different perspective that lets one perhaps understand a little better the dilemma of disabled people.. 






Korea


"Parasite" (2019)  first foreign film to win best Oscar film  winning three Oscars.  It starts with a humorous procedure, but you become aware of a class struggle. 

http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html 



 

 

 

"Crash Landing on You" (2019) A daughter of a rich man who is self accomplished, accidentally ends up in North Korea with a group of sympathetic North Korean soldiers who try to get her back home.  Lots of humor mixed in with corruption, snobbery, cultural clashes on both sides of the border and above all romance.  Used mini flashbacks to give background as the complicated plot moves forward.  Very addictive--probably watched close to 20 hours in less than a week.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html


Since then have watched 6 other Korean series and have come to appreciate their style.  They drag it out, but do a lot of character development and flashbacks to keep it interesting.  I also like some of the music.

"Hyena"(2020) a corporate lawyer series brought about one of the biggest laughs of the year for me although more of a courtroom drama.

Another one I recommend is "Stranger" 2017/2020) which is a murder mystery enveloped inside corruption scandal.  No romance, but many layers that are very well uncovered.

Regional Movies from India

There is more to Indian cinema than Bollywood


Tamil:  "Peranbu" (2019) was listed at top film from India for 2019--devoid of the usual crowd pleasers, but very moving.  Very well told.  Top overall movie of the year. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/03/peranbu-top-film-out-of-india.html  A father who had abandoned his family for ten years tries to re-enter the life of his spastic daughter with many challenges.





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 "Dharala Prabhu" (2020) get more details and comparison with "Vicky Donor" at http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/vicky-donor-cf-dharala-prabhu.html   This was my most popular blog overall.

The original was very funny and touching at the end.  The remake was a little more serious, but still lots of laughs and the same touching ending.



A third Tamil movie that is exceptional. "Soorarai Pottru" (2020) came in November.  It had very high ratings but in the beginning I was regretting my selection as it had some stereotypical song and dance and the two main characters seemed comical, not in a nice way.  However sticking with it was one of the most tense movies I have watched and it had nothing to do with murder.  A business movie about the obstacles for a startup airline.  A rich ruthless businessman did everything he could to crush a startup and almost succeeded.  The sideline romance/marriage became more realistic and you could feel tension within the protagonist's family.



 

 

Bengali:  "Gawre Bairey Aaj  (2019 ) a love triangle based on a story by Tagore Rabindranath, but updated.  Don't know what the original had, this version depicts Hindu nationalists and secularists.  Caste snobbery. with the woman being a Dalit.  A lot of English which is considered the mark of an educated Indian.  Three main actors very good.  Switch to past using black and white.

"Buro Sandhu" (2019) The ending sneaks up on you.  Protagonist is presented as alcoholic, but stumbles onto working for film and finally having a script accepted. Given a chance to progress he develops a writers block, but then stumbles on a ready made script that becomes a big success.  You might imagine you know what happens, but you are not quite right.

Malayalam:  "Kettiyolaanu Ente Maalakha  (2019) was about a sexually inexperienced man who decided he needed to marry to help his aging mother.  He was a gentle, hard working, considerate man, but very nervous about having sex with his new wife and after hearing other men's joking he got drunk and raped her.  The viewer felt for him because he was unusually decent.  The actor was the same one who was the villain in my last year's second top overall movie.  Well worth seeing:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/08/uyare-unexpected-gem.html

"Vikrithi" (2019)  About the serious problems that can result from mishievious social media.  Two parallel running together with one shy man finally marrying his love after having taken a cell phone photo of an exhausted man on a train (who appeared drunk).  When he realizes the suffering of the photo subject the newly married man fails to consumate his marriage .

"Kappela" (2020) is a very simple, but deceptive story.  The viewers follow a young woman's romance and her parent's interference.  The twist is a bit hard to adjust to, but believable.

Telegu 

"Mahaniti" (2018) was about a famous movie star  Savitri in India.  She was a Telegu speaker, but a bigger star in Tamil and was often caught up in conflicts.  Her husband who had another wife was jealous.  Samantha Ruth Prabhu played in the framing story.


"Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo" (2020) is perhaps a little too Masala for the western taste, but has a few interesting points.  The producers assured movie theatre goers that the film would not be shown on Netflix in the hopes of getting a larger theatre audience.  It succeeded, but they went back on their word and did offer it thru Netflix.  A slight variation on switched babies in that the father of the poorer one put his own son in the rich family and was able to hide it for over 25 years.  Apparently a lot of fans really liked the dancing of Allu Arjun.  One appeal for me was Tabu, one of my favorite actresses.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/tabu.html

"Jaanu" (2020) a remake of "96 (2018)."  Samantha Ruth Prabhu becoming a favorite.   About two high school sweethearts who meet after 22 years.

"Krishna and his Leela" (2020) received a lot of nasty reviews that seemed to think the movie was criticizing religion.  I felt engaged and the script at the end was clever.  It appeared the protagonist was a two timer, but in reality he had been dumped by each of two women and they both wanted him back and he felt love for each.  But of course he had to make a choice. 

" Ye Maaya Chesave" (2010) is something I looked for as it had Samantha Ruth Prabhu and it turned out to be her first and she ended up marrying her co-star.  A typical romance from India where there is religious conflict with parents objecting.  A.R. Rahman provided songs.  Very well done.



 

 

 

Kannada:  One of the best love stories, "Dia" (2020) is in a classic plot line, but with a few twists.  Your expectations may not be met, but nonetheless the beautiful moments are there.  Very well executed.

"Malgudi Days" (2020).  An established writer retires and shortly after his wife dies.  A young woman quits her job and the two on impulse decide to travel and he decides to head towards his home town that he has not visited for several decades.  Along the way they tell their stories.  They run into her first love and his wife (they all get along) and also to her true love that had split because of a quarrel.  Facebook plays a role.  Things don't work out poetically, but as they say love is all around. With some stunning cinematography.

Marathi:   

"Cycle" (2018) A horoscope expert has a cherished bicycle stolen.  We follow his efforts and that of the two thieves.  We learn he is very beloved and has a young daughter who is skeptical about horoscopes.  Exceptional cinematography.  Simple moralistic story well told.


"Harishchandrachi Factory" (2009) is noteworthy as it recounts the beginnings of the film industry in India.  Did not really emphasize the difficulties there must have been, but suggest the driving force was an opportunistic man who did see it.

"Saavat" (2019) started out to be horror movie, but took off to a natural explanation to uncover an anti-female conspiracy.  Underlying theme was that women are easy to demonize.  Impressed with Smita Tambe

Gujarati

"Ventilator" is a serious movie with comic relief starring Jackie Shroff and appearance with favorite actress, Juhi Chawla.  In a life threatening situation there are family stresses and with one unique to immigrants.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/ventilator-serious-movie-with-comic.html












 

 

"Dhunki" (2019) seemed a low key movie about a startup company, but one could feel tension more realistically than in action or romance dramas.  When you see a man with an attractive woman going into business together you sense there likely will be a romance with some tension, but the tension comes from a different angle.  The man is in a stable marriage and the woman is engaged to a medical student with wealthy parents.  Both the marriage and the engagement are under stress because of problems associated with the startup, but the two partners/friends stick together.  The ending is slightly ambiguous, but realistic in that startups by nature are precarious.  Pratik Gandhi plays a leading role as in "Ventilator" and is quite good and well supported by the other three main roles.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/dhunki.html

Urdu: "Hamid" (2018) set in Kashmir.  Kashmir is one tof he hot spots with two nuclear nations disputing it.  A young boy whose father has disappeared wants to talk to Allah and flukely ends up talking to a soldier sent to control the population that is hostile.  The soldier is early established as anti Muslim, but soften as the naive boy reminds him of his daughter.  The movie doesn't take sides so much but provides the tension.

Bollywood

"Madaani 2" (2019) deals with rape.  Rani Mukerji has found a new niche after being mostly a leading lady.  She now is in action movies with a message.  This one deals with a rapist who also is a hit man.  It also deals about the poor treatment of women in India.  Suspenseful.  Rani's husband, Aditya Chopra produced.

"Good Newwz"(2019) is a very funny movie, but with a message.  Read more http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/good-newwz.html

"Sacred Games" (2018) based on book I bought many years ago.  Like many great books it has too much material for a typical movie, but well done as a mini series.

"Gour Hari Dastaan" (2015)  is about an old man who wanted to get official recognition as a freedom fighter overcoming bureaucratic tape.   A quote by Gandhi  in the end credits got my attention:  "If I had no sense of humor I would long ago have committed suicide."  Vinay Pathak continues to amaze me.

"The Lift Boy" (2019) Seemed like a frivolous subject, but is really a well told coming of age story.

"Thappad" (2020)  translates to the English "slap" and refers to one delivered by her husband.  It is more complicated and ties in relations with in-laws (not what you might expect) and more.  Taapsee Pannu delivers a masterpiece role.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/thappad-or-in-english-slap.html










"Har Kisse Ke Hisse: Kaamyaab" (2018)  "you got a better option?"a retired character actor realizes he has been n 499 films and wants to round it off, but problems with family and has trouble controlling nerves and remembering lines.  As a tribute the credits at the end show many character actors. that appear in Bollywood films.

"Axone" (2019) showed a part of Indian culture not often seen.  The Northeastern India is racially and culturally different, but many of their citizens head to the big city, in this case New Delhi.  One of them is getting married.  They encounter some prejudice which seems to be focused on a special dish that has a pungent smell that is repulsive to most others.  A few familiar faces, Vinay Pathak, Adil Husain and Sanyana Gupta.  India is perhaps the most populous countriy in the world and has a diversity of religions, races and cultures that makes it one of the most fascinating nations.

"Dil Bechara" (2020) is a very sad movie made more so with the knowledge that the lead male who dies in the film killed himself before the movie was released.  A remake of "The Fault in Our Stars,"  This one has the advantage of music by A.R. Rahman.

"Raat Akeli Hai" (2020) is a murder mystery with some twists.  One of the hi-lites is the performance of Nawzuddin Siddiqui.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/you-like-murder-mysteries-check-out.html 

Pakistan

Have seen a few Pakistani films, but none I remember.  I know there is a bit of an exchange between India and Pakistan and I hope this will be boosted as they have much in common.  "Saawan" (2016) was based on a true story, but was probably selected to highlight a concern over polio.  In attempt to quell an outbreak Pakistan hired many medical staff to give out vaccinations, but because one of them led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden others were killed.  This is a bit of a thriller and inspirational story and you will feel some honest tension.

Indonesia

"Habibie and Ainun" (2012) was really a biopic based on memory of Habibie for his wife Ainun.  He took advanced engineering education in Germany and earned some patents while there.  He and Ainun lived there for a few years and had two boys.  He returned to Indonesia where he helped develop airplane manufacturing.  Eventually he became Prime Minister.  His wife had cancer and the movie ends with her death in Germany.  There were indications that they were Muslim, but I was not conscious of it until near the end.  The movie is based on some writings of Habibie. The actress who played Ainu was a singer and sung a background song that was very touching. and I would add in a quiet way she is stunningly beautiful.  


"Kartini" (2017) is about a woman who led a feminist movement, but with help from a Dutch colonizer. Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/11/kartini-princess-of-java-feminist.html



     

 

 

Cambodia

"First they Killed My Father" (2017) was film directed and produced by Angelina Jolie and financed by Americans presented a Cambodian history in their language and hired large numbers as crew.  The Khmer Rouge wiped out the Cambodian film industry, but one survivor wrote a book about her experience as a seven year old.  Some of the crew was Cambodian and most of the extras.  a frightening movie where it is hard to imagine how anyone could survive.  One knowledgeable reviewer said it was not as historically accurate as "The Killing Fields" (1984). 

China

"Us and Them"(2018) used the annual Chinese New Year's trek for city workers to their hometowns as a frame.  A young couple have their share of ups and downs in a precarious (capitalist) society and eventually break up and come across each other on another New Years trek a few years later.

"A Sun" (2019) from Taiwan is a family drama with some dysfunctional elements and a few unexpected events. 
   

Shinjuku Incident" (2009)  shows Jackie Chan in a little different light.  He is not a martial arts master, but nonetheless gets involved with violence and discrimination against the Chinese in Japan.  Jackie is more than just martial arts, check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/jackie-chan.html

 


 

 

"The Captain" (2019) about a airplane mishap and saving--realistic airport, airplane, airport procedures with meticulous detail.  The mishap is very realistic and scary.


 


 

 

 

 

 "Ash is the Purest White" (2018)  was seen from a list by Barrack Obama.  A woman stands by her man including a prison stay and another woman.

Thailand

"Happy Old Year" (2019) starred  Chutimon Chuengharoensukying who impressed me in "Bad Genius."  This movie is slow, but evolves in unpredicted ways.  An underlying theme is throwing things out, but it turns out to be harder than thought and comes with emotional baggage.  It is sad, but unfortunately realistic for some people who aren't able to make the connections that make life worth while.  To better appreciate why I was drawn to the star see:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/06/bad-genius-out-of-thailand.html

Vietnam

"The Third Wife" (2018) gives some insight into 19th century Vietnam.  Sexual curiosity is a driving force, but also gender relationships.   The writer/director/producer, Ash Mayfair was born and raised in Vietnam, but educated in Australia, United Kingdom and United States drew upon family history to develop story that encompassed child brides, polygamy, arranged marriages, importance of male children and of the relations between the women.  Sexual action involving a 13 year old actress.

Philippines

"Ordinary People" (2016)is not really about ordinary people, but Ordinaryo is a family name.  Very gritty.

Nigeria 

Separate  from Africa as has its own large cinema.  Although most films are 90% English, they do subtitle some national languages--Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo.  Also not quite competitive with English market with a few exceptions.  

 Nigeria is gradually making progress outside their borders.  The film industry really started at DVD and VHS level where movies were distributed almost exclusively at a retail level.  Over time expertise is developed and competition encourages creativity.  Lately noticed that Netflix is picking up some of their movies.  "Elevator Baby" (2019) and "4th Republic"(2019)"and Light in the Dark" (2019) were worthy of your time.   


"In My Country" (2017) is a gem . A sensitive topic about a wife concerned about her husband's reaction after she is raped at gunpoint in his presence.. The two leads are well done with a good supporting cast.


 








Another noteworthy Nollywood film that depicts an effort to solve health care problems, especially of poor people.  Some honest dialogue.





For more on Nollywood:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/nollywood-upcoming-force-in-global-films.html




Africa

"The Boy who Harnessed the Wind" (2019 )is a British product in many ways, but it is set in Malawi  and uses subtitles for different languages as well as dominantly English.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is writer, director and actor  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/the-boy-who-harnessed-wind_17.html

"Atlantics" (2019) was included on a list of favorite movies by Barrack Obama.   It was a French-Senegal production using Wolof and French dialogue with subtitles.  After colonial breakups France did in fact give some support for cinema in their former colonies.

"Material (2012 ) set in Johannesburg, South Africa with a mostly Muslim caste with one man wanting to be a standup comic behind his father's back.

Check out my English films for this year here:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/2020-movies-english-language.html

You can check last year's favorites:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/the-best-in-subtitled-movies-viewed-2019.html

2020 Movies English language

 As most of my audience is English speaking here are my thoughts on some accessible films.  My retirement and the Pandemic gave more opportunities to explore.  Every movie mentioned is recommended, but my favorites have the larger photos.

"The Grizzlies" (2018)  seems like a gimmicky sports movie, but it is very much more.  We hear people say sports are good for kids, but this movie illustrates what that can mean.  Based on a true story and set in Canada's Arctic this film starts with a suicide and throughout you see alcoholism and abusive families and more suicide.   School absenteism is normal.  A naive southern teacher comes up basically as no one else would hire him.  He makes a few cultural mistakes and learns along the way.   He is a lacrosse fanatic and after a great deal of obstacles he manages to organize a lacrosse team and finance a trip to the big city, Toronto.  Surprised to learn script co-written by Graham Yost son of Elway Yost.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/01/an-unexpected-canadian-film-gem.html




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 "Hamilton" (2020)   film of live presentation.  An interesting story told in an interesting way.



 Iqaluit" (2016) has Josee-Jose Crozee who in a previous movie showed the best smile I have seen, but in this movie she is a grieving widow.  Actually tri-lingual with English predominant, but signficant French and Inuktitut.

"Tolkien" (2019) I had not read any of the books or seen any of the movies but decided he might be worthy of a look.  A good choice.  Peter Jackson New Zealand

"Stan and Ollie" (2018)  Laurel and Hardy were part of my child hood.  Did not realize that Stan Laurel was the one who put together skits and handled the business.  A special feature  focused on the prosthetics necessary by Marc Coulier

"The Two Popes" (2019) Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed Vatican doors, but the speculation is intriguing.  After John Paull II there appeared to be two factions, the conservatives and the reformists.  Ratzinger got elected and opted for maintaining a traditional Catholic hierarchy and somehow that continued along with corruption, sex scandals and many Catholics leaving the church either officially or more often just stopped showing up.  Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce were a joy to watch.



"The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story" (2019) caught my curiosity as it had a familiar Bollywood actor in an English speaking movie, set in India. and based on a true story.  It dealt with a delicate issue in many Third World countries regarding missionary activities.  Many locals resent conversion efforts that they think are disguised as benevolent efforts.  Sharman Joshi (best known for "The 3 Idiots") plays a journalist who thinks he can expose illegal conversion efforts, but instead learns of a dedicated man who works with lepers and is careful not to impose his religious views.  Unfortunately his value is not realized until after a tragedy  A line that sticks--"he has converted the worthless to significance, the hopeless to the hope-filled and lepers to human beings."

"Short Term 12" (2013) was about stresses in a faciity for troukbled teenagers.  Brie Larsen  

"Marriage Story" (2019)  won an Oscar--Adam Driver, Scarlett    Painful to watch.

"2017"set in the Great War.   Long shots were impressive and helped win cinematography Oscar.

"Beautiful Boy" (2018) So used to seeing Steve Carell in comedy roles but he is very good in more "serious" roles.  Timothee Chalamet demonstrates his versatility is this story about dealing with addiction.

Little Women (2019) not seen earlier versions, but loved the frame--author had been coerced into writing a happy ending.


"The Report (2019) Adam Driver seemed very natural in the role of investigator.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/the-report.html



 

 

"Da 5 Bloods" (2020) from Spike Lee who almost always has a black theme.  This one goes back to the Vietnam War where blacks were disproportionately killed, but also acknowledges that the Vietnamese suffered.  An interesting story with a few surpirses

 

 

 

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019) drew attention because of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks, but the focus was really on a reporter played by Rhys Mathew.  Most of us had an image of Mr Rogers as a naive? person, but in reality he understood human emotions better than most and focused his attention on children where it all starts.


Ford v Ferrari (2019) was a classic story about American cars vs. the European car.  In this case the Americans won.

Once Upon A time in Hollywood (2019) showcased two stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. 

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" (2017) for me combined reading the book and watching the movie.  The title might sound like a horror movie, but it is more of a medical mystery with personal connections that are fascinating.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks.html

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020) with an impressive cast.  At the time of the events I was a university student and saw this as mostly radical protestors charged more or less on the same "crimes."  In fact it was more complicated with seven plus one more with different perspectives, but lumped together in an unfair trial.

"A Billion Colour Story" (2016)  From India, but 95% English about heightening discrimination in India with a mixed family trying to finance and produce a message to counter.  Finally an encouraging ending.

"Richard Jewell" (2019) directed and produced by Clint Eastwood who wanted to show the unfairness of how some misinformation could damage a man and his family.  It makes one realize that being identified as a suspect does not make one guilty. 

"The King of Staten Island" used a lot of crudities but was an engaging story of a troubled youth gradually finding a meaningful role in life.  Interesting that the star, co-writer, and co-producer was the son of a fireman who died in 9/11 and had lived in Staten Island. 


Older Films

Have decided to classify films that are before 2003.  Too easily overlooked with the hyper promotions for the latest blockbuster.

"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962) with Trevor Howard, Richard Harris and Marlon Brando.  Fantasy and cruelty  We do know that Bligh caused another mutiny so it seems realistic to think he was cruel.  Having been picked  by James Cook as his best navigator.  The fantasy is also real as we have learned from others such Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Gaugan.??? he had talent Brando the method actor

"Ride with the Devil" (1999) covers an unusual part of the American Civil War.  Surprisingly one of the main characters is a black man willingly fighting for the South.  Ang Lee with only his second American film gives some insight into some of the racial and social dynamics of the war.

"Black Robe" (1991) some Canadian history as Europeans exploited natives and were violently resisted. 

"The Devil's Brigade" (1948)  was of interest because I once worked with one of the  depicted soldiers.  Canadian and Americans take on difficult mission in World War II.   

"Klute"  (1971) was approached with my modern day biases.  Watching Jane Fonda in "Grace and Frankie" one is surprised at her acting range.  Donald Sutherland projects a sophisticated image in commercials and even as a slimy character in current films.  I was impressed in at least two ways.  As a mystery it unrolled cleverly.  It also showed a profound character development for the two main characters.  The director, Alan j. Paukula was not as famous as some of concurrent directors, but that by concentrating on actual film projects his films were consistently well regarded.  For more on Alan J. Pakula check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/03/alan-j-pakula.html

"My Brilliant Career" (1979) is set in Australia and is about a young independent female trying to find her way in the world receiving advice from three older women and trying to resist. The director, Gillian Armstrong explained herself 39 years later.  Judy Davis and Sam Neill in early films, all three named moving onto international films..

"What's Up Doc" (1985) had been described by one film maker as the funniest comedy. Slapstick,  car chase scenes in hilly San Fransisco, double entendres.   Screwball.

"Sophie's Choice" (1982)  Meryl Streep deserves every award she has won.

The Pianist (2002) a realistic movie about a Jew surviving in Warsaw under Nazi oppression.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)  enjoyable music, dialogue and plot but an Japanese character played by MickeyRooney was a mockery of Asian --special feature talked about the issue and its evolution

"The Long Walk Home" (1990) was about the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the many steps in the civil rights movement.  It is easy to forget how much violence had to be endured to overcome ignorance and fear.


"Charley" (1968) probably first seen at a drive in theatre near its release date and then perhaps a decade or two later and again recently.  My understanding  (I think) has improved with each viewing.  At one level it is tragic in that the protagonist starts as a person made fun of for his mental abilities and then rose to a genius level and then reverted back with a love story that also had a sad end.  More recently can see how experimenters are little concerned about the human participants.  Then there is the attitude too many of us towards mentally challenged people.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/multiple-viewings-can-enhance-your.html


 

"The Man Who Laughs" (1928)  was from the silent era and used inter-titles.  From a Victor Hugo novel (a few after success of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") and bringing in some crew from Germany that applied their expressionist style.

"Eye of the Needle" (1981) a spy thriller without special effects.  Pretty tense.

"The Last Temptation of Christ" (1987) portrays Christ as a man with human frailities.  Follows many of the Biblical stories.  Gives a different perspective on what it is generally believed by believers.      

"Fargo" (1996)  Minnesota roots of two brother director/writers, Frances McDorman married to Joel accents, local words


Horse Movies

I am no longer as involved with the horse world as I had been, but still love to watch and appreciate horses.

"Lean on Pete" (2017) horses are not pets--race horses are a business.  Quarter horse--money ,drugs, overuse--author bet on horse races and started wondering what happened to the horses he no longer saw  Willy Vlautin--horse meat--author moved from Reno to Portland picked up interest in horse gambling--young boy victim of poor parental decisions finds a home with race horse films and later becomes homeless before reconnecting with his family--horse picked and were told that the whites of the eyes help make a horse seem more human    Andrew Haigh, director long shots/ take once ideally--naturalism-- often pauses in dialogue are cut, but feels better not to--long take encourages audiences to concentrate more--horse races are tricky to film--quarter racing--car accident

Documentaries

 "They Shall Not Grow Old" (2018)  Peter Jackson  special features--restoring and even colorizing old films  WWI

"For Sama" (2019) brutally done by Syrian--births--explosions, rescuing bodies from collapsed buildings.  One very dramatic was of a woman in labour who had to have her baby delivered by Caesarian and brought to life by vigorous shaking; massaging

"56 Up" (2012)explores how real specific people change  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/56-up.html

"American Factory" (2018)won an Oscar for feature documentary.  What got my attention was that it was done through a production company financed by Barrack and Michelle Obama.  Chinese capitalism versus unionism.  At the end the company made a profit, employed a lot of people

"Daughters of Destiny" (2017) is a mini series about a school in India that educates children from the Untouchable caste.  One aspect is that given an education they are useful citizens.  There are problems of course--the school runs up against traditionalists who feel girls should be married young and not be educated.  Within the chose families only one is selected and this causes conflict, but the school founder felt the whole family could benefit and they could spread their resources to more families.  After almost two decades the results are just filtering to the country.

"There are no Fakes" (2019) was about faking art.  A member of the Barenaked Ladies band, felt he had been ripped off after buying a Norval Morriseau painting.  I had a copy/print of one of his works and a sister also owned some at one time, so I felt a personal interest.  Claims and counter claims and very wild accusations.   Norval Morriseau was a unique artists that opened doors for other artists.  I am glad to have some sort of representation of his on my wall, but am concerned it might not have benefited the artist.

"The Last Dance" (2020) was a must see as I have been a basketball fan for over 60 years and Michael Jordan is the most exciting player ever.  He is easy to admire and not just for his unique abilities, but also for his drive.  Not so easy to like.  The film is full of candid dialogue and locker room rivalries, but also of rival players.  Contract disputes were a big factor.  I was fascinated by Tony Kukoc and disappointed in his coverage.  Steve Kerr, now a very successful coach was interesting with his father dying in Lebanese conflict. Phil Jackson is one of the greatest and most interesting coaches of any sport of any time.  Read about Phil Jackson  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/02/eleven-rings.html   

 

"Octopus:  Making Contact" (2019 )and "My Octopus Teacher" (2019)  had read that they should be considered as sentient beings, on the same level as Chimpanzees and Dolphins.   They are fascinating to watch.  On this "Nature" one hour program a professor had bought a salt water tank for his Alaska home.  Changing colour. was one unexpected trick.  following our eyes--common ancestors had to be before animal came out of the water--different evolutionary track--recognition of symbols--intelligence is distributed to other parts of body--alien  --can use tools--no skeletons--contort through small openings    Determine they do have personality.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/for-me-this-is-year-of-octopus.html

 

"Rising Phoenix" (2020)  was about the Paralympic movement which really is a a story of disabled people carving out a bigger part of life.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/rising-phoenix-disabled-move-forward.html 

"The Book of Negroes" (2015):  based on book by Lawrence Hill who I had the good fortune to meet while he was working on this series.  --Black Loyalists--As American Revolution wound down, the Americans negotiated that negroes should not be taken away.  General Carleton saw things differently.  The Book of Negroes refers to a compilation of names the British came up with after the end of the Revolution where it was agreed that any negro who had served the British for one year was free.  George Washington argued the British should not be allowed to take negroes to Nova Scotia, but Guy Carleton defended his action in part with the Book of Negroes which was to record eligible blacks

 ""The Last Dalai Lama?" (2016) a man who crosses the religion/science divide better than anyone.  The Chinese government has taken steps to hijack the process for replacing him.  The Dalai Lama has taken steps to maintain the Tibetan rule of succession and their culturre.

"James Cook Obssession and Discovery"---greeting Maoris--crew had shot Maori from a distance--when Cook went ashore greeted by a haka which must have seen threatening but Cook had enough presence to approach leader and allow himself to be greeted nose to nose   Victoria harbour statue.

"The Roosevelts An Intimate History" () by Ken Burns dong back to still photos with many achived videos.  Good commentary.  I had a rough idea of the contributions of the three main characters, Theordore, Franklon and Eleanor, but not really of the full extent.  More interesting was their personal realtions.  The two men were vain and intelligent, well educated and positioned in life.  Eleanor was the liberal conscience always pushing for more progressive and she had to put up with Franklin's philandering ways.   Family tensions in both families were spelled out.  The spotllight on children was difficult to deal with.


 

 

"Enslaved" (2020) showed the link between slavery and economy.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/11/enslaved.html

"Cuba and the Cameraman" (2017) reminded me of my four trips to Cuba. Sympathetic to Cubans, but contained criticisms from both inside and outside the nation.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/cuba-after-revolution.html

"I Am Steve McQueen" (2014) was seen as part of research for an upcoming blog.  I have always thought of him as one of coolest performers in Hollywood, but there is more to him and I am still learning more
   

Animated: 

"The Nightmare before Christmas" (1993) recommended by Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra  member for its music

"Rio" (2011) lured by Sergio Mendes music  Rio II

"Wall E" (2008).  Very simple with little dialogue, but easy to follow.

TV Mini Series

Like most of you I have actually watched tv mini series most of my adult life and am ready to acknowledge they are essentially performing the role of telling stories like all other films.  The main difference of course in length which allows greater character development and plot details.  The problem is that some tend to drag on and can become boring.  Must be at least 3 episodes to be considered, if not is a film.

"The Marvelous Mrs Maisel"  bubbly female emancipation with a nod to Lenny Bruce.

"Line of Duty" (2012-2019)my favorite of the British police stories.  This year just caught the latest season, having already seen the previous ones.  All are really exceptional.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Sanditon" (2019)was based on Jane Austen's incomplete novel. Much of the plot and characterization is familiar, but the adaption does not have the usual happy ending.  But it does maintain the role of money in marriage decisions.

 "Ozark" (2017-2020) Can they keep it going?  It always look like the family is on the verge of annihilation.

"Unbelievable" (2019) the  long term misery rape can cause--connections  Toni Colette. Shows how difficult it can be for a rape victim to get a fair hearing.--Excellent detective work dependent on slim clues.  A reason why women are very reluctant to report a rape.

 

 

 

 

"Atypical"  (2017-2019) consisted  of short episodes.   Autism can be reduced to a comedy, but this is more than that.  Not only do you understand a bit more about the autistic person, but perhaps more important about the people around them.

"Mad Men" (2007-2015) even though I worked in an ad agency and heard lots of talk of it didn't watch it on tv., but have binged on Netflix.  A little on advertising insight, but perhaps more on social habits and political evens of the time.

"The Heart Guy" (2016) from Australia was about a talented, egotistical surgeon, with lots of problems finds himself back in his home town due to a suspension in big city hospital. 

"Designated Survivor" (2016-2019) filmed in Toronto with recognizable scenes in Hamilton.  The premise is that through flukey circumstances an honest man becomes president.  Netflix took over for the third season

"The Crown" (2016-2020)  very personal portrait.  Probably true, but it is too easy to be self righteous about it.


For what I conceive as mostly superior films including my number one for they year  check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/watching-movies-from-around-world-2020.html

Check out my list for 2019:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/the-best-of-english-speaking-movies.html


READING THROUGH 2020

Now that I am retired hope to read more fiction books for enjoyment.  But I still enjoy understanding how the world works.  These are the books I enjoyed this past year.  Most of these books were recommendations or suggestions from others and in one sense I am just passing them on with a little push of my own.

FICTION
  

"Beartown" (2017) written by Fredrik Backman, best known for "A Man Called Ove."   It was recommended by Chris of the Hamilton Library who made it sound like something I had to read, even though I am not a hockey fan.  Check my review:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/06/beartown.html  It goes into a wide range of social and business connections in a small town revolving around their prospective champion junior hockey team.




 

 

 

 

"Pride and Prejudice" (1812) by Jane Austen with the classic love story about Mr Darcy and Elizabeth which to me is about a colossal need for an icebreaker.  All romances are based on misunderstandings.  It is unnerving how Austen is able to get inside the heads of her characters.  Her focus is on marriage for money.  Snobbery is common, except with her leading characters.

"City of Thieves" (2008) by David Benioff was recommended by Fareed Zakaria--had written Game of Thrones   based on recollections of a Grandfather who had lived through the Leningrad siege of WW II

The Library closed and I had to look for alternatives.  The library was offering ebooks which I had read before, but due to technical problems gave it up.  Now it seems convenient.

"The Woman in The Window" (2018) by A.J. Finn  Is easy to read as it is m mostly in short paragraphs.  At first it seemed about a person with mental health issues and I wasn't sure if it would be worth while reading it.  There are surprises, a lot of them in that people are not what they seem, including the narrator with mental health issues. 

"Less" (2017) by Andrew San Greer another fiction recommendation by Fareed Zakaria  Quotes for all writers (including bloggers?)  "Boredom is the only real tragedy for a writer; everything else is material"  contrasted in same paragraph, "Boredom is essential for writers; it is the only time they get to write."

"Moon Of the Crusted Snow" (2018) by Waubgeshig Rice was  Hamilton Reads pick  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/hamilton-reads-2020-moon-over-crusted.html  As part of the package the library offered a live online conversation with Waubgeshig and Cherie Dimaline, the author of "Marrow Thieves" (2017) which I read for the Canada Reads program.


 
 

 

 

 

 

"Circling the Sun" (2015) by Paula McLean,  fictional account of Beryl Markham


"The Tatooist of Auschwitz" (20180)by Heather Morris based on a true story including photos of the real people.

"The Fishers of Paradise"(2012)) by Rachel Preston.  I learned about this while walking along the Bayfront Trail on a plaque that stated that there used to be houses along Cootes Paradise and about the book.  It was an interesting story with a ficionalised account of how the houses had been disposed of.   A pleasure reading about streets and buildings I am familiar with.


NON FICTION
  

Michelle Obama's book was long anticipated and worth the wait.  "Becoming' (2020) demonstrates a woman who supported her husband while wishing he didn't get involved with politics.  To her the family was top priority, but as an intelligent, caring person she helped make the world a better place.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/becoming-by-michelle-obama.html

 

 

 

"The Great Leveler" (2017) deals with inequality.  Walter Schiedel  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/01/the-great-leveler-violence-and.html

"Talking to Strangers" (2019) by Malcolm Gladwell  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/01/talking-to-strangers.html

"Black Berry /sweet Juice" (2001) by Lawrence Hill  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/black-berry-sweet-juice.html

"The Education of an Idealist" (2019)  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/the-education-of-idealist.html

"They know everything about you." (2015) by Robert Scheer  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/03/they-know-everything-about-you.html

Funny You Don't Look Autistic" (2019) ebook by Michael McCreary  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/funny-you-dont-look-autistic.html

"My Journey" by Olivia Chow(2014)  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/olivia-chow-biography.html

"The Elephant Company" (2014) by Vicki Croke   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/the-noble-elephant.html 

"Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country" (2018).  Written by David Johnston, a former Governor General of Canada.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/trust-crucial-foundation-for-democrarcy.html

Trust is the key necessity in interacting.






 

 

 

"A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves Home" (2019) by Jason De Pare, is about migrant workers starting with a Filipino family that the author interacted with stating in 1986.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/07/a-good-provider-is-one-who-leaves.html

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" (2011)  by Rebecca Skloot  I was able to see a DVD as well as read the book.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks.html

"Tough Love" (2020)  by Susan Rice who had been maligned by the right wing and media.  There are a lot of political books out, but this one does not only give interesting information, but also an intelligent perspective. Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/susan-rice-tough-love.html

Read about last year's selections:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/books-i-remember-from-2019.html


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Cuba; After the Revolution

The American media tells us Cuba is a "police state" and the people are poor.  Four tourist trips for me plus watching "Cuba and the Camera Man" give a different perspective.

Few can deny that before the Revolution, American corporations and the Mafia were exploiting the people.  Many do deny that Cuba is a deserving country.  Cuba is viewed as oppressive.

"Cuba and the Cameraman" (2017) showed a variety of images spanning over 50 years covering many changes.  Jon Alpert had struck a relationship with Fidel Castro shortly after the Revolution and visited the island several times over the following decades.  He even accompanied Castro to a United Nations visit in New York City.  Anti Castro television coverage was shown to point out the opposition to his regime.

My four trips to Cuba were very enjoyable and a little educational.  As tourists inside a protected environment we saw little to criticize, but we did venture out from our Veradero resort into town and even to Havana on two of our trips.  Poverty was evident as were some historical architecture and some signs of modernization.  Old vehicles were a a bit of tourist attraction, but a necessity for those who could afford them.

We were conscious of a barter system.  One of our tour guides pointed out that the number one export was medical expertise.  At the time they were sending doctors to Venezuela in return for oil.  At the resort I remember we got some Argentinian wine as they had made some sort of cash free deal.  Tourists were critical to their economy and tipping was encouraged.  We were able to give out branded toothbrushes from my wife's boss and knitted wear from a friend.   

One of our tour guides admitted that he had hated math and opted to learn English which gave him to opportunity to work in tourism.  He had  lived in Edmonton for awhile and pointed out Cubans hated the cold.  All the tour guides seemed well informed and gave us a Fidel Castro perspective on the politics.  As tourists we were well aware that Americans were friendly to and traded with China, Saudi Arabia and even Vietnam.  

Each night at the resort was an entertainment spectacle that we looked forward to.  Occasionally they brought in outside entertainment and on one occasion brought in the national synchronized swim  team who put on a show.  Cubans have given the world a lot of entertainment and I have included a lot in my musical collection. 

Politics is always a part of a Cuban discussion.  The Cuban diaspora in Florida was decisive in elections and both Democrats and Republicans were careful not to offend.   Many had been forced out of business and scared by "socialism."   I would like to ask many of the self righteous exiles how in fact they got the good things they were forced to give up.  Despite all sorts of economic challenges Cuba was able to offer free medical care, housing for all and extend education to boost their literacy rates to the highest in the Caribbean.  Their level of wealth looks dismal compared to United States and Canada, but perhaps we should be comparing them to other Caribbean nations.

On the other hand the fllm does point out things that are not easy to justify.  Castro at one point gathered  prisoners and mental health patients to leave for Florida. 

On vacation we met Cubans with relatives in the U.S.A. and kept in touch with them.   We met one Cuban (from Brooklyn, New York)  while in Quebec who told us he had visited home.  He had married  Puerto Rican.

Some say Jon Alpert was naive, others biased and we can all agree limited.  Jon focused on some particular locals, three brothers in in a rural area and the some others in Havana that he repeatedly visited. They still lack many things we take for granted, but citizens were able to criticize.  Jon took his camera to a Tropicana performance which impressed my wife and I  One set of scenes was about one of the famers he regularly had visited had had his larynx and we got to see a hole in his throat.  The doctor explained that had saved his life, but they could not afford a voice box.  Jon on a subsequent trip was able to bring one and have the same doctor insert it opening up communication.

For those who want to criticize Cuba they will find material.  There was a lot of poverty Jon captured with his camera.  Over the years one difference was that the same Cubans that had looked scrawny in the early years put on weight.  Private businesses were opening up.

Gabriela, a woman at work married a Cuban and brought him to Canada after about a year.  At the time had planned to bring over his daughter from a previous marriage when she turned 16.  Her husband was amazed at Canadian Tire.  He was able to find work.

My trips to Cuba were very enjoyable including lots of interesting things to see.  I didn't meet any politicians and i am sure there was a slant to what was presented.   What I remember most is the people.  They were helpful and anxious that we get the most of our vacation. Three of my trips were subjects of a blog with lots of photos and stories.  When United States under Obama was trying to open up I wrote my thoughts at the time.  If you get the chance I feel confident you would enjoy Cuba as well.

After one of my Cuban trips I was talking to a business contact in Houston and suddenly realized I might be offending him.   He was actually a Mexican citizen working in the States, but assured me that he and Mexicans loved Cuba..

from previous visits  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/04/cuban-memories.html

2012 trip:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/03/cuban-memories-2012.html

my most recent trip (2013)?  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/03/my-silver-wrist-band-visit-to-cuba.html 

an earlier blog on the political atmosphere:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/12/obama-and-cuba.html