Saturday, January 30, 2021

My Mister is a slow drama with emotional impact

 Just finished watching my 10th or so Korean mini-series and would like to caution my readers to be careful--they are very addicting.  A normal Korean format stretches over 16 episodes for a season.  With "My Mister " (2018) the episodes are about one hour and fifteen mintues each which is a lot of time to fill.  They use a lot by repetition, but it is really a heavy story.   You might get bored in the first few episodes, but if you stick with it you will feel compelled to find out more.  It is very highly rated.  This is a DRAMA, with some comic parts and even some romance.

Office politics are too often personal.  Somebody doesn't like somebody else and they try to form alliances.  In this case one superior is having an affair with the wife, Kang Yoon Hee of a manager, Park Dong Hoon tries to set it up so the manager can be fired.  A new temporary staff Lee Ji An sees an attempted bribery setup and messes it up.  These two events evolve into a complicated plot involving many backstories..

Modern technology plays a big role, including wiretapping.  The viewer is in on the wiretapping and it adds to the suspense and speculation.  You might think it is dragged on too long, but as a plot device it is very handy.  Who knows what and who doesn't.

Many characters add to the complications.  Park Dong Hoon has a colleague with a similar name that is also part of the office politics.  Park Dong Hoon has two brothers that have their own stories, but do intertwine with the main plot in different ways.  The three brothers (who are not very much alike) like to gather at a local restaurant to drink with the owner who once had a love affair with the best friend of Park Dong Hoon.  Lee Ji An has a grandmother who has to be hidden and also a loan shark who torments her.  There are even more characters, but they all do fit in.  A relatively happy ending for both the main characters and satisfying for the viewer, but maybe not what was expected.  No sequel planned.

An added element is use of the Korean sign language.   It helps us to realize that one of characters is not as coldhearted as we might otherwise think.

Mournful songs gently in the background are repeated and do reinforce the mood.  Korean movie music is becoming more common in my musical library.

For most of my readers the cast and crew names will not ring any bells, but I would like to mention a few as I continue with my addiction there will likely be repeats, especially with high quality.  You will feel for the characters and their emotional dilemmas.

Wok Suk Kim, director has been doing tv. mini series since 2008 and has been received national awards.

Park Hae Young, writer with only his third series.

Lee Sun-kyun plays the lead character and is a veteran actor with awards.  He played a prominent role in "Parasite" (2019 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html) and was the lead character in my favorite black comedy, "A Hard Day" (2004).

Lee Ji-eun played the young temporary staff worker and the main female lead.  She  has been in many films and has also composed and sang background for other movies including "Crash Landing on You" (2019 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html.

Ji-Ah Lee plays the protagonist's, cheating, lawyer wife (she is not all bad).  Some of her education was in California.  She speaks Korean, Japanese and English. 

Jeon Gook-Hwan played a company director.  He played the father of the male protagonist in "Crash Landing on You" (2019).  Another quality film he was in was "Silenced" (2011) about abuse in an institute for the deaf.

Korea has very cleverly identified culture as an eonomic export..

Friday, January 29, 2021

What keeps me blogging. (and what I have learned)

If you thought as a blogger I must think myself clever, you'd be right.  If you also thought maybe I like  to widen the platform for my opinions that is also true.  Vanity plays a big role but my motivation goes much deeper than that.  As I get older my memory fades.  I want to understand and remember the good times.   Learn from my mistakes and unhappy times. It challenge my brain--I don't post a blog every day, but I do write, edit research everyday.  One thing I would add is that blogging is FUN.

Birthdays can be transitional and reflective.  Originally my daughter Heather set me up with this blogging site and for over a year I avoided it, mainly for technophobia.  I do love writing so I did give in to the urge and then fell in love with the idea.  Through a mixup mostly on my part the annual dues did not get paid.  My old title had been made inaccessible, but worse than that, instead the owners set it up as a porno site.  From that experience my education advanced a little and communications improved. 

I have always had a few missions, but that they have changed with circumstances.  1).  I was a salesman when I started and at that time wanted to reinforce what I had learned, realizing that in truth everyone is a salesperson. 2) to boost world understanding by promoting sub-titled movies--stumbled on this after discovering the pleasures and then realizing that we all make assumptions about other cultures, especially ones far away--subtitled movies are really a small tool in the effort to understand others, but it is an underused  tool and can be very enjoyable.  3).  politics are boring for most people, but the reality is the end results have a controlling effect on our lives--Proportional representatives seems like to be the most practical way for average voter to take back some of the control lost to first past the post--but if not educated, largely wasted   4) Trump has been  a topic by himself.  Myself and many cartoonists will have to find another subject that draws as much attention.  Even after the election he will be causing problems and the afterwards there may be years of court cases.   5).  Understand myself and others better.  They are an odd combination and you of course can pick and choose--but if you are bored it might hit a nerve.    

A few random thoughts:

My vanity takes a bit of a beating when I realize that a high percentage of page views are really robots and many others are just casual peeks, often by mistake.  Not sure how Google works, but understand the more popular they think you are the higher ranking your blog will appear when one of your tag words is requested.  You don't get many page views if your blog is ranked on page 2 or higher.

One long term strategy was to review my blogs with the idea of editing.  I do not on principle "update" any post.  If someone stumbles on one of my blogs I want it to run as smoothly as possible.  To encourage more stumbling I look for more relevant tags that might be of common interest.  Another strategy is use links for other blog posts--often the best measure if someone actually read the first blog.  Sometimes if there is a follow up blog afterwards I give a link so the reader will know the latest development and my updated thinking without burying the original thoughts.   I have been pleasantly surprised using the name of a non celebrity would occasionally draw attention--once from a child hood barber, a woman I worked with,  and once with an acquaintance who helped me appreciate horses.

As I research, analyze my life I am constantly learning, something satisfying in itself.  Organizing your thoughts, researching and actually writing help to enrich one's understanding and sometimes even change my mind.  The challenge of sequencing words and stringing together ideas to make a point.

Blogs open you to criticism.  There is no idea that cannot be challenged and all too often not in an intelligent, considerate way.  I admit to sometimes trying to be provocative and also realize my range of interests do not exactly coincide with most people, making us all unique.  I occasionally do change my mind and frequently modify my thinking.  As a salesman I recognize it is almost impossible to get someone to "change" their mind, but sometimes they will modify their opinion with some new information.

One questions who, what, where, how and why?  Why did I select a movie or a book?  Was it totally random?  Some of my blogs are a spur of the moment--something big (in my mind) has occurred and I realize facts are still emerging, but I want to record how I feel with existing facts.  don't feel too far off years afterwards, but do admit that more analysis takes time

Yes, I am aware that my thoughts are not original.  I believe all new ideas are just rearrangements of old ideas or ideas off the beaten path.  Most readers have seen very similar thoughts expressed in very similar ways, but sometimes a reminder enables one to get back on the path or maybe cast a small doubt-- aggregating opinions and facts is common  Roger Ebert-- a movie critic and lover was one inspiration.  I think his interest in trying to understand the world manifested itself in a love of understanding movies.  He earned a platform and used it to express political and social views

My posts are popular enough that the odd comments happen, but not popular enough that they attract trolls.   Pretty well all positive and appreciative.  I read other blogs, often political and encounter toxic comments.  Too many are inflammatory, bigoted, ignorant, etc.  It is ok to gain some understanding of an opposing viewpoint, but many complainers show little respect for bloggers who have the courage to articulate views and make themselves a target.  Constructive comments are always welcome.

Privacy is a touchy issue. I have no desire to embarrass anyone (well no one I actually know). I realize there are literally millions who don't share my views and in fact would hold them against me if they had the power.   There is a part of me not in these blogs--the part I want to remember and be remembered for is mostly here.

The world may or may not be better off as more bloggers catch the bug.  By allowing an outlet many bloggers find some benefit to venting.  We all see things from a limited perspective and we all benefit when we can expand that perspective.  While taking a nite course years ago I encountered a young accountant whose passion was drag racing which seemed incomprehensible to me.  He did set me straight on a few points and I have a little more respect.  Most of us have something that gives us if not a sense of purpose, a "buzz"  Understand and appreciate that in others and you will get along a lot better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Promised Land

How does one get to be president of the United States, a position considered to be more powerful than just about anything else?  As in all cases Obama's road required many lucky breaks for him and the ability to take advantage of them.

He admits a strong desire for power, power to do things he feels need to be done.  He wrestles with the notion that it might  be ego or unmet psychological needs.  Although Michelle supported him, she really fought against his political ambitions.  He was conscious that his decisions imposed sacrifices on others. 

As is evident in this book, he has a way with words.  Often his speeches seek to understand the root source of any issue.  He realizes that most important issues are complicated.  Almost everyone feels free to criticize presidential decisions complaining that the obvious choice was ignored.  Obama is well aware of all the choices, but also knows the practical restrictions.

How does one get power?  He was a man of learning and discipline.  He more often said the right thing at the right time.  The times were changing and events ever bending.  His first election was an education.  He ha had been told the first thing to do was get the neessary petition prepared.  He was skeptical, but it turned out to be the key.  Several of his opponents messed up their petitions including one who backtracked her promise not to run against him.  Once elected as an Illinois state senator he found himself on the minority side and unable to initiate legislation.

Most voters are something like Monday morning quarterbacks and we imagine that those in power have not really understood our great idea.  Not true in the case of Obama.   The decision making process is gone over for many issues.  The constraining factors include Congressional control by Republicans, filibuster rule, Democrats with different agendas, corporate support for business interests, media striving  for ratings and spreading misleading information.

He had made health care a high priority and was fortunate to make his first moves early.  He lost his margin in the Senate.  Palin had accused the plan of having a death panel, so instead of including a humane service it was cut.  The mandate was attacked and also cut.  Here in Ontario several years ago it was mandated that everyone had to have insurance to drive a car and that made sense.  Although some people have less risk they still have a risk. 

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caught everyone off guard.  After assessing several options his decisions first drew attacks until it was finally brought under control and he was praised for his action.

He wanted immigration reform, but found his hands tied.  Racism and fear of cheap competition assured that members of both parties would vote against serious reform.  Obama was aware that many immigrants had come without intent or even awareness and had contributed to America's success.  Dreamers were given some protection, but are still under assault.

Iraq and Afghanistan were inherited, even though he voted against the Iraq invasion.  He describes Afghanistan as full of corruption, but felt no real viable options.  Lots of criticisms from politicians and military leaders. 

Israel is an American ally with solid electoral support that is obviously occupying Palestinian land.  Evangelicals with their apocalyptic vision are majorly responsible.   Like others Obama sees the need for compromise, but made little if any progress.

The Arab Spring got hopes up and a lot of discussion.  A lot of political maneouvering that led to a new autocratic rule in Egypt, a civil war in Syria, rise of ISIS and perhaps a fragile democracy in Tunisia.

Donald Trump  should have been a footnote, but he inserted himself.  He brought up the issue of Obama's birth certificate, ignoring known facts.  Despite knowing better, the media kept the idea alive fanning racism and forcing Obama's effort to deal with it instead of working for the benefit of Americans.  At the White House Correspondent's dinner, Obama made some biting remarks about Trump while he was there.  Some have speculated that the humiliation inflicted on Trump is what spurred him to not only use his resources to run for president, but also to undo any legislation credited to Obama.

The book ends with the events leading up to and including the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Secrecy was the key element and Obama admits they did not have certainty, but he was the one who made the final decision.  His luck was better than Jimmy Carter's.

The Benghazi incident was given some background, but the outcome will have to wait for the sequel. Very much looking forward to the sequel and for that matter anything else Obama cares to write.  We can be assured it will be well thought out.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The White Tiger

When Priyanka Chopra married Nick Jonas, I suspect it opened a few doors and the rest of us are beneficiaries.  "The White Tiger" (2021) is set in India, but is virtually in English with just a few lines of Hindi that are subtitled.  Priyanka has an important role, but is not the critical star, but her name gives much prominence.  Rajkummar Rao has a good following in Bollywood,  The real star is Adarsh Gourav.  More on them later.

The book is set at a time when India is modernizing and growing economically, but for the masses life is still a struggle.  Modernization comes with disruption.  The story tells of one man from a poor background who somehow overcomes many obstacles to become a successful entrepreneur.  Actually that one man is the narrator and soon we will be amazed at the contrast between his current look including confidence and where we are taken to his past.  How does he get from such humble life to a wealthy man?  It involves endearing himself to a young wealthy couple, but even that seems like only a step to being a servant.  We encounter a level of corruption not only of the wealthy family, but of politicians they deal with.  The turning point is when the liberal have a problem and turn on him with a somewhat  guilty conscience.  Living in a sort of limbo our hero realizes it will take drastic action to get out of it.  We are near the end at this point and there is a big shift in his fortunes, due to his aggressive action and clever opportunism.

The viewer can appreciate that India is modernizing, but also has a lot of dead weight in the form of caste crime and corruption.  Poverty means that literally millions are very poorly educated.  Modern times have opened up opportunities for those who are smart and well situated.

The book, "The White Tiger" came out in 2008 and won the Man Booker award plus made the New York Times Best Seller list.  The author Aravind Adiga had been born in what is now known as Chennai, India but his family moved to Sydney, Australia.  He managed to study at Columbia University and Oxford before he became a financial journalist for the Financial Times and later an Asian correspondent for Time.  He has moved back to India.  

The producer, director, script writer and editor, Ramin Bahrani  must have been inspired by Aravind as he had five movies going back to 2005 thanking the author in screen credits.   American born with Iranian parents, he has been involved as a producer, writer, director and editor for such films as "Chop Shop" (2007), "Goodbye Solo" (2008) and "99 Homes" (2014).  His touch on so many aspects of this film is one reason it is so satisfying.

The music score is by the team of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.  They had met when they were both playing in different bands.  Danny played cello and studied music in Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom and United States.  Teamed up with Saunders, son of Dutch immigrants and wrote music for "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (2011), "The OA" (2016), "Ozark" (2017).

Cinematography by Paolo Carnera who has mostly worked in Europe is another highlight of the film.

The other editor, Tim Streeto has mostly worked with tv shows, the most recentl yone being "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (2017-19).

Priyanka Chopra played the spoiled, sexy, liberal(rated) rich wife which she does very well, but also demonstrated a wide range of emotions.   She was born with two military physicians, educated in both India and the United States.  In 2000 she won the Miss India and Miss World beauty pageants which opened up movie opportunities. Some of movies she starred in included "Bluffmaster" (2005), "Krish" (2006), "Don" (2006), "Don 2" (2011), "Barfi" (2012), and "Mary Kom" (2014).  In 2015 she became the first Bollywood actor to headline an American tv. sries, "Quantico."  In 2019 she co-produced and starred in my top movie of that year, "The Sky is Pink." (http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/the-sky-is-pink-my-top-movie-for-2019.html).  She has been a playback singer for 4 movies including "Dil Dhadakne Do" (2015).  In addition she has been a producer including "The White Tiger."  With her mother she had produced some regional language films including the Marathi version of "Ventilator" where she also sang a song.

Rajkummar Rao played the rich boss.  Some of his memorable movies include, "Kai Po Che" (2013), "    ( http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/05/kai-che-po.html" "Queen" (2013), "Trapped" (2016), "Newton" (2017), "Bareilly Ki Barfi" (2017) and "Stree" (2018). 

Adarsh Gourav had the key role as the narrator telling the story about himself going from poor, unsophisticated rural peasant to a smooth talking tough entrepreneur.  In his first movie he played the younger version of the Shah Rukh Khan character in "My Name is Khan" ((2010).  He also appeared in "Mom" (2017) with Srivdevi.  Prior to this movie he had been a regular on three tv. mini series and done numerous commercials.

Swaroop Sampat played the corrupt politician as very hypocritical.  She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Worcester in England and then went on to become Miss India of 1979 and later married prominent actor, Paresh Rawal.  She has appeared in a number of television shows and films including "Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi" (1984)  and the acclaimed "Uri: The Surgical Strike" (2019).  She has been a producer of two long running television shows.

I hope Netflix's promoting this film encourages more to check out Bollywood.  As it is we can better appreciate that film making involves international cast and crew and we all benefit.

As normal I have bolded movies that I have seen.  Maybe for vanity, but I think it indicates an appreciation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Preston Sturges, A Major Writer and Director

When one gets interested in movies and tries to understand what makes them memorable it pays to watch older movies.  A few Preston Sturges movies had been seen when I was young, but a lot of the subtleties passed over my head.  Looking at DVD special feature  there was a lot of experience, talent and circumstances that help explain why his films were so entertaining.  

Sturges spent a significant part of his youth in France as his mother Mary d'Este had a wealthy husband who allowed her extraordinary freedom and she was close friends with Isadora Duncan.  He got his fill of classical French culture which he mostly disdained later in life.  While young he invented a kiss proof lipstick for his mother's business.  He invented a wide variety of devices and then turned to writing and eventually came to Hollywood.  His scripts were popular, but he was frustrated with how his words were handled and made a deal to offer a script dirt cheap if he could also direct the film.  "The Great McGinty" (1940) not only was a commercial success, but won him his only Oscar for writing original script.

He became the first significant writer to also become a director in the sound era.  He also became the highest paid script writer and one of the richest men in all America.

As a director he was a perfectionist demanding his exact dialogue and expressions.  This resulted in many retakes that upset those financing the movie

Sturges liked to dictate his scripts which helped them to sound natural.  He was very appreciative of Ernst Lubitsch (http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/04/ernest-lubitsch.html) and often showed his scripts to him.   He loved double entendres and was strong on dialogues.  Slapstick was a part of his comedies. He developed a love for certain stock players (such as William Demarest, Al Bridge, Robert Dudley, Frank Moran and others) and giving them as rich a dialogue as the stars,  rewarding them as he attributed his success in early films to them

For a string of years he had hits which stand up well today.

"Lady Eve" (1941) a naive wealthy snake scientist--attracts many women trying different strategies.  Barbara Stanwyck finds a more direct tactic--trips him and becomes aggressive, however the original plan was not to snare him as marriage target but as a card game victim.  The special features for "Lady Eve" included a segment put together during the Covid-Pandemic by Zoom.  They commented that the comedy was still there after almost 80 years. 

"Sullivan's Travel" (1941) was about a director who is concerned that he is doing comedies when there is so much suffering.  Joel McCrea and a pregnant Veronica Lake.  After a number of trying circumstances during the Depression he concluded what the world really needed was comedies.

"Safeguarding Military Information" (1941) had Preston Sturges as uncredited writer and director.  This was completed before Pearl Harbor attack but prophetically uses a story line involving an attack on navy boat to Hawaii.  Used Eddie Bracken and Ginger Rogers to demonstrate how eas it is for information to fall in the wrong hands

"The Palm Beach Story" (1942) was a comedy with the wife of a unsuccessful builder trying to divroce him so she could marry someone rich and help her husband.  Claudette Colbert responding to Joel McCrea's query "Sex didn't enter into it?" with "But of course it had.  Sex always has something to do with everything."  A happy ending of course.

 "Hail the Conquering Hero" (1944)  Everyone loves a hero.  Misunderstandings are a staple of comedies.  This was filmed about a year before the end of the war and focused on a man who had lied about his war deeds, but underneath was a good guy.  It made fun of politicians.  For the 1945 Oscars this film was nominated for best writing along with "Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1943) probably splitting his chance to win the award.

"Unfaithfully Yours" (1948) was originally written years earlier, but Sturges was unable to get any director to use the script.  He originally thought of James Mason for the lead, but he was tied up.  Rex Harrison rejected it before reading, but later changed his mind. As it turned out Rex was married to Lilli Palmer, but had been having an affair with Carol Landis.  After the film was finished but not released Carol apparently felt depressed and killed herself with Rex being the one who discovered the body.  This spoiled much of the promotion strategy and the film lost money.    His girl friend, Frances Ramsden had been offered a role, but had to undergo surgery.

For a short time he aligned himself with Howard Hughes, but only one film came of it, "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock" (1947) starring silent screen star, Harold Lloyd.  Hughes changed his mind and broke the partnership.

His career went downhill partly because financiers were concerned over his perfectionism and he rubbed some people the wrong way..  "The French They are a Funny Race" (1956), a remake of "Lady Eve" was his last film.

From the IMDB trivia section I would like to close with a poem written by Sturges when asked to write an epitaph:  "Now I've laid me down to die / I pray my neighbors not to pry / too deeply into sins that I / not only cannot here deny / but much enjoyed as time flew by.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Arab Winter

The Arab Spring is looked upon as a tragic failure.  At the time there was much hope that dictators would be thrown out, but also some fear that fundamentalists would gain power.  It was not totally a failure and not without lessons.  Noah Feldman explores it.

 My interest is partly due to the influence of a brother in law, Ali Bouanba, a Muslim from Morocco.  He married my sister who I always thought the most independent minded of all my siblings.  One Christmas I asked my sister what would be a good present for him and she suggested a particular book.  I bought the book a few weeks ahead of time and decided to read it.  It was about Palestinians and although I had been a bit sympathetic this opened my mind.  I didn't get to know him until years later when on trips to Halifax I took a stop on the south shore of Montreal where my sister's family lived and over years went out of my way to drop by.  He illustrated Arab hospitality at its best.  On one trip I remember meeting some friends that had come from Ali's birth place, Safi, Morocco.  The friend was a banker working in Quebec.  I enjoyed the conversation.  Like Ali, Abdul was at least tri-lingual speaking Arabic, French and English.  Their five year old son seemed surprised I didn't speak French.  On another trip Ali made a suggestion that changed my life.  He pointed out  that a Quebec francophone trying to sell in Ontario would not do very well, but an Anglophone like myself could make a go of it in Quebec and he proved to be correct.   Read:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/07/travels-of-salesman-part-3-quebec.html

Noah has an understanding of Arabic and spent a few pages to point out that there was a feeling of Arabness that were part of the thinking, but that the dynamics broke down to national boundaries.  In most cases the underlying goal was merely to get rid of an autocratic ruler.  Essentially the Arab populace was looking for jobs, freedom and social welfare, not necessarily democracy.  American failures in Iraq weakened its image in Arab world.

Egypt, the largest Arab country was successful in ridding itself of the dictator Mubarek, but then two years later threw out his replacement and returned to a military dictatorship.  Noah identifies a number of the population that played a role:  Islamists, military and the Egyptian liberal elites.  He claims the Muslim Brotherhood played little in the initial protests, but that in fact they were the most organized of any political faction.  In effect the liberals were the major part of the Tahrir Square protests of 2011 after which the military decided in their best interests to force Mubarek out as it turned out they resented his son who was slated to take over the dictatorship.  Elections were forced and Muslim Brotherhood were best suited to win control of the government.  Unfortunately although they won by only a slim margin they were not inclined to involve other political factions and in turn infuriated the liberal elites.  Although democratically elected, Morsi had lost the support of enough Egyptian people that the army felt confident enough to replace Morsi with their own choice, Sisi.  My summary is admittedly over simplified but in essence is what happened. 

Syria has been ruled for several decades by two members of the Alawite sect.  Alawites are only 15% of the population and thus they have been careful to maintain control.   France when it ruled over Syria played one ethnic group against another.  Syria gained support from the Soviet Union and later Russia and when Israel attacked the P.LO. in Lebanon they had American support, making the battles a proxy war. Not willing to make concessions to the majority Sunnis.   Assad was able count on support of Russia and Iran when he turned the conflict into the Syrian Civil War.

The Syrian Civil War freed up Sunni areas and elements organized into ISIL or ISIS to capture this area and later expand into Iraq.  They attracted Muslims and Arabs from all over the world who saw their goals as a sort of Arab Utopia.  Violent elements controlled the movement, but eventually attracted opposition from the Russians, Americans and Kurds.  They too failed at least in part as they were unwilling to consider the wishes of the people already living in the conquered areas.

Tunisia where the Arab Spring originated when Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself to death in protest the circumstances were more favorable.  Tunisia lacked oil wealth that concentrated wealth to particular individuals and had traditions that favored both democracy and secularism.  Different elements sought consensus.  Two assassinations shook the situation, but in some ways spurred the search for consensus.  By 2014 Tunisia became the first functioning democracy in the Arab speaking world.  It is still precarious because the economy did not significantly improve, meaning unemployment was still a concern.

The author has told us the failures of the Arab spring, but feels although discouraging there was one success (as of the writing).  Examining the differences to suggest future efforts.  He thinks the winter may last a long time, but eventually another spring will come.  The rest of us need to reflect on the fragile Tunisian success and do what we can to nurture it.  This is only a crude summary of what Noah Feldman wrote.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Maara: Artisty in Cinema

 My expectations were very low and sometimes it works out they were greatly exceeded.  "Maara" (2021) was new on Prime and as I felt in need of something different checked it out

A lot of good movies start off in a confusing manner and you wonder if will make any sense or be worth your time. One purpose of this blog is to assure you this movie is worth the effort--at least for some of you (the more discerning ones??).  

It starts with a restless young girl on a train during heavy rain.  A woman in a seat opposite the aisle offers a story to help calm her down.  The viewer is treated to an animated version.  The young girl is mesmerized.  Years later we learn she has become a restoration architect and is being coerced into an arranged marriage.  But she goes on a last quest in her restorative activities.  In a far location she notices murals that seem to depict the fairy tale.  In truth my interest picked up as they are beautiful and I started to notice the musical background and the story.

She tries to find the man who did the paintings. The man, Maara is very elusive, but seems to be helping people all the time.  Eventually the woman reaches a sort of farm resort where he is supposed to live and more stories come out of it  Eventually the stories are netted together including the original fairy tale, but linked to a romance, two actually.

The feeling is like an interesting fairy tale, but for adults who love confusion being sorted out it is very satisfying, although in the end you are not quite sure how the lovers keep together, but you feel good.

Madhaven was in one of the first Bollywood movies I saw, only it wasn't Bollywood and I discovered years later it was actually in Tamil , "A Peck on the Cheek"  I noticed him in Bollywood movies which further confused me.  It turns out he was popular and talented and was in demand.  That confusion led me into a whole bunch of movies in a variety of languages of India.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/regional-films-from-india.html

Exploring my home town during the Pandemic I discovered lots of murals, but for the most part they were separate from one another, but in this film the paintings were contiguous on many buildings and very gorgeous in variety of colours.  The music was gentle, but unique. 

This was a remake of "Charlie" (2015) in Malayalam with one of my favorite actresses, Parvarthy Thiruvothu.  It has a similar IMDB rating and won awards including for Parvathy and Dulquer Salaam.

The Tamil rights to the film were obtained in 2015, but there were a lot of changes and delays.  Filming was partially completed before the Covid-19 Pandemic caused another delay.  Originally Dhilip Kumar was hired to write a script which ended up an adaptation.  Then when the original director left the project Dhilip Kumar was hired to direct.  He had directed an earlier short film with the same producers Prateek Chakravorty and Shruti Nallopa.

The background music and several songs written by Ghibran.  Cinematography by Dinesh Krishnan and Karthik Muthukumar and it is also intrugueing.  Edited by Bhuvan Srinivasan who probably helped sort out the early (but deliberate) confusion.

Madhaven played the title character.  At age 18 his college entrusted him to as cultural ambassador to Canada representing India.  He had won national public speaking awards and is fluent in English, Hindi and Tamil.  He has appeared in such other films as "Rang de Basanti" (2006), "Guru" (2007) and "3 Idiots" (2009) which were all exceptional movies.

Shaddra Srinath played the young woman wanting to more about the painted murals that were of the story she heard as a young girl on train ride.  She had appeared in an awarding winning film with Madhaven, " Vikram Vedha (2017).

I admire Netflix for grabbing a lot of foreign films, realizing a big part of their motive  is to get foreigners and immigrants.  Some English only speakers will eventually realize this is a gold mine of entertainment and understanding.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

What to Make of Georgia and Trump's Last Days

As I write this I am half way through "A Promised Land" and wondering how Americans could put themselves through this current insanity after having a rational, thoughful president.  Donald Trump is an egotistical con man, but he has served as a critical tool for conservative thinking, the kind that ensures inequality.  It appears the Democrats will eke out a slight power edge in Congress, but will still be subject to the randomness of insanity.

Georgian run offs apparently were instituted originally to discourage blacks.  I think they are a very good idea to stop splitting the opposition to allow a minority opinion to get elected.  50% +1 is more acceptable, considering that even a minority would recognize that the majority has been fairly decided.

Trump's infamous phone call may have had a slight, but critical impact.  There must have been some people who wanted to vote for the Republicans for different reasons, but were concerned about allowing criminal behavior to influence their election.  Others must have been outraged enough to make an extra effort to vote.

Watching the CNN coverage like many, it was exciting with the ups and downs, but after awhile you become conscious that we were being teased to keep us watching.  The results were already decided and were being slowly revealed.  Finally it was turned that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would be the two new senators.  The political outlook is much better than many feared it would be, but it is still frightening that so many would vote for the Trump ticket and the party that used him for their own ends. 

Joe Manchin has become a more powerful person as he is one Democrat that often votes with Republicans and can prevent the tie breaking vote of Kamala Harris.  For that matter any Democrat senator can be ill, called away on government business or respond to pressure so there are no guarantees that any particular legislation or appointees will be passed.  

Many Republicans are handling their disappointment disgracefully and Trump with blatant misinformation has encouraged rioting.  The rioters are a small number, but able to project their unhappiness.

Covid-19 has probably killed off some voters for the Georgian runoffs and younger voters have been added.  Most important was the chaotic management of the Trump team.  Although many did not believe it, it was demonstrated that masks and social distancing do save lives.  Trump set a very bad example and compounded it with bad decisions.  Probably a few voters changed their minds, but ignorant pride is hard to be rational.

After rejoicing for the Democrat triumph in Georgia it took only a few hours before more traitorous behavior.  Some Congressmen wanted to contest the election results from November 3, 2020.  Large numbers of rioters attacked the capital, resulting so far in four deaths.

Most of us clearly see Donald Trump was a BIG MISTAKE.  I would go further and say that Trump was a tool who in turn aroused hatred to transform into more tools.  It seems that the tools have gotten out of hand and this might hurt those who thought they had power.

Power has become concentrated, but it has also been challenged.  The core of power has been very wealthy,very greedy and short sighted mostly men who want such things as lower taxes and a reduction of regulations so they can enjoy even more wealth.  The taxes that serve everyone (including the very rich) and the regulations that protect everyone (including the very rich) are like red flags to some wealthy people.

These powerful men and women know full well that the majority want to be protected and want to be treated fairly so they have to find some way to attract their votes.  How to get people to vote against their best interests?

Perhaps the most emotional issue that steers voters is abortion.  Some powerful people hate abortion, but for most it is not the highest priority, but a useful tool.  No sane person likes the idea of abortion, but most feel it is very personal with many factors.  Originally abortion rules were not liberalized to encourage abortion, but in recognition that desperate women were dying and others becoming infertile.  We now realize that abortions limit unwanted babies that add stress to all society.  The Democrats have suggested and proved there are better ways to reduce abortions.  Sex education, accessibility to contraception, parental support and a poverty net have proven to be successful but usually resisted by those who hate abortions.  Having said all that we can respect those who feel abortion is their highest voting priority, but realistically they are not enough for the 1%.  Other religious concerns are also tapped into that generate political power.  Some church members (and others) are upset about gays gaining power.  Some feel that those who do not respect their religion should be forced to.

When Lyndon Baines Johnson passed civil rights laws he acknowledged that Republicans would gain power, he thought for at least 50 years.  Nixon and later Reagan found it was reasonably easy to lure former southern Democrats over to the Republican party.  Trump has used racial prejudices long before being elected.  In addition to the initial anti black feelings he lashed out at immigrant Mexicans and Muslims.  If we are all honest we are all prejudiced against outsiders, but increasingly modern Americans are living in harmony with different races and religions.  

Gun rights it turns out is another issue to overcome economic self interest.  Financial interests (gun and ammunition manufacturers) have opened up rights that have led to a high murder rate, a high suicide rate and intimidation.  In truth many feel frightened by violence and things they don't understand and feel they need protection.  But it has proved to be  a vicious circle with some fanning fear.

There is another divide that has developed, rural and urban (suburban).  Many in rural areas have a different life style  Big industrial farming has made life very difficult for small farmers.  Although it is changing, educated people tend to go to the cities.  Some recognize this divide as critical to our politics.  A recent blog:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/10/what-about-those-hicks.html

The 1% have been frustrated that they had been limited in using their financial resources to get their way.   But after years of campaigning they had been able to get a more agreeable Supreme Court that finally opened the doors to let them use their finances.  Of course many thought the court was changing to further limit abortions.  Obviously that made advertising more available with loads of misinformation, but also data analysis to break down voters to find out how better to manipulate them. An earlier blog discussed  dark money:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/07/dark-money-by-jane-mayer.html

 I understand that the Koch Brothers were initially distrustful of Trump and were reluctant to lend their financial support, but some how they became convinced that Trump would better assure their agenda which was lower taxes and fewer regulations.  Others could foresee that the Supreme Court would finally get rid of abortions and curtail gay rights, that darker skinned immigrants would be kept out.  Gun rights likely to be retained and maybe expanded.  Blacks would be kept down.  Of course there is opposition and it is getting better organized.  Maybe the Republican agenda has gone too far and their tools have gone too much overboard or maybe they have gained a toehold.

Two forces that might eventually ameliorate the situation are education and campaign finance.   A significant  university course for me  was Prejudice and Discrimination.  One point was that it all starts with pride in whatever group you identify with and although that can be beneficial it also means that outside groups are somehow inferior.  From evolutionary survival traits we notice differences and they can be automatically frightening.  Educational content can help us better understand that differences can be more interesting than frightening and in fact widen our enjoyment of life.  As important as content is, the environment is equally important as contact as proven to lessen distrust.  Economic disparities make diverse contact more difficult.

The loosening of campaign finance has allowed those with wealth to promote their agenda more  effectively.  Facts can be slanted and with repetition gain credibility.  Opinions can be amplified.  In the heat of election it is very difficult to monitor the truth.   It might  be easier to limit spending or for the government to equally provide funding but the truth also has to be controlled or at last monitored.

An earlier blog that now seems accurate, but naive:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html

At this moment the future is a blur.  Trump could be a turning point towards more democracy or fascism.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Delhi Crime is a Gripping Drama about a horrendous crime

You may have read a bit about the actual crime  (Nirbhaya incident of December 2012) as it made the international press.  The horror of it is hard to comprehend.  If it was a typical rape it would not have captured so much attention.  It took place on a  moving bus and not only did it involve what is generally called a "gang rape," but one of the six perpetrators expressed his hatred of women by using an iron rod.  If you would like more description you have to seek other sources or watch the series which does give more details.  Rape laws were changed as a result to give the victims more credibility.

Such a crime generated not only national outrage, but international criticism.  The police are criticized and careers are threatened, yet they did an incredible job tracking down the rapists.who had fled to different parts of India.  The bulk of the series is about the obstacles in finding the guilty, convincing witnesses, dealing with legal restrictions, the press and violent protests.  The police were initially given little evidence very methodically uncovered little details and eventually caught all 6 rapists in only six days.  Personal details of the officers were part of the drama.  The media soon learned of the iron rod and stirred up the public reaction including misinformation that led to riots demanding the police do something. Political pressure was applied.  Several instances of people not trusting the police.

It won the International Emmy for drama series as well as 3 awards with the Asian Academy Critics Award and has done well on Netflix.  Below are highlights of some key contributors, but be assured many others are responsble for the high quality of the series.  Most of the dialogue is subtitled from Hindi, but about a third is English.

Richie Mehta is not related to Deepa Mehta, well known Canadian film maker who also has done films based in India.  Richie from Mississauga, Ontario graduated from the University of Toronto.  He took a film production course at Sheridan College and one of his experimental shorts ended up being made into a feature, "Amal" (2007) which made it to the international circuit and won him some awards.  Over the years he has written, directed and/or produced successful films such as "I'll Follow You Down (2013) and "Siddharth" (2013).  When he heard of the major rape story on international news he was concerned that  it painted India in a bad light and overlooked elements of the crime.  Looking for a feature film his six years of research he needed a mini series to squeeze in relevant details.  He saw it as a mission to bring light to the story.  He chose to emphasize the people involved rather than the horror of the actual crime.  To be as authentic as practical he used Neeraj Kumar who had been Delhi Police Commissioner at the time as consultant.

Robert Friedland, a producer was part of a movement to develop the Asian film market.  He is a mining tycoon who felt mining was poorly portrayed in films, such as "Avatar"  had been the executive producer for "The Sky is Pink" (my favorite film from 2019), "The Wailing"  (2016 Korean) and "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018).   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/the-sky-is-pink-my-top-movie-for-2019.html

Sidney Kimmel, producer had helped produce "The Kite Runner" (2007),  "Synedoche, New York"  (2008),  "Gone" (2012) and "Come Hell or High Water (2016).

Johan Heurlin Aidt, responsible for the cinematography had worked in camera & electric department for "The Loudest Voice" (2019), "The Report" (2019), "Ocean's Eight" (2018),  and "House of Cards" (2013).  Earlier blogs on two of these:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/11/the-loudest-voice.html and  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/the-report.html

Andrew Lockington composed the musical score.   He was born in Burlington Ontario and in 2008 the International Film Music Critics awarded him Breakthough Film Composer of the Year.  He has done the scores for such movies as "Saint Ralph" (2004), "San Adreas" (2015) and "The Space Between Us" (2017).  He had worked with Richie Mehta for "Siddharth" (2013).

Beverly Mills, editor had worked with  "Shameless" (British version 2004-08),  "Death at a Funeral" (2007),  "Call the Midwife" (2013-14), and "India in a Day" (2016 with Richie Mehta).

Assembling a cast for this level of production requires someone like Mukesh Chhabra.  He has been involved with the casting of such films as "PK" (2014), "Haider" (2014) "She" (2020) and "Del Bechara" (2020). He has acted (small roles) in many of the films including, "Amal" (2007), "Siddharth "(2013) and this one.  Earlier blogs on some of his films:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/03/pk.html and http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/02/haider-bollywoods-version-of-shakespeare.html

The acting from not only of the listed ones, but all of the others lent credibility to this difficult subject.

Shefali Shah played the officer in charge in a no nonsense manner cutting through excuses, political pressures and red tape .  Shefali has won numerous awards and has appeared in "Mohabbtein" (2000), "Monsoon Wedding" (2007),  "Laksmi" (2014), "Dil Dhadakne Do" (2015)  and as the romantic lead in "Once Again" (2018).  She won an award for her role in this and is slated for a sequel.

Rajesh Taileng  played a key officer in pursuit of the rapists.  He has appeared in "Mangal Pandy:  The Rising" (2005),  "Amal" (2007), "Siddharth" (2013), "The Second Best Marigold Hotel" (2015).    He  also wrote  dialogue for "Amal" (2007) and "Siddharth" (2013).

Raskika Dugal played a trainee police officer who proved she was more thorough than most male officers. She has appeared in such films as "Manto" (2018), "Once Again" (2018) and "Hamid" (2018 for which she won best actress award).  

Yashaswini Dayama  plays the daughter of the chief inspector and wants to leave (for opportunity in Toronto) because of her negative opinion of Delhi and becomes involved in protests.  She has appeared in "Phobia" (2016) and  "Dear Zindagi" (2016).

Adil Hussain plays a supervisor under pressure from politicians and bureaucrats.  He is very versatile is fluent in English, Hindi, Bengali, Bengali and Assamese.  Some of his films include, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), "Life of Pi" (2012),  "English Vinglish" (2012), "Tigers" (2014) and "What Will People Say"(2017).  An international award winner including Norway.

Denzil Smith played the husband of the chief inspector. and the father of the girl wanting to leave.   He has appeared in: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011),  "The Lunchbox" (2013), "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2015), "Viceroy's House" (2017), "Photograph" (2019), "Badla" (2019) and Tenet" (2020).   Read about Badla, a remake of a Spanish film:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/a-masterpiece-film-and-very-good-remake.html

Underappreciated police are given a low budget resulting in becoming overworked and open to "gifts" and cutting corners.  Low esteem creates a vicious circle.  In this movie Richie depicts many of the shortcomings of the Indian police force, but also shows us some dedicated talented members which were modelled on actual officers.

Note:  As usual I have bolded films I have seen with the first mention.

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020 A year in remembrance

Not what one expected at the begininng of the year, but life has always been full of surprises.  Retirement gives one lots of time to reflect.  I can acknowledge that I have lived over half my life and of course want to enjoy what is left as best I can.  Part of that is looking back and remember the good times and learn from the not so good.

Unfortunately some will not share the future with us, but our memories of them are important as they were a part of our lives.  For me it is important to  remember those who had a positive impact on my life.  Recounted in chronological order.

Hank Bulir is someone I knew as his wife and mine were very close friends.  His wedding to Debbie Linke was outdoors at scenic Webster's Falls.  Looking back we visited each other fairly often,   I remember some anniversaries, New Years Eve and visits for no particular reason. But Hank became ill and the visits became rarer, although we frequently saw Debbie.  I remember Hank as always in a pleasant mood and a good host who liked to cook.  He raised three good boys (now men) Matthew, Andrew and David.


For several months I acted as a sort of chauffeur for a special lady, Audrey Erica King who died in January.  In short conversations I learned a lot about her and her family.  Her middle name came from the family doctor, Eric who delivered her at birth.  She had been born in Sheffield, England, but moved to Canada when her husband had a job opportunity.  She enjoyed identifying unusual license plate numbers and got me doing it.  I also got to meet her sister Ann who flew over and found we shared a lot of tv favorites, in fact steering me to one of my all time favorites.  I knew one son and his daughter who were both very nice and obviously been brought up that way.




A long ago neighbor, George Harrison died in July.  He and his wife Shirley lived on the opposite corner to our house.  He had a quiet sense of humour; one of my favorite of his sayings was "When I get up the morning one of my first things is to look at my garden."  He is not actually talking about his own garden, but my wife's across from his bedroom window.  George and Shirley had two dogs and Sharon liked to give them biscuits and loved their reaction--George had to point out that he thought the biscuits were the big attraction.  George had lost a lung and had bought a snowblower to take care of the snow for his corner lot and when he moved he gave it to me as he didn't think he would need it.  Eventually I ended up giving it to another neighbor who had storage and had helped shovel snow for neighbors.


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Helen Rigby had been a neighbor to my wife, Sharon when she was growing up and while my mother in law and Helen became close friends.  Many years ago Helen left for England, but there remained close  ties with visits on both sides of the Atlantic involving my wife.  When her partner died Helen moved back to Burlington, but also spent much of her time visiting her daughter Janet in Tampa Florida sometimes accompanied by Sharon.  I remember Helen and my sister Rebecca had a friendly rivalry over making banana bread (I was one of the winners).  Helen was quite the knitter and at least twice gave us knitted goods to give out in Cuba and another time donated knitted goods for a class my son was teaching in New Zealand.  All that was normal as she donated to many charities.  Favorite photos of our two youngsters were taken in Helen's sweaters.  Into her 80's enjoyed long walks from Burlington to Hamilton.  She also golfed, swam with the dolphins and para sailed.

Another death impacted me even though I never me her.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a person easy to admire.  I had watched two different films on her and was anxious about her health.

A Christmas gift from Heather.  In the Dead of Winter at Merit Brewery was an event with good food, beverage and conversation.   Fortunately for us it is within walking distance.






A little quieter (?) birthday for Florence for number 91.  Three great grandchildren join in the fun.








The Covid-19 pandemic was a life changer.  Sharon was in Florida when it became a serious concern and cut her trip short and then went into a 14 day self imposed isolation.  Stores and restaurants closed.  We will never go back to what is remembered as "normal" and it could be worse, but it could also be better.

On Earth Day I went on one of my walks dropping by Peter Ormond who likes to do something special on what he thinks of as eARTh Day.    Read more with more photos:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/earth-day-during-covid-19-shutdown.html

A gift from a young boy three doors away.








Early in the morning to set up Heather's birthday party.  Honking horns was one way of celebrating when large indoor parties were discouraged.

 

In the afternoon a party outoors on a deck with limited partygoers including two dogs.

 

 

 

                                    

Our first restaurant outing after the Covid-19 shutdown. We had a gift card we had intended to use much earlier, but for Sharon's birthday, an Italian restaurant Castelli in walking distance seemed appropriate.  The food and service was wonderful.  As a final touch when we ordered their famous canoli for dessert they marked her birthday on a presentation board.






Some old friends dropped by and we had a open air meeting at LaSalle Park.  Josie and John were moving from South Carolina on their way to a new home in Oregon.  Roberta, Sharon, Barb, Mike, Josie and John



 

Sharon had gotten some gift cards from work for Lake House Restaurant in Vineland Station.  The food was especially good and with an enjoyable view of Lake Ontario.








There was no MS walk this year, but we took part in the special day from A & W burger day for MS,  Here I am wearing a T shirt from a previous MS walk.






I received a surprise gift in October that brought back a lot of memories.  About 50 years ago I had driven from work in Barrie to attend night school at York University, parked at a shopping mall where I was approached by a young man who talked me into buying a membership in the Canadian Automobile Association.  I have done my share of impulsive things in life, but that turned out to be one of my best investments.  I have calculated that I have probably driven over a million kilometers with many pleasant experiences and challenging moments, but it was made possible by being rescued numerous times by their road service.  Also occasionally used their tourist and travel insurance services to to add to my enjoyment.   They gave me a lovely clock which will be a memory aid.

Sharon is a part of a group of women who all went to the same high school and get together each month for socializing.  This year they had to forgo a yearly trip to Erie, Pennsylvania which was originally picked when one of their members moved to Ohio.  Here they are in our back yard with their jackets on.


 

 

 


Here we are at Merit Brewery with some American guests.  Janet came to help her mother, Helen Rigby going through some surgery.  Unfortunately Helen did nor survive after her surgery and Janet invited her daughter Kristen and her husband Rob to come up from Tampa to help sort things out.  They had just finished their quarantine period and we all celebrated.

 

 

 Noting favorite restaurants is a tradition for me:  Berkley North, Twins Elephants,  Bread Bar (on James), Mesa,  Pho Dui Bo, Bul and Golgi, Gate of Inida, and Castelli all contributed to our enjoyment in this difficult year.

My most popular blogs:   

A little family history:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/12/two-grandmothers.html

Small details in your history can have a profound effect.  For me being born cross eyed was one.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/08/cross-eyed.html

I like to think I am free of prejudice, but really the truth is that we all pre-judge when confronted with something new and it goes back to survival.  Spending some of my high school years in a rural setting helps me understand one of the more critical divides in Canada (and the rest of the world).   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/10/what-about-those-hicks.html

Favorite English speaking movies:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/2020-movies-english-language.html

Favorite subtitled movies:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/watching-movies-from-around-world-2020.html

Favorite reading of the year :  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/reading-through-2020.html

Check out last year:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/memories-of-2019.html

Looking forward to 2021.  How about you?