Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Banishment, A Russian film to ponder

The Banishment was only the second feature for Andrey Zvyagintsev as director and on the first one he wrote the script.  For this one he searched for a suitable subject and finally hit upon "The Laughing Matter" by William Saroyan and in 2004 preparation for the film began.   I have not read that book, but it has been pointed out that the character of the leading woman has been changed. In the book she was portrayed as mentally unstable, but in the book she is less so.

Andrey felt his film would not be popular with Americans as it lacks physical action and requires a mythological sensibility and some introspection.  A lot of Russian films might fit that bill.  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/russian-movies.html which includes some other films by Zvyagintsev and Russian contributions to world cinema.

A key line near the beginning from Vera:  "I am pregnant.  It's not yours."  The husband, Alexander is very upset and at first walks away.  Later as she tries to explain herself he hits her hard enough to knock her to the floor.  In the second half we get a different perspective.  The main male character does not want to lose his children and is looking for a resolution that starts with an abortion.  He has two brothers, one, Mark is criminal and the other Robert is more sensitive.

The producer, Dmitry Lesnevsky and Andrey had agreed on a Swedish actress (who spoke Russian), but she was tied up for a key filming time.  The producer agreed to postpone for a year to get the key time of August and September in 2006 for filming exterior shots.

With an extra year for preparation they had to provide security for some mostly built properties Moldova, France, and Belgium.  Other crew and cast members chosen and prepared.  The script was tidied up.

Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director had been born in the Siberian city of Novisibirsk and started out to be actor on stage.  Moving to Moscow he tackled the film industry but could only get roles as an extra.  After 8 years of that a friend offered him a chance to direct with tv. programs.  He was given a chance to direct "The Return" (2003) which won an award at the Venice International Film Festival.  He continued with short films, but also a succession of award winning films, "The Banishment" (2007), "Elena" (2011),"Leviathon" (2014) and "Loveless" (2017).  He has stated that his favorite author was Fyodor Dostoevsky which would help explain his preference for serious themes.  Of current interest is that he that in 2017 he had supportive words for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Dmitry Lesnevsky, the producer, Moscow born had graduated as a journalist, but while in university with his mothr he had founded REN-Tv which became an independent and large tv production company where he became familiar with Andrey.  Dmitry gave Andrey the opportunity to direct "The Return"in 2003.  His films won awards and he moved on acquire a German Tv network which was later sold to Disney. 

Konstatin Lavronenko who played Alexander had been spotted by Andrey on a stage play and made an impression.  However ten years later when Andrey was recruiting cast members for "The Return" Konstatin had given up acting for five years.  He played the strong lead in that film and won an award at the Venice Internatonal Film Festival.  Andrey did not think he would be suitable for "The Banishment" because his age wasn't ideal, however Konstantin was allowed to read the script after which he campaigned for the role.  Again he was selected for the lead role.  This led to him winning the Palme award at the Cannes Film Festival, the first time a Russian had won.  He has been working steadily in movies and tv.

Maria Bonnevie  who played the female lead, Vera was born in Sweden.  She has appeared in films with Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and English cinema including "Insomnia" (1997).  She speaks Russian and was one of the first roles decided.

Alexandr Balluev who played the brother Mark, in his youth hoped to be a hockey player.  He sent 7 years with the Soviet Army Theatre.  He had appeared in a few American films and was a big star in Russia.  He also speaks German, English and French.

Dmitry Ulyanov played the 3rd brother Robert, who gave some emotional support to Vera.  His film career started in 2000.

I originally viewed this a little too casually and felt I was missing something even after the special features.  A second more careful viewing gave me some more insight, although not certain I really got it.  Multiple viewings can often give more understanding and enjoyment.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/multiple-viewings-can-enhance-your.html

I have now seen all 5 of Andrey Zvyagintsev feature films and they have all been impressive.  I look forward to his next film.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This blog follows a series of accidental incidents to uncover some history that affects everyone.   It started out as medical journey, but covered corporate, legal affairs and personal histories.  Rebecca Skloot discovered the name of Henrietta Lacks while studying in a make-up course.  Her efforts ran up against many barriers, resistance within family, and hunting for people to give information.  The movie as well as the book recount phones being hung up and doors closed.  Inevitably one lead led to another.   Another student learned from a name overlooking an urinal.

As for me, learned about book from Chris, a librarian participating in a seniors phone in program that I only learned about as my daughter was one of the organizers.  While wading into the book I was able to visit our local library that had only opened up for browsing two days previous.  Because of the Covid-19 pandemic I also was reluctant to touch objects and so did not sort through DVDs, but spotted the name and investigated to find the film that dramatized some of what I was reading.  Oprah Winfrey not only played a leading character, but also was a producer.

It could have been a medical history book covering the technical details of what the cells meant for science and some of the challenges along the way and for many that would be sufficient.  Nothing happens in isolation.  There were legal and economic developments that expanded the scope  Easily the family involvement could have been minimized.  With this book and film we understand better that everything is connected.

World famous Johns Hopkins Hospital provided free medical care for poor people who were mostly black.  They also did a lot of research.  At the time there seemed to be little concern about getting permission to use cells and other body parts for research

Henrietta, a poor black woman felt ill and sought medical attention.  Cervical cancer was identified and eventually killed her in 1951.  The doctors took cell samples from cancerous tumors and were expecting they would have a limited life.   They were surprised to learn that her cells kept multiplying.  This allowed them to sell her cells indefinitely for a very wide range of research which included cancer, polio, diabetes, AIDS.  Cosmetic testing has involved live animals, but her cells offered an alternative.  Her cells have been sent to space and been involved in nuclear explosions.  The entire global community has benefited.  Some racists would be shocked if they realized they have benefited from a poor black woman.  We have all been impacted, if only for what didn't happen to us or a loved one.

After Rebecca, a white woman had her curiosity piqued she found it difficult to get information.  Information was almost non existent at first, but getting access to computers and the inter-net opened up possibilities.  She eventually learned of family contacts, but learned they were suspicious and  felt abused.  As they understood the impact of Henrietta's contributions some of them felt entitled to some compensation as most of them were poor.  Others felt their mother/aunt/friend deserved recognition and they wanted to know more.  Earning their trust took up most of the author's time, but it also opened up the scope of her message.

The Nazis used prisoners to do medical experiments.  After the war their actions were condemned in the Nuremberg Code.  Long before the Nazi actions, black slaves had been experiment subjects.  Slave owners told slaves that ghosts were responsible for death and sometimes paraded around in white sheets to frighten their slaves which evolved to the Ku Klux Klan uniforms.

In 1957 informed consent" became a legal term limiting use of humans and human parts in experiments.  On the other hand some scientists,were able to overcome court objections to patenting body parts by arguing that engineered bacteria was only possible by human intervention and could be of service for mankind.

The case of David Moore illustrates how duplicitous some medical doctors can be.  Working in Alaska he developed a type of rare cancer and had been referred to a doctor at UCLA who removed his spleen.  David had signed a consent form authorizing the cremation of any body parts left over.  After the surgery David moved to Seattle, but made regular trips to Los Angeles and gave up blood, bone marrow and semen as part of a followup  He decided all that could be done by a local doctor and when he announced this he was offered plane and luxury hotel fare. He was also asked to sign a new consent form that would allow UCLA to have the rights for any products that might be developed from his blood or bone marrow.   Fearing a refusal might jeopordise his treatment he  signed, but when a future form was given he asked if there was any commercial value from his followup visits and was told no, he decided to not authorize any rights.   The doctor's office followed up asking him to correct his mistake several times, but eventually David sent the form to a lawyer.  They learned that the doctor had in fact been using the physical materials to develop a cell line.  It was estimated that the cell line would be worth over $3 billion dollars.

In the meantime the Lacks family had been asked to give blood samples and had been told it would help protect them from cancer.  The real story was that with the popularity of Henrietta's cells the problem of contamination developed.  Scientists realized if they could use family DNA markers they could separate contaminated cells and continue with valuable experiments.

Tissue banks have developed and provide critical resources that benefit everyone.  The author had pointed out that  beyond the issue of money, some patients might object to research that offended their religious or philosophical  sentiments.  The issues are still evolving.

Henrietta's cells turned out to be have an enormous commercial potential.  The original gatherer of her cells, Dr. George Gey did not charge for Henrietta's cells, but a cell bank did.  Relying mainly on her cells Microbiological Associates became part of Invitrogen and Bio Whittaker, two large bio-tech companies.  Altogether there were 17,000 patents based on what were called HeLa cells.  HeLa is a contraction of Henrietta Lacks and helped disguise the personal connection.
To obtain family medical records Rebecca dealt with different family members who were distrustful and had their problems.  A key contact was Henrietta's daughter, Deborah portrayed  by Oprah Winfrey.  An elder sister had died under unknown circumstances and it appears she was mentally challenged and possibly suffered epilepsy and eventually it was learned had been poorly treated.  One of Deborah's sons had been involved in violent crime as had one of her brothers.  The reader is aware that family was kept deliberately ignorant and suffered poverty which leads to desperate decisions. 

Rebecca had many contacts with the family and delved into their genealogy which included a white branch.  The blacks knew of the white connections, but did not socialize.  As is becoming common knowledge many slave owners had sex with their female slaves resulting in mixed race.  Recently it was brought up that Kamala Harris had some white slave owners in her family tree.  This was presented as proof that she is a hypocrite but overlooks that such relationships were the result of coercion or unequal power and were common.

Human tissue has been commercialized and have saved (or prolonged) countless lives.  A few patients have participated in huge profits.  In public, organs are not supposed to be charged for, but in reality organs have been paid for in the black market.  Also it seems wealthy people seem to be at the front of the line when organs were needed.  Another concern is the right to approve research projects as some might go against religious or personal beliefs.

While reading this book I was also following coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic  and heard Dr Seema Yasmin raise concern that in the search for a vaccine it would be optimal to test a wide variety of humans including blacks.  A legacy of blacks being  exploited for medical testing is that many avoid such tests because of previous history. 

The book is unique in its range.  The author let us follow her efforts to get medical information with the family and had to deal with all their dysfunctions which in turn led to an exploration of legal and ethical implications with some racial overtones.  The medical discoveries were very interesting in their own right, but as with everything else in creation they are part of a bigger context. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


A confession to start.  I thought Kamala Harris should have been the presidential nominee so being picked as the Vice President candidate almost seems like a consolation prize.  On the other hand Joe Biden proved himself to be above personal vindictiveness, a quality that should be appreciated more than usual in contrast to the current president.

What to like about Kamala Harris?  Barely heard of her before the judicial hearings, but I loved the way she systematically handled William Barr and Brett Kavanagh.  She certainly earned Trump's dismissive characterization of "nasty."  But she has a lot more going for her when you dig deeper.  As a prosecutor she tackled large corporations.  She officiated at an historical gay marriage.  She was tough on crime. There will be criticisms from some quarters that she wasn't tough enough or too tough, but it should be pointed out she was pragmatic and pushed as far as she thought prudent.

Somewhere along the way, Biden realized that there were a few women who were qualified to be president and their time was overdue.  He also realized that black lives really do matter and he needed to cater to that, although he seriously considered a few women including Amy Klobuchar before she recognized the party would benefit from a black leader.  Joe is known to like Elizabeth Warren who had done him a big favor in one debate and lately Governor Gretchen Witmer.  So the process narrowed the decision, but Kamala Harris still stood out.

Kamala's confrontation with Biden at a primary debate was said to be a mark against her.  Personally she seemed the better prepared and bold candidate.  However she apparently offended a number of established Democrats and her support dried up.  She was realistic and decided to drop out in the interest of both herself and the party.  Biden is said to value loyalty and to want someone he can work with and recalled how Kamala had worked with his son Beau on some efforts he supported.

Contrast that with Trump who seemed to pick foxes to guard the henhouse.  One of his early strategic supporters was Jeff Sessions.  Sessions is not someone I admire, but he had enough sense to know, ethically (and politically) he had to recuse himself from the Russian query.  Trump thinking of only protecting himself found a way to fire Sessions and has continued to do everything he could to humiliate the man who played an important role in his rise to power.

Trump knows how to manipulate prejudice to serve his goals, but continuously demonstrates he has little empathy for his rabid supporters.  Instead of pushing a healthy agenda as best he could, he prefers to continuously stoke prejudice against blacks, Mexicans, Iranians, Chinese, etc.  Trump  while insecure has an enormous ego that drives him to take advantage of ignorance for his own selfish benefit.

Abraham Lincoln is revered for his wisdom.  Choosing his cabinet he selected some of his rivals, partly to keep them under control, but also he recognized they were capable.  Barrack Obama in choosing his Vice President, did not have a close relationship, but recognized that Biden would balance the voters' perceptions of himself.  They came to mutual respect and it was actually Biden who successfully pushed for same sex marriage.  Check out a review of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/11/team-of-rivals-has-lessons-for-today.html

Mike Pence was a clever choice for Trump, although he didn't particularly think so.  Paul Manafort realized Trump was not going to be easily accepted by evangelicals although his policies favored their needs.  Pence gave Trump credibility with evangelicals and other religious conservatives. With his own presidential aspirations thwarted Pence has decided his best path to influence and future office prospects is to suck up to Trump, no matter how ridiculous (and even detrimental to Americans).

Trump has made it easy for the Democrats to position themselves as the party of rational thinkers.  Inevitably they have to cater to special interests, financial and others, but they are doing so by trying to please a wide variety of Americans.  Whereas the Republican primary contenders back in 2015-2016 often seemed to try to one up on their toughness, the Democrats tried to prove they were the more rational candidate.   Dropping climate change agreements, and the Iranian agreement were indications that long term thinking was for sissies.  Their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic shows a willingness to kowtow to an ignorant man.  In all fairness many Republicans know better, but kept quiet in their own quest for power.

Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren all brought good ideas to the party.  Bernie Sanders was perhaps the most rational of all, but was too scary for some.  I hope if and when the Democrats get to power they treat those brave enough to declare their candidacy to help push an agenda that really serves the people.  Trump supporters seem oblivious to rational thinking even when it is in their best interest, so unless the Democrats have an overwhelming victory they will encounter stubborn resistance while the entrenched wealthy manipulate the ignorant.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Multiple Viewings Can Enhance your movie enjoyment

Mostly my movie reviews are done after seeing the movie just once.  I do read about the movie, with its cast and crew and often check the special features and more rarely watch a commentary version.  "Charly" (1968) was picked off shelf during when library opened up enough to browse shelves, spotted "Charly" which triggered some memories.  Movies do become dated and lose out to modern techniques, but "Charly" carried a message that resonated

My first was at a drive-in with my parents as a social outing close to its release time.  The focus was on the love story, where a poor mentally challenged man becomes a genius through surgery and wins over his teacher.  Tragedy strikes when he realizes that he will revert to his former self.  Attitudes towards mentally challenged got my attention.

A decade or two later  I picked up a DVD or maybe it was VHS tape.  In the meantime I had seen literally hundreds of movies, but still this one stands out.  I remembered the basic story, and absorbed the idea about scientists abusing innocent people.

My third viewing came recently with DVD from library.   The sadistic co-workers had a comeuppance when Charly actually completes a complicated procedure than one of his tormentors who felt humiliated.   Charly then lost his job.  People take comfort in knowing they are superior to someone else.  Reminds me that poor Southerners feel superior to blacks.  Classic line:  "I was wondering  why people that would never laugh at a blind or crippled man would laugh at a moron?"

The Fourth viewing followed almost immediately and was the commentary.   Given more of back story of the production.  Cliff Robertson in 1961 played the same role in a television version, titled "The Two Worlds of Mr. Gordon."  Robertson was so impressed he bought the movie rights and turned it to movie a few years later.

Film techniques were used to show conflict especially evident with Charly's hurt feelings after rejection after what amounted to a rape attempt.  The situation switches when a sexual relation does develop.  Alice had been interested in Charly before his surgery, admiring him for his drive and persistence.  The doctors wanted to use a younger person for their experimental surgery.  She stressed his motivation and her relationship with him.  The Boston setting seemed more significant.  I have only been to Boston for about half a day, but was able to eat at a restaurant dockside as in the movie, saw a downtown park resembling the one in the movie and visited some grave sites downtown.   Boston also has a reputation for higher education.  Charly showed an interest in history.

A key ingredient in Greek tragedies was a hero who rose and then developed Hubris or excessive pride and fell.  In "Charly" it might be personified more for the scientists, but not Charly.  Excessive pride does not bring down the hero  He was not prideful, just enjoyed life and love and that ultimately made his story more tragic.

Ralph Nelson was both Director and Producer  Ralph received director training during the age of tv drama.  Top movie dramas like "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962),  "Lillies of the Field" (1963) for which he won an Oscar and "Soldier in the Rain" (1963).  He also got experience as a producer during his television period.

Daniel Keys wrote the novel "Flowers for Algernon" that was adapted to tv. movie, "Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon" (1961, "Charly" (1968),  a Japanese tv. series "Hello God" (2006), a French Movie, and more recently tv. series.

Stirling Silliphant wrote the script (after Cliff Robertson fired William Goldman) and had won Oscar for "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) the year before.   Wrote for many tv. series such as "Perry Mason" (1957), "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (1958-59), "Checkmate" (1960), "Naked City," and "Route 66",

Ravi Shankar provided the music.  He is regarded as an expert on Hindu classical music, but has taught George Harrison to play the sitar which influenced some of the Beatle's music. The two of them were involved in a major fund raising concert for Bangladeshi refugees.  Ravi was chosen to compose music for movies with an Indian connection, but his talent was sought for other movies to help create moods.

Arthur J. Ornitz, the cinematographer had done " Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and later  "Serpico" 1982).

Fredric Steinkamp,  the editor had won an Oscar for "Grand Prix" (1965).  He went on to edit "Out of Africa" (1985) and "The Firm" (1993).

Cliff Robertson  won Oscar for best actor for this film, but was not able to receive it as filming in Philippines.  He had been picked by President John F. Kennedy to play the young Kennedy in "PT109" (1963).   Other movies included "The Best Man" (1964) and "The Devil's Brigade" (1968).  Cliff had been a key person to unravel a major fraud in Columbia Studio, but resulted in being black listed.  He had tried to raise funds for a sequel to Charly, but fell short

Claire Bloom who played Charly's teacher, Alice was born in England, got her start on BBC radio and moved into Shakesperian plays.   Her big breakthrough came when Charlie Chaplin chose her to be in leading lady in "Limelight" (1952).  She toured North America with Shakespeare plays and made a Broadway appearance.  Some of her leading men included Richard Burton, Sir Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger (who she married), Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.  In the 1970's shifted to television.  As I write this she is still performing.

Lilia Skala who played Dr. Straus was born and raised in Vienna Austria where she acted on stage and film.  Married to a Jew she fled and ended in America.  Her most famous role was in "Lillies of the Field" (1963) which garnered her an Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.  She acted in "Ship of Fools" (1965)  "Flashdance (1983) and on television in Green Acres (1969) and "Eleanor and Franklin (1976).

Leon Janney played Dr. Nemur was a child actor on stage and later made it to Broadway.  Mastered many accents and performed in a number of radio dramas.  Started acting in films during the Silent Era and later moved on to appearances on television series.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Cross Eyed

We are all the result of genetics, nurturing and circumstances.  All of these factors interact to make you who you are and how you in turn interact with others.  This post is more egotistical than usual, but I hope any readers can better understand how everything in life is connected. 

I was born cross eyed (Strabismus) and to be honest I was not conscious of it, nor can I recall any ridicule.  Looking at early photos one can see my crossed eyes.  By about age 7 after wearing a patch over one eye, my parents decided an operation should be done.  That decision had life long implications for me.

It seems likely I had inherited it from my mother's side.  At least another three of my siblings also were born cross eyed.  Although I was not conscious of it, my parents must have been.  This was before OHIP (socialized medicine) and medical attention cost money.  My dad had taken over his father's coal business, but he sold it to pay bills and then underwent a slow process to eventually own his own small trucking company.  I know my eyes had been tested and I can only recall being checked for vision, but obviously more was discussed.

In grade 2 I was told I would be having an operation and to perhaps make it more acceptable was given the choice of which hospital to have it done.  My home in Oshawa was about half an hour drive to Toronto on the west where the doctor lived.  Of course it would be natural and convenient to have the operation done in my home town.  Maybe I was just contrarian even then, but I chose to go to a small town about twenty minutes to the east, Bowmanville.  Looking back that was a choice in itself with a long term impact.

What I remember of the operation was being put under by ether.  Afterwards I was blind folded and learned that would last for a whole week.  Lots of things are recalled.  I couldn't see anything or anybody.  I remember talking to an adult male patient in a bed in the same room and although with no details recall it was a pleasant experience.  The nurses were friendly and learned that one of them had sold us our family dog.  Being blind I had to have help going to the toilet down the hall and although a fussy eater found myself eating whatever was on the hospital dinner plate.  I do remember being indulged in ice cream after the ether had worn off.  Ice cream has always been my main comfort food as it was for my parents and siblings.

Most of all I remember my mother.  She visited every day and found ways to take my mind off my worries.  Two efforts in particular.  She read to me from a Thornton W. Burgess book, "Mother West Wind How stories" that I later bought more from the same author which led to heavier reading.  The other thing was she would place coins in my hand and let me keep whichever ones I could identify.   At first it was not so easy, but after awhile I ended up with all the coins my mother brought, including the 50 cent coin that was rare then and has since disappeared.

At least three of my siblings had a similar operation and they all chose (I am sure with support from my parents this time) to go to Bowmanville.  None of them were blindfolded for a week and in fact I think the younger ones came home the same day.

Being blind for a week made my hearing a little more sensitive.  I remember a game in cub scouts where I was blindfolded and given a squirt gun to ward off attackers and apparently generated a lot of laughter at my success.  I have not been afraid of the dark as I felt more comfortable in finding my way around when others were stymied.

Was the operation a success?  To be honest I didn't notice any difference.  I remember one aunt taking a close look at me and commenting that she thought I looked better.

BUT over the years I learned that there was a complication.  It was no big deal to me that prescriptions for glasses were different for each lens.  I wore contact lens starting some time in high school and did become conscious that my right eye was dominant.  Basketball was one of my great loves, although at 5'7" there were limits.  I was relatively strong and fast.  But at one tryout drill I realized I was not seeing someone pass the ball from my left.  I did play at the recreational level and have enjoyed watching it ever since.  Getting a driver's license I was told I was considered blind in my left eye, but still legal to drive.  I went for a physical examination for a factory job at General Motors (my father's best man arranged for the opportunity), but was rejected as they also considered me blind in one eye and the insurance was prohibitive in their mind.  I never applied for such jobs again.  My younger brother who had the same operation did get a job working on the line for several years and eventually his intelligence got him a job in the office.

Although not a good enough basketball player (there were other factors besides my height and eyes), but I was able to shoot baskets with slightly less than average success.  What I came to recognize is that putting the ball through the hoop is greatly aided by binocular vision where you use both eyes from slightly different angles to gain an effective focus.  What I and others did was first use "common" sense in that smaller perceived articles were further away so without thinking about it developed a sense of distance.  In addition muscle memory helps as you recognize how much effort it takes to get a result.  Not conscious as it is natural.   More on my basketball interest:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/my-60-year-love-affair-with-basketball.html

Was I really blind in one eye?  Definitely not.  My left eye drifted off to the left and my brain paid more attention to the signals from the right side.  Although I had troubles with the one basketball drill I actually could detect movement from my left side so I had a slight gain in peripheral vision.  I believe a few times I received a split second early warning of some danger.  When I closed my right eye I could see with equal clarity from my left eye.  However I could not read anything, although over the years I tried to develop the ability.  I knew STOP signs by the shape and color, but struggled to honestly read.  After long concentration I could read short words, but I can appreciate I would be illiterate if anything happened to my right eye.  As I age my left eye gets tired before my right eye and I get minor head aches.

On one of my jobs, a horse publication I learned that you can easily tell the difference between predator and prey animals.  The meat eaters have eyes that are close together to help them focus on their dinner. Those who survive the attack get an early warning with eyes that are set further apart.  Some animals, like horses and rabitts  can see almost everything except what is directly behind them.   Guess what humans are?

My hospital stay helped reinforce an interest in books and also made appreciate smaller towns which became part of an unconscious habits as a salesman that felt more comfortable in small towns and rural areas. 

I am lucky that my parents recognized a problem and were able to help fix it.  My appearance was normal and my eyes didn't draw any unwanted attention.  My fantasy of being a professional basketball player was never really taken seriously, but I could at least appreciate the role of vision in their success, although I suspect some players must have overcome physical including visual handicaps.  Perhaps it has given me a slight understanding of how dyslexia works as I am able to see normally with my left eye, but can't put the symbols together.

 A big reason for the almost exponential growth of global population is modern medicine and technology.  A physical defect was rooted out in mankind's early history, but you could argue that today other talents than fight or flight have benefited civilization.  I like to think so.

The photo is one of my first attempts at a selfie to promote a New Zealand author, Charity Norman  I admire.  More on her:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/charity-norman-discovery.html You can see my glasses slipped down my nose a bit.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

You Like Murder Mysteries? Check out "Raat Akeli Hai"

All murder mysteries have surprises, complications and a smart detective (or maybe lucky).  What distinguishes the excellent ones from the good ones is not just the plot, but such things as characterization, acting, dialogue, cinematography, and even lighting.  Netflix has made this movie available.

"Raat Akeli Hai" (2020) offers a lot of what you might expect, but goes beyond.  Political machinations are fascinating, and in this movie it is not just that powerful politicians cast their influence, but all the characters are secretive and manipulative.  An arrogant cop is the focus of their anger.

The family head, a powerful political figure marries a woman everyone declares a whore.  Then late the same evening he is brutally murdered.  It is obvious to most that the whore bride is guilty and others including the cop feel a lover is involved.

The phrase "the world is a cruel place" is first used  in a flashback five years previous when by a coincidence the cop had met the whore on a train ride and said it to her.  After he questions her after the murder she repeats the same phrase back to him to acknowledge she remembered.  It is used one last time, but you will have to see the movie to appreciate the context.

Details and aim, matter and that stems from producers who transform the story idea into a viable film.
Abischek Chaubey has experience as both a writer and directer with some productions such as "Udta Punjab" ( 2016) and "Ishiqiya" (2010).  Recently he wrote and directed "Sonchiriya" (2019), winner of the Filmfare best film for 2020 about a rebellion of Dacoits (Untouchables).

The other producer, Ronnie Screwvala has a longer history as a producer including such films as "Rang De Basanti" (2006),  "Barfi" (2012),  "Kai Po Che" (2013)  and "Uri:  The Surgical Strike" (2019).  Read:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/05/kai-che-po.html

They chose the director for his first film, Honey Trehan whose main experience was as a casting director including such films as "Omkara" (2006), "Talvar" (2015), "Udta Punjab" (2016), "Raes" (2017) and "Sonchiriya" (2019).  He gained directorial experience as assistant or second unit director for such films as "Omkara" (2006) and "Udta Punjab" (2016).  He also listed as creative producer for "Talvar" (2015).   The cast is one of the outstanding features of this movie.

Smita Singh provided the story and did the dialogue as well as the script.  She had worked as writer, and assistant director for some television programs.  Smita wrote three episodes of "Sacred Games" 2018).

The background score was done by Karan Kulkarni and was effective at quietly stirring anxiety.  He had written music for such films as "Shahid" (2012), "Alligarh" (2015) and "Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan." A few unobtrusive songs that helped set a mood were written by Sneha Khanwalkar  She has also composed music for such films as "Gangs of Wassepur" (2012), "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" (2015) and "Manto" (2018).  There were no Bollywood dance routines that turn off some Western sensibilities.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar was another mood setting element.  Indoor shots and night time were dark.  He has worked on "Ship of Theseus" (2012), "Haider" (2014), "Talvar" (2015) and "Rangoon" (2017).  He contributed to the story for "Ship of Theseus" 2012 and won awards for it.  You can read more about at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/ship-of-thesus.html  From there is another link to  "Haider" (2014).

A. Sreekar Prasad provided his award winning editing talents.  Some reviewers have criticized the length of "Raat Akeli Hai," but the difficulties of a complex plot are handled well and hold attention.  He has worked with such films as "Dil Chahta Hai" (2001),  "A Peck on the Cheek," (2002), "Mangal Pandey:  The Rising" (2005), "Gandhi, My Father" (2007), "Talvar" (2015) and over 200 films, including many Tamil films  Check out: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/07/dil-chatha-hai-bollywood-classic.html

 The stellar cast was led by Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  The son of a farmer he became a chemist.  A long time playing minor roles before being recognized as an exceptional actor.  He played an aggressive obnoxious policeman in "Kahanni" (2012) blowing smoke in the face of a pregnant woman.  He played an obsequious role in "The Lunchbox" (2013).  Perhaps better known for gangster films like "Gangs of Wasseypur" (2012) and the tv series "Sacred Games" (2018-19).  Other interesting roles include "Manto" (2018) and "Photograph" (2019).  In "Raat Akeli Hai" he is a tough detective in a delicate political situation (many of the other characters campaign for his firing)  and with his mother who is concerned he is too fussy to get married.  Read more: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/09/nawazuddin-siddiqui.html

Radhika Apte plays the whore bride resented and /or suspected by everyone.  An economics and Mathematics graduate Radhika eased into films with different languages including Bengali, Hindi, Telegu, Tamil, Marathi and Malayalam.  She won awards and critical acclaim including a film with Nawazuddin, "Manjhi:  The Mountain Man" (2015).  She also shared space in "Sacred Games" (2018-19).  Other noted films include ""Pad Man (2018) and "Lust Stories" (2018).

One of the tough police officers undermining the hero was played by Tigmanshu Dhulia who has won awards in negative roles.  Beyond acting Tigmanshu has won awards as a writer, director and producer.  Some of his films include "Paan Singh Tomar" (2012), "Shahid" (2012) and "Gangs of Wasseypur" (2012).

Supporting roles are all realistically done.  If you like murder mysteries this is one that stands well for comparisons.

Note:  Bolded movie titles are of ones I have seen although not necessarily recommend, but indicates some development of the artist.  Did not repeat the bolding when subsequent crew worked on the same film.