Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Making of Lagaan Chale Chalo The Lunacy of Film Making

"Chale Chalo:  The Lunacy of Film Making" is almost 2 1/2 hours long and tries to give an idea of the efforts to make "Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" (2001) the classic it became.  But "Lagaan" is even longer at 3 hours and 44 minutes and it is very likely many details were skipped over which is just as well as the process was overwhelming.

"Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" (2001) had been recommended by my sister Rebecca and I enjoyed it, becoming my introduction to Bollywood.  I was annoyed by Aamir Khan who has since become a favorite.  This making of film reinforces my respect for Aamir who does much more than just act.

 Ashutosh Gowariker , the director and writer originally developed an idea that involved British colonists being challenged to a cricket match by unsophisticated Indian natives in an attempt to get tax relief, but risking even higher taxes.  He approached Aamir Khan who saw it as an undesirable sports film and turned down the offer twice before Ashutosh Gowariker convinced him to take a closer look.  Aamir loved the script.  Eventually Aamir became intimately involved, not only being the lead actor, but a producer and even making this film his first under Aamir Khan Productions. 

 I didn't consciously appreciate A. R. Rahman at this point, but this film contains one of my very favorite songs with a sort of love triangle  and they do show a few snippets.  Aamir Khan negotiated with Rahman looking for a commitment while A.R. had questions that annoyed Khan, but were resolved.   A.R. Rahman went on to win two Oscars for "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008).  He is one of my very favorite film composers.

Most expensive Bollywood film until then.  Part of the problem was one of the locations and the large cast that included a lot of overseas talent from England.

 The script called for  with cloudless days.  Most of the filming was done in and near an actual village.   Bhuj was the nearest city and it had no hotel.  Production had to build one and to accommodate toilets acceptable for the British cast-toilets.  Cast and crew were bussed to filming location daily.  There were days when clouds cancelled filming and overhead jets from a nearby military base cut into camera time.  The heat often caused problems.  To provide crowd scenes they needed 10,000 villager who all needed to be fed and provided with appropriate costumes.   All of this caused stresses on the schedule and the budget and at one time stopping the project was considered.

Further stress came from the cricket match that wasn't as smooth as predicted.  They had to take many more takes than expected to get the effect needed.  One Indian actor really bombed and it was decided to do closeups, catch the swing, but not the ball.  The British male actors had been selected for cricket experience , but a few of them needed lots of shots.  The British knew they would lose match in film, but insisted on a real match with crew and in fact the British did win.

Towards the end of the filming Ashutosh had a slipped disc and was told he had to rest for one month, but they could not afford to shut down.  With a big stake in the film he agreed to direct with the help of a mobile bed.  He was in pain, but was able to finish the filming.   

 A few points of interest to film buffs were included.

Some of the British actors had to learn some Hindi, notably Paul Blackthorne and Rachel Shelly.  .A couple from the British crew got married in traditional Hindu style.  Rachel Shelley made a few frank comments regarding relationships during the shooting time which meant for the British that for several months they were in close quarters far from home.  They would also form attachments to the Indian crew and cast realizing they might never meet again.

After the filming was done and turned to a finished product there was a major earthquake in the village area they had filmed in.  People who had participated in the crowd scenes and performed various chores were affected including deaths.  Aamir made a trip back to Bhuj to present the finished film.  He anticipated a glum response, but in fact the villagers were delighted.

Obviously many elements for the documentary were planned and done during the original filming  However it takes additional contributions to help us appreciate what is required to let the viewers have a better understanding.

Aamir had made his wife Reena Dutta the production manager.  A few months later they divorced.  Also on the staff was Kiran Rao as the third assistant director.  A few years later Aamir married her, but more recently they have divorced.

Reema Kagti was another assistant director  who has since been involved as a writer and director, often pairing up with Zoe Akhtar.  Her film credits include:  "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (2011), "Talaash" (2011),  "Dil Dhadakne Do" (2015) and "Gully Boy" (2019).    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/05/three-bollywood-films-that-got-my.html

Another assistant director was Dr. Priyamvada Narayanan, who found her medical training useful during the filming.  She has been involved with two other films, including "Talaash."   She is also a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles.

Satyajit Bhatkal was the first time director.  His background included ten years as a practicing lawyer involved with many social causes.  In his mid thirties he decided his future was in film and television.  He worked in the production department for "Lagaan:  Once Upon A Time in India." He had written a book, "The Spirit of Lagaan" which reached a big segment of India.  He later wrote and directed "Bombay Lawyers"(2007) bringing social issues into a fictional courtroom setting.  He participated in a project with Aamir Khan, "Satyamev Jayate" (2012-14) a television series dealing with social issues.

Vipin Bhati, the writer has been a sound designer including for "Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" and Chale Chalo: The Lunacy of Film Making"  Other films including  for sound work credit:  "Dor" (2006), "Bombay to Bangkok" (2008), "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008), "8 x 10 Tasveer" (2009), "Asshayein" (2010), "Mod" (2011) and "Lakshmi" (2014),

Aamir Khan is one of the premier actors and film makers in the world.  As he got established he became an actor who concentrated on one film at a time.  Abstains from drinking and smoking, but will do so if film role requires it.  Related to filmmakers he started as a child actor, but became a star with "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak" (1988).  Most of his films were successful at the box office including "Dil Chata Hai" (2001), "Mangal Pandey" (2005), "Like Stars on Earth" (2007), "Ghajini" (2008), "3 Idiots" (2009), "PK (2014), "Dangal" (2016) and "Secret Superstar" (2017).  "Lagaan" started his success in the Chinese market (meaning he was at various times the most famous actor in the world--two huge markets). Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/07/dil-chatha-hai-bollywood-classic.html and  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/03/pk.html

Ashutosh Gowariker started as an actor and met Aamir Khan in "Holi" (1984).   Some of his credits include. "Swades" (2004),  "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008) and "Mohenjo Daro" (2016).  As an actor he appeared in Hindi and Marathi films, tv. shows and commercials before having scripts accepted and associated directing jobs. 

As usual I have bolded the first mention of movies I have seen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Drive My Car

 Increasingly foreign films are having an impact in British North America.  After "Parasite" (2019) won best film as well as best foreign film for the Oscars,  "Drive My Car" (2021) not only won the Oscar best foreign film, but was also nominated for best film.

 My contention for several years has been that the best foreign films are at the level of English speaking films.  Of course it is very natural to feel most comfortable with the most familiar, but when more people take a good look at foreign language films we are all better off as it will raise the standards.  Check out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html

We are introduced to the naked wife, Oto as she relates a story to Yesuke Kafaku and they collaborate on its plot.  She works for a television station responsible for scripts while he works in the theatre.  They seem to have an enjoyable sex life and it seems to involve collaborating on stories.  On another occasion when he returns unexpectedly he encounters her having sex with an actor, but discretely backs away.  At the beginning of another work day she asks him to have a serious talk, but when he arrives she has died from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The viewer skips two years after his wife's death when Yesuke is asked to direct a play "Uncle Vanya" with an international multi-lingual cast.  One requirement is that he has to accept a driver, but is given accommodation on an island with a desirable ocean view.  The driver turns out to be a young woman named Misaki Watari. 

The relationship between the two is very gradually built.  With Yesuke sitting in the back a cassette is played that lets him rehearse lines from the play.  She is not bothered and gradually becomes familiar with the lines.  He invites her to a dinner meeting with one of his assistants.  It turns out the assistant's wife, a mute actress is one of the actors in the play and the assistant had not wanted to influence the director's decision.  Misaki later attends some of the rehearsals and other conferences involving the cast.  They do in fact tell each other personal aspects of their lives.  You might expect a romance, but really it is more like a close father daughter relationship.  Misaki is a damaged person from her youth who learned to drive to take her mother back and forth to a station and learned to drive smoothly while her mother slept in the car.

At the auditions we encounter a variety of languages including one pair that do not understand each other (she speaks English and Mandarin while he speaks only Japanese).  We also watch the Korean sign language actress and various other languages that include Tagalog and Indonesian.  The first rehearsals are strict reading without emotion which puts some of the actors off, but eventually they see the merits.

An interesting relationship is between Yesuke and Koji Takasuki who was the last man Yesuke saw having sex with his wife.  Koji explains that he often had sex with women just to know them better.  Yesuke responded that "sex is not the only way to know someone."  When Yesuke's daughter died (she would have been 23, the same as Misaki) their life went downhill.  Subsequently admitted to Takasuki that Oto came up with stories after having sex, but couldn't remember them the next day, but he remembered and they developed a habit.  He knew she would have sex with other men.  A big surprise is when Koji is able to carry on with the story Yesuke and Oto talked about at the start of film.  Yesuke recognized both men loved the same woman.

As the play is almost ready for a performance Takasuki is involved in fatal brawl and has to withdraw from the play.  Yesuke is asked to take the Uncle Vanya role which he is very familiar with, but refuses at first.

The DVD provided a lot of background information which helps to appreciate the film.  Oscar winners must have more capable cast and crew to reach the podium.  Here are a few components.

Short story writer Haruki Murakami takes titles from Beatle Songs such as "Norwegian Wood"  He translated into Japanese many of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger and John Irving. 

Teruhisa Yamamoto was a big Haruki Murakami fan and discussed with the director who also was a Murakami fan.  Then he went onto get permission to adapt "Drive My Car" for a movie.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi was the director and co-writer. Rysuke was nominated for both best directing and best adapted writing at the Oscars and did win at several festivals.  He felt a car encouraged intimate conversation, especially if the people are facing forward and not each other.   Chose a red Saab over the yellow Cabriolet in the original story for cinematographic factors.  My father had been a champion rally driver and at one time had been offered an opportunity to join the Saab team.  He turned it down, but maintained Saab was his favorite car.

Hidetoshi Nishiijima played Yusuke Kafuku, the main character who loved his wife, though well aware she had been unfaithful and found life difficult after her death.  Hideotshi had won a few awards, but "Drive my Car" garnered international awards including best actor from the National Society of Film Critics, USA..

Toko Miura played the driver, Misaki Watari.  She didn't even have a driver's license when accepted for the role.  She also is a singer and was able to take a song from "Weathering With You" (2019) to the top of the Japanese hit parade.

Reika Kirishima played Oto, the wife.  She has numerous film credits including "Norwegian Wood" (2010).

 Masaki Okada played Koji Takatsuki  who auditioned for the role of Astrov, but later he was switched to Uncle Vanya, a much older man, which displeased him.

Park yu rim plays a mute actress who uses Korean sign language.  Also in one episode of  "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022),.

"Uncle Vanya" as the play within a play warranted a closer look.  Many years ago I had seen a Russian version, but only had a vague recollection of the dynamics.  The BBC version of "Uncle Vanya" (1970) displayed a younger Anthony Hopkins and it made it easier to understand Takasuki's disappointment of being expected to take on the title role.  One can also imagine how such a play could be a foundation of the film.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Jaadugar

This film, "Jaadugar" (2022)  may seem improbable and may be predictable when the girl and guy finally get together. but it is very charming and not without entertaining twists.  The juxtaposition of magic and soccer and romance may seem strange, but also novel. Available on Netflix.

Neemuch is a town that has one claim to glory.  A native son had scored the winning goal in an international soccer match against Iran.  They erected a statue and held an annual tournament. 

The main plot concerns a soccer team that keeps losing.  Its manager is Pradeep, the uncle to the main protagonist, Meenu who doesn't care about soccer, but is a talented magician who is courting Iccha.  Meenu is very extravagant in his courtship, but can't remember important details of Iccha and she breaks the relationship.

It is not too long before he finds another object of courtship.  There are of course problems and he falls into similar patterns.  His choice to pursue is Disha, an opthamologist who is very resistant to his very inventive ways of trying to impress her.  By a cinematic coincidence her father is a famous magician who has been sort of a mentor for Meenu.  

Tying these two tends together is tricky, but it turns out the father of Disha wants to test this upstart magician and decided Meenu needs to at least make the finals of a soccer tournament.  Aside from the long losing streak and his own disinterest, Meenu has resentment against his uncle,the manager.

From here there are a few twists.   Some elements to appreciate include love, winning, family and soul searching. 

There is no pretense that the players are of international caliber, but the losers do improve.  Does magic intervene?  Well; very little.  There is really quite the twist that causes a dilemma for all participants and it leads to another twist, most unusual for a sports film.  Wait until the very end to appreciate the title. 

The director Sameer Saxena was the director and producer.

Script was written by Biswapati Sarkar.   There are some interesting twists that hold attention and a few character flaws that are dealt with.

Nilotpal Bora started out as an Assamese singer and has expanded to other languages and composing music. He composed the music and you can hear his vocals on most of the song numbers.

Soumik Mukherjee handled the cinematography.  His film credits include "Thappad" (2020).  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/thappad-or-in-english-slap.html

Editing was done by Dev Rao Jadhav.  His film credits include "Tevar" (2015) and "Badhaai Do" (2018). A delightful movie, http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/03/badhaai-do-lgbt-film-from-conservative.html

Jitendra Kumar plays the magician.  He loves in sequence two different women and proclaims his love while demonstrating magic. Very charming, but a bit egotistical.  Jitendra trained as a civil engineer, but while at school became involved in acting.  IMDB recounts that once he was forced to recite some lines as a gag and although he had not seen the film or was aware of the context (a speech by Al Pacino in "The Scent of a Women" 1992) he impressed enough of the seniors that he was recommended to the Hindu drama society where he met Biswapati Sarkar who later helped advance his career and wrote the script for this movie.  Both women notice that he can't remember little details like their last name. Jitendra has been in numerous tv series and movies including "Gone Kesh" (2019) and "Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan" (2020).

Arushi Sharma played the love interest, an opthamologist  and the daughter of a master magician.     Credits include "Tamasha"(2015).  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/02/tamasha-wonderful-story.html

Jaaved Jaaferi played Pradeep, the uncle to Meenu.  His film credits include "Fire" (1996), "Earth" (1999), "8 x 10 Tasveer" (2009), "3 Idiots" (2009) and "Bala" (2019).  Once known as India's first break dancer.

Manoj Joshi plays the master magician and father to Disha.  He is a kind mentor, but protective of his daughter.  Manoj started his career in Marathi and Gugarati theatre before getting into films.  Some of his credits include:  "Devdas" (2002), "Bhool Bhulaiyaa" (2007), "Guru" (2007) and  "Hasee Toh Phasee" (2014).

In summary this is in many ways a typical romance comedy, but has enough twists to make it interesting for those who think they have seen it all.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Expertise too often shunted aside

In his conclusion  the author Tom Nichols mentions two examples of people mistrusting experts.  One was Brexit where all the experts expressed it was a bad idea, but others maintained feelings were important, perhaps national pride or immigrant prejudice.  The vote would likely be different today to some degree.

  The other was Donald Trump who expressed a disdain for experts.  He once said "I love the poorly educated." many of whom felt put down by elites.  A consequence of his success is the disparagement of proven expert and true public servant  Dr. Anthony Fauci and the deaths of thousands of Americans (and beyond).

The author hopes "this would contribute to bridging the rift between experts and lay people that in the long run threatens not only the well being of millions of Americans, but also the survival of our democratic experience."  

As civilization has advanced we have increasingly specialized.  No one has the time to be an expert on more than a very few topics, yet we rely on experts to navigate the many complications of modern life.   Are experts always right?--not according to the author, but respecting them is important to making better decisions.

Despite a supposedly more educated population an increasing problem seems to be confirmation bias, i.e. seeking information of that we already accept as truth.  Jonathan Haidt is quoted "When facts collide with personal values almost every one finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence."  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html

 A quote from the preface, "Writing a book can be a wonderful and engaging experience for the author, but less so for the people around him."

At the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, ABC decided to offer longer coverage and set up "Nightline" which turned out to be so popular that it encouraged 24 hour news service.  Radio was supposedly a thing of the past, but it proved a great platform for right wing talk hosts of which Rush Limbaugh was a successful example. While most Americans had gotten their news from 3 or 5 networks and us Canadians with 2, that all exploded with cable tv.  First  CNN came up with the 24 hour format and they quickly learned controversy helped attract viewers.  A few years later Fox news came on and took a partisan slant on the news and realized being entertaining was critical.  Ronald Reagan did away with the Fairness Doctrine and it seemed to give a license to report news in a partisan manner.

To protect yourself the author suggests:  Be humble and assume the writer knows more than you.  Be ecumenical and vary your sources.  Be less cynical and allow that most experts are not trying to lie.  Be more discriminating asking if they are politically affiliated, do they have editors, are their claims checkable?

In the process of reading, a few of my personal beliefs are challenged.  GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are generally thought to be bad, although a Facebook friend of mine, Jim Weeden with agricultural experience and academic once assured me that GMO's are unproven to be bad.  The author assures that the majority of scientists feel they are not bad.  He also attacks Wikipedia which I use a lot, but assures me their film synopses are useful.  

 Bloggers are deemed one of the culprits.  I plead guilty, but do my best to give accurate information (corrections are welcome), but two other motivations are behind my efforts 1). to remember and 2) to deliver my opinion.  Getting correct information is needed to form useful opinions and to properly remember accurately what I want to recall.

As I was drafting this blog I chanced upon "The Great Hack" (2019) which helps explains the role of Cambridge Analytica in both the Brexit referendum and the Trump election victory in 2016.  Basically they were able to use data that allowed them to determine where most effective to focus misinformation. or ways to inflame fears and hate.  Implicated Facebook for using information gathered from their popular social media platform.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/07/the-great-hack-reveals-vulnearability.html

In the end we have to trust who to believe.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Great Hack Reveals the Vulnerability of Democracy

Many of us have written about Donald Trump's election campaigns implying there was something wrong.  Many factors were involved, but a trend that threatens democracy became more obvious.  "The Great Hack" (2019) uncovers a little bit.  There are forces that hope you ignore this film, but it needs to have an impact to help preserve some pretense of democracy.  See it yourself on Netflix.

 As a daily user of Facebook it was alarming to realize they have been collecting data that can be used against my best interests.  They are able to identify demographic information as well as attitudes/opinions.  We already notice that ads seem to exploit our interest revealed on Facebook.  Cambridge Analytica was able to get data from Facebook.   One insider pointed out that Cambridge Analytica identified "persuadables" and directed their efforts to "swing states" to be most effective.  They identified issues that could tip a voter's choice and developed material that would address them.  Voters claim they are not affected, but in reality the numbers suggest otherwise.

In targeting potential voters they were able to identify blacks likely to vote against Trump and instead of trying to convert them, put them in a deterrence file and developed strategies to discourage them from voting.

We all think we have a mind of our own, but many of life's decisions are really complicated.  A good salesman narrows down the decision making factors, but they are seldom as well armed as today's sophisticated data gatherers.

On this side of the Atlantic we are aware of the divided American electorate, but Cambridge Analytical earned its credentials in Europe.  Conflicting views on their influence with Brexit, but they worked for the exit.

Hard hitting documentaries require some talented people.  Here are just a few involved with "The Great Hack."

Karim Amer was a director, a writer and a producer.  His film credits include "The Square" (2013) which was the first Egyptian film to get an Oscar nomination. He had teamed up with Angelina Jolie for "The Breadwinner" (2017) which also was Oscar nominated.  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/06/the-square-illustates-fragility-of.html

His co-director and wife, Jehane Nougaim was born in Cairo and attended Harvard.  Her film credits include "Control Room" (2204).  When she was producing "The Square" she met her husband, Karim Amer who became the co-producer.  Like her husband, Jehane also wrote, directed and produced films.

Key characters in the film include:

David Carroll was an associate professor of media design in New York who became alarmed when he learned his voter profile was held by an English firm, Cambridge Analytica.  Because English law gave some protection regarding personal data he sued and his efforts resulted in the only criminal conviction against Cambridge Analytica which nevertheless went out of business.

Brittany Kaiser, an American who had worked on the Barrack Obama's 2007 election campaign and also with Amnesty.  She became a business manager connected to Cambridge Analytica in Britain. who fled to Thailand when the scandal broke.  She eventually testified in the United Kingdom regarding Brexit and also with the Mueller Investigation in the United States.  She has become a campaigner for data protection and feels that Facebook should ban political advertising.

Christopher Wylie was a whistleblower.  He was born in Canada and at a young age worked under contract with Michael Ignatieff and later worked on the Barrack Obama 2007 campaign.  He went to the London School of Economics.  He worked at Cambridge Analytica and became disillusioned ,turning over  documents to the Guardian newspaper.   "You shouldn't win by cheating."  He compared election cheating to Olympic doping, once caught you are out.

Paul-Oliver Dehaye, a Belgian mathematician was another whistleblower.  He has become an advocate for data protection. 

Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist for the Guardian.  Had written books, but got into journalism with an interest in technology.  An early interview was with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.  She was concerned over what she called "the right wing fake news ecosystem."  She broke the story of Cambridge Analytica's involvement with political issues.  She has given a TED talk and advocated for data protection.

There are many films and publications that are alerting the public to the insidious data gathering that is increasingly prevalent in society.  We need to protect ourselves.  Admittedly, like most I am not an expert on data mining, but am conscious more sophisticated marketers are trying to influence me and others.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Trump as a Tool

The January 6th investigation is making us aware of how desperate one person wanted to retain power.  That is bad enough to warrant jailing an ex president, but additionally his policies and practices were not in the best interest of most of his constituents.  Many of his loyalists will stick with him as they believe the end justifies the means, i.e. it is too bad his strategy didn't work.

We are used to thinking of Trump as a con man commanding a lot of loyalty.  Perhaps we need to think of him as a tool.  He did not get to this position of power without the support of millions who thought they would be getting some benefit.  An earlier blog itemized groups that enabled Trump to gain power, but in reality they thought there was something in it for them.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html

He was smart enough or maybe greedy enough to project what he would give an aggregation of groups in return for their loyalty.

Starting at the top, the very wealthy who rationalize their wealth due to their hard work and talent.  They feel entitled to be on or near the top and resent taxes and regulations that hamper their notion of themselves.  The smarter ones realize they have to deal with democracy and the masses wouldn't support their demands.  They discovered social issues can attract votes.  Just as they enjoy their status and fear change, so do many others, even those nearer the bottom.  They needed a charismatic spokesperson.  In the past an entertainer Ronald Reagan, fit the bill.

Some of the wealthy people got there through exploiting fossil fuel and literally millions more are dependent on the industry.  Logic tells increasing numbers of voters that climate change might be true and would be very scary, but many are ridiculed for their thoughts.  Another wealthy group includes  the insurance industry. There are others who find it profitable to use monopolistic powers to gain more profits. As inequality increases, power concentrates.

In order to make sure their greedy wishes are maintained they have to find others who are dissatisfied and will overlook their motives.  Here are a few issues they have corralled for their benefit.

Abortion has proved to be a very emotional issue.   Huge numbers would consider killing an unborn baby to be sinful, but are unconcerned about women desperate enough to avoid the medical and societal consequences to attempt dangerous remedies.  They overlook that unwanted children are already clogging up society and we are all paying for it.  Many reject obvious solutions such as sex education, contraception, parental leave, etc.  The anti abortion people will make this their deciding factor on who to vote for.  

There are many short sighted bigots who fear they might have to work harder and have to share what they see as limited resources.   They are afraid of "others" they are ignorant about.   Now that LGBT people are more open, more "normal" people are creeped out.  It is easy to blame problems on others.

Gun rights advocates, despite the obvious repercussions of mass killings and high homicide and suicide rates are adamant.  The NRA is concerned about profits and they too can profit on fear.  Some are isolated from violence  while others are afraid and need protection.  They interpret the 2nd amendment to be self serving and have convinced many self righteous to agree.  So the NRA can boost their profits by harnessing fears.

The media is increasingly controlled by the wealthy and they have more available technology to slant our views.  The Roman elite controlled their masses with "bread and circuses."  Today we have loads of entertainment to distract.

The bottom line is those with vested interests need a charismatic leader who can pull enough support for their interests.  Originally the American Constitution was written by slave owners and others who wanted to protect their life style.  Women were not considered and poor had nothing to leverage with.  The result was an electoral system that favored  property owners and slave owners.  Progressive forces have opened up democracy for some, but have met with resistance and vested interests using their resources to maintain their status quo.

Sooner or later Donald Trump will be put in jail or die.  The search for another charismatic leader will continue for someone who can convince the masses to overlook their financial best interests and the good of the country to allow the powerful  to stay powerful.   There are many conservatives vying for the power that will in effect be used against the majority who think they are getting something in return.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Korean Mini Series Capture more Attention

Interest in Korean tv series is increasing.  Netflix must find them rewarding as they keep offering more and more.  There is quite a variety.  Here are some I have watched in the last months.

 "Our Blues" (2022) A series of relationships on Jeju Island, which had been presented to me as a sort of honeymoon destination, but here is a fishing enterprise.   Based on co-workers in fishing boat and fish mart.  There are 14 or so characters who appear in most episodes.  Two single fathers (who don't like each other)whose young children become pregnant.  Old resentments and disappointments  misunderstandings.  A woman been through several relationships  with a Down syndrome sister who she keeps secret and then abandons relationships when it might be revealed.  There is a jarring relationship between a mother and her son.  In the end most of the conflicts have been resolved.  As with many Korean dramas the action is slow and complicated.  This one was very satisfying.  Among the cast were at least two that have made an impression on the American market:  Lee Jeong-eun appeared in "Okja" 2017) and the Oscar winner "Parasite" (2019).    Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html

And Lee Byung-hun who appeared on "The Squid Game, " very popular series on Netflix.   Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/10/squid-game.html

Some other series of interest seen during 2022.

"Misaeng" (2014) was recommended to see an early quality series.  About  a business internship with a group of young people and their adventures.  The main protagonist was relatively disadvantaged, but eventually wins acceptance by his humble persistence.  The character playing a mentor role, Lee Sung-min shows up in a more current  "Juvenile Justice" (see below).  Part of film was filmed in Jordan.

 

 

 

"Thirty-Nine" (2022) gets its title from the age of three close female friends.  They are all single and in different kinds of romantic relationships--one with a married man, another with a business partner and one with a younger man.  The romances proceed predictably, but one of the women learns she has a fatal disease and that disrupts the relationships.  One attraction for me was Son Ye-jin who was the female lead for a very popular series, "Crash Landing on You" (2019).  She is now married to her co-star from that series, Hyun Bin.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/02/crash-landing-on-you-very-addicting.html

 

"Twenty Five Twenty One" (2022)  is a sweet story involving maturity, friendship, failure,  A young woman has a dream of being a top fencer.  The older man (4 years) is the son of a bankrupt .  We follow her fencing career and his media career.  There are a few satisfying romances, but not everything works out the way your might predict.  



My Liberation Diary (2022)  When told how difficult a task would be one character says "I beat the odds (100 million to one) when I was conceived."  Three siblings, all somewhat introverted and all of them long distance commuters.  A stranger enters to work for the father of the three siblings.  He is not talkative, drinks to excess after work, but is a very good worker.  His background does play a role, but there are other elements.   The dialogue and a strange plot keep the viewer engaged, but it is a slow moving story.

 

 

 Some other series that had been blogged about earlier this year.  

My Holo Love   science fiction/romance  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/02/my-holo-love-mixes-science-fiction-and.html

Science fiction appeals to those of us who like to fantasize about inventions, but it can also be a tool to better understand human behavior.  People represented as holograms with artificial intelligence (plus emotional feelings) is exciting and forces humans to look at ourselves.

My own experience regarding science fiction went through stages and I now appreciate that it can be a very useful tool.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/09/conversion-can-sneak-up-on-you-too.html
 

 My "Juvenile Justice" thoughts at:     http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/03/juvenile-justice.html 

Courtroom dramas are popular, but juvenile cases are rare.  This series takes a look at how juveniles get involved.   Some of those in the justice system become hardened and others look for excuses.  The public is resentful that violent juveniles can get away literally with murder.   Topics include test cheating, bullying, prostitution, blackmail, and of course murder.  Kim Hye-su, a veteran actress plays the main tough judge who also provided one of my favorite laughs, "Hyena" (2020).

I have overlooked the category of action, but Koreans are pretty impressive when it comes to tension and violence.

Just started watching on a weekly basis.  (2022) "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022) that has caused me to do something I have never done before.  I have never rated an episode of any series, but was so overwhelmed by the third episode that I felt compelled to give the episode a 10.  One of the best I have seen.  Autism is being a subject for more films as we better understand (still a long way) and the Asperger is drawing attention.  Hans Asperger was an Austrian doctor who got involved with Nazis, probably for practical reasons and diagnosed the condition we identify as Asperger's syndrome. Amusing in many parts as autistics lend themselves to be laughed at, but also shows what it is like to live on the other side of the derision.  Her father and her fellow lawyers make adjustments as they are forced to deal with an autistic.  Eun-bin Park plays the autistic lawyer, making her a realistic human.  Last year I watched her as the lead in "The King's Affection" (2021) where she portrayed a woman masquerading as a man who was the king having to hide her emotions in an historical drama.

One of the best explanations of how autistic people fit in the world comes from an autistic comedian--yes you read it correctly:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/04/funny-you-dont-look-autistic.html

Monday, July 11, 2022

Benjamin Franklin by Ken Burns

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most fascinating character in American history.  His accomplishments are overwhelming, but my interest is his thought process.  Ken Burns captures the essence in a four hour presentation which was shown on PBS stations and is available in DVD format.

He was done with school at age ten and had run away from home as a teen.  He became a very heavy reader.  As he matured he became an organizer and became interested in science.  At one point he became a postmaster and traveled to several states including southern ones.  From this experience he developed a feeling that the colonies should work closer with one another.

As a printer he started "Poor Richard's Almanac" which became very popular.  Partly because he included some sayings that became popular.  One example, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and rise."  He discussed the path to success analyzing the needed virtues and how to attain them.  He also developed a method for making difficult decisions that became known as the Benjamin Franklin method.

He was always a curious man. Electricity was fascinating and after many experiments he developed the concept of a lightning rod, which as saved many lives.  He also came up with the concept for a battery.  Another project for a relative was to invent a catheter improvement.  He also developed an improved wooden stove and would not accept a patent.  Later in life  he was taken with a musical performance with wine glasses and went on to invent the glass armonica which Mozart composed for.  At one time he was asked about the point of a man bearing balloon and replied "What good is a newborn baby?"

Prejudiced?  Like all humans he soaked in the beliefs of his environment--until he observed the unexpected and questioned them.  He owned slaves at one time and  Although he had joined anti slave groups for a long time he took it for granted they were incapable of serious discussion.  However when negro youngsters were sent to Philadelphia to learn to read Franklin appreciated they had thinking ability.  

He also had a low opinion of the indigenous natives, but later was inspired by the Six Nations and their system of government.  He had been involved a little with the French and Indian War that resulted in the French losing territory that included Quebec City and parts of what later became part of the United States.  He also was involved with the negotiations and was very impressed with how the Six Nations handled themselves feeling that the American colonies should unite and have more power.

The War made the colonies were more expensive that earlier thought and the British felt the settlers needed to help pay the extra costs. 

Benjamin Franklin went to London which he found very stimulating socializing with such luminaries as Adam Smith and David Hume.  He admired the British Empire and wanted it to continue.  He campaigned for his son William and he was named to be governor of New Jersey.  After talking to Lord Howe as a Pennsylvania delegate he was offered state taxation but by this time was too late' he notion of taxation without representation had taken hold.

Maybe not surprising Benjamin Franklin was leaning the Loyalist way, but decided to be a "patriot."  He was the oldest at the Congressional meeting. He had tried to convince Canadians to side with American colonies. 

One of Franklin's contributions was to substitute he phrase "self evident" in place of "sacred" as Jefferson had originally written in the Declaration of Independence.  Part of the effort to separate the state from church.

The War of Independence was really a civil war with many families divided (including Franklin).  His son William remained loyalist.  Franklin was chosen to be envoy to France.  Seeking an alliance in France was very sociable, but he secured some treaties.   Also he met Voltaire, one month before his death.

After the American victory negotiations with England saw Franklin involved.  He dealt with tricky point of not including France in negotiations.  The Indigenous were disappointed with many leaving for Canada leaving a mark not far from where I live.  The Six Nations were granted land along the Grand River.  My two youngsters were born in Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington.

At the 1787 Constitution conference Franklin was in committee to decide weight of states with different population.  Recognizing the north needed the south for the union he sought compromise.  Each state have 2 senators selected by state.  The House of Representatives membership was to be calculated with members of by population, but allowing blacks to be counted as 3/5 of non slaves.   He recognized faults and proposed agreement to be ratified by states.  He considered democracy an experiment that needed to be tinkered with.

He repaired relations with British friends, but not with son William.   On his 8th ocean crossing Franklin made scientific observations on trip back noting the influence of the Gulf stream.

He died in 1790, April 17th at age 84.  He attracted the largest Philadelphia crowd for his funeral with every church represented.   

A quote I carry with me "For having lived long, I have experienced many instances being obliged by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions, even on important subjects which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise."  Good advice.

My interest was started as a youngster when I was able to watch "Ben and Me" (1951).

A few years ago I was able to have a short Philadelphia visit and checked out Benjamin Franklin.   Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/philadelphia-brief-adventure.html

Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Polynesian Diaspora

 With my son, Michael living in New Zealand my interest in Polynesia has been revived.  Seemingly they live in a paradise, but one wonders how they arrived at all these remote and isolated islands in the midst of the world's largest geographical feature, the Pacific Ocean.  Christina Thompson examines the history and explanations in "Sea People  The Puzzle of Polynesia" (2019).

The European discovery of Polynesia started about 1595 and while opening up global knowledge also presented a clash of viewpoints.  The Europeans were a literate society with sophisticated tools.  The Polynesians were an oral culture with perhaps a deeper feeling for nature.

Many European nations took part in expanding their knowledge of the Pacific Ocean.  The Dutch, French, British, Spanish and Russians.

One event that opened up western awareness of Polynesia was when it was realized the best opportunity to observe the transit of Venus (when it moves between earth and the sun) would be in 1769 from somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The opportunity had been missed in 1761.  James Cook was chosen, partly because of his surveying skills (had surveyed Newfoundland) and likely because his personality inspired confidence.

Prior to this Tahiti had been approached by the British captain Wallis.  After some efforts to land, the British ship, the Dolphin was attacked, with stones but when they shot off some cannon he natives tried a different tactic.  They offered goods to trade, but the critical tactic was for their women to offer themselves.  Pretty soon the sailors were sleeping on the deck as the nails that held up their hammocks were commonly used to swap for sex.  Wallis returned to England in 1768 a few months before Cook left and this time to the newly found island.  The French were in Tahiti shortly after Wallis and encountered only friendly trade.

When Cook worked in Tahiti he encountered Tupaia, a consort of the Queen and a very talented man.  Tupaia requested to accompany Cook and although both men resented each other they did also complement one another.  Tupaia, like other Tahitians had a knowledge of other Pacific Islands and he was able to anticipate how close Cook's crew was to other islands.  He also was useful in placating natives including with the Maoris in New Zealand.  Tupaia had a curiosity and rode over to Australia (which he had no knowledge of) and continued through the Dutch East Indies.  He died of dysentery on one of these trips along with some of Cook's sailors.  Tupaia was later credited with some paintings that had previously been ascribed to Joseph Banks.  Cook died in Hawaii only a little later.

Easter Island was the most isolated inhabited island and the Dutch were the first to arrive there.  In 1722  Jacob Roggeveen approached the island that is known today at Rupa Nui.  We know of the gigantic statues and have speculated how they were installed.  Perhaps tied to the task was a lack of trees, although there was proof that trees had once grown there.  Another interested feature was that Roggeveen had been offered sweet potatoes, a plant that apparently came from South America.

New Zealand was another Dutch encounter, but not really explored until Cook did a tour and did converse with the Maoris.  The author's husband was Maori and during the research for the book he had an easy time with other Polynesians who recognized him as a "brother."

Over a period of time theories were developed how these remote islands had been settled.  One that still draws attention was that they came from South America.  Thor Heyerdahl took some loose facts and ignored others, but felt convinced strong enough to make a voyage to prove his point.  He raised money from various institutions.  A raft was constructed from Balsa wood that had been cut in Ecuador.  The Kon-Tiki expedition started 1947 from Callao, Peru and towed 50 miles away and released.  They drifted along the Hunboldt Current which would to the South Equatorial Current that would sweep them towards Polyneisian islands.  101 days later after many hardships they reached Raroia, but were met with coral reefs and were fortunate to land.   It was a promotional success (with books and movies), but serious scientists think it does not stand up to scrutiny.  One can speculate about currents and sweet potatoes, but the Polynesians seem to have different origins.

Drifting was an early theory, assuming the Poynesians lacked any real sophisticated science or engineering.  Currents do indeed steer wanderers or those lost at sea, but one wonders how they kept knowledge of other islands other than the one they settled on.

Radio carbon dating started being used after 1950.  It was slow, but got a boost when a University of Hawaii project enlisted students and a Japanese student asked about pottery.  At first there were no known pottery sites, but the idea led to fish hooks.  This allowed to calculate dates of settlements and uncovered other problems.  The process itself was evolving and spreading around the Polynesian triangle.

DNA studies were promising, but  ran into resistance and many Polynesians considered it a invasion of privacy.  Another method was to track companion animals to gauge how when they appeared at different locations indicating when their human master were as well.  Over time many were more open.  The general feeling is that Polynesians were a mix of Austronesian and Melanesian (between Indonesia and Philippines).  Research seemed to establish very early settling in Tonga/Samoa area and a long delay before more remote areas were reached.

One still wonders how they had the courage (or knowledge) to find the far away remote islands.  Oral traditions had been dismissed by Europeans, but lately have been studied more closely as they were often genealogical histories.  Much of the early wisdom has been lost, but still there are men who have retained some of the tricks.  They were able to read the sun, stars, waves, swells and birds  One scholar was told that in some instances the most effective way to the logic of the ocean would be to lay down flat in the boat and feel the way.  According to David Lewis the natives found male testicles provided the most sensitive balance.      

A common boat used in the Pacific was an outrigger, which was a boat that had a wooden structure attached to the hull that made capsizing less likely.  The idea had originated in southeast Asia and made long voyages with many people possible.

A philosophy that encouraged travel to the unknown might be labeled "foundation focused ideology."  The stories that related their history included the benefits that fell to the first ones to find new land. 

Most of us are descended from those who migrated through the the land masses--up from Africa, over to Europe on to Asia then to North America and then to South America almost all on land with stretches of water, but more land in sight at some points.  The Polynesians are remarkable in their daring, but we should also credit them with reading nature.  We are still learning how they did it.

Read about a trip to New Zealand that included a Maori ceremony:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/starting-2018-in-new-zealand.html

Monday, July 4, 2022

Borgen

 There are lots of films about power struggles, but "Borgen" (2010-2022) is unique.  A relatively little country, it would seem Denmark's maneuvering  would have little consequence on the world stage.  Relatively speaking that is true, but there is much to commend "Borgen. 

Denmark is a country with proportional representation.  In all countries there are diverse political perspectives ranging from conservative to liberal, meaning there are people who feel more comfortable with traditions and there are those who feel there are too many restrictions and inequality.  And there are shades in between and at the margins.  In Canada the power of the government is determined by who can garner the most ridings (won with a plurality) with the non winners being kept to the sidelines.  Proportional representation contains the same sorts of diverse opinions, but unless one party can gain over 50% of the votes they are forced to deal with one another.  There definitely are power struggles, but imagine members of more than one party are in the government, making decisions, but having to be concerned daily what their opposition wants, unlike here in Canada?  When the individuals realize the need to work together there is stability, but humans being what they are some are always trying to find an edge.

The series acknowledges that the media is very key to what people think.  What facts to reveal and how to present them?  Most political shows are aware that the media does influence politics and many do a good job.  "Borgen" goes a little further showing how the media and government inter act.  The media has its own power struggles and their own personal hangups.

The fourth season identifies the biggest power struggle the world now faces; climate change versus the vested interests.  Denmark likes to paint themselves as global leaders for climate change and claiming and actually helping Greenland to independence find themselves in an international dilemma.  Oil has been discovered in Greenland and Denmark finds itself dealing with foreigners (and citizens) who want to exploit it.  The Greenlanders want to use this new resource to accelerate their independence.  Within the Danish government the main character, Birgitte Nyborg the foreign secretary wants climate change to prevail while the prime minister and others see this as very fortunate opportunity to profit.  Other nations are very interested and take sides.  The real battle is between environmentalist and corporations with vested interests.  China, U.S. and Russia all try to control oil.  How does one maintain their power in these volatile times?

The elements are there and the producers of "Borgen" very capably turn them into an engaging entertainment that hopefully makes the public more conscious not only of the most pressing issue of our time, but also that power struggles will help decide what solutions get advocated and implemented. 

Birgitte Nyborg is the focus who starts as a well intentioned woman who wants to make the world a better place.  She realizes that nothing gets done without power and there a lot of competing people with their own agenda.  In the first three series she achieves being Prime Minister and later resigns.  The show was so popular that they brought a fourth series and brings us to a critical point.  Under the Danish electoral system and as the head of her party she has been able to demand the position of Foreign Secretary.  A core principle for her has been to deal with climate change.  When oil is discovered in Greenland her first response is to tramp it down.  We soon learn the Russians are involved with a drilling team and later we learn that it is actually the Chinese.  She is put in an awkward situation and considers resigning, then realizes that she will just be replaced by someone more amenable to exploit the oil.  She could at least mitigate the damage.  Lots of machinations needed to placate her party, international players and her government.  The end is handled nicely, but you really should see the whole series to appreciate it.

At the same time running parallel to the government we are shown how the media tries to uncover the facts.  Katrine Fonsmark began as a reporter who had an affair with a politician (who died) and worked for a bit with Birgitte and later became an ambitious tv. executive.  When we reach the fourth series she has been elevated to a top position in a news station.  There are conflicts among the staff and many arguments about how the news should be covered.  Over the whole series we learn that politicians and the media have understandings and do each other "favors."  At the same time they also have their rivals in the form of other stations.  As with the politicians we are made aware of personal relationships.

It has a very complex plot with sharp dialogues.  Below are a few tidbits about some of the people who made it worth your time. 

Adam Price was the creator and writer.  It is an English sounding name because some of his ancestors moved from London in the late 18th century.  He started writing for television in the 1990's and was part  of a few international hits.  He created "Borgen" in 2010 and it has garnered international awards and been telecast to over 70 nations.  Aside from writing for several of the scripts he was also executive producer for 8 episodes.  Another big interest is cooking and for over 10 years with his brother James he has hosted a popular cooking tv. show as well written a few cookbooks.

Among the many writers Tobias Lindholm has had some memorable film credits such as "The Hunt" (2012), "A Hijacking" (2012). "A War" (2015) and Oscar winner  "Another Round" (2020).   Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/06/another-round-picks-up-oscar.html

Among the producers Stine Meldgaard Madsen has film credits, "After the Wedding" (2006) and "The Chestnut Man" (2021).

Sidse Babett Knudsen  played Birgitte Nyborg, one time Danish Prime Minister and later Foreign Secretary.  She received her acting training in France, although at first knowing little French.  Based on her role in "Borgen" she was listed among Hollywood Reporter's 25 most powerful women in Global Tv.  Previous films include "After The Wedding" (2006), "A Hologram for the King" (2016), "Roadkill" (2020) and one episode of "Ted Lasso" (2021).  

Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, the other main female lead played Katrine Fonsmark, a journalist with her own personal problems and power struggles.  She played a lead role in the Copenhagen and London stage productions of "Chicago."  As with other actors she was allowed to make comments as the writers planned future episodes of "Borgen."

Mikkel Boe Folsgaard played an agent for Birgitte going back and forth with Greenland.  His screen credits include:  "A Royal Affair" (2012), "Land of Mine" (2015) and "The Chestnut Man" (2021).

Soren Malling played a television executive, at one time Katrine's boss and later she became his boss .  His film credits include:  "A Hijacking" (2012) and "A War" (2015). 

Denmark has long hit above its weight.  This is one more example.

The first mention of films I have seen are bolded.