Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Designated Survivor: 60 days a remake of American series

My memory fades of the original American version and is mingled with all three seasons.  The American and Korean versions both have lots of twists and lots of action.  The first two seasons were edge of the seat exciting, but to me at least became tedious for the third season.

The main plot revolves around an explosion that kills off the legislators and allow a very lowly person on the totem pole to become the head of the nation. Tipping over the power structure of a nation lends itself to interesting plots.

The Korean series has a higher IMDB rating and is much shorter.  The greater length of the American version in my opinion hurts as after awhile the inevitable violence becomes tedious.  The "60 days" in the Korean title deals with the immediate problems after an almost inconceivable disaster and don't try to drag the plot to inevitable complications

The Korean version although following much of the plot outline uses at least two unique tools:  North Korea and a proposed Discrimination Act.

The Korean version is more focused on the political power struggle.  I felt there was more emphasis on the actual  explosion.  Secretary Han Soo Jeung is good in his explanations of power, when fired, praises president for finally exercising power.  The leading character is a political neophyte with many players plotting his downfall, but he is more steely in his character core.  He is a   master of psychology illustrated a few times by his understanding of the basic motives of others

The first suspect is North Korea and a video seems to corroborate the notion prompting American military representatives to jump in.  Japanese are also moving in.  Defectors soon find themselves subjected to violence.  Before too long conflicts between Cambodia and Vietnam impinge on the investigation of the source of the explosion.  North Korean defectors (most of whom had risked their lives to escape a tyany) become scapegoats in a strategy for a mayor to gain credibility for a run at president.    The opposition leader is a clever, but also decent.

Both movies depict the media leaking sensitive information and manipulating for their own benefit--doesn't that ring true?

A Discrimination bill that might lead to same sex marriages was by my understanding a very contentious issue today, Korea has resisted recognizing same sex marriages.  Recently in a report regarding declining births they did recognize the importance of families but deliberately left out same sex parents

Power is intoxicating.  The hero at first sincerely claimed he wanted to go back to teaching,but  realized that he would be leaving power to the politically minded.  After the 60 days are up and an election has finished there is a sort of postscript that good intentions sometimes do have lingering effects.

The people who made this memorable film deserve some recognition.  The following is little more than a token, but I believe at least some of these names will go on to do other remarkable accomplishments.

Directed by Jong Sun Yoo who had done parts of three earlier series with this being his first to direct all 16 episodes.

Written by Tae Hee Kim who has been writing tv scripts since 2006.

Jin-hee Jin-plays the acting president.  He projects a naive, timid idealist sort of image, but in fact you realize he is wise to delay making decisions based on political calculations.  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/10/the-wisest-one-in-room.html  He has been performing since 2002 and recently had a role in "Move to Heaven" (2021).  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/09/move-to-heaven-wow.html

Jun-ho Huh plays the older advisor, Han Soo Jeung.  He appeared in a blockbuster"Simido" (2003) and won a Supporting Actor award.  A revered actor for over 30 years he runs a musical and acting academy out of Los Angeles.   He is very key to appreciating this series.

Kim Joo-Heon plays a security boss.  His distinctive voice was recognized from  "It's Okay Not To Be Okay" (2020).  He also appeared in "Train to Busan" (2016).  Check  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/03/its-okay-not-to-be-okay.html

Kang Han-na played the female security agent with impressive action scenes.  She has been in Korean films since 2013.

 With political movies the hope always is the possibility for a good person to get good things done?  There is a lot of realism in this series, but some idealism as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Squid Game

Korea makes a lot of money exporting cars, computers, and all kinds of electronics.  All of these items are concrete.  They also export culture which in essence is ideas.  K-Pop has made inroads on our airwaves and last year a Korean movie actually won the Best Picture Oscar.  Now with the blessing of Netflix, the Koreans are invading televisions series in a very big way.  

"Squib Game" has had a greater impact on Netflix than any other tv. series.  Many of you have noticed, but more is to come.

What is the attraction?  Unexpected violence leading to death plays a role, but what stands out is that there seems to be no justification for the violence.  The killings are just called "eliminated" for playing a game.  

The cruelty is stunning.  It is difficult to determine a motive for setting up such cruelty, but an expressed sentiment is sort of an explanation.  If you have too much money, life is boring, if you have no money life is no fun.  Harken back to Roman times when gladiators fought to the death which was sometimes averted if the crowd signaled that preference.  It was not just the idle rich that passed judgment, but often included the hoi polloi.  It was all for entertainment and it must be admitted that cruelty draws attention.

The dynamics when lives are at stake can be tense.  There are six games and the participants can only guess what they are.  There are twists galore.  There are cheaters among both the participants and the staff administering the games.  The police have tried to infiltrate.  Each participant is desperate for different reasons.  Most of them are heavily in debt with no prospect for getting out. 

"Parasite" (2019)was a bit deceptive, but in reality it depicted class differences and that modern Korea had a degree of inequality--like the rest of the world.  It seems inevitable that inequality will be with us forever, but historically there have been resets--due to such things as pestilence and violence.  Check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/01/the-great-leveler-violence-and.html

"Squib Game" highlights inequality and while it is highly entertaining, it should also be thought provoking.  Do we want some segments of our population desperate while another segment exploits them for personal profit (for their amusement).  The end should make viewers concerned about the direction of our society.

Other films have attempted to convey such themes entertainingly with various degrees of success.  Here are a few contributors to the success of "Squib Game."

Director, writer and producer Hwang Dong-hyuk   Directed and wrote "Silenced" (2011) and "Miss Granny" (2014), both highly regarded by me.   Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/comparing-two-grannies.html

Jaeil Jung, composed the music and earlier had done "Okja" (2017) and "Parasite" (2019).

Lee Jung-jae, the leading protagonist is a fashion model.  His face seemed vaguely familiar and it turns out many of his films are on my list.  "The Housemaid" (2010),  "The Thieves" (2012),  "Assassination" (2015),  and "Along with the Gods: The Two worlds" (2017).

Oh Yeong-su played an old man on the verge of dementia who turned out to be more useful than first thought.  Despite his age there are only a few screen credits, one of which I have seen.  "Spring,Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring" (2003).

Anupam Tripathi played a Pakistani immigrant, another desperate participant.  Born in India he picked up an interest in theatre while there, but ended up moving to Korea where he was able to not only learn the language, but able to gain small roles.  His role in "Squib Game" was his first feature and ironically there is supposed to be Urdu dialogue, but Anupam is listed as speaking English, Korean and Hindi. 

Jung Hoyeon played a North Korean defector and created quite a stir from her role that launched her to a huge Instagram following.  Prior to this role she was well established as a fashion model and had only been in video shorts.  Surprised to learn she has been known for her red hair.  Don't be surprised when she makes a bigger splash, not just in Korea, but in the English speaking world.

If this got you hooked on Korean films you could check out some of the following:

Parasite won 3 Oscars:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html

"Crash landing on You" (20190:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html

Right now I am enjoying "Designated Survivor:  60 Days" and feeling it provides the same tension as the American original.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Telegu Remake Opens My Eyes

A confession.  A disease or addiction affects my blogs.  Not content with watching a film, my computer, music collection and household chores vie for my limited attention.  Occasionally some subtle point in a film might get missed.  Sometimes I might never catch on to the missing details, but sometimes with a little luck my awareness is expanded.

 Recently a remake of masterful original film made me conscious that paying attention does pay off.  Multi tasking is a risky, but hard to discard habit and I am aware of that.  The Telegu film industry was impressed by a very profitable Bollywood movie, "Andhadhun" (2018) and decided to make a project of converting the script from Hindi to Telegu. The remake, "Maestro" (2021) convinced me the original was better than I had acknowledged.  Watching a familiar movie a subsequent time usually yields deeper understanding and appreciation and this worked well for me.  Both are available on Netfllix.

The original inspiration was a 14 minute French film, "L'accordeur" (The Piano Tuner 2010) written and directed by Olivier Treiner about a pianist who despairs and becomes a piano tuner.  He pretends to be blind so that he can gain better understanding of his customers.  As a blind man he sees things he shouldn't. 

Why would anyone pretend to be blind?  Even the explanation seems weak.  A musician felt he would focus better.  Under his guise in quick succession he witnesses two murders, but maintains his pretense in a quick response (don't worry it is all subtitled).  In short order there was another twist (one that I missed) that complicated the plot which not only involved staying alive, but also a little romance.  The complications result in more twists and you are constantly wondering when it will unwind.  Very enjoyable journey.

It is comedic, but often in a macabre sense, apparently inspired by "Fargo" (1996).   It begins in mysterious fashion that seems unrelated to what you anticipate.  It becomes a thriller with lots of twists.  It does eventually tie into the main thread and will jog your memory a bit.  

A charitable cause, organ donations, weaves naturally into the plot (more so with "Maestro") and hopefully make you aware of a great need.  My father-in-law had one friend who had frightening heart problems that worried the friend's brother as well as my father in law.  Ironically with a heart transplant he outlived the two worriers and enjoyed another grandchild.   Inspired me to sign the donor line on driver's license. 

The strength of both films are the people behind them.  Obviously an overlap of writers is a key factor, but the Telegu film makers were prepared to take advantage of the Bollywood groundwork.

Sriram Raghavan with a writing crew including Pooja Ladha Surti, Hermanth M. Tao, Yogesh Chandekar and Arijit Biswas all of whom also worked on "Maestro".  Additional experienced writers, Merlapaka Gandhi and Sheik Dawood G. were brought in for the Telegu version.  Sriam wrote and directed " Ek Hasina Thi" (2004), "Agent Vinod" (2012) and "Badlapur" (2015).

Ayushmann  Khuranna was not the first choice for the lead role of Akash in "Andhadhun", but he was exceptionally suited.  He has great comic timing and some musical experience.  He had appeared in some good socially relevant movies such as "Vicky Donor" (2012), "Dum Laga Ke Haish" (2015), "Shubh Mangal Savdhan" 2017) and has gone to do "Badhaai Ho" (2018) and "Article 15" (2019).   Ayushmann praticised piano under the guidance of Akshay Verma for two months.  Check more:http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/ayushmann-khuranna-actor-to-watch.html

Tabu plays Simi, the adulterous murderer.  Seen as very strong woman in such films as "Maqbool"  (2003),"Fanaa" (2006), "Drishyam"(2015) and "Talvar" (2015).  But she also illustrated a deft comic touch in such films as "Cheeni Kum" (2007).  She with Irrfan Khan was a winner of an award for "Best Seduction" in the American film, "The Namesake" (2006).  There is an easy to miss reference to her Lady MacBeth role.  Check for more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/tabu.html

Radhika Apte played the romantic interest.  She graduated with a degree in Economics and Mathematics.  She began acting in theatre and moved into film.  She has performed in Hindi, Bengali, Telgu, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam and English (where she spoke some French).  Her films include "Lion" 2015), "Manjhi:  The Mountrain Man" (2015), "Pad Man" (2018), "Sacred Games" (2018),  and "A Call to Spy" (2019)

Merlapaka Gandhi directed the Telegu version for his second effort.  He was better established as a writer for the Telegu market and was also involved with script additions to "Maestro".

Nithin plays the piano player Arun.  His father was Sudhakar Reddy, a noted Telegu film producer.  He has been in films since 2001.

Tamannaah Bhatia has appeared in "It's Entertainment" (2014), the block buster, "Baahubali:  The Beginning" 2015) and Baahubali 2:The Conclusion" (2017).   She has appeared in Telegu, Hindi and Tamil films.

Nabha Natesh plays the love interest Sophie.  She has appeared in Kanada and Telegu films.

Which of these two is better?  They are both very enjoyable to watch.  I admit I am a very big fan of both Ayushman Khurrana and Tabu and have been noticing Radhika Apte as she builds her career including in English.  Also one of my favorite songs from my favorite male singers Arijit Singh appear at the end.  On the other hand  Maestro has the advantage of the same crew of writers plus a few additional Telegu scripters to add in their own twists.  You can't go wrong. 

Remakes are a fairly common way of reducing risks in the expensive film making business.  Some earlier blogs on some good examples.

Ayushmann has experienced one of his movies being remade as in:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/vicky-donor-cf-dharala-prabhu.html    

Bollywood gets some of its most profitable ideas from the regional markets as in:   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/arjun-reddy-and-kabir-singh.html

Personally multi-tasking has its limitations.  That is the problem in today's world; there are too many interesting and even important things to pay some attention to.  I apologize for having slighted some things I have blogged about, but will continue to try to cover a wide range of interests.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, another delightful Korean series

Now that "Squid"(2021) has topped the ratings on Netflix, my addiction to Korean mini series might be more socially acceptable.  In truth  I find them very compelling.  I try to watch a variety of films, but keep coming back to the Korean tv. series.  "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha" is another example of Netflix's investment to Korean films. 

 Watched over a period of over a month, having to wait for new episodes.  Similar to the old time television experience.  However the mood changed.  It was mostly comedic, but it changed sharply towards the end and made you realize that the good mood had been a reaction to the unknown events.

 Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha  basically is a typical romance comedy.  The hero and his leading lady are very likable.  We only know that he is "unemployed" except he is always in demand for part time problems as he appears to be an expert in a wide range of skills.  We also learn early that he is from this small resort town, Gongiin, but had been away for five years.  He enjoys life and is not compelled to make a lot of money--he charges minimum wages for his part time jobs.   He enjoys surfing, cooking and reading.

Into Gonjin comes a young attractive dentist.  She had been taken advantage of by her employer in a dental clinic in the big city of Seoul (which really is a very big city).  She had been in Gonjin as a young girl and by a set of flukey circumstances decided to open a clinic.  Her view on life is a little different.  She likes good clothes and the good life.  

At first they run into each other and the girl finds him annoying, but interesting.  In this town everyone loves the guy as he is so considerate, fair and talented.  There are lots of family dynamics and outsiders are occasionally brought in to spice up things.

Eventually the missing five years becomes an obstacle.  Every romance has to survive some conflict and this one is dramatic and done effectively. 

This was director Yoo Je Won's sixth tv. series.  Part of the story involved a play within a play and included relationships between the director and the town that carries right through to the end.

Shin Ha-Eun wrote the script and made one of the supporting characters a writer.

I am trying to learn more about the music, some of which is available on iTunes.

Shin Min-A plays the normally cheery dentist, Yoon Hye Jin.  Apparently when she was in school she sent a photo at school picnic and was chosen as a model.  She looks a lot younger than her experience would indicate as she has been in series since 2001 and has won best actress awards twice.

Kim Seon-Ho plays the likable part timer known as Chief Hong or Hong Du Sik.  In a number of films he started out as a supporting actor, but was later elevated.  He is given as an example of Second Lead Syndrome which is where audiences root for the second lead male in a drama and wish the female lead would choose him although they know that won't happen).  He truly is a very likable character, but does demonstrate a range of emotions. 

Lee Bong-ryun plays Yeo Hwa Jeong, the lead's close friend and assistant who has a romance of her own.  She has appeared in "Okja" (2017) and "Burning" (2018).

Kim-Young-ok  plays an elderly lady who played a critical role in Chief Hong's life.  She has a role in "Squid Game" (2021).

An engaging story keeps you wanting to know what happens next.  There are always surprises in each episode.   A lot of loose ends were tidily resolved by the end of the final episode.

For a broader view of how subtitled movies can add enjoyment and understanding check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/06/what-sub-titles-offer-you.html

I just started watching "Squid Game" and likely will do a blog on it.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Winter Sleep, a Turkish masterpiece

 Long movies require patience and concentration.  But there is a lot of meat in some long movies.  A Turkish film "Winter Sleeps" (2014) is the longest film (3 hours and 16 minutes) to ever win the Cannes Festival Palm d'Or.  There is a lot to ponder, but on the other hand you might feel some resonance in your own life.

Aydin is a retired actor who has taken over the family hotel located in a mountainous region of Turkey.  He feels he is a realist, but is very cynical in talks with his divorced sister and much younger wife.  His wife Nihal feels stifled and tries to establish some independence while he talks down to her.  She explodes and makes demands that he mostly belittles and claims he doesn't care what she decides to do.  In the end the husband and wife realize they cannot control the other and seem to bend and make the best of an unhappy situation.  Others might interpret this film differently, but most would agree there is an unhealthy tension between husband and wife demanding some sort of resolution.

The movie was loosely based on two short stories of Anton Chekhov.  There turned out to be over 200 hours of film that was cut down to four hours and 30 minutes with a lot of tough decisions to get down to final size 3 hours and 16 minutes. 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan was born in Istanbul.  While studying Electrical Engineering he started studying films.  After traveling and military service he started making films.  A short film became the first Turkish short film chosen for competition and won competition at Cannes  In his early films he was involved with cinematography, editing, sound design as well as writing and directing.  His films deal with alienation, existentialism in everyday life.  He found inspiration from Anton Chekhov's stories.  Some of his films include "Three Monkeys" (2008), "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (2011) and "The Wild Pear Tree" (2018).

 "Winter Sleep" is considered Ceylan's masterpiece which he wrote, directed and edited.  His wife Ebru also worked on the script as she had in other of his films.

Haluk Bilginer plays Aydin as a cynical motel owner.  He loves discussion.  Haluk is remembered by many for his 107 episodes of the British tv. series "Eastenders".  Other films include "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2012), "Rosewater" (2014), "The Ottoman Lieutenant" (2017).  Nuri Bilge Ceylan insisted on his role despite three rejections and worked the film schedule around Haluk's theatre schedule at the time.  In his

Melisa Sozen played Nihal, the young wife striving to be independent.  An Award winner.  Has done French films

Demet Akbag played the cynical sister. Necla.  She had been in Turkish films since 1986 winning national awards.  She got to deliver an interesting quote:  "Philanthropy isn't tossing a bone to a hungry dog.  It's sharing when you are just as hungry."

My first Turkish film was "Bliss" (2007) and encouraged me to watch more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/05/turkish-delight-in-book-and-movie-form.html

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Dream House

 As a clever blogger I avoid using the first person pronoun as it turns off readers.   For this blog which stirs strong emotional feelings I feel I must state my personal stake in the game.  I am 73 and have owned my current home for almost 40 years and before that owned two other houses for shorter periods of time.  My income and that of my wife never was high enough to get out of the first tax bracket.  We were given breaks by relatives, but were not able to live in the more expensive locations in any town.  My current house is two stories with a finished basement, a small pond in the back yard and lots of flowers.  I can easily walk downtown or to Bayfront Park.

Times have changed.  The value of my house has gone up well over ten fold, but the people bidding up the prices are coming from further away and in most cases commuting a distance to afford.  If I were to give in to the real estate agents that pester me, I would have to find another house and it is not likely to be better located or offer as much space.

That is my situation and I fear the future will be a bigger challenge for those coming behind me.  In Hamilton (as elsewhere) we are having a big debate about the future.  Recently there was a big campaign to protest possible plans to expand housing including to farm land.  Not surprisingly many residents are horrified.  Building developers and some politicians are fighting back and have a case.  I noticed that the signs protesting urban sprawl were at single dwelling houses.  One of the politicians backed by a developer pointed out that the survey was very biased and offered their own supposedly less biased poll.  See below for a different political view.

The problem boils down to we who have an established house (relatively speaking"dream houses") don't want to rock the boat.  We don't want big huge buildings with multitudes in our neighborhood and we don't like the idea of farm land being turned over to greedy developers.  I fit into that category.  BUT everyone agrees that more people are coming. 

Where are these people supposed to go?  I don't envy their choices.  Cramped in an apartment or condo might be one choice.  Another would be way out in the suburbs requiring longer commuting.  Another choice to somehow get more money (an unhealthy pressure in itself) or accept that a higher percentage of their income is going to be devoted to housing. 

The basis of the frustration is the pursuit of the "dream house".  More "dream houses" can be built, but yes they will be more expensive, further away, maybe not quite as ideal and yes they will cut into our precious farm land and add pollution and accelerate climate change.

Other political view picked up from John-Paul Danko to Steve Paikin.  My phrasing:  The government empowered by greedy developers has extended the time frame, hyped up population projections and taken on a larger planning function.  I agree there needs to be a wider view of the problem, but hopefully not financed solely by "special interests".

Are there solutions to the dilemma?  There are ideas, but they are dependent on people who can help work out the big plan and the little details that impinge on them.  There will have to be adjustments or not only will people be unhappy, but they may not have much of a planet left.

Cars are part of the problem, especially as more people may be commuting further and on more crowded roads.  Extended infrastructure will also add another element of pollution and attack our climate.  Transit is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.  If people insist on living in detached houses far from city centers can we somehow put them into the transit network?  Better yet, in the future will more of us will be able to do most of our work from home?  Working from home has mixed blessing in that human contact is still vital for many interactions.  We may be aggravating inequality as some will have the luxury of working from home while others can't.

At bottom the real pressure comes from population.  Some have a vested interest in ever growing population which really are markets for whatever they are trying to sell.  Part of a dream for many families is deferred because they don't have the resources to bring up another human.  We would like to support families as they are the base of society as we know it.  Large families may be difficult to maintain, and for the world as a whole and individual families some disincentives should be established.   Part of the strategy to curb excessive population growth would include sex education, availability of contraceptives, but more basic is our attitudes.

Compromise is how we have traditionally dealt with conflicts.  I learned that the city of Hamilton has limited downtown buildings to a height that does not obstruct the view of the escarpment.  I would keep that sort of restriction but perhaps we need to examine other building restrictions.  Along with that would be improved transit which always seems to run against budget concerns.  Farmland could well be our saviour, but we need to expand our food growing resources which have been done in some urban centers. Many compromises would be easier if more money was included.  That of course relates right back to inequality.  An earlier blog on taxation has some relevance:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/05/taxation-necessary-tool-for.html

Happiness is being satisfied with what you have while unhappiness is not being satisfied with what you have.  Having said that, human progress has come from those overcoming dissatisfaction.  What can we do to make life more satisfying.  Make living spaces more livable with more community space and also concern for privacy.  We take for granted that more people can mean more cultural opportunities, etc.  Each of us need to examine what is really important including independence, relationships and purpose.  What joy can we find?   It might too much to put this burden on education, but that has to be an important component.  School needs to be more than learning job skills.

It is good that the issues are being raised, but each of us needs to be open minded.  We have to acknowledge other people have their needs.  We should admit that we have achieved at least part of our dream and that others have not been quite as lucky. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Hunter Biden story

 Like most of you I had never heard of Hunter Biden until Donald Trump decided to target Hunter's father, Joe Biden before his office announcement. A heavy and prolonged criticism got global attention.  It certainly seemed incriminating for his father and Barrack Obama.  On the other hand anyone criticized by Donald Trump could not be all bad, in fact most of them are commendable.  At one point Trump mocked Hunter so severely and his campaign offered a T shirt "Where's Hunter" for $25.00.  Trump kept up attacks on Hunter and never apologized.

What does Hunter have to say about this unwanted attention?  Hunter is quite open about it.  The Ukrainians wanted a name with international clout and offered him a lot of money to insure that.  Underlying their effort was fear of the Russians who had seen one of their picks for President, Viktor Yankovych forced to a Russian exile.  Trump's later campaign manager, Paul Manafort was heavily mixed up for Russian interests in Ukraine.  The Ukrainians were well aware of corruption that enabled the Russian intimidation and wanted to clean it up.  Hunter was not just a name.  Among other things he advocated for a geo thermal project in Italy and  helped make a connection for Burisma with Pemex,  the Mexican energy company.  Earlier taking advantage of his name Hunter was able to help persuade King Abdullah to accept more Syrians despite an awkward political dilemma for Jordan.

Trump was certainly in league with Putin.  It is possible he just admired how Putin used power, but the links are many over the years.  Check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/house-of-trump-house-of-putin.html   At about this time Putin was planning a sneak attack on Crimea and attempted to take more territory from Ukraine.  From my viewpoint it is hard to understand how Trump escaped with his job.  His actions were treasonous and he was trying to distract by attacking a likely rival's son.  It also fit well with Putin's strategy who wanted to take Ukraine back.  Joe Biden helped expedite the firing of a corrupt official.  Trump threatened to with hold military supplies to Ukraine that was being besieged by Russia.

The first part of the story seemed very saccharine where Hunter was trying to establish that he loved his older brother Beau.  He did lean on him a lot, even to helping with his alcoholism.  After Beau's death Hunter, already having gone through addiction drifted back to a relapse.

Most of the book is taken up with Hunter's addiction.  It covers periods of madness and efforts to rehabilitate.  For much of the time he was able to be functional and actually make a large amount of money that allowed him to maintain his dangerous habits with alcohol and cocaine.  At one point told us that writing about his addiction actually stimulated cravings.  He finished the book acknowledged that he will be under threat all his life.

At one time he had an relationship with Hallie, the widow of Beau and his sister-in-law but that was difficult.  The two shared a love of Beau, but in the end it only led to Hunter's divorce, scandal and awkwardness.

At one point after the Trump attacks, Hunter was approached by Adam Beck, a journalist with the New Yorker magazine who wanted to get the other side of the story.  They hit it off and Hunter found it a cathartic experience.  Some casual acquaintances gave him the number of someone they thought he should meet, but after leaving a message he threw away the phone number.  In the end he was saved by the love of a good woman.  Melissa Cohen was understanding, but tough.  She seemed attracted by Hunter's underlying humanness.  

Now Hunter has gone back to a love of painting.   Many critics point out that his paintings are over priced and likely bought by people who want to make an impression on President Joe Biden.  Hunter acknowledges he owes a lot to his father who not only brought him up, giving him lots of breaks and supporting him through some pretty rough times.  Hunter is well educated and above average in intelligence, but had trouble accepting various disappointments.  

If anything this story only enhances the respect some people give to President Joe Biden.  He is a man of love and understanding, a dramatic swing from his predecessor. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Escape from Extinction

 Modern man has competed with nature extracting necessities for survival, but also for our comfort and enjoyment.  With our greed we have upset the balance.  With an ever increasing population we are taking over land, adding pollution and inducing climate change.  Millions of acres of land have been carved out of forests for agricultural purposes.  Large numbers of humans like to hunt with always technologically improved killing equipment.  Others have found the illegal wildlife trade based on skins, food, medicines is one way to survive.    

What makes the news are disasters such as wildfires, droughts  and oil spills that have literally killed millions of wild animals and accelerating extinctions.   

In "Escape from Extinction"  (2020) they start off by identifying several species that have become extinct over the century and then catalogue many other species that are in dangerous decline.  But they then relate a few success stories.  The films continues with many challenges and successes.  

Helen Mirren narrates and we hear from several animal experts. 

In the process it forces one to take a different perspective.  As a youngster and even young adult I loved a visit to a zoo, but somehow by middle age I had decided zoos were cruel places and I did not want to support them.  This film suggests  (accredited) zoos and aquariums are part of the solution.   Still it is hard to believe that being confined away from your normal environment is all good.

Zoos have been subjected to a lot of protests, but in truth most of the staff is there for a love of animals.  With greater awareness zoos, or at least many of them of have become much more humane, with animals being given more space and effort .  They are aware of the protests and point out what they consider distortions and untruths.   For instance they talk about the movie "Free  Willy" (1993) and the efforts to release a captive whale.  They believe that animals that have been in captivity for a long time are poorly adapted to survive in the wild.  They counter with examples of animal experts better preparing animals that have lived in captivity and successfully restoring to a natural habitat.

To illustrate the importance of a balance of nature they recounted the story of grey wolves brought back to Yellowstone Park that played a vital role in the regrowth of the natural habitat and have revitalized species running from beavers to Bald Eagles. 

Expanded development in India forced Asian elephants to encroach on towns and cities causing dangerous interactions.  Some animal experts learned that planting hot chilies would discourage elephants from going past the barrier.

In my home town, Hamilton there has been a controversy over extending urban development rights and supposedly paving over farmland.  A common concern as people prefer to live in detached homes (where builders can profit while the municipality has to provide infrastructure).  It seems the next generation is more likely to live in high rise buildings.  A complaint just heard over the past two or so years is coyotes entering urban areas killing pets and intimidating people.  They have nowhere to go and they are adapting to living on urban fringes.  Raccoons, squirrels and possums have already made adjustments.

An advantage zoo staff have over the rest of us is they understand animals better and are more comfortable handling them.  This is why they end up with wild animals that have been confiscated from illegal trade.  A drought in Africa threatened a large number of elephants and finally it was decided the best place would be American zoos where they could be fed and housed.

Other than providing accommodation for displaced wild animals zoos have used their expertise in the battle to avert extinctions.  They have set up breeding programs and even planned carefully to bring animals back to their natural habitats.   They have campaigned for conservation areas.   They have been involved with building corridors (bridges or tunnels) between wildlife habitats that have been separated by urban developments.   They have developed radio with GPS to track wild animals to both learn their habits, but if necessary to rescue.

In trying to conserve wild animals they are conscious that the rest are influenced by our fears of predators such as sharks.  The scary nature of sharks has been enhanced by movies, news reports and even music (Jaws theme).  Predators are necessary to keep a healthy balance of nature.  Sharks are hunted for soup and medicines with often the fins removed while still alive and the bodies discarded.

Perhaps another "noble" mission is to inspire youngsters who increasingly are removed from nature.  They are the ones who will carry on the struggle to preserve endangered species.

The one concern still remaining is animals confined into relatively small spaces.  We don't think about our pet dogs and cats being captive, but in fact I have two neutered cats confined to our house--for their protection.  Today most zoo animals are well cared for and many have become attached to their human handlers.  This actually means they are less adaptable to their natural habitat.

A film experience about nature affecting humans as "Lighthouse of the Orcas" (2016) with an autistic child and killer whales.  Very moving.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/03/the-lighthouse-of-orcas.html

One interesting example for me was about New Zealand flightless parrots, known as Kakapo that are close to extinction.  Their eggs are laid on the ground which was not a problem before natural predators were brought to New Zealand.  They only breed in two to four year cycles.  Now it is taking extreme measures to build up their population, such as printing 3-D eggs.  I understand the Auckland Zoo is involved and so I hope to visit there (right beside Western Springs, a favorite stop for me).

About two years ago when my son and his girlfriend visited from New Zealand we bought a group package for Toronto tourist attractions which included the Metro Toronto Zoo.  With only a little hesitation I decided to go.  As a curious person I found the animals entertaining.  I especially enjoyed watching the polar bears swimming.  The animals seemed well fed and a few were playing with the zoo staff.  As part of my research I stumbled on a video put out by the Metro Toronto Zoo that encapsulates much of the positive contributions of zoos.  https://www.torontozoo.com/fightingextinction  The video is worth the nine minutes and eased my guilt conscience a bit.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter has long been someone I greatly admire.  The world has not always been kind to him, partly because he was ahead of the time and admittedly he had made mistakes.  One is reminded that politics is a very dirty business.  Kai Bird, the award wining author has constructed a fairly comprehensive biography of the former president, but with the focus on his presidential term.  The title "The Outlier" is meant to indicate that Carter was an outsider, a liberal southerner.

Jimmy grew up with black playmates and although his father could be described as a segregationist, his mother was very liberal.  Segregation actually disgusted Jimmy, but to get elected in Georgia one had to avoid racial topics.   As a young man I remember reading the Playboy interview where he admitted he had "lusted" in his heart after other women, an admission that indicated his honesty, but not appreciated by some voters.

This book has made me more conscious that Carter was a power seeking politician.  Not sure of his motive, but would say he felt he could do a better and more humane job.  Unfortunately his base was in the south where segregation was what many of the voters wanted.  He was liberal on many issues and very open, but knew to get power he had to be pragmatic.  Rosalyn, a childhood sweetheart was a very critical part of his success.

He gave his Vice President, Walter Mondale an office at the White House and included him in most discussions believing it was critical that his backup should be fully prepared.  His first act as president was to pardon over 200,000 Vietnam draft dodgers.

In many policies Carter was always concerned about budget.   Read all the details, even taking speed reading to keep up.  One telling example was his decision on liquor in the White House.  He was not a teetotaler and was known to share a bottle of Bourbon in private with guests.  They also offered wine at state dinners.  But he felt hard liquor was an unnecessary expense that hindered serious discussion.  This did not go well with many critics including Ted Kennedy.  Successfully rooted out much waste.

Pushed many policies for consumer protection including legislating seat belts and air bags despite much libertarian opposition.  Personally against abortion, but supported Roe v. Wade and advocated sex education and contraception for teenagers.  Re-opened up market for craft beer.

He made a point to nominate more diverse candidates for the court system.  One notable one was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Females, blacks and hispanics all gained more court appointments.

An early foreign policy controversy came with his decision to give up control of the Panama Canal.  Many financial interests and right wing politicians were adamantly against it.  Was generally an advocate against human rights abuses, but did soften a bit for political concerns.

Against many of his advisors he got involved in Mid East politics.  In the end this cost him the normal Democratic Jewish support.   Looking at today one can appreciate that one huge obstacle was the Israeli insistence on the illegal settlements on the West Bank.  Carter pushed on this at the risk of a Begin walkout.  Both Sadat and Begin said it would not have succeeded  except for the dogged persistence of Carter.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/03/thirteen-days-in-september.html

He had been told that Iran was a staunch ally against Communism, but he was well aware of human rights abuses and did mellow them a bit.  To the shah Jimmy Carter once quoted a 13th century Farsi poet, "If the misery of others leaves you indifferent and no feelings of sorrow, then you cannot be called a human being." 

Zbigniew Brzeinskis always advocated that it was important to support Iran against Communism, but overlooked much of violent protests.  Eventually the anti Shah forces succeeded in a Revolution.  Carter was sympathetic, but very reluctant to accept the Shah as an exile, but when it was revealed that the Shah needed urgent medical treatment, among many others Henry Kissinger strongly campaigned and eventually Carter agreed.  This soon led to the hostage taking at the American Embassy.

Again right wingers (and also Brzezinski) were wanting an aggressive action while Carter wanted a diplomatic response.  The rescue attempt was risky to begin with and ran into many technical disasters. m Initially Carter's support improved, but is now symbolic of how weak many felt Carter was.

While the Iranian hostage crisis was in play Russia decided to invade Afghanistan.   Some advisors thought it was due to a miscue between Communists in Afghanistan.  The Americans imposed sanctions, but Carter felt a stronger gesture was required and decided the Americans would boycott the Moscow Olympics.  Personally I felt the Olympics should be beyond politics, but of course it isn't. An earlier blog at the time of the 2016 Brazil Olympics covers some views including political:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/09/olympic-impressions-for-2016.html

Politics is a dirty business.  Ted Kennedy felt he should be president and execute his legislation hi-lited with a universal health program.  After his effort to win the Democratic nomination for the 1980 election he avoided the traditional rituals to project party unity. 

The Republicans were afraid of an "October surprise" The author recalls some unproven (only circumstantial evidence) that there was an effort to delay hostage release until after Reagan's inauguration.  It is not hard to believe, but in actuality it was difficult as the Iranians were divided and American financiers had vested interests in prolonging the process.   Before the one debate the Republicans managed to steal Carter's debate preparation.  Carter, although a Southerner had disapoined many fellow southerners with his advocacy for blacks.  The Republicans wanted to make a statement without being direct and chose to hold their first rally at Philadelphia, Mississippi  near where two black men were murdered.   The Republicans had a big swing from Evangelicals who were racist, but really concerned that a white school was denied a religious tax exemption.

Those trying to bring down Carter left their mark on today's politics.  Roy Cohn, considered to be a mentor to Donald Trump intruded at least twice.  On one occasion the author traces Cohn to a fake scandal with key advisor, Jordan Hamilton involving a cocaine incident at Studio 54.  It turned out Jordan was not even there.  Cohn arranged for a change in endorsements by having Roger Stone distribute money to the Liberal party. 

After a humiliating election Carter learned that his peanut warehouse was bankrupt.  He ended up selling some of his assets and started teaching at Emory University and writing which formed a big part of his income.  He originally planned to take up a new hobby, but before too long he felt himself being drawn into more serving projects.  Expected to fundraise for the traditional presidential library he decided to add on a conflict resolution centre and felt more motivated.  He befriended an old foe, Gerald Ford at Anwar Sadat's funeral and together they wrote an article in Reader's Digest criticizing Israel's illegal settlements.  

Carter got involved in many different different diplomatic disputes.  He helped Daniel Ortega to accept an election loss in Nicaragua, using himself as an example.  He got involved in dispuates in Haiti and North Korea where he is credited with averting military action.  Supervising elections was a task he took on which gave them more credibility.  He wanted also to improve global health and chose to obliterate the guinea worm disease.  Another major project was Habitat for Humanity requiring some physical effort and at 97 is still carrying on.  

Many commentators praise his humanitarian deeds, but maintain that he was a weak president.   He made his share of mistakes, but few understood his calculations or the circumstances.  Unfortunately he was not as spellbinding an orator as Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump, but he did more for America than either of those two more attention getting presidents.  It is to the detriment of America (and the world) that voters do not really examine the issues, but pay more attention to the rhetoric and ignore the underlying problems. 

An earlier post on Jimmy Carter:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/10/jimmy-carter-much-maligned-hero.html

Monday, October 4, 2021

Terry Fallis with a little humour

Trying to understand the world, serious books  are usually on my list of books to read (and blog about), but we all need a laugh once in a while and if there is some point to it, so much the better.  Terry Fallis has always had some sort of political involvement, but most of his books focus on human interactions rather than concerns with policies.  

My first awareness was with his first book, "The Best Laid Plans" which marked him as someone to follow.  His first novel experience was a trial.  Like beginners everywhere he met more rejection than encouragement.  He demonstrated determination and persistence by offering his book chapter by chapter on podcasts.  Eventually he caught on to publishers.   

This first novel not only won the Stephen Leacock award, but also the CBC Canada Reads program.   Later turned to a six part mini series.  The Canada Reads program is a great platform to make more Canadians aware of what our authors have to offer.  Check out http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/10/canada-reads.html

 It might surprise us to learn that at McMaster University he studied and graduated with an engineering degree.  He was also an activist for a wide range of causes and became the student union president.  A project even before engineering was hovercrafts which later he worked into some of his novels.

After graduation he became involved with the Liberal Party and eventually worked on campaigns and strategies for Jean Chretien and Michael Ignatieff.  Outside writing he has started a public relations firm.  Perhaps that is why he is very aware that to get things done it is better to be humourous.  You will recognize that he has liberal sympathies, but his writing avoids preaching and is more focused on personalities and their human foibles.   Michael Ignatieff has caught my attention and although not as hmourous exhibits political awareness without being too preachy:   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/the-ordinary-virtues.html

A key to the humour is that he uses a subjective voice of a likable character, that although naive in so many ways is also to spot the hypocrisy and pomposity of human nature.  There is a little romance to spice up things a little bit with the lovable awkward narrator involved.  No need for swearing or intimate details.

One character hit home to me is an older woman who has Parkinson's.  That is also in my family, and it is good to realize those stuck with the disease are functioning and likable. 

Although the characters often venture outside our borders the Canadian perspective is always evident.  Americans have lots of political satire, often noted for biting commentary.  Terry uses pseudonoms, although you might recognize similar personalities, but they are just similar.  Unless you are very hard right wing you probably will laugh at all the human foibles pointed out.

Some of the books are in sequence, most notably the ones that end (hopefully not) with "Operation Angus."  It is good to know that his humour does not depend upon the same set of characters.  In "Shy Brother" he uses twins in ingenious ways, based on I learned later that Terry is a twin.  His brother often helps out with his scripts.

His fourth book, "No Relation" won his second Stephen Leacock award.  It was based on the premise that people with similar names to a celebrity bear a burden.  True it may be trivial, but can have some impact and his subject hooks up with others with a similar burden.  You may have noticed that my blog title is "The Real John Davidson" and here is the background:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/07/the-real-john-davidson.html

"Albatross" had an interesting premise.  Supposedly every body has a sport they are perfectly suited for.  Terry takes an unathletic boy who unknown to him at first is ideally suited for golf, despite no interest in that sport.  This leads to all sorts of humourous efforts that eventually demonstrate human nature for us ordinary folks.

There is not much emphasis on policies, but there is plenty of human nature insights.  Wipe off that frown and grab a Terry Fallis book.  For awhile you will be distracted and gain a different perspective on human nature.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

HAMILTON READS 2021: BLAZE ISLAND"

 Hamilton Reads for 2021 selected "Blaze Island" by Catherine Bush as their choice. This is her fifth book.  Each of her books have been recognized by the Globe & Mail as well as other publications.  Born in Toronto and educated at the University of Toronto and Yale.  She has taught creative writing at Concordia University, University of British Columbia, University of Florida and at summer literary seminars in Kenya.  She has also been writer in residence at University of Alberta, University of Guelph, McMaster University and the University of New Brunswick.  In 2019 she was  a Fiction Meets Science Fellow in Delmenhorst, Germany.

One of her writing workshop stops has been to Fogo Island just off of Newfoundland where over eight summers she wrote "Blaze Island".   One of her concerns has been climate change and decided to make that one of her main themes partially inspired by her sister Elizabeth Bush who is a climate scientist..

Modeled on "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare.   I watched the Stratford version with Christopher Plummer on a DVD.  The story changed Fogo Island to Blaze Island and even used the house she stayed in as the main location.  Miranda is a relatively innocent girl in both stories.  Her father, Alan Wells was a powerful man, but with enemies some of whom forced him out a job at a major university.  A major hurricane headed to Blaze Island and generates a lot of human response.  Science and wealth clash.

 Geo engineering is an issue.  Some feel it is the easiest way to deal with climate change while critics charge we cannot predict unforeseen consequences.  Others feel that after mankind has failed to curtail harmful activities we may be forced to engineer a solution, if we can.  In any case it appears as part of a power struggle.

Each year the Hamilton library declares a noteworthy book to be the Hamilton Reads selection.  There will be some inter action with the author.  Climate change is a topic of prime interest. 

I would end with the last line of the book:  "Change is clear after it happens."

Here is a previous selection:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/hamilton-reads-2020-moon-over-crusted.html


Friday, September 24, 2021

Would you rather be burnt, mummified or rotted?

Since the conversation about death (especially your own) is generally avoided, when the time comes it is much easier to go along with tradition.   Some of us might be morbid, but prefer to think how we want to leave the world

Many years ago I had an interesting conversation with Greg Morden, who was about 14 years old and a very useful worker with the Oakville Journal Record.  He was the son of a funeral home owner.  He pointed out that many people really don't accept the death of someone until they actually see the body.  That does make sense, but is not always possible and I would argue not necessary.  I mention that because it did impress me at the time and I still see some merit, especially in a world where people do not feel comfortable talking about issues surrounding death.  Funerals are in one sense for the living, the ones left behind, but I also believe the dead person has a right to decide how they want to depart.

A few years ago, my brother in law, Ali died while visiting relatives in Morocco.  This created a problem for my sister, Rebecca and her daughter, Samia as they were in Montreal going about their regular affairs.  In Muslim tradition the body has to be buried the same day as their death.  With the help of Samia's boyfriend, now husband they arranged a flight to Morocco and were able to attend the burial along with the other daughter, Leila who was already there.  I don't know the details, but assume he was buried in a shroud, not a casket.

A few weeks later most of my siblings assembled in Montreal to comfort my sister and her two daughters. There was a memorial service that included some cousins and some of Ali's family that lived in the Montreal area.  I watched some Muslim rituals and it gave some sense of closure.  Ali was someone I had come to both respect and admire.  His death was a shock to me.

I have long been offended with the concept of embalming and the reasoning behind it.  It is our last appearance and we and our survivors want us to look as good as possible.   Mostly they wear their best clothes and their skin is as normal as possible.  A few have made a statement such as wearing motorcycle gear, that surprised me.  A few criticisms would include that it is not "natural" and the chemicals required to put on the show are toxic.  They are a poor man's way to mummify the body.

Very powerful Egyptian rulers were mummified.  I have seen one at the Royal Ontario Museum.  To me the notion seems very delusional.  Inevitably the body does deteriorate, but over a much longer period of time (in terms of human awareness).  It is man trying to defy reality.

Cremation when I was young was unheard of.  I stumbled on the practice when reading about Gandhi.  Later I learned some of the traditions and still later more of the details.  It has become mainstream in North America.  Some object to embalming, some to the expense of traditional funerals and some like the romantic notions of spreading the ashes over some significant land or water.  Originally in India it was thought that burying bodies contaminated the soil.  My obsession with Gandhi explained:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/gandhi-life-long-fascination.html

Recently I revisited the Netflix series, "Six Feet Under" and this time saw it through to the end.  Mostly it was dramatic stories of people who died and were disposed of traditionally with some variations.  Embalming and cosmetics were a regular part of the series.  As best they could the funeral staff did their best to present the deceased as pristine as possible.  Towards the end of the series we first encountered a natural burial.  In the last episode it seemed like the writers and producers were making a statement in favor of natural burials as a few of the main characters chose that method.

In my youth I learned of what seemed pretty radical practice in the Zorastrian  (now Parsi) religion where dead bodies were exposed to large birds that would peck away and essentially eat the body.  I have since learned that when the body (reaches) down to bones they use natural chemicals to dissolve the bones.  This practice has continued among that religion overcoming a problem of the birds being killed by pesticides.  It occurs not just in India, but also North America.

Our feelings about disposing of dead bodies is tied to our concerns for immortality.  Some people felt that there could not be a resurrection without a whole body.  Those who survived felt obligated to give their loved ones the best chance possible.

Mankind has always been fighting nature.  We all do.  We may come to feel the beauty of nature, but in countless ways we have always been fighting it.

To my way of thinking there are two concepts that humans cannot comprehend (I include myself) and they are infinity and eternity.  Many of us have pictured a place where we continue on (heaven) and we aren't bored.  Personally I am inclined to doubt these visions, but even more to be repelled by the notion.  Eternal bliss seems undesirable like a drug induced stupor.

An alternative vision is based on the concept that nothing in existence can be destroyed, but only transformed.  Water can be a solid (ice), liquid (water) or gas (vapors).  Vegetation breaks down and becomes compost.  Bodies do as well.  Your immortality is there--you were assembled from all sorts of physical entities and has been transformed by the food you eat, the air that you breathe and how you take care of your body.  Your body provides food for bacteria, insects and yes, worms.  They in turn are food for bigger animals.  Perceptions and ideas are imbibed and some passes on.  

How would you like to fit into all this?  to me the natural way makes the most sense.  The environment is meant to dispose of your body.  As for you when you understand eternity how long would you like to live your perception of yourself?  Well you don't have a choice, but if you did wouldn't it be more satisfying to think you have been transformed than locked in a box

An earlier blog:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/04/death-is-natural-but-disposal.html


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I, Claudius

Roman history was part of my high school curriculum.  We talk of cut throat  regimes, but the Romans were way ahead of us.  For entertainment some of them demanded someone die usually by a sharp blade.  

 Back in 1976 the BBC released this series and it may seem dated, probably reflecting both technology and budget limitations.  How realistic by modern standards?  Several stabbings are depicted and one where a woman has a baby removed from her womb and cannibalized.  You don't actually see any penetration, but see blood flowing.  Romans were noted for orgies and adulteries and the viewer sometimes watches bare breasts or buttocks, but the simulation of sexual activity is mild by modern standards.  There are no large crowds, but we hear large crowds.  It is realistic enough and the story is compelling. 

 The story begins with an old Claudius writing his memoirs.  After his birth he was seen as lame and a stuttering fool.  An omen in his favor was when a wolf fell on him from a flying eagle.  He survived as not threatening, although at various times others want to get rid of him as he made them feel uncomfortable.  He was upset at the gladiator games. 

History interested the young Claudius and he later won respect of one historian while offending another.  He witnessed up close the rulers and their many intrigues.  There were many brutal murders, some by knife, sword or poison.  Lying was common to project false loyalties.  At one point a contest between a prostitute and an adulterer (Claudius's wife) to establish who have more sex in a limited time.  The story covers about 70 years and includes Marcellus, Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.  The first are schemers, but Caligula is insane, believing himself to be a God.  Subordinates tip toe around him.  Claudius rules for awhile, but knowing a lot about intrigues was very careful. There are references to Jesus, but his importance is dismissed.  Claudius can best as a religious skeptic.  The story continues to the death of Claudius which is by poisoning. 

Herbert Wise, the director later married to Fiona Walker who played Agripina.  His career was mostly with  BBC television. most success after Claudius winning an award for "Skokie" about Nazi group in U.S.  Some of the series he directed included "Cadfael"(1996- 1997), and "Inspector Morse" (1989- 1996).

Jack Pulman, script writer who had worked on many BBC projects  "Portrait of a Lady" (1968) and  "War and Peace" (1972- 1973).

Robert Graves, wrote the novels that formed "I, Claudius".  He started as a poet and had poetry books published during WW I while he served as an officer.  He wrote a series of books on the story told by Claudius.  Decades later he was involved in the television script.

Derek Jacobi was a key motivation to watch this long series.   Recognized as a distinguished actor on stage, movies and television.  Over the years I have enjoyed watching him in "Cadfael (1994- 1998)", "Breaking the Codes (1996),  "The Jury" (2002)", "Last Tango in Halifax" 2012- 2020)  as the leading character and many more in supporting roles.  He said at one time that the toughest makeup was the six hours it took to get him ready to play Claudius as an old man.  He has studied history at Cambridge.

Sian Philips won a BAFTA award for her portrayal of Livia, perhaps the key intriguer in "I, Claudius".  She married Peter O'Toole and appeared with him in "Beckett" (1964), and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969.  Well known on stage, winning a Tony award for "Marlene" (1997- 1999)

.John Hurt, played the insane Caligua.  Has appeared in such films as "The Elephant Man" (1980), "Captain Corelli's Mandoliln" (2001), "Snowpiercer" (2013) and "Jackie" (2016).

Patrick Stewart played Sejanus.  Perhaps best known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard with Star Trek1987- 2022).  

Movie viewers in modern times become complacent about violence and treachery.  We shouldn't forget that violence and treachery are not new.  Ancient history really isn't ancient.  Instead of guns and explosives they dealt with knives and swords.  The Romans were organizers (and intriguers).  Well worth a look.

I have bolded the movies I have watched.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

In Family We Trust

Checking Netflix "In Family We Trust" seemed like a good bet.  It had a rating of 8.1 and lots of favorable reviews.  It is actually underrated.  Twists I have never noticed before and very well done.  Misunderstandings, deceptions, patriarchal jealousies, spying and more.  Not exactly a happy ending, but satisfying. Illustrates how one deception/misunderstanding can compound.  But it also illustrates how families can stick together.

The film has an interesting development.  A special band Nine by Nine provided a core of the film taking on the roles of nine grandchildren in a family murder drama.   They were set up for a specific time (have since been disbanded) to do some music albums and at least this one movie.  In looking for a suitable format the producers patched together some ideas from Hong Kong films.  Some scenes are set in Hong Kong

It is supposed to be a Chinese family long established in Thailand.  That seemed new, but with English subtitles I came to assume they were speaking in Thai which sounds a little different than Chinese I have heard in other movies.  When the scene switched to Hong Kong, the Thai characters spoke in English when speaking with locals.

The first two episodes establish the family.  It consists of the grandparents who have established a major hotel and huge bank accounts.  Four families all live in high end houses along the same side road.   The Grandfather dies and leaves a will that treats his sons much better than the daughter.  The daughter Phatson had worked at the hotel for 22 years and was considered excellent.  Confronting the brother left in charge he slaps her.  Later she approaches him at his home, but is confronted with his bleeding dead body.  She flees and is spotted by her grandmother.  She becomes the first suspect, but shortly we learn of another suspect, but there are a lot of episodes to go.  His will also causes resentment.  Each episode provides another twist or wrinkle.  All four families are involved with mixed amounts of co-operation and distrust. 

I believe viewers will find it as engaging and smooth to watch as your typical Hollywood production.

Songyos Sugmakanan was a director and a member of the writing team.  A winner and nominee at several international film festivals.  Also involved as a producer of other films.

Anther member of the writing team, Supalerk Ningsanond took part writing "A Teacher's Diary" (2014) which was adapted to "Notebook" (2019) in Bollywood.

Another writing team member, Vadudhorn Piyaromna also took a role in "Bad Genius" (2017) and in addition made up the exam used in the film.   Later involved with the tv. series that was based on the film.

One of the cinematographer, Pithai Smithsuth had done some camera work for two Hollwyood movies, "The Hangover" (2011) and "Da 5 Bloods" (2020).

The Nine by Nine team all had experience in other films.  One, Teeradone Supapunpinyo had been in "Bad Genius" (2017).

I have watched a few Thai movies that ranged from fight to art and in between, but one that I really enjoyed, "Bad Genius" (2017)  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/06/bad-genius-out-of-thailand.html

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Beynelmilel

Music makes life more pleasant for most of us, but it has been a political tool.  I have little love for traditional Turkish music, but this movie, "Beynelmilele illustrates the role of music as a weapon.  In truth the main reason I watched this movie is I had enjoyed the presence of an actress who I had seen in a most memorable film years ago.

Set in Turkey in the 1980's depicting a right wing dictatorship.  Aimed at traditional musicians who play music that is outlawed.  Many Westerners would be very bored with the music, but should respect that all music has evolved from common elements.  Wanting to survive the musicians try to co-operate.

We see a military leader demanding a change in the songs chosen.  A wedding is shown with women doing traditional dances on one side of a curtain and men doing the same sort of dance on the other side.  Later the men are forced to shave off mustaches and cut their hair.  We also see that there are informers who report of violations on petty matters.

There were warnings that the last few minutes were very different.  What I saw was a violent reaction to some revolutionary protest and several years later an ironic section with the Russian Army chorus singing a revolutionary song (The International) that the main female lead said had been written by her father who in fact had claimed that to save her.

Oversimplified, but the focus is on the music that is favored and hated by the dictatorial regime.

The director and co-writer, Sirri Sureyya Onder was born in 1960 and thus would have been in his twenties at the time of the actual events of this movie.  He played a minor role in the film.  He played oher bits and once appeared on "Anderson Cooper 360" on a Turkish themed episode.  This film won numerous international awards for .  In 2011 as a socialist he became a member of the Turkish Parliament.  "Beynelmilel" was his first script and the next year he adapted "Bliss" (2007) which is one of my all time favorite movies.  Check out http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/05/turkish-delight-in-book-and-movie-form.html

The co-director, Muharrem Gulmez is better known as a producer, but has written, directed and acted in some other Turkish films.  He was the second unit director for a James Bond feature, "The World is Not Enough"(1999).   (He is listed as the production manager for "Head-on" (2004). 

The cinemtaographer, Gokhan Atilmis won an award for his work on "Beynelmilel". and has 32 film credits to his name. 

Cezmi Baskin played the band leader and won a festival award for the role.  His acting career started in 1988 and with over 90 credits continues with plans for 2022.

Ozu Namal is the main reason I considered watching this movie.  She was mesmerizing in "Bliss" (2007).  She has won numerous acting awards including one for best comedic actress.  In "Beynelmilel" she plays the daughter of the band leader.

Getting wrapped up in modern Western music it is easy to overlook that music has always been part of society I suspect from caveman days. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Are Campaign Strategies in Canadian Elections in Your best Interest?

 In trying to determine the best way to get elected Canadian politicians have to understand the system.  The Prime Minister is selected by members always on a party basis.  The members are elected by a First Past the Post system which means they have to get more votes of the elected members than any of their opponents.  If the total of member votes is over 50% we have a "majority" government.  If not a negotiation ensues involving at least two parties  What this boils down to is each member does not need to get a majority to get power.

With polling resources history and psychology factored in, the prospective leader decides which ridings are likely to be winnable and which issues will appeal to their core base.  This guides where they visit and what they promise and what they criticize.

We have 4-6 national parties who are all trying to put their limited resources to where they could expect the best results.  The FPTP system means they do not have to persuade everyone to vote for them or even 50%.  Another factor is that partially because of this system many do not bother to vote, either thinking (most often correctly) their vote would not make a difference and others feeling it was not needed.  Then you might try to determine what your core supporters would like to see.  After that what other issues could you address that would not deter your established supporters and perhaps gain more supporters.  The advantage of a multi party system is that each party could cater to nuanced thinking as for example those in favor of strong fiscal policies might split on social concerns.  We Canadians do not really fit into two schools of thought on how we want the government to represent our interests.  In the American system voters can protest with independent parties, but in reality they have to choose from two packages of policies.

The voter is faced with four or more choices and some without giving it much thought already made their decision.  Others wrestle a little bit about competing policies.  At some point a few decide who they do not want to win the election and then decide which one of the opponents has the best choice to prevent the selection of the dreaded opponent which often means they do not select their most favorite.

The national leaders are faced with a challenge.  They cannot go everywhere and they cannot please everyone.  Where they go is partially dictated by financial resources.  They try to pick ridings where they have a chance to win.  They know from history and possibly polling which are the best bets.  They know they do not have to achieve a majority, only a plurality.  Beyond the specific ridings they also consider provinces, regions and cities with multiple ridings.  Their schedule will be tied to where they think they can win a plurality.

What does all this mean to the country?  Often one party is able to win the majority of ridings and become the government, even though in some cases they did not get the most total votes and most often not over 50%.  Sometimes no party gets a majority of the seats and they negotiate to see what combination of parties are compatible enough to govern.  That process seldom goes beyond two parties, but at least does force compromises appealing to a wider range of voters.  The party in power makes the big decisions and can safely ignore the wishes of many.  If the leader of a minority government determines they have a chance to become a majority they can call an election at a time that they feel favors them.

 All too often a voter realizes that their first choice has no realistic chance while at the same time realize the party that they detest has a much better chance.  The solution is to vote for a less disagreeable party that has some chance of winning.  Proportional Representation offers a better deal. The voters votes for their first choice because it will be added to a wider range of voters and count towards actual representation.  They cannot be ignored even if they support a party that has less local support.

The established parties like the old system as they can understand what they have to do to win--basically split their opposition  (divide and conquer) while building up a strong base.  Minority leaders like PR because they see that is their best chance to get their foot in the door,  Voters benefit from PR because their vote really counts, all ideas have to be argued.  It encourages rational discourse.

After whoever gets elected the voters need to remind the members we want a better system.  Many countries have benefited and is reflected in greater co-operation among different viewpoints, greater progress against climate change. and other progressive goals.  It has been realized that counting on politicians to set up electoral reform is almost impossible.  A citizen's assembly has proven to be more effective.  An honest politician need not worry if they have a valid viewpoint as there likely will someone who wants the same viewpoint to be represented.  It is key to a voter decision that those they choose represent their viewpoint

A reminder and more explanation:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/a-broken-promise.html

Further thoughts regarding multi party system:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/08/when-your-guy-gets-in-is-it-ok.html

Friday, September 10, 2021

Move to Heaven---WOW!

Some of you must be wondering how a supposedly sane person of the English speaking persuasion could get so wrapped up in Korean mini-series.  Maybe you are right, but it is such an enjoyable delusion.  This series, "Move to Heaven" had an unusually high rating from IMDB (8.7), but I do realize that can be misleading.  Netflix has a number of Korean series worth watching. 

Nothing is original in this world, but the Koreans sure have a way of twisting ideas that seems original.  Another one with an autistic character.  Autism comes in various shades, but generally they take things literally, do not like to be touched, some of them are extremely clever and all them seem to have prodigious memories.  With "It's Okay To Not Be Okay" an autistic is one of the main characters that others like.  In "Move to Heaven" Geu-Ru  (Asperger's Syndrome) picks up minute details and is very obsessive.  Check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/03/its-okay-not-to-be-okay.html

Trauma cleaning is what Geu-Ru and his father do for a living.  Basically it requires a cleanup of the mess left behind after a death which can include bodily fluids and also a housekeeping mess.  Taught by his father he learns you can tell a lot about a person by what they leave behind.  The two collect some meaningful artifacts and pass on to suitable relations.  Trauma cleaning has perhaps been covered in other films, but this one seems more real.  The deaths selected for an episode are dramatic in different ways. Each episode is unique

Misunderstandings are the basis for many a story  We meet his father in the first episode and can see he has taught his son reverence for the dead and how to pick up details that affect the living who didn't know or understand the details.  Plot reveal:  the father dies on the first episode, (although his lessons are brought out in future episodes).   What seems strange coming from such a kindly man is he had named an unknown half brother as a guardian and we soon learn the guardian has just been released from prison and presents an arrogant and somewhat violent demeanor.  Finding out his true situation is very interesting. So much that Ge-ru who quick deciphers all sorts of very trivial details to learn the most important details that would be appreciated by the the apparently disinterested acquaintances is apparently blind to the true character of his uncle.  A friendly female neighbor gets involved, but also misunderstands the uncle.

We gradually learn the back story.  It contains unexpected disasters, broken promises, an unfortunate life path on one side and at bottom, a big misunderstanding.  The details which are well presented make for a riveting story.

The story is set in Seoul, but at one point we learn that the story really begins in Busan.

Almost none of the names are familiar to me, but I feel confident I will see more of those who put together such a great series.

Kim Sung Ho, the director. has done ten films before this one.  One of them "How To Steal A Dog" was an enjoyable one based on an American children's book which Sung Ho helped to adapt.

Yoon Ji-Ryun, wrote the script and this is his only listed credit to date.

Tang Joon-sang played Geu-Ru, the autistic young adult.  He had a supporting role in all the episodes of "Crash Landing on You," my favorite Korean series.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html 

Lee Jahoon played the uncle, Cho Sang Guwho had spent time in jail and was a fighter.  He has won numerous awards.

Olivia Castanho plays the attractive neighbor who is protective of Geu-Ru.  She is an American actress, but has also played in Mexican and Taiwanese films.

The series does well despite no real romance with maybe only a hint.  

The high ranking is deserved and most of you will find it very absorbing.   

Here is another view of autism from an unusual angle (a standup comic):  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/funny-you-dont-look-autistic.html